The following notice of Motion stood upon the Order Paper:
That the draft Unemployment Assistance (Determination of Need and Assessment of Needs) Regulations, 1934, dated the eleventh day of December, 1934, made by the Minister of Labour, under the Unemployment Assistance Act, 1934, a copy of which was presented to this House on the said eleventh day of December, be approved."—[Mr. Stanley.]
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Mr. ARTHUR GREENWOOD
Before the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour opens the Debate on the Unemployment Regulations, it might be for the convenience of the House if you, Mr. Speaker, would state the course of the Debate in the coming three days and the position which the Amendments on the Paper should occupy in the Debate.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I shall be very glad to give a Ruling as to the position of the various Amendments to this Motion that are on the Paper, but, before giving my Ruling on the Amendments, may I say that I feel I should only be doing my duty, as the guardian of the Privileges of this House, if I asked, what I think the House has a right to expect, that my Rulings, which may have been forecast to Members at private interviews for their guidance and assistance, may be allowed to be given first by myself from the Chair and not anticipated without my knowledge in the Press. Such proceedings may, and indeed do, lead to grave misunderstanding of the position and duties of the Speaker of this House, and they do not encourage that free confidence between Members and the Speaker which it has always been my object to promote.
With regard to the actual Amendments which are on the Paper, I think it is important that, as regards this kind of Regulations, it should be definitely laid down by the Chair what is the position as regards Amendments. The question of whether the House has or has not the power to modify orders, regulations, etc., which by Statute require approval, depends in each case upon the terms of the Section of the Statute which directs that its approval is to be obtained. In the case of regulations made under the Emergency 832 Powers Act, 1920, Section 2, Subsection (4) of that Act provides that such regulations may be added to or altered by Resolutions of both Houses of Parliament. Other Statutes similarly provide for approval with modifications—for instance, the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1919, Section 7 and Section 26. In the case of Church Measures, on the other hand, which require the approval of Parliament, the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919, Section 4, provides that such Measures shall be presented for the Royal Assent, if approved by both Houses of Parliament, in the form laid before Parliament. Thus approval with modifications is in this case specifically excluded, and Amendments have not been allowed to be moved to Church Measures. Similarly, in the case of the Unemployment Act, 1934, the passage which governs Parliamentary procedure on regulations submitted by the Unemployment Assistance Board is as follows, from Section 52, Sub-section (4):(4) If each House resolves that draft regulations made by the Minister under this section be approved, the Minister shall make regulations in the terms of the draft to take effect on such date as may be specified in the regulations.It appears from this that the Minister has power only to make Regulations "in the terms of the draft." If the House approves the draft Regulations with modifications, the Minister would seem to have no power to make Regulations in the terms of such modifications, and it follows that approval of the House with modifications is ineffective. It is not the approval required by the Act, and the Minister could not make Regulations as a result of it. Approval with modifications is therefore equivalent to rejection. Therefore, a Motion for rejection, giving reasons if desired, is the only form of Amendment which in the circumstances is permissible. Hon. Members will see, therefore, that the only two Amendments which are in order are the first Amendment on the Paper, standing in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition—in line 5, to leave out "be approved," and to add:will be inadequate to ensure the maintenance of unemployed persons and their dependants in health and physical efficiency.—and the second Amendment, which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan)—in line 5, to leave out "approved," and to add: 833disapproved inasmuch as they should be subject to the following modifications, namely:In Regulation IV 1. Part I,—Both these Amendments are what I call reasoned Amendments, giving reasons for disapproval of the Regulations. The other Amendments on the Paper would not be in order, because they seek to amend the Regulations with modifications which is not allowed for under the Statute. As regards these first two Amendments, I should like to point out to the House that, supposing I called the first Amendment, which stands in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, I should have, if I wished also to call the second Amendment, to save the latter by putting the Question, "That the words to 'approved' stand part of the Question." If I did that, I should save the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Gorbals, giving the various reasons which he sets out for disapproval of these Regulations.
- '30s.' should be inserted for '24s.';
- '24s.' should be inserted for '16s.';
- '20s.' should be inserted for '14s.';
- 'if under the age of 14 years 5s.' should be substituted for all the words from 'if,' to the end of paragraph (d) and in many other respects they will be inadequate to ensure the maintenance of unemployed persons and their dependants in health and physical efficiency."
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
May I ask for your guidance a little further on the distinction which is drawn between the Amendment of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) and the Amendment on somewhat similar lines in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan)—in line 5, at the end, to add:subject to the following modifications, namely:—In Regulation IV, 1, Part I,—
- the substitution of '30s.' for '24s.';
- the substitution of '20s.' for '16s.';
- the substitution of '20s.' for '14s.';
- the substitution of the words 'If under the age of 14 years, 5s.' for the words—
'If aged 11 years or over but less than 14 years 4s. 6d. If aged 8 years or over but less than 11 years 4s. 0d. If aged 5 years or over but less than 8 years 3s. 6d. If under the age of 5 years 3s. 0d.(d) Where the household consists of only one child in addition to not more than two adults, the amount allowed in respect of that child shall not be less than 4s.'
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) says that he disapproves of the Regulations inasmuch as they should be subject to certain modifications; in other words, it is a reason for disapproving of them. The Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) seeks directly to amend the Regulations. That is the distinction between the two.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
Do I understand that unless legislation specifically empowers the Minister to submit Regulations which may be modified, it is not within the power of the House to make any modifications? That, as far as I see it now, scarcely squares with your Ruling on the second Amendment on the Paper.
§ Captain Sir WILLIAM BRASS
Surely the second Amendment, that by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), is very much the same as the first Amendment simply because it disapproves of certain things in the Regulations, and that is the only reason why it is in order, because it disapproves.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is just what I was trying to point out. The Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Gorbals says that he disapproves of the regulations because of certain modifications which he wishes. The Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale seeks directly to amend the regulations. That is the distinction between the two.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
Is it your Ruling, Sir, that, unless there are words in the Act of Parliament specifically stating that regulations may be approved with or without modification, it is impossible for the House to modify them?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I must be guided by the terms of the Statute under winch the regulations are made. The Statute relating to the regulations in this case is in Section 52, Sub-section (4), which says:If each House resolves that draft regulations made by the Minister under this section be approved, the Minister shall make regulations in the terms of the draft.835 That means in the terms of the draft regulations that have been laid before the House.
§ Mr. THORNE
In your opinion, Sir, if the Amendment of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) be carried, will it be obligatory on the part of the Minister to alter the regulations accordingly?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Gorbals be carried, it destroys the regulations, and there is an end of them.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Mr. Oliver Stanley)
I beg to move,That the draft Unemployment Assistance (Determination of Need and Assessment of Needs) Regulations, 1934, dated the eleventh day of December, 1934, made by the Minister of Labour, under the Unemployment Assistance Act, 1934, a copy of which was presented to this House on the said eleventh day of December, be approved.In moving this Motion, it is perhaps hardly necessary for me to remind the House of the origin of these Regulations. The long debates on the Unemployment Act which took place this year will be still fresh in the minds of hon. Members, and they will no doubt recollect that, whereas the Act constituted the Unemployment Assistance Board and laid down its duties, it was left for subsequent regulations drafted and submitted to me by the board to deal with the actual method in which the need of those who came within the scope of the board were to be assessed. Those regulations were to be drafted by the board, submitted to me for approval, and then submitted by me to the House in their original form for the approval or rejection of the House. If Amendment were necessary, elaborate machinery was laid down whereby the House would have in its possession both the original draft regulations as submitted and the draft regulations which I would have asked the House to approve. In this case all that machinery is unnecessary because the draft regulations as submitted to me for my approval are the regulations which I now submit to the House for its acceptance.
This is the last Parliamentary step which still remains after all the discussions of the past year before the board, which was then set up, begins to undertake 836 its work. If the regulations are approved, the first appointed day upon which the board will become responsible for those who are now in receipt of transitional payments will be the 7th January; and on the 1st March it will assume responsibility for those able-bodied unemployed who are now the charge of the local authorities. I do not think there is any need to go again in great detail over all the old ground which was hotly contested during the debates on the Bill. It is necessary however to make some general preliminary remarks in order that the House may see the particular scheme which we are now discussing in proper relation to the general treatment of the unemployed. It is perhaps natural that, owing to the fact that these regulations have been long awaited and that they are extraordinarily important in their detail, they should have received a great deal of publicity and that the general impression should be conveyed that they overtake in their importance the other section of the State's care of the unemployed which is the Unemployment Insurance scheme.
I want to make it clear that despite the importance of what we are now discussing, the Unemployment Insurance scheme still remains the first line of defence against the evil effects of unemployment. It is true that when that scheme was originally introduced in the days before the War, it was introduced to deal, not with permanent, but with intermittent unemployment. It still remains a fact that the majority of cases of unemployment are intermittent and not permanent in their character. The last set of unemployment figures we have—those for the end of November—show that over 60 per cent. of those on the register had been unemployed for less than three months, and over 70 per cent. for less than six months. In the 12 months ending November, 1932—I regret these are the latest figures I have—which were the 12 months which covered the greatest depths of the depression, more than 80 per cent. of the people who made any claim for allowances during the year received insurance benefit. Owing to the improvement in employment since that time and the extension of the period for which unemployment benefit can be drawn, that figure, if it were available, would be appreciably better.
837 The majority of unemployment is still of that intermittent character for which the insurance scheme was originally introduced and against which it is the best defence. It provides security against the ordinary industrial accident of unemployment. It provides a sum which has no relation to need. If the sum is greater than the need of the man, it is a sum for which he has paid and to which he is entitled as a right. If the sum is less than the need, he has behind it a record of employment, and as the unemployment is a passing intermittent phase, he is enabled to tide it over without a general lowering of his standard. The great thing is that he is entitled to look upon that payment as a right which he gets without delay and regardless of his resources. It is true that the originators of the scheme thought it would deal fully and amply with this kind of intermittent unemployment. I think that there they were right. It is true, too, that the originators of the scheme thought this intermittent kind of unemployment was the only kind with which that scheme would have to deal. I only wish they had been right.
We have had to grapple with the new phenomenon of persistent as opposed to intermittent unemployment, which is in addition to the ordinary experience of unemployment for which the unemployment insurance scheme still remains the best defence. We have to-day unemployment of a permanent character and of unemployed whose employment over the last few years has been not intermittent but non-existent. That phenomenon, although it has been the growth of some 13 years, was one which successive Governments failed or refused to recognise. We have seen during the past 13 years repeated attempts to adapt the machinery of the old scheme to deal in some way with the new problem. We have had extended benefits, uncovenanted benefits, transitional payments—all methods of grafting on to the old insurance scheme something which, it is hoped, would deal with the new situation. But the only result of that attempt to adapt the old to deal with the new has been greatly to destroy the solution of the old problem without succeeding in finding one for the new. The climax of that process, the climax of the destruction of the insurance system without any solution of the new problem 838 was reached, I think, in June, 1931, when the Unemployment Fund's rate of borrowings to meet its obligations actually exceeded the annual income which it was receiving. But it was clear that a situation of that kind could not continue, and it was left to the National Government when they assumed power in the Autumn of 1931 to make a decision which had long been inevitable, and that was that, as long as you had the two different types of unemployment, you had to have two different schemes to deal with the needs.
I do not think I need trouble the House with any reference to the steps which were taken by the National Government to put the insurance part of the scheme upon a sound basis. It is sufficient, I think, to point to the success which those steps have attained—to point to the fact that it has been possible, within a financially sound insurance scheme, to have restored the unemployment benefits to the full level that they were before the crisis of 1931, to have extended the period during which they might be drawn by those in the scheme, and, at the same time, to have in the scheme a financial situation which is not only sound but which actually provides for a surplus. But for those who had to be brought under the new scheme whom it was essential to deal with on a different basis and with a different outlook the State accepted the whole financial liability for transitional payments. At the same time it was decided that, while the State accepted that financial responsibility for all the applicants, the payments made should be in accordance with the needs of the recipient, and not merely a flat rate.
There is no need to fight over again that battle upon the question of the needs test. As far as these regulations are concerned, that battle was settled by the Act. The obligation to provide for the needs of the people, subject to their resources, is a statutory obligation placed upon the board, and no regulation which did not contain those provisions would be either within the powers of the board to draft, or within the powers of the Minister to present to the House of Commons; but, of course, I, for one, have no hesitation in reaffirming the fact—and I believe that here my hon. Friends behind me are in agreement 839 with me—that I believe that principle is right, and that the State in dispensing this money has a duty not only to those to whom the money is given, but a duty to those from whom the money is taken. That duty is even more urgent now, when the increased distribution, and the still increasing distribution, of wealth means a wider and wider basis of taxation. We maintain the principle that if you are to take money, much of which may come from wage-earners who are little better off than the unemployed men themselves, it should only be given to meet the needs of the people to whom it is given.
Hon. Members will recollect that that decision was taken in the autumn of 1931. It was obviously impossible to devise new machinery which could be put into immediate operation whereby this new scheme could be operated. On the other hand, the local authorities had in their administration of the Poor Law been doing something of the same kind for 300 years. They had an organisation set up to ascertain the needs and resources. They had certain standards which they could apply, and it was to meet the emergency of the moment that use was made of this organisation and these standards. To the local authority was entrusted the task of administering the scheme on the same basis as their administration of out-door relief to able-bodied unemployed persons. I think we can pay a tribute to the vast majority of local authorities who undertook the task—the unpleasant and difficult task—for the way in which they have carried it out. Great weaknesses and great difficulties, no doubt, have arisen in the administration, but to a large extent those weaknesses were outside their control. In the first place, the whole administration of the Poor Law has been of local growth. It has developed in different areas on different lines in accordance with local circumstances or local opinion, with the result, over the country as a whole of a complete lack of uniformity of treatment which, although it may not have been too apparent when applied to the old Poor Law system, immediately it was applied in a nation-wide scheme of this kind that lack of uniformity caused anomalies and created obvious injustices as between individuals and 840 families in one part of the country and another. The immense variation which existed between what people in exactly the same circumstances might receive in different parts of the country undoubtedly has been one of the consequences of the decision of the autumn of 1931.
The second difficulty was that at the same time that the local authorities were administering this scheme on behalf of the able-bodied unemployed who fell within its scope, they were administering public assistance to other able-bodied unemployed who were outside the scheme, and they were administering these two schemes again on a differentiating basis. Not only in different parts of the country were people receiving different amounts, but in the same town people who were able-bodied unemployed were being treated on a different basis. Thirdly, of course, a heavy charge in respect of certain of the able-bodied unemployed fell with particular severity on certain areas, and it was, of course, in those areas that the situation was most difficult. The inevitable result of these weaknesses growing up in the local administration of what was an emergency scheme was that a national scheme had to be adopted, and that was prepared in the Act of 1934. That Act laid down two main principles which were to guide the board in their administration of the scheme, and which were to guide the board in their drafting of these Regulations. The first was that the assistance given should be proportionate to the needs of the applicant and his dependants; and the second was that the resources of all members of the household should be taken into account,due regard to be had to the personal requirements of those members whose resources are taken into account.Before I come to discuss the details of the Regulations—and if I have to take a considerable time, I hope hon. Members will pardon me, because it is a difficult and long task—I want to make one general remark. There is, and there can be, no fixed limit on the amount of assistance which is given by the new Unemployment Assistance Board. Transitional payments were limited by the benefit rates, but benefit, of course, itself was limited by the rates laid down by 841 this House. But in both those eases, theoretically at any rate, there was recourse, in case of need, to public assistance. [An HON. MEMBER: "In fact!"] As an hon. Member says, "in fact," but it was very limited. In February, 1934, in England and Wales—I am sorry I have not the figures for Scotland—the extent of supplementation for benefit and transitional payments was not more than about 2 per cent. of the cases. But, of course, that has gone. The local authority will no longer be entitled to supplement the allowances for the people who come under the new scheme, but the board will be responsible for the relief of the whole of their needs except the medical need. It is plain that the service of the board must be discretionary, because they have the statutory duty which overrides everything else, to provide for the needs of the applicant.
§ Mr. ANEURIN BEVAN
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman in what is a difficult task, but we have Amendments to move and, therefore, we must get these points in discussion. Will the discretionary powers exercised by the board be varied from individual case to individual case, or will they be wider, and enable them to vary them from area to area in respect of the scales themselves?
§ Mr. STANLEY
I shall be dealing with that point during the course of my speech, and I am obliged to the hon. Member for raising it, but I hope that hon. Members in general will not think me discourteous if I say that I would rather not answer particular questions on details during the course of the speech. We are going to have a prolonged debate, and it will be possible for every point to be raised. I am sure no one wants to raise mere debating points to try to catch me out, but wish to put their points and receive a real answer to them.
I would say that this service must be a discretionary service in view of this paramount duty of relieving the needs of the whole household, and therefore, the Regulations, although they contain certain figures which will be discussed, and which I shall ask hon. Members to approve, cannot lay down any arbitrary figures. All that they can do is to lay down, first of all, a general standard of payments; 842 secondly, to afford minimum protection to certain resources; thirdly, to indicate the various points at which discretion will be necessary, and fourthly, as far as possible, to place the exercise of that discretion within some limits of which this House can be aware. The further point is that these Regulations are an attempt to show how the vast majority of cases can be dealt with. They do not pretend, and could not pretend, to deal with the exceptional case which always must occur, and which cannot be fitted into any general scheme of this kind. I hope, therefore, that hon. Members will not think that by producing some cases of exceptional family distribution, or exceptional family need which are not met by a scale intended to meet the ordinary run of cases, they will thereby destroy the basis of these Regulations. They will, I think, only increase the arguments for the use of discretionary powers.
Let me turn to the Regulations themselves, which will govern the board's officers when they start to work this scheme according to the scale of maintenance to be found at the bottom of page 3 and the top of page 4. I will not go in detail through the scale, because, no doubt, various points will be raised by hon. Members during the Debate, but there are two major points to which I wish to call attention. The first is the provision of 24s. for a man and wife. Many hon. Members will, no doubt, when discussing various points call in aid some of the inquiries carried out by various bodies into needs, both as regards food and other requirements. I am sure they will appreciate the point that when they quote those bodies as authorities in other respects they must accept them also as authorities in the case of the man and wife, and I think they will find that 24s. for a man and wife is about what is given in the best of the scales and considerably higher than is given in one or two of the scales to which I will call attention.
I want the House to realise that our scales are the result of a very careful survey by the board of the primary needs of the people for whom they have been responsible. There are, in addition, these various social surveys which have been carried out and which have produced some theoretical figures as to needs. All those the board have had within their purview. But I would point out to hon. Members that there are very great 843 differences in the results which have been arrived at by these different social surveys, and I submit that in deciding whether the board have succeeded in their task or not it is not fair to pick out the best bits from each of these scales and put them all together into one scale with which to compare the board's scale, to the great disadvantage of the latter. In addition to the theoretical knowledge which these scales can provide, the board have before them the lessons of the practical experience under the scales which have been applied in different parts of the country.
Let me turn to the children's scale. Hon. Members will recall that in the spring of this year there was a hotly-contested Debate, and even a closely-contested division, as to whether a child should receive 2s. or 3s. In this new scale the minimum for any child under five is 3s. and that amount increases with the age of the child, which is a new principle. In insurance benefit there is just a flat-rate allowance for the child irrespective of age. In many Poor Law scales there has been, I think, a differentiation in the case of children, but that differentiation has always been on the basis of so much for the first child and less for the second and third and fourth. This, I think, is the first time that the distinction has been made on what, I submit, is the proper basis, and that is that the older the child the more it needs and the more it should receive. I think that hon. Members in all parts of the House, whatever may be their views as to the ideal figure, will agree that in comparison with the old scale under which the vast majority of those on transitional payment have been dealt with this new scale for the family with children is an immense improvement.
I received to-day from the Children's Minimum Committee certain criticisms on the subject of the scale for children, and I say for them at once that they frankly admit, with all the criticism they have to make, that the scale represents a great advance on what has gone before. However, they attempt to make out a case for a higher rate, say the scale is still inadequate, and give figures to form a comparison between the British Medical Association scale for 844 food and the Merseyside scale for such things as fuel, light and clothing, and the scale adopted by the board. I would repeat that in comparing our scale with the theoretical scales it is hardly fair to take the best bits of everything and put them together and say, "There is a scale which we put in comparison with yours." It would have been possible to take the Merseyside survey as the basis for the whole of the need, including food. Were that done it would be found that the board's scale for a man and wife and three children is higher than the scale laid down in the Merseyside survey.
§ Mr. STANLEY
No, I think I would like to go on with my speech. The hon. Lady will have an opportunity to put her points, and they will be very carefully considered. With regard to the British Medical Association's scale, I do not pretend to be sufficient of a scientific expert—and I doubt whether anybody in this House is—to say whether that scale or the scale produced by three or four other surveys is the theoretically correct one. It does happen that the British Medical Association scale, which has been selected for comparison, is very much the highest scale in the matter of food. There is, however, one consideration which hon. Members must take into account. I do not want to go now into the details of the figures, because there appear to be certain discrepancies in them which I cannot quite understand, though I am sure the hon. Lady will explain, but one of the reasons why the British Medical Association scale for food is so much higher than any other scale is the very large provision which it makes for milk. Hon. Members will realise that the British Medical Association scale, and the costing of that scale, were drawn up before the scheme for the provision of cheap milk in schools was produced, and the scale requires revision in view of the fact that the milk which forms such a large part of it can now be got elsewhere.
There is one other point with which, I think, the hon. Lady would like to deal when she speaks, and that refers to the wages question. The Children's Minimum Committee sets out the fact that it is difficult to suggest a scale which is going 845 to bring the allowance above the wages of a man in employment, but the hon. Lady says that that is really not an argument against increasing the scale in these cases, because of certain figures, which she gives, purporting to show how few people there are receiving wages so low as in any way to compete with these scales. I must tell the hon. Lady, if she was responsible for the drafting of the circular which was sent out to Members of the House this morning, that over this question of wages there has been, apparently, a complete misunderstanding. She makes the statement, on the authority of a Ministry of Labour publication, that, taking all the great industries which were surveyed in it, only 2 per cent. of the people engaged in them are drawing less than 45s. a week. I feel she has misunderstood the results of that inquiry. What is showed was the average wage paid in an industry: and on that the hon. Lady has said of those industries where the average wage is more than 45s. that nobody in them gets less than 45s. and therefore——
§ Miss RATHBONE
I should like to say that I did not draw up the circular. I regret any error. I am chairman of the committee.
§ Mr. STANLEY
I knew the hon. Lady would speak on behalf of the committee, and no doubt she will answer that point. There are two provisos to this scale with which I must deal. The first is the proviso in the case where there is only one child in addition to no more than two adults. In such cases the child is not to receive less than 4s. The case which that proviso is intended to deal with is the case of the married couple and one young child, especially the first child. The board felt that the arrival of the first child brings expenses which are greater than on the arrival of subsequent children. The other proviso deals with the reduction of 1s. in respect of each member of the household when they exceed five. The expenditure of the household on such things as fuel and light and cleaning materials do not increase in proportion to the number of people in a house, and therefore, where there is in the scale applicable to each individual certain allowances to meet those particular requirements, what is a perfectly proper allowance in the case of one individual, or two becomes excessive 846 in the case of six or seven or eight. The fire which is there for three is there also for six or seven.
From a consideration of the scales I wish to pass to another most important part of the scheme, the new factor which has been produced by the variable allowance for rent. On the question of rent there has been a general lack of uniformity in the practice of local authorities. Usually the allowances given are deemed to include a certain amount for rent, and perhaps there is some discretionary addition to the allowance if the rent is excessive. In the result one may quite well have two families in the same town and in similar circumstances getting exactly the same allowance and yet one paying 5s. rent and the other 10s. No one can defend that as being a practice which is either just or equitable. Either the people paying only 5s. are getting more than they need, or the people paying 10s. are getting less than it is possible to support life upon. That is an obvious inequality which I think the board quite rightly deal with. It is wrong that there should be no discriminating allowance for rent at all, and it is equally dangerous that there should be an automatic and inevitable payment of the exact rent. The knowledge that the State was standing behind the tenancy of such large numbers with an automatic increase of rent whatever it may be would be a direct incentive to profiteering by the landlord and would raise considerable dangers of collusion between landlord and tenant. The board have adopted a rule which, while it makes certain variations with regard to rent, does not provide a hard and fast or automatic payment of the rent whatever it may be.
The first thing to do under the board's rule is to ascertain the normal basic rent which you would expect the household to be paying. That is arrived at in relation to the total scale allowances of the members of the household. Where those scale allowances total between 24s. and 30s., the normal basis rent is taken to be 7s 6d.; if the scale allowances are above 30s., the 7s. 6d. is increased by one quarter of the amount by which those allowances exceed 30s. The basic allowance for 30s. is 7s. 6d.; the basic allowance for 32s. is 8s. If the allowances are less than 24s., the basic 847 rent allowance is decreased by one quarter of the amount by which the allowances are less than 24s. Having arrived at your basic rent, you then compare it with the actual rent which is being paid by the household. If that rent is greater than the normal basic rent, then, subject of course to the overriding provision that, in the view of the officer of the board, in all the circumstances of the case the rent paid is a reasonable one, the allowance can be increased by an amount sufficient to make the rent allowance equal to one-third of the scale allowance; that is to say if the basic rent allowance be 7s. 6d. and the actual rent is 10s., the officer can add 2s. 6d.
§ Mr. STANLEY
I was just going to deal with that point. If it be more, for instance in this case if it be 15s. the matter becomes one of discretion. Taking the country as a whole, probably this provision which allows an increase without the use of a special discretion up to one-third of the basic rate would, I think, fairly meet the case, but there are a certain number of highly rented areas, such as London, where a limitation of this kind would obviously be insufficient to meet the requirements. In those highly rented areas, special discretion will be given to the officers to exercise, not so much with individual cases as in other areas, but as part of the general administration in that area. If the rent is below the basic rate, the corresponding reduction is made in the allowances, subject to the one overriding provision which permits a discretion on the part of the officers not to apply the first 1s. 6d. of any reduction which might become justified under this rule.
It may be that you cannot justify theoretically a discretion of that kind. If you want to get mathematical exactitude you would have to decrease the allowance exactly as the rent decreases, but you cannot ignore that it has long been the practice on the part of local authorities in some areas not to take into account those subtler distinctions of rent. People have become used to that practice, and have to some extent built up their life upon it. This discretion will be used in cases where owing to the operation of the rent rule some reduction would be caused in the payment which people are 848 now getting, either from public assistance or under the transitional payments scheme. That means that where the scale allowance is 28s. and the rent paid is 6s., instead of a reduction of 1s. 6d. which, under the rent rule would be permissible, that 28s. can be paid without any deduction whatsoever. Having applied that differentiation according to rent to the amount which is already determined under the scale, you have a provisional assessment, which, for the people without resources, may become the final assessment, but for people with resources has to be considered in connection with those resources before a final assessment is arrived at.
Let me now turn to the question of resources and explain the way in which the board propose to deal with them under this new scheme. The first point that arises is the treatment of capital assets—of savings. Hon. Members will recollect that safeguards were introduced into the Act to deal with this question of savings, but the Regulations which the House is now considering include two important extensions of the safeguards which were included in the Act. They apply to cases where the savings belong either to the applicant or to his immediate relations; by that, I mean the applicant, his wife, or his father or mother. The first extension is that when half or more of the total capital assets in the household belong to what I might call the other relations, the upper limit of £300 is increased to £400; secondly, where the protected savings belong to those other members of the household, up to the sum of £400 only the actual income from the savings is to be taken into account. Hon. Members will recollect that there is a provision in the Act that a sum equivalent to 1s. per week for every £25 shall be taken into account after the first £25. Under the new scale, in the case of protected capital savings belong to other members of the household, nothing would be taken into account except the actual interest that arises from it.
§ Mr. STANLEY
Yes, up to the £400. Now in regard to earnings. In this connection, the board have made a differentiation betweeen the various relationships in the family. They hold, as I think most hon. Members do, 849 that there is a difference of responsibility in the maintenance of one relation by another in accordance with the degree of kinship. Parents have a greater responsibility for their children than for any other relation. Children have a less responsibility for their parents than their parents have for them, but a greater responsibility than they have towards other members of the family. Thirdly, members of the family who are not blood relations have a less degree of responsibility than either of the other two classes. In some of these cases a distinction has been made in the earnings which may be retained by three different classes. One is the applicant himself or his wife or his family. There the amount of earnings to be retained for personal requirements is 5s. or half the earnings, whichever is the less. Second for blood relations—That is, for the son, daughter, brother or sister, the amount to be retained is one-third of the first £1 and a quarter of any excess. In the case of more distant relations the amount to be retained is one-third of the total.
I want, in connection with this earnings rule, to draw hon. Members' attention to three points. The first is that what they retain under these Regulations is for their personal requirements. They are entitled, in addition to that, to the scale allowance for their maintenance. It is important to note this, for people may try to compare this allowance with what they see set out very often in a public assistance scale, in which the amount which the member of the household is allowed to retain out of his earnings includes provision for his own maintenance. In the Regulations, provision for his maintenance is in addition and is not included. The second point is that the wages considered are the net wages, that is, the wages after statutory deductions. A point which I know will interest hon. Members opposite is that the deductions to be made also include deductions made through the custom of the trade or calling.
§ Mr. T. SMITH
Assume that you are dealing with the case of a collier who has to pay a checkweighman, the cost of tools and explosives and for hospitals, will all that be allowed?
§ Mr. STANLEY
I think the actual details are going to be answered. I can answer in the case of the cost of explosives, 850 which would be allowed. If hon. Members will put the particular points down as to what comes within that definition, I will be glad to give a reply. The point is that the customary deductions which are part of the conditions of employment are deducted in arriving at the net wages. The third point to which I would draw hon. Members' attention is the discretion which is contained in Clause V, 3 (4), to allow the member of the household to keep additional sums out of his earnings to meet special expenditure which has to be incurred in the course of his work; for instance, for travelling expenditure, or, in the case of a man who has a job as a clerk or shop assistant, who has to pay particular attention to his dress and appearance. In that kind of case, there is a discretion to make an increased allowance to meet those special needs.
I pass to the question of the treatment of resources other than earnings. These other resources are so varied in their character and so different in their claims to treatment that the board felt, I think, rightly, that to lay down at once without experience of their working an arbitrary rule which could not be altered would only lead to hardship to the applicant. They therefore leave it, as far as the regulations are concerned, to discretion coupled with a certain minimum protection which is to be given in all cases. I am sure the House would not be content to allow these regulations to pass without knowing, in the first instance and before experience has been acquired, how the board intend to deal with these particular resources. I will give the House information in regard to some matters to which I know they attach the greatest importance. During the Debate I shall be only too glad to answer in regard to any other points. First of all, with regard to milk and school meals, the basis which the board are going to adopt in the first instance is as follows:
All meals given upon a doctor's certificate that the child is suffering from a specific physiological condition and requires extra nourishment are to be set off against the personal medical requirements of the children, and ignored.
The next provision deals specifically with milk or other special provision, such as cod liver oil, which is to be entirely ignored.
851 The provision of meals up to two per day for a single child in a household, or one meal for two children, will be ignored, as constituting a negligible saving to the family. That is to say, 12 meals in the week in the household are free. After that, some deduction is to be made in respect of those meals, which works out at a sum of roughly 1d. per meal.
As regards medical relief, maternity and child welfare, and tuberculosis services, any payment or allowances in kind under these Services will be regarded as being off-set by the special needs, and will, therefore, be ignored.
In the case of old age pensions, widows' and orphans pensions, and blind pensions under the Blind Persons Act, 1920, any balance after providing for the pensioner's needs at the scale rate will be allowed for personal requirements where there are no other resources; in other words, in those circumstances it will be ignored.
§ Mr. STANLEY
We will deal with any particular points on which hon. Members may desire information. I am now making a general statement.
Educational grants from local authorities, where the amount does not exceed £15 a year, will be allowed for personal requirements in connection with education. Where it exceeds £15 a year, or is in respect of college or university education, the case will be considered in the light of expenditure attributable to education, provided that no part of the grant is to be regarded as available for the needs of members of the household other than the recipient of the grant.
These are some examples of the way in which the board intend to start dealing with some of these other resources, and I think hon. Members will agree that their treatment of these particular resources is adequate, not to say generous. I realise, however, that hon. Members will want the fullest information, not only as to how the board will start dealing in their discretion with resources of this kind, but as to any changes they may make, and I am considering whether perhaps the most convenient form in which to give the House information would not be to lay a White Paper, or, perhaps, put a paper in the 852 Library, giving all these discretionary cases among other matters, and which could be brought up to date as any change was made by the board in their procedure. In that way the House would have full knowledge of how eases of this kind were being treated.
Now, having been through the main points of the treatment of resources which have to be related to the provisional assessment which has been already arrived at, we are in a position to arrive at the final assessment. To that final assessment there are three provisos. The first is a proviso dealing with the wages earned. I believe most Members of the House will agree with the principle that a man should not receive more for doing nothing than he would normally receive when he was in full work in his occupation. I would, however, in this connection, point out two things. The first is that this so-called wage stop does not operate solely in the case of the wages of the applicant, but operates in respect of the wages of the applicant and anyone else in the household who is out of work. That is to say, if a father and a son in the household are both out of work, this wage stop is the wages of the two combined, and not of the father alone. Secondly, it is necessarily the fact that there is, and must be, a discretion, so that, if the needs of the family cannot be met except by a sum which exceeds the amount which the man would earn if he were normally employed, the statutory duty of the board to meet those needs overrides this as it overrides any other provision. The second proviso gives a discretion to deal with needs in special circumstances. In answer to my hon. Friend who raised the point, I would say that theoretically the board has to consider every case by itself, and has to apply its discretion in every case according to the circumstances of that case, but there are obviously cases, such as I referred to in the highly rated areas in London, where the individual circumstances are so much the same that the individual use of discretion really amounts almost to a general use of discretion in the area.
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
Would that apply, not to a particular class of applicants, but to a geographical area such as a distressed area? Are we to assume that the conditions for the grant of unemployment assistance are to be more or less uniform 853 throughout the country, including distressed areas, and qualified only by discretionary powers exercised in individual cases?
§ Mr. STANLEY
There is no differentiation between areas as such. The whole object of the scheme was to obtain uniformity and do away with inequalities, but of course in each case the individual circumstances have to be taken into account, and discretion can be used in exceptional circumstances in individual cases. The other kind of case with which this discretion will have to deal is the case of a family where there has been sickness and where extra nourishment is required, or where there has been some special domestic difficulty.
There are, of course, two cases where this discretion may operate, not by way of increase, but by way of decrease. Hon. Members will realise that the large majority of applicants to the board will be found in the industrial areas, and the regulations are designed primarily with regard to the circumstances in those areas. There are special circumstances in individual cases which may require an adjustment by way of reduction of the assessment in the case of applicants living in country districts. It is true that, expressed merely in figures, you probably cannot find any wide variation in the cost of living as between a particular industrial district and a rural district, but we all know that in these rural districts there is very often a different economy—that in fact you can maintain the same standard of life at less expense than is possible in a big industrial town. In many cases applicants in a rural district have resources to which it is not possible to attach a precise monetary value, but which enable them to maintain the same standard of life at lesser expense. There may be a need for some adjustment on these grounds in individual cases. Its extent will depend on the circumstances of each case, and care will be exercised to secure uniformity of treatment of applicants in like circumstances. Hon. Members will realise that the exercise of discretion of this kind is subject to appeal to the tribunal by the applicant. The third proviso deals with a different type of discretion—the discretion to meet needs of an exceptional character, needs, if I may so express it, of a non-recurring character 854 which do not have to be satisfied week by week. For instance, you may find that a particular household is in immediate distress because of some lack of necessary household utensils or equipment, and it will be possible under this discretion to meet the needs in such a case.
Having dealt with the regulations, there are certain general considerations upon which I wish to say a few words. The first is the question of the appeal tribunals. That, of course, is a matter of the very greatest importance. A great deal of the administration of the board must necessarily be a matter for discretion, and it is essential that the applicant should be protected against any arbitrary rulings by the board in the exercise of the discretion which the House will have granted to them. These appeal tribunals have been very carefully selected. I have been personally responsible for the selection of all the chairmen. There is a representative of the workers on each tribunal and a representative of the board. In addition, provision was made in the Act, as the House will remember, for local advisory committees consisting of people who knew the local circumstances and the local needs, and who could advise the board and assist them in their local administration.
The second general point to which I want to refer is the effect that these provisions will have upon the live register. In moving the Second Reading of the Bill, my predecessor made the prophecy that the passage of this scheme would result in a substantial increase in the numbers of registered unemployed. The House will realise that obviously it does not make any difference at all to employment or unemployment; it does not mean that more people are going to be unemployed than there are now; but it may make some difference to the figures shown. That will not be because, as some hon. Members think, of a transfer of people from the public assistance committees to the care of the board. It is a general rule with all public assistance committees, when giving relief to able-bodied unemployed, to make them register at the Employment Exchange as a condition of receiving their relief. There is, however, a certain number of people, whose 855 number we do not know and cannot guess, who are not qualified for unemployment benefit or transitional payment and who have been deterred from going to the public assistance committee by the old stigma, which has still lingered, of the Poor Law. We are, under this Act, removing that Poor Law stigma from the people who apply to the board, and we are at the same time providing a scale of assistance which is much more generous than that given by the vast majority of public assistance committees throughout the country. There is no doubt that the result of these two things will be that an appreciable extra number will come to the board who would not go to the public assistance committees, and that will therefore cause an increase in the live register.
Finally, I propose to deal with the financial effects of the Regulations. First of all, with regard to those people who are now receiving transitional payments and who will on the 7th January begin to be transferred to the board, it is very difficult to make a precise estimate of the cost. So much depends upon individual cases, and there are so many varying factors, such as the differing ages of children, the rent and the use of discretion, that it is not simply a question of having a scale, multiplying by a number, and then arriving at a result. The only way in which an estimate can be obtained is by taking samples and making some form of proportional estimate. By the use of samples of that kind, widely drawn throughout the country, we estimate that the increase in payments to the people who are at present receiving transitional payments will be at the rate of £3,000,000 a year. Hon. Members will realise that that increase of £3,000,000 is not necessarily a figure that will be reflected in next year's Budget. The actual amount which is going to be spent on maintaining these people depends, of course, upon the number who have to be maintained. What it means is that, if there were throughout next year the same number of people receiving transitional payment as there are now, it would cost an additional £3,000,000 a year to maintain them under the new scale. I would like to point out to the House that the comparison which we are making is not a 856 comparison with the cost expressed in last year's Budget, but a comparison with the post-July cost after the restoration of the 10 per cent. cut in the Budget of this year. It is estimated that the cost of that restoration has been at the rate of between £3,000,000 and £4,000,000 a year, so the effective comparison as between this coming spring, when the board is fully operative, and last, is that the people on transitional payments will be receiving something in the nature of £7,000,000 a year extra.
In addition to that, there is the extra expense that is to be incurred in respect of the people who are taken over from the public assistance committees. The extra expense there is of two kinds. One is the actual increase to the unemployed themselves and the other is the relief that is going to be granted to local authorities by transferring a part of their burden to the State. It is very difficult to estimate either of those two increases. We have no precise knowledge of the number who will come over to us, nor is it very easy to find out exactly the scales on which they are being paid. The amount of the relief to local authorities depends on the calculation of the expenditure in a standard year, a calculation which has not yet been completed, but it would not be safe to assume that the cost of these two items together can be any less than £5,000,000. Therefore, I think the minimum at which we can put the total additional cost to the Exchequer of bringing this new scheme into operation is an increased expenditure of £8,000,000 a year.
§ Miss RATHBONE
How is the £5,000,000 distributed between relief to rates and assistance to the unemployed?
§ Mr. STANLEY
I could not give an exact figure, but of course the larger proportion of the £5,000,000 will be in relief to rates. The hon. Lady will remember that we only estimate that something like 200,000 will come over from the public assistance committees.
Although this scheme will cost a great deal more, although it will mean largely increased payments to the unemployed, it does not mean that every single person who is now on transitional payment or public assistance will get more as the result of it. It was never pretended that he would, and I do not think the House or the country ever expected it. One of 857 the great arguments in favour of a national scheme was to get uniformity and to do away with the vast differences between various areas. You cannot expect, in attempting to get uniformity, that you will not get some decreases as well as some increases. But the figures of the cost that I have given and the fact that the unemployed on transitional payment are going to get £3,000,000 a year more than they are getting this year—[Interruption.] I will take the hon. Member up at once on that. The comparison made is the comparison between the same number of people on transitional payment. We have taken samples of what people were getting post-July and we have compared that with what they would get under the board, and that gives a figure of percentage increase. That percentage increase shows that, taking the number of people on transitional payment to-day, they will get £3,000,000 a year more. The increase is not caused in the very least by any alteration in the number of applications. The hon. Member can work it out for himself.
I am sorry to have detained the House so long, but it is a complicated matter, and it is only fair to give a full description of it. I think every one will agree that, in drawing up these regulations, the board have been faced with an extremely difficult task. They have had to consider the rates of the wage earner, and the maintenance of insurance benefit. In addition, they have had to bring uniformity over great areas where now there is a lack of uniformity. Whatever regulations they introduced, they would be bound to be criticised and attacked from one side or the other, but, though no doubt we shall hear from hon. Members opposite complaints and criticisms of these regulations, and I have no doubt they will oppose them in the Division Lobby, yet I believe that the general body of opinion in the country is satisfied that the board have approached their task with sympathy, with understanding, and with success. Important as are these regulations even more important will be the way they are going to be carried out. A great deal has necessarily to be left, in a scheme of this sort, to the discretion of the board, subject of course to the decision of the Appeal Tribunal, and I believe the care, the sympathy, and the understanding that the board have obviously brought to this part of their task is an 858 earnest of the way in which they are going to treat the other part of their task and is a good omen for the success of the scheme.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I beg to move, in line 5, to leave out "be approved" and to add instead thereof:will be inadequate to ensure the maintenance of unemployed persons and their dependants in health and physical efficiency.I think all Members will sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman in the difficult task that he has had to undertake in trying to make plain to us in a minimum of time, all the implications of the very complicated regulations that he has put before the House in the most technical language. We cannot complain about the work of the Unemployment Assistance Board. Our complaint is not against the board. It is against the marching orders given to the board by the Government in the 1934 Act. The board have acted with very conspicuous success in framing some scheme though not a scheme that is likely to be acceptable to Members on this side of the House. When the Unemployment Bill was first before the House, the most extravagant claims were made for it. It was hailed by its authors in terms which even the most enthusiastic biographer would never use regarding the person whose life he was writing. Self-praise it is said is no recommendation, but this scheme was boosted as being the one scheme that was going to lead to the salvation of society. It was going to be the most important piece of social legislation of this generation. We see it now in all its completeness—the Act plus the first set of Regulations under it. I think it is clear that the problem of unemployment and of the unemployed has baffled the Government, and I am not sure that they are out of the wood yet. Indeed it was suggested to them—and now that we have the Regulations this suggestion is more than borne out—that their new scheme would have very far-reaching repercussions on the whole structure of our social services.
What is to be the future of the Poor Law now that this scheme is about to operate? I do not want to go into details about medical relief and so on, but we are entitled to ask whether autonomous public assistance authorities, acting 859 within their own discretion and spending their own money, who happen to have scales of out-relief for the non-able-bodied and the sick which are higher than those set out in the Regulations, on the threat of surcharge by the Public Auditor, are to be compelled to come down to the Unemployment Assistance Board's scale. The right hon. Gentleman has tried to suggest that on the whole these scales are much more generous than the scales of many local authorities, but there are numerous public assistance authorities whose scales would put to shame the scale of the Unemployment Assistance Board. We ought to know whether the Poor Law service is now to become the handmaiden of the Unemployment Assistance Board and whether their freedom of action to deal with scales of relief is to be determined by the upper level set by the Unemployment Assistance Board.
Then, of course, there are bound to be very serious repercussions on the whole system of unemployment insurance. I am not certain that the Government, in their desire to maintain the fabric of the unemployment insurance system has not really put the first nail in its coffin. We shall see. The next three or four years, if the scheme works as long as that, will prove whether Part II of the Unemployment Act has or has not knocked the bottom out of Part I. I am quite satisfied that there will be a demand—indeed, there has already been a question—that the right hon. Gentleman should alter the scale of the dependents' allowances in unemployment insurance. There will be a demand that the means of the family should be taken into account. There is no virtue in a flat contribution and a flat benefit. It is only for administrative convenience. But if without paying any money you can have regard to all the circumstances of applicants and members of his household, what is the case for the continuance of the unemployment insurance scheme at all? It ceases to have any kind of justification and even those who wish to keep it will desire, no doubt, to bring the unemployment insurance scheme into some kind of harmony with the scheme of the Unemployment Assistance Board.
The Unemployment Act on which these regulations are founded set out primarily to make the unemployment insurance 860 scheme self-supporting. It was a cold, callous, mathematical calculation. We pointed out from these benches time and time again that it is always easy to get a self-supporting unemployment insurance scheme. All you have to do is to increase the contributions or lower the benefits, or shorten the time during which benefit is payable, and any unemployment insurance scheme can be made a business proposition. The Government proceeded to do that in Part I of the Act. It was the intention of the Government in Part II, and indeed it was the intention of many hon. Members on the opposite side of the House, to bring Part II into conformity with Part I. It was to be assumed that Part II should not offer to the unemployed worker better scales than were offered in Part I. That was the assumption. The Government have had to depart from that in very important particulars, and they may before very long have to depart still further from it.
Let us look at some of the anomalies which we have now as between the unemployment insurance scale and the Unemployment Assistance Board's scale. The right hon. Gentleman drew a sharp distinction between what you pay for and what you do not pay for. What you pay for you get whether you need it or not, but what you do not pay for you get according to your needs. But to the unemployed man it does not matter a brass farthing whether it is called unemployment assistance benefit or unemployment allowances. To the man and wife under unemployment insurance there is a payment of 26s. per week. Once they have run out of that, and their economic position is more desperate than it was before because the man has been out longer, it is no satisfaction to them to know that now they are to receive 24s. instead of 26s. Their human needs are there. If, however, that married couple are fortunate to have a child, it does not matter a brass farthing to them whether they are in unemployment insurance or whether they are receiving money from the Unemployment Assistance Board; both scales happen to be 28s. per week.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I shall have something to say about rent a little later. I have not overlooked that point. Where, 861 however, the family increases you get a growing disparity between unemployment benefit and unemployment assistance. I do not mind people on transitional payment here and there being better off than they would have been, but I am pointing out that the Government are laying up trouble for themselves, if they think that people who are outside unemployment insurance, although it is true that they have been in before, are to be better off than the people inside. If that be so, clearly there is something wrong with the unemployment insurance scheme, and the logic of that is that those scales ought to be revised.
As regards the Regulations themselves, an effort has been made to convey an impression of generosity on the part of the Government. We have already had it said to us that people on transitional payment will be £3,000,000 a year better off. That will not mean very much on the average among a million people and their dependants, but I will let that go. The Regulations give an air of generosity. But, in fact, when you examine them they really maximise the income which is taken into account and minimise the amount that goes into the applicant's home. Every device is used to swell out what appears to be the family income, and every dodge is used to reduce the amount that goes into the applicant's family. I am sure that many of my hon. Friends during the course of the three days' Debate will be able to develop those points. I think it is true that the Regulations tend to magnify the resources available for the home. That is not new. It is to be found in the Act of 1934, which pretends that the 5s. over the £ of a disablement benefit is available for the home, when, in the opinion of the Ministry of Pensions, the 25s. was really needed for the man himself. It is so with the allowances that are made in respect of health insurance and so on. The Act swells out the family income beyond what is actually available in the home.
We get it, first, in the question of the definition of earnings. The right hon. Gentleman has done something to relieve the minds of some of us as to what "net earnings" mean, but I am bound at this point to enter a protest against the way the House is being treated in this matter. We have the regulations, we have the White Paper, which is absolutely meaningless 862 and just a mere paraphrase of the regulations, and we are treated this afternoon to new sub-regulations which we never heard about until we heard of them from the Minister. Now there may be a White Paper put in the Library of the House of Commons in which we shall be able to see this growing volume of sub-regulations which are regulations under the regulations which are now before the House. We are glad to have some assurance from the right hon. Gentleman—we shall wish from these benches to probe the matter a little further—that earnings mean net salary less the employé's share of contributions payable under the National Health Insurance Acts, the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Acts and the Unemployment Insurance Acts, and any other sums the deduction of which is authorised by Statute. Now the right hon. Gentleman tells us this afternoon that certain items, though not authorised by Statute, but being the common custom of the trade will be regarded as net earnings. If that be so, these regulations are improperly drawn and ought to be withdrawn, because it is very difficult to accept the assurance of the Minister, on a document which will have statutory effect, when the allowances which can be taken into account are confined to those which are authorised by Statute, and the Minister tells us that others are to be regarded as net earnings.
§ Mr. STANLEY
The words used are "net salary or wages," and I am informed that the legal interpretation of the use of these terms means whatever the amount is after the deduction of these customary items.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
If that be so, of course, we are relieved, but I hope that my hon. Friends will put case after case of deductions which are non-statutory and which obtain their force from custom or from agreements between trade unions and employed, and are as much a part of the expenses of a man as statutory contributions, and, if there are any of those which are not in, we think that they ought to be included. There is a provision made in Regulation III on the Determination of Need which turns on the meaning of the word "substantial." This is a case of an attempt to swell what appears to be the family income. As I understand it, it is a device for pretending 863 that a man, wife and child have 28s. a week when they have not, and when they might have only 26s. We want to know what "substantial" means. Every penny is a substantial figure to the unemployed family. If this regulation is to be used where the means of the family fall just a little short, it means that a large number of people for the purposes of these regulations are to be assumed to enjoy an income which in fact they do not possess.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to Regulation V (3) on personal allowances where allowances are being assumed in a purely arbitrarily fashion. Father is to be allowed to keep his first 5s.—it is very good of the Unemployment Assistance Board so meticulously to regulate the financial affairs inside the family—and in the case of a son or daughter, one-third and so on, the assumption being that the son or daughter, both of them saving to get married, are to be satisfied, if they are earning £l a week, with 6s. 8d., and the board are going to pretend that 13s. 4d. of that £ goes into the home for the purposes of household expenditure. All this jiggery-pokery about personal expenses is purely fictitious. Those sums will not, as a matter of fact, inure to the advantage of the housewife's pocket. In other words, the Regulation with regard to personal allowances is again a pretence and an assumption that working-class families have available for expenditure on family purposes more than they actually have.
In the case of earnings of the family, again the same kind of thing applies. People are to be assumed to put into the pool of the family more than, in fact, will actually be the case. On the other hand, I think that it is true that the Regulations tend to scale down what appear to be the standard allowances. It is clear that the more you bolster up what appears to be the household income, the more you automatically reduce the amount of money that goes into the home under this scheme. The matter does not rest there. Regulation III would enable the officers of the board to refuse assistance to a man and wife with only 23s., or some sum approximating to that. Where there is a large family, on the theory expounded by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon that overhead charges remain permanent and therefore 864 the cost per head diminishes, the amount of assistance is to be correspondingly reduced. Theoretically—and the right hon. Gentleman used that word on more than one occasion—that may be so, but whether in practice the total family expenditure per head decreases by an amount which would justify a reduction per head in the amount of assistance is a matter of very grave doubt.
The right hon. Gentleman seems quite pleased with his provision about rents. I think he is pinching the poor both ways on the rent allowance. I noticed how he won cheers from hon. Members sitting behind him when he said that it would be a monstrous thing to pay the whole of the rent, because it would mean that the landlord would exploit the poor. There were resounding cheers from hon. Members opposite. That is an interesting argument to be brought forward. What will the position actually be? It may be this, that in certain areas—I would cite mining areas, where there are large numbers of colliery cottages rented at low rents, and agricultural areas—where a man and wife will probably in no case get the 24s., but where they may be reduced below the Poor Law scales now operating in those areas. I am convinced that in the lowly-paid areas, and in those the mining areas must be included, where there are low rents, and where people have become accustomed to a low standard of rent, and where they have, I will not say enjoyed but obtained public assistance on a scale higher than others, in large numbers of eases those people are going to be very much worse off than they were before.
If the right hon. Gentleman is right about his £3,000,000, I make the prophecy that there will be no increase going into the depressed mining areas of this country under the rent provisions. If I understand the meaning of the Regulations, it is that less money will be going into the mining areas than is going in now. At the same time that the Government are providing £2,000,000 for charitable and semi-charitable work in the depressed areas, it may well be that they are taking £2,000,000 from the miners' homes. In the case of the high-rented areas the same kind of difficulty will arise. There, the whole of the rent is not payable. A proportion of it is payable, and that is defended on the ground that it would be wicked to pay the whole 865 of the rent because of the possibility of exploitation. The conclusion is that if the whole of the rent allowance be not paid and the family presumably has to pay it, there is going to be less available in the family for food. Therefore, the principle of need by which the right hon. Gentleman professes to stand is being destroyed and you will, in fact, especially in high-rented places like London, penalise the people who are going to pay excessive rent, which they are only able to pay at the expense of the stomachs of their children.
Another way in which there is an attempt to minimise the allowances is under Regulation VI, with regard to wages. That is an attempt on the part of the board and the Government to anchor down allowances to the level of the wages paid in the low-wage districts. Under the Poor Law, however reluctant the Poor Law authorities may have been to do it, able-bodied men engaged in employment have had to be subsidised out of the rates by outdoor poor relief because their wages were inadequate to prevent destitution. I know the argument on the other side of the House. It is the argument of the Speenhamland experiment where unscrupulous farmers, knowing that the parishes would make up wages to a living level, went on steadily reducing wages. In all the books of economic history we know that the poor were pauperised, but nobody ever said a word about the wicked farmers. I suppose that it was considered a sound economic action on their part.
Either the Government are going to make payments according to needs under Part II, in which case the wages paid, if the man is working, are quite irrelevant, or they are not. It is possible, in spite of the command from Parliament in the Act that they should have regard to needs, that they will not have regard to needs where wages are low, for fear of pauperising the poor. That is the dilemma into which the capitalist system has fallen, and it is not for us to get it out of the dilemma. The Government cannot ride two horses at once. [HON. MEMBERS: "They do!"]—at any rate, not successfully. If they establish the principle of need, they have no right to bring in the qualification that ordinarily the wages paid should set a limit. I am aware that there is Regulation V on page 7 and Regulation VI on 866 page 8. There are powers of dispensation. These are the only parts of the scheme which show any elasticity whatever. The whole of the Regulations are based on arithmetic. They have been so generalised and degraded that we have now got human needs in nearly all cases put into terms of pounds, shillings and pence. The arithmetic is based on generalities, but generalities cannot apply to the majority of individual cases.
What does the right hon. Gentleman mean in his reference to local commissars exercising discretion? I do not know how many local commissars he has in London, but I should imagine that they are going to have a pretty difficult job if they are to examine the personal circumstances of every applicant and, what is more, the personal circumstances of every member of the household. Our impression is that this generous provision for dispensation will not be widely used, nor is it intended by the Government that it should be widely used. Just as we have this afternoon regulations within regulations, so as regards the unemployment assistance officers up and down the country there will be secret circular within secret circular, telling them how to deal with individual cases which the Unemployment Assistance Board have never seen except, to quote again the word of the Minister, "theoretically."
A word about the adequacy of the scale. The right hon. Gentleman tried to dispute the validity of any kind of comparisons. He said, "Of course, if you accept the British Medical Association's scale you should accept it for everything. If you accept the scale of the Merseyside Social Survey Committee you should accept it for everything." My reply is that as regards the question of ascertaining the food values and human needs as regards food, it is far better to place reliance on the British Medical Association than on a non-medical body like the Merseyside Survey Committee. While I complain about the price that the British Medical Association put upon their food values—it was not their job to do that—we are entitled to say as regards food needs that there is no higher authority that we can accept than the British Medical Association. As regards other needs, I am prepared to accept the Merseyside Survey Committee's report, because they were dealing with things 867 within their knowledge, and that would not apply to the other elements in the cost of living if the British Medical Association had tried to elaborate the scale.
The first point in regard to the British Medical Association scale is that examinations which have been made by working-class women of experience, who can be relied upon to buy in the best possible market, show that it is impossible to buy the amount of food laid down in the British Medical Association's scale at the price suggested by the British Medical Association. Here is one case in point where the medical officer of health for the Lancashire town of Middleton says that the prices are higher within that area than in the British Medical Association's scale. He estimated that it would need 24s. in the town of Middleton to buy the food which the British Medical Association said could be bought for £1. That means that the estimate of the British Medical Association, not in terms of food values but of the money needed to buy that food, is about 20 per cent. wrong, because the prices are 20 per cent. higher than they estimated.
I am not blaming the British Medical Association for not being able to change calories into pounds, shillings and pence, but I could give the House a list of places showing that the scale of the British Medical Association as measured in money is hopelessly below what would actually be possible. In some towns it would need 25s., 26s. or 27s. to buy the amount of food which the British Medical Association suggested could be bought for £1. In the Prime Minister's own division of Seaham, in Durham, the price that would have to be paid for £1 of foodstuffs on the British Medical Association basis would require something like 22s. 6d. That makes any disparity between the Unemployment Assistance Board's scale and the British Medical Association's scale all the greater, because the amount of food which the British Medical Association suggested could be bought for that amount of money cannot be so bought. It is clear to those who have examined the regulations and gone through the scales and tried out various sizes of families, which I spent part of my week-end doing, that there is a very considerable disparity in many cases.
868 I do not want to go into details but no doubt many examples will be quoted of families of varying sizes and the amount they will receive as compared with what is necessary to meet the barest physical requirements of life. I am certain that if you examine the British Medical Association scale as it stands, not subject to a 20 per cent. increase in costs, you will find that there is a serious disparity between that scale and a reasonable allowance for the barest physical needs of life, which means that the Government are not, in fact, meeting the minimum physical requirements of the people which is what they set out to do. I am not going to say much about malnutrition, except that I cannot understand the attempts of supporters of the Government to prove that malnutrition does not exist. I am not going to pretend that we are on the whole a C 3 nation, that there is evidence of malnutrition everywhere, but I do say that when people try to belittle the effects of malnutrition they are not acting in the public interest. It was the chief medical officer of the Ministry of Health who said that malnutrition was judged objectively; he does not see the cases, but we have a certain volume of evidence that under the existing standards of unemployment insurance benefit, or transitional payment, numbers of people, especially young people, are suffering from malnutrition, and, unless the scheme is sufficiently generous to meet all reasonable physical needs, the amount of malnutrition which exists to-day—I will not magnify it—will increase.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the scale was generous. I could bring cases to prove that public assistance authorities in the areas where poverty is worse, and where they need help most, have to pay more than would be paid under this scale. There are a large number of people within the area of the London County Council, under the Poor Law, who will be better off than they would be under Part II of this Bill, and the whole of that money comes out of local resources. We need not regard this proposal of the Government as generous, because quite clearly nobody knows, not even the Minister himself, how much it is going to cost when it is working. Nobody has any idea. The right hon. Gentleman says that it all 869 depends on how the scheme is administered. We are not satisfied that a scheme which is bound to be administered on mathematical lines, and with a minimum of consideration for individual cases, is likely to be more generous than the somewhat clumsy system under which transitional payments are made at present. Largely because of that I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman for a definite statement that he will undertake a revision of these Regulations after they have had a very short run. I do that not merely because of Mr. Speaker's Ruling, for which the House is very much indebted. We have the position now that the Government so cunningly drafted the Section in the 1934 Act that they have completely humbugged the House of Commons, and put this House in a position of impotence. We can do nothing at all, not even after a three days' Debate, to alter any one of these Regulations. If a single word is altered, if a single alteration is made in a scale, the Regulations fall to the grounds. If hon. Members are dissatisfied with some of these Regulations, they have no means of expressing themselves; they have to vote against them all—which they will not do—or swallow some Regulations which they do not like. That is not treating the House fairly.
The scheme is working, as I said it would on the Second Reading of the Bill. I remember the jeers of Tory Members when I said that it was a Bill to bureaucratise the Poor Law system. It has done so with a vengeance. We are now faced with a body of Regulations which this House is impotent to modify in any way. Because of that, and also because of the fact that the Minister does not know what the scheme is going to cost—does not know what is going to come out of the washing next Saturday—I ask for a pledge from the right hon. Gentleman that within three months of the Regulations coming into operation there shall be a reconsideration of the position and the introduction of the necessary amendments. We do not regard these Regulations with enthusiasm. Certain of them we regard with dismay, and some with positive fear. We are satisfied that what was said from these benches during the passage of the Bill will prove to be justified by experience in the administration of the Regulations.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Mr. DINGLE FOOT
I do not agree with everything that has been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), but I heartily concur in his remarks about the difficult position in which the House finds itself in considering these Regulations. When the Bill was under consideration, we on these benches protested, again and again, against the fact that we were unable to amend or modify in any way these Regulations. Is is true that there are not many precedents for amending Regulations made in pursuance of a Statute, but there is not a single precedent where matters of such great and vital concern to such a large number of people in the country have been dealt with by way of Regulations and not by Act of Parliament. When matters of such high importance are dealt with in this way, and the House of Commons can neither amend nor modify the Regulations, there is a real abrogation of the power and authority of this House. We should like to put on record again our most emphatic protest against this way of dealing with this important matter.
We shall all be grateful to the Minister of Labour for the explanation he gave of the Regulations, but, in spite of that, I have one serious complaint to make, either against the right hon. Gentleman or his Department. By a direction in the Unemployment Act it was necessary that these draft Regulations should be formulated and presented to the Minister of Labour on or before 28th October. It was provided that this was to be done within four months of the passing of the Act, and the Act became law on 28th June. These Regulations were, therefore, in the hands of the Minister on 28th October, and they were not presented to the House until six days ago—11th December. There cannot have been any amendment upon the part of the Minister because if there were it was necessary, under the Act, that a special Memorandum should be presented to the House giving the reasons for the amendments. Therefore, the Minister of Labour has not altered these Regulations. In fact he has been sitting on them for at least six weeks, and then the House is given six days in which to consider them. They are very technical and complicated, and every hon. Member who represents an industrial constituency is deeply concerned with their effect, and 871 is most anxious to have as long a time as possible to study them and also to consult people in his constituency. In fact, he has only had last week-end in which to consider the effect of the Regulations upon the people he represents, in spite of the fact that they must have been in the Minister's hands for six weeks. Perhaps we may be told the reason for this unnecessary delay, which has rendered more difficult the task of this House in considering these Regulations to-day.
I also endorse the remarks of the right hon. Member for Wakefield on the subject of the Memorandum. It is entirely inadequate, and tells us nothing which it is not possible to gather from the Regulations themselves. The other place has been in a much better position. The Special Orders Committee in the other place was able to meet the Solicitor to the Ministry of Labour and he gave them not only the information contained in the Memorandum, but, as I understand, a great deal more as to the inquiries which have been made by the Unemployment Assistance Board with regard to rents, the practices of public assistance committees and the way in which these figures have been arrived at. If that information had been supplied to this House, it would have been much more useful than that which is contained in the Memorandum. Perhaps we can be told whether the Memorandum was prepared by the Unemployment Assistance Board or by the Ministry of Labour. Is it simply the interpretation put on these Regulations by an official of the Ministry of Labour, or the interpretation placed upon them by the board itself? I pass to the actual terms of the Regulations. Already a reference has been made to paragraph III, and the use of the word "substantial"—an applicant shall not be deemed to be or not to be in need of an allowance (as the case may be) by reason only of the fact that his available resources are less or greater than the amount at which his needs would he so assessed unless the amount by which they are so less or greater is substantial when considered in relation to all the circumstances of the case.That does give to the unemployment assistance officer a quite unnecessary and very dangerous discretion. Perhaps we may be told exactly what are the limits of that discretion, exactly how far the unemployment assistance officer will be 872 able to go. The scale for a man is 10s. If a man has 15s. will the assistance officer be able to say to him, "You have the greater part of this, so we do not think it worth while to trouble about the rest." It may be that only very small fractions will be treated in that way, but even if it is only a small fraction of a shilling, suppose it is only a difference of 3d. between the man's income and the scale, is there any reason why he should not be at liberty to apply week by week in order to receive that 3d. if he wishes to do so? It is precisely this sort of small grievance which brings the particular officer, and ultimately the whole system of these regulations, into disrepute. I hope we shall have some reason given showing why it is not possible to adhere more rigidly to the scales instead of giving the officers this very dangerous discretion.
Then on page 3, it is remarkable that the first three items show a reduction on the present scale of transitional payment, or anyhow a reduction compared with certain areas—I do not say every area. We have not had sufficient explanation from the Minister why there should be any reduction at all. Last summer we restored the cut in unemployment benefit, and in some areas that was followed in the matter of transitional payments. When in 1931 the original cut was made one of the principal arguments used by the Prime Minister was about the cost of living having fallen. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that the cost of living had gradually fallen during the last year or two. I have not with me the figures of the present cost of living, but I think I am correct in saying that food prices have been going up during the last 12 months. Does the Minister think that this is a time when we ought to be reducing the income of many thousands of people who are now drawing the transitional payment? There was scarcely a word said in justification of the reduction which is involved in the first three items of the scale.
I pass to the children's allowance. Let me say that I want to review these Regulations as impartially as I can. I think that every hon. Member will be glad that it has been possible to increase the amount of the children's allowance, at any rate in many cases. I would draw attention to one feature—the increase to 6s. in the case of children between 14 873 and 18. That may have most admirable results. I think it may help to remove some of the opposition which undoubtedly exists amongst wage-earners to the raising of the school-leaving age when they know that if a child is kept at school and is not bringing home any wage money it may bring home 6s. in the way of relief.
The Minister referred to paragraph (d) at the end of the scale, and I would put to him a question about the words:in addition to not more than two adults,Why are those words included? I followed closely what the right hon. Gentleman said on the subject. He stated that 4s. was to be provided in the case of the single child. I think everyone appreciates that as a family grows larger the cost per head must in some respects diminish. I think that will be admitted on all sides of the House. But take the case of a man and wife living in a house with one child, and suppose that the householder's brother is living with them. If the householder's brother is himself unemployed and is drawing the 8s. under this scale, or whatever the amount may be, are the needs of the first child any the less by reason of the fact that the brother is living in the house and is receiving no more than is sufficient for his own need? I think this paragraph is too tightly drawn with the words "in addition to not more than two adults." Those words do not really achieve the object which the Minister had in view.
I come to a much more important part of the Regulations, and that is the part dealing with rent. On paragraph (a) the Minister said it was necessary to have some upward limitation in order to avoid exploitation by landlords. I should not have thought that that was a very great danger in the case of this class of tenant, because in the majority of cases they will either be living in rent-restricted houses or in corporation and slum clearance houses. The danger is not as real as the Minister thinks.
Much more serious to my mind, certainly in some parts of the country, is paragraph (b) on page 5, which deals with cases where the rent is less than the basic allowance of 7s. 6d. I do not dissent from the principle of a sliding scale in the matter of rent. The regulations are obviously an attempt to apply the principle of "to each according to his need"; 874 but I do suggest that, at any rate from the point of view of some parts of the country, the basic rent has been fixed too high. The figure that is given is 7s. 6d. Suppose that the rent that is paid is only 5s. That would be a very frequent occurrence in my own constituency, and I think in some other parts of Scotland. That means that 2s. 6d. is going to be deducted from the provisional assessment. If there are special circumstances it is true that the reduction will be something less; it might be 1s. instead of 2s. 6d. But there is no definition in these regulations of "special circumstances." It is rather open to question whether the phrase "special circumstances" means the special circumstances of the householder or special circumstances over the district. I have read as carefully as I can both the regulations and the Memorandum, and I am forced to the conclusion that this means special circumstances for the household. Therefore, we cannot assume that the 1s. 6d. rebate will be given in any particular case.
Dealing with these figures where there are no special circumstances, assume that a husband and wife were receiving this scale of 20s. Assume that they are living in a tenement and that their rent is 4s. Their income is going to be 24s., minus 3s. 6d., or 20s. 6d. Take the scale of my own constituency, which is typical of many. They will receive 20s. 6d. as against 26s. at the present time. That is a very grave deduction indeed, and as against 23s. 3d. before the cut was restored in the last Budget. It may very easily happen in the case of people living in a very low-rented room or house that something like 20 per cent. of the income that they are now receiving will be taken away as a result of these regulations. The whole House, irrespective of party, rejoiced last year when the cuts in benefit were restored, and when in many cases that restoration was followed in the matter of transitional payments; but in a case such as I have outlined to the House you are going to have a far more severe cut even than the cut imposed in the national crisis of 1931. It needs more justification than the Minister has yet given us for such a very severe reduction.
There is one other point arising out of this question of rent. In the next paragraph reference is made to the question of house property. It is stated that: 875All money and investments treated as capital assets belonging to the applicant or to any other member of the household of which the applicant is a member (exclusive of the capital value of any interest in the house in which the household resides) shall be aggregated.It is to be taken into account according to a certain scale. A man owns his house. I understand that it is to be exempted from consideration according to the scale that follows in that paragraph. But when we are dealing with the question of the basic rent, suppose that a man owns his house, suppose that he happens to have bought a house through a building society; all he will have to pay then is the rates. Suppose that the house is 7s. 6d. a week. The rates may be 2s. Are you in a case like that going to take the whole difference between the basis rent of 7s. 6d. and the amount that he happens to pay in rates? You may be deducting 5s. or 6s. If you do that you destroy the exemption for house property. I appreciate that among this class of unemployed there will not be a great many who own their own houses, but it is quite obvious that there will be a certain number, and the board think so, because they have made special provision for them. That point is rather obscure and it should be cleared up.
Now I come to the crux of the whole matter, and that is the question of the family contribution. I speak with some interest on this subject because I have taken every opportunity since I have been a Member of the House to raise this particular aspect of the means test. I am entirely in favour of the principle of a sliding scale, and I have frequently advocated it in this House, because I have always felt that it was unjust that if the wage-earner of a family, part of whose earnings had to support his family, were able to go out and by additional exertions to increase his earnings, it was a very hard thing that the whole of that increase should simply be deducted from his family assessment, and that he himself should get no benefit from his increased exertions. But I do think there ought to be a certain level below which it should not be allowed to slide. A very low minimum is fixed here; in fact there is no minimum at all, because the amount fixed is one-third of any amount up to £1. This matter was dealt with by the Royal Commission, and 876 on page 289 of their Report they made one suggestion:An illustration of the application of this principle is a rule whereby of the income earned by a member of the household a minimum sum, and in addition a proportion say of one-fourth of the earnings in excess of that amount, should be allowed as personal income, the balance only being brought into the estimate of the income of the household of which he is a member.The Government have adopted one part of that recommendation but have ignored the other; they have adopted the sliding scale principle, but ignored the recommendation that there should be a minimum. I have followed as carefully as I could the method of assessment to be employed, and, if I interpret the Regulations correctly, it is to be done in this way. First, the officer will make out the scale of allowances for the applicant and his dependants; secondly, he will make out the scale of allowances for the wage-earners in the family dealing with them apart from the dependants; and, thirdly, he will make allowance for the personal requirement of the wage-earners. All these three items will be added together and the total will be deducted from the provisional assessment, and if there is any balance, that balance will be the final assessment. I am sorry to go into this matter in so much detail, but it is of considerable importance to know the precise method which is to be adopted.
Every Member who represents an industrial division is naturally concerned with the effect of the Regulations upon his own constituency, and, like a great many other hon. Members, I spent some time this week-end in endeavouring to ascertain what the effect would be in my own constituency. The House will perhaps permit me to give one or two examples showing the difference between what is being done by the public assistance committee in Dundee at the moment and what will be the effect of these scales. The first example is that of a household of six members, three of whom are wage-earners. These examples I may say were provided as typical cases by the Director of Public Assistance. This is the case of a man and wife with one dependant idle, and three workers in the household, one of whom is earning 21s. 6d., the second 26s. and the third 24s. The man has a pension of which 3s. 9d. is taken into account.
In Dundee the system is that the first 21s. of a worker's earnings is ignored. 877 Over and above that they go to the maintenance of his family. I think it is a little more in Glasgow, but I believe that figure to be typical of some of the rather more generous public assistance committees. I say "rather more generous," but I do not think anybody would suggest that it is too generous that a wage-earner should be allowed to keep, for his own personal requirements, 21s. out of his own wages. Under that scale the amount of benefit or what we should call under these Regulations the provisional assessment, would be 97s. 6d. From that the earnings, 83s. 9d. in all, are deducted, leaving an assessment to the applicant of 13s. 9d. That is the amount that is being paid at the present time. As I have worked it out the scale under these Regulations in this case the scale for the whole household will be 56s. From that, it will be necessary to deduct 5s. 2d. because of the provision as to basic rent bringing it down to 50s. 10d. To that will be added 23s. 2d. which is the amount of the personal exemption or personal allowance for the wage earners, bringing it up to 74s. The total income of the wage earners is 75s. 3d., so that there will be an assessment of nil, if my figures are correct. In that case under the present arrangement, under the public assistance committee, there is an assessment of 13s. 9d. but under these Regulations, if I am right, there will be an assessment of nothing at all.
I have another example, perhaps rather more unusual. This is the case of a family of 12. There are two workers bringing in between them 52s. 4d. and two others under 18 bringing in 16s. 9d. and 13s. 1d. respectively. I shall not weary the House by going through these figures in detail, but I have worked them out in precisely the same way as in the first case, and I find that under these Regulations there will be a nil determination, whereas under the present arrangement in Dundee there is an assessment of 25s. 8d. for that particular family. One other example. This is a case which was given to me in Dundee last week-end of a man himself unemployed, whose wife was earning 25s. The present arrangement is that he is assessed provisionally at 17s. His wife has a personal allowance of 21s. making a total of 38s. From that, here 25s. earnings are deducted, leaving an assessment of 13s. Under the Regulations the provisional assessment 878 will consist of 24s. for man and wife plus 5s. for personal allowance making a total of 29s. From that 25s. will have to be deducted leaving a final assessment of 4s. as against 13s. at the present time.
The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is a very serious matter indeed that there should be these enormous reductions in the incomes of certain families. I am willing to admit that in certain cases where a number of children in a household are growing up a higher amount will be payable than at the present time. But the difficulty over the means test has always been in regard to these family contributions. All the bitterness and resentment has arisen out of the question of family contributions—out of the fact that if the father or some other member of the household merely wanted a few pence for some small personal requirement, he might have to go to one of the wage earners in the family and cajole and persuade him to give the money out of his scanty wages. That has been a source of difficulty all the way through. In Dundee we succeeded in removing a great deal of the difficulty when we reached the personal allowance of 21s. but, if I have worked out these figures correctly, it would appear that the effect of the Regulations will be that a great deal of the bitterness which we thought we had disposed of will arise again.
The Minister referred to increased expenditure, and I understood him to say that if the numbers remain as they are at present there will be an additional £3,000,000 going into the pockets of the transitional class—that the number of people who are on transitional payments, would get £3,000,000 a year more. I can see that it would be a very powerful argument in favour of the regulations that there should be this large sum, in addition to what has gone before, going into the pockets of the transitional class. But is all this money going into the pockets of that class? It seems to me that there may be certain deductions and that a certain amount of the money will go, not into the pockets of the unemployed but in relief of rates. Under certain Statutes local authorities have power to make remission of rates on the ground of poverty. It is done in my own constituency. Last year we remitted, I think, over £3,000 to people who applied on the ground of poverty. Of those people a great many 879 must come under the jurisdiction of the Unemployment Assistance Board, and there is no reason why any corporation should remit rates or give back sums that have been paid in rates, if those sums are being taken into account in the assessment of these allowances. The number of those applications will inevitably fall off and, in fact, part of this sum—I do not know how large a part because I do not know how many municipalities indulge in this practice—is bound to go not to the relief of the transitional class but to the relief of the ratepayers.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of a White Paper which he proposed to lay on the Table or to place in the Library, and I understand that it is to refer to certain special allowances which he has in mind. I would ask him to go a little further and to let us have a report on the working of the whole system, say, after three months, and also that the House should have an opportunity of debating it. In some districts there may be a glaring disparity between what is happening now and what will happen under the Unemployment Assistance Board.
To sum up, there are certain advantages in these regulations which I have endeavoured to acknowledge, and which I do not think any fair-minded person would deny. On the other hand, there are certain very serious criticisms. I do not think there is any justification for reducing the rate for the man and wife, or for the single man or single woman. Certainly we have heard none as yet and I am sure there is no justification for dealing so much more harshly with the question of the wage-earners' contributions. That is going to mean a great falling off in standards in those places where there have been comparatively generous public assistance authorities. It may be said that in some areas where the public assistance committees have not been so generous the standards will rise but it seems to me, on the whole, that this is a levelling down rather than a levelling up. I hope the Minister will be able to give us a satisfactory answer. I shall listen to that answer with an open mind. But unless I get satisfactory answers to the points which I have put, I, for one, cannot take any responsibility 880 by my vote for these regulations being put into force.
Finally, let me put it to the House that these Regulations are not sacrosanct. It is true that we are not able to amend or modify them in this House, but there is nothing in the Act to prevent the right hon. Gentleman taking them back or to prevent the Unemployment Assistance Board making a fresh set of draft regulations. This is a matter upon which the House of Commons speaks with a great deal of experience. There is scarcely any Member representing an urban or industrial district who has not in the last three years taken part in the Debates on the means test, and probably hon. Members here are able to speak with as much experience and authority on the means test as even the advisers of the Unemployment Assistance Board. If the right hon. Gentleman finds that there is a great volume of relevant criticism, not from one quarter only but from all parts of the House, I hope he will consider the advisability of withdrawing these regulations and bringing forward fresh draft regulations which, while preserving the better features here contained, will remove some of the objections to which this Debate may call attention. I hope in that way the Minister will meet the feeling which, I believe, is going to be expressed from all quarters of the House.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. GEOFFREY PETO
I support the regulations most enthusiastically, and I should like to congratulate our old friend the President of the Unemployment Assistance Board on the splendid work that they have done in producing them. The Labour Amendment describes them as inadequate, but if they are inadequate, taking the cost of living to-day, how much more inadequate must the allowances have been in 1930, and still more in 1924, when the Labour party were in power? The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), who opened the Debate for the Labour party, said it would make no difference to the unemployed whether they came under the insurance scheme or under these regulations, but surely he must realise—at any rate, everybody else realises it—the enormous distinction that the man who is drawing benefit under the insurance scheme draws that as a right, in return for the payments he has made, and 881 draws it regardless of what his means may be, whereas the man who draws benefit under these regulations only draws what is necessary, having made allowance for his means, to keep him decently. The man who is drawing unemployment benefit can, of course, have his benefit supplemented under the regulations, but what he gets in benefit under his insurance is the absolute minimum, and nobody can take anything away from it. It is his right, and there is no means test attaching to it, so that he is very much better off than the man who is merely under the regulations.
Then, again, the right hon. Gentleman objected to the proviso that the unemployed must not be paid more than the employed. Surely the Labour party cannot stand for the unemployed being paid more than the employed? I thought that, at any rate, was beyond their ideas. What about the employed man who has to find a proportion of the money out of taxation? What would he say if he had to pay more for the unemployed than he was getting himself? The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Dingle Foot) objected to the deductions for rent, but if a couple are paying 7s. 6d. rent and 24s. is the proper allowance——
§ Mr. PETO
The hon. Member was arguing on the deduction for rent, but the less rent you are paying, the more you have for the other necessities of life, and it is right that this scale should be proportionate. The hon. Member seemed to object to the fact that the levelling in some cases might be downward. When we discussed in this House the anomalies which existed in parts of the country in regard to unemployment relief, nobody thought the highest possible scale in any locality would be chosen as the basis—[An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] Because there are two sides to this question, as the Minister pointed out.
§ Mr. PETO
But the poor contribute, just as the rich do, towards unemployment benefit. You cannot get away in any part of the country with that sort of argument, because it was all thrashed out at the last General Election. The 882 poor employed as well as the rich have to find money for the poor unemployed. I want to deal in a few words with what the Minister said, that the manner in which the Regulations are Carried out is very important. I entirely agree, and I have some suggestions to make to my right hon. Friend from that point of view. I am thankful to see that the Regulations are flexible. I had a horror of putting a cast-iron scale on every part of the country. These Regulations are very flexible, and in the last two Clauses, in particular, they give a very great discretionary scope. But they are complicated.
The hon. Member for Dundee spent his week-end working out examples, which I, at any rate, found difficult to check without pencil and paper, and I would urge on the Minister the importance of making these calculations absolutely clear to the recipients of the money. People will stand a great deal of hardship, but they will not stand injustice, whether imaginary or actual, and I think it is very important that everybody who gets the money should know how it has been calculated. A man cannot now appeal to his Member of Parliament, I am thankful to say, and it will not be a vote-catching question in future, but it will be a question of justice, which is much more important—to do what is right by the people. I would suggest that the calculations will have to be put on paper, no doubt for record under a series of headings. Why should not the recipient of the money be given a copy of that calculation, so that he may know exactly how his allowance has been arrived at? It would prevent an enormous amount of ill-feeling and a feeling of injustice if the people saw exactly what extra allowances had been made, and why, and what deductions had been made, and why.
There is another point. The circumstances of the unemployed may change very rapidly. People may be working one day and not another day, members of a family may be working short-time or overtime, unemployed one week and employed the next, and I think it is important that these officers should turn round very quickly and be able to alter the allowances at very short notice and make them retrospective to the moment when the change of circumstances occurred. In my own constituency I have found that such complaints as you get 883 are largely due to a change of circumstances which has not been caught up quickly enough, and the household have felt that they were losing money which they ought to have.
One other point is this: If we are going to distribute under this scheme something between £40,000,000 and £50,000,000 a year, I suggest that every effort should be made to see that that money is spent to the best possible advantage for the people who are getting it. An official will go round and will doubtless be very-busy. He will have a great many homes to visit in a very short time, and he will not be able to go into more than the various necessary details to find out the figures he requires from that household. I think that he ought to be supplemented, if possible, by some woman, on the Octavia Hill principle, under which a woman went round to collect the rent, and gave advice as to working the household in doing so. I think some woman, either a voluntary helper or a Government servant, should be able to go round at regular intervals to these homes and offer helpful advice as to the spending of the money. People may say that that is interference, but surely we are entitled——
§ Mr. PETO
I do not think it is done at all, except under the Octavia Hill system, and under this scheme, after all, we are paying out the money, whereas under the Octavia Hill system they were collecting the rents. They will have far more power to influence the people and are far more likely to be listened to. Everybody knows cases, unfortunately, where what is a sovereign to one family is only 15s., or possibly 10s., to another, owing to the inefficiency of the heads of the household, and it is our duty as a nation, in distributing this money, to try to bring about still greater efficiency in its spending. I do not mind about a couple living in a house by themselves and spending their money on themselves—they can spend it as they like—but in other cases it is the children who suffer. I hear of cases in my own constituency when I go and ask about the adequacy of scales of relief. I am told that it is all right as long as a woman is a good manager, but we have cases where she is 884 not, and it is for the sake of the children that I think that some advice ought to be given to the household as to the best means of spending the money.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
I hope the constituents of the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. G. Peto) will read to-morrow his admission that he desires to be relieved of the responsibility of defending the poorest of them on the Floor of this House, and prefers to hand that responsibility over to a board over which he has no control, although in the latter portion of his speech he claimed the right, when taking the money round, to give his impudent advice to the family as to how they should spend it. That was a characteristic Conservative speech, and it is indeed characteristic of the attitude of the Conservative party to this matter ever since it has been before the House. We warned the House when the Bill was before it that all that many hon. Members were seeking was an alibi for not having to discuss the conditions of the unemployed. We said that the board would be entirely beyond the control of the House, and they said, "Excellent; that is precisely what we want, because we no longer wish to have the responsibility."
§ Mr. BEVAN
But the hon. Member has already been pointing out that the most excellent feature of these Regulations is the flexibility which will be allowed to the officers, and the whole matter, when reduced to the locality, becomes one of the individual. It is the individual, not a mass, who desires to be defended; it is the individual who is oppressed, it is the individual who is helpless, it is the individual who has no appeal. It is that very individual who appeals to a tribunal—which meets in camera and has none of the force of public opinion raised against it—a helpless man, who has no chance of presenting his case to the public or of mobilising public opinion; and you call that protection. The hon. Member is a most unworthy representative of his constituents, and the only thing which reconciles me to listening to him is the certain knowledge that men like him will not sit in this House very much longer.
885 The next alibi we get is that, after all, these Regulations are flexible. The first alibi during the passage of the Bill was, "Wait until you see the Regulations, because you will not know what the second Part of the Bill means until you see them." That was the alibi that Member after Member in all parts of the House used. It was used by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour himself, who, on very many occasions in the Debate on the Bill, made no bones about answering the discussion by saying, "All this is conjecture, hypothesis; wait until you see the Regulations, and then you will know." Now we have had the Regulations, and he says, "We must not take too much notice of what the Regulations say, because they are so flexible, and they might be something other than they are when they are carried out." Another alibi. I do not suppose there has ever been a Government in modern times so abominably cowardly as this Government and so afraid to put its proposals before the people.
If, in the course of what I am going to say, I use expressions of indignation, I hope to justify them before I have finished. We are accustomed to discuss these human matters in a spirit which utterly fails to bring to the Floor of the House the depth of passion that exists in the country. We discuss them as though they were abstruse, academic matters. We are discussing here the lives of 4,000,000 people and the members of their families whose earnings will be affected. We are therefore considering anything between 6,000,000 and 7,000,000 people, and we are parting with these powers for the last time until this board is good enough to give us a further opportunity of discussing how we shall behave towards the poor. I have been making investigations over the week-end, and I have consulted with the public assistance authority of the county of Monmouth.
I am very sorry for the Minister of Labour. He must look upon the Prime Minister who is sitting by his side as his most deadly enemy because whenever you want to break a Minister you always give him the worst jobs. In the last few weeks the Minister of Labour has been given the two worst jobs that any Minister could be given. He was first given a Bill to distribute old boots among the unemployed under the Distressed 886 Areas Bill. Now he has been given the task of putting through the House Regulations which, when they are carried out, will give rise to the bitterest passions throughout the distressed areas. I ask hon. Members who sit behind the Government to consider their position. They have been shedding crocodile tears about the condition of the distressed areas and congratulating the Government because at last they have faced the problem of the distressed areas. The Government are now engaged in carrying through the House Regulations which will brutally impoverish the condition of all the distressed areas. That is true because in those areas are the more humane local authorities whose scales will be reduced under the Regulations. The public assistance officer of the county of Monmouth calculates that these Regulations will take from the county between £200,000 and £250,000 every year over and above what they are losing at the moment.
§ Mr. MAGNAY
Is there not a contra account to the benefit of the local authorities in respect of the reduction of the rates?
§ Mr. BEVAN
I am not speaking of the local authorities. I am speaking about the people who live in their districts. This money will not be lost by the local authorities, but by the recipients of transitional payment. You have just elected commissioners who are to be sent into the distressed areas to distribute £2,000,000 in various forms. You are taking from the distressed areas by these Regulations much more money than you are sending the commissioners to spend. The House of Commons in this business has reached a depth of hypocrisy that human language cannot describe. You might have had the decency not to talk about distressed areas and not to bring in a damnable Bill—[Laughter.] What is the hon. Member laughing at? The hon. Gentleman must realise that here we have a last opportunity of putting on the Floor of the House the case of men a lot better than he is.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Skelton)
I was not laughing at that. I was obviously laughing at the adjective which the hon. Gentleman used. I will certainly not answer his last observation.
§ Mr. BEVAN
The adjective was deserved. There can be no greater hypocrisy than to bring before the House of Commons a Bill to relieve the distress which you say exists and then follow it up with a Measure that makes the distress worse. If that is not hypocrisy, the English language has lost its meaning. The Minister of Labour spent a great deal of time in explaining the best features of these Regulations. He did not say a word about the worst. He made no attempt to justify the reduction of allowance from 17s. to 10s. for a man over 21 years of age. Will be get up and justify it? Will any hon Member argue that a man who has been idle for 26 to 52 weeks can be kept on 10s. a week? If hon. Members will not justify it, let them have the guts to go into the Lobby against it.
§ Mr. BEVAN
I shall wait and see how the hon. Gentleman and his friends act. It is very difficult for us to face these things with complacency, but if we cannot succeed in stirring the House of Commons, we shall succeed in stirring the country. Is there any justification for this reduction? The local authorities in many of the distressed areas have taken the Government at their word. They said through the mouth of the Attorney-General some years ago that they never contended that the Unemployment Insurance benefit was fixed at a level to maintain a recipient, but that it was considered to be only an assistance to supplement their other resources. That was a statement made about the 17s., but 7s. is now to be taken off. Will the Government justify it? The Minister of Labour did not say a word about it. A sum of 2s. is taken off a man and wife, but if they have a son over 21 years of age, 7s. is taken off. If there is a second son at home, he does not even get 10s.: he gets only 8s. There are hundreds of families in that position in my area. The principle of these Regulations is that the allowance is raised as the child grows older, but you pay only 8s. for a man of 21 years of age, and for every member of the family over five, they lose 1s. each. You pay 10s. for the first son if he has been idle for a year, and 8s. for the second and each additional son.
How do the Government justify it? They may justify it to themselves here, 888 but how will they justify it in the country? If hon. Members opposite think they can justify it, I will take the platform with any Member in any constituency and give them the opportunity to see if they can get their constituents to vote that even 17s. is an adequate allowance for a man over 21. In the case in which 7s. is taken off there are no other resources. It is not the exceptional case, but the standard case. There is no flexibility in the Regulations about that. It is an instruction to each unemployment assistance officer. If the rent is 7s. 6d. and you give the full 2s. 6d., the position is still that they will lose 5s. or 6s. a week and more if there is a young man who gets 8s. I take the standard case. I do not shelter behind the exceptional case because, if I did, the Parliamentary Secretary would reply that the Government have made provision for flexibility. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. K. Lindsay) treated this flexibility as his alibi when the Bill was before the House. He said that when the board was set up they would have the power to raise the benefit above the standard allowance. The instruction in the standard case is to reduce the scale by 7s. per week. I hope that before this three days' Debate is over hon. Members will not only go into the Lobby, but will defend this on the Floor of the House.
When we leave the income and go to the other side of the balance sheet and consider the resources that are to be taken into account, the behaviour of the Government becomes obscene. In that case they say that a young man who is working should be kept on a standard of domestic comfort equal to 10s. a week. They say to a young man who is working underground, "The home in which you live, the table at which you eat, the clothes you wear, the roof that is over your head, the domestic amenities of your household, shall be based upon an expenditure of 10s. a week."
§ Mr. BEVAN
He will have 11s. 8d. left if he earns £2 a week. Out of that 11s. 8d. he has to provide himself for compensation for working at all and for any additional amenities that he may want, and out of it, of course, he is expected to save enough money to get 889 married decently. The facts have only to be put to show the utter absurdity and inequity of the position that is being forced upon our people. Hon. Members seem to imagine this to be a very amusing business. Over 50 per cent. of my constituents are idle, and there are 26,000 men on transitional payment in my county. When these Regulations are understood, they will send a shudder of dismay through every town and village in Monmouthshire. That county has been assessing the claims for transitional payment on grounds which the Ministry of Labour has been afraid to tackle. The Parliamentary Secretary shakes his head. Why has it not tackled them then? Representatives of the local authority in 1932 put their case to the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labour, and the Government dare not interfere with the scales, because they could not make a case for refusing them, and they cannot make a case now. All that they can do is to bring a skeleton before the House in the hope that nobody will see what flesh is going to be put on it.
In assessing transitional payment, the Monmouth County Council said that in their opinion no man who was working ought to be expected to work upon a standard of living of less than 32s. a week. If there were a second earner in the household, he ought not to be expected to exist on a standard of life less than 25s., and, if there were a third, 20s. I ask hon. Members: Is that unreasonable? Is 32s. too much? The other day you were all weeping crocodile tears about the Gresford disaster. [An HON. MEMBER: "Rubbish."] You were—and now you are saying that you will not vote for more than 10s. for the men who face these dangers. We said, in the Monmouth County Council, that a man ought not to be expected to work underground at a standard wage of less than 32s. a week. Is that too much?
§ Mr. DENVILLE
The hon. Member has made a definite accusation that we were hypocritical about the Gresford disaster. I say it is damnable to make a statement like that, which is untrue.
§ Mr. BEVAN
If you only did your job in the House of Commons you could stop these disasters. You would not send men down a pit to face those dangers to live on a standard of 10s. a week. That is the 890 position. We said that 32s., 25s. and £1 was not an unreasonable scale. The Government did not think it was so unreasonable; at least they were afraid to fight it. If it were right then, is it wrong now? Why did they not fight it? Because if it had been fought, the country could see the issues involved in the scales before the House. But they can hide them here in this way, and can hide behind them. In our county now, if you have got these decisions concerning a family all of whom are unemployed, and with no resources whatsoever, they all get the maximum allowed under the unemployment benefit scale because it was thought that nobody should be asked to live on less than the scale of unemployment benefit. If this scale goes through, a household like that will lose £1 14s. a week. That is the situation.
These scales will not bear examination. When the Bill was before the House we said that not only would you take the capital savings of the applicant for benefit into account, but also the capital savings of the other members of the household. That was denied by hon. Members who were only looking for alibis. Now it is admitted in the Regulations that not only are the savings of the applicant taken into account, but also the savings of persons who are not applicants at all. A lad in the family who has saved up a bit of money; an uncle, an aunt or anybody living in the household will have his or her capital taken into account if it amounts to more than £400. This is an instruction to break up the household. That is all that it is. Do you imagine that an aunt or an uncle with £500 or £600 is going to stay at home keeping the family until their capital is reduced to £400 and then lose a shilling a week on the income from that? Will the right hon. Gentleman defend that? It is said that a man will not lose a 1s. a week, because he can only have his actual income from the £400 taken into account, so that the actual income in these cases is assumed to be always less than 1s. a week for £25. If that is so, you are not saving the savings of the man with £300, but taking his capital by assuming that he is earning 10 per cent. on the £300. On which petard is the Government going to be hoist? Is the argument that they are actually protecting the savings of the man? If that is so, why do they claim to make a concession 891 in the case of the £400? They know that the whole position taken up by them is an indefensible one. You can go through these scales one after another and riddle them.
The right hon. Gentleman defended the principle that the unemployment insurance benefit or unemployment assistance ought never to be more than normal earnings. The principle should be good, if we accept the Minister's statement, but the figures are all bad—and it is the figures on which the unemployed will live, and not the principles. It is the aggregate possible earnings of all the members of the family that are to be considered. But the Minister does not go anywhere near them. He is going to give 10s. to a person 21 years of age. You have given him the principle, but it does not come anywhere near the figure. If you were giving him something like 30s. or £2 a week you could then apply the qualification and say that he was not to have more than his normal earnings. But you are only giving him 10s., so that the principle will not apply to him at all. These are some of the considerations that have been weighing on our minds. It is quite true that in some parts of the scales you are easing the position, particularly for the young children. That is perfectly correct, but it is being done at the expense of the adults. It is only a few families, where there is a man and a wife and a few children with nobody at all earning and with no resources in the household, that will get some benefit out of this. But the normal working-class family will not benefit under the proposals.
I have not patience to go through these Regulations item by item. Some hon. Members find them complicated, but I do not find them complicated at all. They are perfectly simple. They represent on the part of the Government a most brutal attempt to reduce the standards of life of the people. They represent a cowardly attempt to make the right hon. Gentleman an instrument to drive the dagger of poverty further into the heart of our people. They have lived in those valleys now for 10 or 12 years in growing misery and growing despair, with no hope of escape, with no chance of educating their children and with no chance of looking forward to a life of expanding opportunity. And after all this, Government comes 892 along and drives them down lower again and says: "You have learned the lesson of poverty so much, you have learned it so well, that we will give you another dose of it." This damnable Government does not deserve the confidence of any people, and if I were a young man I would be ashamed to ally, myself to such a conspiracy.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Sir ROBERT ASKE
I suppose there is a natural tendency on the part of everyone to consider these regulations from the standpoint of those whom they represent. I acknowledge that in a very large number of instances, these regulations will improve the lot of the unemployed in the area which I represent. That is in the main due to the fact of the children's allowances, the rent allowances, the provisions for sub-letting, the new provisions with regard to the exemption of part of the earnings of the applicant or his wife, and the provisions with regard to old age pensions, orphans pensions and unemployment benefit. But when one has to consider the regulations, one has to regard them as a whole. And the fact that there has been justice done in a great many cases will not justify injustice if it be done in other cases. Your justice to one does not justify an act of injustice to another, and it is necessary therefore to consider the regulations as a whole. I have to admit, as hon. Members who spoke previously have done, that we have some instances also where these regulations will prejudicially affect our people.
I thought our standard in Newcastle was so low, that our people had been treated in such a niggardly way, that it was impossible to treat them worse—but there are some cases under the new regulations where they will be treated worse. One of them, curiously enough, is the same as the case given by a previous speaker, namely, the 24s. for a man and wife. After the Unemployment Act was passed we made a great effort, not merely on the Tyne but in many other areas in Durham and Northumberland, to secure for those on transitional benefit that the allowance for man and wife should be 26s. As a result, there are many hundreds of people in these areas who have been receiving 26s. a week in transitional payment, although the public assistance scale was only 24s. That was justified because the public 893 assistance authorities felt that it was necessary to make that extra 2s. allowance to keep these men on transitional payments fit for work when the opportunity of work arose. As a consequence, many of these people have since been getting 26s. a week, like those on standard benefit. That is to be taken away, and if, in addition, one takes into account the rent allowance—many of these people are living in one room and paying a rent of, say, 5s.—it means that instead of getting this 24s., they are only getting somewhere between 21s. and 22s. 6d. So that in all those cases the people will be worse off. In my view, the allowance of 24s. for two persons living alone is not enough, and we expected that there would be more than an allowance of 24s. for a man and wife. I venture to say that there will be universal disappointment that the scale is placed as low as 24s. One can give a large number of illustrations. I will give one more. In our area, where a widower has a daughter of 16 or over acting as a housekeeper for her father, the public assistance committee has generally treated those two persons on the basis of man and wife—a very useful and proper provision. Under the old scale they received 24s., but now their position will be made worse.
One of the main questions which arise under these regulations is the calculation of the family resources, and that is based upon the resources of the members of the household. What is meant by "members of the household"? What is meant by "household"? There is no definition in the regulations, and I find it impossible to arrive at any definite conclusion as to what is intended. This has been a matter of the greatest difficulty in the administration of transitional payments. In that case the words may not have been "members of the household," because they vary; in some cases it was "residing with parents" or "residing with relatives." I think the use of the words "members of the household" in the regulations widens the whole basis of "residing with relatives." We have had difficulties of this kind: A son takes a sub-let room in the house of his parents. He lives in that room and arranges for all his own meals apart from his parents. Is he a member of the household? If, in addition to that, he takes certain of his meals with his parents, but only some, does that make 894 him a member of the household? If he lives in a room in some other building and drops in for dinner or tea with his parents occasionally, does that make him a member of the household?
All those are practical difficulties which arise, but the matter is simply left with the statement in the Memorandum that each case has to be treated as a question of fact. If one is to put in a definition I suggest that it must at least be that every person who lives in the house of the applicant and shares the table and the same living room with the applicant must be deemed to be a member of the household. Assuming that to be so, where does one get to with regard to the calculation of resources? We find that the members of the household are divided in the regulations into three categories. First of all we have the wife, husband, father or mother of the applicant, who are treated in one category; the son or daughter, and the brother or sister of the applicant, are treated in a different way; and all other persons are treated in a third way. I put this point to the Minister. Assuming that in the third category there is a workmate of the applicant, no relation to him but living in the house of the applicant, sharing the same table, sharing the same living room. Is he not a member of the household, although he is no relation whatever? Surely he is; he must be; because there is nothing in these regulations to say that the member of the household must be related to the applicant.
§ Sir R. ASKE
Certainly not, and neither are the sons and daughters nor the brothers or sisters living there free. If they are working, they are all making their contributions. Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that those in the second category, the sons and daughters and brothers and sisters, who are working and earning money, are living there free? They are members of the household. I suggest that the cousin of the wife or the uncle of the wife are members of the family. They would be members of the household. See how their resources have to be brought into account. All except one-third of what they earn has to be counted. Say the wife's uncle is earning 40s. a week. About 895 £1 of what he earns has to be deducted from what the applicant is to receive under these regulations. If that is the construction of these regulations, and I suggest that it is, the position is perfectly preposterous. These distant relatives or persons who are no relatives at all have no responsibility, legal or moral, for the maintenance of the applicant or his children They certainly will not contribute the rest of their income to the applicant for the maintenance of himself and his children. Why are they to be brought into account at all?
One passes to the second category, where there is a nearer degree of relationship. Take the case of a brother or sister of the applicant. I suggest that in these cases, and, indeed, in all these other cases, there is one logical basis which could be adopted as a basis on which the resources ought to be calculated. All of these people, the brothers and the sisters and the sons and the daughters, who are earning money, who are living in the same house as their father and mother, are all being assessed as lodgers in the place, and I suggest that if one reckoned a sum such as those persons would have to pay if they lived in some other building or in some other household and deducted from that sum the reasonable cost of their maintenance, and called the rest "the resources of the household" that would be a reasonable, proper and logical basis on which to treat this question. For example, supposing a son is living with his parents and is earning 40s. a week. Assume that he would have to pay 25s. a week for his board and lodging in some other place. Supposing you say the cost of his food, his maintenance, would be 8s. a week, which would correspond to this scale, that leaves 17s. a week. I suggest that that is the maximum which ought to be regarded under any reasonable system as the amount to be brought into account as the resources of the applicant.
Another point that is, I suggest, a fair subject of criticism in these regulations is Regulation III, dealing with the discretion of the unemployment assistance officer to refuse to make an allowance if the difference between what the applicant has and the scale is what is termed, "Not substantial." What is meant by "substantial"? Does it mean 1s., or 2s., or 6d., or what? If one looks at the scale 896 one finds that a sum as small as 6d. is taken into account in determining the difference in respect of children between one age and another. Why, then, not have placed here a limit as to what the word "substantial" is to mean? I think that discretionary powers in matters of this kind are most dangerous. These people are to be assessed by an insurance officer who may be in good circumstances, and if there is an appeal the members of the appeal tribunal will not be in impoverished circumstances, and what might be a matter of no substance whatever to them may be a matter of the most vital importance to those who are getting only 24s. or 30s. a week. I suggest that this is a matter which ought to be determined by metes and bounds in the regulations, so that no insurance officer or appeal tribunal can reduce any person to any extent below this scale.
One finds the same thing when one comes to look at Regulation VI (2), which authorises a reduction in the scale where special circumstances exist. There is no definition of "special circumstances." I ask the Minister whether there is, in fact, any limit. Whatever view the Minister chooses to take is in no wise binding upon either the unemployment assistance officer or the appeal tribunal. They are the autocrats, the arbiters, in matters of this kind, and anything which they choose to regard as special circumstances will be without appeal. Supposing the insurance officer or the appeal tribunal say to a man, "You were drunk last week," or "We find you have been betting recently." Are those special circumstances? Could they say, "If you can afford to get drunk or to gamble you are evidently getting too much, and we are going to reduce your allowance"? Supposing they say, "We consider you have not been genuinely seeking work lately." Is that a special circumstance?
Illustrations of this kind show how eminently dangerous provisions of this sort are, and I take the view that there ought to be no circumstances whatever under which the insurance officer or the appeal tribunal can reduce the allowance to be made to the applicant below this fixed scale. If special circumstances are to be brought into account, I suggest they ought to be specifically and clearly stated in the regulations. I think this sub-clause is the "nigger in the wood pile." 897 It places every applicant entirely at the discretion of the insurance officer, in the first instance, and subsequently at the discretion of the appeal tribunal, and all these allowances can be reduced at will as long as the officer chooses to say, or the appeal tribunal choose to say, that in their opinion they are reduced for something which they regard as special circumstances.
There are two questions which I should be glad if the Minister would be good enough to answer. It has been the practice, certainly in the part of the country with which I am concerned, in assessing transitional payments, not to take into account what the applicant gets from allotments, but there is nothing in these regulations, which will allow that state of things to continue, unless it be regarded as one of the special circumstances. That would be a matter for discretion. If the applicant earns money, part of that money can be disregarded, and if the applicant has certain capital assets they can also be disregarded; but under paragraph V (3) the resources of the applicant in that respect are not to be disregarded. I should like to know whether, in the Minister's view the produce of allotments, which affect so many hundreds in the North East, is to be brought into account.
The next question relates to Regulation VI (3), under which a final assessment may be increased to provide for needs of a special character. Under Regulation VI (2) it may be increased where special circumstances exist. Are those two regulations subject to the provisions of Regulation VI (1), which puts a maximum on the amount which the applicant can receive? The last question is this: Will payment run as from the date of application or from the date of determination or some other date? Great difficulty has occurred about this in the case of transitional payments. In many areas there has been a kind of waiting period during which the applicant has not been able to receive payments, and in cases of necessity they have been presented with food tickets to tide them over until their assessments were made. I suggest that it is of the greatest importance that payments should run as from the date of application. I should be very glad if the Minister would be good enough to explain whether that is the case or not.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I do not intend to deal with the regulations at any great length. I heard the Minister present them and explain them to the House in a very full manner, and he gave us that genial smile of his in discharging what was obviously a very disagreeable job. He is as nice a gentleman as ever robbed the poor of this country. He came to the House with a difficult task, in presenting the regulations for discussion. I want to emphasise the protest which was made by the senior Member for Dundee (Mr. Dingle Foot) and others, regarding the lack of time afforded us to get a thorough understanding of the regulations. We have been told that they were treated in a much fairer manner in another place. To issue these complicated regulations during a week-end, and to expect hon. Members, with all the tasks and duties that they have to perform—if they perform them in a proper manner—thoroughly to understand them in order to conduct proper criticism of them in this House is not playing cricket.
None of the Scottish Law Officers is present on the Government Front Bench. I do not complain of that, having regard to the miserable surroundings in the House, with its empty benches; even a cup of tea, or something stronger, is desirable. I suggest that the Law Officers might from time to time call together, say the Members for Scotland, in connection with these regulations, and go into them in detail before the Regulations are discussed in the House. The discussion is a sham and a fraud, because we come here to let off air, and at the end we can only condemn the regulations by going into the Lobby against them and compelling the Government and the board to consider them afresh in a more humane manner, so as to give more generous treatment to the unemployed of this country. We know how difficult our situation is in a Parliament where the Government have docile supporters and can depend upon the Whips to drive them into the Division Lobby on the plea of loyalty. The Government and the Prime Minister, who have plums to give to their loyal supporters, can always depend upon being able to drive them like sheep into a pen. We do not discuss these regulations in a fair manner, but from the various party points of view, and, in presenting them, the Government and the Minister expect their supporters to rally 899 behind them in the Division Lobby. Hon. Members may say what they like in the Debate, but they are all more or less political yo-yoes that are run up and down a string and who dance to the tune of the Government.
I resent having to come here to discuss or to make suggestions in regard to these regulations when it is obvious what is happening. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour listens to the Debate. He is weary, wishing that it were all over, and I do not blame him. At the end, he might put up a sort of sham show by rebutting the arguments of his opponents although sometimes feeling deep down in his heart that some of the criticisms have been humane and ought to be carried into effect. That is a very serious criticism of the regulations. Hon. Members ought to have known that we were giving complete power to the board and taking it from this House. The senior Member for Dundee also raised a point in regard to which I shall be interested to hear the answer. He said that the regulations had been in the hands of the Minister for something like six weeks. I do not know whether the point has been replied to, because I have been out once or twice, but it is a very severe criticism. What was the difficulty about the regulations? Were there differences in the Cabinet about them, some Members wanting to pay more and others to pay less? Where did the Prime Minister stand, that man of humanity whom we have at the head of the Government? Was there any difficulty in regard to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the business Shylock of the Cabinet? I think we are entitled to know those things. The regulations have been in the Government's hands for six weeks; they have been thrown about and discussed in the Cabinet, and the House has no explanation of why they were not in the hands of Members at an earlier date.
The ruling class and the Government of this country are cunning. They make a pretence of allowing criticism and suggestions in the House of Commons for three days, while they are taking to themselves and to their board dictatorial powers. In Germany, Hitler simply issues his decrees, and there is no discussion. That is more honest than this attempt to make us feel that we have some power. The Government have taken 900 away all power from us in connection with unemployment. I do not want to say this unfairly, but the process began when the Labour Government gave a board, an outside body, power to issue regulations under the Anomalies Act. The Members who represented the Independent Labour party protested at that time. The present Labour Members, with one or two exceptions, including the spokesman to-day, not only denounced those who protested, but censured them and put them in the pillory for daring to protest at the taking of power out of the hands of the Houes of Commons and placing it with an outside body. We ought to understand thoroughly where this process began. Those hon. Members who protested under the guidance of my hon. Friend and colleague the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), were very wise in their day. They saw the beginning of a dangerous precedent which would be used by future capitalist Governments.
In recent months in this House I have heard shipowners put on poor relief and given millions of pounds which have been taken out of the poor people of this country. Those people walked away with a large amount of swag in bygone days. But when we deal with the poor of this country—look at the House. Last week in connection with the India Bill the House was packed, excitement prevailed when we were dealing with Bombay and Delhi. When we come to deal with Dervaig Street in my division and Rose Street in Gorbals, or the Calton district of Bridgeton, it is a different question. The Unemployment Assistance Board are established, the Government have dictatorial authority, and the shackles are imposed on the poor of this country. We are seeking to extend the shackles and to make them fast upon the people of India. That is an outstanding feature of the House; when we are discussing what is to be paid to the poor, hon. Members have gone off. They are not interested, but they will roll up at the usual hour and go into the Division Lobby to cast their votes for something that they have not discussed and which in some cases they do not understand.
I have had a telegram to-night from the Glasgow Corporation and signed by the Town Clerk. They say:Unemployment assistance regulations. Corporation regard effect in Glasgow of proposed scales of payments as attack upon 901 present standard of living of unemployed also as inimical to physical well-being and prejudicial to continuance of family life. Earnestly request you to support proposals for rejection of said regulations.No instructions are necessary so far as we are concerned. We are always prepared to oppose anything of this nature which tends to reduce the standards of the poor. We are told by various hon. Members that the proposals of the Government are good and bad, that benefits will be conferred upon certain people in some areas, and that there may be a little increase in the scales that are paid in certain areas. In the short time which I have had to examine the proposals, I have come to the conclusion that the board have robbed Peter to pay Paul, but have given Paul only a portion of that which they have taken from Peter. Therefore, in a general way, the workers are much worse off to-day than they were before. A great deal has been said about the rent proposals. Under these regulations, a man and woman with one child are to be given 4s. for the child, but, before the extra 2s. is given, 2s. will be taken from the father and mother, as compared with the scale that is paid in Glasgow. If their rent is under 7s. 6d., another 1s. 6d. will be taken off, which will make them 1s. 6d. worse off than they were before these regulations were issued.
In Glasgow an extra 1s. is given by way of supplementary benefit to the children of unemployed men, so that they get 3s. for each child, up to a maximum of 40s. Under these regulations the unemployed of Glasgow, of whom there are well over 100,000, are going to be a great deal worse off. I have always been strongly in favour of taking rent into account if it were done in a humane manner, because I have never understood why a man who was paying 16s. or 17s. in rent should not get something in respect of his extra rent, because he had either to take it out of the stomachs and off the backs of his children or go back to the slum whence he came if his unemployment should continue. During the General Strike, I myself was unemployed for something like 4½ months. I received 26s., and 2s. for a boy. I had a girl over 16 who was at school, and for whom nothing was paid. Out of that 28s., I had to pay something like 17s. a week rent, and, if I had not had some reserve, I should have had the magnificent sum of 11s. with which to keep four persons, replace the wear and 902 tear of clothing, and provide all the essentials of a house—coal, electricity, gas and so on. That cannot be defended.
Let us have an end to this hypocrisy. We see from time to time the sordid life of places like Brighton, with its trunk crimes, and people hold up their hands in horror at the depths of iniquity to which the people have sunk; but Governments and boards come along and issue regulations even curtailing the allowances paid to unemployed single persons. I say to the Minister, the Government and the country that no young woman can live on 14s. a week if she has no parents and no friends who can supplement that money. We find, in the courts in Glasgow and elsewhere, shop-lifting cases from time to time. Women are driven to the extremity of seizing a pair of stockings in a store because they are so reduced by unemployment, and their standards are so low, that they must either resort to petty thieving or something of a worse character in order to supplement what is allowed them. I would like to see the Prime Minister, or the Minister of Labour, or the Parliamentary Secretary, or any Member of the board, placing their daughters on a 14s. standard of existence and expecting them to keep body and soul together and maintain decency throughout life. A Government that can give £21,000,000 to shipping companies within the last six months can afford not to cheese-pare and reduce in the way they are doing in connection with this Bill. They ought to be generous to the unemployed. They are driving men and women down into the depths of poverty and despair, into a state in which they feel that every man's hand is against them because of their continuous unemployment and the reduction of their standard of life.
To return to the rent scale, the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) has pointed out in this House in connection with housing—and he was complimented by the Secretary of State for Scotland on what had been done—that a Labour authority in Kilsyth had built good houses and let them to unemployed people, and people who had no wages, at 3s. 9d. and 4s. a week. Under this Bill those benefits, conferred by a progressive and humane local authority, will be taken away. Can the Minister defend that? Can the Government defend it? It is simply an attempt to 903 bolster up the wishes and desires of property-owners who have been antagonistic to the low rents that were competing with their disease-ridden slum properties, for attempting to let which they would, if they were given justice, be put before a firing squad. Now there will be an incentive to local authorities to say, "What is the use of providing the unemployed with houses at 3s. 9d. or 4s. a week if the Government are going to take the benefit for their funds?" and, therefore, local authorities may get back to the previous high rents. Probably that is what the Government are driving at, in order to assist their moneyed supporters, the owners of slum property.
If the Government had been fair, if they and the board had said they were going to establish in this country a subsistence level of, say, 22s. 6d. per week, and that every family would have guaranteed to them in addition the rent they paid, because that would give them the protection of a roof, while one might not have agreed with the scale one could have understood it. If you are going to take from the man who pays less than 7s. 6d., why not be generous and give to the man who is paying over 10s? Are you going to drive him back into the slums if his unemployment continues? The answer will be given that power is given to the boards in the localities, but one knows the niggardly, cheese-paring, Scrooge mind of these individuals, who are always thinking how they can squeeze pennies out of the poor in order to teach them that their masters are great men, that they ought to be humble in their walk of life, and appreciative of what is given to them in connection with this relief.
The ruling class take their relief. Let me give the contrast of a foreign princess who has been given £15,000 a year—who came over here from a foreign country and married a member of your Royal Family, who is given an addition of £15,000 a year to his income. Then consider the fact that in a family of five the allowance for a girl of 21 and over is reduced to 6s. a week. What can she get on 6s. a week? What could the Government get? What could the Prime Minister get? It is about as much as they would give to a man to take them round the golf course and carry their clubs for an afternoon's golf. This is the way the poor are treated. No wonder 904 they have the utmost contempt for the Government of this country. I say here that this Government are the greatest gang of crooks that ever occupied the Treasury Bench in the history of the country. They are robbing the poor. They are plundering the poor. By tariffs, subsidies and quotas they are filling the pockets of the rich of this country and taking from the poor. These regulations ought to be treated with the contempt they deserve. Instead of raising the standards of life of the people, the Government say, "Ah, but you must take into account the low wages paid in industries in certain areas." Therefore, they are going to back up the low wages. They are going to see that employers who pay 26s. and 28s. a week are protected by a low standard of relief and unemployment benefit. With them it is a case of, "Your friends and my friends, and we will skin the working class together." They say they will give 4s. to the first child, that they will take 2s. from the father and mother in certain areas and pay an extra 2s. to the child. Then they go to the wireless and say, "We are giving 4s. to the unemployed man's child."
In Glasgow a certain scale was laid down for men, women and children, and there was a limit of 40s. We disagreed with that, and thought it ought not to be imposed. The Bill says that, if a man earns 32s. a week in employment as a stair-lighter, he must only be paid 31s., although to-day he may be drawing the full amount of 40s. in Glasgow. And yet these humbugs come along and attempt to delude people into thinking that they are giving something, and are humane in their treatment of the unemployed.
I am not at all disillusioned as regards these proposals. I have heard the speeches that have been made, and the criticisms that have been put forward. I am bound to say here to-night, but I want to say it in all fairness and in the most friendly manner, that when the Labour party criticise these proposals I want to know from them whether, if they get into power in this country, they intend to give to the unemployed the scales of allowances which they are proposing, and for which they stand here to-night? We went round the country to convince the people that, if the Labour party got power out 905 of the hands of the Liberals and Tories, they would allow £1 a week to the single people, 30s. to a married couple, and 5s. for each child, and, believing that they were serious in their intentions, we supported them in the country. When we came into the House we proposed their scale and went into the Division Lobby in favour of it, but, because we did that, they censured and dragooned the Independent Labour party members for proposing what they are proposing here to-night. Are they serious in their intention to carry their proposals into effect? Are they determined that, given the opportunity, they will allow the unemployed these scales? Never mind seeking party advantage and votes; I want to know, in relation to the workers outside, whether they are serious in that intention, because a large number of them went into the Lobby in favour of 2s. for the unemployed man's child, 17s. for a man, and 9s. for a woman, during the period when the Labour party was in office. They have defended that policy on the platform; they have said that they were right and we were wrong. If they propose this to-night, or to-morrow, or on Wednesday, they will be saying in effect that we were right and they were wrong. Will some of their spokesmen give us an answer from the Front Bench as to whether they intend to carry this into effect?
As I stated at the outset, the regulations are to my mind a sham and a fraud. I do not expect humane treatment from this Government. It is led by a man who is prepared, in my estimation, to sell his very soul for the right to run the Government of this country and to be looked upon as a great man among those in financial and capitalist circles in this country. He has betrayed the interests of the workers. We have watched his "bricks-and-mortar" Socialists—the men who are always practical, who are always telling us to be practical. Socialism was always unpractical, but they say, "Build a brick at a time. Brick by brick we will build steadily the New Jerusalem, for the waves will lap away the foundations of the old society." That was the Prime Minister in his writings and his speeches. He is the greatest humbug of modern times. He is leading this Government, and he is leading it, as he led the Labour party, to destruction. When the workers of this country have the opportunity, 906 there will be an overwhelming defeat of this Government. They will go down as a Government of crooks and sharks, who filled the pockets of their friends and stole from the poor, the blind, the widows and the orphans in order to give to shipowners and farmers and capitalists in industry in this country.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. GEORGE GRIFFITHS
I read a lot before I came to the House of the discussion on the Unemployment Act and I spoke about it in the country, and I am very glad of the opportunity of speaking on these scales. The memorandum says:The final regulation contains three important provisos. The first gives effect to the principle that in normal circumstances an applicant shall not receive as much from the board in the way of allowances as he would have received in wages had he been at work.I should like to know whether that means when he is working full time or part time. I have a case in my division where an able-bodied man who got two days' work in a week earned 15s. 1d. When he comes up for transitional payment, is the board going to assess the 24s. for him and his wife on the basis of the 15s. 1d. that he earns, or will they decide that it is not what is earned but what he could earn if he worked a full week? If he works for six days, he will earn £2 5s. Will they take into account the part-time unemployment pay that he draws? He will get 18s. plus 15s. 1d. which makes 33s. 1d. Will they hold that his average wages are 15s. 1d., because, if he works three days in the next week, he will earn 22s. 6d.? I have another case of a man with 10 children under 14 years of age. When he draws full-time unemployment benefit he receives 46s. His wages last week were £1 5s. 3d. He had three days off at 8s. 1d. a day. He gets Vs. 8d. a day when he is drawing unemployment benefit. I and my people desire to know whether you will call his wages £1 5s. 3d. or £1 5s. 3d. plus 23s., which is three days' unemployment benefit?
My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) has put up a very forcible case about maintenance in the home. According to the regulations, no matter who they are in the home, they are only allowed 10s. for maintenance. That means that a young man working at the coal face has to live on 1s. 3d. a day, 907 not as much as some Members pay for a drink. That is 3½d. per meal, to say nothing of going to a football match or the pictures or buying a suit of clothes, and surely these people want a little relaxation. If he earns £1, 3s. 4d. of it has to go towards the maintenance of his mother and father, and that is deducted from his wages.
Taking it further, if the son happens to be in fairly regular work and comes home with £2 a week, the father and mother get 15s. out of the second pound plus the 3s. 4d. out of the first, which means that the son is relieving the State of 18s. 4d. out of the 24s., leaving only 5s. 8d. If there be a second son, the scale says that it does not take as much to keep him as to keep the first. If one be 28 years of age and the other 23, I say he can shift as much across the table as his brother. He wants as big a dinner, and he wants as much as far as everything else is concerned; but the Government say that he can be kept on 2s. a week less., 8s. a week for a healthy strong youth who has to maintain himself so as to keep in work and not be thrown on the sick list. The Press generally regard these proposals as sent from Heaven. It is like fruit dropping off the tree into the mouths of people who are lying idle and lazy. If these two lads are at home, they have to maintain their parents and they do not get a penny piece. Take the scales for the girls. I am sorry that there is no lady Member present. I am delighted that no lady Member has had the courage to defend these things as yet. The scales say that a young woman only requires 8s. to keep herself. No matter what she is working at, whether in a factory or a shop, it will take 1s. 1½d. a day to keep her. If there be a second female in the house, the allowance is 1s. a day, or 3d. a meal. It will drive lads and lasses out of their homes when they find that the full responsibility is put upon them.
The scales deal with the savings of a thrifty husband or wife There is a passage in the Scripture that says:Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you.I want to twist that round a bit. The President of the Board of Trade speaks in the country about the little thrifty man with a pound or two in the Post 908 Office or in a building society as the chap that the country depends upon and the man that we look up to. He is the man who is going to save the Government at the next election, because he has a few pounds, and he is afraid that the Socialists will want to run away with it. Suppose a man has £325 in the Post Office. He comes up in front of this officer. The regulations state that the officer must carry out the regulations. He is not going to stretch or bend them, but will carry out these regulations, which state that, after the first £25, the man is to have 1s. knocked off each additional £25. If he has saved £300 he gets nothing at all until he has spent his £300. A thrifty man comes before the officer, who says: "Let me look at your bank book, your co-operative book, or your Post Office savings book." The man says, "I have so-and-so," and the officer looks at him and says, "Depart from me. I never knew you, you thrifty man. Why have you saved anything at all?" The officer then turns to another man, who has invested his money in Scotch whisky or Bookmakers and has not a penny, and says, "Come ye blessed of the grand, National Government and inherit at least 24s. provided for you by the Unemployment Assistance Board." I have heard thousands of men up and down the country say, "We are not going to save any more or attempt to put anything by, because when we do, instead of looking upon us as the backbone of the country, they look upon us as the scum and scoundrels of the country, and they will not give us anything at all." I say to the President of the Board of Trade that, if these people are the backbone of the country, the Government have gone behind them and struck them to the heart through the backbone as far as this matter is concerned.
Our people are bitterly opposed to the assessment which provides that the young man who has been a steady son at home and has saved a few pounds is to have his savings, whatever they may be, put into the pool of the savings as far as his mother and father are concerned. He may be saving up for a home of his own. It is the natural course of things that he should want a home of his own, and yet the Government say to this young man, "You have no prospects of a home of your own unless you buy your home on 909 tick." They will not give him a chance to save anything so that he can start a home of his own on a straight book. If young people have not a straight book when they start in life and they have a debt around their neck to begin with, it takes the very soul out of them. These proposals are not helping these people in any shape or form, and we shall go into the Lobby against the regulations.
We on these benches, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said, believe that it is wrong for legislation to be put upon the Statute Book whereby a committee appointed by the Government can lay down regulations, and that when they are brought into this House we cannot amend them by a single word, comma or fullstop. We have to take them as they are. That is worse than the actions either of Mussolini, or of the other fellow who is in Germany. The people of the country are, without doubt, waking up to-day, and when hon. Members opposite go to the country, instead of them benefiting, as some of them believe, as a result of the introduction of these regulations, scores of them in industrial constituencies will find that the places which know them now will know them no more.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. CONANT
After listening to the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) and to other speeches we have heard from the party opposite, one may perhaps gain the entirely erroneous impression that the conditions of those who are unemployed, after these regulations have been passed, will be worse than they were under a Labour Government, or even than they are at the present day. That is by no means the case. Hon. Members opposite may no doubt be able to put up individual cases where conditions under the regulations will be worse than they were before, but, taking the unemployed as a whole, undoubtedly their situation will be improved. It will be improved upon their position at the present day and very greatly improved upon their position at the time when the Labour Government was in office. I would only refer hon. Members opposite to the considered opinion which is expressed by their own daily newspaper, the "Daily Herald," which described these regulations as a definite advance in the 910 standard of life of the unemployed. Hon. Members opposite may not agree with that opinion, but it was the opinion of the "Daily Herald" when the regulations were published.
§ Mr. CONANT
The 12th December. It was in an editorial of the "Daily Herald." Hon. Members opposite have devoted the greater part of their speeches to a criticism of the scales laid down in these regulations. Without question, the scales can very easily be criticised, and anyone can say that they should be increased, but even of greater importance in these regulations than the scales laid down are the principles upon which the needs of an applicant for assistance and of those dependent upon him are to be determined, and the principles upon which the resources of the applicant and members of his household are to be taken into account. The scales can no doubt be adjusted if the necessity for adjustment should arise. If, for instance, the cost of living should substantially rise or fall, the necessity would arise for an adjustment in the scales laid down in these regulations. If it were found necessary to vary the unemployment insurance rates, probably it would be considered desirable that these scales should, at any rate, be re-examined. But the scales in any case only represent a guide to the normal case which the officer of the board will have to meet, and there is in every instance the overruling regulation—Regulation No. VI, paragraphs (2) and (3)—which, in any case where the needs of the case justify it, enable additional payments to be made over and above the scale allowances.
By these regulations we are making a really fundamental change in the system by which the unemployed are to be assisted. At the present time the assistance given is regulated by the amount of unemployment insurance benefit. Insurance benefit represents the topmost limit of assistance that can be given, and in future, under these regulations, assistance will be limited by need alone. In fact, one can say that, whereas in the past assistance has been given up to a maximum, in the future it will be given up from a minimum. Without in any way 911 desiring to undervalue the services which the local authorities of this country have rendered in the administration of the needs test—an extraordinarily difficult task which they have on the whole carried through with very great care—yet it is a fact that in many parts of the country very serious and very real injustices exist.
It is my view that by these regulations most of these injustices will definitely be wiped out. This sense of injustice has been created far more by the lack of uniformity in administration and by the varying methods adopted by the local authorities than by the actual amount which have been handed out as assistance. The lack of uniformity is met under these regulations by the laying down of a scale which takes account not merely of the dependants of the applicant but also the cost of the maintenance of those dependants. That, it seems to me, is an extremely important and a very fair principle. It is entirely different from the old system which laid down a flat rate payment of 2s. per child. Quite clearly, the cost of maintaining children must vary according to the age of the child.
The scales which are laid down, to which hon. Members opposite take such exception, are intended to include food, clothing, light and fuel and the rent which the applicant can be expected to pay under normal circumstances. On account of the shortage of housing in this country, there are many families who are compelled to pay far higher rents than they might in times of greater numbers of houses, be expected to pay, and there is an additional allowance to be given in those cases where the rents actually paid exceed what are considered by the board a normal amount. Conversely, in the lesser number of cases where an exceptionally low rent is paid. The difference will be deducted from the scale. I believe that to be a fair principle and it will be regarded as such by those whom it is intended to assist.
I suppose that the most of the grievance against the needs test arises out of the assessment of the income of the household. Some hon. Members, particularly on the benches below the Gangway, who have not decided to follow the party opposite in altogether repudiating the means test, have come to the conclusion, when they saw how unfairly in some parts of the country it was being administered, that 912 it would be better to assess the allowances to be paid upon an individual rather than a family basis. I have always felt that the family basis was the only fail-basis to adopt in this country, because a member of the family has clearly a greater responsibility towards that family than has the community as a whole, and if you leave out of account the resources of the individual members of the family you make a demand upon his neighbours for assistance which in the first place ought to be provided by members of his family.
Although the responsibility for assisting a man rests in the first instance within his family, the fact has not previously been recognised that the responsibility of members of a family may vary within the family itself. That is a principle which is recognised by these regulations, and which I believe will be regarded as an eminently fair principle. It is brought out in particular in regard to the assessment of the capital resources of the members of the household and in regard to the personal requirements on earned income. In both these cases one finds that the degrees of responsibility within the family are defined. In the assessment of the capital resources of the family the savings belonging to the applicant himself, the wife or husband, as the ease may be, and the mother and father, are taken into account to a greater extent than are the savings of the other members of the family. Those in the first group, that is, the applicant, the husband or wife, or mother or father, are expected to contribute something more than they would normally expect to receive as income from their capital, if invested, whereas the more distant relatives of the applicant, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, cousins or other people living in the household, are only expected to contribute towards the household so much as they may actually receive in income. I believe that to be a fair principle. It has never been recognised before except in the case of a few local authorities, and I believe that on the whole it is a sound principle.
In the case of the earned income belonging to the members of the household, we find that the degree of responsibility within the family is defined in even more detail, because in these cases there are not two grades but three. The applicant, the husband or wife, mother or 913 father, are allowed to keep for personal requirements the first 5s., or half their earnings, whichever may be the less. Those are the people who have the greatest responsibility. In the next category come the sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, who keep one-third of the first pound, and a quarter of the remainder. In the third category we have the other and more distant members of the family, who keep one-third of their whole earnings. There the scheme goes on a sound principle, and it is because I believe that these regulations will be recognised as fair and just by those among whom they are to be administered that I believe they will prove acceptable.
I cannot understand the attitude of the party opposite. Their criticisms have all been directed against the figures which are included in the regulations. The figures, the details and amounts of the scales do not represent the extent of the difference between those of us on this side of the House and the Opposition. Hon. Members opposite disagree entirely not only with the figures included in the regulations but with the principles on which they are based. But it is not right to imagine that if they were to assume control of the Government of this country they would immediately raise all the scales included in these regulations. They do not agree with the principle or with the scales. They do not believe that assistance should be given according to the number of children or the ages of the children in the family. They do not believe that people should be assisted according to the amount of rent they have to pay. They have thrown that idea overboard long ago, because that requires a needs test. Hon. Members opposite have said that again and again. Their principle has been, and it has been stated from those benches on many occasions, to assist the unemployed on a flat rate basis because that is the only way in which the unemployed can be assisted without an investigation being undertaken into the needs and resources of the applicant, to which they object.
I believe that these regulations provide an infinitely fairer method of providing for those who are unemployed than any system of flat rate payments, whatever scale may be decided upon. They provide a vindication for those who have always 914 stood by the needs test principle. We have always recognised the injustices which have been inevitable in its administration, but we have believed that the principle is so important that we must try to find a fair method of administering the needs test. I believe that these Regulations do provide a fair means of doing that. As the Minister said, administration alone can show whether that is so. There is a tremendous responsibility left to the discretion of the officers of the board, and I believe that they will rise to the occasion and that upon this basis we shall see that the needs test can be fairly administered. When it can be shown to the country that the means test can be administered with fairness to the unemployed, we shall find the party opposite returning to their old love and supporting the principle that public money should only be distributed to those who need it and in accordance with their need.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. TINKER
The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Conant) has stated our case fairly. We have never been in favour of what is called the means test, and we stand by that decision. We argue that a certain rate should be fixed for every family, and that they should have a right to it without any inquiry into their means. We say that the rate of unemployment benefit is not high enough and should be raised, and that anyone unemployed should, be entitled to it, whatever the income of the household may be. I want to draw the attention of the Lord President of the Council to the rather serious position in which Parliament finds itself. The regulations do not allow of any alteration. That, to my mind, is a travesty of Parliamentary government. We can examine and criticise, but we cannot alter them in any iota. Even if any Member of the Government feel that there should be an amendment in any particular case, he cannot make the alteration because he knows that the whole arrangement will be defeated if one of these regulations is altered in any particular point. The right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council is a great Parliamentarian, one of the greatest of the present day. He believes in democracy and fair argument, which means that the combined wisdom of all hon. Members in the House should be utilized 915 for the benefit of the country. It cannot be utilized on an occasion like this.
On ordinary occasions we may get the Government to see the force of our arguments and they may bend to the will of the House, but in the case of these regulations that cannot be done. I am not surprised that there are not many hon. Members present. Realising that no change at all can be made in these regulations an hon. Member, unless he has his point of view to put, will say that he may just as well keep away, that it is no good his attending because he can exert no pressure, and that his opinions will carry no weight. I hope that the Lord President of the Council will consider this position, and try to get it altered. It is a travesty of government that no matter what hon. Members may have to say it has no effect whatever. I appeal to the Minister of Labour that he will not delay too long before he comes to Parliament again. We have put forward certain points which at the moment cannot be accepted, but I hope it will not be long before he comes forward with proposals for incorporating into these regulations the points we have suggested. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about uniformity, and I agree that it is a point for which I have argued. About two years ago I argued that we were not being treated fairly in Lancashire, seeing that the unemployed were not being treated on the same basis as those in other parts of the country. On that ground I welcome this change. When I appealed to the Minister that the scale in Lancashire should be raised there was no idea in my mind that it might mean a reduction of the scale in other parts of the country. In our trade union when we try to raise the basic rates of pay for Lancashire miners it is understood that the wages of miners in other parts of the country shall not be reduced if they are higher. If the rates in Lancashire are raised it does not mean that the rates in other parts of the country should be reduced to the same level. If in Scotland or in South Wales they are getting a shilling or two more they should be allowed to carry on in the hope that the rates in Lancashire will in time be lifted to their level. I am told that in Durham and South Wales higher rates are paid than are allowed in these regulations. I do not propose that in raising the scales in Lancashire you should bring 916 down the rates in South Wales but that if there is uniformity we might raise the rates in Lancashire without bringing down those in other parts of the country.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the question of payments was connected with two factors, first, those who receive, and secondly, those who have to find the money, meaning, I take it, that the taxpayer has a right to have some voice in this matter. I hope this point will be followed more closely by the Government when they are doling out subsidies to shipowners and to the beet sugar industry. I hope they will then remember that the taxpayer should be considered. That is not the argument when subsidies are being given or payments being made to high personages. When pensions are being granted to people who have done certain things for the State, when grants are given in excess of their needs, I hope the Government will have some consideration for the taxpayer, and will say that he has a right to be considered as well. I hope the Government will tell us how the appeal tribunals are to be appointed. Who is to nominate them? It is well that we should know all these things. Then there is the question of the capital assets. The right hon. Gentleman said that an important change had been made, and that other members of the family were being brought in. Before, as I understand it, the capital assets of the applicants only were taken into consideration.
§ Mr. STANLEY
What I said was that there were two important extensions in the regulations as compared with the provisions of the Act, and that both these extensions are in favour of bringing in members of the household.
§ Mr. TINKER
I understood that, apart from a man and his wife, the assets of other members of the family were not examined. To my mind to bring in the capital assets of any member of the family other than the man and his wife, is entirely wrong. Who is responsible for the statement as to the household income? Suppose there is another member of the family who has some money saved. The applicant makes his claim for assistance. He is asked what money is coming into the household. Is he to make a statement as to what the other man has, or has every member of that family to send 917 a statement to the committee as to what they have got? If so, will it be a punishable offence if they do not disclose the truth? I can see a tremendous difficulty here, and I warn the Government that they are exceeding all the canons of English law in making one man disclose what he has so as to affect the benefit of another person. It is not done in connection with Income Tax. I ask the Minister to consider this question of false statements made to the assistance committee. Who is to be liable? The person who makes the false statement or the applicant?
In the course of his speech the Minister spoke of what are called payments out of wages, and said that they were to be taken into consideration. I know that certain statutory payments are exempted, for instance the payment for insurance. Take the case of a miner. Will the Minister agree that the following payments will be excluded from what is called the means of the household? I have here the weekly pay-sheet for the past month of a collier. He paid for the clubs at the colliery 5½d. for the month, which was stopped at the colliery office; for the hospitals the average payment is 5d. per week; for the check-weighman at the pithead a statutory payment of 9d.; for the pit sharpener 2d.; for the nursing home 1½d.; and there is another item of a penny a day or 5d. a week. Apart from insurance money there is a total payment of 2s. 4d. a week. Is the 2s. 4d. to be excluded from the assessment of means when the time comes? Of course on top of this payment there is the 6d. for the miner's union. Then among the miners we have what is called an old age pension. When a miner reaches 65 years of age and has had a continuous membership for five years he gets 7s. 6d. a week for 26 weeks. Hitherto that 7s. 6d. has been treated as money going into the household. Will that pension or a portion of it be excluded from the assessment under these regulations? If it cannot be done now will the Minister give consideration to the matter with a view to some future change?
Finally, I want to deal with the very serious position caused by the direct reduction of the payment to a man and his wife under this scheme. Hitherto a man and wife without any assets when on 918 transitional payment got 26s. Under this arrangement they will get 24s. To my mind that is entirely wrong. At least I would have expected the Government not to have made a reduction in such a case, and I think they have made a great mistake. There are many households in which it is extremely difficult to exist on 26s., let alone 24s. I think the Government have acted wrongly, first of all in putting down any basic rate, and, what is more grievous, in failing to allow Parliament to have a voice in the changes that are being made. Parliament should have had the liberty to give a shilling here or a shilling there without necessarily altering the whole arrangement. I plead with the Lord President of the Council, who is a great parliamentarian, to have regard to the position in which Parliament will find itself unless the opinion of Members can be freely expressed in legislation.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. T. SMITH
We have heard a great deal about the regulations not being capable of Amendment, and I agree with every word that the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) has said upon that point. In looking carefully through the regulations I notice on page 7 what appears to be a misprint or something, as to which I would like guidance. In Regulation V, paragraph 3 (2), there occur the words:In the case of capital assets belonging to a member other that.Should not the word "that" be "than"? If not, will the Minister try to explain what is meant by the sentence with the word "that" in it? Would it be in order for the Minister to alter the word from "that" to "than," or must the whole of the regulations go through as printed?
§ Mr. SMITH
But is it a printer's error? Surely the officials of the Ministry are not so dense about the use of the English language as not to have noticed the word? Surely they have perused the regulations very carefully to see that there were not printers' errors before this document was put before the House?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
In reply to the hon. Member, I would point out that this paper is only 919 a print of the regulations. The actual regulations are not before either the hon. Member or me, and I do not therefore know in what form that particular sentence appears.
§ Sir STAFFORD CRIPPS
On a point of Order. Could you inform us where we can see the actual regulations in order that we may see whether this document is accurate or not? It may be that the 10s. mentioned is a misprint also, and should be 20s.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
To answer that question is beyond me. There must be an official draft of the regulations somewhere. What the hon. Members have before them are printed copies. Probably the word "that" is a printer's error.
§ Mr. T. SMITH
I want a definite decision on the point. We have been told that these regulations are almost like the laws of the Medes and Persians, and that we are not permitted to amend them by as much as a comma or full stop. I am surprised that a Minister of Labour who has so many capable officials has not seen that the word "that" is misplaced. The House should know exactly what is the position with regard to this particular word. If this sentence goes through as printed, for the life of me I cannot understand what interpretation the assistance officer will place upon it. Perhaps the Lord President of the Council can help us. He has great Parliamentary experience and is a stickler for procedure. We must insist upon an explanation of the point. Perhaps the learned Solicitor-General, who is present, will be willing to clear away the mystery. We have been told that we are not permitted to amend these regulations in any shape or form and I would like a definite ruling upon this point before proceeding.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
Since the hon. Member first raised this question I have been making inquiries, and I understand that a copy of the regulations was definitely presented to the House and is now in the Library. That is the official copy of the regulations. That is the answer to the hon. Member's question, but I do not know whether it is the same as the printed copy to which the hon. Member has referred.
§ Mr. SMITH
I think that the matter ought to be cleared up one way or the other before we proceed any further. To me the matter is so important that I want a definite decision upon it. An alteration to this word may alter the whole meaning of the paragraph and I would like some guidance in regard to it.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
As I say I have not had the advantage of reading the copy in the Library, and therefore I cannot say whether the printed copy now before the House corresponds exactly with it or not, in regard to this particular word, but the copy in the Library is the official copy of the regulations which, if this Resolution is passed, will come into force.
§ Mr. SMITH
I beg to move, "That the Debate be now adjourned."
I think it will be agreed that this matter ought to be cleared up before the House continues the Debate. I must frankly say that I am surprised that, with a Minister of the ability of the right hon. Gentleman, with a Department which possesses very capable officials and with a Front Bench on which we are told there are some of the ablest lawyers in the country, the House should be allowed for five hours to discuss regulations in which there is either a serious misprint or else phraseology which makes this particular sentence meaningless.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir Donald Somervell)
I unfortunately have not had time and I am sure other hon. Members have not had the time to study the official copy which is in the Library, but I think it is obvious that the word to which the hon. Member refers is a misprint.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
I think it is obvious that the word is a misprint. Even if it should be found in the official copy it is obviously a misprint. As I understand the Rules of the House it is always possible under them—and indeed under the rules of any common sense body, of which this House is the most 921 signal example in the country—to correct a misprint of this character, even if it has escaped the attention of the most vigilant and able people as such mistakes sometimes do.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
We are to be congratulated at all events on the fact that somebody on behalf of the Government has intervened in this Debate, other than the Minister who opened it and whoever is going to reply on Wednesday. The Solicitor-General at least has deigned to intervene on this point and I suppose we may regard that is being complimentary to us. We were told earlier that this document could not be altered by us. It is no use the Solicitor-General now telling us in a sort of highbrow fashion that this being a common sense Chamber a mistake of the kind that has been pointed out can easily be put right. If this were a common sense Government we would not be doing business like this at all. But is there any common sense body which would bring forward regulations of this kind and then tell the assembly to which those regulations were submitted, "You cannot change a line of them"? If you claim to be a common sense body you ought to proceed on a common sense basis. If this were a common sense business chamber this thing would be subject to amendment, and, if any mistake were found in it, whether a printer's error or a clerical error, that mistake could be put right.
But that is not the basis on which we are proceeding to-night and the Solicitor-General's rather superior talk does not carry us any further. He has not answered the point which he is entitled to answer. Can we alter or can he alter this document in any way? If he can make an alteration in it, can it not be altered in other respects as well? He has told us that this is an obvious misprint which can be put right but that is not the point. The point is, are we to be allowed to amend this document or 922 not? I must ask the Minister who has, I see, been in consultation with his officials, what is to be done about it. Is the document to be altered and if so how is the alteration to be made? We are told that there is a draft copy somewhere about and that, possibly, the draft copy is correct. That may be true but that is not what we are considering here. I therefore ask the Minister to let us know how this alteration is to take place. I submit that he is entitled to no more privileges than the Opposition. If he can make an alteration so can we. If this document is going into the melting-pot I welcome the fact, but the Minister and the Solicitor-General must not claim any superior privileges over the rest of the House.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
This is a question of first-class importance. It is a new procedure by which great measures of this sort are passed into law without the possibility of amendment. It may be that in this case it can be said with some plausibility that this is a clerical error, but supposing there was a doubt as to whether it was a clerical error or not. Let me assume for instance that one of these figures, one of the sums of money mentioned on page 4 had been misprinted. Supposing I were to say, following the example of the learned Solicitor-General, "It is quite obvious that no sensible person could possibly have put in a figure of 10s. as the sum necessary to support a male member of a family of 21 years and upwards and it must be a clerical error." That would be a perfectly sensible observation to make. Is the House to accept my word for it, that that is a clerical error and, if so, is the House thereupon to change it and to pass these regulations with something else substituted for the 10s.? If the House is not to accept my word, then I suggest that the House ought not to accept the word of the Solicitor-General. The document deposited in the Library which is not in the House at this moment, which nobody can see at this moment, is probably an exact reproduction of the document before us, off the same printing machine.
This so-called clerical error is a matter on which I should like to ask your guidance, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Who is to decide whether it is a clerical error or 923 not? Suppose the Government say it is a clerical error and we say it is not, is there to be a vote of the House as to whether it is or is not a clerical error? We take the position that this is not a clerical error, and it is not agreed in this House that it is, and I suggest that there is nothing in the Standing Orders of the House in these circumstances that entitles anybody to make any alteration of this document whatsoever. A mere assertion by a member of the Government or any other Member that this or that is a clerical error does not give anybody the right to have an alteration made, and I should like to ask your Ruling, first of all, as to how the House is to determine whether it is a clerical error, if it is alleged to be a clerical error, and, secondly, what steps we can take to see that no alteration is made, as we deny that it is a clerical error.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
As regards the first point raised by the hon. and learned Member, I do not know what is to decide whether it is a clerical error or not. Obviously, it is not a matter for me to decide from the Chair. With regard to the second point, he asks how the House is to ensure that the document is passed in the form in which it is originally presented to us. I imagine that the original document would settle the question. If it were not passed in that form in point of fact, the Resolution would probably be ultra vires and the Act would have no effect.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Mr. STANLEY
I submit that, to the knowledge of every Member of this House, there have been many occasions when Bills have been discussed in Parliament.
§ Mr. STANLEY
I am speaking of Bills whch are capable of amendment and where, therefore, a misprint could have been corrected by an Amendment put down and moved, and I say that every hon. Member knows of cases where in fact such a misprint has been corrected by the House without Amendment moved 924 or passed. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I say that it is within the knowledge of every Member of the House. The position is that officially the printing of this document is not within the responsibility of the Ministry, which submits the Bill, or the regulation, or whatever it may be to the authorities of the House as a typescript document. The printing of the document is done by the House and under the authority of the House and not of the Ministry, and, as I say, ever since I have been in the House it has been the custom, whenever there has been an obvious misprint of this kind, for it to be put right without an Amendment being moved. Say, for instance, you had not a misprint as here, which creates another word, but a misprint which, as very often happens, does not make a word at all, or where a letter is dropped out. Every hon. Member must have seen in documents submitted to the House misprints of that kind, and I challenge any hon. Member to say when an Amendment has been put down to leave out that misprinted word and to put in the right word. The House being responsible for the printing, the House corrects the printing errors, if any, that may appear.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
On a point of Order. It is incorrect to say that occasions have occurred in the House when on the Second Reading or the Committee stage of any Bill a Bill can be amended for a clerical error unless there is a Report stage, and there is no Report stage if there is not some other Amendment. The Government themselves cannot correct even a clerical error on the Report stage unless an Amendment has been accepted to the Bill, and it must be an Amendment to another portion of the Bill, so that the right hon. Gentleman's point is not correct.
I myself went the other day to see the Clerk at the Table and Mr. Speaker in connection with an Amendment to the Electricity (Supply) Bill, and the Ruling there was that as there had been no Amendment accepted to the Bill itself, the Government themselves were debarred from amending the Bill on the Report stage. There is no Report stage on any Bill if there are no Amendments accepted, so that a clerical error cannot be put right here and must be put right 925 in some other place. But there is no other place on this occasion, I submit, and no Report stage, and no Committee stage, by the act of the Government themselves. There are no Amendments, by the act of the Government themselves, and furthermore I submit that there is no agreement in the House that this is a clerical error. The Government have on many occasions sought by subterfuge to obtain powers from the House that the House never intended to give, and I submit that there is only one thing left for the Government to do on this occasion, and that is to withdraw the Resolution.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I must point out that orders come to the House to print a document, whether it be a Bill or a Resolution. I have known of cases of a Bill where, when the printed text of the Bill has not corresponded with the text as presented by the Member in charge, it has been treated as a printer's error, and that has been amended in consonance with the text as presented by the Member. That has not been treated as an Amendment. In this case with which we are now dealing, I have not seen the text of the regulations as presented, and I do not know whether this printed document now before the House is in point of fact an accurate transcript of the text, and I am not in a position to rule whether or not this is a clerical error.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I should like to ask the Minister of Labour or the Lord President of the Council to allow the Debate to be adjourned. It is rather more important than this particular incident. We are discussing these regulations under what we consider to be duress, because of what the Government themselves put in the Bill, which is now an Act, and we were told by Mr. Speaker to-day categorically that no Amendment could be moved. Speaking not as a lawyer, but, as a layman, I understand that Mr. Deputy-Speaker has ruled that if this went out from the House as it is, it would be ultra vires for the Government to alter it—it would be passed in this fashion—and therefore we cannot consent to the Government, simply because they have a tremendous majority, taking 926 it into their hands to alter the rules and the law as governing our procedure. When an Act of Parliament is passed, the Executive has no right to alter a comma. I put it to the Solicitor-General whether that is not the fact. The Government have not the least right to change anything, and it cannot be done by the House.
The Government in this case have expressly ruled out any amendments. They may say that this point is absurd and that the word "that" makes the regulations absurd. That may or may not be so. There are a lot of absurdities in these regulations from our point of view. We do not know whether they are put there from the original copy of the document, but that, in my view, does not matter at all. What does matter is that the House is being asked to establish a precedent by passing these regulations and then allowing the Executive to alter them afterwards. I do not think it matters perhaps what one says, because no one on the Front Bench whom it is important should listen is listening to me. I may be saying nothing of any value, and I know that Ministers must consult about this point, but I want them to get the point of my argument. Mr. Speaker has definitely ruled to-day that no amendments can be made. Therefore, I think the Lord President ought to agree to adjourn the House, and let us have a new print of the document so that we can have the matter dealt with in a constitutional manner. I am certain that auyone who considers this matter fairly will agree that that is the only logical and constitutional way of dealing with the situation.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Mr. JAMES REID
Everyone on all sides will agree that the Government have no more rights in this case than in any other case to make alterations. The first thing to do is to find out what is in the principal document. If it turn out that in the principal document the word is "than," the fact that there has been some misprint by those officials of the House who are responsible does not affect the matter one way or the other. The House is obliged to the hon. Member for his vigilance in discovering this point, because there might have been a certain amount of doubt about it if it had slipped everyone's notice. Once the point is 927 raised, however, nothing further can be done to clear it up until we find the principal document. If it bears the word "than," there will be no difficulty.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Even if the document be found, my contention is that Mr. Speaker has ruled that these regulations must be accepted as they stand. We wanted to do certain things, but he categorically ruled that the regulations must be taken as a whole or not at all. The Government cannot play fast and loose. They have no more rights and privileges than ordinary Members when it comes to accepting the Ruling of the Chair.
§ Mr. REID
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and I am sure nobody on this side of the House would desire to support the Government in claiming any privileges of that kind, and the Government would not desire to claim them. No doubt Mr. Speaker will keep us right in this matter, but I understood Mr. Deputy-Speaker to rule that these prints were not the ruling documents. The ruling document is something which is not at present in the House. That document has to be found, and no doubt it will be produced shortly. Let us assume that the word "than" is in the original document. Then that is the end of this interlude. If, on the other hand, it turns out that the word stands as "that," it seems to me, speaking without any further consideration than anyone else has bad at the moment, it will be impossible to amend it. Suppose the Government thought it was not worth while to withdraw the regulations on the ground of that misprint, but allowed them to go through, they would have to be construed, if necessary in the ultimate resort, by a court of law.
§ Mr. REID
I do not see the Prime Minister's hand behind all these things. Other Members of the Government are responsible, too, and I do not think we need drag the Prime Minister into it. Let us assume that the regulations go through not amended, and that the word "that" stands in the official print issued by the Stationery Office after these regulations 928 have become law. They will have to be interpreted by somebody ultimately and the ultimate authority for interpreting anything is a court of law. According to my knowledge, I think that any court which has the task of interpreting this particular paragraph in its present shape would not have the slightest doubt that the word "that" was a misprint. It is a cardinal principle of law that, whether it be a deed, a will, or an Act of Parliament, any court is entitled in considering any document to put right a misprint.
§ Mr. McKEAG
My hon. Friend will admit that the court would apply a very different rule in interpreting a will from that which they would use in interpreting an Act of Parliament.
§ Mr. REID
I accept that it is much easier to assume when you are interpreting a will whether there is a mistake than when you are interpreting a printed Act of Parliament. I quite accept the qualification which has been suggested by the hon. Member who sits below me, that where you are dealing with a written document, such as a will, the court is much more prone to accept the theory that it is a misprint, and the court may well accept that theory in a written document where it would refuse to accept that theory in the case of a printed document issued under authority. It seems to me that what must be done is this: If the Government have discovered that this really is an error in the principal document and that it cannot be put right, because obviously amendment is out of the question, there are two alternatives. One is to withdraw the regulations and substitute a new draft and the other alternative is to let the regulations go through. I know that hon. Members disagree with this alternative, but surely——
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
Is there any suggestion that this House should pass a regulation which the hon. Member admits is nonsense and rely on the courts to make some meaning of it? I should have thought that the courts have said enough about legislation coming from this House without perpetrating absolute nonsense.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ The LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL (Mr. Baldwin)
I have a feeling that for the sake of the dignity of this 929 House the sooner we come to a conclusion in this matter the better. I confess that 20 or 30 years ago I might have taken up a point like this with enthusiasm had I been in Opposition; but it seems to me, from the place where I now sit and at my advanced years, to be a point of a somewhat trivial nature. The original document I have here, and it does appear that one letter has been misplaced. But I think, after listening to the discussion and after seeing the effect it has had at this time of the night upon the House as a whole, I should be perfectly prepared to ask the House to adjourn now, so that we can provide a clean copy containing the word "than" instead of "that." After all, we shall only lose an hour and a-half. But if we adjourn it must be on the understanding that at any rate we get these regulations by Wednesday night. I think that will give us ample time for the Debate, but we must get these regulations through before the Christmas Adjournment. I think that the House recognises that. On that understanding, I am perfectly willing to accept the Motion.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and the permission of the House, I would like to say that the right hon. Gentleman has met us in a proper manner. I am only sorry that he did not do it earlier. I think that when you are passing Acts of Parliament it is just as well that you should be careful over small things. Now that the point has been conceded we will go home.
§ Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.