Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment to Question [17th December],
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.]
Which Amendment was, 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."—[Mr. Greenwood.]
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
On a point of Order. I do not wish to delay the House unnecessarily and I have no desire to magnify the discussion or the events which took place last night, but it is necessary, I think, to call your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that the Government have now circulated an amended printed copy of these Regulations. I understand that an amended copy is being formally presented to the House to-day. I would draw your attention to the fact that the Motion on the Order Paper refers to regulations dated 11th December and presented to Parliament on 11th December. But the regulations which we are now about to discuss will be regulations presented to the House to-day. Therefore, I suggest that the Motion on the Order Paper does not apply to the regulations which it is now proposed should come into force. Accordingly, I would ask your Ruling, Sir, as to whether the Motion on the Order Paper should not be withdrawn and a fresh Motion moved after having been placed on the Order Paper. I would further call your attention to the fact that our Amendment moved yesterday stands on the Order Paper to-day thus:Amendment proposed, in line 5, to leave out the words 'be approved,' and add the words 'will be inadequate to ensure the maintenance of unemployed persons and their dependants in health and physical efficiency'.968 The Question which you, Sir, put was,That the word 'be' stand part of the Question.which means that the House was in the middle of a discussion on an Amendment to regulations which in fact have now been withdrawn and replaced by the new set of regulations now placed on the Table of the House.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The regulations which appear to-day are the same regulations as those which were dated 11th December. The only difference is that a slight printer's error to which attention was called has been put right. Otherwise, the regulations are identically the same as those presented on 11th December.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
With very great respect, the regulations were withdrawn because they were incorrect. The fact that there was a printer's error does not get over that fact. The document would not have been withdrawn had it not been incorrect, and therefore we can not now be discussing the same document. It may be the same in all respects except this particular one, but I respectfully submit that it cannot be the same document as that which was before the House yesterday. Otherwise, it would not have been necessary to present a new document to-day.
§ Captain Sir WILLIAM BRASS
Are not the actual regulations those which are laid on the Table of the House and is not the document circulated to Members simply a copy? If the actual regulations themselves are correct in form, are they not the regulations which we are discussing?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman is hardly correct in saying that the regulations were withdrawn. They were not withdrawn. There has merely been the substitution of an "n" for a "t" in correcting a printer's error.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Again, with very great respect, it may be impossible for me to understand, but the point that I wish to make is quite a simple one. A certain document has been withdrawn and is not now before the House, and a new print has been presented to the House. It may very well be, as it is true it is, that only a letter in the old document has been replaced in the new one, but our point is that it is in fact a new document that 969 the House is called upon to discuss, and I would respectfully submit to you, Sir, that we have not raised this matter merely on the question of a printer's error of a letter, but because it shows the difficulty in which the House is placed when such legislation as the Unemployment Act, which cripples and takes away the power of the House to amend regulations of this kind, is passed. Our point is that it is a matter of principle and that the House should guard its procedure and not allow a document, which to all intents and purposes is withdrawn, to be substituted by another one without the proper formalities being followed.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am quite certain that the right hon. Gentleman does not raise this question in any frivolous manner, but I must rule, as I did in the first instance, that the regulations were not withdrawn. They were reprinted so as to correct a printer's error, but that is all that has taken place. The document which we now have is the same document as that which was presented on the 11th December, with a printer's error corrected.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Of course, I cannot contend against your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, and we shall have to accept it, but we do accept it, quite respectfully, under protest, because we think that a precedent is being established to-day which will not be good for the future of this House.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman should think that I am creating a precedent. I can assure him that I am doing nothing of the kind. We must, in dealing with these questions, have a certain sense of proportion. There are printers' errors and printers' errors. In some cases printers' errors materially alter the meaning of a sentence, but in this case it is quite obvious to anybody that where a printer's error has substituted a "t" for an "n," it has not in the ordinary sense of the word altered the document.
§ Question again proposed, "That the word 'be' stand part of the Question."
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ Mr. T. SMITH
Further to that point of Order. I take it that your Ruling will not debar the hon. Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. Logan) or myself from getting in on any subsequent Amendment that may be moved?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If a subsequent Amendment be moved, either of the hon. Members will be entitled to speak upon it.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Mr. KINGSLEY GRIFFITH
I want to add my protest to that which has been delivered by the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) and others as to the form in which these regulations come before us. It is apparent, I think, that they come before us, in the first place, carelessly drafted—otherwise we should not have had the trouble last night—in the second place accompanied by a memorandum which does not explain adequately the meaning and the purport of the regulations themselves; thirdly—and I think this is more important—the regulations are put before us with an inadequate opportunity for any Member of this House to go to his constituency and discover precisely how far and in what way they affect those for whom he is responsible. We might have been given a great deal more time to consider actual cases in the light of these regulations, but we have had to do it with only one short week-end, which some of us were unable to use, in order to make the very important local calculations which are necessary. Lastly—and this is much the most important point as to the form in which these regulations are laid—we of the House of Commons are called upon to consider Measures vitally affecting the interests of many of our constituents, and we have no power on this occasion to take away anything that we may regard as objectionable or to add anything which we may regard as an improvement.
I take this as a point which affects myself, and I think it will affect hon. Members above the Gangway too, that although they may disagree fundamentally with the general scheme of these regulations, they would yet desire, as I should, to make the regulations better, if we could in any respect, but that 971 opportunity is taken from us. I think the situation would be even harder in the case, which I daresay may exist, of some loyal supporter of the Government, who approves the general line of these proposals but who finds some individual scale, some one regulation, or it may be some one sentence in one regulation, which he believes will adversely affect a large number of his own constituents. What is such a Member to do? He has only two alternatives. He has either to give his assent to regulations which he believes will work injustice in these particular instances, or else he must take the very serious step of referring back, because that is what it comes to, the whole body of regulations a great deal of which he approves. I say that in this matter the powers of the House of Commons have been reduced to a vanishing point, to a very dangerous point.
I ventured to say, on the Second Reading of the Bill under which these regulations are framed, that if that Bill passed in that form, in future Members who were keenly interested in transitional benefit and the fortunes of those who had to draw it would prefer to be on the Unemployment Assistance Board rather than to be a Member of this House. I said that at that time with loud cries of dissent from hon. Members opposite, who regarded it as a ridiculous statement, but I wonder whether anybody would say the same to-day, when they have seen the late Minister of Labour himself resign his old position in this House to take his place on the Unemployment Assistance Board, not, I venture to suggest, for any personal reason—which no one would impute to the late Minister of Labour, whom we all know so well—but solely, it is obvious, for the reason that he thought he could do better and more influential work for the unemployed there than he could in the place which he used to occupy in this House. That is the position to which we have been reduced. We have built up in this matter and in some others masters to control our actions, and I very much regret it.
I am not going into any detailed analysis of the scales for the reason that my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Dingle Foot) has done that exactly as I should have wished it to be done and has asked the Minister a great many 972 questions to which I hope we will get answers. I will not, therefore, follow in any great detail the scales that are presented by the regulations. I am going to complain of their general inadequacy and add the reasons why I thought they were bound to be inadequate even before I had seen them. I desire to give the Unemployment Assistance Board the credit of trying to carry out its statutory duty of assessing needs. I would not say of any member of the board that he would desire to do anything else, but there are grave obstacles in its way.
There are three inhibitions in the way of it performing its statutory duty. The first one obviously is the fear of the Treasury. The head of the board, having himself been in the Cabinet with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, must be able to form a shrewd estimate of exactly how much he is likely to be able to get. With that knowledge he would hardly take the step of presenting to the House a series of regulations which he knew that his successor, the present Minister of Labour, would be bound to turn down because the Chancellor would be unwilling to provide so much money. That is an important point, because it would put the present Minister in an invidious position if he had to come to the House and explain that his predecessor had presented certain scales but that he, the present occupant of the post, was unable to implement them for reasons of finance. That fear of the Treasury is bound to operate on the board, and it prevents it from carrying out the plain duty of deciding what is a man's need which is placed upon them in each individual case.
The second inhibition is fear of competing with wage rates. I do not need to argue that point, because it has actually been embodied in the regulations. There is Regulation VI (1) to which I should like to call attention. I am not at all sure—and I hope that somebody will reply upon this point—whether that regulation, if it be carried out and observed by the officers of the board, will not lead to assessments which are ultra vires. The point I am raising is whether the unemployment assistance officer, in endeavouring to carry out that regulation, would not be disobeying the essential function which he has been told to perform in order to carry out the purposes of the Act, because what he has been told to do is to assess the need. That is 973 made clear in paragraph 4 of the memorandum, which says:As stated above, the Act lays down that the needs of the applicant shall be the deciding factor.Taking that to be the statutory duty, you have by regulations told the officer that in a certain number of cases he has to ignore that duty by taking into consideration something that has nothing to do with the needs of the applicant, and I ask the question whether that would not be ultra vires. Take an individual case. The provisional assessment is made upon the needs which the officer has perseveringly ascertained, and he has decided that such and such are the needs of John Smith. He then by an afterthought sees that John Smith was employed in a badly paid trade—let us say, a barrister or some trade of that kind—and he has to be scaled down. The resulting final assessment will be actually a breach of the main purposes of the Act, and I put that before the Solicitor-General for his consideration. I admit that there are grave difficulties in every system of unemployment assessment that the assessment may exceed the ordinary wage. I am not discussing that point; I am putting the point as to the actual power of the officers to make an assessment of that kind.
More serious than either of the two inhibitions which I have mentioned is the fear of competing with the statutory unemployment benefit rates. That is bound to have a great influence upon the minds of those who are assessing the people on transitional payment. In the case of a large family of a husband, wife and several children with no resources, the rates under the Unemployment Assistance Board will exceed the scale which would be paid if they were in insurance. I do not think that at the present there will be a very large number of those cases because in the majority of large families there will be some other resources, and that fact will alter the final computation. But I say confidently that if the Unemployment Assistance Board had a free hand in assessing needs and assessed them on a scale that would have been arrived at if it had not had any of these fears and inhibitions about competing with other rates, there would be a large number of cases in which the scales paid under the board would exceed those paid under insurance.
974 I want to take up and develop the point that was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield. He said he thought that these regulations showed that we had arrived at the position when the whole system of unemployment insurance was called into question. I believe that he suggested it might be the last nail in its coffin. Speaking from these benches, I should be sorry to see the last nail put in the coffin of the unemployment insurance system. It proceeded from the party to which I have the honour to-belong, and I believe that those who put it forward built well for the purposes they had before them. None of us can hope to do more than that. In the situation which they had to meet they invented and carried through in the face of considerable opposition a workable scheme which, I believe, has been for the benefit of many and has been the prop upon which we have leaned during these hard years. That does not mean that the scheme is immortal. As conditions alter deliberative assemblies of governments have to alter their methods of dealing with them. I think that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield was right and that the present situation does call the whole system of unemployment insurance into question.
We have two systems—System A, which is insurance, and System B, which is assistance. Under System A the benefit is covenanted; a statutory right is conferred; the payments have no reference to the resources of the applicant, and the actual amount that is paid out is determined by the amount which there is in the fund in any particular year. That, of course, has its drawbacks. It means, as we saw in 1931, that in a period of particular stress when there is a great deal of unemployment, the covenanted relief to unemployment becomes less at the time when it is required to be greater. On the other hand, there is system B, that of assistance. That is discretionary; there is no statutory right about it; it is graduated and based on needs and resources.
These two systems can live together in certain circumstances. They can live together as long as the yield of system A is normally greater than that of system B. But as soon as system B begins to assert itself and to claim a more generous provision than system A, a very serious state of things is brought about. One of two 975 alternatives arises. Either the Unemployment Insurance scheme is going to lose its basis, because people will be unwilling to pay out solid money in order to achieve benefits which are less, perhaps, than they can get without making any such payment, or else we are going to have what I believe we are seeing now, and that is an unreal assessment of needs, a fictitious assessment of needs, made for the purpose of seeing that the Unemployment Insurance scheme is safeguarded. When I consider all these three factors, the fear of the Treasury, the fear of competing with wage rates and the fear of competing with Unemployment Insurance, properly so-called, I am tempted to be surprised, in some measure, that these rates, much as I disagree with them, are not even worse than they are.
I pass from the question of the general scales and come to what is almost more important, the household assessment. I think the Minister and everybody else who has had any experience of dealing with the needs of those who have passed out of insurance must realise that it is the household assessment which has made the two words "means test" the two most unpopular words in the language. That is because an artificial test is set up in the heart of the family. Most of the people I know, whether they be sons or brothers, or whatever their relationship to the head of the household, would be ready to make the most generous contribution to the needs of their families, and yet it is not in the least inconsistent that they should resent it when, by an act of State, they are told exactly how much of their income is supposed to be devoted to that purpose, how much somebody is graciously pleased to allow them to keep for themselves. It creates a resentment against the State, I am sure that it creates resentment inside the family, and it is incontestable that younger members of the family drift away from home before they would in the ordinary way because a state of things is set up which they regard as quite intolerable.
I think the Minister has to some extent realised this fact, because he has set up a sort of sliding scale, to be found on pages 6 and 7, in which the amounts allowed for personal expenditure vary in accordance with the nearness of the relationship. Paragraph (a) deals with the 976 case of a wife, husband, father or mother; paragraph (b) son, daughter, brother or sister; and paragraph (c) deals, I suppose, with grandmothers and grandfathers, because it is "anyone else." It looks rather like the table of consanguinity in the Prayer Book. I approve the principle; I think it is well to recognise that there should be a difference according to the nearness of relationship, but I should like to have carried it farther. When we come to look at the actual scales we find, under the second scale, that one-third of all earnings up to 20s. and one-quarter of the excess is the allowance for personal requirements. That does not leave a tremendous amount for young people, early in life, who are trying to plan for the future, saving up, perhaps, for a wedding that is in prospect. There is not very much margin out of which they can save under this scale.
I ask the Minister whether he really thinks that by these provisions he is getting rid of the odium against the means test. Are these provisions sufficient to get rid of heart burnings inside the family? Are they enough to allow of saving for the future? Are they enough to prevent the breaking up of homes? I do not know what the Minister thinks, but I am certain in my own mind that the alteration we are making under these provisions is quite insufficient to do away with the odium which, quite naturally in my view, attaches to the means test. Therefore, I agreed with the right hon. Member for Wakefield when he said that this part of the Bill is based upon a fiction, a fiction that these sums are really going to be contributed to the family income—at least in the vast majority of cases. I do not believe they are, and therefore I think the household income is still being assessed on a false basis.
This is a fiction—and it is not by any means the only fiction in these regulations. There is the fiction under Regulation V (1) dealing with the compilation of the family resources. I am aware that this particular fiction is not one for which the Unemployment Assistance Board can be blamed. They were bound to put it in because this House, in its wisdom or unwisdom, had provided for it in the Bill. As far as I can remember, it was one of the provisions of the Bill which, under the operation of the "guillotine," was not fully discussed, and so we had not an 977 opportunity of saying what we wished to say. In the regulations the phrase runs:In so far as such value exceeds twenty-five pounds…there shall be taken into account a sum equivalent to one shilling per week for every complete twenty-five pounds.The introductory Memorandum makes it worse, because in their explanation they set the matter out in all its nakedness. They say:The next £275 is regarded as yielding a weekly income of 1s. for each complete £25.Why should we put such a supposition into regulations under an Act of Parliament? We know perfectly well the condition cannot be fulfilled. None of us, not the wisest financial Members of this House, not the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Home), who is on the boards of nearly all the great companies of this country, could find a safe investment yielding over 10 per cent. per annum, and yet it is assumed in these regulations that the humble working man with savings of about £300 has such an investment at his beck and call. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Then may I ask why the Memorandum specifically puts it on that basis? I will read it again.Is regarded as yielding a weekly income of 1s. for every complete £25.And yet the Minister tries to say that that, which is in his own Memorandum, is not the basis of these regulations. All I can suggest is that he should re-write his Memorandum. I would rather he re-wrote the regulations as well. First we have one fiction and then another; the regulations are built up upon fiction, and they need a very drastic alteration.
I now come to a difficulty in which I and every other Member is placed. If this were the Second Reading of a Bill I could recommend to my friends that they should vote for the Second Reading in order that on the Committee stage or Report, or perhaps in another place, alterations might be made which would satisfy our aspirations and make the regulations different from what they are. But with this system of presenting regulations, fixed upon us by the Act which we so recently passed, no one is in a position to take up that attitude. These regulations are thrown before us like the Tables of the Law, nothing can be altered in them, and even though I were gifted with such eloquence and learning that I could convince the Parliamentary 978 Secretary that some particular items in the regulations would work the most serious injustice what would be the good of it? He could not help me, unless he were to go through the laborious process of taking back the regulations—in good earnest this time—which would involve the necessity of presenting a new set of regulations with a new speech. It is unlikely that any one of us would be able to compel the Government to take so humiliating a step, and the three days which we have been allowed for this Debate will, therefore, to a large extent be wasted. The Government are generous with their time at this moment. If only they had given us some of this time when we were discussing the Bill and were able to put forward Amendments it would have been much more profitable; but this, of course, is typical of the Front Bench attitude "Let them talk, let them talk till Christmas if they like, they cannot do anything" and so we are given the time.
I say that it is a very serious state of things now that we are confronted with these regulations. We shall have nothing more vitally important before us in this Parliament as far as certain families, at any rate, are concerned. On great distant questions, whose importance I would be the last to minimise, on questions like that of India, we shall have full debate, full power to make Amendments; everything will be considered and discussed in a full House. On this question I do not wonder that there is a poor House. Our powers are already given away. In regard to matters which come within the scope of this board, the main direction—at any rate, the initiative—is given to another body. For that reason alone I should make my protest against these regulations, and vote for the Amendment moved above the Gangway. But that is not my only reason. I not only believe that these regulations should be rejected as being the first fruits of our abdication of Parliamentary authority over a most vital matter, but I also believe that they should be rejected because the inadequacy of the scales makes these regulations really a violation of the instructions to the board that they were to assess the real human needs of the individual. Lastly, they should be rejected because they do not remedy the grievance of the household test. They still perpetuate the heart-burnings and 979 the discontent aroused by that test throughout the length and breadth of the land. For those reasons, I shall vote against the regulations and for the Amendment.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Mr. JAMES REID
The hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith) has made a reasoned attack upon these regulations, an attack which, in my view at least, deserves a somewhat detailed reply, and, if the House will permit me, I should like to make some observations on the points he has raised. I will first deal with his objection that this House is deprived of the power of amendment, but if I followed aright the speeches which were made from above and below the Gangway yesterday and the hon. Member's speech to-day, no Amendment they would have proposed would be in order, because every one would have been an Amendment to increase the charge. Therefore, it seems to me that that criticism is completely beside the point. The hon. Member did not say what scale he would have liked, but, judging from his remarks, every Amendment he would have proposed would have been an Amendment to increase the charge, and would have been quite out of order. So that the hon. Member would not have been any better off without the limitation. The hon. Member went on to say that there were three fears which dominated the minds of the board when drawing up these scales. The first, he said, was the fear of the Treasury. I am not sure that I quite understand what he means. If he means what I think he means, he is making a very serious charge indeed against one who was recently a very honoured Member of this House and his colleagues. If he means that the board, because of this fear, refrained from putting into the regulations the figures which they believe they ought to have put in, then that is a charge of dishonesty against the board which the hon. Member ought not to make.
§ Mr. K. GRIFFITH
May I make it quite clear that I share the feelings of this House towards Sir Henry Betterton? I am not making any charge of that kind, but anybody in an unemployment assistance board would be very reluctant to put forward proposals which they knew, or strongly suspected, the Treasury 980 would not allow. That was what I was putting before the House. I do not think that that is a charge of dishonesty. I am not making one.
§ Mr. REID
I do not insist on the word "dishonesty," but, in my view, that reply will not do. The hon. Member must mean one or other of two things. He must either mean that the board refrained from putting in figures that they ought to have put in, or he must mean that the board took an honest discretion in the matter, and the figures before us are, in their honest opinion, the proper figures. Which the hon. Member means, I do not know. If he means the former, he ought to withdraw the charge. He shakes his head, and I assume that he means the latter.
§ Mr. REID
If the hon. Member means that the board have put into these regulations figures which, in their heart of hearts, they know are inadequate, I am not going to deal further with the charge, because every hon. Member knows it to be unfounded.
I come to the second fear which is said to have dominated the minds of the board, namely, the fear of competing with wage rates. I want to put this to the hon. Member. Suppose you have such a scale that it is higher than the normal wage, rate of a considerable proportion of the population, and suppose you have in a street an unemployed person who is drawing 5s. or more a week over and above the wages paid to labourers living in that street. Does the hon. Member want that? If he does not, then I do not appreciate his criticism. It seems to me that necessarily you have got to draw the line at such a point that it does not exceed the wages of more than a small proportion of the population, otherwise you will have the greatest possible ill-feeling on the part of the wage-earners who find someone next door drawing more money for being out of work than they are drawing for a whole week's work. I ask any hon. Member whether he supports that. I have not noticed any hon. Member above the Gangway supporting that as yet. But observe what it leads to. If you are going to have a scale of relief which is higher than the wage scale of a considerable proportion of 981 the workers in a neighbourhood, then you are necessarily driven to supplementing wages out of State funds, because you cannot possibly have one man drawing, let us say, 50s. a week in relief, and another in the same street drawing 45s. for a week's work. [Interruption.] I have carefully guarded myself, I think, by saying a substantial proportion of wage-earners. I do not say that you must bring the scale of relief down to the wages of the very lowest paid wage-earner. These things have got to be dealt with on broad lines.
§ Mr. REID
In comparison with the scale of wages of other people in the street doing work of a similar character. As hon. Members know, in the present rather chaotic state of some industries, there are people notoriously underpaid. If you have one or two people in a street who have notoriously low wages, public opinion will not object to your paying a relief scale in excess of those wages, but if you have half a dozen people in the street who are drawing the ordinary wages paid to the unskilled men in the neighbourhood, and you pay to another half dozen people in that street a scale of relief in excess of those wages, public opinion will not stand it for a moment. Quite clearly, the necessary corollary is that you must immediately start subsidising the lower-paid wage-earner out of State funds. I ask any hon. Member who has had any connection with trade unions whether he really wants to see assistance started of subsidising wages out of State funds, because the first thing that will happen will be that in many cases there will be attacks upon the wage scale, and does any hon. Member think that in the end any subsidy of wages out of State funds will be of benefit to the workpeople of this country?
§ Mr. HOLDSWORTH
The amount of public assistance given cannot be regulated 982 by the number of people in a street who are earning wages less than the public assistance scale. It would not matter if there were 20 in the street, providing they had less income than the public assistance scale. It would not matter whether 100 or 200 got relief.
§ Mr. REID
I do not appreciate the point of the interruption. No relief scale, public assistance, unemployment assistance or anything else can stand if it is higher than the normal rate in the district. It cannot stand unless you have along with it a supplement from State funds to the wages of the lower-paid wage-earners. [Interruption.] I really must be allowed to speak.
§ Mr. EDWARD WILLIAMS
May I ask the hon. Member whether he knows that at the present moment there are public assistance committees supplementing wages because the men are destitute after receiving their wages?
§ Mr. REID
Although there may be short times during which something of that sort has to be done, that system cannot go on as a permanent system; it is quite impossible. My own view is that it is only done in a very small proportion of cases. I may be wrong, but I can quite see it being necessary in the case of a part-time worker who has only worked for three days a week, or something of that kind, but if that system were to become a regular thing in the case of men working a full week for the normal wage in his industry, then I think we should have to take some very serious steps. Coming back to the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough again, I want to know exactly what he means. Does he disagree with the views I have put forward? Does he think that the scale ought to be above the wage scale of a considerable proportion of the community, or what is his point? I fail to appreciate it unless it is that.
Coming to the third of the hon. Member's fears—that the board would compete with insurance rates, surely the scale itself shows that to be completely unfounded. The board have gone far further than some Members of this House expected in increasing the benefits to children above the ages of 5 or 8, and really to say that the board, in face of the scales they have published, have been suffering under that fear must be 983 completely unfounded. It is plain that in every case where a man and wife have more than three children and no resources, the scale we are now discussing is higher than the insurance benefit. Surely that, in itself, shows that no such fear as the hon. Member imagines can have dominated the minds of the board; otherwise, they could not have opened such a very wide door as they have done to supplement insurance benefit out of the fund. When the hon. Member says, I think rather contradicting himself, that they have opened the door so widely that he fears for the future of insurance, he cannot have it both ways. If they have opened the door so widely as to endanger the future of insurance, his point that they have been dominated by the fear that insurance rates may be competed with is obviously contradictory.
§ Mr. K. GRIFFITH
I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Member because he has suffered rather a lot in the way of interruptions. What I said was that the situation is a grave one for those who have to tackle it, and that they must do one of two things; either destroy unemployment insurance by building the rates too high or, what I think is happening at the present moment, keep means assessments down for fear of doing that very thing.
§ Mr. REID
In the view of the hon. Gentleman they have adopted the middle course, but I do not accept that view. They have taken a good course; they have so arranged things that supplements will be possible in a great number of cases, but they have not gone so far as to prejudice—let alone destroy—the future of the insurance system. We know quite well that the greater number of people do not have more than three children, or they have some other means of their own which would be taken into account. Accordingly, we are entitled to say that there will still be at least 80 per cent. of those who become claimants in the course of the year whose claims will be fully and adequately met under the insurance system. They will be much better off under the insurance system because of the procedure under the regulations. The idea that a proportion of the people will be worse off under insurance than under the regulations is unfounded.
984 The hon. Member dealt with what he said was the resentment against the means test and of the earnings of other members of the family being taken into account. Again, I am not quite sure what he means. Does he and those who followed him, or rather sympathise with him, mean that they are entirely against taking into account any earnings by any other member of the household, or merely that this scale is the wrong scale? I did not follow which he meant.
§ Mr. GRIFFITH
If he looks back, I think the hon. Member will find that—I think it was—the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir E. Hamilton) and I put down an Amendment to the Bill which would have had the effect of excluding all except husband and wife.
§ Mr. GEORGE GRIFFITHS
We agree with it all the time, and so will the hon. Member when he is getting a pension.
§ Mr. REID
It seems that all the money will have to be taken out of the pockets of taxpayers like the hon. Gentleman and people who are not very well off. I now come to the dispute as to where you should draw the line and whether you should allow a man 6s. 8d. in the £ out of his own earnings before you take the rest into account. There is room for a great deal of difference of opinion about that. There are cases such as were mentioned yesterday of three or four wage-earners, sons who are unmarried, each 985 bringing in £2 or £3 per week, and making a family income of £8 or £9. Does the hon. Member say that in those circumstances the father ought to get benefit? If so, I do not agree.
From the speeches made from above the Gangway yesterday it appears that the ground on which the opposition has been based has entirely changed since the Bill was before the House. We were then charged time and time again with handing over the power of Parliament to a bureaucracy and with starving the children. Those were the two chief charges. Now we find the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) saying that he has no complaint against the board and that his complaint is against this House for passing the Act. All his fears that the bureaucracy might in some way impose a heavy load on the poor which this House has not intended he confesses to be quite unfounded. What about the complaint that the children will be starved? It is very noticeable that no hon. Member above the Gangway has based his charges primarily upon that point. The whole burden of the talk yesterday was different from that. I will use the words of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), who said that we wereeasing the position….for the….children….at the expense of the adults."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December, 1934; col. 889, Vol. 296.]That is the charge now. Let us examine that charge in the light of history. In the course of the proceedings on the Bill which ultimately became the Unemployment (No. 2) Act, 1930, the Socialist Government of the day proposed to increase to 9s. the then figure of 7s. for adults in the family other than the applicant. Yesterday we heard a complaint that even 17s. was inadequate for an adult in those circumstances. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale said it specifically, and I understand that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield said very much the same thing. In the course of the Committee stage of the Bill to which I have referred, an Amendment was moved to increase the 9s. standing in the Bill to 10s., the very figure which we have fixed to-day as appropriate to the first adult other than the applicant and his wife. The Government of the day would not have it—the Socialist Gov- 986 ernment —and said that the figure of 9s. must stand. Further than that, there voted for 9s. as against 10s. both the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield and the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. I think that the right hon. Gentleman the present Leader of the Opposition voted for it also, but he has not spoken in this Debate yet, so I do not know what his views are upon this question. I am dealing with those who have already spoken and who are taking up an attitude different from that which they took up when supporting the Government at the end of 1929. Unless the change is a tribute to the much greater financial security and stability under the present Government than under the previous administration, I can see no reason why hon. Gentlemen have changed their minds.
We may take it that the increased benefits to children are substantially accepted as going very nearly the whole way to meet the case of hon. Gentlemen opposite. The scales and the regulations for adults are in every case higher even than the scale put forward by the British Medical Association. Hon. Members above the Gangway concentrate their attack on the adult, but they are completely deprived of that support, because the Government are entitled to say on the highest medical authority that the scales which they propose are fully adequate for all adults. The broad fact remains that these regulations increase by 8 per cent. on the average the payment to persons receiving transitional payments, over and above the cuts restoration which took place last July. They are giving an increase of £3,000,000 on £41,000,000, which is as near to 8 per cent. as may be, on the average, for every applicant for transitional payments. That seems to be a very considerable increase which the House has shown itself extremely pleased to accept.
There is one further point which I want to deal with and that is that nobody who at present receives a certain sum will have it reduced. I could understand if hon. Members said that everybody in the areas of local authorities who have deliberately refused to carry out the means test had to be brought up to the level of those who are best treated; but there is no justification for leaving things as they are, or even for bringing up the others only part of the way, unless hon. 987 Members are prepared to spend I do not know how many tens of millions of pounds per year. There is also the question of discretion, on which I want to say two things. In every case under the regulations, except two, the discretion is one to move the scale upwards in particular cases and not to move it downwards. There are, however, two cases where a discretion can lower the scale figure. One is by means of the word "substantial" in Regulation III, and the other is under Regulation VI (2), where "special circumstances" may be used to bring down the scale figure. I suggest that those discretions be very sparingly used. It will not do to say that sums which run into shillings are unsubstantial. I agree that it would be a farce for somebody to go to the Employment Exchange every week to draw 2½d., but when it comes to a shilling I hope that the board will not take the view that a shilling is unsubstantial for anybody who is out of employment. The special circumstances in which a deduction is made under Regulation VI (2) will be very special indeed, but I am sure that nothing is more likely to lead to dissatisfactoon than somebody having their scale cut down for a reoson that they do not understand.
I have one further suggestion. Although the rates which are settled in the regulations are such as I think meet the actual needs of the case, they are not, in the nature of things, such as provide anything like a surplus. We know that there are gluts in various things at various seasons of the year; sometimes there is a glut of potatoes, or a glut of herring or milk—just to mention three of the most obvious. I suggest that the Government might try an experiment. They are going to experiment in distressed areas, and we know that the greater number of those who are on transitional payments live in the distressed areas. I would say in passing that I think it would be a very good thing if our figures were split up to show how many of those on transitional payments are in each of the distressed areas. At the present moment we know how many unemployed there are in the country as a whole, and we know how many people throughout the country as a whole have been unemployed for more than 12 months, but we do not 988 know how many in each area have been unemployed for more than 12 months, except in the case of the areas dealt with in the reports. It seems to me that we might have a little more information on that point, and I think it would show that the greater number of the people of whom I am now speaking live in those areas, which would make the experiment I suggest all the easier. I suggest that it would be a most useful and valuable experiment if the Government could, by means of advertisements and taking the shopkeepers with them, so arrange that a glut could be distributed at a comparatively nominal price to those who are in need. I do not think that that would conflict with anybody's economic ideas, and it seems to me to be a practical way of dealing with a practical, though limited, defect in the present system. I put forward that suggestion for what it is worth.
I regret that I have taken up more of the time of the House than I intended, and I hope the House will forgive me. There is one more thing I should like to say about an extremely good feature of the regulations, namely, the sliding scale with regard to rent. It seems to me that that is a direct incentive to people who are now living in unsatisfactory houses to move into good ones. I am quite aware that in many cases the good ones are not yet available, but, if the Minister of Health pursues his policy, we shall within no very long time have those houses available. Obviously, as a result of the regulations, it will be to the advantage of any person on this new form of assistance to move from a low-rented, poor house to a higher-rented good house, so long as the rents are not inflated, as they are in some parts of the country. Obviously, it pays a man better to live in a new house and pay 7s. 6d. rent than to live in an old one and pay 4s. 6d.
§ Mr. REID
Iu higher-rented districts other considerations apply, but I am talking of normal districts. I can see this scheme directly encouraging people on this form of assistance to move from hovels which they now inhabit at low rents to decent houses at normal rents, saving money and thereby assisting themselves and their families. I think the social results of these regulations will be 989 all to the good. On all these grounds I feel that the regulations have fulfilled the expectations, which were high, of those who sit on this side of the House, and that we can all whole-heartedly agree that the regulations have started a new chapter in the social history of this country.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. GORDON MACDONALD
I think that those of us who heard the earlier part of the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. J. Reid) will agree that he made a genuine effort to dissipate the fears of the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith), but be failed to dispel my fears. I think the position ought to be made clear as regards the relation of allowances to average wages, needs being a primary factor, and I would ask the Solicitor-General to reply in detail to the following case in my own county. It is the case of a surface worker at a colliery, who receives 7s. per day and works five days per week. After deductions, he takes home 32s. 6d. He has four children, all under 14. On the scale which is here set down he is entitled to 38s., while his average wage for a fairly full week of five days is 32s. 6d. Like the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough, we find it difficult to see how needs can be considered in such a case as that. We say that to relieve on the ground of needs compels the officer to disregard the average wage, but we still fear that, as a consequence of the regulations and of the Memorandum in reference to them, he may take into consideration the average wage, which would give 5s. 6d. less than the scale.
On the question of uniformity, I should like to ask the Solicitor-General how he expects to get uniformity when such a wide area of discretion is allowed. It seems to me that to increase the area of discretion must make for something that is not uniform. For a long time we in Lancashire have clamoured for uniformity, but that was because we were underpaid, and we thought that uniformity would be to the advantage of Lancashire. Now we are getting it, but with an increased discretion which, in our opinion, will not work to the advantage of the applicant. As has been said already, our trouble to-day is that we have to combine together all the stages 990 of a Bill; we have to take the Second Reading, the Committee stage, and the Third Reading all at once, and hence we have to raise many points which are purely Committee points. I want to raise one such point with regard to pensions. There was a sentence in the Minister's speech yesterday the exact meaning of which I found it very difficult to understand, and I hope the Solicitor-General will make it clear. The Minister said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December, 1934; col. 851, Vol. 296.]Here is another case in my own division. It is that of an unemployed man who has a wife and one child, and living with them is a widowed mother who is in receipt of a pension of 15s. a week for the loss of her son during the War. According to the scale they would receive 28s. Would the Solicitor-General tell us whether the fact that the widowed mother is receiving a pension of 15s. can in any way endanger the payment of the full scale to this unemployed man? In another case, also that of a man, his wife and one child, the wife's father and mother are living with them, and both have old age pensions. According to the scale they would receive 28s., and I should like to know whether the fact that the wife's father and mother are in receipt of old age pensions—£1 between them—can endanger the payment of the full 28s. to the unemployed man? I agree that these appear to be minor points, but when we get back to our divisions and the regulations are operating, they will be major points with our constituents. I should like the position as regards pensions to be made quite clear. I should also be glad if a question put yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) could be cleared up. The Miners' Federation of Lancashire make a payment of 7s. 6d. a week to members over 65 years of age. At the moment we find, when we make-that payment, that it is an advantage to the rates of the borough where the recipient lives, and I should like to know whether income of that kind will be taken into consideration and the 991 whole amount, or some part of it, deducted as against the applicant's needs?
§ Mr. MACDONALD
This is a grant made from our own Miners' Federation funds of 7s. 6d. a week to those who have reached the age of 65. At the moment the public assistance committees are taking this amount into consideration, and making substantial deductions from the relief they grant. Will the same procedure continue under these regulations?
Taking the regulations in general, we have to ask, are they fair to the individual applicant, and are they fair to the other members of the household? I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Stirling and Falkirk, and he is quite entitled to make the point, that these regulations are an improvement in certain directions, and I should be surprised if any of my hon. Friends here denied that.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
The hon. and learned Member said it was stated yesterday that they made things worse, but what was said was that they made things definitely worse in certain directions, and that some people would be worse off under the regulations than they were before.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
It cannot be denied that 3s. is more than 2s., or that 4s. is more than 2s. A child of 11 now gets 2s., while under the regulations the amount will be 4s. Who will deny that 4s. is more than 2s.? The point is that the additional amount is to be found by a decrease in the parents' allowance. We have never said that 4s. is not more than 2s.; what we have said is that 24s. is not 26s. The hon. and learned Member claims that there are improvements; and, as he asks us to admit that, he ought also to admit that certain people will be worse off. We have to judge the regulations from the point of view of whether the allowances under them will allow the unemployed man to maintain himself and 992 his family in such a condition that, when employment comes, he can take up that employment.
It is no use saying that in 1931 we did not do certain things. Like most people, we had many sins of omission and commission. We are judging these regulations on the way in which they will treat the unemployed. Our opposition to them is not because they may not improve the conditions in certain cases, but because as a permanent method of treating the unemployed they are not acceptable to us. The individual applicant will not get the treatment to which he is entitled, nor will the other members of the household. The Minister is entitled to say that the father is responsible for his children, and that sons, so far as they can, ought to assist their parents in return for what their parents have done for them, but we on this side always argue against a means test. We think that a means test is a very mean thing, but we agree that there can be a means test with some generosity in it. Look at the treatment of the adult son or daughter. It is not fair to expect these people, who work week in and week out, to forego so much of their income simply because the present Government have imposed a means test. We have always opposed it; we are opposing it to-day, and we shall continue as a party to oppose the imposition of any means test on any unemployed person.
That question, however, is not being discussed to-day, and we are not being asked to vote upon it, but on the question whether this means test is as generous as it ought to be. We say frankly that it is not as generous as it ought to be, and any Member with a relative on the means test would say the same thing. We have personal friends and relatives who are on the means test, and we know that they are not able to live as they are entitled to live. Further, the way they are living does not fit them, especially in the mining community, to discharge the work of a miner at a later date. The type of food that they have to put up with does not give them the vigour that will enable them to discharge the onerous duties of a miner. Therefore, it is not fair to say to a young miner, who may be in work, "You shall work every day, and we will send someone to your house to find out how much you earn; we will tell you how much you are 993 to receive, and we will deduct from your father to the extent that you have earned."
I used to hear it said that the danger of a Socialist policy was that it would break up family life. Whatever danger there may be in that direction, I am sure that the continuance of this kind of treatment of the unemployed and their relatives will make far more quickly for the breaking up of family life. I do not think there is a son or daughter anywhere who would not gladly assist their parents if they were in a position to do so, but the scale as laid down here is asking too much from any son or daughter. If it be left solely to officials in Lancashire to deal in the way they think fit with these wide discretionary powers the Lancashire people will not get the same treatment that is given elsewhere. I warn the Minister that, when he gives such wide discretionary power, he must see to it that it is exercised along the lines that he himself thinks it ought to be, and that it is not left to various officials to exercise in various ways.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
If the right hon. Gentleman has no power of guidance or suggestion of any kind, he will not secure the uniformity that he expects, simply because he is granting such wide discretionary power.
We on this side of the House have often threatened what we will do to facilitate Parliamentary procedure when we get into power. I do not think this Government will have any complaint to make of the way in which we exercise such power. Here we are discussing a matter that is of vital importance to millions of people. We are not empowered to move a single Amendment. There may be parts of the regulations which, I feel sure, the whole of this party will accept, but there are others we think which could be drastically amended, to the advantage not only of the unemployed but of the country. We can do nothing more than express our personal views, knowing full well that the regulations stand or fall and that we cannot move an Amendment of any kind. We can only wait for the big battalions behind the Minister tomorrow. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough is quite right. The Government 994 guillotined the Bill. They did not want too many speeches and Amendments then. They limited them. Now that we can only talk, they have given more time than is necessary. But we have no remedy. We shall do our best in the House both by voice and vote. There is no section of the country that is being treated worse by this Government than the unemployed. It has been said that to supplement wages out of public funds is not a good thing, but if it be not a bad thing for those who have invested their capital to have their profits supplemented out of public funds, I do not understand how it can be argued that the supplementing of inadequate wages is a bad thing for those who invest their labour. However, all we can do is to express our view, not that there is no improvement, but that the improvement is not carried far enough.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Mr. KENNETH LINDSAY
I think it will be agreed that the points that were raised in the Debates on the Unemployment Bill have been taken into consideration in drawing up these new scales. I am not referring to the hon. Members for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), because they took up a very different attitude, but there was a series of points which we on this side pressed, sometimes to a Divison—questions relating to children, questions relating to the proximity of relationship, to differentiation of rents and so forth. Rightly or wrongly as regards details, the board has dealt very conscientiously to my mind with the whole series of problems. I am speaking for an area where a very large number of decisions are coming down under this scale. I will quote one or two cases and ask hon. Members whether they think that the previous contribution made from public assistance was right or wrong in comparison with the whole country. I think it very important at the outset that we should consider this matter in relation, not only to unemployment insurance, which the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith) was suggesting, but also in relation to the lower-paid wage-earners. That contest has been fought out between the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. J. Reid) and the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough, but it is very difficult to define this standard of living. I 995 heard a very eminent authority say the other day that it would be possible to distinguish by their superior physique those who have been brought up in State institutions where there was a really scientifically balanced diet, and by that I mean vegetables, milk and so forth.
We are dealing to-day with a very large section of the population—it may run into some 7,000,000 or 8,000,000—and it seems to me that the whole problem of poverty has changed, not only in its quantity but in its incidence, during the last 20 years. As the hon. Lady the Member for the Combined Universities (Miss Rathbone) pointed out, the man with a wife and three children is not a typical household unit. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) yesterday pointed out that in his area the more typical unit is a man and wife with grown-up children. It is extremely difficult to know what is a typical unit, if there be such a thing. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) will agree with me in this, that since the days of Charles Booth's survey things have definitely got better measured in terms of those living below the poverty line. Whereas in the late eighties that figure was 30.7, to-day it is 9.5.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
But the population in the area covered has very considerably changed. Canning Town and Tidal Basin have been filled up with the sort of population that was in the Stepney and Poplar area when Charles Booth's investigation was made. Now there is a tremendous Jewish population. The second factor is that since Charles Booth's investigations the coming of the social services has raised the level of the lower-paid Gentile worker. We have always admitted that.
§ Mr. LINDSAY
I realise that position, but you can take Warrington and Mersey-side and the surveys that were made in 1911 and 1924. They found that low wages combined with the number of children was the basic cause of poverty. What they have found out to-day is that it is discontinuity of employment, and in many cases absence of employment that is the main cause of poverty. You must look at the Government's policy in not too departmental a way. You must look at it from the angle of housing, from the 996 angle of health services, pensions, savings, free clothing, free dinners, wage scales, and, what is much more important, actual weekly earnings. We have to face up to the general problem of a low standard of living, and the borderline between the low wage-earner and the Unemployment Assistance Board is a very narrow one.
The hon. Member for West Middlesbrough was very doubtful whether you could work a scale based on need at the same time that you had insurance based on right. How does all this bear on the new scale and, what is much more important, on the new instructions that the right hon. Gentleman let out in the later port of his speech? To my mind far and away the most important part of his speech was where he was dealing with particular resources, 12 meals a week, cod liver oil, medical relief, maternity and child welfare, pensions and educational grants. He said: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.Again,A good deal of the administration of the board must necessarily be a matter for discretion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December, 1934; col. 852, Vol. 296.]How are you going to temper discretion with uniformity, or vice versa? I do not think that you can deal with these questions altogether in terms of arithmetic, and I do not think the Public Assistance Board thinks so either. When I was a Poor Law guardian we never let a case go under 21 without helping the fellow in some other way, and doing something for him besides simply giving out money. If there was a case over 60, we said, "Good luck to him," and did not go into it at all. Although there is now a scale and it is based on the general directions given in the series of Debates on this question in the last Session, I believe that it represents an enormous advance. The orthodox Labour party must admit that it is an advance on anything which happened under their administration.
§ Mr. LINDSAY
An arithmetical advance and an advance in the general proportions. I know that in my constituency a good many cases are coming down.
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
Surely, the hon. Member will admit that the statement which he has now made is a travesty of the facts. There was no means test before 1931, and the number of able-bodied poor chargeable to public assistance was materially reduced, whereas it was enormously increased within two years of the coming into office of the present Government. Most of the able-bodied unemployed in 1931 were chargeable to unemployment benefit, which was not subject to a means test at all.
§ Mr. LINDSAY
I entirely disagree with my hon. Friends. I am talking about the amount of money which is coming, by means of a variety of sources, from the State to individuals in respect of relief. I have suggested that this relief is not only coming in the shape of money but in kind. I will go further and say that of the £3,000,000, a very large proportion will be involved in those special resources which were taken into consideration by my right hon. Friend yesterday.
I come to cases in point. As I have already said, a great many cases in my constituency are coming down. We have many places where girls and women are working. Here is the case of a man and wife. The wife is earning £1 9s. 2d., and in another case the wife is earning £1 15s. 4d. Well over 24s. or 26s. is going into those households. In the old days under transitional payment 5s. was given in the one case and 12s. in the other case. I put it to any hon. Member of the House whether, where you have whole classes in the country with nothing coming in at the present moment, it is right that you should have 12s. a week extra coming in in one place and nothing in another. I do not say that uniformity is a sacrosanct principle in itself, but there is a most pronounced difference in these cases. I know of cases where people on assistance are definitely getting a considerable amount above others in em- 998 ployment, mostly semi-skilled labour, in the district.
I appeal to the board, through my right hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, to deal in a generous way with the cases of senior adults in the family. The children are being looked after, everyone admits, on a more generous scale. Most of the special resources, such as meals and educational allowances, affect the children, whereas the adults are not so affected. It is also an incentive to keep children at school. I do not agree with the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough. I have spent much of my life in East London, and I know that where a boy has been bringing home 15s. a week, he has given 10s., 11s., 12s. and in some cases 13s. to his parents. It is absurd to say that the one-third is unfair. This sort of thing happens in practice, and anyone with experience knows that it is so. The hon. Member for West Middlesbrough was wrong on that point. When it comes to a question of adults, I would plead with the board, through the Minister, to make discretion more important than uniformity.
§ Mr. LINDSAY
The scale is most important as a guide. There is some virtue in getting rough justice throughout the country. There are areas, which every hon. Member knows well, where cases have been dealt with and have received far in advance of the scale. The hon. Member for Gorbals and the hon. Member for Bridgeton wish to raise the whole of the country to those levels. It is a logical and understandable proposition, but it would run into millions of pounds. That is their policy, and they are perfectly honest about it. I do not think that hon. Members of the official opposition can take quite that line. I very much agree with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, and I have experienced a good many cases of the same kind where you have not the boy, but the adult in the family working, and where his scale is out of proportion to mine. The amount allowed to these older persons is out of all proportion to that in certain other parts of the country.
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
The hon. Member will remember that in the scales I mentioned yesterday, they included the amount allowed to the man to keep himself. The 32s. in Monmouthshire includes the 10s. upon which he has to keep himself, and that fact must be borne in mind.
§ Mr. LINDSAY
I agree. Hon. Members opposite may think that the policy of the Government is wrong, but it cannot be divorced from the other parts of the work of the board. There is an attempt under the provisions of the second part of the Act to deal with welfare. I have never disguised the fact when we have been discussing depressed areas that I believe that a very large proportion of the work of the commissioners will have to deal with the welfare of the unemployed in the distressed areas. The board are the residuary legatees of the commissioners. We must take the policy as a whole, which is not only to distribute the extra £3,000,000 throughout the country, but to bring all the agencies to bear on the distressed areas with regard to welfare. By that I do not mean just charity, but the re-creating, which some of us tried to do through the Poor Law in the old days, of hope in the lives of those who, in some cases are incapacitated through sickness, and who in many cases are without any friends. The biggest agency for finding jobs in the world to-day, is that of "being the son of your father," whether it is the job of a coal porter or a job in the city. That kind of personal work has to be done by local advisory committees
We cannot tolerate in this country a million persons on the Unemployment Assistance Board. We cannot do it. We have to take people out at both ends and to concentrate upon the employment of people in the prime of life. We cannot tolerate a million people being carried by this sort of board on a national basis with a wide variety of discretion. We have to apply ourselves to that problem and to the problem raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Falkirk, who suggested the possibility of extending consumption and bringing down the cost of foodstuffs to the great mass of lower-paid wage earners, whether they are employed or unemployed. The present proposal is a distinct step forward. It does not go as far as we all want to go by any means, but we have to take the thing on balance and in a 1000 national way. It is the nearest thing—and the Labour party may take this which way they like—to work or maintenance on a national basis, which used to be their policy. It is to be introduced in a constructive way. But all this is purely palliative when we come to the end of it. The really important think is to go on with the other side of the policy of the Government, which is to find fresh markets and more outlets for our trade.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. MANDER
I cannot help thinking that it is a very great pity that the Government did not give us a more ample opportunity of studying these regulations and all their implications. We ought to have had at least a fortnight in order to go into the whole question with our constituents and with local authorities, who have been administering regulations and will administer them in the future, otherwise, we cannot really understand exactly how they will work out. The Government should have published a very much fuller memorandum than the one which has been published. It is really inadequate, and it had to be amplified by the admirable exposition given by the Minister of Labour yesterday. It would have been still more helpful if we had had that explanation a fortnight ago. I agree that the board and the Minister have done their best within their limits to make progress, and certainly in some respects these regulations show an advance on anything that has been in existence before. But they are quite inadequate. Because in certain respects they seem to impinge very heavily on the unemployed, I shall be bound to vote against them, as that is the only way, as we are at the present time, to get any Amendments carried out. It is possible for the Government, if they wish to make an Amendment, to withdraw the regulations as they did in a way yesterday, and bring them forward again the next day. That is the particular method which will have to be employed if the question of amendment arises.
The hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. J. Reid) referred to the question of the relation of wage rates to the assistance that is to be given. He asked whether we were going to subsidise wages, but that does not seem to me to be the alternative. Why not raise wages? Then we should get over the difficulty of people 1001 receiving assistance, the amount of which comes up to wage rates. I suggest that as regards many of the low-paid industries there is no reason why a determined effort should not be made by the Government to extend the Trade Boards to cover a much larger number of people. In that way they would raise the more lowly-paid people and would get over the present difficulty. Also if they went into this further legislation on the lines of the Cotton Industry (Emergency Provisions) Act, they would in a number of industries maintain the standard rate of wages. The real alternative is not to subsidise wages, but to take such State action as you can in the lower-paid trades to raise wages to a very much higher level. I should be glad if the Government would say whether the hon. Member opposite was right when he said that as the new houses are built those people who are now living in the 4s. 6d. houses can move into the 7s. 6d. houses, and they will have another 3s. allowed for rent. Is that so? Is it contemplated that that extra 3s. shall, as a matter of course, be allowed? It is very important that we should know that. It may be that that is the case.
Some reference has been made to the scale of the British Medical Association, which has been criticised as not being in some respects relevant. We want in these matters to be up against scientific realities. What better test could we apply than exact knowledge, worked out by experts, of the amount required to maintain a person on a decent level of subsistence? Let it be remembered that the British Medical Association scale understates rather than overstates the cost. They assume that the purchasers will lay out their money to the best advantage or, at any rate, to good advantage, but, human nature being what it is, many people do not do that. They do not make the best use of the resources they have along the lines of the scale. It seems to me a very severe criticism of the regulations that there is a gap in the case of two children of 1s. 8d. between the regulations and the British Medical Association scale, and in the case of five children a difference of 8s. 3d. That alone is a ground for rejecting the regulations, in order that they may be amended in that respect. In regard to earnings they are defined as being the sum of money coming in, less compulsory contributions. There ought 1002 to be some provision, either by deduction from earnings or by way of allowances, and I should be glad to know if it would be possible for provision to be made for such things as works subscriptions to various funds, trade union subscriptions, insurance, hospital contributions, allowances for travel, tools, etc. I should like to know whether in regard to the ordinary weekly expenditure of the wise workman who is fully employed some allowance could be made for what are really necessities of life although not food.
I should like to refer to the position of the constituency that I have the honour to represent, and of the town of Wolverhampton, only one-third of which is in my constituency. In Wolverhampton they have taken a very strong line in the past in regard to the scale they have been asked to administer, and they have on occasion revolted. It was only the pressure of the Minister and the fact that a commissioner was going to be sent down that made them consent to administer a scale which they regarded as being very harsh and unreasonable. In Wolverhampton we have as sensible and intelligent a body of citizens on the council as in any part of the country. I am alluding particularly to the town council in its entirety, where Conservatives, Liberals and Labour alike were united in the strongest opposition to the old scale two or three years ago. With very great reluctance they have consented to administer them on the present basis. The Government are now asking them by the new regulations to consent in a number of cases to make a deduction from existing scales of what may be 4s. or 5s. a week. That seems to me a very harsh and unreasonable request. It works out in this way. The scale in Wolverhampton has been 26s. Two shillings are to come off, bringing the figure down to 24s., although the allowance of 26s. was held to be too low. In a number of cases people are living in houses at rents varying from 4s., 5s. to 5s. 6d. It may well be, although it is not certain—it depends upon the discretion exercised—that it is within the powers of the administrators to bring about a reduction of 4s. or 5s. a week in the case of a considerable number of people who have become used to the higher standard during the last few years. It takes a 1003 great deal of defending to ask people to consent to a reduction of that kind, and it is certainly one which I shall do my utmost to resist. Rents in the area are low. It is an entirely industrial district. What is being done will be regarded as an attempt to take back the restoration of the cut.
It is felt that for a man lodger the sum of 15s. is too low. The scale at present is 16s. 3d. We tried very hard to get the old scale of 17s. 3d., but in the end they consented to 16s. 3d., and they now feel that 15s. is quite inadequate. With that allowance it will be very difficult to provide board and lodging and, in addition, enable a man to buy the necessary clothes, keep up his insurance and the other necessities of life to which I have alluded. I have seen some references to the special allowances that are to be made for clothing for those who have to keep up a smart appearance—teachers, shop assistants and clerks. No doubt that is a very sound principle, but there is an even stronger point to be made from the point of view of the working man. Because of the heavy work that he has to do, his clothes wear out very much more quickly than the clothes of the other classes to which I have referred, and I hope that if the extra allowances for clothing are going to be made, full allowance will be made with regard to the clothes of working men. For instance, moulders require very strong boots, overalls and thing of that kind. In the long run, the clothing of working men costs more than the clothing of the teacher or the clerk.
Reference has been made to the necessity for allowing to the young men and young women who are growing up a sufficient sum that will enable them to look forward to the time when they will be married. Many young couples are launched into married life with a millstone of debt round their necks because they have not been given the opportunity of saving something. I cannot see that in the new regulations they are going to have scope to look forward to married life and to start without debt by having the allowance which is their due. There is another point to which I should like to refer. It may have been met already. There is a very strong feeling among fathers who are out of work and who are supported by their children. It may be 1004 that a son is supported by a daughter. They have a feeling of humiliation that they should be placed in the position of receiving nothing at all themselves and depending entirely on their relations or children. No doubt up to a point it is right that they should be, but I wonder whether it would not be a wise thing to make a small grant, even if it were only 5s. a week, to a father as the head of the household in such circumstances in order to give him a greater feeling of self-respect, and to destroy the humiliation which he feels now at a position into which he has been forced by the industrial system, through no fault of his own. It may be that in the regulations it is possible to do something of that kind, and I shall be glad to know if that is so.
While I appreciate the good intentions of the Government and the improvements that have taken place in certain directions, in view of the fact that there are still very serious gaps, that my constituents are going to be very seriously hit and that there is no opportunity of moving the appropriate Amendments that one would like in order to remedy the difficulties which exist, I hope that the regulations will be rejected. At any rate, I shall vote against them.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
The regulations are being defended by hon. Members on the Government side on the ground that they are at least an advance upon the present practice. We on these benches do not agree with that point of view. Some of those who are defending the Government have made attempts, as did the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. J. Reid) to suggest that under the Labour Government, in its 1930 Act, even worse things were contained in the regulations than are being submitted to the House to-day. I would point out to the hon. Member that in 1930 there was no such thing as a means test in operation. In addition, the scales that were passed in the Act of 1930 meant an increase to the women of 2s. a week. They also meant an increase in other cases of people who were in receipt of unemployment benefit. It was the Unemployment Insurance Act that was passed by the National Government which made people who received money subject to a rigorous examination of their family resources. There was a Section in the Act of 1930 which took from the Poor Law in the 1005 United Kingdom close upon 200,000 people who were ruled out of receiving any kind of unemployment insurance benefit and had to make application not under the means test, not under the transitional payment conditions, but to the Poor Law authorities. These people were taken immediately from the Poor Law authorities, where they were in receipt of Poor Law assistance, and put back on to unemployment insurance benefit under our Act.
That statement can be proved at once by the Secretary of State for Scotland producing the figures for Scotland for 1930–31, which show a very large increase in the number of people who were taken off the Poor Law in Scotland. The Minister of Health could do an equal job—it is not a task—in producing the figures for England and Wales for the same period. In regard to the figures contained in the 1930 Act, I would suggest that my hon. Friend ought to prepare his case a little better if he wishes to attack the Labour party for what it was supposed to be guilty of doing during its term of office, and not to run away with the idea that he is putting forward a case against us by saying that we voted against 10s. being given to women, without informing the House that we had already increased the dependant's allowance for women by 2s.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
The hon. Member was discussing these regulations and the Government's scale. He quoted a certain figure which was put forward as an Amendment to the Labour Government's proposals, and which was voted against, leaving it to hon. Members and to the people outside, who will do him the honour of reading his speech, to think that the Act that was passed in 1930 was an Act similar in its purpose to the regulations that we are discussing to-day. That may weigh with a judge in Edinburgh or Glasgow, but it will not be allowed to pass in this House as long as there are Labour Members who have actual knowledge of the facts.
§ Mr. REID
Surely the hon. Member will agree that there were a great number 1006 of people at that time whose only resource was the money paid as unemployment benefit and that the Labour Government laid it down that 9s. was sufficient for the wife in cases where the family had no other resources whatever. Does the hon. Member say that it costs less to maintain a wife and family of two than it does to maintain a son and a family of three? Unless he is prepared to say that a son should receive more than a wife, I am entitled to say that that figure was fixed by the Labour party as adequate for an adult person who had no other means whatever.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
The Act says the very opposite. Moreover, the hon. and learned Member must bear in mind that he came into this House in 1931 and voted for a reduction of the amount for the wife which had been given by the Labour Government in 1930. What right has he to accuse the Labour Government of not accepting an Amendment to increase it to 10s. when he himself advocated a reduction?
§ Mr. MACLEAN
The figures in the 1931 Act are substantially larger than the figures mentioned in these regulations. The Minister of Labour has made statements with regard to inquiry into resources and the disallowances to be considered by the assistance board. He referred to a young lady, the daughter of a family, who is employed in a shop being allowed a certain amount to maintain her in the state of respectability necessary when serving behind the counter, and to the allowances in the case of a son who is working at a trade where he is required to furnish himself with his own tools. That is nothing new. Is it suggested that this is something new which the Government are giving to those people on the means test?
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I want to assure the Parliamentary Secretary that it is being given to-day. I am surprised that the hon. Member does not know the way in which matters are being conducted in certain parts of the country. I speak merely of Glasgow, but in Glasgow young men whose parents are on the 1007 means test are given allowances by the investigation committee in respect of travelling to and from work, the cost of lunches, if they cannot get home to lunch, the cost of special clothing for a particular occupation, and also the cost of the provision of their own tools if they are working in joinery, carpentry and pattern making, where they have to supply themselves with hand tools.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
But why is it not general? The answer is that it is because the Ministry of Labour have not issued a circular to local authorities informing them that this could be done even now under the means test. They have allowed families to have the amounts to which they are justly entitled under the means, test reduced by making them provide for these expenses themselves, when really they should have been allowed by the investigation committee. And the same Government whose Department has acted so shabbily for the past three years to people on the means test, want us to believe that these regulations are generous in their terms. I think the Government should apologise to the people they have been defrauding in remaining silent as to what could be done under the means test.
Let me read a telegram which I have received from Glasgow to-day—I suppose every other hon. Member representing a Glasgow constituency has received it. It is from an estimable gentleman, a lawyer like many who grace the House of Commons, and, therefore, a man who would make himself acquainted with the details and facts before putting his name to this telegram. The director of public assistance for Glasgow, Mr. Reynard is also a member of the Unemployment Assistance Board, which promulgated these regulations, and I imagine that the town clerk of Glasgow would not put his name to this telegram without going across the street to consult his colleague, Mr. Reynard, as to whether the statement regarding the rates to be paid under the new regulations were good or bad. But having got that information this is the telegram which the town clerk of Glasgow sends to hon. Members representing Glasgow divisions:Unemployment assistance regulations. The corporation regard the effect in Glasgow 1008 of the proposed scales of payments as an attack on the present standard of living, of the unemployed, also as inimical to physical well-being and prejudicial to the continuance of family life. Earnestly requests you to support proposals for the rejection of said regulations. Letter follows. Town Clerk, Glasgow.That is a telegram from the second city of the Empire; a city which is as badly hit by unemployment as any other town, but which is not included as a depressed area, although every part of the surrounding counties of Lanarkshire, Dumbartonshire, Renfrewshire and Stirlingshire are included as a depressed area. Glasgow has an unemployed population of over 100,000, and there are over 100,000 in receipt of Poor Law assistance, many of them able-bodied who have run out of standard and transitional benefits and have now to come to the public assistance committee because they can find no relief elsewhere. And this city, through its town clerk, sends a telegram inviting and appealing to its representatives in this House to try to secure the rejection of these regulations.
The Minister and supporters of the Government would have us believe that these scales are an improvement on the scales which exist. They are no improvement on unemployment benefit. They take into account the resources going into a family. We have been told that the means test is being abolished. How can you abolish the means test when you inquire into the amount going into a household? These regulations give power to inquire into the amount brought into the household by any one who is working, including the messenger boy, the youth who is employed in a grocer's or butcher's shop. And we are told that certain allowances are to be made for milk for the children, and in the income of adults. In reading the figures contained in these regulations, I am really surprised that with all the human instincts we are expected to possess, all the humane feelings and considerations which civilisation should have bred in us, it should have been possible to bring forward these scales as being calculated to buy for a family the necessaries of life and keep them in a state of physical well-being and efficiency which will enable them to enter a situation should an opportunity occur.
In the case of the first person over 21 years of age the amount is 10s. per week. I hope that the hon. and learned Mem- 1009 ber for Stirling will remember that in the Unemployment Act of 1930, persons over 21 received 17s. from the Labour Government, and received it as a legal right, not after an inquiry as to how much he was paying his father or mother, or how much he was costing them. He received it as a legal right as an unemployed man, and the hon. and learned Member now approves of 10s. being paid to the same individual. I am certain that when he was 21 years of age he had more than that as pocket-money per week. He would not have been considered a very decent fellow at his university if he had not. For a female the amount is 8s. Then for each subsequent member under 21: male, 8s.; female, 7s. So it goes on.
I would ask the Minister whether he has gone carefully into all the matters that make up family life. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned inquiries having been made into various scales that were put forward as the minimum scales upon which a family of a certain number could exist. The Minister told us yesterday that there were variations in these scales, that there were certain items which could not be properly adjusted, but that the Government had done what they thought was the best possible thing to meet the cost of maintaining people upon a suitable diet; that they had made allowances for rent of 7s. 6d. on a sliding scale which could go up or down. The allowance for rent is at present included in any allowance given, and there is no sliding scale. It may be an advantage in some families which pay higher rents than others. At all events even under public assistance there are allowances made for assistance in meeting the rents that are paid even when people fall into arrears with rent.
I would put this question to the learned Solicitor-General: Suppose that something arises in a household, such as illness or other special circumstance, and the family require to take something from the sum of 7s. 6d. which ought to be laid aside every week. Suppose that they take something to meet that special circumstance, and at the end of the month, owing to the circumstance continuing, they fall into arrears in the payment of rent. How is the representative of the public assistance committee going to consider a case of that kind? I know that the regulations and the Memorandum state, and that the 1010 Minister in his speech said, that the particular committee would have discretionary power to consider that special circumstance. But will there be power to give consideration to such a circumstance as that I have mentioned? I am confident that in this House there are representatives of areas many of whose constituents have been unemployed for a period of years, and that these Members know of many cases in which these things have arisen in families. Those circumstances are met to-day. They are considered even in the case of rent falling into arrears for one or two months. We would like to know whether, if circumstances such as those arise, the committees are to have discretionary power to waive the right of penalising that particular family.
Finally, I would make this appeal: Last night we adjourned early because of the error of a single letter in the regulations. The Lord President of the Council met the situation by at once agreeing to adjourn in order to have that error put right. I suggest that the greatest error that appears in these regulations is not a printer's error, but the error committed by the Government in believing that they can raise a nation of physically fit, intelligent and efficient people for producing the wealth of this country on the scales that are mentioned in these regulations. In my opinion, the greatest error that the Government have committed is in bringing the regulations forward, and the most redeeming feature would be for them to withdraw the regulations and to bring in something more generous and more humane.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
I rise at this stage of the Debate, not to deal with all the matters that have been raised, but to deal with a number of specific points and one or two general matters. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be replying on the whole matter to-morrow night, and will deal with the broader and more general aspects of the problem. Therefore, any speaker who may raise the broader aspects of this question must not think that his criticisms are being overlooked if I do not deal with them. But certain specific points have been put, and I shall try to deal with them, and if they are of greater interest to the hon. Members who 1011 put them than to other hon. Members, I hope that those other hon. Members will bear with me, because it is important that the points should be dealt with.
Before I come to that there is one point which has been alluded to by a number of speakers more than once, and that is the form in which these regulations come before the House. That form, of course, is settled by the Act, and we had some Debates on it. But I would like to say a word or two in reply to the wide, sweeping and inaccurate statements that have been made. Regulations vitally affecting numbers of people in this country are no new feature in our legislation. There was a large body of regulations vitally affecting people who were brought in under the National Health Insurance Act. Regulations have been made by successive Governments under the Unemployment Insurance Acts. They were regulations of vital importance to those persons who were involved. They were not so large a number as in the present case, but in these matters I am not sure that the counting of heads is the right method. Regulations of vital importance to many people were made under the Anomalies Act, which was passed by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) need not point his finger at me. The question whether those regulations should be submitted to the House for affirmative approval, or whether they could be amended in any form, was settled by the Act passed by the Labour Government.
This is not some new thing. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) developed this point with great emotion and emphasis, and made the accusation that this most cowardly Government had adopted this method. Let us have things in proper proportion. The regulations under the Anomalies Act not only could not be amended, but they were not brought before this House, as these are, for an affirmative Resolution. Let us get away from theatrical displays. There are various forms of regulations. There is what I may call the ordinary form, in which regulations are presented to the House and a Prayer can be moved after 11 o'clock at night for their rejection. There is the form which gives the House a greater chance of expressing its view, 1012 and that is the form which we have adopted under this Act. I do not want to go at too great length into this point, because really it was settled by the Act. But it is quite clear that if this House is to perform its proper duty it cannot deal in detail with all the matters which have to be dealt with under modern Acts of Parliament.
There are three courses open to a Government. They can put details into the Act, but that would reduce business to a state of congestion which none of us would care to contemplate. They can do what has normally been done in the past and what was done by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. Regulations would not be the subject of formal Debate unless there was a Prayer moved after 11 o'clock. There is the middle course which we took and which we believe to be the right and useful course, where regulations are of such vital importance as these, and that is not to put the impossible burden on the House of having to frame a scheme of this kind in detail, but to bring the regulations forward, make them stand up to three days of general discussion and then ask the House affirmatively to approve them in the form in which they are presented. We are not in the least ashamed of the course we have taken. If comparisons are to be made we believe that comparisons with the procedure of former Governments are favourable to us.
I pass to some of the specific points which have been raised on these regulations. A point has been raised with regard to the definition of earnings. It is a point of very great importance. It was raised by the hon. Members for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) and several other speakers. Two parts of the regulations have to be read in connection with this matter, the definition of earnings on page 2, and the provision on page 7, paragraph (4), which says:where special circumstances exist, and in particular where special expenditure is necessarily incurred in connection with a person's employment; the amounts of the foregoing allowances may be adjusted in such manner as is reasonable in all the circumstances.The word "net" covers the case which was put by several hon. Members, of deductions for such things as explosives or matters of that sort; that is to say 1013 deductions for things which are necessary if a man is to do the work for which he is to be paid at the end of the week. Clearly, you have to deduct those things before you get his net wages. There are two other matters to which specific reference has been made, and the first of these with which I shall deal is the matter of special expenses, such as travelling expenses and the cost of clothes, tools and so forth. I must point out here that I cannot deal with every specific point in this connection. I shall try to be frank with the House and to lay down the sort of principle on which, I think, these points will be decided. But hon. Members will realise that it is difficult to give an opinion on a specific case unless one knows all the special details and circumstances of that case, and in the absence of such knowledge it is not fair to try to give a categorical answer. Such expenses as travelling expenses, and the cost of clothes and tools, speaking generally, would fall to be dealt with under Regulation VI where special circumstances exist, and in particular where special expenditure is necessarily incurred in connection with a person's employment.
An hon. Member who spoke just now mentioned that a certain type of workman, a moulder, had special expenses and it was said that the special expenses of such a workman were in fact more than those of a teacher. I think the example of the teacher was given by my right hon. Friend the Minister in opening the Debate as showing the class of case which it was intended to cover by this regulation, and if a moulder has a stronger case than the teacher then a fortiori his case will receive proportionate consideration. Reference has also been made to such things as twopenny contributions to a hospital fund, what is, in some parts of the country, called a Saturday Fund, and things of that kind. The intention is that contributions of that kind, small in amount, should be disregarded. If contributions of the kind I have mentinoed, however, came to more than a small amount they might have to be regarded.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
That is to say treated in the same way as con- 1014 tributions to a Statutory pensions' fund. As regards some of the other examples which were mentioned, subscriptions to a trade union clearly would be in a different category. That is a voluntary contribution. I am not saying that it is not made for a perfectly proper purpose but it is a different kind of purpose from the other contribution which I mentioned, and it is purely voluntary. Clearly it would fall into a different category from expenses which a man had to incur in order to earn his wages. A small contribution to a scheme, such as a hospital scheme, will be disregarded in the sense which I have just indicated.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
As I say, I do not want to give categorical answers on all these special cases, nor would it be right or fair that I should try to do so. I am trying to explain the principle. I should say myself that contributions to a library would be in a different category altogether, and would not come within the purview of what I have said. It would be on a different basis from hospital contributions, and would be more nearly akin to voluntary contributions to trade unions, social clubs and the like. That is the position, as I understand it, on those points. The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) said that the system of allowances was not new, and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary made an interjection, which the hon. Member took up in debate, to the effect that the practice was not general. We, at any rate, are making it general throughout the country on the lines which I have indicated.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
My point was that the system was already in existence, and ought to have been made general.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
At least we can say that we are making general what the hon. Member says ought to have been made general before, as far as these regulations are concerned. After all, that is what we are discussing, and not the past conduct of certain local authorities. For the future this is to be the general practice. The next point with which I wish to deal is one which was commented on yesterday by two or three speakers including the right hon. Gentleman the 1015 Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) and the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Dingle Foot). That is the provision in Regulation III to the effect that these allowances need not necessarily be given and equally need not necessarily be withheld, if there is a difference between the two sides of the sum, unless that difference is substantial. In the first place, I would point out that that provision works both ways, and it is also related to a very important matter which should never be lost sight of in dealing with these regulations, namely, that these figures are guides and are subject to a general discretion. They are guides, and only guides, and the overriding provision makes plain that the discretion re-mains to treat each particular case on its merits and consider all the special circumstances. It is, of course, right and necessary that, in dealing with a vast number of cases all over the country, those who have to carry out that duty should be given certain general guides and pointers.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
As I say, these figures are in the nature of guides, and it is right that it should be made clear that they are only guides. It is also obvious that that provision to which I have referred must apply both ways. May I give an example of the sort of case which this discretionary proviso can meet? Take the case of a man in regard to whose assessment the two sides of the sum are nearly equal. The man has an allotment, and if you take into account the fact that week by week he gets vegetables of a certain value for the use of his household from the allotment that factor might overtop the scale, and it might be said that taking these figures into account his was not a case for an allowance. That is one example of the sort of case in which you must have elasticity, but equally and obviously the elasticity must work in both directions.
§ Mr. DAVID DAVIES
Are we to take it from what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said that it is intended to operate the regulations in a case of that kind in the way he has described?
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
I do not follow the point of the hon. Member's question. I gave that case only as an 1016 example. I repeat that I do not stand here and I cannot stand here saying in express terms what is to be done in particular cases. I am only pointing out that there is this discretionary power which nobody suggests ought not to be there. That power will be applied in every case according to the particular circumstances, and I am giving to the House, as frankly as I can, an indication of the kind of points which will have to be met. As far as allotments are concerned, there is this general discretionary power which can be used to disregard the value of vegetables coming into a household from the allotment for personal consumption, and not of course for sale. I think I have shown to the House the necessity for having this kind of elasticity operating both ways, and if the need for that elasticity is conceded, it is only right and fair that it should be expressly stated here. We might have "got away with it" under the general discretion in the Act but we do not desire to "get away with" anything by seeking to escape the notice of the House. Therefore, we have placed right in the forefront of this statement this obvious and necessary feature of the scheme. Some hon. Members appear to be frightened by the word "substantial." Of course the word "substantial" means substantial in relation to the sums with which we are dealing here and the needs of those with whom we are dealing. In this matter sums of money, which in other circumstances might be regarded as small, clearly become substantial.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
This is a rather complicated question, and I would like the hon. and learned Gentleman to say whether what he calls the overriding power to make adjustments applies only in the matter of the final assessment, and not to the provisional assessment at all? As I read the paragraph it only refers to the final assessment.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
Yes, the hon. and learned Gentleman may be technically right. It could be slightly redrafted so that the general proviso at the end would cover all the stages in the process.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
That is exactly what I said. It does not because 1017 we do not desire to hide these things. We desired to state this quite clearly at the outset, so that even those who may only reach page 3 in reading this document cannot fail to see it. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee seemed to think that there might be some mistake in paragraph (d) on page 4 concerning the allowance in respect of a child. I assure him that that is not so though some people might think that the provision does not go far enough. The sum of 3s. mentioned in paragraph (c) is the normal allowance for a child under the age of five, and paragraph (d) provides that where the household consists simply of two adults and one child that may be increased to 4s. It can be argued that that concession should be extended to the larger household but, as I say, the 3s. is taken as the normal figure, and then that particular concession is made in those particular cases.
I pass on to some of the points which were raised with regard to rent. The hon. Member for Dundee spent some time on that subject, and he asked whether the reference to "special circumstances" at the top of page 5 referred to the special circumstances of a household or the special circumstances of an area. Strictly speaking each case has to be considered on its individual merits, but where you find in an area special circumstances occurring in a very large number of individual cases, you will, in effect, have built up for that area, through decisions of officers and of appeals tribunals, something in the nature of a body of case law which will apply to that area or rather to all the cases in that area where such circumstances arise. As an example, take the position in London. As everyone knows, conditions there are generally different. You may get isolated cases in some areas, but broadly speaking the rent situation in London is different from what it is in other parts of the country, and, therefore, clearly the body of individual cases in London makes up such a general mass of cases that anybody starting to work this scheme would realise that London would have to be specially dealt with from the outset.
I think it was the same hon. Member who asked as to what the exemption on house property amounted to. It amounts to this, that if a man owns his house, it cannot be said to him, "You have got 1018 realisable property and, therefore, you must sell." That was the old complaint. Everyone will remember that what was suggested might happen, and what may have happened, for aught I know, is that a man who had bought his house might come to the public assistance committee with no other resources except the house which he owned, and the committee would be entitled to say to him, "You have a house worth £200. Sell it, spend the £200, and then you can come back to us." That was the case which was put as an intolerable one, and that case has been met, and completely met, by the Act and by the regulations. But, of course, if a man, having bought a house, has no rent to pay, but merely has a liability for rates, repairs, and so on, that factor necessarily is brought into account in applying the sliding-scale rent provisions which my hon. Friend said he welcomed in principle. I do not think there is any difficulty or doubt about the matter. All proper allowances can be made for rates, insurance, repairs, and so on, but clearly, if you have a rent sliding-scale, and if a man is paying no rent as such, when you apply that scale that factor works.
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough West (Mr. K. Griffith), in a misapprehension of which I should not have expected him to be guilty, referred to the question of the shilling on the capital assets. That, surely, is a matter which has been very much debated, and there can be no misapprehension as to what it means. If one follows the regulations in detail, as put here, it comes to this, that up to £50, capital assets are disregarded. The first £25 is wholly disregarded, and, as hon. Members will notice, the shilling does not become operative until you have another complete £25, so that the first £50 is disregarded altogether. After that each £25 is treated as producing a shilling a week, which is 10 per cent. Nobody, I thought, until my hon. Friend spoke, imagined that that was drawn on the basis that 10 per cent. investments were available in this country. What it does mean, of course, is this, that a man in that position has to draw on his resources, on his capital, to that extent. There will be the interest there. If he gets 5 per cent., the interest is approximately 6d., and if he gets 3 per cent., it is 4d. a week, but he has to draw on his capital assets to make up the shilling a 1019 week. It was discussed when we were debating this matter in Committee with regard to the Act, and certainly I never appreciated that anybody understood it in any other sense or that anybody thought that it was put forward on the basis suggested by my hon. Friend.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
It says that it is to be treated as producing income for the purpose of the calculation.
§ Mr. GRIFFITH
It says it is to be regarded as yielding income, but why regard it as yielding something it does not yield?
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
For the purpose of the calculation. It might perhaps have been worded more happily, but I thought it was so plain to all of us in the many previous discussions on this matter that misunderstanding could not arise. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newcastle, East (Sir K. Aske) asked as to the date from which payments would date, and I can assure the House that payments will date from the date of application or such earlier date as the board may authorise. I think that deals with that point. Then there was a further point, raised originally perhaps by the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths), with regard to the proviso (1) at the end of page 7 of the Regulations, about normal occupation. My hon. Friend's point was the question of short time. He said, "Suppose a man in fact the last time he got a job was only there for two days, would those two days be taken as the upward limit?" The answer is, "No." The figure to be taken in this proviso is the figure which would result if all the members of the household were following occupations normally followed by them, and earning the sums which they would receive when they were following those normal occupations. Short time is wholly out of the question.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
But, of course, you may find in a certain industry that work short of a five-day week or a five and a-half day week is normal, in the sense that it is usual, and it is providing, 1020 and is treated as providing, a living wage. Take the case of the footballer. If you find that normally he is working two days a week, that that is the normal incidence of work in that occupation, and that that is what people work normally to get the living wage which people in that industry do get, then, of course, it would be no answer for that man to say, "You cannot take my two days' earnings because it is only part of the week." The answer is that that is not short time or intermittent work.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
That is another question. All these are questions of fact, and we are trying to use words which are fair.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
What you take under this Clause are the normal earnings of a man being occupied normally in his trade, not working short time.
§ Mr. G. MACDONALD
Let us be clear. In paragraph 4 of the memorandum is this first sentence:As stated above, the Act lays down that the needs of the applicant shall be the deciding factor.Paragraph 10 says: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 will give an instance of a man on a five-day week——
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
I am going to deal with that question. I hope I have made it clear that the short-time earnings are not the earnings which will come to be regarded under this provision. Other points were raised under this proviso, including the one just referred to. As was stated by the Minister, the overriding duty of the board is to provide for needs. This Clause is in, and I think that everybody who has spoken—certainly the hon. Member for Middlesbrough West, who criticised this Clause, and possibly one or two hon. Members opposite—has admitted that a difficult question is raised. If you have persons in a locality at low wage-rates, but wage-rates on which they are in fact living 1021 without assistance, yon create a state of affairs in which people who are unemployed in that same area are in fact drawing more. I do not think there is anybody who approaches this question from any point of view, means test or no means test, who would not admit that that raises a serious question.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
I do not think it is relevant to the point that we are discussing. I think everybody who approaches this question in a humane spirit, but in a practical spirit, as someone who has really got to deal with it, would admit that a question is raised which will have to be settled.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
If you were quite clear that your existing wages were at a level which was always going to be well above the sort of assistance you are proposing to give in any area, but clearly it does arise. The proviso is there, and in our submission is rightly there, but there are two factors. First of all, the provision of the Act that the board have to give assistance corresponding to the needs is the overriding provision. Secondly, provisos (2) and (3) can be used to override proviso (1) That is to say, if under proviso (1) you have reduced the assessment by reason of the earnings of the household in normal circumstances, that does not preclude the officer of the board from adjusting that by way of increase under proviso (2), and a final assessment may be increased in any case where special circumstances exist.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
The hon. and learned Gentleman is not suggesting that where an applicant is assessed under proviso (1) that is preparing for the final assessment?
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
That is the final assessment. If the hon. and learned Gentleman turns over the page he will see that the final assessment including proviso (1) may in special circumstances be increased.
§ Mr. K. GRIFFITH
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman now saying that there are three stages—first, the assessment according to need as laid down by the Act; second, under proviso (1) where it is put down because of the wages; and, third, when it is put back again to where it was before under provisos (2) or (3) in special circumstances?
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
Yes, in special circumstances. The hon. Gentleman smiles, but I think that it is a matter which has to be dealt with in that kind of way. There has to be a principle. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would dispute that, if he were drawing up a scheme, he must have some such principle in his mind as is in proviso (1). He may not have to put it down on paper, but he would have to have it in mind when assessing the needs of a particular household. He would have to have at the back of every sound principle the overriding duty to look after needs and the necessary elasticity to enable him to fulfil that duty. If guides, whether in the shape of figures or provisos such as this, were not made, it would not enable him to satisfy the duty which was imposed on him. The hon. Member for Ince raised a point as to pensions, and perhaps he will allow that matter to be dealt with by the Parliamentary Secretary. Another point was raised by, I think, the hon. Member for Hemsworth as to who would make the statement to the board about the resources of the household. The answer, of course, is the applicant. He is the only person who makes the statement and he can only make it to the best of his knowledge, information and belief.
§ Miss RATHBONE
What would be the position if one of the members of the household flatly refused to admit what his savings were? Would the penalty for the refusal fall on the applicant?
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
The applicant can only answer to the best of his information, knowledge and belief, and if, having done his best to find out what are the resources of his son, he cannot find out, he can only tell the board so.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
There is the question of wages. Will there be officers, in the same way as under the Poor Law, to go to the employers of the children to inquire about their wages? I hope we shall not have that horrible system here.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
The right hon. Gentleman thinks there is something horrible in it. It is done in the case of Income Tax. Every employer has to make a return for Income Tax purposes, and I can see nothing horrible in the system being adopted in this case.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
A member of the applicant's household may have an income from carrying on a business and may refuse to disclose it to anybody. In such a case you have no power as you have in the case of an employé. Has the applicant to be punished because another member of his family refuses to disclose his income?
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
There is no question of punishing the applicant. The board will have to do their best on the information they have got to deal fairly between the applicant who is before them and the persons whose moneys they are dispensing.
I have taken longer than I intended, but I wanted to deal with as many points that have been put forward as I could. But before I conclude, I want to make one or two general observations. The hon. Member for Dundee and other Members, including the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) and the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, took cases where certain allowances are being made at present in respect of specific items. A figure of 21s. for an adult was given by the hon. Member for Dundee, and a comparable figure of 32s was given by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. It is the fact—and Scotland exemplifies it perhaps better than England—that there is the greatest possible disparity at present between the allowances and payments that have been made in various areas. I have figures of the allowances from earnings for the requirements 1024 of adults in Scotland showing variations between 7s. 6d. and 40s. No one can defend that. These regulations proceed on the basis that the assistance to the unemployed should be a national charge. Nobody disputes that as a principle.
Clearly, if it is to be a charge on the nation, there must be uniformity, but there must be uniformity under which proper allowances can be made for variations in local conditions and circumstances. No one has anything but sympathy for anyone who finds in a particular week that he is receiving less than he received before, but I do not believe that hon. Gentlemen opposite, if they had to deal with this or an analogous problem, would or could have proceeded on the principle that the board were to take the highest figure given in respect of any item in any area as the proper fulfilment of their duty.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
Because it would not be what the Act has laid on them. They have to make out their own amount on what are proper figures, and not on what is laid down by isolated people in different parts of the country. It would be equally absurd if the board took the lowest figures. We are ready to defend the regulations on their merits, and we do defend them on their merits. Their object is to put before this House fair figures and fair principles for carrying out the very difficult duty which has been placed on the board by the Act.
§ Mr. DINGLE FOOT
May I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman one more point? Will he explain why there has been a long delay in presenting these regulations to the House? It must be at least six weeks since the draft regulations were in the hands of the Minister of Labour, and they have been only a short period, by comparison, in the hands of the House.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
The answer is simple. Under the Act the very responsible duty is placed on the Minister of Labour to decide whether he can accept the regulations in the form in which the board put them before him or whether he has to make amendments. That involves the most careful consideration of their effect in detail in all parts of the country. I do not think anybody 1025 can complain of the time spent by the Minister in satisfying himself whether the regulations were in proper form to be placed before the House.
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman answer the question with regard to rents in London, which are sometimes 13s. and 14s.? What is to be the routine in those cases?
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
I think that it would be more convenient if that question were dealt with at a later stage.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Miss RATHBONE
Nearly every speaker has spoken of the children's allowances as perhaps the most substantial advance in the scheme of assistance. I do not want to be ungrateful for that advance. I think, perhaps, that it may be attributed partly to the effect of the methods adopted by the body of people who are especially concerned in pressing for an improvement in the children's position. That body did not wait until the regulations were before the House, knowing that when they were they could not be amended. They lost no time after the formation of the board in pressing their views and the facts relevant to the case on the board in every possible way. I think that it may be claimed that there has been some response to their representations. When I used to work many years ago in a poor part of Liverpool, there was an evangelical hymn which the children were fond of shouting which had the refrain:Count your blessings, count them one by one,And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.That is an excellent maxim if we substitute "board" for "Lord." I want to try to admit all the blessings that the board have conceded, but I must point out the drawbacks which accompany them. Unless I seem to belittle the general advance made by these regulations, may I examine the price-ticket which the board have attached to their Christmas present to the unemployed, and which peeps rather coyly out of the package? It is stated in the memorandum that the portion of the additional cost which represents the additional assistance to the persons who are at present in receipt of transitional payment, and who will in future be under the board's administration, is approximately £3,000,000. The number of those 1026 persons is 725,000, so that they will receive an average addition of 1s. 7d. per week. That represents the board's own estimate of the average value of its scale assistance from the point of view of an increase on the present scale. It is not negligible, but I do not think it can be said to be a magnificent Christmas present from the point of view of individual families. In the case of families with children the gain will in most cases be substantially larger than that. It will be larger partly at the expense of the unmarried and of childless couples, and partly as the result of the great equalising process, the levelling up and levelling down as between different areas. This equalising is essential. The anomalies were unjustified; the differences between areas according to the political complexion or caprice of the authorities in the various districts were intolerable. But the board cannot reasonably expect those areas which suffer a levelling down to be very appreciative of the process. Instances of the way in which this will work out have already been given in speeches by a number of Members representing depressed areas.
To come to the question of children's allowances, in which I have been specially interested, apart from the circumstances of exceptional areas, even in a number of normal cases with families with children paying basic rents, the figures circulated by the Children's Minimum Committee show how very far the proposed rates—although we do not deny there is an improvement—fall short of ensuring that the parents of these families will be in a position to supply them with the necessaries of healthy existence, even on the assumption that they spend every penny of the income on necessities and spend it to the best advantage.
The Minister tried last night to belittle the figures presented by the Children's Minimum. Committee by suggesting that it was not quite fair to pick out the best bits of the different estimates and, after putting them together, to point out that the board's scales by comparison showed a deficiency. That is not what the Children's Minimum Committee have done. We took the British Medical Association's scale for food, not because it is the highest scale but because it is the most authoritative, and because its findings were in substance endorsed by 1027 the Minister of Health's own committee on nutrition. There was at first some dispute between those two bodies, but at a joint conference it was explained that the apparently slightly higher scale of the British Medical Association was attributable to the fact that the Association had based its scale on the needs of persons either in work or actively seeking work, while the Ministry's scale was based on the needs of persons, living in institutions, and it was announced that there had not existed, nor did there exist now, any fundamental disagreement between the two bodies on matters of scientific fact.
As to items other than food—clothing, light and fuel—we could not go by the British Medical Association's scale, because they did not estimate them, so we took the result of the Merseyside scale, thinking that a great provincial area like that was, perhaps, the best guide towards needs in other parts of the country. But, in fact, the Merseyside and London surveys, both conducted by university authorities with the aid of the best statistical experts, had a basis almost identical. The small differences that do occur are attributable to differences in prices in the different areas, and the results are singularly alike.
If the Minister disputes the authority of the joint British Medical Association and Merseyside surveys, will he tell us on what basis the board's own scales are founded? If the board reject the British Medical Association's scale for food, on what grounds have they rejected it? The Minister said the British Medical Association's scale included milk, and that at that time the present milk scheme of the Ministry was not in existence; but the British Medical Association's scale allowed one pint of milk per child per day—speaking from memory—whereas the school ration is at most one-third of a pint, and only pertains to school children in certain districts.
My own impression is that all these scientific scales tend rather to underestimate than over-estimate needs, not only for the reason pointed out by the right hon. Member who closed the Debate for the Opposition last night, that working-class women cannot usually buy commodities as cheaply as the scientific experts estimate they ought to be able to do, but because the scale supposes a 1028 really inhuman degree of virtue—that nothing is spent on alcohol, tobacco, amusements, fares and postage, that nothing is spent except on purely physical needs. Even the most virtuous unemployed are not as frugal as all that. They do spend something on the amenities of an ordinary civilised existence, even when they have to take it out of the food bill, and it must be remembered that man cannot live by food alone. If anyone wants to see instances of the actual contrast between scientific living scales and the actual accounts of a respectable working-class family who keep a budget for the benefit of inquirers into expenditure on amenities, other than physical necessities, they will find a table in this green pamphlet which was circulated to hon. Members.
Before passing from the children's minimum calculations, I want to explain one slight error which has crept into the memorandum circulated to the House. It was not the result of carelessness, the regulation relating to the basic scales of rent was ambiguously worded. We at first interpreted it as turns out to be right, but it was susceptible of a rather more generous interpretation, and the Secretary of the Committee rang up the board to find out which was correct, and she understood—no doubt it was a misunderstanding on her part—that the board's official endorsed the more generous interpretation. But the truth turns out to be not as we had supposed, that if the basic scale is 7s. 6d. the excess over 7s. 6d. is added to the allowance, but that the allowances are taken to include the whole basic rent, and an addition for rent is only given if the rent exceeds the basic scale. Does the House notice the effect of that? Most people have taken the basic scale for a child to be a generous concession, but this means that the children are made to pay out of their allowance a little contribution towards the rent. That is quite a new feature in scales of minimum needs, and it really is one of the ways in which the allowances are made to appear rather more generous than they are in fact.
I do not think it would be fair to blame the board, and I have not done so, for all the deficiencies in its scale. The truth is that the structure they have erected is rather like one of those great modern factories which have taken the place of several hundreds of miscellaneous dwellings, 1029 a few of them more solidly built than the new factory, but the majority' jerry-built ramshackle structures. The factory has an able and conscientious architect in the person of the board, and I think its general outlines are well and scientifically planned, but what is wrong with the structure is that it has been built on the cheap, and that the parts that show least are the most roughly constructed. It has been built in response to the admonitory, wagging finger of a Treasury continually reminding the board, "We cannot afford to spend too much. The nation cannot afford luxuries." I am not suggesting that the Treasury has actually interfered in the deliberations of the board, but is not its general attitude towards increased expenditure on social services well known, and has not the board been furnished with an ex-Treasury official, saturated with the spirit of the Treasury, as its vice-chairman?
§ Miss RATHBONE
I have already alluded to the £3,000,000 more on transitional payments alone, and I have pointed out that that works out at 1s. 7d. per week per family. Apart from the desire to keep down costs, another influence has plainly been at work. The board have been influenced by the fear of raising the scale of assistance above or too near to the level of wage rates. The Minister alluded to this factor yesterday. He did not deny that it existed, but he slid away rapidly from the subject after pointing out a badly-expressed paragraph in the typed memorandum circulated by the Children's Minimum Committee. As I then said, I did not concoct that particular paragraph, and I admit that bit of it was badly worded, but we were only given a long week-end to consider these very elaborate regulations, and in such a case it is difficult to weigh every word carefully. But substantially the point made in that paragraph was correct. May I now state it as it should be:In an investigation by the Ministry of Labour of wage rates in October, 1931, it was, found that of 2,759,548 workers belonging to 104 separate industries, the industries showing an average wage for males of less than 45s., covered only 45,794 males, or under 2 per cent. of the whole number included in the group of industries covered by the inquiry. It is true that figures for industries with a higher average wage than 1030 45s. may have included a good many workers earning under that sum, but it is also true that the low-paid industries would include workers earning more than the average.Therefore, the point sought to be made in the body of the Memorandum was perfectly correct. If one reason for the board's low scale of assistance was their desire to keep relief below the average earnings in the majority of occupations, they have very considerably overshot the mark, and made the scales lower than they need have been. If, on the other hand, they merely wished to ensure that no unemployed person should get more in assistance than he could earn in his normal occupation, that was already fully covered by the regulation definitely stipulating that that should be so. The truth is that the House has been left to surmise, to guess at, the motives and the lines of argument which have led the board to its conclusions. This evidence and these arguments have been nowhere disclosed to us, although, apparently, another House has been more generously treated in the way of information. Whatever the precise basis of the scales, it is quite evident that the board have been largely dominated by these two considerations, the supposed need of keeping down costs in the interests of national economy, and the supposed need of keeping relief below wages.
As to the first point, is it really the case that the country cannot afford to supply the children of the unemployed with even the minima needed for their healthy development? As to the second point, if the difficulty is that under our present wage system a large proportion of the children even of the employed go short of these minima, then so much the worse for the wage system. We are asked to believe that the country cannot afford to keep these children, whether the children of employed persons or unemployed persons, adequately at a time when fish is being used for manure, when fruit is left to rot on the trees, when quotas are put on the production of wheat and coal—and all this because there is not an effective demand for the necessities which agriculture and industry are able to produce. Only last Thursday the Minister of Labour was explaining that the condition of the depressed areas was partly due to the fact that whereas the productive capacity of the country had largely increased, there was 1031 not, owing to the declining birth-rate, a sufficient corresponding increase in the number of mouths consuming the products of industry. There is a mal-adjustment between supply and demand. That is a perfectly sound argument, but to press it to its logical conclusion would carry us a long way beyond the scope of this Debate.
I want the House to realise that there is something gravely wrong with the present system. I am not here to help the Labour party by pointing out defects in capitalism. The particular defect I want to point out is one which the Labour party has persistently ignored with others—the assumption that you can provide for future generations only out of wages, and if the wages are not enough, then increase them. Such a common assumption nearly everyone takes for granted. If any one hints at any other solution one is supposed to be hinting at monstrous extravagance. It is not generally realised that mothers and children constitute over half of the population, though they are contained in a small proportion of households. I do not want to carry the House further into that argument, but I would suggest that the present system is an example of colossal maladjustment.
I hope that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who is reported to have completed a scheme of reconstruction, will not only turn his attention to the system of production, but the system of the distribution of production. One thing that I think we can and should do is to insist that with productive capacity at its present level, it is unnecessary and disastrous that the children should go short of commodities, of which there is a glut or potential glut. Where there are parents, employed or unemployed, a big step could be taken now in adjusting the system of school meals. The Minister tells us that where milk is given in all schools, and meat meals under certain strictly defined and limited conditions are actually received by children of persons under the board, these resources will be left out of account. That is something, but it does not go far enough. It ignores the fact that many local authorities do not give school meals at all, while those who do give meals do so sparingly and in a small 1032 proportion of cases, while none provide meals for school children under school age. The Children's Committee suggest that where children do not get meals and milk where they clearly should have it, and where the assistance given is not sufficient without them, they should be treated as exceptional cases and out of the scale of allowances granted.
The board, of course, cannot provide for any big extension of the school meal system, but it could be done between three of the Ministries—Education, Agriculture and Health. I hope the Minister for Health will take this into consideration. Apart from the value to the children of employed and unemployed, the value to the distressed areas ought to be considered if a stable, increased demand were provided in this way. But that would not meet the whole case, because children need something beside food, such as clothes and heating. Their needs could be fully provided for only through a system of family allowances, but an extended system of school meals would be a big step. Government Departments salve their own consciences and ours by pointing out that, in spite of the insufficient scales, children are doing pretty well. They furnish us with figures to show there is no widespread and serious deterioration in the condition of the children compared with 10 years ago, while compared with pre-War time there has been a substantial improvement. That is universally admitted, but why do we always compare a bad present with a worse past?
I wish Members of the House could compare the condition of their own children with the condition of the children of the poor. I wish they would ask themselves what they would feel if they had to contemplate going to their wives and saying that because of bad times they would have to ask them to keep each child on 3s. to 4s. 6d. a week and elder girls and boys on 6s., all this to cover food, clothing, holidays, with contributions to coal and light out of it each week taking a few pence for rent. What would each Member of the House feel if he had to contemplate reducing his own scale of living to that sort of level, and then heard all around the great pundits of Government Departments, of industry and finance cudgelling their brains to produce schemes to reduce production in some of the industries that 1033 produce the very necessaries of which their children are going short, and which they know they cannot provide out of their trumpery allowance? The right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) thrilled the House not long ago with a speech when he said that when he looked at the slums in his own area he asked himself, "Is this all we can do for them? I sometimes wonder why they should vote for me and mine." I think great numbers of people will be asking that question about their own representatives, and if they find that the particular gods of their own political heaven turn a deaf ear or are impotent to help them, I should not be surprised if they turned to strange gods. I do not want to under-estimate anything that the board has done. I believe it has approached its task in a humane and scientific spirit, and I think it represents an advance. Do not let us deceive ourselves, however, that it is anything but short of the objective of the Children's Minimum Committee, which wants to ensure that no child shall go short of the necessities for a healthy upbringing.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. DAGGAR
Some of us are indebted to the Solicitor-General for his explanation this afternoon, though we are compelled to observe that so far as it affects people it will require a further explanation. I formed the opinion during the time that he was speaking that he stressed too far the analogy between the regulations which are before us to-day and the regulations issued under the provisions of the Anomalies Act. I am content to concede that the principle in both is similar, but there is a vast difference between the regulations under the Act for which our people were responsible, and the number of people affected under this, a difference of between 1,000 people and 6,000,000 people. Furthermore, under the first Act an Advisory Committee was appointed which has authority to make alterations, but this has no committee to supervise or modify regulations in any form whatever.
It is my intention to pursue this matter a little farther. Before doing so, I presume there will be general agreement on these two statements: first, that it is very difficult in a discussion of this kind not to repeat some of the arguments previously adduced, and, secondly, that this 1034 is the only opportunity for definite replies to questions to the Minister, and is the only means available to us to obtain important and necessary information regarding regulations. The latter is much more important in my opinion, for whatever criticism is made of the regulations the Minister has shown no disposition to withdraw them for the purpose of modification. I want at this point to raise the question of earnings as defined in the regulations. The Minister has already given us an assurance that no deduction will be made from wages for certain things, including omnibus fares, which will be disregarded. We are concerned as to whether that is an interpretation of the regulations or whether the administration of these regulations by the board will be more important. I desire to ask for a further assurance about such deductions, because omnibus fares are not stoppages in wages authorised by the State to be disregarded.
The Solicitor-General, in the explanation he submitted to the House, referred to certain of these stoppages and to the board's power to deal with these deductions as special expenses and special requirements. He also made the observation that the contributions were small in amount. If we take the items singly, I am prepared to concede that that is correct. But I want to submit that if the total of many of these items is considered, it will be of considerable importance to our people. I am also aware of the Minister's assurance yesterday that he could answer in the case of explosives, because these were also allowed. These items, while of importance, do not exhaust the complete list. I want a more definite and exhaustive reply. I make these observations because I am not enamoured of the constitution of the appeals tribunal. I am anxious to have the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry, because I have already pointed out that once these regulations are operated we cannot take any exception to them or modify them, and we have had no statement in the House as to when the Minister will feel disposed to grant a new set of regulations. How long will these regulations operate and do justice to the people who make application for the consideration of those items? We must have regard to the fact that the chairman of this committee is appointed 1035 by the Minister of Labour and that there are two other members. One is appointed by the board and the other on behalf of the applicant making the appeal. In the regulations these words are contained:'Earnings' includes net profits derived from the carrying on of any trade or calling and in relation to an employé means the net salary or wages 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.The Solicitor-General has just informed the House that he relates a part of this paragraph to an entirely different part of the regulations. I want to be clear about the words "authorised by Statute." Mention has been made of the amount of money that our men contribute to the maintenance of a check-weighman. The Coal Mines Regulation Act of 1887, Section 14 (2), states:It shall be lawful for the owner or manager of any mine…to retain the agreed contribution of the persons so employed, and paid as aforesaid for the checkweigher, notwithstanding the provisions of the Acts relating to truck, and to pay and account for the same to the check-weigher.I want the House to note that it is stated that it shall be lawful to impose a deduction from the miners' wages, but that it is not stipulated that it is unlawful if the owner or manager of a mine decline to make a deduction. The result is that payments are made to the check-weigher varying from 6d. to 1s. per man per week out of wages, and that is 2d. or 3d. more per man per week than the contribution made to the national health insurance and the unemployment insurance schemes. No consideration will be given to those items I assume, because the deduction from wages is not authorised by Statute. If it be assumed that regard will be had to contributions made by miners because an owner or manager makes the deduction, the operation of the regulations makes an unjust differentiation between the miners working at a mine where the owner or manager makes the deduction and miners employed at a mine where the manager refuses to authorise the deduction.
Let me give another example. As a result of the recent explosion at Gresford, 1036 the value of a periodic examination of mines by the working men has gone up. Last week an hon. Member suggested to the Secretary for Mines the advisability of urging the miners to avail themselves of these facilities. I am not opposed to the practice, because I am of the opinion that such examination undertaken by the workmen employed at the mines is the only reliable safeguard against mine explosions in this country, but that the men employed at the pits should pay for that is indefensible. Persons employed in factories are not called upon to examine those places of industry in order to safeguard their work and their lives; yet in the mining industry men have to make a weekly contribution in order to provide sufficient money to pay their comrades to examine a pit which belongs to someone else so as to ascertain whether it is safe for them to continue their work. That, according to these regulations, no consideration is to be given to the amount of money required for this purpose is simply amazing. It means a contribution from each man of a sum varying from 2d. to 6d. per week. Low wages are bad enough, but there is no excuse for the mean policy of the Government which is embodied in these regulations.
I have been wondering whether the Minister or his Parliamentary Secretary has ever seen a miner's ticket. I am convinced that members of the board have never seen a miner's pay ticket or they would have made the paragraph of the regulations to which I am referring much clearer than it is. Let me enumerate some of the items of deduction that are made from a collier's pay. There is unemployment insurance at 9d. per week, and health insurance at 10d. I may have reversed the figures, but the deduction is 1s. 7d. for those two items. In addition, the collier pays 6d. per week to a doctor, 6d. a week in many localities for the upkeep of a hospital, 3d. for an institute, 6d. a week for a sick fund, and his contribution to the maintenance of a checkweigher of 1s. a week, in order to see that the employer does not rob him. In addition, he has to pay another 3d. for the examination of a colliery that does not belong to him. Under the regulations a mine worker will be allowed 1s. 7d. of a total of 4s. 7d. a week, and no consideration will be given to the remaining 3s. That is a remarkable 1037 method of bringing comfort to the household either of the unemployed or of the employed persons.
I would like to know whether the Minister will take action that would exclude the entire cost of those items, by defining the word "earnings" in the regulations. I see the Parliamentary Secretary does not agree with me that no provision will be made for those items. I have not said that no provision would be made for any of them.
§ Mr. HUDSON indicated dissent.
§ Mr. DAGGAR
No, I did not. I said that the regulations made provision for the exclusion of 1s. 7d. I want to know from the Parliamentary Secretary whether all the items will be excluded? If not, my contention is that if it be right to exclude 1s. 7d. of the 4s. 7d., because the deductions are authorised by Statute, our people are entitled to have the other 3s. disregarded as well.
§ Mr. HUDSON
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman unnecessarily, but I think it is within the recollection of the House that what the hon. Member said was that 1s. 7d. and no more would be excluded and I took exception to the words, "and no more." The Solicitor-General stated that the meaning of the word "net" was after the other deductions had been made; in other words, 1s. 7d. plus other deductions. The hon. Member is not entitled to say that the regulations provide for 1s. 7d. and no more.
§ Mr. DAGGAR
If it be any information to the Parliamentary Secretary I was here and heard the whole of the speech of the Solicitor-General. I was here yesterday and heard the whole of the speech of the hon. Gentleman's chief. The Parliamentary Secretary has been much more interested in discussing certain matters with hon. Members on the bench behind him than in listening to my observations. I distinctly said that the Minister yesterday assured us that the amount of money involved in transporting men from one area to another and paid in the form of omnibus fares would be excluded. The Minister also stated that he was prepared to exclude the payment made for explosives; but I want the other items excluded, and we have had no assurance that they will be excluded.
§ Mr. DAGGAR
The statement from the Solicitor-General warrants me in saying that all these items will not be excluded. I am entitled to put a question to the Parliamentary Secretary. Will he inform the House whether all these items are to be excluded, and, if not all of them, how many? Will he give us reasons why they should not all be disregarded?
There is another matter in the regulations to which I would direct the attention of the House. On page 4, the following words are to be found:For each member of the household to whom the foregoing rates do not apply—If aged 21 years or over—
The effect of this provision was stressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) in his speech; it means a reduction in the case of male members of a household of from 17s. to 10s. or from 17s. to 8s. These are not exceptional cases. There are thousands of such cases in the areas covered by the Monmouthshire County Council where there are as many depressed areas as in any county in this country. It is incumbent upon the Parliamentary Secretary to justify these deductions in cases which are not exceptional. In addition, a young woman also suffers a deduction of 7s., from 15s. to 8s. In the case of the other young woman in the same household there is a deduction of 8s., from 15s. to 7s. If all were members of the same household, the income would be reduced by no less than 32s. per week. It is impossible to defend such a great reduction.
For the first such member, Male 10s. a week. Female 8s. a week. For each subsequent member, Male 8s. a week. Female 7s. a week.
Let me give an actual case of the difference between the amount of benefit received from the Employment Exchange and the allowance provided by the Unemployment Assistance Board. I consider it a fair comparison, because no hon. Member has ever contended that unemployment insurance benefit is excessive. Take the case of a man, wife and four sons over 21 years of age, all unemployed. The present amount of benefit received from the Employment Exchange is £4 14s. 1039 That amount of money is now paid by many public assistance authorities. The sum is made up of 26s. for the man and wife, and 17s. for each of the four sons. Under the new scale, the determination, assuming a rent of 10s. a week, would be £2 19s. 6d., calculated as follows: Man and wife, 26s. 6d.; 10s. for the first son, and 24s. for the other three sons at 8s. each. The total is £3 0s. 6d., which has to be reduced by 1s. because of the excess number in the family. The determination is therefore £2 19s. 6d., which represents a loss to the household of no less than £1 14s. 6d. That is no exceptional case. In Monmouthshire, on account of the long period of unemployment, we have a number of such cases.
Hon. Members will observe that the amount of the allowance is dependent upon when the young man or young woman was born, so that it is possible, with these four scales, to have no fewer than four different allowances from the board. For instance, if there are two sons, the allowance will be 18s. a week. If there is one son and one daughter, the 18s. will be reduced to 17s. If there is one daughter, she being the elder of the two in the family, and one son, the allowance is only 16s. per week; and if there are two daughters it will be only 15s. Thus there may be four different allowances in the case of a household where there are two sons and two daughters. I submit that meanness could not reach a lower level. It must be patent to every Member of the House that the requirements of the two young men or young women are similar, and do not warrant such unjust variations in the allowances paid by the board. Obviously it is not here a question of needs, but entirely one of date of birth. I am unable, and I think most Members of the House are unable, to consider these regulations otherwise than in conjunction with the speech of the Minister of Labour in this House on the 25th July. In the course of that speech he said:It is clear that we had first of all to assure to them "—that is the unemployed—a tolerable, physical life for the future, but I am not certain that, when we have done that, We have really done all that is expected of us, or that the mere possibility of physical existence for the rest of their lives is all that they are entitled to ask. 1040 We have to go beyond that and bring into their lives some sense of dignity and utility, some sense of feeling that they are of use to themselves and to the community."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th July, 1934; col. 1831, Vol. 292.]There was also the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary, who is reported to have said that these regulations are framed on generous and sympathetic lines. I submit, in reply, that it is useless to tell the young men over 21 who are to suffer a reduction of no less than 7s. a week that there is an additional £3,000,000 to be distributed among persons who are in a similar position to themselves, or to tell them that a man and his wife are to receive an extra 2s. for their only child.
Perhaps I may be permitted to put two definite questions to the Parliamentary Secretary, to which I hope he will give us definite replies. The first is whether it is permissible, under the regulations, for an applicant to receive a greater rent allowance than 2s. 6d. That is a simple question, and we should like a simple answer to it. In other words, is an applicant entitled to one-third of the basic rent allowance if that is in excess of the basic rent allowance of 7s. 6d., provided that the actual rent paid justifies it? My other question is: Is it correct to assume that, where there is more than one applicant for assistance in the same household, the father being one and another a son who is not ordinarily supported by his father, the son is entitled to an allowance in excess of the scale referred to on pages 4 and 5 of the explanatory memorandum—a memorandum which, by the way, itself means explaining? In any case, however, the hon. Gentleman knows what his Department have done, and I shall be very much obliged if he will give me an answer to these two questions.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he proposes to answer these questions, because they are really being put seriously? I cannot help noticing that no one is taking a note.
§ Mr. HUDSON
The arrangement was that I should wind up the Debate to-morrow night, and I certainly intend to give very full answers to all these questions. I think, however, that, as the same points are being put by a number 1041 of Members, it will probably be more convenient that I should deal with them all at one time, rather than that I should answer them one at a time. For example, on this question of allowances, one hon. Member is asking about one allowance, but probably, if I answered his question, someone else would want to know about another allowance. I think it is better that all the points should be dealt with as a whole, rather than that I should interrupt hon. Members to answer them individually.
§ Mr. DAGGAR
My reason for putting my second question is that I find this statement on pages 4 and 5 of the memorandum explaining the draft regulations:Provisional Assessment of Needs.Regulation IV lays down a scale of weekly allowances for the purpose of provisional assessments. It is to be observed that in accordance with the requirements of the Act the needs are to include those of any members of the applicant's household who are dependent on or ordinarily supported by him (other than persons who are qualified to make applications in their own name).To some of us that paragraph has presented a difficulty. I support the Amendment because in my opinion the Debate has proved that the regulations are not framed on lines of either generosity or sympathy, that they do not have regard to the needs of the unemployed, and that their administration will not bring into the lives of the unemployed either a sense of dignity or utility, but will further increase the misery and privation of a large number of unemployed and employed.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Sir W. BRASS
I think it is a pity that two hon. Members who have spoken this afternoon have seen fit to cast reflections on the board by implying that the board was more or less controlled in some way by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I refer to the hon. Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) and to the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith). They both inferred that these regulations were cut down because of the——
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted; and, 40 Members being present——
§ Sir W. BRASS
I notice that there are six Labour Members present on this important 1042 occasion, and three Members of the Independent Labour party——
§ Sir W. BRASS
Most of them have gone out. I was saying, when a count was asked for to point out the deficiency in Members of the Labour party, that I thought it was a pity that both the hon. Member for the English Universities and the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough should have seen fit to suggest that the-board had had pressure brought to bear upon them by the Chanceller of the Exchequer. They tried to pretend that that was not so, but, if it were not so, I cannot imagine why it was necessary for either of them to mention the Exchequer at all. If they will look at Section 52 of the Act, they will see these words:The board shall within four months….prepare and submit to the Minister draft regulations for the purpose of subsection (3)….And, later on:If the draft regulations so laid are made otherwise than in the form of the draft submitted to the Minister, there shall also be laid before Parliament a statement of the Minister's reasons for, and a copy for the report of the board on, the variations and amendments made by him.The Minister, therefore, is responsible. The board have to report to the Minister as they consider to be right. The Minister then either accepts the draft regulations or does not accept them. He can do which he likes. When he has accepted, or has not accepted, the draft regulations, he brings them to the House of Commons, and it is most unfair for hon. Members in this House to suggest that the board has been influenced in any way whatsoever by pressure from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The hon. Member Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) and several other hon. Members have told us that, as a result of the operation of these regulations in their areas, there will be a reduction. To my mind that only goes to prove the necessity for the regulations. I can assure the House that, so far as my constituency is concerned—and I am going to mention the figures presently—there is not a single reduction whatsoever. On the other hand, all the figures are up.
§ Sir W. BRASS
That is exactly why it is necessary to have uniformity. Why, in some areas, should people on transitional payments be allowed to draw a larger sum from the Exchequer—not from the rates, I would point out to hon. Members—than in the area which I happen to have the honour to represent? I think that that is most unfair, and shows the necessity for both the Bill and the regulations in order to bring about uniformity all over the country. I do not deny that hon. Members representing areas in which the rates will be reduced will dislike that, and the people in their areas will no doubt dislike it, but in my area it so happens that the rates will be raised, and I am very glad of it, for the people there thoroughly deserve it. They have had a very bad time indeed; the rates have been far too low, and I have always protested against them. On many occasions I have spoken in the House on the means test, and have always said that the administration was quite wrong. I am glad to think that things will now be better. We have seen the character of the late Minister of Labour in the result of the deliberations of the board. Obviously he and the rest of the board have taken a great deal of trouble to go into all the little things that make up the income of a household. All the small things have been considered. I am particularly pleased to see the clause at the end of the regulations where they can have boots and shoes and clothes, and so on, if it be necessary. In certain cases I think that is necessary. In an area like mine there are very hard cases and, if the administration of the regulations be done in a humane way, as I feel convinced it will, the people will profit by it and things will be a great deal better than they were before. Even the "Daily Herald' said, on 12th December:A definite advance, on the average, in the standard of life of the million unemployed who will receive relief from the Unemployment Assistance Board is promised by the new scales issued last night. That is something to be thankful for."[Interruption.]
§ Sir W. BRASS
Perhaps the hon. Member has read the rest. If he has, he does not require me to repeat it to him. The words that I have quoted show that the "Daily Herald" appreciates the fact that there is an increase of £3,000,000. There is no doubt that things will be better. I do not say that they will be very good, I do not say that we could not have an improvement, but this is a step in the right direction, and certainly, as far as Lancashire is concerned, a good step. I propose to show where the differences will appear. The Lancashire County Council scales are certainly very low. The allowance for a man and wife is 23s.—that is raised to 24s.—and 15s. for a man is raised to 16s. For a man over 21 in the household the scale at present is 7s. only. That is raised to 10s. For young people from 16 to 21, 5s. is now raised to 8s. Children under 16 are now allowed 3s., and that is raised to 6s.
§ Sir W. BRASS
No, they are boroughs. I am not talking of the boroughs, but of the Lancashire County Council area.
§ Mr. MAXTON
The hon. Member said in his opening remarks that this was a substantial improvement for Lancashire.
§ Sir W. BRASS
No, I think the hon. Member is wrong there. I should not like to express an opinion on it, but I think it is the majority in Lancashire. It is certainly the whole of the Lancashire County Council area apart from the boroughs. I think savings have been treated reasonably, very much in the same way as they were treated under the Act itself. But, although I think things are better, there is one criticism that I have to make about the earning member of the family. He will now retain a good deal more than he was able to retain before. I will cite the example that I put before when I was complaining to the late Minister and showed that the earning member of a family was not allowed to retain 1045 for his own use sufficient to keep him in normal comfort. I will contrast it with what will happen now.
I take the family of a man with a wife, a son over 21 and two youngsters of 14 and 15. The man and wife get 23s., and the son 7s. under the county council scale, and the children get 6s. between them. Assume that the son is earning 40s., he is only allowed 6s. out of his earnings or a quarter whichever is less, the 6s. and the 7s. on the scale making 13s. for himself. Consequently, the total amount is 29s., 23s. for the man and wife and 6s. for the two children. The 7s. is cut off both sides. The amount available to the family is 27s. Consequently the amount that they are able to draw at present is 2s. What happens under the present scale? The man and wife get 24s. instead of 23s., the son gets 10s. instead of 7s., and the children get 6s. each instead of 6s. between them. Consequently, the total amount is 36s., leaving out the son. He is earning 40s. and he is allowed out of his earnings a third of the first £—that is 6s. 8d.—and a fourth of the next £—that is 5s.—and 10s. on the scale. That means that he is allowed, to keep himself, 21s. 8d. as against 13s. before. What is available on the new scale as the contribution to the household income is now 18s. 4d. instead of 27s. Consequently that particular household, which is now able to draw 2s. only, will in future be able to draw 17s. 8d. I think they will be more satisfied than they were before.
I should like to ask what are the special circumstances on page 5:Where special circumstances exist, the amount of such reduction may be decreased by a sum not exceeding 1s. 6d.In the Durham commissioners' report they did not take into account any lower rent. This is what they say:We have therefore decided to adopt 7s. as the uniform rate and, accordingly, an appropriate allowance has been made in cases where the rent and rates have exceeded this figure. No deduction has been made in cases where the rent is lower except where the applicant has been- living rent free, or practically rent free.What is going to happen to an owner occupier who is living more or less rent free? Will he be allowed any money that he has to pay in contributions for his house and so on? Although I have criticised the means test all the way through, and still criticise its administration, I 1046 think this is a definite step forward, and I am very grateful to the Minister for what he has done. I think the board have taken a very humane view of the conditions that exist in Lancashire, and I feel that, as a result, a great number of people in my constituency will be grateful to the Government.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Mr. E. WILLIAMS
The conclusion that I draw from the hon. Member's remarks is that he is opposed to the means test but he welcomes these scales.
§ Sir W. BRASS
I did not say that I objected to the means test. I objected to the administration of it. I think a means test is vitally necessary.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
The hon. Member objects to the administration of the means test, but he welcomes these regulations, and I have to assume that he welcomes them, because they possess a little more humanity than the representatives of the people in Lancashire who have been elected to the county council. We oppose them for precisely the opposite reason. The people of South Wales have been unemployed for many years, and they have been sufficiently intelligent to elect persons who would see that, as far as humanly possible, they had a square deal. These regulations and the Act itself have been deliberately designed to deprive the people of South Wales and such like areas who have been politically intelligent enough to elect representatives to give them humane consideration of that consideration. The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) conclusively proved that.
I have here the scales that apply in Glamorganshire. Except for the matter of a few shillings in regard to the first and second wage earner, the other figures in Monmouthshire apply almost to a penny as in Glamorganshire. In Glamorgan the Unemployment Insurance provisions apply for transitional payment, and the public assistance commitee apply transitional payments on precisely the same basis as the Act itself. It will be obvious to hon. Members that the unemployed in Glamorganshire who are dependent at the moment on transitional payments, and who in future will come under the board, will receive less than they receive to-day. South Wales is one of the most hardly hit areas in the 1047 country. I assume that most of the distressed areas are in a comparatively similar position, so that the depressed areas of this country, including South Wales, will have to pay the price for uniformity, that sacred word which has been thrown across the Floor of the House to-day. These areas will have to pay the price for the lack of political consciousness on the part of large areas of the country which have not elected representatives to the county councils and public assistance committees who will give them humane consideration.
I look upon the regulations and the Act under which the regulations are really framed as nothing less than an attempt on the part of the Conservative party, who dominate the Government, to purchase political prestige from the unemployed in those areas, where they have only elected representatives who were not prepared to give them a square deal. The representatives of Lancashire, according to the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass), were not prepared to give to the unemployed in respect of transitional payment something which he himself considered adequate. It means, therefore, that the Government have to purchase their prestige in areas like that by giving to the unemployed in those areas more than the elected representatives, namely, the Conservatives, were prepared to give them, and taking away from South Wales and the depressed areas where people had become politically conscious and were prepared to elect people who would give them a square deal. That is the primary purpose of these Measures; it is to disfranchise the unemployed because they were becoming more vocal in areas which were badly depressed and were determined that they would spur the elected representatives who were not prepared to give them a square deal ultimately to do so, or would elect others in their place. That was becoming patent in the municipal borough and county elections. The unemployed who were being badly treated were determined to have justice from their representatives. This has been evident in elections which have taken place comparatively recently.
The details of the regulations are of some significance, but the principle underlying them is certainly more important. I cannot understand the statement 1048 that was made by the Solicitor-General when he referred to the regulations. Regulations in this sense are not comparable with regulations passed during the regime of the Labour Government for the obvious reason that a Minister was then in charge of the matter. The Minister is no longer in charge; it is a board. The regulations are taken completely away from the House. When the Minister was in charge it was possible to question him. He was always here to reply on behalf of the Government on matters arising out of the regulations. The proposed regulations are to be placed outside the scope of the House of Commons entirely, and the elected representatives of the unemployed neither in this House nor in the constituencies in the country will have any right to represent their claims at all. The proposed regulations are not on all fours with the regulations referred to by the hon. and learned Gentleman in his statement. I make that statement because it is really the gravamen of our charge in this case.
The most defenceless people in this country are the persons who are primarily attacked in these Measures. The persons who come under the unemployment insurance scheme are mainly intermittent workers, but the people to whom I have referred are in fact the unemployed section of the community, and the regulations are so framed that in their implication the person who has been unemployed for a long period is regarded as primarily responsible for his plight, and consequently must be treated as someone distinct and separate from the rest of human society and of the unemployed persons who are fortunate to be employed intermittently. There is no justification for any hon. Members to conclude that the unemployed persons in receipt of transitional payment who will come under the regulations are primarily responsible for their plight, when they have been thrown on to the labour market because of industries closing down.
That is what the regulations imply, and now, after having been thrown upon the unemployment fund for long periods and having been compelled to trail from place to place to look for work when there was no work available, any small savings which they may have accumulated are to be taken from them. If they have educated their children and have striven to provide them with some security of vocation, 1049 the incomes of those children must also be taken into account in order to make up a deficiency for which the individual can never be held to be responsible. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) was right when he said that nothing more damnable could be conceived than that, having beaten down the individual, particularly in South Wales where, in my area, as many as 11 collieries have closed during the last two years, any little havings which he may have accumulated should be snatched from him, and that after he may have devoted a considerable amount of his savings to educating his children, the income of those children should be taken into account in order to make up a deficiency. Why should you take from such a man whatever little he has managed to accumulate?
I do not want to get off the regulations by discussing matters which may be too general, but we have had during the last week or so a Debate upon the distressed areas. The sum of £2,000,000 is to be allocated to the distressed areas mostly to help along charity organisations. I do not say that those organisations are not doing very beneficent work in one way or another, but these regulations are designed to snatch money from the very areas where the Government have decided to advance a sum of money. I see the probability of practically all the money that the Government propose under the Depressed Areas (Development and Improvement) Bill being taken from the areas and the individuals who require it most. In Glamorgan there is 25s. for the first wage earner, and £1 for the second wage earner, and here it is to be brought down to about 13s. 4d. Surely this is a significant consideration. It means that the family will be deprived of that amount. I do not Want to go into the figures which were covered pretty fully by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale yesterday and by my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery to-day, but every word uttered applied both to Glamorgan and to Monmouthshire. Families are being deprived of their income. It is sheer hypocrisy on the part of the Government to come here and talk about distressed areas and assert that they are helping distressed areas and then, in the following week, in Measures of this kind, to take away from those 1050 areas probably as much as they propose to give under the Depressed Areas Bill.
We know that in this matter we are in the invidious position that we cannot amend, but can only reject, these regulations, and I am certain that Government supporters will not reject them. These regulations will certainly substantially help the Government supporters to hold the seats which they have in agricultural areas. I do not say that they are designed for that purpose, but they are endeavouring to purchase by these Measures, as they are with many others, such as their marketing schemes, a longer period of life. They are taking from the distressed industrial areas money which those areas are now receiving in order to bolster up their prestige and political power as far as possible in areas where they have not had anything like as progressive representatives upon the public assistance committees. Supporters of the Government to-day and yesterday have said that these regulations are for the purpose of bringing about uniformity. That means that we must take away from those who are receiving the maximum in order to bring about a mean level, by giving more to others. What was there in the way of these regulations being made to give the maximum? What was there in the way of framing the regulations, if the means test is to apply, so that persons would not receive one penny-piece less than if they were in receipt of unemployment benefit? Nothing at all, except the purpose of saving money.
We hear that the scheme is to cost £3,000,000 more. How is that figure computed? To what does it relate? We are told that it relates to July of this year. Was the 10 per cent. completely restored then? We have knowledge of places where the 10 per cent. although it was restored in respect of unemployment benefit was not restored to transitional payments. The £3,000,000 may not be £3,000,000 extra, but that sum may make good the restoration of the 10 per cent. cut. That may be a supposition. However, I do put it as a fact that the 10 per cent. was not restored everywhere to transitional payments, although I agree that it was restored in regard to unemployment benefit. Therefore, when we are computing that this scheme will cost an extra £3,000,000 we are entitled to ask to what sum is it extra. One has to 1051 realise that when the 10 per cent. cut was applied it took £60,000,000 from the unemployed, and we are perhaps correct in stating that one-half of that amount was taken from the very people who will be hit so hard by these regulations. Some £30,000,000 have been taken from these people since the autumn of 1931, and have taken £30,000,000 from them the Government now apply the test in such a way that it is impossible for any members of their families ever to rise above the poverty line. It is impossible for any members of a family attached to any person in receipt of transitional payment at the moment or who will come under these regulations to rise at any time above the poverty line. It means that every member of the family will have to make a contribution, and to that extent there will be destitution in the family. They will not be put above the destitution level to as great a degree as they are now in Glamorgan and Monmouthshire. They will be actually below the present destitution level as admitted under the Poor Law in both counties by the public assistance committee.
The whole thing is framed in such a way that it will be impossible to exercise thrift. It will be no use talking to the working classes in future about being thrifty. It will be no use talking to the working classes about thrift being a virtue, when by measures of this kind you keep the working classes right down on the level of destitution. If at any time any person in industry has the misfortune to come out of work, not intermittently unemployed but out of work, you will make him and his family in perpetuity pay for the misfortune. The whole Measure is designed for that purpose. It is designed to make working people poor and to keep them on the lowest possible standard of subsistence. That is the reason why it has been framed. Having brought these people to the lowest possible standards of subsistence by way of the means test, you then politically ostracise them. You will not permit them to elect an individual to the public assistance committee to whom they can plead for assistance.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Yes, they can do that, and I am hoping that they will do it. I am hoping that they will realise exactly what it means to them. I am hoping that they will realise that if they cannot obtain justice by fair means they will obtain justice by foul means, but that they will obtain it in any case. That is the reason why the scheme is designed. It is a monstrous scheme and the Government ought to be ashamed of themselves to prate humanity and justice and place regulations of this kind before us.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mr. MAGNAY
A great deal has been said about the unreality of this Debate. It has been contended by hon. Members opposite that whatever the result of the Debate it will only end one way, and that is that the regulations must be accepted willy-nilly, all or nothing, and that it is, in fact, a sham Debate. I cannot help thinking that there is a great deal of unreality in that contention. If I remember aright, after reading the OFFICIAL REPORT of the doings of the last Government, when they passed the Anomalies Act they made regulations which can be compared to those under discussion today. It is an extraordinary proposition that what is a right and proper thing for the Labour party to do is a very wrong thing for us to do on the Government side. In one sense, I can understand the position of people who voted against Part I of the Unemployment Insurance scheme. They would prefer a non-contributory scheme. Those of us who have fought elections remember the cry of the Socialist party—I do not complain about it, because it is their philosophy and their creed—"work or maintenance." They seem to forget that if the State is to maintain those who are unemployed then the State must be able to say what they will do with the unemployed and what work they shall make them do, as they do in Russia.
I remember reading the writings of a great apostle of Communism in Russia. He said that when the Socialist State was brought into being in Russia there must be iron discipline. We know there has been revolt in that great land. How Socialist friends of mine, whom I have met on the platform in the North country and with whom I have debated for and against Socialism, can deny their own creed and philosophy by opposing 1053 State control, as these regulations are in many respects, whether they like it or not, is beyond me; it is one of the mysteries of life. The capitalist system is very hardy and lively. We are spending not only £500,000,000 per annum on social services but under these regulations we shall spend another £8,000,000 on the top of that.
Complaint has been made, curiously enough again from the Socialist benches, against uniformity. I suggest that you cannot expect anything else but uniformity under State control of State money. I know cases of men who live just a few hundred yards apart, who are in precisely the same circumstances, but being judged by separate tribunals have different sums of money apportioned to them. They go to the same Employment Exchange and to the same counter of the Employment Exchange, but receive different amounts in money. That sort of thing must stop. It is not only an anomaly but a grave injustice, and a reasonable cause of complaint.
Last night the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) said that we were hypocrites to support these regulations. I have had the curiosity to read the OFFICIAL REPORT for the 3rd December, 1929. I have some reason to complain of what was done on that occasion because I happened to be a candidate in the election of that year, and one of the reasons why the party I represent was so badly beaten at the polls was that whilst we said we could cure unemployment the Labour party said that they would cure unemployment, there was no doubt about it whatever. They had everything docketed in such a way that they only had to touch a button and an infallible cure would present itself. Like rabbits being taken out of a hat. We did not have an earthly chance in that election. But what did the Labour party do when they came into office. They simply hypnotised the electors of this country. My hon. Friends from Glasgow opposite were more straightforward than the Labour party. Miss Lee, who was in the House at that time, moved to increase the amount in respect of each child from 2s. to 5s. I had almost forgotten to mention that the Labour programme of 1929 was 30s. per week for a man and wife, and 5s. for every child; that was the scale which the Labour party proposed. Miss Lee and the dauntless three 1054 in front of me thought that they really meant it, and the people of the country thought that they really meant it. Miss Lee moved to increase the amount in respect of each child from 2s. to 5s. We have heard a lot during these Debates about a docile Government majority who will always come to the crack of the whip. In reading the Debates on the 3rd December, 1929, I find that one Member of the Labour party, full of glowing sentiments, said that he would like very much to vote for the Amendment but that he would have to go—like a docile Member—into the Lobby and vote for the Government, although as he said, "his heart-strings would be tugging."
§ Mr. MAGNAY
I am not quite certain but I think it was Mr. Hayday. But Members of the Labour party, the docile majority in this House, who got here by false pretences and then never tried to implement their promises, went into the Lobby and voted 210 against Miss Lee's Amendment, with a meagre 27 in favour of it. My three hon. Friends opposite were amongst the 27 and also the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health and the present Minister of Transport. Why did these hon. Members support the Government on that occasion? What was their reason? Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy gave the reason in reply to the hon. Member for Bridge-ton (Mr. Maxton). He said that if they did not keep together and fight the Amendment the Government would go out of office. That was their reason for opposing the Amendment; not that there was any need for these poor folk to have the money. The reason was that if they did something humane the Government would go out of office. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) will remember that on that occasion he moved the Closure, and his chief lieutenant (Miss Bondfield) said that she must harden her heart against the proposal. The less hon. Members of the Labour party talk about hypocrisy the better.
§ Mr. MAGNAY
I deserve that rebuke. It is an entirely different proposition. The country has a right to expect better things from this Government. They have put the country on its feet, made it 1055 financially stable, and even made it possible to do the things it has attempted to do. The hon. Member is quite right, conditions are different, and it is because of the National Government. Therefore, I am supporting them. I have given some examination to these regulations and have worked out carefully what they mean. It is true that since 1930 up to the present time a single man has received 17s. and that he will now receive only 15s., and that a man and wife will get 24s. whereas in the county of Durham at the present time they get 26s. A man, wife and child will now get 28s., the same as they have previously obtained. A man, wife and two children of any age will get 30s. per week, and a man, wife and two children will not get less than 30s. per week under any of the regulations, and may get as much as two guineas per week. There is a flexible allowance for rent, and in high rental districts, such as my own, this will be a great benefit to poor people.
I must say that I was rather perturbed at the week-end in finding that in Gateshead as many as 17½ per cent. of the married people have no children. I thought the figure was less than 10 per cent. It may be that these new regulations will impinge harshly on them, but one has to consider the balance of advantages, and almost 50 per cent. of our married people who have families have large families. The balance of advantage will come to the children, and the test of our civilisation is the answer to the question, do we take care of child life? The benefit will come in increasing measure through these regulations to the children, at any rate in my constituency.
I think there is a great deal to be said for the fact that men and women will be benefited by being taken off the Poor Law, by having that stigma taken from them, and by being put on a proper financial basis. On the balance of advantages I think that the regulations are good for the whole body politic. As the learned Solicitor-General said to-day, everything depends upon the human temper in which the regulations are carried out. Because I know something of the personnel of the Unemployment Assistance Board, and because I think that Civil servants have not lost all feelings of humanity, I am prepared to trust them as plain English- 1056 men who know what the people of the country need, and trust them to deal with this matter in a humane spirit. I think the Government have done very well to follow the example of the Labour party in bringing in regulations to implement their Act. To whatever party we may belong we all hope that the regulations will mean the betterment and more humane treatment of our people.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mr. GEORGE HALL
The hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay) will pardon me if I do not follow him in the arguments that he has used. I had better leave him to the tender mercies of the electors of Gateshead, who will want to review his record, not on what took place in 1929, but on what has taken place since the advent of the present Government. I have no doubt as to what the verdict of the electors of Gateshead will be. We are dealing with the regulations drawn up by the Unemployment Assistance Board, and we must take into consideration what I regard as their lack of knowledge of the great human problem which was entrusted to them. The inadequacy of the scales laid down in the regulations is an indication that they did not fully realise the great task which they had to undertake.
I shall not deal further with the Unemployment Assistance Board, because the Government must make themselves responsible for these tables. Whoever was reponsible for them, the Minister or the Government or the board, did not appreciate that they affected some millions of people. I have heard certain figures mentioned. Some suggest that 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 persons will be affected. Others have suggested that, including the dependants or the persons whose incomes will be taken into consideration in assessing the payments to those who are to come under the control of the board, the total is 6,000,000 to 7,000,000 persons. That shows the magnitude of the problem. One hon. Member has suggested that the country should be divided into various districts so that we can see the full effect of the proposed scales, that the distressed areas should be mapped out because it is in the distressed areas that the greatest suffering will occur as a result of the operation of the scales.
Take the position in one of the most depressed areas, that of South Wales. 1057 The commissioner who investigated the conditions there stated that of the unemployed no fewer than 75 per cent. had been unemployed for more than 12 months. In the county of Glamorgan alone, apart from the able-bodied unemployed now in receipt of public assistance relief, there will be 70,000 persons to be transferred from the transitional benefit that they receive to-day and brought under the control of the Unemployment Assistance Board, and they will be paid their benefit upon these scales. What must be remembered is that in a number of these areas, especially in the county of Glamorgan where there has been humane administration of the means test, the fact that commissioners have come in to take the place of the elected representatives in arriving at the basis upon which transitional payment shall be made, is in itself a sufficient hardship without the reduction in the scales which will be enforced as a result of these regulations coming into operation.
I do not want to complain too much about the way in which these regulations have been submitted to the House, but when we take into consideration the number of people who will be affected, the mere fact of having regulations of this kind, with a short memorandum and a Debate of three days, is not sufficient. It cannot be said that in the reply of the Solicitor-General or in the opening statement of the Minister we have had any elucidation either of the principles underlying these regulations or of the details of the regulations themselves. I wish to put some questions to the Solictor-General and I trust that he will pass them on to the Parliamentary Secretary in order that we may have an explanation to-morrow evening upon the points which they raise. The Solicitor-General dealt with the question of part-time employment in connection with the basic wages which are to be taken into consideration in this matter.
I wish to put this case to him. Transitional benefit is now paid more or less upon a daily and not a weekly basis. The scale which is now to be fixed for a householder and his wife is 24s. a week. Take the case of a person in receipt of transitional benefit who works three days in a week and earns 8s. per day. Under present conditions a man in that position who has a wife dependent upon him is entitled—in addition to the 24s. wages 1058 which he has earned by three days work—to three days transitional benefit, making another 13s., so that his income in all for that week amounts to 37s. What will be his position under these regulations? If a man in those circumstances works for three days and earns 8s. per day, does it mean that he has reached the scale laid down by the Unemployment Assistance Board of 24s. and that there will be no additional income at all, nothing to supplement the three days wages and that 24s. is the amount upon which he and his wife will have to depend for their subsistence during that week?
There is another very important point. Reference has been made to the discretion of the officers under the Unemployment Assistance Board. Both the Minister and the Solicitor-General indicated that we were not to take the scales laid down here as being rigid scales. They said that on almost every question that was likely to arise the officers under the board would have a certain discretion and I understood the Solicitor-General to suggest that that discretion would be used in the most generous way. Reference has also been made to the fact that there is an appeal to the tribunal but I understood when the Measure was passing through the House that it was not every person who could appeal and that a person desirous of appealing had to receive, first, the consent of the chairman of the tribunal before he could do so except in a few special cases. Assume that I am an applicant, that the local officers under the board have fixed my income from the board at 24s. with a variation for rent and that I feel that my case, involving, perhaps, some special point as regards rent, ought to be submitted to the tribunal. I understand that as long as the officer under the board has treated me strictly in accordance with the regulations issued by the board, even the chairman of the tribunal could not give me permission to appeal. I would like that point to be dealt with by the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies.
I would like to supplement what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) in comparing the scales now issued by the board with the scales at present in operation under the public assistance committees. The hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass) may be correct 1059 in his references to the position in Lancashire but it is well known that in the matter of the administration of relief the Lancashire County Council is one of the most reactionary authorities in the country and that their scale is one of the very lowest. When we come to populous districts such as the counties of Durham, Glamorgan and Monmouthshire we find that those persons in receipt of public assistance or relief will be much better off than those persons who will come under the Unemployment Assistance Board. The scale is higher in almost every case. At present in the county of Glamorgan a couple, not in receipt of pension, living in their own home receive an income of 27s. 6d. per week and in other cases a married couple can get 25s. a week. Rent allowance is paid up to half a rental of 8s. per week or a maximum of 4s. per week. Compare that with the scale which will be in operation for the 70,000 persons now in receipt of transitional benefit in Glamorgan. Notwithstanding the fact that the public assistance rate in that county is between 8s. 6d. and 9s. in the £, the present county scale of relief is much more generous than the scale of which we are here asked to approve for those persons now in receipt of additional benefit.
There is another question concerning rental. The Government must know that even persons in receipt of full benefit under the Unemployment Insurance Act find it impossible to pay the rents prevailing in a number of districts. They may be able to do it for a short period but in industrial districts where there has been prolonged unemployment there has been a linking up of families in this sense that married sons and daughters have moved back to the homes of their parents and are now sharing those homes while in other cases parents have moved into and are sharing the homes of married children. In a very large percentage of cases we find two families, each in receipt of unemployment benefit, sharing one house for the purpose of saving a certain amount of rent. Under this scale persons living under an inconvenience of that kind will be considerably penalised. In industrial districts like the county of Glamorgan the average rental for working-class homes, not in the towns or the in other districts, varies from 7s. 6d. to residential areas adjoining the towns but 1060 10s. a week. Where two families occupy one house and share the rent of it, paying, say, 5s. a week each, under these regulations they will not get the 24s. laid down in the scale because the rental of each family is not equivalent to 7s. 6d. per week. It appears that they will suffer in almost every possible way.
§ Mr. PIKE
If the hon. Member's contention is true, he is suggesting that where a house is sub-let there are two tenants, but actually he knows that where a married son or daughter lives with the parents for the purpose of sharing the rent, or relieving what would be the rent burden, one of the two families is actually the tenant and is responsible for payment of the rent. Therefore, even under this scheme, that tenant would receive benefit, according to the regulations.
§ Mr. HALL
If the hon. Member will read the regulations, he will see that there is provision for sharing or sub-letting, and those rentals will have to be taken into consideration. It is a question of sharing a house, and then, as the rent is halved, it is the Unemployment Assistance Board which will get the advantage rather than the families who have to suffer the inconvenience of living in the same house.
§ Mr. HALL
Again my hon. Friend misses the point. Let us assume that I live with him in a house, which is not very possible, and the rental of the house is 9s. a week. Instead of my paying 9s. a week, which I understand from the regulations would entitle me to an increase in my allowance, we should pay 4s. 6d. a week each, with the result that, instead of my getting an addition to my 24s., I should have a reduction, simply because I had to put up with the inconvenience of the hon. Member living with me in my house. If I am wrong, I shall be happy if the Solicitor-General will pass that point on to the Parliamentary Secretary for reply. It is of very great importance. There must be thousands and thousands of cases in the country where conditions of that kind prevail.
I will not go into the general question of the scales, but upon an already hard-hit percentage of the population these 1061 regulations will impose further hardship. I know that in those great industrial districts where we have the heavy industries, where men are independent, and where, until the depression has overtaken them, they have been able to maintain themselves by their own efforts and earn fairly reasonable wages—I will not put it higher than that—the fact of their being unemployed for nine or 12 months is bringing them into a condition of hopelessness and despair. In those areas where they have had a public assistance committee which has been generous in interpreting the means test, or has paid them the full scale, as was the case in the county of Glamorgan, those people now feel that this further imposition will drive them down lower and lower in the social scale. I would that the Government would realise that the longer a man is unemployed, the more he is in need of sympathy and financial assistance.
I understood that when the Unemployment Insurance Act came into operation in the first instance, the scales were fixed as low as they were because it was felt that persons who became unemployed had a certain amount of reserves which they could call upon for, say, three or six months; but the Unemployment Assistance Board is dealing in every case with men and their dependants who have been unemployed for longer than 12 months, some for two years, some for three years, and some for even longer, with clothes worn out and boots and furniture needing to be replaced. They could do with a very substantial increase instead of a reduction. After the rent allowance has been taken out of the 24s. for a married couple, there is 16s. 6d. left for two people to maintain themselves in food and clothes and to provide fire and light and all those things which are so necessary, even to the unemployed.
Living in the village in which I live in South Wales there are dozens and dozens of people who were brought up with me, men who went to school with me and worked with me, men as good as I am, only I have been just a little more fortunate than they have. Even under the transitional benefit which was paid them, they were very badly off, but under these new regulations they will be infinitely worse off. I can see that, with the amounts allowed in the scale for children and adults, especially in those areas 1062 where you have the heavy industries, you may have two, three, or sometimes four sons living at home with their parents, with each of those sons over 21 years old, until the regulations come into operation, receiving 17s. a week. In a case where the father was working and where you had a son receiving a smaller amount than 17s., as was assessed for the means test, the difficulties of sons living at home were great enough then, but now, with 24s. a week paid for father and mother, 10s. for the first son, and 8s. for each additional son, it must mean that there will be a considerable amount of feeling, and these young people will be driven from their homes. You will have thousands of casuals going from one part of the country to another, looking for work, and your workhouses will be filled with decent young men who, if the Government had only done their duty to them, would either have been provided with suitable work or else given adequate maintenance.
We thought, when we passed the 1929 Act, that we should prevent, as we did, a number of people going from one district to another looking for work, seeing that we removed the not-genuinely-seek-ing-work Clause, but I put it to the Solicitor-General and to Members supporting the Government, Do they for a moment think that a son of theirs who had been unemployed for 12 or 18 months could be kept by them with the necessary food and clothes and with the home amenities which these young people are entitled to receive, on 8s. or 10s. a week? A young man in employment in South Wales, depressed as industry is at the present time, has to pay 20s. a week before he can get full board and lodgings—[An HON. MEMBER: "More."] I put that as a minimum. Now, if he is residing with his parents, they are to be expected to keep him in food and clothes and to give him all that could be given him under the conditions under which he lives for 10s. a week in the first instance and 8s. in the second.
I would that the Government would consider withdrawing these regulations, because they must realise the suffering which they will cause. I really cannot understand the Unemployment Assistance Board, made up of the persons who make it up, consenting to regulations such as these being submitted to the Government for their approval. I really cannot 1063 understand the Government approving these regulations and submitting them to the House, knowing that they must bring suffering to tens of thousands of the very best people in the country. I feel that my colleagues on these Benches share my view in this matter and that they wash their hands entirely of the regulations. We place the responsibility for them entirely upon the Government, and we will from this time until the General Election takes place point out to the electors what the Government feel is the true value of those men and women who have helped to build up the industrial life of this country.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. SUTCLIFFE
Whatever else can be said of this Debate, it cannot be said that the Government have not given very full time for the discussion of the regulations. We have just had a very gloomy picture depicted by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall), but I feel sure that he is wrong. The Unemployment Assistance Board do not intend by their action to grind down the poor and to beat people down to lower levels. Their regulations are a genuine attempt to improve conditions over the country as a whole. They may improve the conditions in some parts and not in others, but they are an attempt to equalise conditions over the whole country. The board have made a good start, and I think the majority of the people think so already after reading the regulations. One has only to judge from the comments which were made in the daily Press of all shades of opinion to see how well they were received. Mention has been made of the "Daily Herald," which, I suppose, would be the paper most against the proposals. An extract has been read from a leading article in that paper, and I propose to read it again and to add a little, as we were asked to do by hon. Members opposite. The extract is:…a definite advance on the standard of life of the million unemployed who will receive relief…something to be thankful for…more than we hoped and better than we feared.That, coining from such a paper, is worth consideration. These regulations deal with the three most serious criticisms that have always been made against transitional payments. First, they create uniformity. Lack of uniformity in Lan- 1064 cashire was a serious complaint. One of the worst features of the old scheme was the difference in the rate between the county and the county boroughs, and we welcome the fact that this absence of uniformity is to be put right. Secondly, they deal with the question of the children. It is realised at last that as a child grows older it needs more nourishment and becomes more expensive. Recognition of that fact has been lacking for a long time, and the flat rate is now superseded by a gradually increasing rate which has been urged by enlightened people for a long time. Thirdly, the regulations deal with the equalisation of the rent and a definite standard of rent is to be taken. The board have done well in addressing their attention to these three points above everything else.
There have been many criticisms of the regulations, and we have heard some fantastic criticism from the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. E. Williams), who apparently thinks that Lancashire is taking some of the benefit which South Wales formerly had. We have also read criticism from a former Lord Mayor of a big city in the north, who says that it is a vicious proviso that allowances should not equal wages. If we make allowances equal wages we ignore the whole basis of assistance, which is really meant to tide a man over a period in which he is out of work. It may be a year or more than a year, but it is a transitional period between one job and another. The vast majority of people in employment agree that wages for work should be higher than assistance. If you ask the average man in employment if he wants a man who is out of work to receive as much as he gets for a full week's work, he will say "No." The incentive to work would be lost. A man likes to feel at the end of a week's work that he is getting his wages for a week's work well done. Take an average case of a family under these regulations. A man and his wife get 24s., for two children under five, 3s. each, for one child between five and eight, 3s. 6d., and for one child over eight, 4s. That makes a total of 37s. 6d. for the week. It does not compare unfavourably with the wages of many workers in the cotton trade, where the wages are not high. Although it is above the wages of agricultural labourers in many cases and 1065 of some labouring classes, it is less than the average rates throughout the country.
I want to put before my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary one or two points which have arisen. There are some fears that people who are now on transitional payment owing to some physical disability may not in future be classed as able-bodied and will be thrown back on public assistance, and that thus the expenditure incurred by public assistance authorities will be increased. That to some extent would invalidate the good that the board hope to do. I urge that a reasonably wide interpretation should be given of the word "able-bodied," for it would be a pity if such men were thrown back on the public assistance authorities. Then again, there is the position of the men who served many years in the Army and who have not a disability pension but a service pension. I saw in the Press a letter from one of them who said:I see my class, the old service pensioner, has been left to fade away as usual.He adds that he was in the Army for 23 years, the best years of his life, and that he has now a pension of 19s. 3d. a week. All that will be taken into account by the board. Such men are not skilled. Before the War they acted in many cases as caretakers, doorkeepers, and in other jobs which did not call for much physical effort, but in these days the disabled ex-service men have largely taken their place. They are often too old to work and have nothing but public assistance to supplement their pensions. They are a class whose case, when opportunity arises, ought to be taken into serious consideration.
Then there is a question which is of local interest to my part of Lancashire rather than of national interest, although, no doubt, a similar position may arise in other parts of the country. I understand that the country is being mapped out into different areas, all more or less of the same size. In some cases this has resulted in the headquarters of the area being placed a long way from even quite large towns in that area, and a loss of time and a lot of trouble and expense will be involved when people in the area have to go to the headquarters. Often, too, it will mean a visit to a strange town. That is certainly so in the case I have in mind. I am referring to 1066 the town of Shaw, which has been included in the area of Rochdale, which is some miles away. It will be necessary for people in Shaw to go to Rochdale if they have to state their case with regard to a change of circumstances. If any travelling has to be done I submit strongly that the people in Shaw should go to Oldham—their town is quite close to the boundary of the county borough of Oldham—instead of being required to travel some four miles each way as is the case if they go to Rochdale. But why should it be necessary for them to travel at all? I understand that investigators are to go to the homes of applicants to help them in filling up forms and so on. Could not any change of circumstances be notified to them? Surely that would be a simpler and easier way for all concerned; or, failing that, could not one of the officials who visit the applicants in their homes attend at the Employment Exchange where the payments are being made. This question of travelling has aroused considerable feeling in the district, and I put forward my suggestions for the earnest attention of the Minister and the board.
Finally, I would point out that everything will depend on the sympathy, harmony and good will with which these regulations are carried out. Many matters will need explanation, many people will need instruction. There may be people who will not even know how much benefit they are to get, and perhaps, in odd cases, whether they can get benefit at all, and if they are not instructed they may lose that to which they are entitled. The regulations themselves show the great care which has been exercised in drawing them up and the effort made to deal with every possible point that can arise, and if we can apply these regulations in a spirit of helpful; ness such as I have suggested, I think the regulations, instead of proving to the detriment of the people, as has been suggested by Members opposite, will prove to be of definite advantage to them. In Lancashire they will certainly be of very definite advantage, in the county areas, to nearly everybody who will come under them, and I welcome them.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ Mr. SIMMONDS
The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall), after his relatively moderate speech, told the Government 1067 and its supporters that his colleagues would not be responsible for anything in these regulations. If there has been one characteristic of all the speeches of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Labour Benches, it has been their complete sense of irresponsibility. If one had listened to their speeches, culminating in the fantastic fulminations of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) yesterday, without knowing something of the social history of this country over the last 50 years, one might have imagined that the only members of the body politic who have any heart or any Christian conscience in this matter were to be found on the Opposition benches. But, fortunately, records laugh at this impudent suggestion. When even the oldest member of the Opposition was in his cradle the Parliamentary representatives of my city, John Bright and Joseph Chamberlain, were fighting this very battle on the Floor of this House and throughout the country. Indeed, although Mr. Glad stone was very cynical in the early days towards the Radicalism of Birmingham, he had the decency to utter these words in that city:It is, in my opinion, to the honour of Birmingham that she has held up the banner of a higher and holier principle.That was over 50 years ago; and with what impudence do hon. Members of the Opposition come here and stump about as if they and they alone had found out human values and the Christian conscience. What after all, is the burden under which hon. and right hon. Members on the Opposition benches labour? It is frankly this. Many of the areas they represent, after sponging for many months on the workers throughout the rest of the country, have had their bluff called, and will now have to toe the line through the regulations of the Unemployment Assistance Board. The hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. J. Reid) has laid bare the hypocrisy of the Opposition so far as the allowance for children is concerned. I think every hon. Member now knows two days, one in 1924 and one in 1929, on which interesting Parliamentary history was written which will prevent the Labour party, if they have any conscience, from speaking much more about the hypocrisy of our side of the House. But a most important point to which 1068 several Members have reverted including the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) with whom I agree to a certain extent, is this question of the proportion of the income of juveniles or younger members of the household which has to be taken into consideration when arriving at the determination of transitional payments. It will be within the knowledge of the House that in times past 25 per cent. only of the earnings have been allowed for personal purposes. That figure has now been raised to 33⅓ per cent. I am speaking of the area of which I know. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale in a speech represented that this was no compensation for working at all. Those were exactly the words that he used, because I copied them down.
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
The hon. Member has the advantage of quoting the OFFICIAL REPORT. Will he quote that passage where I said that it was no compensation at all. I think to the best of my memory I said that their compensation represented 6s. 8d. but they were expected to lead a standard domestic life represented by an allowance of 10s.
§ Mr. SIMMONDS
Whatever the hon. Member may or may not have said, what he has admitted to having said is sufficient for my purpose. His point was that if these juveniles or younger members of a family were retaining only 6s. 8d. or 11s. 8d. they have virtually no compensation for their work.
§ Mr. SIMMONDS
I believe that that is a degenerate attitude which most of the younger people in the country would condemn. It has been in the past a righteous and proper outlook for a young man or woman until they became married to support their family in such a way as they were from time to time able. Although they only have 6s. 8d. or 11s. 8d., they have the moral consideration of doing their duty. It is fantastic for hon. Members to come here and base their case on moral values and then refuse to take them into consideration.
I would like to ask the Government this question. When they speak of earnings here, is it clearly understood by the officials of the board that these earnings are the net earnings after such essential expenses as travelling, and meals that 1069 cannot very well be taken from home to the works, and other inevitable expenses of their employment have been deducted? It is useless to regard 6s. 8d. as a reasonable figure if this is not their allowance after extra expenses have been deducted. I feel strongly that this 6s. 8d. and 11s. 8d. should be quite free from any drain. This should strictly be a personal allowance. I do hope that the Government will give us something quite categorical on this point. It is fair, in this respect, particularly as members of the Opposition are so frequently referring to the preferential treatment given by the Government to the rich as opposed to the poor, to bear in mind that in the case of Income Tax the travelling expenses and meals of city clerks who come from dormitory areas are not deducted.
The importance of this matter, as the hon. Member for Aberdare stated, is that if these allowances of a personal nature are too low, you inevitably cause a breaking up of the home as the younger members of the family grow in years. In the City of Birmingham I went to immense trouble to find out the extent to which this was going on. I would not say the figures were serious, but they were a sufficiently large minority to make me very sensible of the humane question involved in this allowance. I feel that this matter becomes of the greatest importance when a young man, in particular, is anxious to marry. Marriage even from the point of view of the State is regarded as a desirable condition, and that desirable condition, I submit to the Government, they should not in any way prejudice. Even if my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary concedes my net figure without personal expenses, it is not reasonable to expect a young man earning 40s. a week, out of 11s. 8d., which has to provide for clothes and self comforts, to save for the purpose of getting married. I want to ask the Government whether they would entertain an application from a dependant in a household, to be allowed for a period of weeks prior to intended marriage an extra personal allowance in order that he might have a better chance of setting up a home? If the Government will deal with this question as I fancy it can be dealt with, on a strictly social and human basis, they will do a great deal to remove the misgiving which many of us have regarding transitional payments and regulations. If the Government 1070 would concede that intended marriage is a special circumstance within the meaning of the Act, they would do a very great deal to keep these children at home just before marriage, and prevent them, at a very dangerous interim period, from going out prior to founding a home of their own.
There is one other matter in regard to which I am gravely disappointed. According to Regulation VI (2), a final assessment, where special circumstances exist, may be adjusted not only by way of increase but also by way of reduction. [An HON. MEMBER: "Shame!"] I am not going to agree that that is a shame. I think it is unfortunate and that it is a tactical error. In pounds, shillings and pence it is of very little importance. It seemed to me, before reading those words, that we could say to all who might come under the regulations, "There is your charter, these are the minima, and in special circumstances you may have more," but this paragraph is the sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of every applicant for transitional payments. The logic of the paragraph may be clear; if you give an increase you may also make a deduction, but is it worth it? Hundreds and possibly thousands of individuals will turn to these regulations for guidance as to their proper duty in defining the needs of applicants, and I believe that that paragraph will give the wrong sense of the Government's better intention in this respect. When we have further regulations on this matter, I earnestly hope—and I believe that on reconsideration the Minister of Labour will agree with me—that this reference to reduction will be eliminated.
While we are dealing with those who come within the purview of the regulations I should like in passing to remind right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen that there is another—indeed, there are other—very worthy classes of the community who are still not touched by the regulations. I refer, in particular, to the small shopkeepers and those who are sometimes regarded as hawkers, although they think their profession a very honourable one. Because these people have not been in the employment of others, but have had the backbone to launch themselves out on life's sea on their own initiative, trusting to their own 1071 right arm, when the evil day comes they have to fall back on the Poor Law which is the only thing that awaits them. Let us bear that in mind when we tend to think that all is well under these regulations. We may all like to see detailed changes in the regulations, but I challenge any right hon. Gentleman or hon. Gentleman on the Opposition Benches to deny that in many ways and to many people the Paper before us gives us operational effect to a great act of emancipation.
§ Mr. SIMMONDS
What I was saying, if the hon. Gentleman had listened to me more carefully, was that nobody on the Opposition Benches can deny that, although we may like to see detailed changes in the regulations, the regulations give operational effect to a great act of emancipation to tens if not hundreds of thousands of people who were previously under the Poor Law. One representative of my city, whom I previously mentioned, Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, gave first impetus to the urge for social reform in this country. Let us also take note that assistance on this scale would not have been possible to-day unless one of his sons, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, had given his assistance to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and urged him forward in this good task. It is no mean thing for the Chancellor of the Exchequer in these difficult times to have shouldered the responsibility of £3,000,000 a year extra on account of these transitional payments, and £8,000,000 in all.
I sometimes wonder what, in the modern political upbuild, the services of the Labour party are. It seems to me that their value is that they creat a hullabaloo not tied too closely to accuracy or veracity which has the effect of awakening some who are in the deepest sleep. As a Conservative reformer, I am indebted to them for that. Nobody knows better than they that it is not on their side that the practical reformers are to be found. Together with hon. Members who 1072 sit on the Liberal benches they had a very great opportunity of introducing legislation of this very type, but they proposed to carry on with the shouting and let the work of practical reform come from our side of the House. I assert without fear of challenge that the Unionist party have a great record of social legislation. I ask hon. Members of the Opposition to tell me what great act of social legislation they have ever introduced. We can smile at the criticisms of right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen and congratulate the Government on what they have done and urge them to continue fearlessly.
Origins are sometimes cruelly misunderstood and sometimes misappropriated. I heard from a schoolmaster recently that a pupil of his, writing an essay and referring to the sonorous timepiece on our building, said that Big Ben was erected by the British Broadcasting Corporation for broadcasting time. That is not so far removed in its fantasy from some of the claims that come from right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen of the Opposition. If the Government will not only not be weary in well-doing, but will continue to sound more loudly the trumpet of their achievements, we on this side of the House shall be better pleased.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. JOHN WILMOT
I am sure the House has listened with great interest and no little amusement to the speech of my hon.—and I think I might add without offence, virtuous, upright and superior—Friend the Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds). He appears to find himself on a plane of virtue entirely above the mean creatures which sit below him. Exactly why he feels like that I find it difficult to discover, since all except the beginning and the end of his speech was made up entirely of material uttered from these benches yesterday. He congratulated the Government at the beginning, and he congratulated them at the end, but all the rest of his speech consisted of pointed and damaging criticism of these very unsatisfactory regulations which have been placed before us for approval without amendment.
There is one class of persons that is going to be very seriously affected by these regulations. They are, perhaps, in no worse case than the others, but they 1073 are very apt to be entirely forgotten. I refer to the class of poor who belong, not to the manual workers, but to the clerical and brain-workers, who are going through very hard times just now. These people, who, from some old, mistaken sense of loyalty, have been the backbone of the Tory party, are treated by the Tory party with contempt and contumely. No matter what subject may be before this House, the poor clerk, or the executive worker who has come down on his luck, always gets a raw deal from the Tory party. Take the question of taxation. You will always find that he pays out of his income a high proportion of taxation, and that he is singled out for especially severe treatment when schemes of social service are introduced. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston will take note of this in rereading the social history of recent years, which I am sure he will find extraordinarily instructive. When schemes confined to manual workers are introduced by the Government, it is from these benches and from the benches below the Gangway on this side that the attempts are made to extend social insurance to the class of people of whom I am now speaking.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Dennis Herbert)
The extension of the classes to whom the Act applies hardly comes under these regulations.
§ Mr. WILMOT
I am sorry if I am transgressing the Rules of Order, but I think it is true to say that this particular class of people are very much affected by these regulations, because, not being within the Unemployment Insurance Acts, they are dealt with by this new board, and are now labelled with a very old label, which has a somewhat new meaning—the able-bodied poor. The clerk who is out of work, the salesman who cannot find a job, the engineer and the architect who are down on their luck, are now included among the able-bodied poor who are to be dealt with by the board. Therefore, I hope that, in referring to the regulations which affect them, I am keeping within the Rules of Order. I was saying that it was this party which has consistently pressed upon the House of Commons the wisdom and humanity and desirability of including the black-coated worker within the ambit of Unemployment Insurance——
§ Mr. WILMOT
I always thought that the hon. Member prided himself on being a student of Labour party conferences. He must have been sleeping lately, or he would have noticed in his reading that ever since the War this particular item has found a place in the Labour party's programme. There is evidence that the hon. Member has been sleeping in the fact that all over the country this particular class of persons, who for so long have been supporters of the Tory party, are now voting in increasing numbers for Labour candidates and returning Labour Members.
I want to point out again that the board and the scales which are now being discussed are going to have an enormous effect on this large and increasing class of poor. I sometimes feel that these people are in a particularly pitiable condition. They are outside the ordinary scope of social insurance, health insurance, and all the other social services which the State now provides. They contribute very liberally to the finance which is necessary for the provision of those services, but, when they come on bad times, they are just the able-bodied poor. The conditions of these people's lives seem to have been entirely overlooked by the board which has framed these regulations.
There is, for instance, the question of earnings—whether those earnings are to be regarded as the gross wage which the person receives, or whether there is to be an allowance for expenses incurred in earning that wage. In the case of this class of workers, those expenses can be very considerable indeed, especially if the person concerned has to bear the very heavy overhead charges which a black-coated London suburban resident is compelled to pay before he can carry on his occupation at all. It is hardly necessary to point out that those charges are in many respects just as high and irreducible for those who are working on the pitiably small wage which many of them receive as they are for others who are earning large salaries. There is the enormous expense of travelling in London, which may easily run away with 10s. or 12s. a week. To seek to reduce the cost of travelling by finding a home 1075 nearer to their work is only to add to the rent that has to be paid. When one looks at the sort of conception which the board seem to have of the rents that are payable, it would seem that they have entirely overlooked the needs of this class of persons. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is aware of it, but in my own constituency of Fulham, a place where thousands of workers of this kind live, people are paying, not 7s. 6d. and 10s. for a house, but 7s. 6d., 10s., and 15s. for a single room. There will be thousands of these London cases, because London is in many respects a depressed area. In dealing with them, are we to have an altogether different scale of allowances for rent, because unless we get that, the plight of the blackcoated poor will be infinitely worse under these regulations than now under the Poor Law authorities.
§ Mr. HUDSON indicated dissent.
§ Mr. WILMOT
If the hon. Gentleman will take pencil and paper and work out his scales in a typical case and compare them with what is being paid by the public assistance committee under the London County Council, he will find that the day on which these scales come into operation will bring an enormous cut in the standard of living of that family. If I am wrong about that, this Paper has no meaning. I hope I am wrong. I hope it will be possible for the hon. Gentleman to show in what sense I am wrong. It seems to me very necessary that the applicant should be in a position to know what he is entitled to, because all these democratic safeguards have gone. There is no appeal to the public assistance committee any more, and there is no appeal to the review of special cases committee under the public assistance committee and there is no final appeal to his Member in this House. It is now sheer bureaucracy. In dealing with bureaucracy, it is essential to know what you are entitled to get, and I defy anyone without legal training to say what any family is really entitled to under these regulations. There are all sorts of counter-balancing discretions which can be used this way or that way. I readily admit that in drawing the deductions that I have drawn I may not have made allowances for some of these "unknowns," but I have drawn them in 1076 precisely the same way that any other Member would draw deductions from this, and certainly in the way that the-recipient himself would draw them.
§ Mr. DUNCAN
Did not the hon. Member hear the Minister in introducing the regulations say that the question of rent in London was a case for special consideration under Regulation VI (2)?
§ Mr. WILMOT
I did, and it is because I heard it, and because I saw this reference to it in the Paper, that I wish to inquire what it means. What is the quantity of the discretion? Can the rent allowance be doubled? Can it be trebled?
§ Mr. WILMOT
Now we are getting to the heart of the business. If it depends upon need, we are going back to the guardians again. If it depends upon need, there is no meaning in these rent scales at all. If, on the other hand, it depends on the scale, with some margin of discretion one way or the other, we are entitled to know how wide that margin is. This question of rent is a vital point. Rent will eat up two-thirds of the total earnings of some of the London black-coated poor. What they are going to get by way of allowance will make the difference between life and starvation. We are asked to approve this Paper, and we are entitled to know what the regulations mean before we approve them. Neither the Minister nor the Solicitor-General, nor Members who have tried to contribute some moiety of information to the Debate, have told us what these discretions mean or how far they are to go. The rent question is important. The travelling expenses question is important too.
Let us look at one or two other problems that arise for this black-coated working class. Take the question of clothing. It is vital to the clerk, the shop assistant, and the professional man out of employment to maintain an appearance which will enable them to apply for and to get a job. It is all right as long as their boots are leaking at the bottom only. When they begin to leak at the top, they are unemployed for ever, because they can never present themselves with the necessary tools of their trade. Will clothing be a special allowance under this scheme?
§ Mr. DUNCAN
Where special circumstances exist, and in particular where special expenditure is necessarily incurred in connection with a person's employment, the amounts of the foregoing allowances may be adjusted in such manner as is reasonable in all the circumstances.
§ Mr. WILMOT
The hon. Member has not only read it very clearly, but he has emphasised the very important point in it—the qualification. I ask the House to consider how important this is. In London, there are probably 10,000 or 20,000 unemployed clerks. If one could collect them together, they would make up one whole borough of poverty and misfortune. One can imagine that "special" means that some of these people are in a special class as compared with the others, and when these special people in that class have peculiar difficulties or claims the authority may—not "shall" but "may"—exercise this discretion. But, if it means that, the whole thing is unjust and unreasonable. If, on the other hand, it means something else—I hope it does, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman hopes it does too—if it means that the entire black-coated working class are going to have their clothing expenses regarded as a necessary expense of carrying on their work or of being in a position to get work, that is an entirely different meaning of the word "special." It is not the individual in the class who is special, but the whole class is special within the community. It seems to me that, in asking the Minister to define these things and to give the House some indication of what the Paper means, we are not asking anything unreasonable. We are asking for information which it is essential to have before anybody can come to a right judgment as to whether these regulations ought to be approved or whether they ought to be disapproved and sent back to the board for them to produce a more humane, reasonable, and, indeed, definite scheme where everybody will know exactly to what they are entitled.
These blackcoated poor, among whom are to be found brilliant and able people, 1078 among whom, in the workings of our economic system which the hon. Member behind me was so anxious to support and uphold, are people who are being squeezed out of employment by amalgamation and the trustification of industry and by the falling demand for specialists and professional men. The most tragic of all the cases is that of the professional man and his wife, who, having brought up a family and being used to a reasonable standard of life, find themselves at 40, 45 or 50 without a job, with their small savings gone either in maintaining themselves or having been filched away from them by some bogus company promoter—they are often the special victims of such operations—they find themselves at last, when the evening is beginning to set in, among the able-bodied poor. Now they are to have their lives ordered and regulated by this set of regulations against which there is no appeal, and neither they, nor I, nor any Member of this House know, and, I make so bold as to suggest, that neither does the Minister know, to what those people are entitled from the State to which they have contributed liberally in the days when they were able to do so. I think, therefore, that the hon. Member behind me should think again and should ask himself whether, if he really cares for those for whom he was speaking, he would not do well to assist the party which he has reviled, to point out that these regulations are bad regulations, and to ask the Minister to go back to the board and ask for something more decent and more definite.
§ 10.8 p.m.
§ Mrs. TATE
The speech of the hon. Member for East Fulham (Mr. Wilmot) was very moving, were it not that a large part of it had no relation to actual fact. A large proportion of the people for whom he spoke in such moving terms are now to have benefits which are quite definite, and which they will have without resort to the Poor Law and to which in the past they have had no recognised right whatever. I do not think that there is anything particularly moving or pathetic about that. On the contrary, it is a matter about which everyone who is sincere must feel greatly rejoiced, because it is at last being done. With regard to the scales. We have heard ceaselessly in the past of the differentiation in 1079 different districts, and of the injustice of the scales in one place being different from the scales in another. Under these regulations the scales are being made as uniform as possible, and are being regulated. It is impossible when you regulate scales to get the maximum of what has been given in the past all over the country. I do not think that any just person would claim that it was possible or desirable for the maximum given in any one area to be given all over the country. We have to remember when we legislate here that we are not only legislating for the unemployed, much as we sympathise with them, but that we are also legislating for and guarding the interests of the employed worker who contributes to the maintenance of the unemployed worker. I think that on the whole these scales have been drawn up with very great care and a greater regard to family life and family need than any scales have ever been drawn up before.
I would, however, point out one thing which causes me very grave disquiet. Under the new scales we notice that women are not to get the same scales as men. We have ceaselessly been told that unemployment benefit was not supposed to be considered an adequate sum upon which to live, and that it was a sum which was paid to tide over a period of unemployment in the hope that the worker would come into employment again, and that he would perhaps have a few savings from his past employment. These people do not come under that position. They are the destitute. Therefore there is no reason for their scales to follow unemployment scales as regards the differentiation of the pay of men and women. When you are dealing with the destitute, I suggest that a destitute man and a destitute woman cannot be kept for a different sum of money. There has been a great deal of talk in the House to-day of the worker who is saving up to be married. I would point out that the women who come under the scales are the mothers of the future generations. I do not think that anyone could wish that those future mothers should live for months on the verge of destitution. For instance, in the past in Middlesex we have given a man or a woman lodging in a house an equal scale of 15s. Under the new regulation the man is to get 16s. and the woman 14s.
§ Mrs. TATE
If they are in a lodging-house, one gets 14s. and the other 16s. under the new regulations. I have yet to find the omnibus which charges separate fares for a woman, the landlady who charges less because her lodger is a woman or the shop that provides more cheaply for a woman than for a man.
There is another very important point which has not been stressed so far by any Member who has spoken on this matter, and that is the question of rent. We are all thankful to be told that where rents are high, especially in the London districts—my district, although not strictly in London is in the Metropolitan Police area, and the rents are so high that they would count certainly as London rents, for no rents could be much worse—there is to be special consideration of rents in those areas. But how are the rents to be assessed? If you come to these scales you find that the larger a man's basic scale allowance, the larger is his rent allowance going to be. I should be glad if I could have an answer from the Parliamentary Secretary on this point. If a man has four grown-up sons, one of whom is over 21, and the other three between 18 and 21—and that is not a very exceptional circumstance—he would get 10s. for his first son and 8s. for the other three sons, that is 34s. less a 1s.—33s.—for his four sons. If, on the contrary, he had a daughter over 21, 2s. would be taken off, and if one of the other children over 18 was a daughter, 3s. would be taken off. Three shillings out of 33s. is a very large sum indeed, and the position is much worse if it is the sum upon which you are to base rent, because a man who has four sons does not need the same accommodation as the man who has two adult sons and two adult daughters.
That is a point on which I have heard no explanation given. We are told that special consideration will be given to special circumstances. Are we to understand that the having of daughters is going to be considered a special circumstance? [Laughter.] I am sorry that the House should laugh, because it is a vitally serious point. It is a point of substance. We are told that rents are going to be based and enlarged on basic scale allowances. Where the family con- 1081 sists of sons the basic scale allowance will be larger. Where they have daughters it is going to be less, although they need more accommodation. It is a very serious point and one which requires a very serious answer. So serious do I consider the point that nothing will induce me to vote for these regulations unless I can have some satisfactory assurance on the point.
We know that the drafting of these regulations must have been extremely difficult. I do not take the view of the Opposition. They naturally oppose all these regulations because since they have been in Opposition they have always allowed themselves the luxury of throwing over the policies to which they adhered when in office, and they have naturally thrown over the means test. I regard some means test as essential. I also believe that members of the family should contribute to the family budget, but I hope that under these regulations special consideration will be given to cases where a person has to come from a dormitory constituency into London and spend a large amount of money on fares. I hope that will be regarded as a special consideration—I am told it will—but I have not been told nor have I so far heard anything said to give me any hope that the rent allowance is going to be based on the difficulties of segregating the sexes. That is a very serious point. Also the proposal that women living alone in lodgings should be given a lower scale than men is a thing that is so incomprehensible to me that I am surprised anyone can vote for it.
§ 10.18 p.m.
§ Mr. JANNER
I was very glad to hear the hon. Lady speak in the way that she did. She has relieved me of the necessity of saying very many things that she herself has said. I have in my hand the scale for the county to which she referred, and I hope to give a few illustrations on the points she has raised. We in London are particularly anxious to see to it that the regulations shall be framed in such a way that they will not operate to the serious disadvantage of the workers in this great area. It is rather significant that nearly every hon. Member who has supported the Government, while agreeing that the regulations are good regulations, and that the Government have done a wonderful thing, has finished 1082 by asking very serious questions, by making very damaging allegations against the regulations as they stand, and by saying: "Unless I am satisfied on this point, I shall vote against or refrain from voting for the regulations." That is a very serious thing, because when the Minister opened the Debate he used some very significant language with regard to the regulations. I should like to quote them. He said:…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.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December, 1934; col. 833, Vol. 296.]In other words, the Minister accepted the regulations placed before him, has waited all this time to produce them to the House in the form in which they were brought up for his approval, and yet we are faced with criticisms from all quarters of the House. Let me go a step further. The right hon. Gentleman in what I thought to be a cynical manner said:This is the last Parliamentary step which remains after all the discussions of the past year…. These regulations have been long awaited and are extraordinarily important in their detail."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December, 1934: col. 834, Vol. 296.]Does not that bear out the point which we on these benches have made throughout the whole course of the Debate, that the regulations cannot be altered? We have to accept them as they stand, although everybody is discontented, and justifiably discontented, with one or other of them. Notwithstanding that, we are told that they must be accepted, whether we like it or not, as they stand, without any variation. We are not even given a promise that in three or six months time we shall have presented to us fresh regulations or fresh suggestions as a result of the working of these 1083 regulations. Some interesting points have been brought out even within the last half-hour. There is the important question of those who live in industrial centres, where men and women have to leave their homes and travel long distances to and from work. If they remain under the present regulations they will contribute towards the household. If their fares are not paid they will probably leave the household and not contribute towards their parents or those who are dependent upon them. The fares of these people are a tremendous item in many cases. Clothing is also a tremendous item.
Take housing. We have passed something which many people seem to have forgotten. We have decontrolled any number of houses. London is particularly affected. Is it a reasonable decontrol? If so, then the rents which these people are paying must be taken into consideration in their entirety. If the Government were right when they decontrolled houses, they cannot say that reasonable rents are being paid for houses and in the next breath say to another Department that they are going to regulate according to a different standard entirely the amount of rent which shall be allowed. Will the Minister of Labour tell us whether in London and in similar cities he is going to take the rent, which was considered by the Government to be a reasonable rent at the time of decontrol, and allow the whole of it to the people who occupy the houses?
Then there is the important question raised by the hon. Lady. I make no apology for repeating it. There is a different scale for a man and for a woman. Why in heaven's name, when you are down to rock bottom already, when the British Medical Association says that this in itself is not sufficient to sustain people—why make different regulations for men and women? Why are there different regulations for those who are above and below a certain age? The regulations in operation in some of the counties to-day are interesting, and I would quote the county to which the hon. Lady referred. In the case of the Middlesex scale an adult living alone or in lodgings gets 15s. to include rent. Under the new scale the male will get 16s. and the female 14s. Why? The adult male 1084 or female of 14 years upwards, living with relatives, gets 8s. according to the Middlesex scale. Here the male of 21 and over gets 10s. and the female 8s.; the male of 18 to 21 gets 8s. and the female Vs.; the male 14 to 18 years gets 6s. and the female the same. Why differentiate between them at all? A man and wife according to the present Middlesex scale have 15s. 6d., with rent allowance up to 10s., 5s. for the first child, and so on.
I do not want to weary the House with figures, but in these cases, which correspond very closely with those of the area that I represent, it is clear that the allowances, which have been considered and no doubt considered after very careful study, have not provided these new distinctions between men and women and between people of the age of 14 upwards and those of 18 and over 21. No. The position is this: The average rent in Greater London is about 17s. 6d. a week. I do not think that any London Member will say that a man and wife can occupy rooms at a less rental than that. They are certainly not doing so in my own area and in adjoining areas. If a man and woman happen to have two boys, the amount that will be allowed for the boys will be greater than if their children are a boy and a girl, and yet the girl must have a separate room in which to sleep. There is no regulation as to the rent that is to be allowed in respect of that additional accommodation which the girl would require. Then what about insurance? Are National Health Insurance and Unemployment Insurance to be allowed for? What about life insurance? Many people have spent years and years in contributing towards a small life insurance policy. Are they to be told that they have to stop? No.
I have not time, unfortunately, to develop my argument, as others wish to speak. I earnestly hope that before these regulations are accepted as they stand we shall have not only an explanation but an undertaking that there will be a revision of them within a reasonable space of time. I hope we shall be told that the points which have been raised will be properly and adequately dealt with, and that those who are in cities or in counties where the rents are so high and where the conditions are so hard on the black-coated workers and others, will be assured that there will be variations 1085 not merely depending on the word "may" but that there "shall" be allowances made, and that the allowances will be of such a nature as to enable a person not merely to exist below a reasonable standard, but to obtain sufficient sustenance to keep body and soul together in health and efficiency.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. LAWSON
Those who were present during the Debates on the Unemployment Act earlier this year and have also been present during the discussion so far upon these regulations must have been struck by the great contrast between the atmosphere of the House when the Act was being passed and the atmosphere of the House to-day. When the Act was passing through its various stages in this House there was an atmosphere of buoyancy and hope. We were assured in the Press and throughout the country that a new spirit would be generated by that Measure and that great things were to be expected when Part II of the Act came into operation. There were some of us who doubted those forecasts, not merely because we were in Opposition, not merely from a party point of view, but because we knew at first hand—particularly those of us who come from areas such as have been described by some hon. Members to-night—the condition of the great mass of the people who are now to be dealt with under these regulations.
During the Debate yesterday and to-day one has noticed a kind of hesitation, a spirit of doubt and questioning, represented notably by the very able speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Willesden (Mrs. Tate) but repeated in varying degrees by hon. Members in all parts of the House. Indeed, the speeches which have supported the Government in a forthright manner upon these regulations have been few and far between. I must say that I was astounded to observe how few Members appear to be able to move easily, on the assumption that they knew what their people are going to get when the regulations are put into operation. The general tone of the Debate has been one of questioning, as well it might be. I thought that even the Minister of Labour yesterday in his opening speech was a very different man from the one we hear in the House on other occasions moving lightly and playfully over the ground, and displaying certainty and assurance in dealing with the subject in hand. 1086 Yesterday the right hon. Gentleman appeared to be lifting one foot up very carefully and considering a long time before he put it down again. He was like a man moving through a land full of gins and traps and snares. Obviously he was not sure of himself in regard to his own regulations. Indeed he had no reason to be.
We were told that when we came to these regulations we would be dealing in reality with Part II of the Act but now I understand that that is not the case, and that we have yet to await a White Paper which gives further instruction and advice. As far as I can see, this is like a game of "hunt the slipper." It is difficult to find what anyone is going to get under these regulations. Indeed, I think that one of the things that we can be certain about is that if any Member of this House thinks that as a result of these regulations any unemployed man has a statutory right to anything, he is mistaken. That is the one thing that is certain. Members would do well to read the words of the Minister, in which he very carefully stated and underlined the powers of the commissioners as far as discretion was concerned, and that is laid down too in the draft which explains the regulations, where we have it definitely stated that the means test is not necessarily to be final and that there are special circumstances in which the commissioners have power to use their discretion. As a matter of fact, the Minister himself said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December, 1934; col. 839, Vol. 296.]On two or three different occasions he underlined that fact, that these are discretionary. I want to put it to the House that there is one thing that is certain about the regulations, and that is that those areas that are represented and have been under the consideration of the House most, those areas that have received most consideration, and that, it is agreed unanimously by the public and the Government, should receive consideration—those very areas are to be financially punished by these regulations. My 1087 hon. Friends representing South Wales have got very angry in many of their speeches about what they consider to be the effect of these regulations, and well they might.
I can imagine from experience what is coming to them. I come from an area which makes me almost the only unbiased Member in this House in this matter, for the simple reason that in our area we know already what the commissioners' work is and how these rules will work out. In the area that I come from it has been stated by the commissioner, the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, that £300,000 a year has been saved by the commissioners who have been working there. There are other areas which have sat back and said, "Yes, that is because they did not administer relief properly." They produced a few cases of what they called maladministration, which were never investigated and never proved, but I venture to say that those industrial areas that have had public assistance committees operating during the past three years will find, when these regulations begin to work, that they are put in the same category as Durham has been put in during the past few years, and they will find that they are treated almost as criminals by commissioners who come in. The Civil Lord of the Admiralty says that £300,000 a year has been saved in Durham, and the Government accept that as an official statement. How has it been saved? Has it been saved out of the handful of cases supposed to be evidences of maladministration? No, it has been saved out of the bodies and the very blood of the people in that area.
Our daily papers give us examples of women carrying blankets that have been sent by good people of the South. One area after another now adopts some village in order to help it in clothes and food. That is a disgraceful state of things for this country, and I tell this House that that is where these regulations will lead other areas all over the country. I speak from experience, and I do not want other great industrial areas to be treated in the way in which we have been treated. I have never accepted the principle of arguing upon standards of nutrition or malnutrition, on the British Medical Association standard or any other standard. It is 1088 not necessary. We can see with our own eyes where commissioners have been operating during the past two years, and I am sure there are hon. Members who come from the North of England who can speak with the same authority as I can. I have said in the House before, and I repeat, that I have seen a thing during the past two years which I never expected to see in my life. I have seen men who do not dress as we dress, who do not bother about collars, but who had ties and good clothes—they were not West End style, but they were very careful and clean and proud of their bearing and their clothes—I have seen those men in great numbers of cases going from one stage to another to a condition of things in which they have not only been unable to take care of themselves, but have become disheartened and have lost interest in themselves.
That is a menacing thing for any country, particularly when they are known to have been men of initiative, independence and integrity which is scarcely paralleled in the world's history. The Welsh miner is going in the same direction now. My hon Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) used strong language yesterday. The House knows that I am not prone in that direction, but I do not think he over-estimated the situation when he said that it was hypocritical that the House should one week deal with depressed areas and should next week reduce the amount that the people in those areas are to receive. While we are not certain what they are going to get, there is a certainty that the people in industrial areas will lose 2s. a week. The only certainty about these regulations is that people will lose something. In Durham a man and wife have been getting 26s. They will get 24s. now. They have managed to get along somehow or other, and it is said that they only live in colliery houses and do not pay rent and live a bit cheaper than other people. People who pay 4s. or 5s. a week rent will have something taken off. The unanswerable case is that these people will have their amounts lowered by 2s. a week because of lower rent, and I defy any Member, if he understood that fact, to vote for the regulations. It is certainly a very fine Christmas box which the workers will get from the Government.
1089 The hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay) had a few words to say to me, as had one or two other hon. Members, about the children's allowances. All I can say is that I did move the Closure, and I wish I had the pleasure of moving the Closure now on a Bill which gave the unemployed the same as was given to them under that Bill in 1929. It was a Bill which gave every man who was unemployed a right to standard benefit. I can assure the hon. Member for Gates-head, as well as other Northern Members, that if on this question any Conservative or other supporter of the Government wants to get the opinion of the country, I am prepared to fight on this question. They can take that from me. In 1931—the year when this Government came into office—as the result of the Bill which the Labour party had passed, we had lifted the great mass of the people off the Poor Law. In Gateshead, in November, 1931, there were 7,088 persons receiving out relief. In November, 1934, as the result of the operation of the means test—and this at a time when the Government say that the figures of unemployment have gone down—there are 10,000 receiving out relief in Gateshead. In Newcastle in 1,931 there were 13,754 people receiving out relief, and in November, 1934, 21,700, that is, an increase of 8,000. In both cases there is an increase of far more than 50 per cent. In Sunderland, in November, 1931, there were 7,594 in receipt of out relief, and in November, 1934, 13,240. One can take the whole of the lists and find that that is the case wherever one goes up and down the country.
The Labour Parliament of 1930 lifted great masses off the Poor Law; the policy of this Government has put great masses on the Poor Law. The Minister said yesterday that he could not give us the number of people who were going to be taken over from the Poor Law by the Unemployment Assistance Board. Speaking for myself, if the Government would let the Poor Law alone I would sooner see the people stop under the Poor Law than have this scheme. The people got better consideration under the Poor Law. They have elected representatives in that case, they know to whom they can go. But during the last; year or so, when people have come to me to inquire, "Is not the scale so-and-;so?" I have had to 1090 reply, "I do not know; there is not any scale."
§ Mr. MAGNAY
Does the House know that in Gateshead this legislation will mean a benefit of £25,000—that amount taken off the rates?
§ Mr. LAWSON
The Minister of Labour has not told us the number to be taken over from the Poor Law. What is the real position as to the able-bodied unemployed who are going to be taken over? I understand that the people who are to be taken over do not include those who have been ruled out as not normally insurable. Is that a fact?
§ Mr. LAWSON
I am very glad indeed to have that answer. I have been given to understand by some Poor Law authorities, though admittedly it was a week or so ago, that the commissioners' representatives had been excluding those who had lost benefit. There is another point. What is it going to cost the Government? I understand from the Minister that it is going to cost about £3,000,000 to take over this particular system from the Poor Law, and that altogether it will cost about £8,000,000 extra. How do they know it is going to cost £8,000,000? I think, from my experience of the operations of commissioners in Durham, we are just as much entitled to say that it will save the Government £8,000,000 instead of costing them that amount. Anybody who has had any experience of actuaries' reports in connection with the Ministry of Labour will know that they never come off. They have nothing to work upon. I am not blaming the Government's Actuary: he really has nothing to work on, and it is one of the most difficult Departments for assessing costs that there is. I think it would be far better for the Minister, unless he can tell us how many are coming from the Poor Law, to say quite frankly: "We do not know." I do not think the Minister had any right to make any such statement. He had no evidence whatever on which to base the particular estimate which he made.
We are asked to pass regulations which are dealing with the lives of directly and indirectly about 4,000,000 or 5,000,000 1091 people altogether. I think the Minister understated the facts, because I went to look up the periods of unemployment. We must remember that the people who have lost their benefit are those outside the ordinary scope of benefit. I find, looking at this month's Labour Gazette, that those people who have been idle for six and less than nine months number 104,000, the number of people who have been idle nine and less than twelve months total 80,270, and the number of those unemployed 12 months or more comes to 381,000. That means that there are 566,000 people who have been unemployed more than six months. It means that one-half of those people with whom we are dealing have been continuously unemployed for six months, and I should have thought that, instead of lowering their benefit, we should have been giving consideration to increasing and improving their position. It is just those people who have deserved most and need most consideration who will be hit by these regulations. The Government will put the regulations through, and hon. Members will troop into the Lobbies to support them. We will not be disturbed about that. We would much rather see people properly and decently cared for than make party capital out of the matter. If anybody has seen the conditions at close quarters as we have—the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) spoke of people with whom we have gone to school, who have lived next door to us or are members of our own family—the last thing that we would desire would be to make party capital out of a matter of this description. All through my career, and certainly during the more acute period of unemployment, I have tried to look at these matters in an unbiased way and from the national point of view, instead of that of an individual.
In passing these regulations the House of Commons is deliberately punishing great masses of people. The regulations may give a bit to agriculture, or a little bit here and there, but one thing is certain: they will put the means test into operation in a bureaucratic way. I have never believed that you can work the means test, and I do not believe it now. If the Government are going to try to do so without people to go to, without any representation, or right of election—I have always said that there are no scales 1092 at the commissioners and there are no rights—this is the final, conclusive, legislative expression of it. Although we are few here and express ourselves to the best of our ability, and although we shall be defeated in the Division Lobby, I believe that these regulations will be one of the most hefty nails in the coffin of the Government when the people get a chance to express themselves about it.
§ Ordered, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Captain Margesson.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.