§ CLAUSE 34.—(Unemployment Assistance Board and Advisory Committees.)
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I beg to move, in page 29, line 7, after "Board," to insert: 1842 1843each member of which shall be appointed by the Commons House of Parliament for a period not exceeding three years.We have now come to the second part of the Bill which deals with the most afflicted portion of the unemployed. The Government propose to set up an Unemployment Assistance Board with very wide powers indeed. The object of the Amendment is to keep the appointment of the personnel of the board within the power and influence of this House. I question whether there is any parallel to the action that the Government are taking in appointing this Assistance Board and giving it these powers. The Statutory Committee and its powers we shall have some opportunity of dealing with indirectly, but this Assistance Board is lifted completely out of the influence of this House. The Government have taken particular care that the board shall not only be independent, but shall sit remote, beyond the reach altogether of Parliamentary influence and criticism.
There is a long history behind the section of the unemployed with which the new board will have to deal. There are something over 1,000,000 under transitional payment. That number has been with the country now for many years. It is the supreme problem that the country has to face. These are the long-term unemployed. Those of us who have been in this House for some years know that they first came under the heading of "uncovenanted unemployed." Those of us who have knowledge of the troubles and trials of past Debates know what problems arose at that particular time. Then there arose the question of the discretion of the Minister, and what he should do with the uncovenanted who were outside of insurance, whether he should give them benefit or not. The Minister had a rough time; he was the centre of criticism continually. Next there was found a way of saying, "If a man has had 30 stamps in the last two years he will get unemployment benefit under certain conditions." All that time there was increasing trouble over this section of the people who are now outside insurance.
I remember that in the 1927 Debates the one thing that gave us comfort was that the Minister of Labour then said, "Perhaps they will not be here with us very much longer. We believe that in 1844 the next few years there will be about 6 per cent. of unemployed, and we are basing our calculations upon that anticipation." It has been nearer 16 per cent. than 6 per cent. over that period. The one thing that has impressed itself on the country as time has gone on has been that this long-term unemployed section has not only not diminished but has actually grown. For the whole of that period its woes have appealed to the country to such an extent that it would be almost true to say that they have made and unmade Governments. Not only is this the vexed question of the twentieth century here, but if one were to get down to the troubles of all the countries that are in turmoil to-day one would find that it is their problem too.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I have no desire to hamper the hon. Member's argument. I fully realise that this Amendment, beyond dealing with the machinery of appointment of the board, raises a very wide issue. We have until 7.30 p.m. on the next day on which we sit to complete this Clause. I do not know whether it would be for the convenience of the Committee generally if we had a somewhat wider discussion on this Amendment than is actually covered by the wording of it, on the understanding that that discussion is not to be repeated on the question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill." If that is agreeable now I am not sure that it will not be for the general convenience. Is it agreeable to the hon. Member?
§ Mr. LAWSON
I am very much obliged for the suggestion. I am sure the Committee would wish to make sure that we discuss at any rate the fundamental part of this Clause durnig the next few hours and the coming half day. I hope, therefore, that the Committee will agree to the suggestion. The setting up of a board which has these powers is important. I was about to point out that in 1931 the present Government came into Office and did what it had promised in the country. It put the unemployed under public assistance committees. It proposes now to stabilise not only what it did in 1931, but to stabilise the method of dealing with the unemployed, that is to say to apply the means test. Under the transitional payment in the past few years the unemployed who have been subject to the 1845 means test in the main have been under the public assistance committees. They have been subject to people who are their neighbours. The people who were ruling over the unemployed knew the men and women they were dealing with. They were elected in a democratic way. There was some influence that could be brought to bear upon those who were responsible for assessing the need of the unemployed and for the payment of their allowances.
I want the Committee to mark that fact, because it is very important in considering this matter. The public assistance committees were, roughly speaking, in close touch with the people whose transitional allowances they were administering, and they were subject to public influence because they were publicly elected. Yet in spite of those facts this method of dealing with the unemployed during the past two years has raised clouds of criticism throughout the country, and well it might, for we have arrived at a stage at which it has found expression in a public debate between the Minister of Health and the British Medical Association as to how much or how little a man can live on without being starved. It is very material to this discussion to remember just where we have arrived. We talk now about calories, and representative men have declared that numbers of unemployed who are being assessed under the present method are not getting sufficient to keep them in health.
That is the case where those who assess the needs are publicly-elected bodies. But where non-elected bodies are to do the work, it will be infinitely worse. The Durham County Council has had commissioners in the last two years, and I have just had a statement from the Minister of Health to say that the Commissioner has so assessed needs in that county that he is saving £300,000 a year compared with the administration of the public assistance committee. What the Minister proposes to do under this Bill is to set up a body that is immune from criticism, that is to be deliberately put on the Consolidated Fund Bill, the members of which will be in the position of judges, I understand irremovable. They will be half-a-dozen men, outside the influence of Parliament, and they are to assess the needs of a million people and their dependants.
1846 Whatever the House of Commons does, the public of the country will not support that kind of thing. Indeed, if there have been results such as I have described under the public assistance committees, one may well look forward with fear to what is going to happen when this board is in operation. I know that they have to make a report once a year to Parliament and the Minister may say that there are regulations to be considered, but hon. Members know very well what the Minister is doing. The Minister is putting these men beyond the criticism of Parliament and, as far as possible, beyond the criticism of the country. Who will they be and where will they be? They are to appoint advisory committees if they think fit. If they appoint an advisory committee they will appoint only the people who suit them. They will take no other opinion about it. As to the powers of this board, most of the nine Clauses which follow this are taken up with stating those powers. They are to include powers in regard to deciding allowances, the payment of allowances, and the assessment of need, through their representatives, in various parts of the country. In addition they are to have the power of dealing with all the unemployed over 18 in regard to training. Sub-section (2) states:The functions of the board shall be the assistance of persons to whom this part of this Act applies who are in need of work and the promotion of their welfare and, in particular, the making of provision for the improvement and re-establishment of the condition of such persons with a view to their being in all respects fit for entry into or return to regular employment.I do not know that I can deal with their power of assessment of need further than to make a general reference to it. But they have also this power of training. This body is going to impinge upon the duties of other public bodies the public assistance committees for instance. Apart from assessing need and deciding allowances one of the most dangerous powers to be conferred upon them is this power as to training through the Ministry of Labour. I think they will be able under these provisions to make arrangements with local authorities and with other bodies and I understand that those other bodies are likely to include the social service organisations. We shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say upon that point. One of the dangers as I say, is this power to make arrangements with voluntary bodies out- 1847 side the local authorities and there is also the danger of the establishment of test work in connection with this kind of training.
The Minister will help us very much by explaining exactly what other bodies are contemplated in this part of the Bill. Apparently it will be possible to send a man to be trained under some organisation such as those which are operating at the present time in semi-Government activities like the National Union for Social Service, and it will be possible for the board to arrange with those bodies and to set the unemployed a kind of test work in regard to which there is no guarantee as to the standard of wages that will be paid. That is all the more striking because the Minister is also asking us to give them powers for dealing with "specially difficult" cases. I can imagine what may happen when this body wishes to send some of these men to work under the National Union for Social Service in some of the scratch workshops that have been set up. Incidentally, I think this work was much better done when it was being done voluntarily, than it has been done since the Ministry of Labour made this practically a semi-Government institution. As I say, when the board proceed to send men into these workshops, if the men refuse because they think it is interfering with the work of other men, or with the trade union standard, or with the standard rate of the district, there is a possibility that these will be regarded as "specially difficult" cases.
So we are to have this board, with all these powers, beyond the reach of Parliament, beyond its criticism—its members as far as we can see irremovable—dealing with this great mass of people. They are taking over a problem which not only this Government, but Governments have failed to solve. The Government are saying in effect, "We have been at this long enough and the report of the commission makes it clear that the thing to do is to take this question out of politics." I dare say the Minister will justify himself on the ground that that is what the Royal Commission have said. But it is a new doctrine that a Government should model itself exactly on the findings of a Royal Commission. 1848 I wish that had been the doctrine during the last 14 or 15 years. The chairman of this commission acted as chairman of a very famous compensation commission. I wish the Government had accepted the findings of that commission. We had the famous Sankey Commission and the miners were promised that its recommendations would be accepted in the letter and the spirit. When we are referred to the Royal Commission's findings in this case, it is just as well to recall the cases in which the findings of important commissions have been rejected by Governments, lock, stock and barrel. But we shall he told no doubt that the commission has advised that this question should be taken out of politics.
The Government do not pretend that there is any solution here. All they state is that they want to get the question out of the influence of politics. The means test is being stabilised. I know that the Solicitor-General if he replies will say that there are words in such and such a Clause which show an intention to modify the means test. All we can say is that the means test has operated for two years and we do not see in this Bill any reason for believing that there is going to be anything other than the means test in actual operation. All this is founded upon a test of need and we shall be interested to hear what change if any is going to be made. In the last two years, under the means test, the Government have taken £56,000,000 from the poorest part of our population. I wish Members from all parts of the country could only see the kind of people to whom this test applies. I repeat what I said on Second Reading. I have a suspicion that underneath all this and in the minds of certain people there is an idea that this 1,000,000 transitional unemployed are the kind of people who used to be called the unemployable, the doubtfuls, the cadging class. In my experience coming from one of the great industrial areas almost all these people are men and women of the finest character. They include some of our finest craftsmen. They are people who are almost heart broken because they cannot get work. No one who knows anything of the personnel concerned in this matter would doubt that fact for a moment. They are people who have been thrown out by machinery. They are the victims of lamentable conditions over which they have no control.
1849 During the past few years they have been chivvied, investigated, and afflicted. Whether they were men and women who had been thrifty or otherwise, they have been subjected to microscopic investigation, which has had the effect of leaving great numbers of them with hardly the elementary means of life. Let nobody make any mistake about that. If some of these people could walk into this House and tell their story one after the other, I venture to say that the means test could not live a week, and yet the Government intend to apply it wholesale and to stabilise it practically for all time. Something like £48,000,000 a year is to be put into these people's hands for dealing with this particular section of the unemployed. The House of Commons is going to have very little control over it. It is putting those who administer it outside its influence and, as I say, in a position so strong that they are almost irremovable. They use this money, they sit in some remote part of the country, they have great masses of people serving them, and they are going to queue up decent men and women over the next few years, harry them and chivvy them, while no attempt whatever is made to face the real problem of providing work for them.
The Government now, instead of having any solution, have abandoned the reduction of hours and have abandoned the making of roads and bridges and all the rest of it, and they have no constructive proposal to make. They are tired of the criticisms of the past few years as a result of the operation of the means test, and now they put the unemployed into the hands of half-a-dozen people. I venture to say that the unemployed who are coming off the Poor Law and under the Government will wish they were back under the Poor Law before very long. It is a good principle that the State should take over the unemployed, but those of us who have demanded that for so many years never dreamed that they were going to be taken out of the hands of men publicly elected and put into the hands of half-a-dozen men responsible to nobody and beyond the bounds of criticism, who were to take these people and assess their needs, keep down their expenditure, and take them over at a time when the Government's administration under the transition has made the condition of the people one of which no person to-day is 1850 proud and many are ashamed. There are people, it was revealed in the investigation that took place in Newcastle, living on much less than the standard set up by the Ministry of Health, and that is the result of the operation of the means test transitional payments during the past two years.
The Government may think they are getting rid of an awkward problem by putting it outside the influence of the House of Commons, but that very action will in the long run wreck this Government. The pity is, of course, that in the process a great mass of people have to suffer as they have been doing in the past few years. For these reasons, I move the Amendment, that the House of Commons at least should have the opportunity of considering the names of the people who are to be appointed and of limiting their appointment to three years. The right hon. Gentleman has no right to pin upon the country and upon this House a Clause of this kind, which, I understand, has the effect of appointing gentlemen who will be practically irremovable.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Mr. WHITE
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), when he said that these proposals were without precedent, said nothing less than the truth, and we think it is a lamentable fact that after nearly 20 years' experience in the administration of unemployment insurance and after the report of the Royal Commission, the Government should have adopted and brought before the House a proposal which has behind it no great body of public opinion, which is without precedent, and which has not even got the support of the Royal Commission which devoted so much time and consideration to this matter. We object to this proposal, in the first place, because we think it is unnecessary. We have been told in the course of these Debates that the needs of 85 per cent. of the insured population will be met by the contributory system of insurance, leaving the rest to be dealt with in some other way. That means that on the present basis something like 1,000,000 individuals, or, including their dependants, probably 5,000,000, will be handed over to the control of this new hoard. As has already been pointed out, the new board has powers which are comparable with those of the old Commissioners 1851 appointed under the Act of 1834. They are largely freed from all Parliamentary control, and we say that that is a power which should not be entrusted to any men who are to have such almost unlimited control over the destinies, in the most intimate way, of so many people.
We also object to it because we think it simply will not work. The Government have turned their back upon the recommendations of the Royal Commission in regard to the local administration of the relief of the unemployed. The proposals of the Royal Commission were a sort of hybrid between the existing system and public assistance as we know it, and we have no liking for that particular recommendation. We think the Government would much better have adopted the suggestion in this regard of the Minority Report of the Royal Commission, because they at least envisaged a workable scheme, a unitary system relating the contributory system to the assistance outside insurance. But nobody could have foreseen or imagined that the Government would have set up a tripartite scheme, with three separate independent bodies dealing with those who are in need. The policies of all three must necessarily be antagonistic. The Assistance Board is a body which is more independent than any other body I can recall. I would mention, by the way, their unprecedented powers in finance. As I understand the Bill, there is nothing to prevent the new board expending, if they are so minded, not the £48,000,000 mentioned by my hon. Friend on the unemployed, but £60,000,000 or even £70,000,000; and, if they find that in estimating the needs of the unemployed on the basis of all their needs, such a sum is necessary, they will be doing their duty if they spend it, and they will come to the House of Commons and the House cannot possibly refuse to meet the bill. I mention that because it is a House of Commons point which the House of Commons should bear in mind when they are giving these vast powers to such a new board.
We had some discussion yesterday on the powers of the new Statutory Committee. It is quite clear that the action and policy of that Committee will have a profound effect on the policy and activity of the new board. For example, if the 1852 Statutory Committee should decide that it is their policy to prolong the period of benefit in the interests of the unemployed rather than to pay increased benefits, they will be doing something to assist the finance and the policy of the new body under Part II. If, on the other hand, they decide that they will pay increased benefits rather than prolonged benefits, there again they will be having an important influence upon the authority set up under Part II. So far as I can see, in this Bill there is no co-ordinating authority to bring the policies of the two most important bodies into any sort of line.
On the other hand, the new board will find itself necessarily in antagonism with the work of the local authorities. There are at present some 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 persons who get assistance of some kind or another from the local authorities in the shape of medical assistance, children's meals and the like. It is the duty, and indeed a very powerful incentive, to local authorities to give that help, because they wish to keep families alive and afloat and out of the hands, as far as possible, of the public assistance authorities. By setting up this new authority the Government will remove the most powerful incentive which lies at the basis of the action of the local authorities in carrying out their duties. That, indeed, is a point to which we attach very great importance.
Then, again, the new board will be in constant conflict with the new authorities on the large number of borderline cases which still exist. There will be tens of thousands of such cases. They will be in conflict with the local authorities as to whether or not these cases should be clients of the board or clients of the public assistance committees. The machinery which is set up to decide these cases under this part of the Bill is in my opinion simply grotesque. Under unemployment insurance we have had a system which we understand, and which, although it does not give universal satisfaction, at all events works. We have the courts of referees sitting in every district; doubtful cases go to the Umpire; and under his jurisdiction case law is built up and uniformity of treatment is secured over all the districts.
Under this part of the Bill there will be 300 appeal boards set up by the board 1853 itself consisting of their own chosen men, and no authority is suggested whereby there will be any connection between them or any uniformity of treatment. There must inevitably arise the same confusion, distress and dissatisfaction which we have had in administration in another direction with regard to the differences of treatment meted out by public assistance committees. There will be a number of families which will one week be under the board and the next week may find themselves under the public assistance committee. There will be great uncertainty in the minds of multitudes of people as to where they are to look for the assistance which is necessary to keep them alive. Then, indeed, they will find themselves in the most lamentable condition of not knowing where to go and to what authority to look for relief, and, as hon. Members in touch with industrial life to-day know, they will come to feel that every man's hand is against them. That is a very serious proposition.
There is another aspect of this matter to which I would like to draw the attention of the Committee, namely, the results of the operations of the new body under Part II upon the insurance scheme itself. It seems to me that from the moment the new board begins to make allowances on the basis of taking into account all the needs of the unemployed, they will begin, as they must do if they do their duty, and as we have been assured by the Parliamentary Secretary they will, to grant relief freely at rates above the benefit rates prescribed by the contributory scheme. They will operate a scheme, moreover, from which the Poor Law stigma has been removed, and if, as the Prime Minister said at Seaham, there is to be a humanised means test, it will be no deterrence whatever in keeping people away from a new scheme, and it is obvious that the operations of the board will make the unemployment scheme look simply silly. I see no escape from that.
I am surprised that the Minister has not jumped at the opportunity of accepting Amendments to the earlier part of the Bill for giving increased allowances to dependants and children and to get rid of the incubus of the annual payments of the debt, because it is clear that if he is set upon preserving the insurance part of this scheme, he must get the maximum 1854 field of manoeuvre in order to protect the scheme; and in order to protect the scheme against the operation of the new board, it seems clear that he must restore the cuts and that he must also grant some increase in the children's allowances.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street made some reference to the controversy which has arisen between the British Medical Association and the Ministry of Health. If one examines the two scales of those bodies, and the other scales which various authorities have considered and placed before the public, it is clear that, although the minimum scale may be applicable in the case of a man and his wife, the moment there begin to be children in the family there is no relation between the allowances under the contributory scheme or any other scheme and these scales. Therefore the Minister ought to take immediate steps to secure a field of manoeuvre, unless, indeed, the contributory scheme is to be done away with altogether. We think it is unfortunate that instead of having some unified system of dealing with this matter the Government have set up two bodies, entirely independent one of the other, without any co-ordinating authority, to be in separate offices, entrenched in two fortresses and at daggers drawn, administering policies which are conflicting in their aim and object. It would have been far better if the Government had adopted a scheme of central control under the Ministry of Labour, who are perfectly competent to do the work, using much of the machinery already in existence, and thus avoiding the duplication of appeals and means tests—because instead of there being one means test there will be two—and at the same time avoiding a great deal of unnecessary expenditure.
Those are the lines along which we think the Government ought to have proceeded. The Amendments we are putting on the Paper, and which may or may not be discussed, have the simple object of trying to make a workable scheme, because we believe the present board wil be simply a smoke screen. It will do great damage to the services being rendered already by local authorities. We think the only logical defence of the present proposals of the Government is that they are the beginning of a 1855 great extension of the centralisation of most of the services now carried on by the local authorities. If this scheme is proceeded with, there will be the greatest possible administrative confusion, which will impinge on the work of the local authorities, damage will be done to the services which have been built up with so much care and a great many poor people will suffer.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mr. TINKER
We are pleased to know that there is a greater opportunity for discussion to-night than we have had previously, because this Clause is to occupy the whole of this evening and part of another day, and the Deputy-Chairman has agreed that we shall have opportunities for further discussion of particular points. It is well that we should have this opportunity to discuss this very important part of the Bill. Part II takes a different line from what has ever been taken before. It takes a mass of men who have hitherto looked to this House for their protection and puts them into the hands of another body which which, to me, does not appear to be answerable to anyone, and our Amendment has been moved with the object of trying to get control of that body. We propose that Parliament shall have the power of appointing the members of that body. In that way we shall have an opportunity from time to time of deciding whether they are carrying out their duties as we think they ought to be carried out. According to the Bill they will be appointed by Royal Warrant, and we do not know the terms of the appointment or for how long they will hold office—it may be for a number of years.
The work they do will not be subject to criticism by anybody, as far as I can see, and it will appear to the people outside that Parliament is losing its authority and delegating its powers to others. I ask hon. Members opposite not lightly to allow that opinion to go out. We are putting about a million people—that is the figure given at the moment and it may increase; it all depends on that body whether it does increase or not—under the control of this particular body. We ought to remember that these million people are not the derelicts of society, from a physical point of view, because it is laid down that they 1856 are to be persons who are capable of and available for work. We are dealing with able-bodied men who, through circumstances over which they have no control, have lost their statutory claim to benefit.
In approaching a question like this I always try to visualise myself in the position of the other man, because it is only by chance that one occupies a position in the House of Commons instead of being a poor man out of work. There may be men now out of work who are as capable of discharging the duties of a Member of this House as I am, and I always try to visualise the position in which I might be were it not for fortunate circumstances. If I were one of the number of men who cannot get work and, in consequence, could not keep my card stamped, what should I think of a Bill under which my elected representative said to me, in effect, "I am passing you over to another body of men who will have to judge what can be done for you, and how you will fare will depend on the kind of men they are"? They may be harsh-minded men or generous-minded men. We have reason to believe that the type is more likely to lean to the other side than our side, because in my past experience these commissioners, or whatever they may be, have not been drawn from the class from which I come, and they have a different outlook on life. If, as I say, I were a man in that position, I should feel that I was being handed over to a body of people who could not visualise the circumstances under which I had been brought to that pass, and I should feel that I should be treated in a way which was not fair.
In that way we may develop in the minds of our citizens the idea that democratic institutions are no longer of any use to them. Believe me when I say that "the man in the street" has great faith in what we call democratic institutions. He may not be treated fairly, but all the time he knows that he has an opportunity of approaching his Member of Parliament or his representative on the local authority, and so long as that is possible he feels that at least there is some possibility of obtaining redress. He gets sympathy from his Member or local representative, and he knows that if a multitude of complaints similar to his own are sent forward in the right direction that eventually a change will be brought about. This Clause is putting 1857 those citizens who now have faith in their elected representatives under the control of people whom they will never see and never know. All they will know is the harsh conditions to which they will be subjected. Resentment will be bred from that, and bitter feelings will be engendered, and one can foresee a gradual decline of faith in all democratic institutions. I hope the Government will realise the importance of these considerations. The Government have set before themselves the policy of making the fund solvent by the dividing into two sections a number of people who, to me, are all equal. The Government say that on the one side they must have the people who can get work or who are out of work for a short period, and on the other side the unfortunate one, who are to be driven into a separate camp. They make no inquiry as to what has brought about the condition of these people, who are to be put somewhere else to be dealt with by a body of men whom they will never know or see.
This is a grave step for the House of Commons to take. Conservative Members like to believe that they are representatives of democracy. When we say from these benches that we stand for the working-class movement we are met by the reply: "We also are sent here by working-class districts." That trust ought to be recognised, but the unemployed men about whom I am speaking have a right to something more than recognition. They have a right to believe that you are not letting them be sent to gaol or to some other similar place. They are to be sent to camps—this Clause embodies the power to send them into camps—and to have all kinds of treatment meted out to them, and we shall not be able to ask questions here about their treatment. Those people will turn against the scheme and will say, "You have no right to leave us in this position."
In view of the outbreaks that are taking place in various parts of the world, there is a graver view. One is almost glad to think that this country has resisted that kind of thing up to the present time. I have always said that our politicians have been wise enough to see how far they can drive the people before giving way and giving the people something to keep them quiet. Our poli- 1858 ticians have shown sagacity in that, and we have been able to keep clear of outbreaks, but the step that we are taking to-night will, to my mind, lead us to a position that might bring about the kind of thing that is happening in other countries. I know very well what my attitude would be if I were one of those unfortunates, and if I were being driven to one of these camps. There would be nothing to stop me from leading an outbreak in order to show what I thought about it. If I feel like this, the man in the street must feel what I feel, and I appeal to the Government: "Do not let go of this safety valve." The House of Commons is the safety valve for our people. They believe that they can get redress from the House of Commons. If we agree to Clause 34, we agree to something which I believe every one of us will live to regret.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. KINGSLEY GRIFFITH
I wonder whether the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) realises—I rather suspect that he does not—that the Amendment which he has moved is entirely destructive of the central principle of Part II of the Bill. That is why I agree with him; I am very anxious to destroy the principle of Part II, and I think that this is a very good place to begin. The question that we are asking ourselves in Part II, and especially in Clause 34, is whether we should continue to represent our constituents or not upon one of the most important things, if not the most important thing, that concerns most of them, of all things in this life. From time to time we are concerned in this House with great and far-reaching matters, such as those which have to do with India, Austria, France and Germany, and we very rightly pay the greatest attention to them. I have noticed that the Government are often asked this kind of question: "Before the Government come to any decision on this matter will they give an undertaking that they will first consult the House," and the Prime Minister is very anxious to say, "Yes, I will gladly give this undertaking and with a general spirit of good will between ourselves and everybody else we shall reach a satisfactory conclusion." Then everybody is quite happy.
It appears that there is one matter upon which there is to be no undertaking to consult the House in any effective 1859 measure. I add those words because I am aware that other parts of the Bill say that there is to be some kind of control, which I have always thought amounted to very little. In effect, what the board decide, is to be done. That is the whole object of the proceedings under Part II. The sinister words, "taking this question out of politics," contain the most ridiculous suggestion that I have ever heard. If you take this question out of politics you justify the assertions of most of the cynics, of whom there are so many at this time, who say that politics are a sham. If you take out of political decision the things that concern the lives of the people most, you are playing a game with them.
I ventured to say yesterday on Clause 17, upon which the matter arose perhaps less than it does to-night, that we were deciding a very important constitutional question. As the work of Parliament becomes, as I freely admit it has become, too much to be discussed altogether upon the Floor of the House, various devices by means of committees and otherwise inside and outside the House have been suggested. What kind of subject are we to regard as of such a nature that it ought to be put on to somebody else? The last thing that I would devolve is this matter of the condition of the people, with which we are dealing here. We are allowed a fair latitude in this Debate, but I should not think of discussing the details of the means test under this Amendment. We have, however, to realise that the whole point of Clause 34 is that there is a body which will decide how the means test is to be administered in future. For so many people that is the very essence of their lives. There is very little else that matters in the world at the present time unfortunately, and they are bound to centre upon that. I think that Shakespeare anticipated the means test when he put into the mouth of Shylock the words:You take my house, when you do take the propThat doth sustain my house; you take my life,When you do take the means whereby I live.That is very literally what is being done in this country at the present time in various ways which are under the control of some kind of elected people in the localities. To judge by my own post bag, I am supposed to have some sort of con- 1860 trol of it, because my constituents very often write to me, as they do to other hon. Members. That apparently is all wrong and is a nuisance that is to be done away with. We are to have a position in which the letters, if they are sent at all, will be addressed to some obscure body which will be like the old lion's mouth at Venice. People put in accusations, and nobody knew what happened to them. That is going to happen now. We are to be saved a lot of trouble. If I were considering the position merely from my own point of view, I might indeed thank the Government for relieving me of a certain part of my responsibility.
There are many members of local authorities who at last will have this answer to make: "You have forgotten the Unemployment Act passed by this Government. It is quite true that I could have done something for you, but you have now to realise that, although I may be a member of an advisory body, my functions are purely advisory, and that the final decision is taken somewhere else." Everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds for all elected representatives everywhere—for everybody, except for the unemployed. They are to be deprived of what, in the British character especially, is a very considerable safety valve, the power to make a complaint. The complaint may not be received, but at any rate the complainants feel that something is being done, and that they are being treated as human beings and not simply as case No. 6405, or whatever it may be. There is personal contact with somebody whom perhaps they have voted for, or more probably have voted against—I do not mind which it is—but who at any rate believes himself to be in the position of their representative, local or national. That means a lot, and when you take away a safety valve of that kind you are doing something which is a great deal more than the immediate physical effect upon whether these people have enough to eat or not, though that, Heaven knows, is as important a matter as we might discuss. There is a psychological effect as well. These people will now feel that they are under the control of something which to them will be a machine. It may work out in practice to be a just machine; I do not wish to prejudge anything; I only wish to say that, from what I have seen of the sort of guiding principles that are laid 1861 down in this Bill for the administration of the means test, they do not, as far as they go, seem to me to be much more than a standardisation of the practice of rather harsh local authorities at the present time. I do not get much hope from that. But the point is that we have no security. These people may turn out to be angels of light and sympathy, but we have no right to assume it; we have no right to lay down our own responsibilities, to make the matter as good as possible.
I feel that the point which has been made with regard to the inter-relation of the two parts of the Act is correct. Undoubtedly they will act one upon the other, and I am afraid that the experience will be that Part I will depress Part II—that this body which we are now setting up will be afraid to make the administration of Part II too generous, because those who are responsible for the administration of Part I will say, "You are making our administration foolish, and we cannot have that." The superiority of the insured contributor must always be preserved, and so those who are not in insurance will be depressed below their real needs, because otherwise they might be doing rather better than those who are in insurance. That, to my mind, is a very real danger. I have never objected to a needs test as long as it was a real assessment of needs, taking all needs properly into account. If that were so, I do not believe that any Member of the House would ever have objected to a needs test at all. But I am afraid that here we are losing our grip on that very matter. We have seen the rather cynical kind of discussion which can go on in the Press between various bodies as to what a man's or a woman's or a child's needs really can be reduced to. We ought to keep our control of that. If we do not, I feel that we shall come to this, that it will no longer be considered much of an honour or privilege or responsibility to be elected to the Commons House of Parliament. Rather, if we wish to have a real effect upon the lives and destinies of our fellow countrymen, had we better either seek ourselves dishonourable graves or get elected to one of these committees or boards, where we shall have a great deal more power, and, as it seems to me, a great deal more security of tenure.
§ 9.0 p.m
Mr. GURNEY BRAITHWAITE
I do not think that any Member of this Committee would be disposed to quarrel with the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) when at the opening of this discussion he stressed the immense importance of this particular question at the commencement of the consideration of Part II of the Bill; nor would anyone, I think, be disposed to quarrel with him in the deserved tribute which he paid to the character of the unemployed as a whole. He did refer to the days when those people who were without work were frequently referred to as unemployable, and I desire from this side of the Committee at once to support what he said when he stressed the fact that the vast majority of those people who will be dealt with under Part II of the Bill are among the finest of our race.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street, and, indeed, the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith) also, painted a very gloomy picture of the situation as it will be if the problem of unemployment is dealt with as proposed in Part II of the Bill. I think, however, that any unemployed man from a foreign country, listening to this Debate to-night, would be inclined to wonder what all the controversy was about, and would be inclined to wish that he too had some opportunity of coming within the ambit of the unemployment insurance machinery which this country has built up since the War, and which we are endeavouring to-night to consolidate and improve. How pleased they would be, for instance, in the United States of America if it were possible for a controversy to take place as to whether the unemployed should be supported by a local authority or by the State. They would be very pleased if such a controversy were possible there.
I agree, however, with the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) when he reminded the Committee just now of our responsibility in the House of Commons with regard to this subject, and of how hon. Members, on whatever benches they may sit, were, with very few exceptions, sent here by majorities of working-class electors, and have upon them that responsibility. The Committee is now engaged, as I see it, in endeavouring to frame the best insurance system that we 1863 possibly can for the unemployed of this country. After all, this subject is one which was postponed and shelved by hon. Members opposite when they were in office. They appointed the Royal Commission upon whose recommendations this Bill is so largely based, though of course one is not going to say that they were therefore committed to adopting any report of any Royal Commission when it was presented. This is not a question on which one Government of another can be put in the dock and accused of being responsible.
One of the chief causes of controversy mentioned by the hon. Member opposite, and, I think, also by hon. Members below the Gangway, was the proposal to take the administration of the able-bodied unemployed who have run out of benefit out of the hands of elected representatives on the local authorities, so that it will no longer be possible for the unemployed man to go to his local councillor and make complaint of the way in which this system is being administered. Why is it necessary for His Majesty's Government to make this proposal? Reference has been made to the controversy in the Press about figures produced by the Ministry of Health on the one hand, and by the British Medical Association on the other; but there have been areas—and I represent one of them myself—where the party opposite, when placed in office on the local council, have refused to administer any public assistance whatever. There is no room there for controversy about calories—
Sheffield—or about the standard of living. When, in 1932, they were for the first time in many years removed from office, the Socialist party in Sheffield refused absolutely to man the public assistance committee, and the whole work was left to the other representatives on the council, in the hope that they would receive the opprobrium of doing this very difficult public work. When it is possible for a situation like that to be created, it surely is not for hon. Members opposite to complain of the supersession of local representatives in this particular work. It is, of course, true that the whole question of dealing with the un- 1864 employed is a political question, but I see nothing in this Bill which prevents the House of Commons from giving guidance, and even instruction, to this board as to the treatment of the unemployed and as to the scales which they are to receive. They will be instructed, I dare say, to carry out various well known and established trade union principles which apply in the case of funds that they have built up carefully over a number of years.
I should not have given way if I had thought the hon. Member was going to ask so obvious a question, because he knows perfectly well that the regulations have to be passed by this House before they can operate, and he knows, or should know, that undoubtedly the formation of those regulations will be very largely in the light of the discussions that have taken place in the House during the various stages of the Bill. [An HON. MEMBER: "You are an optimist."] Someone was talking just now about the decline of Parliamentary prestige. I think it likely that, in drawing up the regulations, great attention will be paid to views expressed, particularly from the back benches of the House. While this is an important change in the machinery of unemployment insurance, I see nothing that takes out of the hands of Parliament the ultimate control of this matter. I believe it is a great experiment with new machinery upon which we are entering, and I believe when it is in operation the Government will receive the thanks of the country for their efforts.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mr. CONANT
The hon. Member who moved the Amendment covered a very wide field, but there was one part of his speech to which I took some exception. That was when he seemed to assume that the body the method of whose appointment we are now deciding would necessarily have no real human concern for the unemployed. He suggested that they would act entirely contrary to the interest of the unemployed and apparently be prejudiced in their views. Of course, we have not yet decided even as to their 1865 method of appointment. It seems to me that, if one is going to approach the setting up of a new form of service of this magnitude with that prejudiced view, one is not likely to reach a very fair conclusion. The Amendment raises the most important point, whether this body shall be appointed by this House or by Royal Warrant. In effect what it comes to is whether they should be an elected body or whether they should be appointed, whether they should be influenced indirectly by political considerations or whether they should be, not outside politics—I do not think it would be advisable that such a body should be outside politics—but whether they should be as far as possible immune from political interference as they would be if appointed by Royal Warrant. The hon. Member said they would be completely out of the influence of the House of Commons and immune from criticism. His knowledge of Parliamentary procedure is far greater than mine, but it was stated on the Second Reading that there are four definite occasions in the year when the detailed activities of the board can be discussed besides the ordinary Motion for Adjournment and Votes of Censure. There is the Ministry of Labour Vote. Presumably, as the board is under the direction of the Ministry of Labour, their activities should be discussed upon that Vote.
§ Mr. CONANT
But the activities of the board are under the influence of the Ministry of Labour. It is really a question for Mr. Speaker to decide, but I should imagine that their activities should be discussed upon that Vote. They could certainly be discussed upon the Vote for the Unemployment Assistance Board, upon the Consolidated Fund Bill, and the Appropriation Bill and, of course, there is the annual report of the board. It is not fair to say that they are immune from the criticism or outside the influence of this House. In fact, it is possible to pay close attention to their activities, and, if we think they are not behaving fairly, we can very soon bring them to heel. When one considers the nature of the task that they are going to undertake, it is essential as far as possible that they should be placed outside political influence. After all, up to 1866 the present the administration of transitional payments has been by bodies elected by local government electors, whereas it is suggested that they should be elected by the House, but still the principle is the same. The fact that so many of those elected members have refused to carry out their task indicates that the system has not been altogether successful in the past. A task of this magnitude, requiring the administration not only of financial assistance but of training facilities, which are to my mind far more important than the administration of cash assistance to those outside insurance, should be placed as far as possible away from the influence of politics.
§ Mr. CONANT
It does not matter to my case whether they refused because they had not time to do the job or because they thought they would become unpopular by doing it. They did refuse, and that is really all that matters, and the system of working Unemployment Assistance Boards as elected bodies has not been successful. Therefore, it seems to me that bodies immune from political interference of this nature would have a far better chance of proving successful. It is a mistake to assume that this is a purely economic or Poor Law service. It is, as far as I can see, solely an industrial service. It is the first duty of this board to retain the employability of those with whom they are dealing, and it is their second task to provide financial assistance where it is needed, and they are far more fitted for those tasks if they are outside the influence which has wrecked the scheme in the past. My only desire is to see that the service shall be administered in the real interest of those who are outside the insurance scheme and not merely, as in some instances in the past, in order to obtain electoral support for those who have administered it.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. LOGAN
I have been prompted to take part in these deliberations because of the honesty of the last speaker. The hon. Member said that he was not concerned as to the reason why administration was not properly carried out from a constitutional point of view by members of accredited elected bodies.
§ Mr. LOGAN
The question of the responsibility or irresponsibility of the duly elected guardians has been brought up. Because some of them had a heart and felt that it was not necessary that they should carry out what the law laid down, but that each individual should be dealt with on his merits, they were removed from their position. The question of segregation seems to be one of the determining factors in this Bill. This is the first time within my knowledge of insurance, and of the Poor Law and public assistance, that the line of demarcation is to be applied in this manner. You are going to bring two classes of people into being—the genuinely unemployed who are entitled to benefit, and the genuinely unemployed who are no longer entitled to anything, the latter class being dealt with by the public assistance committee, a body able to make a microscopic examination of every case that comes before it. The human touch which helps to make the whole of mankind understand that there is a fellow feeling when a person is in want and despair is to be taken away, and under Part II of the Unemployment Bill you are going to have something entirely different. It is stated that you are going to remove the stigma of pauperism. What a false cry this is to those who do not know of the sting in this Measure.
It is stated that you are going to take the unemployed away from poverty and the stigma of pauperism, and that this sort of thing is no longer to be administered by members of public assistance committees. You are going to set up a wonderful machine. You deliberately state in this House, "We are only fashioning this machine, because we now have power and authority, and are going to settle the problem, if we possibly can, so that future Governments will no longer be troubled with a million or a million and a-half of unemployed." Some hon. Gentlemen in this House find it rather difficult to answer the unemployed. The House of Commons are being told in 1934 that the function for which we appealed to the people is to be taken from our hands, and that we must only come to this House as a registering machine in regard to our opinions. I have never been a mere registering machine. I have 1868 never been automatically worked, and I do not intend in a British House of Commons, though the odds may be 10 to one against us, to refrain from expressing an opinion from the Labour benches in regard to this iniquitous plan now before the House. The day of retribution must certainly come to every Member of this House when he will have to make an appeal to Caesar. The people will certainly ask them what they have done with regard to their administration, and their answer will be: "We were afraid of the voice of the people."
Sir N. STEWART SANDEMAN
I am not afraid to tell the people what I think, and I am not afraid of losing my seat.
§ Mr. LOGAN
I do not wish to appear in any way impertinent, and I do not wish to apologise to anyone in the House for putting my point of view. Part II of the Bill distinctly sets up a body over which this House will have no control. It almost seems incredible in 1934 that a National Government, with a majority of 10 to one, have not the courage of their convictions to take control of the affairs in this Bill. They are going to pauperise the nation more than it has ever been pauperised before, and are not going to allow any expression of the grievances of these men and women. You will no doubt have, as you had a case in London last week, deaths arising from want of nourishment. It was my unfortunate experience on the board of guardians to learn of a case in the city of Liverpool where a child had died at its mother's breast, and the doctor found that it had died from want of nourishment. Relief had been refused in the city of Liverpool. This is not box clap-trap; it is actual fact which occurred in a city like Liverpool.
§ Mr. LENNOX-BOYD
I understood from an earlier statement of the hon. Member that he thought that the present system provided a sympathetic local knowledge of individual cases, but the cases he has stated hardly bear that out.
§ Mr. LOGAN
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not also hear my observation that even under systems which receive personal attention, this sort of thing did occur in the city of Liverpool. The Government are to constitute a body with plenary powers which is to be responsible to no one. Should we ever get to know of its abuses. Every hon. and right hon. Gentleman in this House has the right to guard the prerogative of his position in this House. Hon. Members should retain their honesty and prestige as Members of this House by being prepared to guard against any of the evils which might arise by allowing these matters to pass out of their authority. Because of that, because I know that not on these benches only, but on your benches also there can be found honourable men, I feel that when the appeal is made and when a case is made known to you, justice will be done. I ask you to accept this Amendment, because I feel that in its provisions you have the salvation of supervision and the right of maintaining that all deserving cases shall receive at your hands the right and proper treatment.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ Lord E. PERCY
I do not intend to detain the Committee very long, and I must confess, and hope for the Committee's indulgence, that I have not attended this Debate from the beginning. The case which has been made out by the speech to which we have just listened, and the gravamen of the charge against this proposal, is one to which I should like to make some reply. Democracy always breaks down when it forgets its necessary limitations. If there is one constitutional principle which the experience of democracy has demonstrated, it is the danger of allowing any elected persons to exercise personal patronage. It has been the experience of every democracy, notably that of the United States of America, that personal patronage exercised by elected persons is the source of the worst corruption that civilised government has ever known. It is true that in this country, with our supreme illogicality we have succeeded, for a short period only, in having elected local authorities which have exercised, and still exercise to-day, large patronage without any great evil results. Any of us, however, who know the local authorities know that that system is always trembling on 1870 the verge of undesirable influence. Let us realise that public assistance—the Poor Law—has always been in that position. For the last hundred years it has always involved the exercise of personal patronage by elected persons. For years it has worked reasonably well, but when the present strain is put upon it, if democracy insists on retaining that power of patronage—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) would for once devote his attention to-listening to a connected argument—
§ Lord E. PERCY
Great strain is now being put upon the system of patronage exercised by elected persons, and that system is breaking down. You cannot expect me or any serious Member of this House to weep bitter tears because that dangerous power that has created corruption in every democracy in the world is being taken out of the hands of elected persons. The waste of this time in Committee on a Second Reading discussion of how this board is to be appointed, apparently entirely divorced from the consideration of what it has to do, surely marks the lowest depth to which Committee discussions in this House can sink. The important thing which we are considering here to-night is not how this board is to be appointed, but whether this drastic and revolutionary change in the administration of public assistance will bring about an improved administration of this service; whether the co-ordination and the unified direction which can alone justify such a centralisation of functions as we are now considering will produce a new and reformed administration of this whole service of public assistance.
What we are now considering is not whether this board should or should not he under democratic control, but whether the whole service should be centralised 1871 or remain local. On that point I ask the Committee and the Government to consider the very grave fears and questionings of a number of hon. Members in all parts of the House. We are saying that this centralisation ought to have as its result a co-ordination of all the resources of the nation in dealing with this problem which is covered by Part II of the Bill. It is not a problem of mere relief; it is a problem of the reconstitution of the individual who has fallen on these evil times. It is a problem of the resettlement of the individual and of the family. It is a problem of the reconstruction of the texture of a whole section of society. In the depressed areas, it is a problem of the reconstruction of those areas as a whole. It is for that reason and for that alone, it is in that hope and in that alone, that we should agree to such a drastic centralisation of the whole service of public assistance.
Are we to be disappointed? I would direct the attention of the Minister to the questions I am putting. Is this centralised board really to be in that more intimate touch with all the administrative resources of the nation as will enable it to be not a mere relief body but a reconstruction and resettlement body? Is it going to have the power, when it has to deal with a problem such as that of Tyneside, to go beyond mere relief activity and initiate and launch a great reconstruction of that whole area? The hon. Member opposite shakes his head.
§ Lord E. PERCY
I beg the hon. Member's pardon; I did not say anything of the kind. I know perfectly well that this board in itself is not going to have the power to replan the whole of Tyneside. The question is whether the policy of the Government who bring in this Measure is to use this instrument as one essential part of a great national scheme of resettlement and reconstruction. That is the first question.
The second question is the degree of local responsibility which is going to be placed upon these so-called advisory committees. It is perfectly clear that the attempt of any board, comprehensively dealing with this problem, in dealing with 1872 the individual in all his aspects or with the depressed society in which he lives, in all its aspects, has its centralised and national aspect and also its intimate local aspect. If these local committees are to be merely advisory committees and to be consulted merely on occasion by the administrative officials, they will be useless. That is not what is required by the situation. Are these local committees, however much you may call them advisory, to be really local executives, in practice, controlling the action of the local officials, subject, of course, to being overruled by the central body, and with a real measure of responsibility for local action? Those are the two broad questions which are important.
Are we going to get greater national command over all the problems of policy necessary to deal with this great social sore? Are we at the same time going to secure that intimate local responsibility which can alone deal with the individual case? If these two questions are answered in the affirmative, I do not care two brass farthings about the theoretical academic doctrine of the extent of democratic control. I do not care, because the doctrine of democratic control on the one hand is balanced by the proved principle that your elected person must not be allowed to exercise personal patronage directly. In view of that difficult balance which democracy has to try and secure it is a matter of purely secondary importance how these persons are appointed or to what machinery of criticism and control they are to be subjected. What is vitally important are the powers which they are going to have and the extent to which they can control both the national and the local aspects of the problem.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
The Noble Lord has imported into the Bill a number of considerations that are not there at all. He has also forgotten a good deal of history. The extraordinary thing is that he suggests that the only people who ever go in for favouritism or corruption are democracies. The trend of democratic government has been moving away from patronage as exercised not by elected persons but by persons who by birth or otherwise get certain positions. It is ridiculous for the Noble Lord to say that because persons are elected they are therefore corrupt.
§ Lord E. PERCY
I did not say that persons who were responsible to elected bodies should not exercise patronage, but I said that elected persons themselves should not do so.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
The Noble Lord got rather muddled. This experiment is not a new one. It is really a reversion to the proposals of 1834. Then we had exactly the same kind of position put forward as has been put forward by the Noble Lord. You could not leave patronage to the local people; you must have a body of incorruptible administrators at the centre who would lay down rules for other people to administer. That idea entirely broke down in the endeavour to apply the principles of 1834, because the country revolted. The whole of the present proposal is dictated by the idea that the Government wish to apply certain standards to the unemployed, and they know that ordinary people, of whatever political party and whatever upbringing, will revolt against the endeavour that is being made. That has been the history of administration. You get certain people to enforce it and other people revolt because of the conditions.
The Noble Lord suggests that this proposal is part of a great scheme of reconstruction and that the Government are going to reconstruct the north-east coast area. I do not know where he has got that idea from. I have never seen any sign that this Government had any conception of dealing with the problems of South Wales or of the north-east coast in any constructive way whatsoever. All that they have done has been to try and segregate the unemployed into two categories, to give rather better terms to one lot and worse terms to another lot, and try to remove the whole question, as they say, out of the hands of politicians. The fact is that they want to get rid of the awkwardness of criticism arising. They are afraid of the criticisms either of local people or of nationally-elected people. I regard this as an extraordinarily dangerous proposal, and it is curious that it has come from people who quite recently have been making a great song about their devotion to democracy. The whole thing is absolute distrust of public control. It is an endeavour to put the 1874 unemployed under officials, to hide the whole matter away and to stifle criticism as far as possible.
I am well aware that there may be abuse of the principle of election and that you may get interests of one sort or another put forward by elected persons. But I did not hear the same protests when it concerned the interests of the propertied classes and so forth. The whole history of the last two years has been the doling out of gifts to private interests, and there is no talk of corruption. It is only when you come to deal with human beings, with the unemployed, that we have this talk of corruption. I think the arguments of the Noble Lord would read very well as a fine contribution to a debate, if you were considering this matter apart from passion in a constitutional atmosphere, dealing with social problems, but it is really hypocritical—I do not include the Noble Lord—when you consider this Bill. This is essentially a mean Bill, a mean way of dealing with a very big subject, and the whole purpose is exactly the same as the purpose of the new-old Poor Law of 1834, and that is to devise some way in which you can keep people alive, just alive at a low standard of life and evade as far as possible the inevitable revulsion of ordinary decent human beings against the system.
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ Mr. LEWIS
To return to the actual Amendment before the Committee, it provides that the Members of the Unemployment Assistance Board shall be appointed by the Commons House of Parliament for a period not exceeding three years. I would say that the answer to that Amendment is quite shortly this: That this House should not appoint Government servants. It should not do so, firstly, for reasons already put forward by the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy), and, secondly, because this House is already overburdened with work. It has more than enough to do if it is to give proper attention to the legislation which comes before it and to that other most important part of its duties, the daily criticism of the executive. It seems to me that upon these grounds the Amendment must be condemned as bad.
There are of course other objections that might be urged to it, as, for example, that it means the beginning in a small way of that spoils system which is so serious a blemish in the political 1875 arrangements in the United States of America, because obviously if persons of this importance are to be appointed by this House for periods not exceeding three years it would mean that when a change in the majority of this House took place it would frequently happen that shortly afterwards such appointment would fall in and there would naturally be a tendency for those appointments to be political in character. It may be that people of eminence would be chosen to succeed those who had gone out, but it would be a commencement of that vicious spoils system because of the knowledge that appointments in the public services were to change because the political complexion of the majority in this House had changed. On that ground also it seems to me that the Amendment is fundamentally bad.
§ Mr. LEWIS
Certainly; this House does not appoint civil servants. When the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) proposed his Amendment, he covered, by permission of the Chair, a much wider ground than the actual wording of the Amendment would suggest. He raised the much bigger issue of whether central control is in fact necessary for the administration of this allowance. I for one appreciate that there is a great deal to be said on both sides of this question. For my own part, I regret the necessity for central control in this matter, but, though I regret it, I personally am convinced that in present conditions it is in fact necessary. And that for more than one reason. To my mind, one of the most important reasons which make it necessary is that at the time this Bill was introduced we were faced with something very like a breakdown of the administration of these benefits or allowances, and I would remind hon. Members opposite that their party has to bear a very great responsibility in that regard. There were cases where local authorities on which the Labour party had a majority deliberately and openly made scales of allowance which they knew were in conflict with the ordinary law. Further than that, there were cases where Labour Members were not in a majority on local bodies and therefore could not lay down the scales, 1876 and in these circumstances they refused to play their part in the ordinary administration of the relief. What does that mean? It means that these men showed that they were unfitted for the important office they held, unfitted in this respect, that they were lacking in sufficient public spirit to carry out an unpleasant duty. That was the trouble.
§ Mr. LEWIS
Anybody can carry out a pleasant duty, but in public life it needs a higher degree of public spirit to carry out an unpleasant duty. I say that these Members showed that they were lacking in public spirit, unable or unwilling to carry out an unpleasant duty, and that spirit, carried far enough, means bringing about a breakdown in the administration of the law. I say further that if the local authorities in question had not been able to continue to call upon Members with that degree of public spirit which their Members had shown in the past before the Labour party began to put members on these bodies—
§ Mr. LOGAN
The hon. Member has three times made an indictment against those sitting on public assistance bodies and says that they have failed to do their duty. I ask the hon. Member whether he will name any body in the country that would not fail in its duty with the miserable allowances that were given?
§ Mr. LEWIS
The hon. Member suggests that if the law lays down an allowance so high that the Member or committee asked to administer it is proud and glad to administer it—[Interruption.] If you interrupt a Member and ask him to give way you might at least listen to what he has to say. Granted that a scheme of central control is necessary, we have to consider whether the scheme outlined in the Bill is a good scheme or the best scheme that could be devised in the circumstances. At least we can say that, subject possibly to improvement and alteration in minor matters, the scheme outlined by the Government is an eminently workable and courageous scheme, and I for one congratulate the Minister on having introduced it, and I hope it will pass into law substantially in the form in which we now see it.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I think I have listened to every speech delivered on this Amendment. To the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) I would say—I hope I shall not be accused of being superior to him—that I wish when he addresses himself to this matter he would learn something of the history of patronage as well as of unemployment insurance. The Amendment really raises the question, not whether there should be patronage or not, but whether benefit should be continued to be paid to the unemployed in the same way as it has been paid from the commencement of the Act. The Noble Lord did not hear the first speech on the Amendment and the Deputy Chairman's Ruling, when it was pointed out that what was at issue here was not merely the Amendment, but the whole future of this particular part of the Bill. The issue raised is whether the unemployed are to be treated in the way they were treated until the coming of the means test. The Amendment in effect cuts out this assistance board entirely.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
At the beginning the understanding was that the whole issue was the continuation of the board, and that without the board there could be no Part II of the Bill at all. Something in the Noble Lord's speech appeared to me to be almost funny. He said that patronage is wrong, that there was something that weakened democracy here. But this present Government is composed of no better men than the average. Indeed, if I wanted to I could say that some members of the Government have less principle than the average member of the House, because some of them have flung over their principles almost for gain. The Minister of Labour has the power to-day of making appointments at £2,000 a year each. It is said that that is not patronage, that it is only £2,000 a year, and that patronage only becomes patronage when it is 15s. 3d. a week. The Cabinet to-day can appoint Governor-Generals in Tasmania. It is a well known rumour which of the Cabinet Ministers is to take the job; everybody knows about it. Why jump about it?
What of the manoeuvres of King's Counsel? Who is to get the next bit of patronage? I see them; they used to 1878 be active supporters of the Tory Government. But they do not come near the House now. Why? Because they did not get the last Judgeship. It is written, not in one book but by many political men of standing, that So-and-so was passed over for a judgeship because he did not serve the Government well. Patronage, of course, but that is fine, and there is nothing wrong with it; it is only appointing the judges. But it is awful, something wrong, something corrupt, if the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) goes next week and has to say to some of his constituents whether they are to have 15s. 3d. or not. I hope the Noble Lord would do me the credit of having at least a higher price than 15s. 3d. It is a little higher than that. I must confess that when I left my friends above the Gangway I thought my price was a little higher than that.
Patronage runs through the appointment of Archbishops, of judges and everything. The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. O. Lewis) said that if another Government came in it might alter the board. A Labour Government is the alternative to the present Government. The hon. Member says that they might change the personnel of this board into one which was to their liking. That is stretching the imagination a good deal. Look at the Labour Government. If there is a criticism of them that must be shared by many of their supporters to-day in this House it is of the way in which they packed their opponents on to every body and commission by patronage. Look at every one of the jobs they have done. Look at the Coal Commission. Ten thousand pounds a year of patronage. Sir Ernest Gower, packed on by an opponent of the Labour movement.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
This idea of civil servants is nothing. It is giving civil servants less credit than they are entitled to. You packed Sir Ernest Gower on to that commission at £8,000 or £10,000 a year—one of the finest bits of patronage that the Labour Government had, and they could have got men in their own ranks if they had wanted. Look at the other appointments which they made—archbishops—Lord Hunsdon—the whole lot. A former colleague of mine, the late John Wheatley, said that the one way to be certain of being 1879 appointed to a good job by the Labour party was to belong to the opponents of the Labour party.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I am one of the few persons in this House who has stuck to Labour party ideas. My criticism of my Labour party colleagues is that they have left Labour party ideas. I am one of the few who have retained those ideas and I hope at some time to cross swords with them on that point. Along with one or two of my colleagues I refused to vote for robbing the unemployed when the Labour Government was in office, and on the day when the Labour party took that action, they deserted Labour party ideas. They may make whatever excuse they like, but on the day when a Labour man voted for the robbing of the servant girl he deserted every principle he formerly possessed.
To return to the Amendment, the proposal which we are discussing gives this board terrible powers, and it would be well for the Committee to devote a few minutes to the consideration of those powers. The Employment Exchange authorities hitherto only had the power to pay in cash. Now for the first time we are giving power to take away that right to a money payment. This board is to have the right of saying that part of the payment may be made in kind. Under the present law the Employment Exchange cannot pry into a man's private or moral character. With all due respect to the hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) whether a man gets drunk at night or not is no business of the Employment Exchange at present. The exchange has only to see that the man is decently signing at the exchange and is available for work. But this board will have power to inquire into a man's private character, not merely into what he does in his working day but if they think fit into what he does at any time. There is a point here which I think has never been properly considered. An unemployed person ought to have some rights. We are engaged in handing over to this board powers in regard to an unemployed person which we would never consent to hand over in regard to the criminal population.
1880 I put this point to the Solicitor-General. A letter comes into the Employment Exchange suggesting that a man is drinking or spending his money improperly. This board without hearing any evidence will be able to decide that that suggestion is true. In the case of a criminal the person making the accusation would have to go into court and give evidence on oath and be cross-examined. In this case any person will be able to write in and to say that a man is drunken or that he is immoral. The board have no need to examine the slanderer on oath or indeed in any way at all, and the man's livelihood can be taken from him. Nay, worse. The moment the man's benefit is stopped everybody who signs at the exchange—and there are 22,000 in my division—will know about it and will want to know why his benefit has been stopped, and the man's character will be brought under suspicion. We are placing in the hands of this board the right to deprive a man and his wife of benefit without giving the right to the unemployed man to defend himself or to have his accusers cross-examined.
Then it is said that Members of Parliament should have no rights in these matters. I do not think that any Member comes to the House of Commons with every particular case which arises in his constituency in connection with unemployment benefit. We are not so silly as to do that. If I came here with every case that arises I would only over-burden myself with work. But what every Member does is to reserve to himself the right, whenever a point of principle arises, to raise that point on the Floor of the House of Commons. To-day you may have some important principle involved in a case arising among these 1,000,000 citizens, but there is to be no right on the part of the Member of Parliament to raise that issue in the House of Commons.
I have listened to many Members criticising the broadcasting programmes and asking how they could raise the issue here. How would the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings or any other Member like some day to go down to the Employment Exchange and to hear the man across the counter say to him, "Look here, Sir, you have to get no benefit"? If he said, "Why?" the answer would be, "We have come to the conclusion, Sir, that you are not fitted to receive 1881 benefit." He appeals to a board, which is held with three people present, and they say to him, "You are unfit to receive benefit," though no evidence is laid and there is no person on oath to give it. He says, "I want the reason why I am unfit," and he goes to the only person he knows to whom he can go, namely, his Member of Parliament, and says, "I have been refused benefit, because I am told I am unfitted to receive it." Is that man to get no redress? Is he to have no appeal? He does not know his accusers; he knows nothing. Is he to have no rights at all? I ask the Noble Lord, who has some regard for the decencies of public life, if it is right to throw this million of people open to treatment like that? Obviously it is not.
The members of this board are to have powers that nobody in this country should ever possess. They are to have power to administer the means test. Some people have the idea that the means test under Part II might be more generous than Part I, but I cannot follow that at all, because the likelihood is that Part II will be less generous than Part I. Part II is, in the nature of things, the Poor Law on a national scale. I hear men talking about the Poor Law being abolished. It is not being abolished; it is merely substituting London and Glasgow for Great Britain as a whole. To-day we shall be faced with this Poor Law business coming along to administer the means test. It will have the right to give anything it likes to anybody, to include any point it thinks fit in regard to unemployment. I hear Members of this House sometimes annoyed about ex-service men being included under the means test and so on, but once you agree to a means test, you cannot come along and say that the ex-service men should be differently placed from some other person. Once you start agreeing to the means test, each citizen takes an equal footing and is treated equally in so far as that test is concerned. The Noble Lord talks about patronage, but what about the patronage that this body will possess? This body of six men plus their officials will have all the patronage that they need, and this House of Commons is as much entitled to use the power they will possess in spending money on unemployment relief as any of those officials. This body, as the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. 1882 Griffith) said earlier, once it starts to work may well be anything you like. It is not good enough that this House should trust this body in any way at all.
There is only one right that I see in regard to the unemployed, and it is this: Tell the unemployed how they are to be treated in a Bill, lay down the rates of benefit in a Bill, lay down the contributions in a Bill, lay down the qualifying period in a Bill, lay down the various Statutes that will govern them in a Bill, and then say to your civil servants, "There is the Act. Administer it." You are saying to this body, with no Act to govern them, with practically no instructions to govern them, "There are a million people. Give them as little as you can, keep them as cheaply as you can, impose any restrictions you like on them." Pick the greatest men you like, pick the most skilful men you like, give labour all the representation you might give them; I still say that this House has no right to part with such powers to such people. The only right the House has is to fix the benefits by law, and, once they are fixed, to see that they are administered decently on behalf of the unemployed.
§ 10.20 p.m.
§ Mr. KENNETH LINDSAY
I can hardly in the few minutes I have at my disposal follow the dialectics of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). I have never heard a greater travesty of what is, as far as one can see, in the Bill than the last five minutes of his speech. I do not want to go over the point he raised with reference to the Noble Lord's speech, except to say that both he and the hon. Member for Lime-house (Mr. Attlee) seem completely to miss the point of the only speech we have listened to to-night which has tried to take hold of the subject and look at it in a really broad way. I speak as one who has been surcharged for over-spending and even nearly surcharged for under-spending, and the hon. Member for Limehouse, who knows far more about the subject than I do, knows perfectly well that the whole position of the Poor Law as it used to be administered was thoroughly unsatisfactory. That is not any reflection on the people who actually distributed the money, but the position was unsatisfactory from top to bottom. It is for hon. Members opposite if they 1883 oppose this board to put forward something practicable. The only thing we have heard from the hon. Member for Gorbals is that he would fix a definite scale in this House and send out civil servants to administer it. He has completely missed the point.
Everybody who has tackled this question—both Mrs. Sidney Webb and the late Minister of Health in the Conservative Government have tried to grapple with it—has been faced with the problem whether there should be a three-part or two-part system to deal with these different sections of the community. In other words, should there be insurance plus the rest or, as I believe the trade union scheme was something bigger at the top with the rest dealt with in a Poor Law sort of way. The Government have tried to put forward an intermediate body, which is a board to deal with industrial persons. As I understand it, it is going to be part of the Ministry of Labour organisation, although actually separate from it. It will be administered rather nearer the Employment Exchange and will have nothing to do with the old Poor Law. The only question to my mind—and I raised it on Second Reading—is as to whether it is in the long run a wise thing to supplement unemployment benefits from the board and whether it is not much wiser to supplement the benefits from the board from the Poor Law. After all, the Poor Law is the last line of relief; it is the last line before the stomach goes, and if you are going to do away with it in that sense it is a very dangerous thing.
We are dealing with a board, and, as the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith) has said, you cannot remove this question from politics. I want to put the point of view that when we are dealing with this problem on the scale in which it will be dealt with in the coming years, we shall be up against an entirely new set of conditions. The hon. Member for Gorbals says "How can this be above insurance?" It is bound to be above insurance. It is bound to be administering according to need. Insurance has got nothing to do with it. That is why some of us have let things go through which otherwise we might have challenged. It is an attempt to build up the insurance basis; but this is a vast new conception—
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
How does the hon. Member reconcile that with the fact that at the present time one of the instructions laid down by the Minister with reference to the means test is that the relief granted under the means test must not exceed that granted under standard benefit?
§ Mr. LINDSAY
I am talking about the future. Hon. Members opposite talk of this as if it were an undemocratic weapon. It can be used by the Labour party, used by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) for his own purposes. There will no longer be 300 separate buffers—the local authorities—throughout the Kingdom. We shall be dealing with this for the first time, as the Labour party have always wished, in a national way by a national board, and we can use that board as we will. The Noble Lord has read into the Bill extra things, I think. The whole point of this Clause is that its powers are quite different from the old Poor Law powers. I would like to read out the differences, but perhaps it is too late. The memorandum said:A board is to be constituted to assist all persons to whom Part II applies who are in need of work"—
§ Mr. LINDSAY
—and to promote their welfare, and in particular to make provision for the improvement and re-establishment of the condition of such persons with a view to their being in all respects fit for entry into, or return to, regular employment.The functions of the old public assistance committees were:The investigation of the circumstances and condition of applicants for relief within their district, the interviewing of such applicants and the determination of the nature and the amount of relief (if any) to be granted.That was the Poor Law.
§ Mr. LINDSAY
This is a new thing. We are dealing with a board, and I think the hon. Member for Gorbals will agree with me that it has potential powers greater than those of the old Poor Law.
§ Mr. LINDSAY
Hon. Members who talk of an attack on local government 1885 must remember that the local authorities have practically asked to be relieved of this burden. For two years they made a gallant effort, and all praise to them, to discharge it. Every hon. Member knows that we cannot go on as we are. It is quite impossible to go on with this unequal accommodation in different parts of the country. We are now experimenting with an entirely new device as far as dealing with the problem in a national way is concerned, and if hon. Members wish to go back to the Poor Law they must present us with a scheme. Those of us on this side who are in favour of this board support it because we think it will do good administrative work. It has the possibility of providing thoroughly efficient administration, and with a few amendments I think it can be made a really remedial board, capable of dealing not only with case work, which it has got to do—there is a great deal of case work—but also of creating an entirely new group of officials, who do not exist at the present moment. We have to train up practically a new class of officials to deal with this new group of people, and I say that until that has been done we cannot deal with the unemployment problem in a national way. Therefore, we have to accept this Bill as a really big effort. If we accept it as a mere appanage of the Ministry of Labour, doling out relief once a week, it is not worth the paper upon which it is written. For that reason a great many hon. Members are prepared to give it a trial, and to wish the Minister the best of good fortune in the future. Unless it can be administered in the way I have outlined, it is bound to prove a failure.
§ 10.31 p.m.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir Donald Somervell)
I wish at the outset to make clear to the Committee my position and intentions in intervening in this Debate. The Ruling which you gave, Sir, and which has been responded to in every quarter of the House, has resulted in a Debate of first-rate importance. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour will, later in the discussion, deal with the many important points of policy and principle—general policy and general principle—which have been raised in the speeches. I rise to undertake the subordinate task of dealing with the Amendment on the Paper—to take the discus- 1886 sion, if the Committee will allow me, on to that lower plane for a few minutes. Some principle of importance may be got out of the Amendment, though not perhaps quite so wide as most of the other points which have been dealt with. I shall therefore refrain, for example, from going into the merits of the dispute that arose between the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) who thought that the board would spend too little, and the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) who was afraid that it would spend too much. The desire expressed by the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith) in his peroration to be placed on the board was rather nearer the Amendment and its subject—
§ Mr. WHITE
I apologise for interrupting the hon. and learned Gentleman, but I did not say that I was afraid that the board might spend too much. I was rather dealing with the constitutional aspect of the matter and pointing out that if the board carried out the duties as laid down in the Bill, as we had the assurance of the Minister that it would, I believed that it would be spending very much more than the £48,000,000 mentioned by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) and that the House of Commons would have nothing more to do than to pay the Bill.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
I thought that the hon. Gentleman did suggest that it might in fact spend more than Parliament intended it should do, but I withdraw that at once. I thought that the speech of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) was going to be an attack upon lawyers, whom I have heard him on other occasions defend, but I came to the conclusion that it was not an attack upon lawyers so much as an atack upon the Government for not promoting the best lawyers.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
You have not promoted the hon. and learned Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Knight) yet.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
I may, therefore, dismiss that without any comment. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street, in his opening speech, said very truly that this board and this part of the Bill dealt with the most afflicted section of the unemployed. It is because we 1887 believe that the scheme set up under the Bill is a vast improvement on anything that has been practised, and a great improvement on anything that has been suggested, that we put it forward; and also because—and this, I think, is very near to the point raised by the hon. Member—under this scheme the best use will be made of the time and the powers of the House of Commons, and matters which could be better dealt with by a body other than the House will be so dealt with. I may remind the Committee that the Amendment proposes that each member of the board shall be appointed by the Commons House of Parliament for a period not exceeding three years, and perhaps I may say a few words on that, as actually drafted, as a suggestion. I think that, in the history of constitutional government in this country, we may justly pride ourselves on having been more successful than other countries in drawing the line between the proper functions of the Legislature and the Executive. The definition may have sometimes been imperfect, but on the whole it has been more successful than in any other countries of which one can think; and it would be doing no service to the Mother of Parliaments to place on her a function or a duty which is not appropriate to a legislative assembly, and which can better be performed by Ministers responsible to that assembly than by the assembly itself.
One may consider in the first place the preliminaries of appointment. What has any person or body who is making an appointment to do in the first instance? Inquiries have to be made, names have to be canvassed, and confidential information collected. That, obviously, must be done by the Minister; no one would suggest that the House of Commons is a body that should conduct inquiries of that kind. So far there will be agreement, and I do not think that the Amendment would suggest anything else. Then the Minister, having made his preliminary inquiries and settled on his list, would bring it before the House. What then would happen under this Amendment? It may be said that the list, if introduced by the Government in power, would go through either with no discussion or merely with encomiums. If that were 1888 so, of course the change in procedure would not be one of substance. But it might go through with adverse comments; the names submitted by a Minister from the party at present on this side of the House, or that on the other side, or from other quarters of the House, might be submitted to criticism by individual Members of the House, but on the assumption that the list goes through. I suggest to the Committee that that is really a very undesirable procedure. Here are men who are being asked to undertake, and on this assumption are going to be made by the House to undertake, a public duty of a most important kind, and you start their career by a lot of criticism, to which great publicity would be given; that would be the beginning of their taking up this important public duty. That is not only not desirable, but it is not really fair to men who are being asked to undertake a public duty of this kind.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
How would you apply that to the Foreign Secretary? We subject him to bitter criticism, yet we send him out to undertake far more difficult work.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
That enables me to make clear the point that I was trying to make. The Foreign Secretary's appointment is not made by this House. Once a man is in the saddle, of course he is subject to criticism, and the general policy of administration can be reviewed on many occasions, but you do not start off, before he has even got his job, subjecting him to criticism. Let us take a third possibility. Let us assume that, as the result of an Amendment, something more than an academic Debate happens and that a Motion is moved in the House to delete Mr. A's name, and a subsequent Motion might or might not be moved and carried to insert Mr. B. What is really the relative position of the House as a legislative House and the Government as the Executive? Let us assume that it is not a vote of confidence and that the Government goes on. The Minister will say, "You did not let me have the man I wanted for the board. You forced on me another individual." Take the next occasion, the Annual Report or the Vote for the Minister's salary, when we have a general review of the scheme as a whole, and criticism is made and questions are asked 1889 as to the administration by the board of the duties placed upon it by Parliament. The Minister would say, "You would not let me have the board that I wanted. You forced on us a board that we did not want, and you cannot blame us if it has not functioned as it should have done."
The idea underlying the Amendment is really based on misconception of the proper functions of this House as one branch of the Legislature and the proper functions of the Government as the Executive. After all, there are many occasions on which the general working of the system will come before us. At the very outset the Regulations to be made have to be confirmed by the House. All rules have to be approved by the Minister. The annual report, obviously, will present an opportunity for discussion. Even on the matter of appointment, the Minister is of course responsible, and he can be criticised by all appropriate Parliamentary methods or asked to justify any appointment he makes. This is how the scheme presents itself to me. This body which is to be set up is to perform part of a large area of administration, and for that larger area and the working of the administration as a whole the Minister is, and must remain, responsible.
§ 10.46 p.m.
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
The speech to which we have just listened is the first substantial contribution which the Solicitor-General has made since his appointment, and I believe that I shall be voicing the point of view of Members on all sides of the Committee when I express our appreciation of the charm and clarity with which he has discharged his duty. He has had an exceptionally difficult brief to which to speak. Maybe he has done the best that anybody could do with it, and the fact that an hon. and learned Member of his distinction and charm has not been able to do better than he has is evidence of the weakness of the case of the Government. I confess that as I listened to him I was becoming more and more bewildered at conditions which will perhaps reveal themselves in my speech as I go on. I could not quite understand the distinction he was drawing between the legislature and the executive. The distinction which should be drawn is one between the legislature and the judiciary, because the Board will be 1890 chargeable to the Consolidated Fund and we shall not be, in fact, entitled to criticise the conduct of the board any more than we should be entitled to criticise the conduct of a judge. That is the position.
The Solicitor-General, in the dissertation he has addressed to the Committee, has been drawing a false distinction. The suggestion made by him was that this board would start its duties in most in[...]auspicious circumstances if, first of all, it had to run the fire of adverse criticism in this House. There is nothing exceptional in that. I remember that one of the stormiest scenes which occurred in the last Parliament was that over the appointment of the chairman of the Public Works Loans Board, which is an authority over which this House has no control. It is a statutory body. The appointment was criticised on the ground that Lord Hunsdon was an improper and unfit person to be appointed. We still think he was an unfit and improper person. He has gone on doing his job quite as unsatisfactory as before, I expect, but nevertheless he has gone on doing it. The Solicitor-General could not be intimately acquainted with those gentlemen, otherwise he would not think that they were as sensitive as one might have gathered from his speech. Then I understood from the Solicitor-General that almost all executive appointments were made by the Minister subject to the censure of this House. We can raise the name, history or reputation of anybody. There is no difference between those cases and this. The Solicitor-General has made out no case whatever why this Board should be appointed in any different manner from the appointment of other executive officers.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
It is quite true that in the case to which the hon. Member referred, the Public Works Loan Commissioners, the names are actually inserted in the Bill, but that is an exception. There may be one or two other instances, but ordinary appointments are made in the manner proposed in the Bill.
§ Mr. BEVAN
We may be able to provide a precedent for almost anything, but the gravamen of the case made by the Solicitor-General was that it would be a complete departure from constitutional practice to do this. Mr. Herbert 1891 Morrison made some appointments under the Road Traffic Act, and they were criticised by Conservative Members on the ground of political bias, but the officers went on with their job. In reducing the Amendment to this narrow issue the Solicitor-General did less than justice to the Debate, though I admit that he was put up to deal with the legal point.
May I plead with the Committee to broaden the issue away from the narrow question into what actually lies behind the Amendment, namely, that the unemployed person shall still receive the protection of an elected representative? There are three classes of persons who will be brought under this board. The first class consists of those who have fallen out of insurance benefit; the second of those who are in receipt of transitional benefit; and the third of those who were never in an insurable class at all, but have become recipients of public assistance. In the last class are all those persons who were referred to in earlier Debates as the black-coated workers; all those who were never in insurance at all, either because they were employed at salaries higher than £250 a year or have never found employment—ex-students of universities, members of what are called the "intelligentsia." All those persons are now recipients of public assistance in addition to those who have dropped out of insurance or are in receipt of transitional benefit. All those three groups are to be lumped together into one class under the aegis of the board.
The status of a recipient of public assistance is that he is entitled to go to a local relieving officer and ask for assistance. He is entitled under the law to receive assistance, and if he disapproves of the assistance he has received he is entitled to go to an elected person and lodge a complaint. If the elected person does not satisfy him he is entitled as a citizen to proselytise, to agitate, to organise, to canvass, to publish leaflets, to organise political parties, to argue that that person is an undesirable person to represent him and ought to be removed. That is his present status. The setting up of the board will destroy that one right. He no longer will have the right to go to his local representative. 1892 The language of the first Clause also deprives him of the right of appeal to his Member of Parliament. The Government transfer the burden from the local authority to the State and by that transference they transfer the obligation of the local authority to the recipient of public assistance. By the same act, and by the logic of that act, they ought to transfer the responsibility of the local authority to this House, but that is precisely what they do not do. They transfer the obligation of the local authority but do not at the same time make provisions for the rights of the citizen. They do not put him in relation to the House of Commons in the same position that he is in in relation to the local authority.
It is the purpose of the Amendment to secure that a Member of Parliament shall have the same relationship to the recipient of unemployment assistance as the local councillor has to the recipient of public assistance. In other words, we want to retain the status of the citizen in both cases. The Minister of Labour in his Second Reading speech said that he desired to divest himself of responsibility for individual cases, and that it would be an intolerable situation if he were made responsible for such people. The Minister of Pensions is responsible for individual cases. The ex-service man has the protection of every Member of this House. It was never considered desirable that the ex-service man should be at the mercy of one man or of a board. Therefore, any hon. Member may raise an individual case on the Floor of the House of Commons. Anyone who has had experience of the Ministry of Pensions will know that we do not raise these individual cases, because the power to raise them is usually sufficient. I have, however, known instances where individual cases have been raised, and redress has been obtained. The ex-service man will come under the proposed board and his pension will be treated under the board, but the Government will destroy that ex-service man's right to appeal to this House, although the unemployment assistance officer may take away from him the pension that has been awarded by this House. We say that this Clause is the backbone of the Bill and that once we have parted with it we have parted with such substantial powers as make the rest almost of no importance.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Thursday.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.