§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
Before I call on the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) to move the next Amendment, which he has handed in in manuscript, Mr. Speaker desires me to point out that he would not have accepted that Amendment but for the fact that all the Amendments to Clause 5 are out of order, and that it will not be in order for hon. Members, under a Motion to leave out the Clause, to attempt to develop in detail arguments which would have been permissible on the Amendments if they had been in order.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
I beg to move to leave out the Clause.
This is the instrument by which the Government propose to restore the cuts made in 1931, and this is the only Parliamentary way in which we can raise some of the matters which we desire to discuss. We shall not press the matter to at Division, because we want to obtain what the Government have decided to give, but at the same time we desire to point out that they should have proceeded much further than they have done in this 405 respect. In Committee we put down Amendments for the purpose of discussing the rates of benefit and were hoping to have a general discussion upon raising them not only to the 1931 figure but beyond, and nearer to what we consider to be adequate scales of benefit. Owing to a disagreement with the Chair we were unable to discuss those Amendments at all, and this is the only opportunity we have to discuss what the rates of unemployment insurance benefit should be, although, as Mr. Deputy-Speaker has pointed out, it will not be possible to discuss them in detail. I should like, first of all, to make an examination of the extent to which the cuts made in 1931 have, in fact, been restored. The general impression created by the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was that the unemployed were to be placed where they were before the cuts were made, but it has been made clear in the Debates on the Budget, and will be made clearer still in the Debates on the Finance Bill, that, as a matter of fact, if I may use a colloquialism, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has sold the unemployed a pup.
The National Government secured its mandate from the country in 1931 after it had imposed a reduction of unemployment insurance benefit. I do not propose to run away from that position. It is perfectly clear that the people of the country knew what they were doing when they elected the Government. The cuts had already been made, and we have to accept the position that the country confirmed the Government in the imposition of the cuts. It would be improper for me to examine by what sinister methods the Government created the psychology under which the country accepted the cuts, but, nevertheless, it is true that the citizens of Great Britain confirmed the imposition of the cuts. But the Government did promise—it may not have been explicit but it was implied—that all the reductions in the standards of life imposed by legislation in the crisis of 1931 would be restored when the country returned to prosperity, or when it was possible to do so. There was a surplus of £31,000,000 on last year's Budget. That £31,000,000 has not been used for the restoration of the cuts, but for a purpose which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not in mind a year ago when he prepared his Estimates. It has been used for the Sinking Fund. The Chancellor of 406 the Exchequer said : "We are now in a position to restore the cuts to the unemployed, and I propose to do so." He restored the 10 per cent. cut on unemployment insurance benefit, 17s. a week for a man and 9s. a week for the wife, leaving the children where they were in 1931, because no cut was made.
But a cut was made in 1931 which is still not properly understood by many hon. Members. They have failed to realise that in 1931 no case was made out for the imposition of the means test except one of economy. I recollect the Debates in this House; they were short, terse, and inadequate, because the Government were then legislating by Orders. There was no Bill before it. I am within the recollection of hon. Members that when the means test was imposed it was imposed primarily for the purpose of making a reduction in national expenditure. From that day to this the House has not had an opportunity of discussing the justice of that cut. We have had Second Reading Debates, Votes of Censure, charges thrown across the House from Ministers to ex-Ministers and from ex-Ministers to Ministers, but we have never had an opportunity of dividing the House on the principle. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says that the unemployed were to be put where they were in 1931. Our contention is that that has not been done. As a matter of fact, a sum equal to about £16,000,000 a year is still being withheld from the unemployed, and the Clause we are now discussing does not, in fact, put the unemployed where they are entitled to be even if we accept the standards of 1931 as proper standards to be attained.
Our first point is that hon. Members are not entitled in the Press or on the platforms in their constituencies to argue that justice has been done to the unemployed until they force the Chancellor of the Exchequer to extend the standard rates of benefit mentioned in this Clause to all persons who are at the present time on transitional payment. That will cost the Chancellor of the Exchequer an additional £16,000,000 a year. I am using the sum of £16,000,000, because it is the only figure we have at the moment; no other figure is available. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has made a rough estimate of what it is going to cost in additional transitional payments by raising the standard, but, according 407 to my calculations, the figure of £16,000,000 is a reliable one to work upon at the moment. I want to express my own indignation and the indignation of the party to which I belong at this continuation of a sacrifice on the part of the poorest members of the community. Not only that, but I want to indict hon. Members opposite of the most objectional hypocrisy in claiming, as many of them are, that justice is being done to the unemployed, when as a matter of fact the Government are restoring 6d. to the Income Tax payer and retaining £16,000,000 a year which should go to the unemployed.
Our case has not yet been answered in the House. The case is a very simple one. In Great Britain there are 1,000,050 people in receipt of transitional payment. There were 850,000 in 1931. Those 1,000,050 people are being subject to an imposition which was placed upon them in the crisis of 1931. Our first charge against the Government is that they are going back on their word and betraying the promise made in 1931, by perpetuating the sacrifice that they pledged themselves to restore at the first available opportunity. We will not agree that anything like the 1931 position has been restored until the Minister of Labour and the Chancellor of the Exchequer get up and say, "We are wiping out the means test."
In Committee we desired to move an Amendment to raise the rates of dependents' benefit. A great case has been made out in this House and in the country for raising the children's allowance from 2s. to 3s. per week. We heard speeches from many benchers, from Conservatives, to that end. Where are those Conservatives now? We hear not a word from them. They were merely engaged in make-believe that they were concerned about the children of the unemployed. The scale of benefit is still 2s., and they are acquiescing in this Clause, which makes it impossible for us to move that 3s. to be substituted for 2s. That is our difficulty; we cannot face Conservative Members now with the opportunity of fulfilling the threat that they made against the Ministry of Labour in Committee. We cannot test their sincerity. They are not in the Chamber and we hear 408 nothing from them. Yet the 2s. is universally declared to be miserably inadequate for the maintenance of a child.
Although we go on paying the 2s., in the case of the means test the amount is less than 2s. in many cases. A dog cannot be kept for that sum. I have here a circular from the Dogs' Home at Hackbridge, of which the Patron is His Majesty the King, the President is the Duke of Portland, the Chairman, Percy M. Burton, and the Honorary Treasurer, Guy H. Guillum Scott. The circular sets out the charges for the maintenance of dogs. A friend of mine who was going away and wished to put his dog into decent hands, wrote asking what would be the charges. The reply was that as from 1st June, 1932, the charges were : For dogs of fox terrier size or less. 1s. 3d. per day; for dogs of Airedale and wolf dog size. 1s. 9d. a day; for dogs of Great Dane and St. Bernard size, 2s. a day; cats, 8d. per day, or 11d. a day if accommodation with outside pen attached was required.
§ Mr. BEVAN
The hon. Member misunderstands me. I suggest that there are people who are prepared to pay more for the maintenance of a dog than for a child. His Majesty the King is the Patron of this Home and the Head of this Empire, and he declares that you cannot keep a dog for less than 1s. 3d. a day.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. Member seems now to be getting very close to the point of bringing the name of the Sovereign in to influence the Debate.
§ Mr. BEVAN
I say that what I am declaring is absolutely correct. The Sovereign of this country is the patron of this dog's home. If there was any decency in this country, people would not say that you can keep a child on 2s. a week and yet say that a dog cannot be kept on less than 9s. a week. It is a monstrous and inequitable position. That is precisely what is happening. I wish that hon. Members in these Debates would try to conceive the human realities of the unemployment problem, instead of confining themselves to abstract discussions about the solvency of the Unemployment Insurance Fund and the powers of statutory boards and committees. I wish they would try to realise that what is actually happening, in my constituency and in the constituencies of hon. Members on the Conservative benches who represent industrial areas, is the malnutrition of children, day by day. Although it may be possible to restore the nation's finances by a year or two of adjustment, a year or two of economy, it is impossible to give back to those children what you have taken from them. If a child starts by being undernourished it suffers throughout life. We say that no temporary circumstances of national financial difficulty should cause children to suffer permanent disabilities.
We say that in restoring the standard benefit to where it was in 1931 the Government are not putting it where it ought to be. It ought to be much higher than that. If we had had the opportunity we would have moved an. Amendment in Committee to raise the rates of benefit from I7s. a week to £1 a week and from 9s. to 10s., and from 2s. to 5s. for each child, and we would still regard those rates as miserably inadequate. I think it was the Minister of Labour who said on one occasion that the Government were not paying unemployment benefit because they considered it was adequate—that it was merely something towards the maintenance of the unemployed man and his dependents. I believe it was described as assistance in addition to his own private resources. Perhaps it was the Attorney-General who said that, but 410 probably the Minister of Labour holds the same view. From what other source except unemployment benefit are unemployed men getting any assistance? Where else can they get help? They live upon unemployment insurance benefit or transitional payments. I would be out of order in pointing out the manner in which transitional payments are being assessed. I sent a communication to the Minister the other day showing that a man, in Acton, I think, had been refused benefit for himself and his wife on the ground that his son-in-law was earning £3 10s. a week.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I do not think we can discuss the details of the administration of transitional payment on this Motion. The hon. Member is entitled to refer to it because of course what happens under Part I of the Bill will affect Part III, but he must not go into details.
§ Mr. BEVAN
I knew I could not argue the means test in detail and I did not propose to follow the point further. I was only endeavouring to point out that there are cases of exceeding hardship, and that if the Government could agree to extend the concession which has been made on Part I those cases of hardship would be greatly mitigated. There is one further point. I cannot understand why the Minister still resists our contention that these payments should be brought forward from July to May. We argued when the Budget Resolutions were before us that if this payment is desirable it ought to be made as quickly as possible. Why should there be any delay? The Minister said it was because an earlier payment would be impracticable. We do not accept that explanation. I have known retrospective payments to be made to unemployed men, on many occasions, covering six months, where there have been disputes before the umpire and where a long period has elapsed before the umpire has decided what rate of benefit, if any, should be paid in a particular case. Retrospective payments have been made of large sums covering long periods. It has happened in every test case. Men have received unemployment benefit long after they have returned to work.
The Minister of Labour is not doing justice to the intelligence of the House 411 when he offers that explanation. It is, if I may say so, "All bunk and bolony." The reason why the Government will not make this payment immediately is because they cannot do so and at the same time pay the debt. There is not enough money in the fund at the moment to start paying off the debt at once. They must allow the resources to accumulate. The real reason for declining to make the earlier payment is because the Chancellor of the Exchequer refuses to give way on the question of the debt. We again press upon the Minister to give us the real explanation, and not what we have had up to now, as to why this concession cannot be made at once. The interregnum between now and the receipt of the higher rate of benefit will take a good deal of the bloom off the rose which the Government are offering to the unemployed. Men are already asking when they are going to get back the 10 per cent. and if the Government want to make the greatest possible political capital out of what they have done they ought to restore the 10 per cent. immediately.
We on this side have suffered this evening from a considerable disability. We did not know until the last moment that it would be possible to have a discussion on Clause 5. We had hoped to have been able to move our Amendments and to get our discussion in the proper and ordinary manner but I would put it with great earnestness to hon. Members in all parts of the House that this House of Commons degenerates into utter futility unless it is possible to bring on to the Floor of the House some apprehension of what is happening in the cities, towns and villages of this country. The perpetuation of the means test and of the cuts brings suffering and hardship into the homes of people who are quite helpless to mitigate their own condition. If hon. Members had any sense of visual imagination they would be able to feel what is going on in the mining villages of South Wales, and Durham and Lancashire and they would realise that there are people to-day going short of the necessaries of life because of the callousness of this House. We have tried, quite inadequately, to represent their claims here. We have failed in doing it, and we shall probably fail again this evening, but hon. Members must not imagine that 412 because we have not been able to move them either by any small eloquence that we might have or because of our Parliamentary standing, they will be able to escape retribution for the way in which they have behaved in this matter.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. TINKER
I beg to second the Amendment.
It is a rather curious feature of Parliamentary life that we have to move the rejection of a Clause which is giving some benefit to the unemployed, but we have to do it for the purpose of trying to bring before the House the plight of many of our people. This Clause restores the cuts, so far as I read it, in a certain time, but my objection is that the cuts are not given back as early as they might be, and I claim that three months earlier could have been managed quite easily. The point put by my hon. Friend is quite true, because retrospective payment is made in many cases. I have known awards in various trade disputes where arrears of pay have been given. In the case of one dispute in the mining world, a Sankey award was ante-dated, and months of payment were given to the colliers, and it was done quite easily. All their names were on the books, and it was only a question of calculation to give them back all they were entitled to. If the spirit of the Government were really behind the restoration of the cuts, it could be done in this case also without any trouble at all, because the names of all these people are on the records of the Ministry of Labour. I would rather the Government faced up to it and said they had no intention to restore the cuts earlier, because it meant saving some of the money for the class which they represent chiefly.
On Monday, coming down to this House, I got a paper reporting a broadcast talk on the previous Saturday night by an unemployed man, and I hope those hon. Members who are not now in the House heard the broadcast. This is what the man said :I and my wife and my family of five children have got a total income of 33s. 3d. a week. Ten bob goes in rent and another half-crown for coal, and after we've paid for insurance and light we have about half-crown for food and clothes for the seven of us in the family. That's about 4d. each. That's a problem for my wife, and God knows how she solves it. The brunt of it all falls on the wife : a man hands in his money 413 and knows in his heart it is a hopeless proposition to keep a house for a week on it. All he can do is to walk out and leave his wife to make the best of it.That man got 33s. 3d. This Clause gives back 2s. 9d., making it 36s., and surely everybody will agree that that is inadequate to keep a family such as I have described, but it would be a little bit. The 2s. 9d. given for the weeks that have gone by for three or four months would be a little gesture of hope to such a family. I think hon. Members opposite cannot but be moved by stories of this kind, because this is only one instance. There are hundreds and thousands of similar families in our land that are suffering just as this man's family is suffering. I would urge all hon. Members opposite to read a book which has been issued recently, entitled "Memoirs of the Unemployed," a splendid book, giving a description of the feelings of men suffering the pangs of unemployment and not knowing where or how to get the means to live.
One would have thought the first thing, now that there was a little to spare on the Budget, would be for the Government to have said; "The people who are in need of it most, the people who are suffering most, are the unemployed, and therefore we should try to make all the restitution we can." That has not been done, for, in my opinion, this is only a partial restoration. The right gesture would have been to give, right from the commencement, all that could have been given. We are making our protest, because we cannot accept this in the spirit of being thankful or feeling grateful to the Government for what they have done. My gratitude would have been greater if they had given back these cuts right from the commencement.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Mr. KINGSUEY GRIFFITH
I find myself in a very considerable measure of agreement with a great deal of what was said by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) in moving this Amendment, but when he represented, as I think he implied, that in the matter of the increase of the allowance to children he and the party to which he belongs have a record of continuous support of this proposal and of this increase, whereas the other wicked parties have always been getting in their way, I am bound to refer 414 briefly to facts which show that that is not the case. He referred to a certain dogs' home. I am not going into all the details as he did, but I have no doubt that that dogs' home or similar dogs' homes were in existence on the 9th July, 1924, when an Amendment was moved, under a Labour Government, to increase this particular figure from 2s. to 3s., and was voted down very largely by Labour votes. I have some reason to remember that particular Amendment, because, although I was not in the House at that time, the Amendment was moved by the then Member for Middlesbrough, East, Colonel Penry Williams, and was seconded by my own predecessor, the late Trevelyan Thomson; and anyone who looks at the Division lists upon that occasion will find some very curious instances. He will find the names of some Conservatives, such as that of the present Attorney-General, voting for the increase, and those of over 100 Labour Members voting against it.
I think it is time we got away from this idea that all the care for the children is concentrated in one particular party. By all means let us concentrate, if we can and as far as the Rules of Order permit, in getting these things settled upon a more generous basis now. I care not who puts the thing right, so long as it is done, but when I hear overweening and unjustifiable claims made from a particular quarter of the House, I feel bound to call attention to it. With the main argument of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale I am in very considerable agreement, particularly with what he said about the means test, but I cannot agree with him to the full when he says that no argument has ever been put up for the means test except that of economy. When his own leader was speaking on that very subject and said he did not want to pay out public money without an inquiry as to means, that was not a question of mere economy; it was that it was not a proper thing to do. That was the only possible deduction to be drawn from what he said. However, with regard to. the means test as at present administered, there is a very strong case to be made out for what the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale said. The means test as at present administered was introduced in a time of national emergency. Things were done in a hurry and more or less as a leap in the 415 dark without a clear understanding as to how they were going to work out.
Now that we come to deal with Clause 5 of this Bill we have all, and the Minister of Labour more than anybody else, a large experience of the working of this matter behind us, and we ought to know a great deal more of the lines upon which the means test can be humanely administered. I and my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Curry) in Committee put down an Amendment which gave our idea of how a means test should properly be administered. It would be out of order for me to go into details of that kind now, but I agree with hon. Members above the Gangway on the Opposition side that the Government have not really restored to the poorest people who participated in the cuts at the time of the emergency that which is their just due. Whether it was promised in words or not, as long as a means test is administered in the circumstances of hard-ship that we know prevail at the present time, there has not been in the fullest sense a restoration of the cuts. Taking my full share of the responsibility for the cuts, as I must, I believed, when they were imposed, that, just as the Government through the Prime Minister was inviting the nation to share the burdens of the difficulties and the adversity which were upon the country, so, when prosperity gradually came to be restored, that prosperity would be equally shared and made available, if anyone had to be chosen first, for those who were in the gravest need.
While I recognise and welcome the fact of the restoration of the standard rate, while I agree with the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) and wish it could be made to operate at an earlier date, I believe the hardships taking place among those who are in receipt of transitional payments are the major fact of politics at the present time to the bulk of the people. Questions of foreign affairs rightly assume importance, and matters of trade policy, in the end, are reflected in the homes of the people, but this matter of the administration of the livelihood of the very poorest is the thing which, must come home first to the people, and is the thing by which every Government in the end, as long as these conditions endure, is bound to be judged. I ask that we shall take this Clause, with the 416 restoration of the cuts as far as it goes, merely as a foundation upon which, to build an edifice more worthy of the appeals that were made on behalf of the National Government at the time of the last election. If that is to be done, I believe it has to start with the administration of the means test, and that, until that has been properly and adequately tackled, it is misleading to pretend to the people that either by the Budget or by any other part of the Government's policy they have really been put back into the position that they ought to occupy and which they were originally promised at the time of the election.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. E. WILLIAMS
Last week I had occasion to make a comment upon the Chancellor's Budget speech, and I do not think I wrongly represented the views of hon. Members when I said that everyone who heard the Chancellor's speech believed that the whole of the unemployed were to have their cuts restored. The acclamation with which the Chancellor's statement was received led me to believe that every supporter of the Government and my hon. Friends above and below the Gangway believed that that was to be so. We have since learned with regret that a substantial number—at least 40 per cent.—of the unemployed will not have their cuts restored. The means test is to continue to apply, and so far as that applies the inference is that there is to be no restoration of the cuts. We also know that the amount of surplus in the Budget could have been used to restore the cuts some time last year. It was a fact known to the Chancellor and to the Treasury that there would be some millions of surplus. In fact, I can read a quotation from a speech which the Chancellor made at Halifax, which I gathered from the "Financial Times," in which he said there would be a surplus. He was at that time conscious, and the Treasury were conscious, that there would be a substantial surplus at the end of the financial year.
The Government could then have endeavoured to provide means to restore the cuts. To have done so, however, would have destroyed the reason for propounding this Bill. There is no reason why the Unemployment Bill should be before the House now except for the purpose of implementing Part II. That 417 means perpetuating the means test. Everyone who was in the House when the economy measures were propounded by the Government can recollect the phrase in common use; there was to be equality of sacrifice. There has been no equality in the restoration of the sacrifices that were made. I am amazed that hon. Members supporting the Government have not made their voices heard, particularly when at this stage they must feel that they have been deliberately deceived by the Chancellor's Budget statement. I am certain they would feel as passionately as I do if they were faced with a position comparable to that in my constituency. I wish to present a picture of that constituency, and hon. Members will be able to appreciate how few people will receive the 10 per cent. that is to be restored as compared with the number from whom it was taken in 1931. It is a long statement, but I think it is necessary for hon. Members to hear it in order that the picture may be clearly seen.
These figures were given in reply to a question to the Minister of Labour in which I asked him to state the number of persons in receipt of unemployment benefit and transitional payments respectively in five Exchange areas known as Maesteg, Ogmore Vale, Pontycymmer, Aberkenfig and Bridgend for the last four years consecutively to date. The reply I received states that at the Maesteg Exchange on the 23rd February, 1931, there were in receipt of standard benefit 2,391 persons and in receipt of transitional payments 812. I leave the intervening years and come to 1934. In February, 1934, the number of persons in receipt of insurance benefit was 260—although in 1931 there were 2,391—and in receipt of transitional payments 2,559, whereas in 1931 there were only 812. At Ogmore Vale there were in receipt of standard benefit in February, 1931, 313 persons and in receipt of transitional payments 283. In 1934 there were in receipt of insurance benefit 155 and of transitional payments 737. At Pontycymmer the number in receipt of standard benefit in February, 1931, was 844, and of transitional payments 343; and in 1934 those in receipt of insurance benefit numbered 210 and of transitional payments 1,040. At Aberkenfig in February, 1931, the number in receipt of unemployment benefit was 283, and of transitional payments 342; and in February, 1934, the figures were 152 in 418 receipt of insurance benefit and 585 in receipt of transitional payments. At the Bridgend Exchange in February, 1931, those in receipt of standard benefit numbered 662, and of transitional payments 227; and in February, 1934, the figures were 280 and 722 respectively.
That is a picture of my constituency. Roughly, 40 per cent. of the employable persons are idle. If those figures were worked out it would be found that of the persons totally unemployed about 70 per cent. are in receipt of transitional payment, which is the converse of the position in 1931 when this Government came in. The persons who were deprived of 10 per cent. cannot hope to have the 10 per cent. restored, because they are now subject to the means test. They have been deliberately deprived of the possibility of having the 10 per cent. restored to them. The same thing obtains in most industrial constituencies—in practically all the areas where our staple industries are so badly depressed. I could give the figures for Glamorgan as a whole, because they were published recently by the Chief Assistant Public Officer for the county of Glamorgan, but I have quoted them in the House once and I do not desire to repeat myself. But it is known to the Department that 98 per cent. of the persons receiving transitional payments in Glamorgan have been in receipt of the maximum amounts. Every penny piece of savings—all that they have managed to acquire, the value of their property, the income going into the home from sons and daughters who may be in the scholastic profession or some other occupation—all those items have been calculated against them. They are right down in the depths of misery and degradation. They have made their sacrifice, but the Government are not prepared to restore the 10 per cent. to that enormous aggregation of people. If the means test is to continue they cannot hope to have a return of the 10 per cent., and to that extent the members of this House have been wilfully deceived.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Because every Member present when the Chancellor made his speech believed that the 10 per cent. was to be restored to the unemployed. If that were not so hon. Members would not have acclaimed his words so vociferously as they did on that day. I 419 realise how difficult it is, when moving the deletion of a Clause, to keep within the narrow bounds of order. Our Amendments were not considered to be in order, and therefore we were unable to speak on them, and we hope that hon. Members who are now present will appreciate the significance of our case. This is the first opportunity we have had of treating of the means test, and we cannot expand the discussion on that issue, because it would not be in order, but we are asking the Minister at least to make the increased payments retrospective to May rather than to July. Though there is no possibility of persons who come under Part II receiving the restoration of the cut which they suffered through the application of the means test to them we are hoping that the Minister will be able to make the restoration of the 10 per cent. to those persons who are entitled to it apply from the beginning of this month rather than from July. I hope we shall be able to carry the Minister with us, because I am certain that in doing that we shall also carry with us those who are ready at all times, right or wrong, to follow his advice and to walk into the Lobby with him. That is what we are hoping to do by moving the deletion of this Clause. It is the only means we have of bringing the subject before tht House; the only means by which we could bring soma measure of justice to the people who made such enormous sacrifices in 1931.
In conclusion, I would like all hon. Members to appreciate the picture I presented to them of my constituency. In a valley where 6,500 miners were engaged we find 4,300 totally unemployed and with no prospect of being reabsorbed in the mining industry. Every form of technical appliance is being introduced into the collieries, not for the purpose of creating employment, but to reduce costs and in the end to increase unemployment. That applies to each of the mining valleys in my constituency. If all hon. Members were confronted with that industrial problem, they would insist upon the Chancellor restoring the 10 per cent. cut in full to every unemployed person, but a large number of them represent constituencies where unemployment is not rife. In the south of England, in the agricultural constituencies, people are not suffering in that way, and 420 are not faced with the high rates that prevail in the distressed areas and the derelict valleys. As hon. Members are not faced with that issue in their constituencies, we cannot hope that they will have the same impressions as are made upon the minds of hon. Members who represent distressed areas in which a large number of persons have been unemployed for long periods.
In not being prepared to restore the 10 per cent. cut to persons in receipt of transitional payments, the Government are hitting that section of the community upon which hardship has fallen most heavily. They are doing a great injustice to those who have sacrificed most. They are, in fact, designing to perpetuate poverty for all time in those homes, particularly in the distressed areas where the staple industries are likely to show a substantial fall in employment for some years to come. That the Government should design to perpetuate poverty in that way—there is no reason for the means test but that—indicates that there will be a class of people in the depths of poverty, and maintained in poverty. If those people obtain employment by some stroke of fortune for a few months, any little savings that they may accumulate by striving during those few months must be absorbed under the means test before they can hope to have the same consideration as persons who come under Part I of the Bill. For those reasons, and for many others that could be advanced, we hope that hon. Members will support us in asking that the Clause be deleted.
§ 9.19 p.m.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I join in the general appeal that is being made to the Minister of Labour. It was understood that the economies of the so-called crisis of 1931 were only of a temporary character, and that, whenever surpluses of any kind were available, the Government would spread them over the different classes that were compelled by Acts of Parliament to make sacrifices at that time. The Government have justified to a certain extent the belief of their followers in the country by restoring the cuts in full to some sections, and in part to others.
I represent the only party in this House which was not officially committed to those cuts and which had no part in or 421 sympathy with cuts or tests of any kind that were made in 1931. Every other party in the House had considered, had flirted, or had agreed to the general economies that were practised at that time. When the cuts were to be restored, we were led to believe that they would be restored to the most needy first. The Government are certainly entitled to claim, in so far as they have restored cuts to the persons drawing ordinary benefit with no dependants employed, or to single persons living by themselves with no other family income, that they have restored those cuts in full, but, as hon. Members of the Opposition have rightly stated, there is a large number of people who do not come within those categories at all, and who have had cuts and the means test applied so as to reduce their income, and to whom nothing is being given. I would go further and say that not only did a large section of the unemployed suffer a 10 per cent. cut, but they had the whole of their family income wiped out, and no provision is being made for them by the Government. Large masses of people depending upon one income in the home have been deprived of every penny—grown men and women—and yet no provision is being made for them.
The Government spokesman over the wireless told us that the cuts on the unemployed were being restored in full. I suggest that that was an attempt to convey to the public who are not drawing benefit and who know very little about unemployment benefit or cuts that the whole of the economy cuts were being restored. The very opposite is the case. I listened very carefully a week ago last Saturday evening to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs who, with his usual plausible tale, took credit for the whole of the cuts being restored to the unemployed. Either he was not familiar with the fact that the cuts were not being restored, or he was attempting to convey a wrong impression to listeners. We have a right to know where the Government stand on this matter, and I ask the Minister for a declaration to-night as to whether the means test, applied to people in receipt of transitional payments, is of a permanent and not of a temporary nature due to the national crisis.
I want to know whether there is to be any relief to that section now or at any time in the future. It would be very 422 easy for the Minister to disabuse the minds of the Government's followers who believed that they would get something when the national crisis ceased to operate. During the whole of the discussions upon the cuts it was at no time stated that any form of means test was to apply permanently to the people of this country, and I want to know whether it is to be of that permanent nature. The application of means test and cut to those in receipt of transitional payments has never been endorsed by the people of this country. Very few people realise the effect of what was meant by the application of the means test, and, cunningly, the application of that test was postponed to a few days after the last General Election. Therefore, the people of this country did not realise the consequence and the brutal effect of that cut.
When we talk of restoring the cuts to those who are most in need, I must say that it leaves me cold. While the man on the means test is not to have a penny of benefit, a person in the position of a Cabinet Minister with £5,000 a year is to have a restoration of £250 a year. The Prime Minister and his colleagues restore £5 a week to their already exorbitant salary, paid out of the taxpayers' incomes. Then, after restoring themselves from £4,500 to £4,750, they say to the people of the country, "There, we have distributed the balance that has been found in the Exchequer equitably over the field of those who were asked to undergo cuts and make economies at that time." To ask us to believe that is simply to make complete fools of themselves and of the whole electorate.
I want to ask the Minister, when he talks of restoring cuts, whether he means that this other section is to have nothing at all restored. Let me point this out to the Minister. Without going into any of the discussions on transitional payments, if the income of a family in employment has been reduced from £14 to £4 by the loss of the earnings of three individuals in the home, surely a sufficiently brutal means test has been applied to that home by the very inability of the system to provide employment. They might have been drawing £6 15s. per week with the income of one member on ordinary benefit, and then the difference between £4 and £6 15s. is wiped out. And we come along and subject the whole of the family 423 to a reduction of the family income by unemployment, we take away the whole of the ordinary benefit, and then we subject every person on £4 a week to a payment of Income Tax on the top of it.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I do not think that the hon. Member was in the Chamber when this Debate commenced. I then ruled that, although a reference to the means test would be in order, we must not go into the details of the Amendments on the Order Paper, which cannot be called because they are out of order. It seems to me that he is now going beyond that Ruling.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
That may be so, but I was attempting to keep away from the citation of any individual case, and simply to show that there is a large class of people to which these cuts have been applied—I am prepared to accept your guidance—in a ferocious and brutal manner, and that these people have not been considered, and are not having le-stored to them a penny of benefit that was taken from them at that time. I am content with the citation that I have made up to the present moment.
Finally, the only means test that we have ever accepted has been the Income Tax means test. That is the only fair test. I realise that cuts have been made and economies effected from the poorest section of the people in order to keep those at the top in comfort and luxury. Xo hon. Member need sneer at that remark, because it is entirely what we understand to occur in every crisis that takes place under your system. If a test is to be applied, you have the means and the poor have the test. Therefore, realising that the test must be made by the ruling class, realising that economies and cuts must be practised, realising that every orthodox political party in this House has agreed and subscribed to these cuts, Liberal, Tory and Labour alike—
§ Mr. McGOVERN
Certainly. I should probably be out of order to go into details, but I say frankly here that, if the hon. Member desires it, I can, outside this House on any platform he likes to 424 name, enter into discussion or debate with him and show that the Labour party in Debate in this House have always accepted every form of means test, that the majority of the Cabinet accepted the whole of the cuts that took place under the late Labour Government, and that since that time they have shuffled without end in attempting to put the blame on to other persons.
§ Mr. TINKER
Will the hon. Member tell us whether he is speaking of us as a party, or of individuals?
§ Mr. McGOVERN
At Scarborough the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) moved against the means test, and Tom Johnston, the late Lord Privy Seal, moved the application of a means test, but not on a Poor Law basis—whatever that means. The motion was carried overwhelmingly by the Labour Conference that a means test be applied to the workers of this country in receipt of transitional benefit. I will engage my hon. Friend on the other point.
§ Mr. TINKER
I categorically deny what the hon. Member says, and if it is not out of order I will prove it.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
If the hon. Member likes, I will take him afterwards to Ben Gardiner in West Ham, at the by-election, and prove to the satisfaction of every member of the electorate of that area that the Labour party not only agreed with the means test, but that the majority of the party agreed with the cuts and agreed with the children's 2s a week—
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I say quite frankly that it leaves me cold when I hear parties getting up in this House and condemning Members of the Government for doing the selfsame things that they did and 425 subscribed to. In the Anomalies Act there was a means test; there is no doubt about that; and I shall be prepared to believe in the political honesty of the Labour pary when they say, "We did wrong in giving only 2s. to the children; we did wrong when we sympathised with the means test and when we applied it in the Anomalies Act; and we guarantee to the electors never again to be misled in the future, and to do the right thing by the working class." Until they say that, they, to me, are of the same political mind as the Members of the National Goernment. There is no need to attempt to convey to the electors that there is any difference. Two shillings a week to an unemployed man's child goes no further under a Labour Government than under a National Government Therefore, to get up in this House and condemn the Government when they themselves have gone into the Lobby m favour of these things is futile. Not an Act or any measure attacking the common people has been passed by this Government that has not been approved by hon. Members on this side of the House. I am prepared to condemn the National Government and to say that their economies are practised in order to stabilise their system by the poverty and sufferings of the poor, in order to give to those in comfortable positions security and affluence. But I do not expect that they will do things, because they never promised to do them. I do, however, expect the people on this side of the House, who have made lavish promises to the workers, to carry them out.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
They were cheering you in 1929 when you were carrying out a Tory policy. I am not interested in cheers, but only in certain political tenets in which I believe. If you say one thing at the street corner, come into the House and say it. If you make a pledge to the workers that you will stand against cuts and the means test and the 2s. allowances, do not condemn the Tories for being beasts of the jungle and then come in and do the self-same thing. I am not interested in cheers. The whole House is of a different political mind from me. The Labour party are no more friends of mine than are the Tory and Liberal 426 parties. They have all subscribed to the same thing. They say, "We were led away by the Prime Minister; we were led away by the Secretary of State for the Dominions"; but the spectacle of a body of 285 grown men being led away by two or three individuals savours to me too much of Babes in the Wood.
§ Mr. E. WILLIAMS
There is one thing that rather surprises me. Before the Labour party went out of office, I and the hon. Member and his friends had occasion many times to disagree with the majority of our party, but neither he nor his friends left the party when the party was doing the things for which he is now condemning it. He could remain with the party until they reached the position in which, if I may put his case for him, he heard the statement of Mr. Johnston at the Scarborough Conference. While these things were being done he was a member of the party, and he must take his share of the responsibility.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
What we did in this House was to remain true to the pledges that we made to the electors. The party did not remain true to its pledges, and, therefore, we had no right to remain members of a party that refused to honour its obligations to the electors. Many people in this country believed that the Labour Government were doing the wrong thing at that time. It is true that the Independent Labour party hung on in the hope that the largo mass of rank-and-file members would see the dawn of reason and light, and would ultimately drive their leaders along a proper course. In that we were wrong; we were disappointed; we found that the tame white mice behind the leaders were prepared to back the leaders right or wrong. Therefore, we ultimately said to our party that there was no hope of those leaders leading, and we would get outside altogether. I do not intend, Mr. Speaker, to pursue the matter—
I am sorry I have been misled by the interruptions, but, after all, it is only nights like this that make Parliamentary government worth while. This is a very dull Chamber, and it is good now and again to have a heart-to-heart 427 talk. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) has said, what is wanted is a change of heart, and a heart-to-heart talk now and again does no great harm. But I content myself with finally appealing to the Minister to make a simple declaration as to whether anything is going to be done for those persons who have not only suffered cuts, but whose whole incomes have been taken away, and as to whether the Government mean that the means test is to be permanent, without any relief for the great mass of the people who believed that it was due to reasons of economy in the national crisis, and that, as the crisis passed away, the cuts would be fully restored.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ Mr. G. MACDONALD
When, Mr. Speaker, we were so pleased that you allowed us to move our Amendment for the deletion of this Clause, we little thought that our proposal would be used as a means to make an attack on our party. Had that attack been made only by the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovem), I should not have considered it worthy of any reply, because, although the hon. Member poses here as the only honest Member of the House, we happen to know that he did not leave our party, but was expelled from our party. Had he been the honest Member that he now claims to be, he would not have been expelled. It was not, however, his speech that worried me; had it been only that, I should have treated it with contempt. But the speech which did cause us worry was that of the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith), who, I am sorry to say, has seen fit to leave the House after having made his attack on the Labour party.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
He follows the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) in that respect; he never stays in the House.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
There has been a considerable attack by the hon. Member for. Shettleston (Mr. McGovern), and hon. Members might listen to the reply.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
I was rather astounded to hear the attack of the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough. I do not mind his referring to anything which 428 we may have omitted to do in the past. We are guilty of many omissions, and we are also guilty of some commissions. But when the hon. Member was telling us about what we failed to do in 1924 and 1929, and about our treatment of the unemployed, he might have had the honesty also to tell us what we did do in those two years. I have here a list of some things that we did in 1924. Let this be said, that, whatever faults the Labour Government might have had, we treated the unemployed more generously than any Government in this country has ever treated them, and I do not think that the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) would deny that, though we may not have treated them as generously as he would have desired. Here are some of the things that we did in 1924. We increased the weekly rate of benefit by 3s., making it 18s. for a man and 15s. for a woman. We doubled the allowance for dependent children, making it 2s. a week for each child instead of Is., which was the former rate. We abolished the previous arbitrary limit that was placed on the number of weeks of benefit that could be drawn, and provided, subject to certain conditions which were laid down, that benefit should be payable continuously to an insured contributor who was genuinely unemployed and seeking work. We reduced the waiting period from six days to three days, thus largely increasing the amount payable in benefit—
§ Mr. MACDONALD
I willingly accept the hon. Member's statement. I know that he, along with Mr. Trevelyan Thomson, supported the reduction of the waiting period from six to three days. My only complaint is that, when the hon. 429 Member for East Middlesbrough wants to make an attack on the Labour Government, he ought to be fair. It is no use disclosing some things that they did not do while deliberately withholding certain things that they did to improve the plight- of the unemployed.
§ Mr. K. GRIFFITH
My speech was directed to a part of the speech of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) in which he had claimed for his party a peculiar care for this particular question. I am referring to a thing so recent in memory that no one can deny it. I suggested—and the Division list supports me—that enthusiasm for the case of the children is not the particular possession of any one party in the House, and we had better proceed on that basis.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
My objection still stands. The impression that the hon. Member tried to give, deliberately or otherwise, was that the Labour Government treated the unemployed and their dependants just as callously as the present Government. I am trying to show that their treatment of the unemployed was the most generous that the unemployed had ever had from any Government, and that at whatever time they have been in office they have always done all they could to improve the treatment that the unemployed get.
§ Mr. GRIFFITH
I apologise for not having been present when the hon. Gentleman commenced his speech, but I waited for the speech of the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. E. Williams), who did not refer to me, and I was in a long time.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
I voted in every Division for the Anomalies Act, and, if the same Act were brought before the House again, I should also vote in every Division for it. I agree that the regulations brought in by the present Minister of Labour did not operate it in the way we intended to operate it. In 1929 again the Labour Government improved upon the treatment that was being meted out to the unemployed. We increased the benefit of males of 17 and over from 6s. to 9s., 18 and over from 10s. to 14s., and 19 and over from 12s. to 14s. For females 430 of 17 and over we increased the rate from 5s. to 7s. 6d., for 18 and over from 8s. to 12s., and 19 and over from 10s. to 12s. If hon. Members want to make an attack on the methods that the Labour Government adopted, let them be fair and honest and tell all.
Naturally, we are very pleased that this Clause is restoring the cuts to the unemployed. Our complaint is that the Government are not doing everything that might be done and are not placing the unemployed in the position in which they were in 1929.
The means test was imposed primarily for the purpose of reducing national expenditure. We say that the restoration contained in this Clause leaves that just where it was. The £21,000,000 saved in 1931 has been reduced to £16,000,000. If the Government still think that the means test ought to operate, would it not be reasonable to say, "We are saving £16,000,000 of the means test; we will use that £16,000,000 to improve the treatment of those who are on the means test." I agree with the hon. Member for Shettleston that 2s. will never maintain a child. If there are men and women who believe that 9s. ought to be paid to maintain a fox terrier for a week, surely there is no case for saying that 2s. is enough for a child for a week. When we asked the Minister to agree that the cuts should be restored as from April in place of July, he said he opposed it, but not because of any financial reason. We must believe, therefore, that he withholds it for some other reason. Our case is that the restoration contained in this Clause ought to have gone very much further. I have received this week a communication from the Children's Minimum Committee. They give some very interesting figures. They estimate that a man with a wife and three children needs in food 218. 8d., in fuel 2s. 5d., and in clothing, cleaning and lighting 5s. 8d., a total of 29s. 9d., plus a rent of 9s.—38s. 9d. The amount of benefit paid under this Clause will be 32s., so that on this very minimum figure there is a deficiency of 6s. 9d.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
There are some Amendments on the Paper which were ruled out of order because they would increase the charge; in other words, increase the contribution of the Exchequer. One of them was to increase the benefit 431 in respect of children. The hon. Member cannot go into a question which has been ruled out on an Amendment.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
I accept your correction, Sir. My point is that the Government in 1931 imposed a sacrifice of £21,000,000 on the households of the unemployed. This Bill restores scarcely anything of that £21,000,000. It is no use trying to argue, as the Government are doing in the country, that in the Budget and in this Bill they are restoring the unemployed to the position in which they were in 1931. If they were, our grounds of opposition would be far weaker than they are. Even hon. Members who smile should realise that, had the Clause done more, our case would have been met. The Clause gives the impression that, when the Bill becomes law, the unemployed will be in the same position in which they were in 1931, and there is no honest Member in the House who does not know that that is entirely wrong. So long as the Conservatives say, at Upton and at every by-election that they fight, that they are restoring the unemployed to their position in 1931, and try to get votes by creating that false impression on the electorate, our complaint will continue. I know what is happening, not only at Upton but right throughout the country. The cry is going forward, "The Government have placed the unemployed in exactly the position they were in prior to the cuts."
It is because of that deliberate attempt to mislead the electorate that we want to put before the House and the country the fact that this Clause does nothing of the kind. I defy the Minister or any Member supporting him to say now that this Clause will place the unemployed and their dependants in exactly the same position in which they were prior to the cuts of 1931. Because it does not do that we feel compelled to resist the Clause. Though we are very pleased with what is in the Clause, we are disturbed because of what is not in the Clause. The Government cannot argue that they have treated the poorest section of the nation as it ought to be treated. Hence the reduction of 6d. in the Income Tax, the giving back to the Income Tax payer of something like £26,000,000, is most unfair and indefensible, and on those grounds we are not able to support this Clause.
§ 9.56 p.m.
There is one point upon which I should like the right hon. Gentleman to give a very definite definition. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his Budget speech :The Committee is aware that the maximum rates of transitional payments are regulated by Statute according to the benefits under the unemployment insurance scheme. Therefore, this full restoration of unemployment benefit of which I have just spoken naturally carries with it a corresponding alteration in the maximum rates of transitional payments.From the speeches of hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway it would appear to those in the country who are not able entirely to understand the full provisions of the Chancellor's Budget that there is going to be no restoration of any kind to any of the people on transitional payments. I should be extraordinarily grateful if, in reply, the right hon. Gentleman would state whether I am right in assuming that the unemployed man in receipt of transitional payment who has no other means of any kind coming into his household, will receive, under the Chancellor of the Exchequer's declaration, the standard benefit rate as payment for his transitional payments. I think that I am right in assuming this, and I think that it is a little unfortunate that hon. Gentlemen should have so misrepresented the position. The Chancellor of the Exchequer went on to say :It is rather difficult, owing to the needs basis of payment, to estimate exactly what that is likely to cost. I am proposing that there should he a Supplementary Estimate in respect of it of £3,600,000, which I estimate will be the cost to the Exchequer of the change during the present year.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th April, 1934; col. 922, Vol. 288.]I contend that, if a sum of £3,600,000 is required from the Exchequer to meet certain additional obligations to people in receipt of transitional payments, at any rate, some section of the community who are now on transitional payments must receive some additional benefits as the result of the Chancellor's declaration. I was in my constituency last week, and I found it very hard among people who were in receipt of transitional payments and had been told by the Labour party that under no consideration whatever would there be any increase in the amount allocated to them under transitional payments. I feel this matter very strongly. All of us in this House, all 433 sections of the community, realise only too well the difficult period through which the unemployed of this country are passing. It is most inconsiderate and unfortunate that people who cannot understand the implications of the Budget speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be left in a state of misunderstanding with regard to what they may or may not obtain. To go down among uninformed people and tell them that they are to receive no additional benefits, when they know full well that the Chancellor of the Exchequer made provision for them in his Budget estimate, is not playing the game with those who are, unfortunately, in receipt of transitional payments.
I do not know that it is competent for me to give any word of advice to the Labour party, but I think that it would be much wiser for them if they stuck to the true letter of the law and criticised the Budget proposals legitimately and honestly. They are only making temporary party capital out of this matter, and I know my own people sufficiently well to realise that they will say, when the time comes for them to get what additional benefits are due to them under transitional payments, "We were misinformed by the Labour party." I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will make the point quite clear, so that in the future there may be no further misunderstanding in the matter.
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The hon. Lady the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) has raised a question which has previously been raised in this House to which we have never yet received a proper answer. A family is now receiving 27s. 3d. a man, wife and three children under the means test for transitional benefit, and the hon. Lady asked, in effect, whether the family who have no other income coming in will now receive 31s., or, if there is no family, will they receive 26s., or in the case of a man who may have a part income coming into the house and receives 8s., will he receive 10 per cent. of his 8s.? The cut was 10 per cent. Will he have his cut restored? That question has never been answered. I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer the question when we last debated this subject, but he has not yet answered it. He said that he could not quite answer it for the reason that the 434 Statutory Committee would have control, and must take into account the means.
I am not going into the question as to the restoration of cuts coming into operation, nor am I going to enter upon a long reply to the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald). I do him greater courtesy than he does me. He is a Member of this House, and as long as he remains a Member, I will treat him as being as worthy of reply as any other hon. Member. I never hope to allow him to sink to the level at which he is prepared to place me. I will always pay to any Member of Parliament, for whichever party he sits, the courtesy of a reply. To that extent he is worthy of a reply, and I will say a few words in reply to him. He might have complained that my hon. Friend had not stated all the facts about the Liberals. But the hon. Member was making a serious personal charge, and in doing so he might have stated all the facts. He did not do so. He said that that my hon. Friend was expelled from the Labour party; nothing more. He might have been expelled for anything. The hon. Member wanted the charge to remain as nasty and as contemptible as he could. It is true that the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) was put out of the party, and he fought Shettleston afterwards against a Labour candidate. The Labour candidate received 1,500 votes, and lost his deposit. My hon. Friend received 12 times that number of votes, in Shettleston, where he was born, and where he is known, better than he is known by the right hon. Member for Claycross (Mr. A. Henderson) in his Division. If the hon. Member has any word to say against the hon. Member for Shettleston, let him say it outside and we will deal with him in the proper place.
The other point was on the general question of the cuts of children's allowances. It would be unfair on my part to take advantage of the amount of toleration that is allowed in this House. The hon. Member charges the Government with not doing certain things. There is this to be said for them, that the Government are not so mean as his Commission asked them to be. I challenge the hon. Member and the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) with doing worse things, in principle, than the imposition of the means test. What about voting for taking all the money away from servant 435 girls? They were to have no unemployment benefit. How were they to live?
§ Mr. TINKER
I challenged the hon. Member for Shettleston on the means test, and on no other point. I asked him a straight question. Do not slip away about anomalies.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
These personal recriminations are entirely outside the question before the House. There has been an accusation and a reply, and that ought to be an end of the matter.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
A statement bas been made against me. Nobody either inside or outside this House can produce one single slanderous statement that I have ever made against a colleague. I have had slanderous things said to me, but never once have I sunk to the level of a reply in the same terms. I have stated my case on the facts, and on the facts I will fight. Hon. Members on the benches above the Gangway, if they care, can sink to a contemptibly low level, and I will let them sink to it. I will leave the subject, because I have to obey the Ruling of the Chair, but I hope some day to return to the subject.
To-night, the whole question of allowanees for children has been raised. We on these benches have insisted all along that these allowances were too low. When the amount of 3s. was moved in 1924 we took it as a compromise and as being better than 2s.; but 3s. was rejected, and when 5s. was moved 2s. was substituted. To that sum we have always offered the most strenuous opposition, and so long as we are permitted to be in this House, be it a long or a short period, so long as we are permitted to vote, so long as we have the right democratically to come to this House—some people would even keep us from voting—we shall exercise, as we have exercised, our right of speech and of vote against such things. Hon. Members cannot expect to sit in this House and vote for cruel things and to offer all sorts of excuses for themselves, and then to think that no one is to recapitulate their record. Those hon. Members gained office and the great dignities of the State through examining other people's records, and 436 they in turn as holders of office must be prepared to take what they give. What we are doing is honestly to examine their record in the hope that one day a real Socialist movement will be brought up which will not refrain from carrying out its pledges and will not forget the class from which it springs.
§ 10.11 p.m.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I only propose to take up the time of the House for a few minutes in making some contribution to the Debate. It has been a very interesting Debate, but, on the whole, it has been an unreal one. It has been interesting because of the heart to heart talks there have been. We have heard reminiscences of the domestic relations of the Labour party during the last two or three years. In spite of those diversions, the Debate has been unreal, not that the questions raised are not of the utmost importance, both to the House and the people outside, but because they have no relation to the subject we are discussing. The Motion before the House is to delete Clause 5, which restores the cuts in standard benefit which were made in 1931. Is there any hon. Member who desires that Motion to be carried? Of course, there is not. Although we have debated the Motion at length, no one wishes it to be carried. The Opposition do not wish it to be carried, and as we have inserted the Clause in the Bill we, of course, support it. Therefore, there must necessarily be an air of unreality about the Debate.
I should be out of order if I attempted to deal with the administration of the means test or if I attempted to answer some of the statements made, which I should very much like to do, in regard to the administration in certain directions. I should be out of order if I attempted to deal with the question of transitional payments. This Clause has nothing to do with the means test or with transitional payments. It relates solely to the restoration of the cuts in standard benefit, a restoration for which hon. Members opposite have been asking for the last two years. Yet, when we bring in a Bill in which we restore what they have been asking us to restore, they put down a Motion to delete the Clause which restores the cuts. I think I shall be in order in saying that the rates of benefit, as they will be when the Clause passes into law, provide the most generous in- 437 surance benefits ever provided by any Government at any time. I am not at all sure how far I shall be in order in referring to the 2s. or 3s. for a child, but if I may make a passing reference I would point out that the present rate for a man, wife and one child is 253. 3d. and that when the Bill becomes law it will be 28s., that is an increase not of 1s. but of 28. 9d. For a man and wife and two children the present rate is 27s. 3d.; under the Bill it will be 30s., an addition of 2s. 9d.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I was asked a specific question by the hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward). I thought that the Chancellor made the point perfectly clear in his Budget speech the other day. He pointed out that the maximum rate of transitional payments was regulated by the rate of standard benefit and he reminded the House that as the standard rate of benefit was going to be increased it carried with it a corresponding increase in the maximum rate of transitional payments. That I thought was a clear statement. The hon. Member for Wallsend asked how it would be applied. The answer I have to give her is perfectly clear. Whenever the need justifies payment up to the new maximum that increased maximum will be paid. The Chancellor of the Exchequer also went on to explain that for the purpose of the increased transitional payments he had provided in his Budget a sum of £3,600,000. A point was put by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) which I thought I had dealt with fully the other day. He asked why we could not ante-date the coming into operation of the increased rates of benefit. As it is they will come into operation on 1st July. The words at the end of Clause 5 are :This section shall come into operation on the passing of this Act.'It seems certain that the Bill cannot come into operation before the end of June. The hon. Member says : Why do you ante-date it so far as the recipients of standard benefit are concerned? I can only repeat the answer I gave the other day, that as a matter of administrative practice it would be impossible. Clearly, I cannot do it under the Bill without making an alteration. The people with whom you have to deal are 438 not, as one hon. Member put it, a limited number of test cases; there would be a very large number of persons who at some time or other, within this period, would be entitled to the increased rate of benefit.
As a matter of administration it really would be impossible to take the whole of this class of person, some for a short time and some for a long time, who are entitled to this increased rate of benefit, and when the 30th June or the 1st July came, to go through the whole lot and say to this man, "You are entitled to a week's payment," to another, "You are entitled to a fortnight's payment," and to another, "You are entitled to the whole two months." I am satisfied that such a step would be utterly impossible. In order to do this, moreover, it would be necessary to bring in a new Bill to deal with the point. An hon. Gentleman asked me yesterday, "Why do you not bring in a one-Clause ad hoc Bill?" The answer is that in order to carry out that suggestion you would have to frame a new Bill, founded on a Financial Resolution which would have to pass through all its stages, and then the Bill would have to pass through all its stages. When all that was done there would be the further fact that it involved the alteration at the various Exchanges of the records and the issue of instructions to the Exchanges. That would cover an administrative period which would take up substantially the whole time between now and the end of June when this Bill comes into operation.
§ 10.23 p.m.
§ Mr. LAWSON
The right hon. Gentleman has made a little play with the fact that we have advocated the deletion of this Clause, but he knows as well as anyone that that is the only way in which we can get an opportunity for a discussion of this matter. Those who were in the House at the time heard the Deputy-Speaker in the name of Mr. Speaker explain to the House that a large number of Amendments on the Paper, one of which was to date this restoration back to May, were not in order and could not be moved. Therefore, the only course open to us was to move the deletion of the Clause. The right hon. Gentleman has given some reasons why this amount could not be ante-dated. But we can give an assur- 439 ance and a guarantee that if he wished to ante-date this payment, we would put a special Bill through for him in a few minutes. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman can find no refuge in that argument. I am not too particular who scores debating points or whom he scores against, but what I am concerned about is whether or not we are going to get people who are unemployed through no fault of their own, placed back in a position where at least, if they still suffer from lack of opportunity for exercising their bodies or their minds, they shall not suffer from lack of the ordinary, elementary necessities of life.
I do not care what arguments people bring forward or what figures they use, no one is going to deny the fact that the unemployed to-day are in an infinitely worse position than they were in just over two years ago. [HON. MEMBERS : "No!"] I speak for myself. I hear stories, I see the people themselves, and hon. Members like the hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward), who come from areas in the North of England, can fortify what I say from their own experience and give facts to demonstrate the condition of the mass of the people in those areas. Those are the areas which will be affected by this proposal. Those are the people who will be affected by this restoration. We have often discussed in this House, under very sad conditions, the state of things in those areas, and it is no good on this occasion trying to emphasise further the condition of the people there. But everybody knows that the long-term unemployed men and women are in such a condition that every penny which you take from them helps to undermine them in such a way as to make it almost impossible for them ever to recover.
I am glad that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has restored to them part of the benefit—from their own fund and out of their own increased payments. No one can deny that that is the case. That statement is beyond denial. But I am glad that the restoration is going to be made, and I only wish that it had been made as from May and that they had not to wait for so long for it. It cannot be denied either that there is very grave doubt about the amount which the Chan- 440 cellor is going to bring in, as mentioned in his Budget speech, in the form of a Supplementary Estimate for this purpose. The Chancellor said he thought there was a possibility of applying £3,600,000 to this class of people, namely, the transition people. A few days before the Budget statement, I asked the Minister to state the total amount saved on unemployment benefit since the reduced rates came into operation in 1931 and the total amount saved since the operation of transitional payments. He told me that the total amount of benefit saved was £5,500,000 a year, and that in approximately the same period, that is from October, 1931, to March, 1934, the amount paid under the transitional payments scheme averaged about £21,000,000 a year less than the sum which would have been paid had it been possible to continue the payment of benefit to all claimants and at the old rates. That means that the transition people have lost an average of £21,000,000 a year. These are the people who need most consideration, and the Chancellor says that he is going to bring in a Supplementary Estimate to give them £3,600,000.
It was asked, "Will they get it? Is it guaranteed that the people will get that 10 per cent. increase which is represented in the £3,600,000?" The Chancellor of the Exchequer rightly said, "I cannot give any guarantee." And he cannot. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour himself knows very well that when the transition regulations were put through the House and the Order in Council under which they are operating was discussed, he said continually, and he has said very often since, "No, I have nothing to do with the amount paid. I have no influence over it, and I cannot dictate to the local people." Have the right hon. Gentleman and his Parliamentary Secretary, or have they not, any power to state to any local authority, public assistance committee, or even Commissioner, "You shall give one per cent., or 10 per cent., to these people?" They have not. The right hon. Gentleman continually washes his hands of all this power. I think myself that, as a matter of administration, it is probable that a large number of the public assistance committees will give the 10 per cent. increase, but it rests with them. There is no guarantee to the man 441 or woman Or family concenred, and certainly there is no guarantee that this £3,600,000 will be expended in this way.
§ Mr. MARTIN
How does the hon. Member reconcile that argument with the statement that these rates of transitional payment are regulated by Statute according to the benefits under unemployment insurance?
§ Mr. LAWSON
I do not know. That is for the Minister to explain. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked if it could be done, and he said, "No, it cannot be done. It is purely in the bands of the public assistance committees."
§ Mr. MARTIN
But did not the Chancellor of the Exchequer mean that he did not know exactly how many unemployed there would be?
§ Mr. LAWSON
I wish the Minister would settle this point, because, as I have said, I think it is probable that the public assistance committees, or the great majority of them, will use their opportunity of applying the 10 per cent. I think so, and I would not think very much of them if I did not think that. But I was told that there is no legal power to compel them to do it, and if they do not wish to do it, then, of course, it does not operate.
Is it not a fact that when this Bill comes into operation the people under Part II will no longer be under the control of the public assistance committees, but will be under the control of the Public Assistance Board, and that that board has got to draw up regulations, which will Be brought on to the Floor of this House for discussion before they become law, and therefore it will be out of the control of the public assistance committees altogether?
§ Mr. LAWSON
I am afraid the hon. Lady and I would not agree in our interpretation as to how the Public Assistance Board is likely to carry out its duties. As a matter of fact, my experience of Government representatives operating in Durham County is that they are likely to be worse than public assistance committees.
§ Mr. LAWSON
The hon. and gallant Member does not know very much about the effects of this kind of thing, because 442 he does not come here very often when these matters are being discussed, but the House will be surprised to learn that the effect of the last administration of the means test by the Government representatives in Durham—
§ Mr. LAWSON
I am much obliged, Mr. Speaker, but I Was rather led off by the questions which were put to me by hon. Members. I would point out that all that has been promised at the most is that we are likely to get £3,600,000 back out of the £21,000,000 that has been taken off. I want to draw the attention of the House to the fact that, when the administration of the means test began, about 850,000 people came under it. At the present moment, the number is about 1,000,000, and it is significant that in proportion to the increase in numbers there has been an increased saving in the administration. I do not know how that has happened, and we say that there is in this Bill no guarantee, no hope, and no real consolation for the people who really need consideration. Many of these people have been out of work a year and two years; in many cases they have only a few shillings a week, and they are suffering in a multitude of ways because of the peculiar application of the means test. Now they are told that they are to receive only £3,600,000 out of the £21,000,000 that has been taken from them. Members may appear to make points with their constituents and in this House, but one thing is certain—they cannot wash out that continual physical degradation of life that is going on among great masses of people.
I wish that we could have discussed to-night means of immediate constructive help for the people who really need it. I am almost tired of hearing myself talk about this matter, but there are Members; not only of my party, but of the Conservative and Liberal parties, who know that if the mass of the Members of the House could but know the conditions of these people, they would appreciate more the need for immediate help. I sometimes respect the House because of the way it can be moved by certain considerations but I wish the House would be moved to come to the immediate 443 rescue of these people. I am not allowed to discuss the general question. The Government have at last taken some steps, but immediate help is needed for the people. They need boots, clothing, food and decent considerations, and this Bill does next to nothing for people in that position. I only wish that, free from party fetters, we could have had an opportunity of discussing this matter. If we have had to move the deletion of this Clause, it is not because we are not as thankful as anyone that someone is getting some consolation, and we do not under-value that; it is because we seek an opportunity of trying to ante-date the restoration of the cuts and to get some consideration for people who have deserved better of this House and the country.
§ 10.40 p.m.
I would like to underline one point in the speech of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson). The question of antedating benefit has been raised both by question and answer, and to-night in the House, but the Minister of Labour, who is perhaps a little more ingenuous than ever to-day, keeps on answering a question which is not put to him. He continually tells us that it is administratively impossible to ante-date to 1st July the increase in the benefits, because administratively it would be so difficult, in the case of people who had at some time or other been brought under the provisions of the Bill, to calculate the exact amount which might be due to them at the rate of 2s. for every odd week between the time of the Budget statement and the 1st July. I do not think anybody has ever suggested that we are handling that problem. It is very easy to answer something which no one has questioned. The proposal which is at the back of the minds of hon. Members opposite, as it is at the back of my own mind, and which is supported by many hon. Members on these benches, is not that on 1st July those persons should be given little dumps of varying amounts, but that as early as possible 2s. more per week should be given to the people who go to the exchanges to get benefit. That is the point, an extra 2s. per week, and not any complicated administrative arrangement for back payments.
444 The Minister said, "Oh, yes, that could be done, but it would require a new Bill and a Financial Resolution and each would have to be passed through all its stages." I am not so sure that it would require a Financial Resolution, seeing that none of the expenditure falls on the Exchequer but is to be met out of the fund. But, assuming tthat the right hon. Gentleman's advisers have told him what he has stated, the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street has just announced that every facility would be given for such a Measure to be passed through all its stages in the quickest possible time. As it has been decided that the fund should be saddled with the payment of these increased benefits after the 1st July, it would not affect the Budgetary situation at all, as I understand it, and that being so I know that a great number of Members who are supporters of the Government think with me that it is a little ungracious, after the announcement of it has been made, that the change should not be brought into effect as soon as possible. As I say, the Opptosition have said they would facilitate any Measure to effect the change, and I really cannot imagine why anybody should debate it at all. It could go through practically undebated, with no opposition from any quarter and no expense to the Exchequer, and I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that he should impress upon his colleagues in the Cabinet, if he cannot do this thing himself, the very strong feeling there is in the House that the offer of the Opposition to facilitate such a Measure should at least be favourably considered, and that we should not be answered every time this question is raised by a reference to the administrative difficulties of a proposal which no one has made and no one ever thought of making. Therefore I hope that this discussion, in spite of the rather flamboyant accusations made against each other by various sections of the Labour party, which have given us all a great deal of amusement and pleasure, may have some practical result arising out of the offer coming officially from the Opposition front bench.
§ 10.44 p.m.
§ Mr. T. SMITH
I rise to join with the hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) in pleading 445 with the Minister to reconsider this position. I think the Minister will agree with me when I say that, whilst the procedure of the House may be cumbersome in the ordinary way, if there is a desire to get a Bill through quickly it can be done. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that when it was decided to reduce the allowances action was taken speedily enough. If we had to have a Bill in order to allow of the restoration of the 10 per cent. earlier than 1st July I am satisfied it would meet with no opposition from any section of the House. The reply of the right hon. Gentleman about administrative difficulties reminds me of the argument always used by the coalowners when there is a wage dispute. If we had, as unfortunately we have had for a number of years, a dispute in the coalfield, and we finally got a settlement, and then we asked for the settlement to date back to the time when the application was first made, we have always been met with the argument that that could not be done. I remember that in 1919 we were told that the Sankey money could not be paid, until some agitation was set on foot and then the colliery managers very speedily found a way in which to pay that back money. If there is a desire to give the unemployed more than is given by this Clause, there need be no difficulty in the speedy passing of a Bill through this House.
The discussion has been extremely useful this evening in eliciting the various viewpoints. There are hon. Members who feel that Clause 5, in restoring the unemployment cut as from 1st July, is restoring the cut completely. I submit that that is not the case. Two or three hon. Members from these benches have spoken very strongly because they come from derelict mining districts. The hon. Members for Ogmore (Mr. E. Williams) and Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) have told us of the amount of poverty there is in the South Wales coalfield. Unfortunately, poverty is riot limited to the South Wales or Durham coalfields. There is poverty in every coalfield in this country. In the West Riding there is more than enough poverty in the coalfield. They have spoken strongly because they feel deeply, and they feel deeply because they are in almost daily contact with the people who are suffering. When hon. Members apply the test as to whether this restores the unemployment 446 cut which was made in 1931, they should remember that more than one cut was then made upon the unemployed. If the only cut was a 10 per cent. reduction, and the Government are now restoring the 10 pr cent. reduction, they would be able to argue somewhat superficially that they were restoring the cuts.
I would remind the House that three separate and distinct outs were put upon the unemployed in 1981. It was possible for a man to draw 74 weeks of continuous benefit, but the Economy Act, 1931, reduced the maximum to 26. In 1931, we were told from the Government Front Bench that the economies were necessary purely because there was a financial crisis, and that all sections of the community had to make the sacrifice in order to pull the country out of the financial hole into which it had got. The restoration of the 10 per cent. from 1st July does not give back to the unemployed that which was taken from them in 1931. What is the position of those men? After the 23 weeks transitional payments were in operation, transitional applicants were put into three categories. There were those who received the full benefit, those who got the equivalent of what they would get on standard benefit and the other type of man who got part benefit, or less than the maximum, because he had some other resources. When there was unemployment insurance pay of 74 or 76 continuous weeks, you did not bleed a man as you bleed him to-day under the means test. The man who had been thrifty—hon. Members believe in thrift, and in encouraging the working man to save a bit for the rainy day—and who was drawing his full standard benefit each week for 74 weeks, was not called upon to touch his savings to the same extent as he is under the means test.
To say that the proposed restoration from 1st July was giving to that type of man that which was taken away from him in 1931 is nothing less than hypocrisy. These men are of the type who have been thrifty, and have made sacrifices, and have tried to put a bit away, the elderly type who appear to be the unwanted in industry, and they have been hit harder than some sections of the unemployed. This is not a full and complete restoration of the cut made in 1931. With regard to the other people who get something less than the maximum, they 447 have to submit to the means test, and I know nothing that has cut so deeply and has hurt so much in working-class districts as the means test. In certain parts of the country, especially in areas where you have pits derelict and great masses of men out of work, the means test has cut so severely that it almost stinks in the nostrils of the people in the locality. I say to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, many of whom have not had the courage to address meetings in their constituencies since this Bill was introduced, that if they want to know what the electors are thinking about this Bill let them go into their constituencies where the means test is in operation.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The Clause does not deal with the means test at all; it deals with the restoration of cuts.
§ Mr. SMITH
I would be the first to bow to your ruling, Sir. I was led away by my feelings, which on this matter are due to the fact that I know what is taking place in my constituency and in others. When a Member of this House visits his constituency and comes into contact with men and women who have been subject to this means test, it is bound to make him think very deeply indeed. Hon. Members may talk from now until next May about this Bill restoring the unemployment cuts completely, but they cannot substantiate that in argument. There is no doubt that the unemployed are suffering acutely. It would have been far better if the right hon. Gentleman and the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been big enough and had had courage enough to have made this restoration of standard benefit operate sooner than 1st July. The relief given to Income Taxpayers started from 5th April. I have always held the view, and I think I am right, that the man who is in a position to pay Income Tax is far better off than the man who is out of work and on unemployment benefit. It would have met with the fullest approval of the House if the Chancellor had had sufficient courage to have made this operate sooner than is proposed in the Bill. While I am told by you, Sir, that I cannot discuss the means test in general, I think we are entitled to discuss some phases of it in so far as we are arguing that the means test was brought about in 1931 presumably because there 448 was a financial crisis. We submit that we have a right to ask whether it is the Government's intention to perpetuate the means test—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
There would be an entire Debate on the means test if that were allowed to proceed. It is not included in this Clause at all.
§ Mr. SMITH
I bow to your Ruling. When we get to the proper Clause I shall be only too delighted to deal with the means test in a broader aspect than is possible on Clause 5. To say that Clause 5 fully restores the unemployment pay is only partially to tell the truth, and we feel that we are entitled to ask, despite the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, that this 10 per cent. increase should operate from an earlier date than the 1st July. I feel, also, that hon. Members opposite would in their hearts like, with the hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), to see this increase operating in May rather than in July. What is happening, however, is what usually happens in this House. You get personal opinions subordinated to party loyalty. I know that there are many Members on the other side of the House who feel just as keenly about the poverty in the country as we do. I have never claimed that there was a monopoly of sympathy in one party. I have always felt that even the opponents I used to have in the old Poor Law days felt just as deeply and keenly as I did when they had to deal with the poverty problem. Where we used to fall out was as to how to deal with it. And I know that many hon. Members opposite will agree with me when I say that they would have liked to see the unemployed treated better than they are being treated under Clause 5.
We are dealing in the post-War period with a terribly big problem. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is pleased to be able to announce reduction after reduction in the unemployment figures, and no one is more pleased than myself to see those figures reduced. I have never believed in the idea that you have to make things worse in order to get them better. But I think the Minister will agree that in the coal-mining industry, to which I have been attached for nearly the whole of my working life, we are not getting the figures that we see in other industries. In 1920, the total wages bill 449 in the mining industry was £265,000,000; last year it was £84,000,000. The right hon. Gentleman must appreciate that in the mining industry in particular we have very difficult problems, which cause many of us a great deal of anxiety and trouble. We are getting longer periods of unemployment in the mining industry. If a man gets out of work at 45 or 50, he never knows when he is going to get another job; it is merely a matter of luck and chance. You may have the most skilled collier in the world working in a district, and, through sheer depression, the manager may say he has to stop the district, and he has to stop his good men as well as his bad men—
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.