HC Deb 09 December 1935 vol 307 cc699-702

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]

11.21 p.m.


I wish to deal with the statement that was made a short time ago by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies. I have done my best to convey notice to him that I intended to try to deal with his statement now. He told the House there would be other opportunities for any of us who challenged the statement that he was making, to do so. This is probably the only time that I would have of doing so sufficiently near to the event to be worth while.

The right hon. Gentleman has repeated to-night a statement that has been made again and again that his colleagues in the late Labour Government were responsible for the means test. He knows perfectly well, and if any of his other colleagues in the late Ministry were here they would know it, too, that while it is true, as I have said several times, that we were in favour of a means test, we were definitely and emphatically against putting the unemployed under the Poor Law, and thus bringing them within the Poor Law means test. The absurd and untruthful statement that the late Labour Government brought in the means test and imposed it on the unemployed only needs to be stated for any ordinary, honest person to know how untrue that statement is. The unemployed who were receiving transitional payments never came under any means test until after the Economy Act, brought in by Lord Snowden, was passed by this House. That is unchallengeable. [Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman thinks he can challenge it, I will sit down now. The able-bodied poor who came to the Poor Law were always under the means test, and the former Minister of Labour, Lord Rushcliffe, now head of the Unemployment Assistance Board, stood at that Box and defended putting the unemployed under the Poor Law by saying: "Why should one section, and that the least fortunate of the unemployed, be under the Poor Law and these others not under the Poor Law?" The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies swung his finger along this bench. I swing my finger along the bench opposite and I challenge them on this issue—that the insured unemployed were never under the Poor Law until Lord Snowden brought in his Economy Act. It was when he put them under the Poor Law that the unemployed became subject to the Poor Law means test.

I do not understand hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen not knowing sufficient of the law of our country to know that the Poor Law means test is one which no modern Parliament has invented or passed. What brought the unemployed under the Poor Law means test was the Economy Act, and that Act, having put the unemployed under the Poor Law, automatically brought them into the scope of the Poor Law means test. It is not honest politics, therefore, for anyone to say that the late Labour Government brought it in.

I am going to tell the right hon. Gentleman something else that I do not think he will deny. Perhaps, to clear his mind, I may say what I have already said a score of times in this House, which is that the late Labour Government were in favour of a means test. I have never denied that, and do not deny it now. What I have said is that in respect of the first day, in that critical week, on the Wednesday, when we were discussing what we should do, there is on the minutes of the Cabinet a definite Resolution that the Cabinet refuse to put the unemployed under the Poor Law. I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to deny that. He knows as well as I do that the whole discussion was as to how we could deal with the means test. We could not come to an agreement as to the sort of means test. He knows perfectly well, and cannot deny it, that on the first day we refused to put the unemployed under the Poor Law. That is on record in the minutes of the Cabinet for that day. If I am challenged I will bring it here to-morrow, and, with the permission of the Speaker, will read it from the minutes of the Cabinet.

Therefore, when you attempt to get away with this means test by putting it on to the right hon. Gentleman, you know that the circular you quoted was a circular to Poor Law authorities, asking them to deal with the unemployed who were then under the Poor Law, in 1930, in a more generous and more humane manner. You know that that Minister had no power to alter the law. When you said that we had passed it, you knew perfectly well that we had passed nothing at all to do with that except the Anomalies Act, and the Tories, of whom the right hon. Gentleman was the Whip, supported the Anomalies Act. It was not strong enough for them; they tried to make it stronger. But always, when this question comes up, right hon Gentlemen ride off at a tangent that has nothing to do with the subject. It is not a question whether you have a means test or not; it was your particular means test that the public opinion of the country compelled you to withdraw—compelled you to hold up your regulations. Your Bill was the first since 1834 to deal with a sort of new Poor Law. We told you that when you brought it in. You were the only people who brought in any means test—


You put one before the people.


Anything I am responsible for I will always stand up to. I will tell the House something else. My son who published a document which would have cut the ground from under the feet of anyone who says the Labour Government was in favour of putting the unemployed under the Poor Law was prosecuted because you dared not allow those two documents to become public property. The right hon. Gentleman got him fined because he wanted to vindicate those who took the line we did.


I did not prosecute for that reason. I prosecuted because the right hon. Gentleman's son I thought had committed a plain breach of the law of the land.


I do not deny that at all but the effect of the prosecution was not to allow the truth to be known.

It being Half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.