§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]
§ 11.52 a.m.
§ Mr. DAVID GRENFELL
We wish to call attention to the plight of a large number of our fellow-citizens who are unemployed, and in particular those who come under the administration of the Unemployment Assistance Board. We were never in doubt as to the folly of the method prescribed for the Unemployment Assistance Board by this House. For the purposes of economy, at a time while our party were too weak to afford adequate protection to the unemployed, certain action was taken by the Government and the Unemployment Assistance Board was established. Under the guise of economy, changes were made in the Unemployment Act. In 1931, 33⅓ per cent. additional contributions were required from those engaged in industry in this country and 42 per cent. additional contributions were made by the work-people. In the four years since that date there has accumulated, in addition to the £5,000,000 per annum available for paying off the loan existing in 1931, a Reserve Fund of £21,500,000. There is a further disposable surplus of 26,500,000 per annum, and the House was engaged yesterday in a Debate on the disposal of that surplus. The Minister proposed this time a 10 per cent. reduction in the contributions—not a 10 per cent. cut in the benefit. The Government have taken in these years no less than £60,000,000 in additional contributions from those who maintain the Unemployment Fund.
We are concerned not merely with Part I of the Act, but we wish also to call attention to Part II. The unemployed are divided into two classes. Part II deals with that section of the unemployed who have exhausted their standard benefit. We questioned the wisdom of removing from Parliament control of this vast system for dealing with one-half of our fellow citizens who are unemployed and for regulating the family incomes of those people.
2972 We were informed yesterday that we have a live register of nearly 2,000,000. I think the figure given by the Minister was 1,880,000 and nearly half of the people come under Part II of the Act and the inquisition of the Unemployment Assistance Board. It is a strange commentary upon the proceedings of this House that nobody knows exactly what happens to these people. This House relinquishes direct control of some 800,000 people who are subject to the attentions of the Unemployment Assistance Board. No one knows exactly what happens to them unless the victims utter a cry and protest. Even then we are powerless in this House to afford them any relief. These secret operations are carried on by the Unemployment Assistance Board, on which there is no popular representation and no popular safeguards. This machine set up by the Government carries on its operations ostensibly for or e purpose and that is to save money. The whole intention of the scheme was to save money. The Minister yesterday referred to the great success which had enabled him to dangle a surplus of £6,500,000 before the eyes of the House. I hope that he is not going to refer to the great success achieved under Part II by saving money at the expense of the poorest of the poor people in this country.
This is not the occasion to discuss the means test, but we should like to have had before the Budget a full discussion on the matter. We are assured that the Death Duties will yield some part of the riches which the Chancellor of the Exchequer permits rich men to keep so long as their lease of life holds good, but we are also told that this year the return of the Death Duties will be higher than in any previous year. That is ample evidence that while the Government have achieved these miserable economies at the expense of the poor, the rich are getting richer. That is an undeniable fact in the financial history of this country. But what of the poorer classes? A most remarkable book has been written by a man to whom this country owes a debt of gratitude, Sir John Orr, and in dealing with the food of the people he states that half the population of the country spends less than 8s. per week on food. The other half spends more. The average expenditure of the population of this country on food is greater than the sum which can be afforded by the less affluent 2973 half of the nation. Sir John Orr divides the inferior half of the nation, if I may so describe them, the less affluent half, into three classes.
The first is a group of 9,000,000 people who can afford to spend 8s. per week oil food, the second, a group of another 9,000,000 people, who spend at the rate of 6s. per week, and the third is a group of 4,500,000 people, who spend only 4s. per week on food. These 4,500,000 people fall below the minimum standard laid down by the Ministry of Health of 4s. 10d. per week as the minimum expenditure on food. About 13,000,000 people in this country spend less on food than the standard laid down by the British Medical Association of 5s. 10½d. per week. That is bad enough in all conscience, but what of the submerged tenth, these lower sub-divisions which are not recorded? There are those stricken families who come under the regulations of the Unemployment Assistance Board. An expenditure of 4s. per week on food is not permitted to them; not even 3s. per week is allowed. It is difficult to know what is really allowed to these people; there is no exact information on the point. Hon. Members have failed to elicit any information regarding the plight of those who come under the attention of the Unemployment Assistance Board.
Last year we were told that one-third of the recipients under the Unemployment Assistance Board regulations receive more than they would under transitional benefit, and that the remainder are receiving the same amount under the standstill agreement. An estimate of £50,000,000 is to be spent in 1935–36, and it is intended to cover, after allowing for the cost of administration, 790,000 applicants at the current weekly rate of benefit. That represents an average of £60 per year for each applicant receiving payment. We are not told, and the Minister has failed to inform the House, how many people are receiving no payments. Questions have been put but the right hon. Gentleman says that the information is not available as to those who receive benefits under the Unemployment Assistance Board's regulations. But they are not to have on the average more than £60 per annum. The bulk of the people who receive this income are in a desperate financial plight owing to long unemployment, ill health 2974 and the general conditions existing in the depressed areas. Many of these people have been reduced to such straitened circumstances that they cannot control one penny purchasing power in their own right, and have to depend altogether on what is given them under the board's regulations. The hon. Member for Birkenhead, East (Mr. White), who has been very assiduous in this matter, asked the Minister last June:Whether any social survey has been made of samples of the unemployed persons and their families who are on the register of the Unemployment Assistance Board?The Minister in his reply said:No formal survey … has been made, hut the officers were acquiring in the course of their ordinary duties an important volume of information regarding conditions in the households with which they were dealing."—[OFFICIAL R FPORT 20th June, 1935; col. 521, Vol. 303.]Is the House to have this information? When is this important information to be given to hon. Members who have to bear the responsibility for the treatment meted out to the unemployed by the Assistance Board, although they have no control over the board? Will this information be given to the House, and will the House be able to discuss it and pronounce judgment on the actions of those who are responsible for increasing poverty in the ease of those under the Unemployment Assistance Board? Will the House be able to influence the future operations of the board? I should like to know who is to pass final judgment on the board? We have protested in this House and asked for information but, apparently, the board is immune from all influence, pressure and control by the central political authority of the country. The Minister of Labour, apparently, is not responsible, but I should like to know whether he is satisfied with the reports which have reached him and whether he is satisfied in regard to matters arising from the administration which have been brought to his notice. Are we in this House responsible for the miserable skinflint economies imposed on our people?
Let me give the House two cases which have been brought to my notice which have occurred in a depressed area in South Wales. They are the cases of two men applicants, whose wives, after a long illness, died from cancer. The beds upon which they had laid were condemned by the medical officer to be destroyed, and 2975 very properly so. They were destroyed. There was a room in the house in which there was no bed at all, and the applicant for unemployment assistance made an application to the local officer for an allowance to provide him with a new bed. There was much delay in both cases but, ultimately, after submission to the Ministry and to the board, one of the applicants received a grant of £1. As far as I know the other applicant has not yet received anything. In these cases the men had to borrow beds from their neighbours. The poor help the poor. In these areas it is astonishing how the very poorest help the poor out of their difficulties, while the Minister, who flaunts his £6,500,000 surplus and is proud of his £21,500,000 reserve, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer who will shortly no doubt preen himself on the success of his financial methods, entirely ignore these cases.
Let me call the attention of the Minister to a case in which he was invited to assist. It is the case of a pit which had been idle for a very long time and was then restarted. A number of colliers were invited to go back to work, but as they had been idle from four to six years they had worn out their clothes, they had no working boots and no tools, and they could not start work again without being assisted by somebody. Perhaps the House does not know that if I, for instance, wanted to return to my occupation to-morrow, I should have to find somewhere £5 with which to buy working boots and clothes and tools. That minimum expenditure of £5 is necessary, but the men to whom I have referred had not five pennies. They were in the last stage of physical deterioration because of the miserable policy of the Government during the last five or six years. They had to go to work with miserably thin shoes which had been lent to them by their neighbours. These men appealed to the Minister, but not one penny piece was given to them as far as I know. That is a crying scandal of which this House ought to be ashamed, and I hope the Minister will show a proper degree of personal responsibility for and disapproval of the terrible conditions from which our people have to suffer.
I would like now to refer to the regular investigations which take place, I suppose in accordance with the paragraph 2976 I previously quoted. No formal survey has to be made, but the officers are required in the course of their ordinary duties to collect a volume of information, and there are investigation officers, both male and female, who visit the homes of our people when applications are made for assistance under special circumstances. These inquiries are pushed almost to the point of indecency. The private affairs of men and women are pried into in a way which is intolerable to a person with average pride. A large number of people refuse to answer the questions that are put to them, and they conceal their poverty rather than expose themselves to the investigations which are taking place. For instance, they are asked to report whether the house in which they live has a decent appearance and whether there is any debt on the family. In acquiring this information not all the officers are tactful. I do not wish to make a charge against any individual I have met, nor do I wish to make any allegation in general against the Officers of the board, but I do say that they are not all tactful and that some very tactless officers have made their appearance and come into conflict with the natural pride of our people. We find that the good appearance of a house is a disability to the applicant. Neatness and evidence of family pride constitute a disability, and the applicant receives less on that account. The person who has striven and struggled and made sacrifices to avoid incurring debts is under a disability. Not only must the people be poor and stripped bare of their belongings, but they must be in debt before they receive the attention of the officers employed by the Unemployment Assistance Board.
We would welcome an opportunity to discuss this machinery as a whole, this system of dealing with one half of the total unemployed persons who are subject to this examination, this constant inquisition which breaks down their spirits and their pride and keeps these people in a state of physical inefficiency. This is a scandalous thing, in view of the unquestionable evidence that there is physical decadence in the country. His Majesty's Recruiting Officers invite young men to go to the recruiting offices and enlist. The young men offer themselves. They are measured, weighed and tested al to their physical fitness, and one-third 2977 of them, chiefly young men coming from the industrial classes, is found to be unsuitable to wear His Majesty's uniform. One-third of those young men is looked upon with contempt by those who represent His Majesty in that capacity, but His Majesty's Government in this House are responsible in a large measure for the physical inefficiency of our people.
To-day we protest most strongly against the continuance of these despicable methods of finding the minimum level of existence for our people. We have gone far below a reasonable minimum standard and great hardships are being imposed. We are glad to have this opportunity on the Adjournment of the House to protest, and to ask the Minister whether he will not give the House one word of comfort? Will he not tell us before we go away that he will use his influence—I am not sure that he has much power—to see that these pettifogging economies imposed upon the poorest of our people shall come to an end.
§ 12.13 p.m.
§ Mr. DINGLE FOOT
There is one point in particular in the speech of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) with which we on these benches would like to associate ourselves, and it is that, whatever regulations may be brought in in the future, we shall never be satisfied as long as the constitution of the Unemployment Assistance Board remains as it is and as long as no Minister in this House is directly answerable for that which it does. I take it that my hon. Friends above the Gangway have brought up this matter as a sort of preliminary skirmish before the battle which we are likely to have on the Unemployment Regulations when we return. I have no doubt that again to-day the Minister will tell us, as he has told us before, that before we can get any information on this matter we must wait for the spring: he will remember no doubt a line from Coleridge—and the spring comes slowly up this way.I do not wish to stress unduly a point which has often been made in this House, but I think it is felt in all quarters that there has been a perfectly amazing delay in introducing the new Regulations. It is often pointed out that it is About 14 months since the last Regulations were modified by the standstill arrangement, but the board came 2978 into existence nearly six months prior to that. We do not know what they did in that six months, but the fact remains that by the time the new Regulations come into force, it will be nearly two years from the day when the Unemployment Act, 1934, received the Royal Assent.
Why is it that these difficulties have arisen? After all, the head of the board is a man whom we all respect and who left this House with a very high reputation. The Minister of Labour, as we know, although we may sometimes differ from him, would not spare himself in his endeavours to obtain all possible information and to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion in this matter. I think the difficulty goes much deeper than that. It is not merely a question of collecting information from this or that district. There are many of us who are doubtful whether it is possible to arrive at a satisfactory solution of this question within the framework of the 1934 Act. The difficulties are not -to be found in any rigidity of administration, not to be found in any incidental mistakes that were made in drafting the original Regulations. They are to be found in Section 38 of the 1934 Act, first of all laying down that the board shall make Regulations and relief shall be administered in accordance with Regulations which are precisely the same from Land's End to John o' Groats, while no account is taken of the different standards of relief which may have existed in different parts of the country. I think you are bound to have difficulties so long as you try to iron out exactly all the local variations that there may have been. I am not arguing may I anticipate possible reply of the Minister?—for a return to local administration, but I am very doubtful whether it is possible to get a satisfactory solution of this matter if you have simply one board for the whole country applying uniform methods. I do not know whether the Minister has considered the question of having different bodies in order to administer relief in different parts of the country.
Secondly, the major difficulty arises, and always has arisen, from the words in Section 38 of the 1934 Act. In Subsection (3) it is laid down:
"Such Regulations shall in particular provide that the resources of an applicant 2979 taken into account shall include the resources of all members of the household of which he is himself a member."
The way in which that actually is made to read is "the resources taken into account shall include all the resources of all members of the household." I have never said that we should give relief at a flat rate without any regard to the circumstances of the applicant. On that matter I want to make it clear that I have always differed from members of the Labour party. But when the Minister brings in his new Regulations I hope that there are two principles, if I may use the term, which he will bear in mind. First, I hope that he will retain what I may call the principle of the sliding scale. This is on the assumption that he retains some form of household means test, as I imagine will be the case. The great vice of the old transitional system was this: That the wage-earner living in the house with an unemployed man was allowed to keep a certain fixed personal allowance out of his own earnings, and the whole balance, however great it might be or however much it might vary, was deducted from the assessment of the unemployed member of the household. If the wage-earner were able in some way to increase his earnings he could get no benefit from it, but the whole of that increase could be taken off the amount that was given to his father or brother or whoever the other member of the family might be. It is true, I acknowledge, that the original Regulations did seek to obviate that difficulty, and they did provide that there should not be a fixed personal allowance but that it should vary to a certain extent in accordance with the size of the earnings; but the difficulty with the Regulations was that there was practically no minimum, and even when the earnings of the wage-earner were very small indeed some amount was taken from them.
That was one of the main reasons why in so many areas the households found themselves worse off under the Regulations than they were under the system of transitional payments. Under the transitional payments there was in nearly every case this fixed minimum below which no deduction was made from the earnings of the wage-earner.
2980 Let me give a single example. I am not going to trespass on the patience of the House by detailing all sorts of cases, but I will state what is in fact happening now. Suppose that there is an unemployed man who has a boy at school. Of course, the boy's maintenance is allowed for to a certain extent in the determination. The boy leaves school and gets a job as an errand boy or in some other capacity at 10s. a week. This is an actual case that I have in mind, but there are many thousands like it. Under the operation of the Regulations the personal allowance for the boy is one-third of 10s., i.e., 3s. 4d. That is to say, the father's determination is cut down to the extent of 6s. 8d. The Minister may reply, and I think it would be a legitimate reply, that originally the boy's maintenance was allowed for in the father's assessment to the extent of 6s., and that there is no reason why a public authority should be responsible any longer for the maintenance of the boy now that he is to a certain extent maintaining himself. That is a perfectly legitimate argument. But my point is that this system goes further. It does not simply say to the boy, "You are now maintaining yourself, so we will wipe out the amount we were allowing you and leave you to live on the 10s.," but they deduct more than that. Even when you have allowed for that 6s. they are still deducting 8d. from the father's assessment. That is an actual case and I am sure hon. Members can produce many similar cases. It may be said that that 8d is not a very great matter, but it is just cases of that sort that created the impression far and wide that here is a system which is designed to deduct from the unemployed every penny that can possibly be taken away from them.
I want to suggest to the Minister that if we are to have a household means test at all—I am not discussing that question now—there must be some absolute minimum in the matter of wages, below which nothing at all should be taken into account. In no case should that minimum be less than 20s. or 21s., and it might very well be substantially higher. If you do not have that, though your Regulations may he logical, though they may be perfectly worked out, I think you are bound to have a breakdown such as occurred at the beginning of last year. I have never in this House advocated 2981 the payment of a flat rate of relief irrespective of circumstances, but at this time, as everyone knows, we are spending enormous sums in other directions, and it would be a very unfortunate thing if at the same time we were to persist with a system which screws the odd pence and the odd sixpences from the most unfortunate section of the community.
§ 12.24 p.m.
§ Mr. BATEY
I am glad that before the House rises for the holidays we have an opportunity of discussing the means test. To some of us it is one of the most important questions that the House could discuss. We believe that the means test is the most diabolical instrument that any Government has ever invented to drive people down into poverty. It is a heartbreaking piece of machinery and we are glad of this opportunity of condemning it. In the last Parliament we condemned this means test again and again, but the Government would not listen to us until they found that they had to go to the country. Then, as soon as the General Election came, they made promises which they have not fulfilled, and we are no better off to-day in this respect than we were before the General Election and there is no more prospect now than there was then, of this means test being abolished. Recently, we had a short Debate on the Adjournment dealing with this question and the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) who raised that Debate, said he felt that the only way of dealing with the problem effectively was the abolition of the household means test. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) on the same occasion referred to the household means test and the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) has referred to it this morning. I am not clear as to whether he stands for the abolition of the household means test or not.
We are told, however, that the Minister is going to deal with this question and I hope that he will not be encouraged by anything which has been said in this House to believe that the House would be satisfied with the abolition of the household means test. Some of us would go further than that. We plead for more than the abolition of the household means test. We have seen that test applied, we have seen its results, we have seen people 2982 crushed down into poverty by it and we stand, not only for the abolition of the household means test, but for the abolition of the family means test and the abolition of the personal means test. We believe that a means test cannot, in any way, be justified in its application to the unemployed. In the Debate to which have just referred, there was a statement by the Minister which it was difficult to understand. He attempted to justify the Government not dealing with the means test and not carrying out the pledge made at the General Election by saying that the Government in their manifesto had said they would deal with the matter in the spring. I quote from the "Parliamentary Gazette" in the terms of the Government manifesto. It said:No alteration will be made in the existing 'standstill' arrangements before next spring at the earliest.There they were dealing with the standstill arrangement and the manifesto then went on to say:As regards the means test "—It will be noted that they put the means test in a different category from the standstill arrangement—the Government believe that no responsible person would seriously suggest that unemployment assistance, which is not insurance benefit, ought to be paid without regard to the resources properly available to the applicant. The question is not whether there should be a means test but what that test should be. This is a matter which is now under close examination.That was in last October or November. Surely, before this it should have been possible to make a statement in regard to the carrying out of that pledge and of what the Government intend to do regarding the means test. Yet we find the Minister sheltering himself behind the plea that the manifesto declared that the means test would be dealt with in the spring. Anyone reading that manifesto was entitled to come to the conclusion that, if the Government were returned, they would deal with the means test forthwith. As a matter of fact, that must have been in the mind of the Lord President of the Council because, addressing a meeting in Durham, he declared that unless something was done about the means test he would resign from the Cabinet. He is still in the Cabinet and the Government have done nothing. Even in regard to the new Regulations, the impression made by the 2983 Government's promise was that when the spring came the new Regulations would be here. The spring is here but there are no new Regulations.
§ Mr. BATEY
In any case I have very little hope concerning these new Regulations. I confess that it does not really worry me. I am satisfied that we shall not be much better off under the new Regulations than we are now. But we are entitled to ask when the new Regulations are to be introduced, and I would also ask the Minister whether it is his intention to deal with the means test in the new Regulations. The hon. Member for Dundee quoted from the 1934 Act. It is difficult to understand how the Minister proposes to deal with the means test when he brings in the new Regulations. I submit he will have to deal with the means test separately and apart from the new Regulations.
Instead of the position under the means test being remedied or made easier for the people affected things are being made worse for those in the distressed areas. I propose to illustrate that, by four different cases from my own district. The first is the case of a father, mother and two sons, the father and the two sons being unemployed. The father and mother received 28s. a week and the two sons 9s. a week each, or a total of 46s. a week for that household. The father got work in one of the pits on the night-shift starting at 35s. a. week. As soon as he started work the board reduced the benefit payable to each of the two sons from 9s. to 5s. Thus the total income of the household was reduced from 46s. to 45s. just because the father had got work. Is it the intention of the Ministry or the board that when a man starts work the income of the home is to be reduced by 1s. a week? There is no encouragement there for anybody to seek work.
Now I want to quote another case. It is of a man in one of our colliery villages, where there is very little opportunity to get work. There are a man, his wife, and six children. The two oldest boys have just started work, one being 16 and the other 14. The lad of 16 is earning 14s. a week, and the son of 14 started to work down the pit last October, at 12s. 2984 a week. When this boy of 14 started work, this is what the officer of the board observed when they reduced the father's benefit and the father appealed. The officer said:Applicant appeal, against reduced determination from 33s. to 25s., arrived at as the result of increased resources, a son, aged 14, having started work at a wage of 12s. a week.As soon as ever that boy of 14 started work in the pit, the father's benefit was reduced from 33s. to 25s., and in that case there were also a daughter of 12, another daughter of 10, another son of six, and another younger son to keep. I want to ask the Minister whether he can justify cases like that. I have all the papers here for him to see.
Here is a different class of case altogether. One could quote scores of cases, but I am taking these few as samples. Here is a case of a father and mother, a daughter of 16, a ion of 14, a son of 13, a son of 20, and a son of 22. The son of 22 is working for the district council, and the son of 20 cannot get work. The father has never had a day's work for years and has no prospect of getting any. The son working for the council is earning 49s. 9d. a week, of which 45s. 8d. is reckoned as income going into the household, and although there are a mother and daughter and three sons idle, the determination for the father is only 22s. a week. The result is that the son of 22 says, "I am not going to stand this, that all my earnings should be reckoned and my father's benefit reduced. I will pay for my board." When he does that, the officer says, "That does not matter. You are still in the house, and therefore your earnings must count." In a case like that the Government are smashing up family life and are saying to the son, "Get out of the house; as long as you stay in, your earnings will be reckoned."
There is only one other case that I want to mention. The Durham Miners' Executive Committee have passed a resolution regarding the recent advance in wages, and they condemn that advance being taken into account in assessing the needs of those who are to receive benefit. I submit that that position ought to have been made abundantly clear long before now, and that nobody could justify, after the country saying that the time had come when the miners were 2985 entitled to an advance in wages, the Government's reckoning that extra sixpence a day in order to reduce the benefit of some other member of the household.
I had long experience before coming to this House both as a local miners' leader and as a county miners' leader, and I confess that I cannot understand how working men are expected to be able to understand these papers which are issued by the Unemployment Assistance Board. I defy a chartered accountant to understand them. If I started to read out some of them to the House, the House would simply think that I was mad to do it. I want to say to the Minister of Labour, "When you are dealing with your new regulations, please try to simplify these papers so that the average working man can understand them. Do not waste money on printing these papers. The money would be far better given to the people instead of being spent on printing these papers which nobody can understand."
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, that I have been so long, but when one gets on this topic, which lies so close to one's heart, one does not find it easy to finish. In the distressed areas we are no better off, and we are getting no better. It was stated this week that the unemployment figures were down, but at one of the exchanges in my division there was an increase, not a decrease. In spite of everything which the Government pretend that they have done, in spite of the Commissioner being there, and with such immense powers as it is said he has, we are no better off in the South West part of the county of Durham, and it is time that the Government took into consideration the question of doing something for these distressed areas, not only in the way of finding work, but, when it is possible for these people to get work, to be just a little bit human towards these folk. After all is said and done, this is a human problem. We see these folk being crushed, and we know that their hearts are being broken by this diabolical instrument of the means test, and I ask the Government to be just a little bit human in dealing with these people.
§ 12.43 p.m.
§ Mr. ROWSON
I rise to add my voice in protest against the continued application of the Unemployment Assistance Board's Regulations, and, after all, we 2986 have to bring in the means test when we are dealing with this matter. I was in the House in 1931 when those emergency measures were put before the House, and through the House, by the first National Government. We were told at that time that these were emergency measures and that it was absolutely necessary for the country to take these steps and to cease to pay unemployment benefit on the lavish scale, as it was called, under which they were paid by the then Labour Government. Since then the National Government have claimed, practically for two years past, that trade has revived and that they have restored the position, and in many ways they have restored some of the cuts that were made at that time, but in regard to this matter of the Unemployment Assistance Board's Regulations and the means test, there seems to be no idea on the part of the Government of taking any action whatever. It is true we are promised that something will be laid down very shortly. Something was attempted in the Act of 1934, but the Government were ashamed of it when it was put into operation and they had to withdraw it.
If the claim of the Government is genuine about the position having been restored by the National Government, they might, if they will not completely abolish the means test, at least abolish the household means test. The hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) is an optimist if he expects this Government to abolish the means test altogether, although, if they went so far as to abolish the household means test, they might go a little further and abolish the test altogether, because the cost of applying the simple means test would be no more than the expenses of administration of the Unemployment Assistance Board. I should like to add my voice to the appeal to the Minister that has been made from various parts of the House, not only by Labour and Liberal Members, but by many Conservatives, to abolish the household means test. That would give a great measure of relief to scores of people. Every hon. Member could quote hard cases which would impress hon. Members opposite. I can quote a case, and I am sure the most diehard Conservative would not support the means test being applied as it was in that case. A widowed mother in receipt of the widow's pension had two unem- 2987 ployed sons and one son working as a haulage hand in the mine. In order to assess the unemployment pay of the two sons, the widow's pension and the son's earnings were taken into account. The son who was working said that he would not remain in the position of his earnings being taken into consideration to deprive his brothers of unemployment pay. If he stayed at home it meant that he could not get the clothing he needed and that for months on end he had to go without any spending money at the week-end. He, therefore, left home so that the two brothers could get their unemployment pay. Within seven weeks he was killed on the haulage road at Crawford Colliery. I, as miner's agent for that district, had to deal with the claim for compensation, and I was told by the employers that as he was not living at home his mother could not claim to be a dependant. In that case, therefore, the family had not only to suffer the injustice of the lad being driven from home as a result of the application of the means test, but his poor widowed mother had to accept less compensation than she would have got had he stayed at home. That case can be proved if I am challenged on the facts.
The hon. Member for Spennymoor has cited cases of people being driven from home, and I am certain that hon. Members opposite know of similar cases of young men and women leaving home so that their fathers could get unemployment pay. I have a case in mind of a highly respectable family in which the young daughter was working at a cooperative society's shop and earning 35s. a week. Her father could not get unemployment benefit, so she left home. She wanted to get married, so she had to come home for a certain period while the banns were being published. I understand that some deduction was made from the father's unemployment pay while she was there. A case was reported to me by the financial secretary of the Durham Miners' Association, and in connection with it I would ask the Minister whether public servants could not be given something better to do. As a result of the advance in wages to which the hon. Member for Spennymoor referred, certain increases have gone into the homes. In Durham it is only 6d. 2988 per day for the men and 3d. for the boys. After all the investigations and all the mathematical calculations, the result arrived at was that the Unemployment Assistance Board made the magnificent reduction of 2d. per week from the unemployment or transitional payments. Surely we can put civil servants to something better than getting 2d. per week out of people in that manner.
I would like to draw the notice of the Minister, as the hon. Member for Spennymoor did, to the tactless and harsh methods that are sometimes adopted. I want to give a case that has been put before me this week from my constituency. It is the case of a recipient who for three month; has been entitled to 29s. 3d. a week. The investigator has been round again, and without any change of circumstances he has ordered a new determination on the basis of 22s. a week. I cannot understand why such a change should come about if the circumstances are exactly similar. I have not had time to investigate the case, but the man complains bitterly about the way in which he has been treated. I submit that we are justified on these facts in protesting against the means test being used in the way it is. Self-respecting people who have worked in mines and factories for 30 and 40 years, who have never known what it was to make application for public assistance, who have been able to hold up their heads in respect, resent this kind of thing. It is destroying their morale and their character. We heard a good deal of who was responsible for the means test. I know that many hon. Members who came into the House after the election of 1931, in their innocence or their ignorance, blamed the Labour Government for the imposition of the means test.
§ Mr. ROWSON
I have had to go through it as a result, and I got the dirty kick out. Even since the last Election we have heard the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies trying to put it over about the late Minister of Health, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), being responsible for the means test. I say here and now that the means test did not come into operation until after the election of 1931, and that 2989 it was due very largely to pressure from employers in this country. As to who were the authors of it, as to where it came from first of all, I have here a copy of the original pamphlet, and any hon. Member opposite who wishes can see it, giving the source of the means test that had to be applied to the unemployed who had gone out of insurance and were on transitional payments. The authors of the means test as it was applied then were the Confederation of Employers' Organisations. This pamphlet was published on 12th February, 1931, months before the crisis took place. They say that unemployment benefit ought to be reduced by 33⅓ per cent., and they continue:Those at present drawing unemployment benefit who cannot satisfy the above test should be dealt with through a special fund provided by the Government and administered locally on a means test basis, which would have regard to the circumstances of the individual case.Possibly the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) will remember what was said in this House at the time. I believe that this pamphlet was responsible for the May Committee. It was responsible for a good many things that were clone at that time, though I think a change has come about now. I quoted last night from the report of the Statutory Committee a certain statement made by the Confederation of Employers' Organisations. I say they were more responsible than any other body for that idea of the means test coming to this House. They want low unemployment benefit and tight conditions for getting unemployment benefit, in order that they can compel the workers to accept the lowest possible wages. I ask the Minister of Labour not to submit so much to the pressure of employers outside this House. I submit that we have had proof that there is a general consensus of opinion among all parties in this House that at least there should be a drastic modification of the means test as it is being applied. If he cannot "go the whole hog" and abolish the means test altogether, I ask him, for the sake of the sancitity of family life, at least to take steps to abolish the household means test as early as possible.
§ 12.58 p.m.
§ Mr. GUY
I had not intended to intervene in this Debate, but the challenge of the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. 2990 Batey) has brought me to my feet. He said that the Government have broken every pledge they gave at the last Election, and referred us to the Government's manifesto, but I submit that he has failed completely to substantiate that charge. He referred to the standstill arrangements being kept in force until the spring. No alteration has been made so far in those arrangements. The whole gravamen of the complaint from the Opposition benches is that the Minister has delayed bringing in the new Unemployment Assistance Regulations.
§ Mr. GUY
I think the impression made upon those hon. Members who read the Government's manifesto clearly was that it was not before the spring that we should have the new Regulations. I expect that we shall have them before long. At the end of the passage in the Government's manifesto dealing with unemployment assistance are these words:This is a matter which is under close examination, but in any scheme great importance will be attached to maintaining the unity of family life, and, in addition, provision will be made to meet any eases of proved hardship.
§ Mr. GUY
I fully expected that the Government would deal with it in a few months' time, and I am confident that they will carry out that undertaking. I would refer to the point about dealing with cases of proved hardship, because the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) dealt with a number of hard cases in the course of his interesting speech, but did not suggest—and I thought this was very important—that the means test should be swept away altogether. The 2991 hon. Member for Spennymoor would have no means test at all.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
I did not suggest the abolition of the means test, because I knew that Mr. Speaker was in the Chair.
§ Mr. GUY
That may be so, but that did not stop the hon. Member for Spennymoor from suggesting it. The important point in this connection is that the cases referred to by the hon. Member for Gower could not have been dealt with under unemployment insurance. There was the case of men who have had as much as £5 provided for them with which to get a new set of tools. They could not have got that under standard benefit. Those instances provide a great justification for the steps taken to deal with cases of proved hardship. A man who has been for six months unemployed and has had to sell his tools must have special provision made to enable him to start work. One justification for some kind of means test is that it enables special provisions to be made to meet cases of special need. I believe the Minister of Labour is giving careful attention to this point, and I am confident that when we get the new Regulations we shall find they make more adequate provision for dealing with hard cases.
The hon. Member for Spennymoor having dealt with the Government's manifesto, I should like to say a word about the Labour party's manifesto. There was a pasage in the Labour party's manifesto which was a deliberate attempt to mislead the public. They did not say openly and definitely that they would abolish every means test but thatLabour would sweep away the humiliating means test imposed by the National Government.That is a reference to a particular means test which they want to sweep away, but they carefully avoid committing themselves to sweeping away every kind of means test. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) is not in his place, but the Communist party is the only party in this country which is whole-hearted against every kind of means test. If I am wrong in that assertion perhaps the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) will make clear 2992 the position of his party on the point, but the attitude of the Communist party is certainly clear. They would have no means test and they would prolong unemployment insurance. The junior Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) said that he was not satisfied with the present position of the Unemployment Assistance Board outside unemployment insurance but I believe that if we were to continue unemployment insurance for all the able-bodied poor after they have exhausted standard benefit the only result mould be to smash unemployment insurance itself. It would be the end of unemployment insurance, and I doubt whether any responsible person would advocate that step.
I now wish to put before the Minister a point similar to that which I put in January of last year, when we were considering the position which had developed owing to the breakdown of the Unemployment Assistance Regulations. We all know that there are many cases of hardship, suffering and distress under the present means test, and we are anxious that there should be definite improvement in various directions. We must keep in mind that there is a distinction between the kind of assistance given in unemployment assistance and that given under the Poor Law. Under the Poor Law, there have for long years been destitution tests, but we do not want them for the able-bodied poor. We want something a little bit better for them, because they are men who, in due course, may be absorbed back into employment. We want a standard of living for them sufficient not merely to keep body and soul together, but to maintain them as efficient units ready to take their place in employment again.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
May I point out that the hon. Member has made a mistake in saying that only one party in the House is opposed to the means test, since everybody knows that we have opposed it from the start? As to the difference between the Poor Law and the treatment of the unemployed who are on transitional payments, may I ask him why a small shopkeeper who is unfortunate enaugh never to qualify, and who must go on to the Poor Law, should be treated worse than a person who has qualified for transitional payments?
§ Mr. GUY
I can make that point clear. There is at present a very important distinction between unemployment assistance 2993 for the able-bodied poor and the treatment of those who are under the Poor Law. In the first case, a valuable concession was given under the Unemployment Act of 1934, and I do not think anyone suggests that it should be abolished, that the first £25 of savings should be disregarded. That is the distinction between unemployment assistance theory and the theory of destitution tests apply to the ordinary poor. I would like to see that distinction, which is a narrow one to-day, still further developed. I would like to see, if possible, under the new Regulations, a slightly higher standard of living laid down for those who conic under the Unemployment Assistance Board.
§ 1.8 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I shall not deal with questions relating to the means test, because they have been covered as well as I could have covered them. As to who started the means test, I shall not start on that question. I rise to deal with a technical point which I shall ask the Minister to examine, and, as it is a difficult one to explain, I trust that the House will bear with me while I deal with it.
Under standard benefit, when a person claims for a dependent, who may be the man's wife, from whom he is separated and who may be living apart in another part of the country, or who may be his child, a housekeeper, his mother or a daughter, the first thing that the insurance officer has to do is to judge of the propriety or otherwise of the claim. If he has any doubt, he refers the claim to the court of referees, and if he has no doubt, he allows the claim. That is the procedure for standard benefit, but hitherto it has also been the procedure for all other classes of benefit. I understand that the Minister has recently issued a Circular, which I deplore because it is marked "Private and confidential." Members of Parliament and the unemployed surely have the right to know when there is to be a change. If there were to be a change in foreign policy, or in our financial relationships such as in the Income Tax, hon. Members of this House would demand to know the facts. Here is a change being made by a Minister in a circular marked "private and confidential." What does 2994 the change mean? Why should the Minister do it by secrecy and stealth?
Take the merits of the thing. The standard benefit man had the right of appeal to a court of referees if an insurance officer had turned his claim down, and before the court of referees he had two or three rights. One was that he knew the facts before he went there, because he was supplied with them; secondly, there was usually a lawyer in the Chair, who was often not a bad chairman because legal matters frequently were raised, and thirdly, he had representatives of the worker and the employer beside him. As one who attends courts of referees, may I say that it is often difficult to differentiate between who is the employers' and who is the workers' representative, because sometimes one is better than the other. The claimant has the case there to be argued, and at the end of it he gets his decision. Then, if possible, he has a further appeal to the Umpire.
What is happening with transitional payments? A man may claim for, say, his daughter, or, more frequently, a man claims for his mother. He has to prove that his mother is dependent upon him. Under the procedure of this private Circular, the insurance officer says: "In my view the mother is not dependent upon the son," and the man under transitional payments has no appeal to the court of referees or to the Umpire. That becomes what is called his notional rating, which means that the transitional payments people cannot increase his money to cover the mother, because his notional rating determines all other matters that follow after. The insurance officer, therefore, can determine, without any appeal, whether that mother is dependent or not. I suggest that before the matter is finally decided the man should have an appeal to the court of referees. The right hon. Gentleman may say that the man can appeal to the appeal board under the transitional payments people, but they cannot alter the notional rating. They can only increase for special circumstances. They can only say that the rating is too low, but they cannot make a rating for a man and wife amount to more than 26s., because that is his notional rating. Therefore, it is decided that a person is not dependent upon another person, and you give none of the legal 2995 rights which you give to others. That is the technical point that I wanted to raise, and I suggest that the Minister should restore to the people on transitional payments the right of appeal to a court of referees. I trust that this matter will be reversed, and that, where the rates are affected, they will at least be made public for us to examine. I myself have not seen the actual circular, but I am told that it was marked "Private and Confidential." I trust that hon. Members on these benches will have some success in getting the means test abolished and making the conditions of the unemployed better than they have been hitherto.
§ 1.15 p.m.
§ Mr. KELLY
There are three cases to which I desire to refer. I cannot understand the mind of those who, like the hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. Guy) seem always ready to apply a very severe test to those who happen to be hard up in this country, but I am not going to be tempted to say more about the remarks to which the hon. Member treated the House a few moments ago. I should like to ask the Minister why his officers are so anxious, ready and determined to refer married women's cases to courts of referees. I wish to quote two cases. One is that of a young woman, a book-keeper in an office, who became unemployed and signed at the exchange. For some reason best known to the officer of the Ministry of Labour, the case was referred to the court of referees, on the ground that it was not possible for that girl to obtain similar employment in the town where she was living. The court of referees decided against her, and then the curious thing happened that she obtained a similar situation at once but they still proceeded with the case, and she was deprived of her benefit, but was told that, if she becomes unemployed again, she stood a better chance of getting her benefit on the next occasion.
The other case is that of a typist who, because of illness, had to leave her employment. When recovering from the illness, she signed at the exchange and received her benefit; but, although her employer said that, if he had not filled her position, he would have employed her, and certainly would employ her the moment he had a vacancy, yet she was harassed by the exchange authorities 2996 and deprived of her benefit as one who would not obtain similar work in the town where she was then residing. To force these people into that position is a method of administration that one does not expect to obtain in this country.
The third case to which I desire to refer is one of which I should have liked to be able to give notice to the Minister, but it has come to my attention only within the last few minutes. There is a notion in the country that the exchanges exist for the purpose of people obtaining employment, but I have come across a case where the exchange—I will mention the name if the right hon. Gentleman desires it—telephoned to a particular employer stating that the man would not be available for work on the following day. I admit that it was for one day's work—presiding at a polling booth during an election. The man knew nothing about it; he had offered to undertake the work; but, for no reason at all that one can gather, he was deprived of it because the manager of the exchange, which is on the borders of London, told the town clerk or whoever was the authority that the man would not be available for work. I do not know whether this is a new instruction, but I hope it is, and that it is going to be withdrawn very speedily. I am quite willing to hand this case over to the Minister, and, if he presses for details, to give the name of the man and the name of the exchange, but I would ask that the exchanges should be encouraged to find employment for people, and not to deprive them of the chance of employment.
§ 1.21 p.m.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) raised this issue in his usual very fair way, and made one or two points, but I do not want to follow him or anyone else who has spoken this morning except to say that there is one fact about responsibility for the means test and the views held by hon. Members that the House might bear in mind. When the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Rowson) is so eloquent about the responsibility for Vie means test, he might remember that, when the election was over in 1931, the hen Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) for seven months asked for a declaration from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite as to what their view was, and there was no answer. I leave 2997 that fact for hon. Members to draw their conclusions upon on some occasion when it is appropriate, but that gap of seven months require, explaining. The other polemical point is about the relationship to the facts of the present time, and I do not think the hon. Member for Gower is the right person—
§ Mr. HARDIE
Is it not a fact that many times in this House questions are put to Ministers on that bench for six months, 10 months, and sometimes 10 years, without any answer being given?
§ Mr. BROWN
It may be so, but the question then was not with regard to a matter which might be decided, but with regard to a matter which had been decided, and I think I am entitled to call the attention of the House to it.
The other point is about the method by which assistance to able-bodied persons who have exhausted their ordinary benefit is administered through a statutory board, and I do not think the hon. Member for Gower was quite the right person to put that point. If he will refer to a Bill which has been presented to Parliament this Session, called the Workmen's Compensation Bill, in Part II of which—it is interesting that it is in Part II—beginning with page 20, there are utterly drastic powers, far outside anything contemplated or provided for in the Act of 1934, he will find it very difficult to justify putting workmen's compensation in those terms under a board outside Parliament with utterly arbitrary powers, while at the same time not putting the relief of able-bodied unemployed people under a statutory board. I do not think it lies with him and those who support the principle of that Bill to make an indictment against the Government's policy in this present matter.
The only other semi-political question that has been raised was raised in the most attractive way by my hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey)—if I may call him my hon. Friend this morning, since we are going away for a recess, and it is the spring. He tried to make a distinction between regulations and the means test, but really it is very difficult to see how that distinction can be drawn, for, unless you have regulations determining the test of need, there can be no way of altering or removing the means test. The means test is bound 2998 up with the Regulations. The whole question is, on what basis need shall be determined. Hon. Members have talked about the keeping of an election pledge. Let me inform the House once more that the election pledge was carefully drawn, and showed all thoughtful persons two things. The investigation into what happened in the early part of last year which was undertaken by the board and my predecessor, and continued with the board by me, had by November reached the stage that it was possible to declare general lines of approach to the major issues concerned. That was laid down in the manifesto. It was said that when the matter was dealt with it would not be before the spring at the earliest, and then all these principles laid down in the manifesto would be observed. What has happened about the administration of the board?
The problem can be simply stated but it cannot be simply solved. I do not think the parties of the left have a very strong case, because over and over again in the last 12 years speeches have been made by those who desired a change demanding three things, a national system, a uniform system and no interference by local busybodies. The whole problem arises there. When the impact of that new system was made, the trouble was that it was made upon thousands of towns and villages where an infinite variety of previous practice had reigned. The first thing we had to do was to consider the matter theoretically from the point of view of principle and of the application of the form of the actual Regulation. The next thing was to consider how in each particular item of the Regulations, either in itself or in its impact upon some other item in the Regulations, we could meet what fair-minded people would regard as genuine grievance and hardship. Those investigations are almost at an end and the House will not have long to wait. [Interruption.] That I know nothing about. The last thing that the hon. Member for Gorbals would wish to do is to punish me by putting responsibility for the "Daily Herald" upon my shoulders.
§ Mr. BROWN
That may be so, but the fact that it is marked "official" in the popular Press does not make it the truth. 2999 I thought it right to see what I could do to find out how the system was working, not only in London but in various parts of the country. I visited a number of the area offices. I have myself gone from door to door in division after division. Many hon. Members do not know that I have been there because I desired to do it unknown and quietly, to see how the thing was done and to have some idea what was actually going on in the houses concerned. One or two remarks have been made about tactlessness, but I hope, if there is tactlessness, the Members concerned will take appropriate action. Every local area officer has his district officer and, if there is any trouble in any division, the Member of Parliament should at once see the district officer so that the truth can be found out one way or the other as to whether the thing is well done or not.
My impression, which is confirmed from many quarters and by many Members, is that the local area officers are doing their work extraordinarily well and with very great understanding of the circumstances of those who come to them and, more than that, with very great sympathy and a desire to do what the Act was originally intended to do—to make this new system of an independent statutory board a more humane means of dealing with the able-bodied unemployed. I am aware of some divisions where Members go home for the week-end and regularly meet their supporters and get their individual cases brought to them, and their practice is to go to the area officer and put the cases to him. There are other cases where that is not the practice. That is an illustration of the difficulty of dealing with the problem, in that the bulk of the difficult cases and the bulk of the problems do not arise over a large area of the country but arise specially in particularly difficult districts.
It is easy to get up and ask for the abolition of the means test, and it is quite simple to bring forward hard cases. If any Member has a particular case that he knows of, if he will send it on to me I will at least have it inquired into although I have no statutory power. Members have voiced hard cases in hundreds of letters to me, but I have been surprised in the last nine months not at the number of hard cases that have come 3000 to me but rather at the smallness of the number, although I do not want to belittle the kind of exceptional case that has been brought. Let me put another side of this case. The House and the country have got to be challenged later to face the issue whether unemployment assistance ought to be given without a test of need. It is a point which Members generally, and all of us on this bench, now or in the future will have to face. There is a double issue. The first is whether there should be a means test at all, and the second, if there is to be one, what kind of test ought it to be. I rather gather that the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) is more concerned with what kind of test it ought to be. Hon. Members opposite would sweep the whole thing away.
Let me give the House some of the results of my travels and researches. I will simply state the eases without saying anything about the results. They are not extreme cases. They are the kind of case that is constantly being brought before the board in the areas and I will pass no judgment upon them, but any one who analyses them will be bound to ask himself whether it is right or expedient from the point of view of the public good that public money should be given in these cases without some kind of determination of need. Take this case. The applicant is a general, labourer, married, age 55. He has three sons, aged 17, 20 and 24 and a daughter aged 22. That is a household of six. The son aged 17 earns 20s. 7d., the son aged 24, 40s. 2d., and the daughter 32s. id. a week. The son aged 20 is also n applicant for unemployment assistance. The rent is 7s. a week and the gross income of the house is 93s. 3d. In the second case the applicant is a married man aged 60, with four sons aged 16, 21, 25 and 28, and a daughter aged 19—a household of seven. The sons earn 10s., 30s., 30s. and 35s. per week and the daughter 8s. The rent is 9s. 4d. a week, and the gross income of the household is 113s.
§ Mr. LAWSON
Th. right hon. Gentleman is giving cases which he has investigated himself, I understand, and this kind of stuff will go out to the Press. May I ask him at t its point, therefore, seeing that there was a thorough investigation after the Regulations broke down as to the reasons, and a lot of cases 3001 were handled, whether he will make the report available to the House instead of continuing to do this kind of thing?
§ Mr. BROWN
Of course, you will have the board's report. It does not mean that you will have any particular set of documents that have been sent to me by the board during the course of the whole of the investigations, but everything that is relevant, and which the House ought to have with regard to making up its mind upon the subject, will, of course, be produced.
§ Mr. LAWSON
Am I to understand that the right hon. Gentleman will give us the report made on the investigation after the Regulations broke down?
§ Mr. LAWSON
It is no, good the right hon. Gentleman using material in this way unless he gives us the report of the investigation.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
In view of the publicity which may be given to the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman, does he think that it is worth while giving these cases to the House, when the average maintenance provided in respect of them is only 15s. per person per week?
§ Mr. BROWN
That is so. Hon. Members come down to the House and use individual cases, and I am not passing judgment, but merely stating the kind of cases. After all, the House has to make up its mind, if it is to deal with this matter, whether or not in certain cases, or in all or none of them, it is a case of need.
§ Mr. HARDIE
When the right hon. Gentleman makes a case in the aggre- 3002 gate, does he forget that individual insurance exists? Should not the individual responsibility in regard to unemployment insurance be maintained? Should he not seek to include in the family only those for whom the insured individual is responsible? Is there any sense or justice in an insurance scheme which does not do this?
§ Mr. BROWN
This has nothing to do with insurance. When persons have exhausted insurance benefit they come to the board's officer and ask for public money, and I am quoting the ordinary cases which come before the board. The hon. Member for Gorbals will say that I was justified in giving consideration to them.
§ Mr. BROWN
That view will not be as widely shared as some hon. Members in this House would suggest. I will take one or two more cases. Here is the case of a family of five. The applicant is a cabinet-maker, single, aged 19, living with his father, mother, brother and sister—five in the household. The father earns 129s. 9d. per week, the brother, aged 15, earns 10s. a week, rent is 11s. 5d., and there is a sub-let at 6s. a week, leaving a net rent of 5s. 5d. The gross income of that family is 139s. 9d. I have a number of other cases, but I will not detain the House.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
If they are all like that, then go on. I want to hear something that is really damaging.
§ Mr. BROWN
The hon. Member is very passionate. This problem, however, will not be solved by passion but by reason and judgment. Those of us who are applying our minds to the problem have every bit as much sympathy for the unemployed as the hon. Member who interjects now, and desire to get these hard and difficult problems solved. We know that the bulk of our problems arise from 3003 this very simple thing, that there has always been a household test under the Poor Law. The hon. Member opposite may say "Shame," but it has been the rule for many years in this country. There have been many investigations into the question of whether or not there could be another test of need and except in one particular report, which I have in mind, each continuous investigation has come to the conclusion that, if there is to be a test for need for applicants who make application for public funds, it must be in terms of household. What happens? We have our uncovenanted benefit, extended benefit, and transitional payments paid under a test administered by local authorities in 1931. My problem, and the problem of the board and of the House is that, whereas some local authorities administer the money of the State, the transitional payments, with the same care with which they administer the money of their own ratepayers, there is another class of authority who do not do that, but are more lax. Hon. Members opposite would say that they are more generous with State money than they are with local money. [Interruption.] The hon. Member has many friends in his own part of the country and knows quite well, when they are dealing with the Poor Law in towns and villages in his area, the attitude taken by the local administrator dispensing public funds raised from rates, is not the same as the attitude which is taken up by the administrator when he is administering public funds.
The next and most difficult point is that where local authorities administer transitional payments from State money, they do not make any attempt to administer the test of need. The problem which I have to solve, and which the House will have to solve later in connection with the test of need, is how to justify the granting of public money where resources are sufficient for the needs of the household. The problem we have to solve in connection with the needs test and the other detailed points raised this morning, is how we can do what we said we would do in our Election Manifesto, namely, maintain the authority of the board, improve the arrangements under the board, maintain the intention of the Act, remedy certain abuses and alter the method of administering the means test, so that we 3004 might have due regard to the things about which hon. Members opposite have been so eloquent this morning, namely, the potential or real breaking up of family life and the maintenance of the family unit, and that we should do this gradually and in full association with public opinion. Hon. Members may rest assured that the individual eases put this morning, including the technical point put by the hon. Member opposite, and the inquiry about the circular, will be considered. The hon. Member opposite knows how hard it is to estimate in numbers of cases what would have been the transitional rate. That is where the point he raised comes in, bit I will inquire into the matter and let him know. The board, which I remind the House is a statutory authority, will follow the same lines that have been followed for years in successive Governments by the Ministry of Labour, namely, to lay upon the Table of the House all the important circulars which the House would desire to have and which it is entitled to have in the matter.
§ Mr. BROWN
I am not sure about that. Those who have been listening to the Debate and have come to the conclusion that there is feeling about the application of the test of need will also realise that there is division of opinion among those who want to alter the system. There are some who desire to abolish it. As far as we are concerned we shall do our best, and that very soon, to present to the House improved arrangements for doing a difficult thing and administering a uniform system, with due regard to local opinion, for this very varied country of Great Britain.
§ Mr. ARTHUR GREENWOOD
The right hon. Gentleman has been studiously vague about the publication of the report. Can he give the House some indication, because this is a matter of very grave concerne, when the report is likely to be published? Further, will he give us an undertaking for which we are entitled to ask, that a proper amount of time will elapse between the presentation of the report aid the Debate on it?
§ Mr. BROWN
We shall have due regard to that matter. In regard to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, he has been an administrator himself in high office and he knows that until decisions are made it is impossible to give a definite answer. I can, however, say that the investigations are nearly completed and that the House will not have to wait long after Easter.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
Is it to be April, Nay or June? Once we get to mid-summer day we are out of the spring season. Is it to be this month, next month or June? This is matter that affects the majority of Members of the House very much.
§ Mr. BROWN
The right hon. Gentleman may put the question that way, but I come back to my original statement that they will know in the spring, and I mean the spring of 1936. I might remind the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) that there is another poem about spring, and it is this:The storms of wintry time will quickly passAnd one unbounded spring encircle all.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
Will the right hon. Gentleman spend Easter reading Hutchinson's "When Winter Comes"?