§ 3.59 p.m.
§ Mr. GEORGE HALL
I beg to move,That, being opposed to any action calculated to intensify the appalling distress prevailing in many parts of the country, this House is of opinion that the Unemployment Assistance (Determination of Need) Regulations, in so far as they will involve reductions in existing allowances, should be suspended.The purpose of this Motion is to prevail upon the Government to refrain from reducing the allowances to the unemployed under the new Regulations. In moving the Motion in this form we on this side of the House have not in any way withdrawn our hostility to the Regulations as a whole, and especially to the means test. The Regulations are now in operation, and what increases are due will be paid before the end of the year. Then the cuts will operate, and we desire to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour and the Government to see that the cuts shall not be put into operation in any circumstances. There is much concern in the country as to these cuts. Already we have had large spontaneous demonstrations. Almost all my right hon. and hon. Friends on these benches have addressed these large gatherings, some numbering 20,000, 30,000 and 40,000 people, and I myself have addressed a gathering of no fewer than 60,000 persons, all of whom were unanimous against these Regulations. Once the Regulations are understood there is no question about the hostility of the majority of the people to them. Whole districts are solid against them. Speaking now of South Wales, I have never known such unanimity against any Measure which has been carried in this House. Churches, chambers of trade, trade unions, and in South Wales all the political parties are opposed to these Regulations. It is no use the Minister of Labour attempting to deceive himself by delivering speeches in chosen places and writing articles in selected Conservative journals under the pretence that there is no opposition to the operation of these Regulations. I was very interested to read an article by the right hon. Gentleman in a journal which is called "Home and Empire," a Conservative party publication, in which he said:When the Regulations became known in July last there was no protest, either 2662 spontaneous or otherwise, and the effort to organise one fell as completely fiat as did the criticisms and protests of the Labour party during the three days Debate in the House of Commons.I wish that very large numbers of the public had been allowed to hear the speeches which were delivered in that Debate. It will be remembered that we had a Debate of unprecedented length, and it can be said that from all quarters of the House hon. Members expressed themselves as being very concerned about the operation of the new Regulations. This concern is not confined to one political party. I have here the report of a speech delivered by a person of note in the councils of the Conservative party. The speech was delivered in my own division. Mr. David Evans of Trealaw, a member of the Conservative Central Council, the inner circle of the Conservative party, was described as a prospective M.P. He denounced the means test and the Regulations as emphatically and as contemptously as any Labour or Communist member. He said that as soon as the terms of the Regulations were disclosed, he got into touch with the Central Conservative Office, who asked him to make inquiries amongst the 75 Conservative clubs in South Wales as to what was their attitude towards the Regulations. In every case the clubs passed resolutions of protest against the operation of the Regulations. So emphatic was Mr. Evans in his attitude to the Regulations that he said:have been connected with the Conservative party for 20 years. I have fought election after election for them. I have served on their committees. But on this question I am determined that I shall not raise one little finger to assist the Conservative party in putting these Regulations into operation.I could go on quoting portion after portion of the speech condemning the operation of the Regulations. That speech was delivered by a Conservative living in an area which will feel the effect of the proposed reductions perhaps more than any other area in the country. It is useless the Minister of Labour pretending that the opposition to the Regulations is being organised by Members on this side of the House. Postcards in these terms have been sent in by Conservatives:I, the undersigned, being a member of the above Association— 2663 this postcard came from the West Rhondda Unionist Association—regard the scale of allowances as totally inadequate to enable the unemployed and their dependants to maintain a decent standard of existence. I regard them as an attack on the wage standards of the employed, and they will increase the suffering already existing in the neglected depressed areas of the country.And it winds up with these words:Give the employed a square deal and the unemployed a square meal. This is the only means test of real statesmanship.I ask the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour not to treat the opposition to these Regulations in the flippant way in which he has appeared to treat it in speeches and in reply to questions put to him in this House. We beg him to treat this matter in the same way as did his predecessor in office, in the speech which he delivered when introducing the Standstill Order. The right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, in that speech, said that the trouble in dealing with this problem was that we were dealing here not with business, not with finance, not with intangible things but with human beings, men, women and children. We would that the Minister of Labour and the Government would consider the wider social and economic cost of these paralysed and wretched groups of communities now suffering in South Wales, in the north, in Scotland, and to remember that they are a very heavy off-set to the seeming prosperity of the industrial Midlands, London and the south.
It can be truly said that the Special Areas of this country are in the melting pot, all of them similar to South Wales, where whole districts are being driven to destruction, where families are broken up, where homes are scattered and the people, young and old, are driven to despair. Among the mass of the people resident in those areas, stricken people, more damage has been wrought than among those who suffered during the four years of the Great War. On top of the already deplorable conditions now existing in those areas the new Regulations and the means test are to be imposed by the Government, and they will create new records of havoc and distress amongst the people, for their application will not only drive the unemployed still further into the depths of starvation, 2664 but will impose new cuts on the already low wages of the employed workers, will further destroy home life, will so reduce the purchasing power of the people that small traders and shopkeepers will be driven into bankruptcy, and the already difficult task of the local authorities in those areas will be made impossible.
I do not think that the House itself realises the number of people who will be affected as a result of the operation of these Regulations. The Minister himself talks in terms of 750,000, 620,000 or 520,000. Those numbers represent only householders. The latest figure given by the Minister was 520,000. Those 520,000 with their dependants number 1,500,000 people, most of whom will suffer as a result of the incoming of these new Regulations. I put it to the Minister and to the Unemployment Assistance Board, which is so far removed from this problem, that they are responsible for the moral, physical and even the spiritual welfare of these millions of people. These men and their families have committed no crime. They are out of work through no fault of their own. Why should they be punished? These are the men who along the years have made a great contribution to the material wealth of this nation and to the domestic comfort of its people. They, with others, are responsible for the place that this nation holds in the industrial world—men who are absolutely indispensable, coal miners, steel workers, shipbuilders, engineers and so on, all in the productive industries. They were the real backbone of the nation. They were a proud people, maintaining their families, independent in every way, and good citizens.
To-day they are suffering the agony of idleness; they are living a life of hopelessness. The homes of which they were so proud are being destroyed; families are being separated; their wives, the bravest women in the world, have suffered indignity for the last five, six or seven years. Some of them have not been able to purchase a single new garment in that period. I do not want to despise the generosity of charitable persons who have been so good to these Special Areas. Lots of our people have been dependent on charity for their clothes for a number of years, instead of depending upon an adequate income. One could speak of one's own experiences, but 2665 people as to the effect of unemployment in these areas. I have here a statement which appeared in a London newspaper. It is from a lady who has done considerable charitable work in the worst areas in South Wales. She asked those who live in the prosperous south-east of England and in London to have some idea as to the extent of the suffering in the districts where these new Regulations will make conditions very much worse—in Durham, in South Wales and other areas. She says:Theoretically the Regulations regarding unemployment relief may sound fair, even generous. But in practice their working leaves room for numerous cases of acute poverty equal to any of the horrors of the last century.She records her experiences in going around the homes of the Rhondda and other parts of South Wales. We do not hold the Minister and the Government blameless as to the conditions existing in those areas. I have here the report of a medical officer of health which came to me last week. It was considered by one of our local authorities on Thursday last. He is not a politician, not a, person who is trying to stir up political strife but a person charged with the care of the health of a very large urban district area in South Wales. He said:Seventy-six per cent. of the pregnant and nursing mothers attend our Clinics. The majority of these are suffering from malnutrition at a period when it is essential that they should have the best food obtainable not only for their own sakes but also for their offspring. With their present income, it is impossible for them to buy even the necessary food required.He went on to say:The debilitated children that are seen at the clinics are often the result of the ill-nourished mother. Unfortunately a number of women in this Area arc unable to breast-feed their children owing to malnutrition.He described the condition of the children:In spite of the fact that 270 children in our schools are receiving one meal a day, we have only 55 who are normal, and 215 are still in a state of malnutrition. Out of 812 who have been receiving milk only 310 are normal.And he concludes his report with these words:In this Area we are already doing as much as it is possible to do, but it is still far from adequate for the needs of the growing child and the pregnant mother. I am of opinion that the whole of the community of 2666 this Area is slowly but insidiously deteriorating owing to lack of nourishment.That is the statement by the medical officer of health for Mountain Ash, a district where we have had between 40 per cent. and 45 per cent. of the insured persons unemployed. Eighty per cent. of these men have come under the operation of the Unemployment Assistance Board, and that is their condition. The report of the officers of the Glamorgan County Council recently issued showed that as a result of an investigation carried out in the administrative county they had discovered that 9,800 children between the ages of 5 and 14 required clothes, and 13,000 required boots. That is an indication that over 20,000 persons want boots and clothes, and are dependent on the slender resources of their parents or on the charity of charitably disposed persons. In passing, I may say how much we in South Wales appreciate the generous gift of Lord Portal of —2,500 to enable between 8,000 and 10,000 children to have a pair of boots each this winter. But is it not a scandal that the children of men who, through no fault of their own, are unemployed should be dependent on the charity of others for the food, clothes and boots they require?
During my membership of this House I have heard many Debates on the question of unemployment insurance benefit, but I have never heard it suggested that this benefit is something to take the place of wages. It was regarded as something to assist in tiding over a short period. When a person left work he had resources —clothes, boots, furniture and some savings—and it was never regarded as sufficient to enable the recipients to subsist on, but just as a contribution. This was not only the view of the unemployed and those active on their behalf, but it was also the view expressed by Minister after Minister of Labour. Everyone with any common sense knows that the longer a man is unemployed the greater are his needs. Not only are his needs greater, but he is deserving of more sympathetic treatment than he really gets. Those persons who under the Unemployment Assistance Board will be entitled to increases will receive them between now and Christmas or the New Year. These increases will be very slight and will be brought about almost entirely as a result of the adjustment of the rent scale or something like that. 2667 The report of the Advisory Committee which dealt with the question of rent in my own area of Merthyr stated that out of 11,000 houses the rents of which will have to be considered, 8,400 are either on this scale or well below it, and only about 2,600 have rents which are above the scale and will be entitled to be taken into account if the recommendation of the Advisory Committee is put into operation. Two-thirds of the people who come under the Regulations will receive no increase, and a large proportion of them will suffer reductions. We are unable to ascertain what that number will be. The Ministry has been careful not to give even an estimate. I wonder whether the Government are afraid to give an estimate for fear of what is likely to happen. The Unemployment Assistance Board, after being in operation four or five months, frankly admitted that when the first Regulations came into operation they were surprised at the number of reductions which took place, a much larger number than they had estimated.
We are told in the Memorandum issued by the Minister and the Board that reductions will be necessary in a number of cases. Within the next four or five months some 60,000 persons will suffer reductions. That is the first batch. It is to be followed by others, and in some areas, we are told, the number to suffer reductions will be considerable. The places which will be more affected than others are those, like South Wales, where there are Labour majorities who have refused to apply rigidly the means test. I did not anticipate that when the standstill was brought into operation in February last year it would mean as much as it did to those who then came under the Regulations. We were told by the then Minister of Labour that the Regulations would inflict little hardship on the people. But from reports issued by the Minister of Labour we know that in fact 59 per cent. of the persons under the Unemployment Assistance Board were saved from reductions in their allowances as a, result of the operation of the standstill arrangement. Only 41 per cent. received the advantage that we thought the majority would receive.
Is it not possible for the right hon. Gentleman and the Government to con- 2668 sider before these cuts operate the introduction of another standstill? Is it not possible that these people whose conditions I have described should have their limited incomes protected? It may mean 1s., 2s., or 3s. a week, but I would ask hon. Members not to minimise the difference which 1s. or 2s. a week will make in the incomes of people who have existed on limited allowances for six, seven or eight years. In my standard of life 2s. a week would make no difference; 10s. a week would make little difference. But if my wife had to live on 26s. a week and 3s. for each child, for six or possibly 10 years, one or two shillings would make all the difference in the world to her. Hon. Members on this side have their homes visited by these people every Saturday morning. I wish I could portray to hon. Members the anxiety which exists in the minds of all these people who have suffered just 1s. a week reduction. I would beg the right hon. Gentleman and his Department to remember the difference that it means to these people.
The Regulations are already in operation. To those who are passing from standard benefit and coming under the Board the Regulations are being applied. What does it mean? To single men over 21 living at home a reduction from 17s. to 10s. a week. Out of that 10s. one-quarter is added to the rent scale of the house, leaving 7s. 6d. a week for the single man over 21 to maintain himself in food, clothes and any of the other expenses necessary. We have, unfortunately, in the Special Areas homes where not only the father is unemployed but sometimes two, three or even four sons also. What is it going to mean to them? Under transitional benefit and standard benefit a father and mother would receive 26s., and each son over 21 would receive 17s. a week. As soon as these Regulations come into operation the sons will have a reduction of 7s. a week each. It will make a difference of 9s. where there is one son, and where there is a second son the difference will be 16s. a week.
I do not know anyone who understands what the operation of these Regulations must mean to the homes of the workers, and we beg hon. Members to look upon this Motion with the same feeling as we do. Take the position of single persons in the home. A son or daughter receiving 2669 30s. a week is expected to contribute 7s. towards the maintenance of the parents. If I had a son or daughter living at home with me earning 30s. a week, and I was unemployed, my benefit would be reduced from 24s. to 17s. a week. If they earned £2 my allowance would be reduced by 12s.; if they earned £2 10s. it would be reduced by 17s., and if they earned £3 I would get 2s. a week, apart from what my son or daughter would contribute towards the maintenance of their parents. There is one thing which neither the Board nor the Ministry remembers. It is that there is nothing to compel these sons or daughters to make this contribution. It is assumed that they will. If they are living in the household, irrespective of their age, whether they make a contribution or not, the Ministry of Labour and the Board assume that they are doing so. There is no statutory power to compel them to do it, and I am not asking that there should be; it may be assumed that in large number of cases they will leave home.
The Government have been very clever. The justification given by the Minister for these Regulations is that the cuts will be spread, in some eases, over a period of five months, and in other cases over a period of 18 months. The Government has learned its lesson in connection with this matter—slow starvation. It would be very much more humane to kill them off at once than to starve them as is proposed by the operation of this liouidation, as it is called, of excessive benefits—as though any unemployed man, whether he receives standard benefit or comes under the Board, could have anything excessive. The Minister in his speech the other day justified the Board because, he said, there had been a steady increase in the weekly amounts paid to persons coming under the Board. He said that during the last two years there had been an increase of something like 2s. a week, making the tremendous total now of 23s. 7d. per week per family. But the Minister did not paint the full picture; he did not tell us that the increase in the average amount per week is largely due to the number of young men that are being transferred, so that there is a very much lower number of young people, which makes the average proportion of elderly people very much more. 2670 The report of the Unemployment Assistance Board seemed to indicate that the average pay per family in Wales was higher than in England and Scotland; but the Board covered itself by saying that the seeming increase given to the people in Wales is caused by the fact that the percentage of women applicants in Wales is very much lower than in England or Scotland, which makes the average per family look very much more than it actually is. I think that this Debate this afternoon is very appropriate. I read with interest the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the Conservative Conference, in which he referred to the need for improving the physical condition of the people, and said that, notwithstanding the fact that there has been an improvement in many branches of public service, there is, so far as the physical fitness of the people is concerned, much to be desired. The Chancellor left out one very essential thing; never during the course of his speech did he mention the question of food. I am more inclined to agree with the views recently expressed by a very well known and eminent doctor who, in the course of a speech on physical fitness, said:Fitness for living, fitness for work, fitness for leisure, fitness for fighting, if needed, can never be obtained by physical exercises only. There are other still more basic things that are imperative in this matter—food, shelter, fresh air. Adequate food is fundamental in all these questions of fitness. Look after the accessibility of food for the people and nutrition and health will look after itself.How is it possible for the people to be properly fed under the existing conditions? And, if the existing conditions are as I have described, what can we expect if these cuts are to operate? I want to tell the right hon. Gentleman and the Government that as far as we are concerned the fight against the imposition of these Regulations is not ended. The people of this country should not continue to allow mothers to deprive themselves of necessary food in order to provide just a bite extra for their children and a little clothing to cover their nakedness. Those mothers cry out to this House that their children be given a fighting chance of a decent life and be allowed to grow up strong and healthy men and women. These little 2671 children, who cannot speak for themselves, under-nourished and under-developed, express in their pale faces an unspoken appeal against horrifying conditions which will leave their mark upon them for the rest of their lives. Those men and women throughout the country who are suffering are looking to this House for support.
To-morrow the House will rise for the Christmas Recess. Most Members will have a happy time with their own families. I would that they would give one thought to the hundreds of thousands of homes where this festival will convey nothing more than an ordinary day. Santa Claus will not visit many of these places; the mothers will not be able to receive their husbands' wages and have the pleasure of purchasing just that little extra for the home, the doll for Mary or the toy for Johnny; millions of children will be disappointed; their stockings will not be filled; and, at a time like this, by the application of these Regulations, unless some step is taken by the Government, these cuts will be enforced and further hardship and suffering will be created for the poorest of the poor. For that reason my hon. Friends and I beg the Government not to impose these cuts. Why should any Government Department be used for the collecting of the pence or the shillings of the poor to reduce their already low standard? One cannot think of any other analogy than that of the coward who is inflicting a hardship upon someone very much weaker than himself. If these Regulations are imposed, not only will they be unworthy of the right hon. Gentleman, unworthy of the Board, unworthy of the Government, but they will be unworthy of the nation. For that reason I beg the House to join with us in passing this Resolution and preventing the cuts from being imposed.
§ SEVERAL HON. MEMBERS rose—
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
On a point of Order. Is the House not going to be furnished with the guidance of the Minister in reply to my hon. Friend? We have not very much time to debate this Motion; if the original arrangement is to be kept, we shall proceed to other business at Half-past Seven; and I submit that we are entitled to ask that the discussion should take place in the light of the Minister's reply.
That is hardly a point of Order. I suggest that the matter had better be dealt with through the usual channels.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Mr. MAGNAY
With regard to the alleged point of Order raised by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), it will be within the recollection of the House that, on the last occasion on which the Minister of Labour had to deal with a matter of this description, he was chastised by the other side because he spoke too soon. I know that I am not comparable with my old friend the Minister of Labour in this respect, but it seems to me that those of us who are supporters of the Government and come from distressed areas should say what we think on this matter. I listened with patience to the admirable speech of the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall), and I would ask hon. Members opposite to listen to me, as one who is here because he stood up for the means test even in a constituency where the population is 95 per cent. Working-class, and because they quite well understood that, if they wanted anything other than a means test, they could go to the "Yes, yes" men on the other side, and need not come to me at all. My constituents, the vast majority of whom, as I would again remind the House, are working-class people, decided that there must be a means test, but that it must be a humane one, and I am going to show indubitably—I never had an easier job in my life—that the present Government's means test is an immeasurably more humane one than that imposed by hon. Members opposite when they were in power a few years ago.
It has been said that public agitation was inevitable because of these new Regulations, but, after the House rose in July, the public took no more notice of these new Regulations than they did of the Anomalies Act which was passed by the Labour Government a few years ago. There were no public processions at all when the Anomalies Act was passed; there was no political agitation then in my constituency; and there is none at all on this occasion. To be quite frank with the House, I did get a letter from a gentleman who, I discovered afterwards, came from London, and who was the self-appointed secretary of the unemployed in 2673 my constituency. He asked me to meet immediately a deputation from the unemployed. I said that of course I should be glad to see them, but, as my front room would only hold a certain number of individuals, I would ask him to confine the deputation to four; and he and three more came. After we had been there for an hour, I said to him, "You have told me about your individual cases, and I will see to them to-morrow morning" as I did—"but will you give me some of the thousands of cases of hardship that have occurred in connection with these Regulations"—hardships, let the House note, entailed by Regulations which did not come into force until November, and was then July. The number boiled down to four, including the three in the room. Those were all the cases that could be found out of the whole number of unemployed in my constituency—I regret to say some 9,000, though that is certainly better than the earlier figure, which was 13,000, and I am profoundly thankful for that fact.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
Before the hon. Member leaves that point, would he tell the House what means test was imposed by the Labour Government?
§ Mr. MAGNAY
If I said the means test, I certainly meant the Anomalies Act, and I am quite certain that I said the Anomalies Act, because that was what I intended to say. The Motion expresses what we all desire. It is an appeal for another standstill order, and that is what we all desire. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Of course we do. [Interruption.] If hon. Members listen they will discover what my opinion is. The hon. Member for Aberdare said that matters would be worse in the distressed areas because of the reductions. Why is he so sure? How does he know that there will be inevitable reductions? Has he forgotten the existence of the local advisory committees? Surely they are of some use. [HON. MEMBERS: "In what?"] In advising. I understand that an advisory committee is set up to advise and to give counsel. I should have thought that that was the 2674 plain English of it. They have to advise, in view of the local circumstances, what the Unemployment Assistance Board should do in individual cases. That is what makes the problem so difficult. I asked the Minister of Labour before the Christmas Recess two years ago to remember that this was a huge Socialistic experiment, and that you could not expect hard and rigid rules and regulations to fit every individual case. I prophesied what did, in fact, take place, that there would be a terrific bump before long.
The administration of the Regulations is difficult, because every case is different from the others, and the circumstances are constantly changing. Over and over again, within a few months, I have had to plead the cases of individual men, who found the position bearing very harshly upon them, although six months before they were quite content with what they were getting. The local advisory committees have humane ladies and gentlemen; there is no doubt about that. [Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite doubt it very much. Well, the chairman of the Labour party in Gateshead is the chairman of my advisory committee, and he bitterly opposed me in the last General Election. He is Alderman Peacock, known to many hon. Members on the other side, and he is the local chairman. Hon. Members may jeer at these people, but I am prepared to trust them. I trust him, Labour man though he is, because I know he is a humane gentleman who will see that fair play is given to poor people whom we all regret are so harshly punished.
I think that the hon. Member may be wrong, just as was the prophecy of his party four years ago that better trade was impossible under this Government. As I have said, there are 4,000 more people in work in my area. The Tyne is doing fairly well. There are only 19 ships laid up there instead of hundreds a few years ago. Things are improving, despite the prophecies of four years ago that improvement was impossible. The hon. Member said that the vast majority of poor people would suffer a reduction, but I beg to differ.
§ Mr. MAGNAY
I would do precisely as hon. Members are doing now. The House and the country have a right to expect better things of this Government. They remember what the allowances were ia the days of the Labour Government. I have taken care to verify my recollection, and I find that the allowances in 1931 were 15s. 3d. for a man, 8s. for a wife and 2s. for a child. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) is not here, because it was he who moved that the allowance should not be increased to 3s. per child. The present Regulations are far more generous and are adaptable to the circumstances of every individual family. They offer not a comparison, but a contrast, with what the Regulations did when hon. Members were in office. Hon. Members are perfectly right, at the moment. They and the country have a right to expect better things from this National Government, and I shall be grievously disappointed if that does not result. [Interruption.] An hon. Members says that I am in for a grievous disappointment; the last time, if I may say so, rather gave the lie to his prognostication there. The last five years gives me reason to expect the same result. I am just as much concerned about the poorest of the poor as are hon. Members opposite. I differ from those hon. Members in my views, but the future alone will show whether I am wrong. If I am, I will admit it, but hitherto I have been right and they have been completely wrong. On this occasion, again I think I am right.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Mr. BEVAN
I should have thought that the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay) would have ended his speech upon an entirely different note. I thought he was going to say that as there had been no reduction in the allowances, and as he did not anticipate that there would be any reduction, he proposed to vote for the Motion. The Motion says, in effect, that if the Regulations reduce the allowances they should be suspended in that respect. If the hon. Member believes what he says, that there will be no reductions, there is no reason why he cannot support the Motion. Is that the position?
§ Mr. MAGNAY
If that were my position there would obviously be no reason for the hon. Member opposing it.
§ Mr. BEVAN
I understand, therefore, that the hon. Member's position is that he apprehends that there will be reductions and he is not going to vote for the Motion because he does not want to prevent those reductions occurring. Which position does the hon. Member want to be in now? He delivered a speech which was unworthy of him. It would have been far better if he had directed himself to the Motion before the House, which asks hon. Members to live up to the protestations which we heard from them only a few weeks ago on this very matter. We discussed the proposals of the Government with respect to the distressed areas, and hon. Members told the Government that the proposals were so inadequate that unless new ones were brought in they would walk into the Lobby against the Government. What did hon. Members imply by that? It was that the Government had power to end the position in which a considerable number of the people in the distressed areas find themselves, but that the Government had been negligent in not using their powers to that end.
Hon. Members are expecting that by the beginning of the Spring the Government will bring forward proposals which will have the effect of putting a number of those people into employment. I should have thought the very least we could expect from hon. Members is to say that, in the interim between now and the time when the Government's proposals are brought in, the people who are unemployed in consequence of the negligence of the Government should not be further persecuted; but there is no Amendment to that effect upon the Order Paper. I should have thought that there might have been an Amendment from hon. Members opposite stating, in plain terms, that although they did not accept the whole of our Motion, it should be put into operation until the proposals of the Government are brought forward. There is no Amendment on the Order Paper to that effect, and I think I am entitled to say that all the speeches which we have heard from the other side of the House amount to cant and humbug.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
Perhaps the hon. Member had better wait until one or two more have spoken from this side.
§ Mr. BEVAN
I am hoping that when the hon. Member speaks he will be the 2677 exception. I should have thought we would have some indication of how hon. Members on the Conservative benches regard these proposals. I hope that some of them will be true to what they said a few weeks ago and will tell the Government that it is utterly unjust to impose these reductions while the country is waiting for the proposals which everybody says that the Government ought to have brought forward long ago. The emptiness of the benches opposite is evidence that the Minister of Labour was quite right in what he said. I would ask my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) to look at an article in which the Minister said, in effect, to the unemployed of the country that, they were sheep and deserved to be treated as sheep. He said, in effect, to the unemployed of the country: "You know that we propose to reduce your benefit. We shall do it by sleight of hand. We are going to do it slowly, and I hope you will not notice it. Nevertheless, our proposal is to reduce 60,000 of you almost at once." Is that wrong or right? The Minister's own White Paper said that he proposed to reduce 60,000 at once, and that he proposed to reduce a number of them over 18 months. The evidence is that the right hon. Gentleman ultimately proposes to make rather a substantial reduction because he proposes to take 18 months to do so.
What does the Minister of Labour say to the unemployed?—That they have not had enough guts effectively to resent his proposal. I expected that from him, of course. The unemployed are now between the devil and the deep blue sea. If the unemployed protest, if they make a row in the country, they are accused by hon. Members of indulging in extra Parliamentary methods of agitation. If, on the other hand, we get no agitation from them, the Minister interprets that as evidence that there is no resentment on the part of the unemployed. A few weeks ago, a, visit was paid to South Wales by the late King. Everybody in the country was astonished by the almost complete absence of demonstration against the Minister of Labour, who, on that occasion, took advantage of the people's attitude towards the then King to protect him. If the Minister of Labour belives that is no resent- 2678 ment in South Wales against his proposals, let him come down there himself without the shelter of the Royal purple. He will see plenty of resentment then.
What are the proposals? I The Minister may say: "What happened a few weeks ago led us to believe that our proposals were satisfactory to you." If ever it happens again that there is a Royal visit to a distressed area what the House of Commons has said to the unemployed is, "You must make as much noise as possible and demonstrate against him, otherwise he will say you are contented." I hope his words will be read in South Wales and properly interpreted. It is true that so far there have been few reductions in the allowances. This Motion is not put on the Paper because of what has happened, but because of what the Government declare they are going to do, and they propose that in the future the needs of a young man of 21 will be assessed at a maximum of 10s. a week. Is there a Member in the House who will declare that in his judgment that is a reasonable assessment of the needs of anyone? Let us have a reply. Is there anyone who proposes to vote against this Motion who will get up and say lie holds the view that 10s. a week at which these Regulations propose to assess the needs of the unemployed, and in fact do assess them in the hon. Member's constituency, is a reasonable assessment?
§ Mr. BEVAN
There is not, a Member who dares go before his constituents and say it. The Minister himself will not say it. He has said it in the Regulations, but he will not get up in his place and say that in his judgment a man who has been idle for more than nine months, and may have been idle for five or six years, can be, and ought to be, assessed at 10s. a week. There is not a Member of the House who would say so, but everyone who votes against the Motion will be saying in effect that he believes that is an adequate maintenance for an adult in Great Britain in 1936. I hope hon. Members will not be permitted during the rest of the Debate to speak of the discretionary power of the advisory committees, because that is utterly irrelevant. You have not to con 2679 sider the exceptional cases, the divergencies from the normal which result in different allowances. What you have to answer is, Do you accept that in a normal case 10s. a week is enough? I am tired of hearing Members shelter themselves behind the advisory committees. They deal with exceptional cases, and the officers of the Board will, of course, try to make the Regulations as elastic as possible, but we have to deal with the normal standard rates.
When the Regulations were before the House some time ago, hon. Members defended their support of them on the ground that they gave increases over the then existing scale and that, if they voted against the Regulations, they would be voting against those increases. We declared at the time that the reason why they were put in that difficulty was because of the procedure of the Government in making it impossible to put down Amendments. The Regulations had to be taken as a whole, and Members could not distinguish between those parts of them that gave increases and those that gave reductions. We are giving them the opportunity, because the Motion will preserve the increases where they are given and will not continue the reductions. I assume, from the reasoning that we had on that occasion, that all those who defended the Regulations on that account will vote for this Motion. I am not suggesting that, if it were carried, it would be any other than an instruction to the Government to bring in the necessary legislation. The Motion itself would not have the effect of suspending the Regulations in those respects where they make a reduction in an effective and watertight way. As a matter of fact, the House would be even more pleased to give such legislation a unanimous passage in one evening than other legislation which has been carried in the last few days. The Minister is running away, like his predecessor. It is now regarded in British politics as the acme of courage for a Minister to say that he persists in his intention to persecute the poor. If a Member of the Government stood up and said, "I refuse to go on persecuting the poor any longer," he would not get a medal from the Humane Society but would be jeered at and accused of running away from a job that any decent man ought to be ashamed of doing.
2680 The Regulations go a step further. We are not at the moment suggesting the abolition of the means test, because we desire to confine the Debate to narrow issues which would not endanger the party fidelities of anyone, and they can vote upon the merits of the Motion alone, although we have not abated one tittle of our opposition to the means test in principle. If hon. Members propose to vote against the Motion, not only do they say that 10s. a week is adequate for an adult, but they say that 9s. is enough for a woman of 21. Great Britain is rapidly earning the reputation of having the worst-treated and worst-paid working class in the world. If we go on a little longer, there will be very many countries in the world with a far better-treated working class than we have. Nine shillings a week is a. scandal. I know that hon. Members opposite would not declare that they consider it to be adequate, but they do something more if they vote against the Motion. They declare that 28s. a week is a high enough standard of life for a man who works six days in the pit, because, if he gets more, it is taken away to maintain the idle members of his family. If he earns £2 a week and he has an idle father, 12s. is taken from him in order to maintain the father. Will anyone in any part of the House defend that? Will the Minister of Labour declare that in his judgment 28s. is an adequate reward for six days' work? They have not the guts to say it. They have not the decency to say it, but they are doing it. The decent thing is to say what you are going to do And not hide it behind the intricacies of Parliamentary Regulations.
They go on to declare that, if by an unhappy circumstance a father happens to live in a distressed 'area surrounded by a sea of hopeless unemployment, if he has idle sons or daughters at home he shall be content to go on working as long as they are unemployed, on a wage which is 8s. a week more than he would have if he were unemployed. That is the extent to which the capitalist system has reduced the inducement, to honest labour. I regret very much that the working class are so drilled that they regard even that inducement as sufficient to go on working. Does anyone in any part of the House believe that to be reasonable? The House is not doing itself justice in 2681 discussing this matter with these empty benches. It reflects very seriously upon the attitude of the House towards this very grave problem.
§ Mr. BEVAN
The answer is obvious. We want an opportunity of converting you to our Motion. We do not need to be converted. I deeply deplore that Members are not present to hear what is an unanswerable case and try to defend the position they are taking up.
We have discussed the distressed areas in this House on more than one occasion, and I have heard the problem discussed with growing impatience. All I hear are speeches of sympathy, but every piece of concrete legislation that is brought forward is an attack upon the distressed areas. We have had a whole series of legislative proposals in the last three or four years directly aimed at worsening the conditions of the distressed areas. Whenever the Government have the power to do something concrete, it is always against the distressed areas. Whenever they have an opportunity merely to deliver perorations they have a wonderful sympathy for those areas. Most of the people who will be attacked under these Regulations live in the distressed areas. The means test, as my hon. Friend reminds me, took £1,000,000 a year from South Wales, from that part of the country where, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said the other day, unemployment continually grows. It is from the people in these circumstances that this House takes £1,000,000 a year and from whom the Minister of Labour proposes to extract even more sacrifices.
Do hon. Members wonder why, when we speak on this matter, we find it difficult to use the ordinary language of Parliamentary Debate? Let me tell the Minister of Labour this: Do not let him make any mistake at all about the feeling which exists in South Wales and in other parts of the country in regard to this matter. I freely admit that the strategy which the Minister of Labour has adopted is full of cunning. He besieges the distressed areas with all the military strategems that Franco uses in trying to seize Madrid. He approaches his own fellow countrymen 2682 as though they are a foreign enemy. He throws out camouflage. He has a secret service too. All the military apparatus is used by the right hon. Gentleman in dealing with the distressed areas in order to accomplish the further dereliction of the distressed areas without paying the price of anti-Parliament and anti-Government demonstration. At the moment he is succeeding.
When these Regulations actually start to do what he proposes to make them do by legislation, when that happens, I assure him the Royal purple will not be wide enough to cover anybody in South Wales. The depressed areas are deeply involved in this problem. Hon. Members would be more worthy of the position they occupy in this House if they would get up and tell the Minister of Labour that further sacrifices are not only unworthy but are an outrage. If this Motion is carried, some of the anomalies will still exist in the sense that some areas will have higher scales and some will have lower scales. That problem can easily be dealt with by the Government in subsequent legislation. I am asking this on behalf of people who are as decent as any people in Great Britain and who have lived under the shadow of this trouble for 10 or 15 years. While other parts of the country can get alleviation from unemployment, that alleviation is denied these people, and the very least we can ask is that the Government should not turn a dagger in a wound which they themselves are unable to heal.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. KINGSLEY GRIFFITH
The only hon. Member who has so far spoken and who seems to have viewed the situation with any satisfaction, but with no hope, is the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay). In so far as he pinned his faith blindly upon the advice of the local advisory committees, he is doing a great deal more than circumstances warrant him doing. He has to remember that these committees are purely advisory; they have no executive authority. Apart from that there is the significant fact that, if they had really been intended to be a vital part of the scheme under the Act of 1934, they would not have been left unestablished for so many years. They were brought in as a kind of make-weight at the last moment. I am afraid that by this time the bureau 2683 cratic system of the Unemployment Assistance Board has acquired certain habits and has become a regular practice, and it will be very hard for the advisory board seriously to influence that position. I am glad to have been given an opportunity by hon. Members above the Gangway of dealing with this question before we depart for the Christmas holidays. There would be something rather callous if we went away for the Recess without having, at any rate, some kind of discussion and serious consideration of what is, however you may dress it up, a blow which is going to descend upon these poor people. It may be that the blow will not be universal.
The Motion is put into very modest form. It does not seek to raise all the issues that might have been raised, and it does not, in fact, make any comparison between the original Stanley Regulations and those which were brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman. Naturally the second Regulations are better. It would have been incredible if, after the disastrous experience of the first Regulations, no improvements had been made. Substantial improvements have been made, but the Motion now before us leaves all those improvements quite unaffected. Hon. Members can take what credit they like with regard to this matter. All they are asked to do is to arrest the blow which is falling, particularly in certain districts, with great force. We have to consider whether, taking a broad view of the condition of our people, any reduction whatever can be justified. I know that you can find hard, and, therefore, selected cases, and can make it appear that at present there is a large amount of money going into a particular household. It may be dangerous to judge the whole system by hard cases. It is equally fallacious to judge it by one or two soft cases. I would much rather take the risk of having no reductions at all, and perhaps having excesses here and there, than make a change which will cause very widespread distress.
We are not discussing the whole question of the means test to-night, but in so far as this Motion, if carried, would make the means test operate in a milder form than it will if the proposals of the Government go on unchecked, the same issues are raised. If there is a breaking 2684 up of homes—as I believe there is—it will be less severe if the Motion is carried than if it is not carried. If there are hon. Members who still imagine that there is no breaking up of homes, I wish they could come to some of the constituencies that are badly affected, and see the sort of cases which are brought up day after day, and not only cases where people are actually leaving their homes. Certainly that is happening in my constituency, because they have adopted a system of refusing benefits to the young people if they do go out. I believe that it is quite illegal, but it is being done. Young people are finding that they are conferring no benefit upon their families or themselves by remaining where they are, and therefore, through economic pressure, they are driven out.
Apart from those cases of involuntary exile, there are cases where the strain remains inside the family. People come to see me, two or three at a time, and very often I am conscious of the underlying resentment, which is not really resentment of the people against one another, but of the situation into which they are forced, and which must, if it grows, make these homes much less happy, united and contented than they would otherwise be. This is a matter of the greatest seriousness. We pride ourselves on our family life in this country, and, therefore, we ought to make sure that it is a reality. I believe that these evils are brought about without any intelligible or logical principle behind them. The system of the household, as it is worked at the present moment, is entirely artificial. It depends upon the persons under a single roof, which is not anything that can be defended in logic. The only point behind it is, that it is easier to operate with the household, than it is with the family.It is a question of pure expediency. I do not believe that it is really expedient. I cannot believe that to continue with such a system, which alienates the essential loyalty of a large number of people to the system under which they have to live, can ultimately be either just or expedient. It is high time that we brought it to an end.
The present Motion, obviously, would be a stop-gap. It has been suggested that it is a standstill arrangement. I do 2685 not think that anybody would claim anything more for it than that. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) pointed out that there is a particular reason for having a stop-gap at the present moment, because we are promised Measures to deal with distressed areas in a short time. It would be a reasonable thing to say, before we make our final settlement with regard to those who will remain out of work, "Let us know the result of the Government's plans to deal with people to be put into work." That is the special reason for putting the Motion into effect at the moment. It would not perhaps do so much. There are large numbers of people who would not be affected by it, but those who would be affected by it would be affected very deeply. Even if the number were only 60,000 people—I think that it will be very much more than that before we have done—it would make some kind of basis of Christmas justice before we go away and would be entirely worthy of the House.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Captain HAROLD BALFOUR
There are a great many hon. Members who represent comparatively prosperous constituencies in the south of England, although in our own particular areas we have our own problems of great distress at certain times of the year. Therefore, I make no apology for intervening in the Debate, because I have the honour to represent one of those seats. If it was not for the good will of the south of England the Government would be unable to gain the support which they are ensured at the present time for any Measures which they may care to bring forward in order to help the north of England. It is not enough stressed that the ratepayers and taxpayers in the south of England are called upon, and will be called upon, to make very real sacrifices in order to help their less fortunate fellow citizens in the north. There has been much talk and a great deal of criticism in this House as regards the Government's intentions in the Special Areas, but it would not be in order for me to go into that subject, except to say, speaking for my own area, and with some knowledge of other areas, that my electors, irrespective of party, are more than willing to face up to any sacrifice which may be demanded of them in order to 2686 help in the solution of this problem, because until the black spots have been got rid of the social conscience of the community, regardless of party, can have no rest.
It seems to me that the Motion and the speeches in support of it are rather like a battle of cannons booming but firing blank ammunition, because at the present time no reductions have taken place and reductions can only take place subject to appeal and to local discretion. There are two things which stand out in the terms of the Motion. First, that if it were accepted the House would be doing something that Parliament has never done before. It would be legalising the uncontrolled distribution of public moneys collected from the taxpayers and the ratepayers without any consideration as to the merits of the particular citizens to whom the moneys were being distributed. That would not be fair to the taxpayers, to those in employment or even to those out of employment who have no resources. There is more in it than was suggested by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough West (Mr. K. Griffith). He said that if there was an isolated case here and there he would prefer to see these have rather more than they ought to have than to see a system which might bring into play reductions. The real fact of importance is that that would be legalising the extravagance of local authorities, which all Governments have endeavoured to put down in the past.
Secondly, the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) asked us to look at the wickedness of this Government and to justify if we could 28s. 6d. for an outof-work miner. I would remind him that 28s. 6d., inadequate as it may be, is a greater sum than was supplied by the Labour Government in the years 1929 to 1931. [Interruption.] I repeat that it is more than was provided by the Labour Government in those years. Again, the fact which he stressed, that there is a narrow discrepancy between what the man gets in work and the benefit he gets when he is out of work, can be taken two ways, either as a debating point against the Government or as a tribute to the scales under our social system which still gives a higher standard of life than in any other country to those in work and at the same time is able to give these allowances to those citizens who are out 2687 of work. The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) said that whole areas will be affected by these Regulations. The party above the Gangway have condemned the Regulations on the ground that whole areas are going to stiffer. Have they read the words of a respected trade union leader, Mr. Findlay, who, speaking at the miners' conference, said:The campaign in the Labour movement against the Regulations is handicapped by the knowledge that they will bring benefit not only to many households but also to whole areas.Those are the words of a member of the Trades Union Congress, speaking to the miners' conference. He said that whole areas are going to benefit, and the hon. Member for Aberdeen also said that whole areas were going to be affected. They are, and because fundamentally these Regulations are sound and fair, and coupled with an active policy which will primarily endeavour to restore employment. We believe that the Regulations are in the best interests of the community as a whole. That is why I sincerely hope the House will reject the Motion.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Mr. RIDLEY
In discussing this subject it is desirable to point out that appeals can be made only in exceptional cases and that discretion remains discretion only when it operates in exceptional cases. Therefore, everything that has been said by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) as to the operation of the Regulations in general cases remains undisproved by what has been said by the hon. and gallant Member for Thanet (Captain Balfour). One of the finest characteristics of this House is its ability, when it wishes, to become a House of Commons, to be proud of its supremacy and its authority over the executive, and its ability sometimes to defy a three-line Whip when it thinks that the occasion is justified. I beg the House to regard this as such an occasion. If we pass the Motion not only will the House have the right to be proud of its action but the country will be proud of its ability in a moment like this to do the simple, decent thing.
I am sorry that the Minister of Labour has left the House, because I cannot forbear from saying that the only man in such a, moment who would not be 2688 proud would be the Minister of Labour, whose evident enjoyment of his own complacent satisfaction is one of the least satisfactory features of this House. Why should not the Motion be carried? Despite their persistence the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and other hon. Members have been unable to extract from the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary any estimate of the economy which will result from the operation of the new Regulations. We know not whether the economy will be considerable or inconsiderable, whether it will be large or small. If it be a small and inconsiderable economy it becomes a mean economy because it is small and inconsiderable. If the country were hard up and we did not know where to find the next copper to contribute towards battleships, the situation would be different, but when that is clearly not the case I suggest that a small measure of economy would be the measure of its own meanness and cruelty. I suspect that the reticence on the part of the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary in providing us with an estimate is not due to the fact that the economy will be small but to the fact that the economy will be so large that the Minister is afraid and ashamed to reveal the nature and extent of it.
I ask the House to consider this matter not in terms of economy but in terms of human experience. We are dealing with men and women who have already experienced long unemployment. I do not believe that there is any monopoly of sentiment or sympathy in any quarter of the House, given an equal knowledge of the facts and the circumstances, but may I suggest, with every courtesy, that it is not possible in the very nature of things for hon. Members who represent comfortable constituencies in the south of England to understand this appalling problem in the way that is understood by hon. Members who sit for the distressed areas and who are daily surrounded by a sea of misery? Therefore, I hope that hon. Members will be persuaded by those who have experience and knowledge on the subject. In every industrial area there are, to put it modestly, thousands of men who have experienced prolonged unemployment for two, three and more years, men who have lost or are losing the skill and cunning of their craft, men from 2689 whose eyes has gone the lustre of life, from whose hearts has gone the hope that life can ever become again for them a thing of joy; men who have not only lost in their lives the occasion for happiness, but are rapidly losing the capacity to enjoy it even when the occasion presents itself. Unemployment has exhausted their stamina and has eaten devastatingly into the modest comforts of the home itself. Furniture breaks, crockery cracks, pots and pans disappear with little or no hope of redress available, and if the Motion is not accepted that inability becomes even more a restrictive inability within the terms of the new Regulations. Home life instead of being the sanctified thing it should be becomes an experience of almost intolerable discomfort, physical and mental.
Let me take a suppositious case. John Smith has been unemployed for three years and he has a wife and four children. He is out of work not because he is lazy, intemperate, or generally non-industrious, but because the works have closed down. Because of the scales of a generous local authority he gets benefit of 35s. a week, but the new Regulations will reduce that amount to 32s. I would ask hon. Members opposite, would they like the experience of maintaining in food, clothes and shelter four children for seven days a week on 35s. over a period of years? If the answer is "No," how much less enjoyable and unendurable will be the experience when the amount available is reduced to 32s.? I ask hon. Members to imagine that amount in the hollow of their hands and to think how many of us in this House spend that amount in unuseful purposes without any justification for the expenditure
I ask the House not to resist the appeal made from these benches. The other day I was with a sturdy group of 30 miners at a week-end school. Six of them had not only been unemployed for five years, but they knew that the industry had no further employment for them and that for the rest of their lives they were driftwood in human society. Will the House add to that condition the mental contemplation of the further physical privation which will be imposed by the Regulations if we do not carry the Resolution? 2690 This is almost the last thing that this House will do this week. Let the House do the decent thing. We shall leave the House to-morrow to buy Christmas presents for our families. Let us not further deepen the anxieties of those who will not share with us that joyful experience.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) was very caustic about the attendance of hon. Members on this side of the House, but, as a matter of fact, we were nearly all square, because I counted 22 hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House and 21 on this side. It is true that as the hon. Member proceeded with his speech from the fantastic to the impossible four or five hon. Members on this side left the Chamber, but I do not think he can complain about that, because the very moment he had finished his speech he bustled out of the House and has not reappeared. In any event, I do not think that the record of the Labour party in this particular matter is very good. They have nothing upon which to congratulate themselves in their handling of the unemployed problem between the years 1929 and 1931. Indeed, I do not think any Government has much cause to congratulate itself for the way in which it has handled this particular problem.
I have intervened in the Debate only to say that I feel myself bound to vote for the Motion because of the pledge I gave at the last Election that I was in fact, and still am, opposed in principle to the means test as it is at present operating. I do not for a moment believe that we can afford to go on without any means test at all. I do not go quite as far as hon. Members opposite, and there are many hon. Members opposite who will agree with me up to this point, that it is not fair to distribute public money without any regard to the means of the people you are helping. It is not right or just. But the present household means test I have never subscribed to, and it is much better to stick to your convictions. If you put children under the age of 16 years into the household that is a reasonable and fair proposition; but that a young man of 21, who is earning his own living should be handled as is proposed under these Regulations—that his own earnings should be taken into 2691 consideration—is a bad principle from every point of view.
I do not believe that the agitation about nutrition which has been going on in the country is a mere stunt. I think there is a tremendous lot behind it. We have the authority of medical and scientific opinion which is beyond reproach that about 20 per cent. of our population are undernourished at the present time, and if proof is required we find it in the figures of rejections for recruiting, particularly in the West of Scotland. I believe that children and nursing mothers in the distressed areas are not at the present moment adequately nourished, and I think the cost of that on our disease bill is very great. It is impossible to give figures. Everything is in the nature of speculation, but I wonder how much of the £20,000,000 that we spend on disease alone in Scotland is due to the fact that in their youth so many of our young men and young women were undernourished and badly fed.
There is no doubt that the blow mentioned by the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith) is about to fall on some of the unemployed. It is going to fall mainly in the distressed areas, in the most distressed areas, where there has been continuous unemployment for the last few years. We have asked the Government to introduce legislation to deal with this particular problem and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has promised to do so by next May. But in the very nature of things that legislation must be long-term legislation. Some of us blame the Government for a great deal of delay and procrastination in the matter of bringing forward proposals to alleviate the conditions in the distressed areas, but whether that is true, whether it is a fair complaint or not, the fact remains that nothing effective can possibly be done for the distressed areas for another year at least—it may be much longer.
What I understand the Motion asks is that during that unstated period there should be no further penalties imposed upon the unemployed in this country. That is a reasonable request. The hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay) was very sanguine about the operation of these new Regulations. I hope that he is right, but I agree with the hon. Mem- 2692 ber for Middlesbrough West in saying that we ought not to count too much on these advisory committees. They are not executive committees. They are, by their name, advisory committees, and when we receive assurances from the Minister of Labour some of us cannot forget the bitter experience of the last occasion when these Regulations were introduced. I was assured privately and publicly by the Parliamentary Secretary that the Regulations were going to be a milestone in the social history of this country, and were going to bring such benefits to the unemployed as were but dimly realised. We were all led up the garden path in breathless expectation of the benefits which were going to be conferred on the unemployed. We know what happened, and we cannot be quite sure that everything is going to be all right this time. I do not think that the Minister himself can be quite certain.
There is another reason for supporting the Motion, and this is the particular question I want to put to the Government. What is the point from the national point of view of reducing the purchasing power of the people in these districts by a penny? This country is going through a phase of unparalleled prosperity, and one of the features of the present boom which causes a little uneasiness is the disparity between the prosperity of one district and another, one group of workers and another, and one industry and another. It seems to me that these Regulations, in so far as they inflict cuts upon the allowances, are going to deliver a blow—it may not be a very heavy blow—at four or five areas in this country, where, so far from delivering a blow, we want to do everything in our power to lift them up. I am sure that the prosperous areas in the South would not grudge a little extra to these areas, even if it were a little too much. But what is the point of reducing by one half-penny the purchasing power of anybody in a distressed area at the present time when you have got no constructive schemes to alleviate the conditions there? I say that you have no right to reduce the purchasing power of these people until you have these constructive schemes. It is false economy. I know of no other way of alleviating avoidable human suffering and doing more good to national economy than by 2693 putting a little more cash directly into these distressed areas. There is no other way in which you can do such an amount of good with so little annual expenditure than by refusing to make any cut whatever for the next 12 months. I think the country can afford it, and if the Government were to make this gesture it would do more good than anything else at the moment, and at less cost. I hope the Government will consider it in that light.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I am glad that the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), although he has resigned from the popular front, has at least popular ideas which affect the masses of the people of this country. Any hon. Member with an open mind, with sympathy and understanding, will agree that his attitude in supporting the Motion is a testimony to his Parliamentary activity in the House which will be endorsed in the country. I cannot agree with the optimism of the hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Ridley), who hoped that hon. Members opposite would disregard a three-lined Whip and go into the Lobby in support of the Motion. My short experience in this House is that a three-lined Whip is a sort of blackmailing policy applied to hon. Members of various political parties. I confess that I become more and more reluctant as time goes on to feel enthusiastic about taking part in Debates in this House and making appeals to the Minister of Labour or to any other Minister. I have said before that in my opinion Parliament is a Victorian moth-eaten assembly. We do not come to this House to submit our points, to put forward evidence and cases of injustice. The Government do not listen to these appeals, weigh up the evidence in order to find what is best for the mass of the workers of the country and then declare that the overwhelming evidence is in favour of the attitude suggested by hon. Members opposite. Instead we get the old stereotype procedure: the Opposition Member makes his appeal, the Minister sits on the Government Bench taking a number of notes in order to score debating points, and then gets up at the end of the Debate and says that although the Government are not doing this or that, the Opposition when they were in office were as bad or worse. The bad action of a, previous Government becomes the defence of the present Government. 2694 I do not accept that as being the kind of Parliamentary activity which is desired by the masses of the people.
We have on the Front Bench and in the Cabinet a number of old worn-out veterans who are continually threatening to resign if they do not get their way on this and that. They go on like a lot of happy old women complaining about their health and the onerous duties that are put upon them. We are all willing to relieve them of their duties. We should be glad to do so. It is a case of "We do not want to lose you, but we think you ought to go." That is the sort of thing which is supposed to impress the world that we have a democratic Parliamentary Government. It is humbug of a first-class kind. On local public bodies I find that no matter how much you may disagree with other members, they are in attendance and listen to your arguments. On many occsaions even the most ardent Tory will concede some act of social justice to the poor because you have convinced him. But that is not the case in this House, and nobody except the most ardent Parliamentary hypocrite would attempt to make the country believe that it does take place here. It often happens that a few hon. Members come into the House and listen to the Debate, and I do not complain if they move in and out, as everybody is bound to do. When the vote is being taken, however, hundreds roll up and never attempt in any way to find out what the Debate was about, or what arguments were used, but simply give their vote in the Lobby. I have heard hon. Members coming out of the Division Lobbies say, "What was the vote about?" At the Lobbies, the Whip stands at the door and says, "There is your Lobby," and the hon. Member walks in. It is loyalty to a class, loyalty to a party, loyalty to a Prime Minister or a Cabinet—that is the loyalty in this House.
The Motion that has been moved by the Opposition is a modest request at the end of the year 1936. It says, in effect, that the conditions of those with whom we are now concerned should not be worsened. It asks for a postponement. The Minister of Labour, the little bethel preacher who goes round to churches on Sunday telling people of the works and Word of God, comes along and carries out this act against the poor of the coun- 2695 try, the lowest of the low. The Minister of Labour is the man who said publicly of Miss Margaret Bondfield—in connection with the Blanesburgh Report—that he would resign from public life rather than sign that document. He is doing a worse thing to-day, for he is defending a policy that is more cunning and cruel in its application even than that proposed at that time. He is the man who has moved from £8 per week to about £40 a week in order to legislate against the poor of the country. The unemployed are being driven down stage by stage and demoralised by the application of the means test and the various Acts that have been applied. Then the Minister of Labour brings forward more crushing legislation against the poor than has ever been brought forward before. I have never raised my voice in this House concerning the Standstill Order, for I knew that once the Standstill Order came to an end, the legislation proposed would worsen the conditions of the workers to a greater extent than has been the case under that Order.
Is the Minister of Labour going to plead that the country cannot afford to give those extra few millions to the poor each year? Surely that plea cannot he made by a Government which proposes to spend £300,000,000, £400,000,000 or £500,000,000 on armaments. Surely they cannot put forward the plea that they cannot find the money, or that for the defence of this country it is essential that the poor should be crushed down to lower levels than those which exist at present. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen referred to the tremendous amount of money that is being spent on certain social and health services, but I believe it would be good business, instead of trying to rescue persons who are in ill-health, to try to prevent people getting into a state of ill-health.
I have been to the Mearnskirk sanatorium outside Glasgow, and seen tubercular children. They came from the industrial part of Glasgow, and their parents were unemployed or on the means test. It costs 70s. a week to maintain a child in that institution, but the 70s.-a-week child is there because he or she was previously a 2s.-a-week child. By the standards which the Government have adopted, they penalise these child- 2696 ren and drive them into a tubercular state because of inadequate sunshine and lack of pure air and good food. Then there is lavished on them all possible skill and human anxiety; they are given a good environment of fresh air, good food, plenty of milk, nourishment and medicine. If the children recover, they are sent back into the environment where their health was destroyed, with the reaction that they become victims to a greater extent and more surely than was the case when they lived in the unhealthy environment previously. That is the work of men who pride themselves, as does the Minister of Labour, not only on being Christians but good business men, and from both angles they do not fill the bill.
Recently I have been in Spain. I saw there the bodies of children that had been blown by bombs from one side of the street to the other and had had their heads removed from their bodies. That act was brutal, cruel and deadly, but death was swift or sudden. The death that is being dealt out to millions of children in this country is like putting them into a compartment where life is slowly crushed out of their bodies. The public conscience is roused by the sudden and sensational death which Franco causes, but that conscience is not roused to the same extent by the slow death caused by the National Government, the Minister of Labour and the capitalist system of society. Under these Regulations, social reforms that are attempted in many directions will be made inapplicable. For example, the Kilsyth Council, which is composed of a fairly good type of man, gives houses at 3s. 9d. a week, but the Minister of Labour comes along and says, "You may give the people social reforms, lower rents, but I am going to take those reforms from them and make them pay the ordinary standard of rent by reducing the standards which they get in a progressive, constitutional way in this country." You take from a man with £280 in the bank 11s. a week, and reduce the 24s. to 13s. for man and wife. We are told by hon. Members opposite that that is all right. The hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay) boasted of how he had managed to scrape through at the last General Election and how the people had backed the means test. That is humbug and nonsense.
§ Mr. MAGNAY
If the hon. Member will excuse me, I never said I scraped through—I had a majority of 3,000.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
That is scraping through; if 1,500 votes had gone the other way it would have made all the difference. I do not raise the matter from that point of view, but from the point of view of endorsement of the means test. It is not true that the means test was endorsed in the hon. Member's constituency. I am satisfied that if there were an opportunity for me to take a plebiscite on the means test in that constituency, I would get an endorsement of the rejection of the means test in its entirety. There is no opportunity under Parliamentary government for getting the mind of the people. At election times there are all sorts of cries. The building of a Cunarder returns an hon. Member. It may be a question of—[An HoN. MEMBER: "Battleships."] Yes, battleships. It may be Abyssinia; it may be people looking for work on armaments, and it may be the personality of the individual in many cases. If there were an opportunity of taking a plebiscite on the means test, the means test would surely go.
Of the 15,000 people who voted against me at the last Election, I am satisfied that I could poll more than half of their votes if it were a simple case for or against the means test; but all sorts of issues are involved at election time. We know that if the issue of the late Monarch had been put to the country, he would have beaten the Cabinet; the Cabinet would have gone, the Prime Minister would have gone, but the man would have remained. If there is to be in this country a real struggle on behalf of the working class, let it come from those people who are to-day jabbing and kicking in high places. Let the bishops deal with the means test and not mind Mrs. Simpson; let them deal with the evil of unemployment instead of kicking a man when he is down; let them play the manly game as discovered and played in this country. Instead of looking on high, let them look below, and find the starving multitude in the ranks of those who suffer from the means test and unemployment. Let them go into the pulpits and speak over the wireless, and try to rouse the sympathies and 2698 conscience of the nation against the social injustices and wrongs from which the common people suffer.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour will attempt to-night to defend the indefensible; he, the man with £40 a week, will strike a blow at the man with 10s. a week, the man who has to go round apologising for his very existence, who has not a decent suit of clothes, who does not have decent food, who has to appeal to his mother on the old age pension for a copper with which to buy tobacco or a newspaper. That is the state of society that the Minister of Labour defends; those are the Regulations he defends. Those who go into the Lobby for the means test are doing something which is meaner than taking a penny out of a blind man's tin. The Minister of Labour may pat himself on the back and go into pulpits, but I say he ought to stop going into them, tear up his Prayer Book and say he has no further use for it, because he has gone over to Mammon and left the service of the common people.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
I have two regrets about this Debate. The first is that, because of its postponement, insufficient time has been allotted to us to enable many of my hon. Friends to participate, and the second is that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour has not yet seen fit to occupy our attention. I think it would have served the convenience of hon. Members if he had spoken earlier in the Debate, for he might then have assisted in clearing up much of the confusion that appears to exist in the minds of hon. Members. For example, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay) expressed doubts as to whether reductions were likely to take effect—I hope I do not misrepresent him in that statement—whereas the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour) seemed to have no doubts whatever concerning future reductions. It seems to me that if doubts exist in the minds of hon. Members as to whether reductions are in contemplation, the only person who can clear away the confusion and remove the doubts is the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour. Therefore, I venture to ask him this question: Is it the intention of the Unemployment Assistance Board to put any reductions, into effect in the near 2699 future? Further, have any reductions operated up to now and if so to what extent? Finally will the reductions take effect only in particular areas or over the whole country? It is extremely important that we should be furnished with full information on these points.
The situation has changed considerably since our last Debate on the Unemployment Assistance Regulations. There has been, let us frankly admit it, a change for the better in the industrial position of the country. It is said, no doubt with truth, that unemployment has diminished and the figures of unemployment seem to bear out that statement. If that be so, then, clearly the cost of unemployment assistance must have been correspondingly reduced and the financial burden upon the Exchequer in this respect must be less serious than it was several months ago. In those circumstances, on the assumption that I am stating the position correctly, surely the Government, with this rising tide of industrial improvement, with this diminished unemployment and reduced cost, can afford to be more generous. In situations of crisis, in periods of economic depression, one could understand the attitude of the National Government. It is proper to conserve our resources in those circumstances. But the situation to-day is different from what it was in 1931, or even several months ago. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I welcome those approving cheers because they fortify my argument.
It does not matter who may be responsible for the improvement. It may be a world change, or Government legislation, or tariff policy, or armaments production. Have it any way you please, but the fact remains that there is an improvement and if there is a substantial improvement, with the results which such an improvement connotes, then the Government's case for these Regulations, is certainly not as well-founded as it once was. There is another factor in the situation which fortifies the argument of my hon. Friends. The cost-of-living figure has gone up by five points since October, 1935, and has risen by three points since October of this year. From the standpoint of a working-class family and particularly an unemployed man's family, that is a grave matter indeed. If conditions had remained the same in respect 2700 of retail costs, the Government might have replied that no case could be made out for the view which we are putting forward. In view, however, of the increase in the cost-of-living figure that has manifested itself during those months, the burden upon the households of the unemployed is graver than ever. Surely this is not an occasion for enforcing these reductions.
I venture to submit a further consideration which arises from the general industrial improvement in the country, and what is described in Government quarters as prosperity. I am not going to dispute the contention of hon. Members opposite in that respect. Undoubtedly many working people are sharing in that prosperity. They are in work, and being in work are in receipt of wages. Let it be noted how different is the position of the wage-earner from that of the unemployed person in relation to this matter. Wages do fluctuate. They may go down but in times of industrial improvement they may go up and that is a decided advantage to the wage-earner. There are however no fluctuations of an upward kind to bring any advantage to the unemployed man and his family. Why should the unemployed and their families not share in the general prosperity? Are they not as much entitled to their share of it as those who are fortunate enough to be in employment? It is only an accident that one is working and the other is not. It may be a geographical accident or due to some other cause, but in any case it is admitted that it is not the fault of the unemployment man that he is out of work, and it is not to the credit of the man in a job that he is receiving work and wages. It is the contention of the Government's supporters that we are witnessing a wave of prosperity the end of which we cannot foresee. It may last they say over many years—who can tell? Why then ask the unemployed, who are undoubtedly going to remain unemployed for a long time to come in the areas which are regarded as specially affected, to go on bearing this undue and unnecessary burden. I submit that they ought not to be excluded from whatever benefits are to be derived from the general industrial improvement in the country.
I ask hon. Members opposite to dismiss from their minds all irrelevant considera- 2701 tions. This is not a suitable occasion for discussing the means test or even the household means test, or the question of Parliamentary procedure, or even the failings of the last Labour Government. We are concerned here with a simple Motion. It refers to the appalling distress prevailing in many parts of the country. Is the existence of that distress denied in any quarter of the House? Of course not. The facts are indisputable and if the facts are admitted as they are, beyond a peradventure, are we not then entitled to ask what is to be done in those circumstances? What is the Government's remedy? It was stated by the right hon. Gentleman himself—and I am prepared to accept him as my authority on this point—when we were discussing the problem of the Special Areas that there were exceptional difficulties in the way of a speedy solution of the problems which beset those areas. I accept that view and I can furnish an example. I merely mention this as an illustration. Demands have been made for the installation of coal-oil plants in some of these areas. Everybody knows that even if the Government accepted that proposition it would take many months, probably some years, before those plants could be installed and put into operation.
The same remark applies to trading estates. It takes time to find sites and to induce traders to make their applications. Finance has to be found and customers have to be sought. It is not an easy process, nor is it one that can be carried out as speedily as some hon. Members have suggested. These things take time and whatever proposals may come before this House in connection with the Special Areas, and whatever the Government may be ready to do—and I wish they were more ready than they appear to be—it must be a considerable time before any schemes of a substantial nature can take effect. Then why not do as the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) has suggested and suspend these reductions until we see the effect of the Government's schemes. It may be of course that the Government have no schemes in contemplation. May I put it another way? It may be that they have no substantial schemes in contemplation. If that be so, if the Government are content with the normal improvement in trade accompanied by armaments produc- 2702 tion, and apart from that are merely hoping for the best, then clearly they are not entitled to take advantage of the unemployed and their families in the way that is proposed.
Several arguments have been advanced against the Motion, and I wish to deal for a few minutes with those of the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour). He said that if we were to accept this Motion it would legalise the uncontrolled distribution of public money. That sounds very formidable, but it is mere extravagance of language. Does the hon. and gallant Member not see that this Motion simply asks that the reductions should be suspended for the time being? Does he not realise that in that case the control of the distribution of the money would still be vested in the Unemployment Assistance Board. There would be no uncontrolled distribution but there would be controlled distribution of more money and that is the difference between the hon. and gallant Member and hon. Members on these benches. Therefore I say, in the most kindly fashion, that it was a mere extravagance of language. But there was something rather worse than that. He said that this would mean legalising extravagance on the part of local authorities. But the local authorities have nothing to do with it at all. It is a matter entirely for the Unemployment Assistance Board. The hon. and gallant Member has not understood this matter correctly, and I will put it no higher than that.
§ Mr. MAGNAY
Is the hon. Member in favour of a sliding scale, with a minimum standard, of course, according to the cost of living in these cases?
§ Mr. SHINWELL
I am certainly not, for this reason, that it would not be a practical proposition. I do not think it would be possible for the Minister to introduce legislation providing for public assistance payments which fluctuated in accordance with the cost of living. I used the reference to the increase in the cost of living in order to show that, accompanied by other factors, there is a case for suspension of the reductions in the meantime.
§ Captain BALFOUR
Surely, when the second appointed day takes place, if there were no reductions, the scales of public assistance in force at the par- 2703 ticular time would be stabilised, and therefore the extravagance of certain local authorities would be stabilised and legalised.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
I am afraid the hon. and gallant Member is misinformed, or he must be aware that when we were discussing the general question on a previous occasion, the argument centred to a very large extent around South Wales, where the hon. and gallant Member's argument cannot possibly apply. What is the argument against our Motion? First of all, the country cannot afford it. Of course, that is nonsense, and nobody really believes it. I am satisfied that no hon. Member opposite, representing whatever constituency, would go to his division and say that the country cannot afford to suspend these reductions. The country can afford it, and it would be interesting if the right hon. Gentleman could furnish us with information as to the cost of these contemplated reductions. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has that information himself. He may furnish an approximate estimate, but we know what approximate estimates are in these matters.
There is another argument used against our Motion, and I rather detected it in the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet. I have heard it before over and over again, and I have always been amused by it, but I will deal with it now because some hon. Members regard it as rather substantial. It is that if the Regulations contemplated by the right hon. Gentleman, which are now the law of the land, do not operate, some districts will be better treated than others; for example, that in South Wales, because of its previous history in this respect, if no reductions occurred, they would be rather better off in some particulars, relatively speaking, than in some other parts of the country where the commissioners were operating. Why worry about that? Are there no differences of income in this House? That does not seem to perturb the minds of hon. Members, and we get on very well in spite of the differentiations. Are there no differences in the country in wage rates in the mining industry and in every other industry? You do not find workers 2704 entering into civil war because some have a little more than others, and are hon. Members seriously suggesting that there would be a tremendous uprising of indignation on the part of some districts if it was discovered that other districts had a little more than they had—perhaps a shilling? Of course not, and, if I may say so, that is not only an irrelevant argument, but it is an argument that is simply extracted from the depths of one's imagination in order best to fortify a poor case.
We might have discussed with advantage on this occasion the effect of the means test and the household means test on the condition of the people in South Wales, Durham, Cumberland and certain parts of Scotland, particularly at this time, but this is a simple issue. I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he cannot accept this Motion. I have a shrewd suspicion—it is not more than that—that the Unemployment Assistance Board, for some reason or other, do not intend to enforce drastic reductions in the near future. I shall be interested to hear what the right hon. Gentleman says about that. I do not say that merely to show that I have got knowledge that the right hon. Gentleman does not possess or that other hon. Members do not possess. I say it because, if it is true, there must be a reason for it. What can be the reason that possesses the Unemployment Assistance Board, if it be true, in not enforcing drastic reductions in the near future? Can it be the approach of Christmas? That can hardly be the reason. I cannot believe that this body would trouble itself unduly with considerations of that kind, and there must be some other reason. Is it that they fear the economic and social effects of the enforcement of these Regulations in certain areas?
I set aside all considerations about the personal effects, about the attacks on the right hon. Gentleman. After all, the right hon. Gentleman is there because he has been made a member of the Government, and he has to bear his burden. It is no use complaining about that or putting the whole of the responsibility upon the right hon. Gentleman, because he could resign, but we very seldom hear of Cabinet Ministers resigning, and I do not expect him to do it any more than Cabinet Ministers in a Labour 2705 Government did it. The responsibility is the responsibility of the Government, and, therefore, all that we are concerned about is this: Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to forego these reductions for the time being, until his schemes have got going and are well established, until there is some hope of employment for the people in these areas, until he has an alternative, a substantial and industrial alternative, to offer? Is he prepared to accept this Motion? I hope that, in spite of all that has been said, the right hon. Gentleman will be able to say something that will raise the hopes of the people who are so tragically affected in these depressed areas of the country. It is not the right thing—I put it no higher than that—to allow this condition of things to go on. If the country can come to the assistance of these people, if it can ameliorate their sufferings by a jot or tittle—a shilling, it may be, or even 6d., and in some cases it may be more—it ought to be done. Bring them relief, give them hope, tell them of your schemes, tell them about the gallant intentions of the Government, but in the meantime give them what you can. I think you ought to be giving them more than you are giving them, but at all events, with the small amounts which they are receiving, do not make the situation any worse than it is. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will turn a sympathetic ear to the submissions that have been made to him this afternoon
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Mr. Ernest Brown)
I am sorry I did not meet the convenience of certain hon. Members by rising earlier, but I have twice intervened earlier in Debates of this character to serve the convenience of the House, and twice objection has been strongly taken by the very Members who have been asking for me to intervene earlier on this occasion, and I can only say that this is another illustration of the fact, well known to all who have been Members of the House for a long time, that no Minister of Labour, in any Government, of any party, is ever right and that every Minister of Labour, in every Government, of every party, is always open to personal attack. About that I will not say more than that there are some hon. Members, who take that 2706 form of Debate, who fail to realise that the very way in which they address their language is a self-revelation and is so judged by the House that hears them make statements in personal terms of the kind which we have heard this afternoon, and I leave it there.
This Motion is a very interesting one, especially when the House reflects on the speeches that have been made in support of it. It is in itself, in its own, form, as the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) rightly says, narrow. It does not raise the big issues that have really formed the substance of most of the speeches that have been delivered to-day. It is not only, however, a demand, as the hon. Member for Seaham says, that such reductions as may fall to take place under the present Regulations should not take place, but it is also, by implication, an admission that the new Regulations are of great importance to thousands of unemployed people. No one would have gathered that from the speeches delivered from opposite to-day, any more than, when we get phrases coined for that purpose about persecuting the poor, anyone would gather that the Minister of Labour in this Government, on this side, is responsible with regard to payments to unemployed persons through the Employment Exchanges, in the year 1935, for more than £80,000,000, and in this present year nearly £80,000,000, of which nearly £40,000,000 a year is paid on the assistance side. More than that, nobody would have gathered from the speech of the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall), who always puts his case with candour, earnestness, and moderation, that even in South Wales, that very hard-hit area, during this last 12 months the Exchanges have paid out in benefit and assistance £8,000,000 in that area alone. [Interruption.] I have listened without comment, and I think I may be entitled to reply without comment, because if debate means anything, it means that the subject to be debated is to be put in proper perspective. I should protest strongly against the idea that the administration either of public assistance or of benefit can be described with any accuracy in the language that has been used by two or three speakers in the Debate to-day.
Let us come to the issue. The issue is that the new Regulations are being put into operation and the demand from the 2707 benches opposite is that the increases only should take effect. The hon. Member for Aberdare made—what was unusual for him—an inaccurate statement. He said that this is now going to take money away from those who come off benefit and that single persons coming off benefit will drop from 17s. to 10s. That is not so. There is no distinction under the new Regulations between the new case and the old. If the hon. Member will make inquiries in Aberdare he will find that no such case has happened.
§ Mr. G. HALL
I think that it is necessary to elucidate that point a little. Do I understand that all persons now passing out from statutory benefit under the Unemployment Assistance Board will not suffer any reduction and that they will be treated in the same way as those persons who have been under the board for some considerable time? Does it mean that if a single man is now receiving 17s. statutory benefit he will not be cut, and that within the period of four or five months he will be subject to the recommendation of the advisory committee his extra 7s. will not be liquidated?
§ Mr. BROWN
The hon. Member has stated what is the case. There is no distinction drawn, as he said in his speech there was, between those now coming off benefit who have not been under the Board and those who have for some months been under the Board. Later on when reductions are made to single persons in an area their treatment will be equal. [Interruption.] If hon. Members will only do me the honour of listening to what I am saying, they will find that I am stating what is the truth. I was anxious that the House should not be under a misapprehension and take from the hon. Member's statement what is not the fact. Let us come to the situation. I have left 2708 the House under no illusion at all. The documents presented by the Government are quite plain and the Government intend to carry out what they said in July they would, in the letter and the spirit, as, indeed, does the Unemployment Assistance Board. There is no Member of the House who applies his mind to the documents who can be under any misapprehension as to what the intention of the Government was. It is an illustration of the difficulties that arise in dealing with this subject that when there are gains we never hear about them, but if there is a single case of reduction it is published from the housetops. A true understanding of the problem means that both sides of the balance-sheet should be weighed, and not one side only. Therefore, I would call the attention of the House to the fact that this Motion is drawn in such a way as to avoid a frank admission by hon. Members opposite of the fact that this very week there is more money going to South Wales, for instance, under the Unemployment Assistance Board than there was last week and the week before that.
§ Mr. BROWN
If the hon. Member will allow me to make my statement in my own way—and the House knows that I shall make it in my own way—I am pointing out that the House must proceed from the fact that this Motion is by implication a tribute to the new Regulations. It is, secondly, a demand that there should be a standstill. The hon. Member for Seaham summed up the questions that have been asked in the Debate, and they were these—Have any reductions operated up to now, and to what extent? Is it the intention of the Board to put any reductions into effect in the near future? Will reductions take effect in particular areas or over the whole country? These questions are really fundamental to a discussion of what is happening now, and I will answer them. The Regulations came into force on the 16th November and the process of reviewing the cases is nearing completion. Large numbers of persons have received notices that their allowances will be increased, while no applicant has received a notice that his allowance will be decreased as the result of the new Regulations. The new Regulations, as this Motion really admits by implication, 2709 are a considerable improvement on the old Regulations which they superseded. Their effect will be to remove some of the inconsistencies and unequal treatment which obtained under the standstill arrangement.
The hon. Member has already made his speech, and he should listen to the Minister's reply.
§ Mr. JAMES GRIFFITHS
I gathered from the right hon. Gentleman that not a single reduction has been made since the new Regulations and that no unemployed man had been notified that he was going to be reduced. I have sent the right hon. Gentleman the case of a single man who, because he left home and because the Board alleged, without any justification, that there was collusion, has been completely cut off. Is not that one case at least?
§ Mr. BROWN
That is not due to the new Regulations. It would have taken place under the old Regulations, as in similar circumstances it has taken place under public assistance practice. I am pointing out that no person has, because of the new Regulations, received a notice of reduction. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) will act according to Parliamentary tradition and give me the chance of making one point at a time, he will find that I will not shirk the issue. Let me point out what the situation is at the moment. The House will remember that we forecast that the first review of cases would probably take five weeks and that, comparing the situation as it was before the new Regulations with our calculations on the basis of the new Regulations, we came to the conclusion that there would be about 200,000 increases on the basis of 620,000 cases. On the basis of a review of 612,000 cases, we have found that that estimate was rather on the cautious side and that we are likely to have more than one-third of the cases getting increases. That explains why there has been a silence on the part of hon. Members opposite because they know that in every area some of their constituents have benefited.
2710 The next question of the hon. Member for Seaham was whether any reductions are to take place in the near future. The answer is, "Yes." We made it perfectly plain to the House in the White Paper what the process was to be. Let me tell the House what the process of administration has been up to the moment. There have been set up 126 advisory committees, and I think it is agreed by universal consent that they are very able and representative bodies. These committees were first asked by the Board to consider the situation in their neighbourhoods with regard to the review of cases and the basic calculations and to make recommendations about the new rent rule for their own areas. The Board have accepted the recommendations with regard to the rent rule of 125 committees. In only one case have they made a variation because two similar areas on either side of the committee in that case had a practice which the Board have adopted. These recommendations are being worked out now in the review of cases.
The House is entitled to know what is likely to happen in the near future. I would point out to the hon. Members for Aberdare and Seaham that the gradual process has nothing to do with scheming or fear. It was adopted, as I told the House when I introduced the Regulations, for one reason only. It is that where reductions fell to be made because excess payments not needed were being made, they should be made gradually in order to avoid hardship to those very persons for whom hon. Members plead. There was no sinister motive. It was done because it was understood that the quick application of the original Regulations caused hardship to those affected. The answer to the hon. Member for Seaham is that the Unemployment Assistance Board as a first step have asked local advisory committees to give advice in two classes of cases, which number 8,000 in all.
The first class are those in which there are high earnings, and the second are those in which there are high household incomes. The Board have received advice from 100 of the 126 Advisory Committees. They find no difficulty in carrying out the Board's suggestions about the treatment of these two classes. The first class of case, that where the applicant is earning substantially more than the 2711 amount of his need assessed under the Regulations. If a man's earnings are less than 25s. there will be no reduction from his standstill allowance. If his earnings are between 25s. and 60s. there will be deducted only the amount by which his earnings exceed twice the amount of the allowance. Thus if a man's allowance is 26s. and he earns anything up to 52s. a week, he will continue to receive the payment which would have been made to him under the standstill. I think that if hon. Members will read this in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, they will agree that it is a very fair rule.
The second class of case is limited to a number of cases of applicants living in households with substantial resources, and consisting mainly of the earnings of husband or wife of applicant, or sons or daughters without dependants of their own. The Board have been at pains to ensure that this group shall be strictly limited in the following way. They have told the committees that all households in which more than half of the resources consist of some form of income other than earnings, shall be excluded altogether, as also will be households where the principle resources consist of the earnings of sisters of the applicant, or a married son, or of a more distant relative. Applicants with earning brothers and sisters will be included only if their fathers are earning substantial wages. The Board have suggested to the Advisory Committees that in the class of case to be affected the payment made should not exceed by more than 15s. or 20s. the amount of the applicant's needs as calculated on the Regulations standard. With regard to the future—
§ Mr. SHINWELL
It is quite impossible to appreciate the substance of these details. They seem to me to be something quite apart from the Regulations. That is a matter for future consideration, but may I ask him about these 8,000 cases to which he referred? Could he give any indication of their geographical distribution?
§ Mr. BROWN
These are under the Regulations. This is the process of transferring the old system to the new. Whether it be single persons or any others, the procedure will be that the Board will ask the advisory committees, when a full examination has been made, to give their advice. That is why in the 126 different districts, until the final analysis is made, I am able to tell the House what the increases will be, but I cannot give the House any information as to what the reductions are likely to be. The analysis made and given to the House in July with regard to increases seems to show that the examination we had of this problem, careful, detailed, not merely theoretical in London, but in the districts concerned, shows that the real hardships which were felt under the original Regulations have been removed and the new Regulations are, as we said in July, a great improvement over the old.
I am fortified in this opinion because the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Whiteley) has put questions to me about statements made by the marchers. He asked what consideration had I given to representations that were made to me through Members as the result of my request that they would bring up such representations to me through their local Member. I can tell him and the House that apart from the individual cases mentioned by the individual marchers, to which we have given consideration and which I felt at first hearing were based on a good deal of misunderstanding, I have received only one case from a Member. That was an interesting case. It was put to me by the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor). It concerned Councillor Elliot of Blyth. Perhaps I had better give the House the facts, because it is an instance of the way in which public feeling is aroused in the absence of the full facts. This was a statement made by the Member on behalf of Councillor Elliot:
Son of Mrs. M. J. Elliot, a widow since 1908. Went to work at 12 to help keep mother and sisters. Became unemployed in 1928, being main support of mother aged 73 and an invalid. Was in receipt of 26s. in 1932, reduced to 17s. under the Means Test. Raised to £l. by Public Assistance Committee previous to the standstill. Under the new Regulations, Mr. Elliot re- 2713 ceived information from the Unemployment Assistance Board that this would be reduced to 7s. 6d. The reason for the proposed reduction was because my sister and her husband, who lies on a sick-bed with a tubercular spine, pay half the rent, 5s.There is 4s. a week from the lodger. who has lived with us for 27 years.That statement aroused a good deal of feeling. The facts are that the household consists of a man and his mother, w ho is in receipt of 10s. old age pension. The rent is 9s. 6d. The net rent is treated as 1s. 6d. because the brother-in-law and the lodger are treated as separate tenants. Mr. Elliot has been receiving an allowance of 20s., assessed by way of transitional payments, and on reassessment his allowance has been maintained at this figure. The brother-in-law has 9s. from National Health Insurance and 21s. a week outdoor relief. The lodger is a commission agent's clerk. He works in the summer and lives on his savings in the winter. He pays 4s. a week for his room, but takes all his meals out. I am assured by the Board that there is no foundation for Councillor Elliot's statement that he was ever informed that his allowance under the new Regulations would be 7s. 6d. I am sure that that case will give the House to understand that it should not take in haste statements made ex parte on platforms or anywhere else, statements made about individual cases.
§ Mr. WHITELEY
That is no answer to my case. My case concerns the question of the consideration of earnings and the question of interest received on investments. I hope sometime to get the opportunity to show the House that there is no justification for the way this matter is operated under the means test.
§ Mr. BROWN
Any Member with experience of this will know that the present earnings rule will bear favourable comparison with any earnings rule of any public assistance authority to be found up and down the country. When hon. Members opposite talk as they have talked with great heat about this matter, perhaps I may be allowed to put one or two other facts before the House about the amount of payments per person on an average that have been made. In November, 1931, the average weekly payment to applicants receiving assistance was 19s. Since then it has been steadily rising. In April of 1935 it was 22s. 11d.; in January, 1936, it had risen to 23s. 7d. 2714 On the 1st November, 1936, it was 23s. 10d. On the 21st November, after the first week—[Interruption.] If hon. Members will only listen they will get the facts. On 21st November, 1936, after one week's survey of about rather over one-quarter of the new cases, it had risen to 24s. 1d. That is the average payment made per applicant receiving assistance. [HON. MEMBERS: "Per case."] I said per applicant. [HON. MEMBERS: "You said per person."] I took very good care to read it out exactly. What I said was that since 1931 the average weekly payment to applicants receiving assistance has been steadily rising, although it may be disagreeable to hon. Members opposite [Interruption.]
§ Mr. G. HALL
Is it not a fact that at the date which the Minister gave, November, 1931, the 10 per cent. cut operated, and could he give us the figures of the number of single applicants, which must have an effect on the average?
§ Mr. BROWN
I could not give that for this reason, because you cannot do, as hon. Members opposite often wish to do, segregate one element in this problem, for there are a dozen factors which operate in the computation of the payments made. I took November, 1931, deliberately, not to make a debating point against hon. Members opposite. If I had gone to 1924 the figure would have been very different. Since 1931 and since the National Government came in the average payment per applicant has risen from 19s. to 24s. 1d. I stand here and repeat what I said in July. The Government believe that these Regulations will be a great improvement on the old. They believe that they are fair and they believe that with these competent local advisory committees with experience of administration, the transition from the old to the new will be with a minimum of hardship to those concerned. Therefore, I must ask the House to reject the Motion.
§ Mr. BEVAN
I understood that the right hon. Gentleman was going to answer points which had been made. I put some questions. I asked whether it was the intention of the Regulations to defend the assessment of the needs of a man at 10s. a week and of a woman at 9s. a 2715 week? Was it the intention of the Regulations to pay a wage of 28s. for six days to a miner who has unemployed members in his family and was it the intention to pay to the head of a household for working six days 8s. more than if he was unemployed, and would he say that that assessment of need was adequate?
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. E. J. WILLIAMS
We must for a few minutes consider the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman. The country has been led to believe that an applicant in receipt of an allowance is paid more than in 1931. The Minister knows, and Members of this House must know, that in 1931 the National Government applied the Economy Act and that it operated to impose a cut of 10 per cent. on the unemployed. We have had estimates quoted in this House of the sum of money extracted from families in that way. Members on both sides of the House have pressed the Government for the abolition of the means test. The Government are not prepared to do that because they know they are extracting from the family income something that should fall upon the State. I want to charge the Minister with deliberately misrepresenting the position. It is quite impossible for anyone in this House to understand correctly the implication of these figures unless all the facts are placed before them. A bare statement that 19s. was the figure in November, 1931, and that 24s. is the figure in 1936 is certainly deliberately misleading the House, because in the interval the 10 per cent. cut has been restored to those in receipt of benefits but the means test now applies to those who previously came under the same Act.
It is known to Members in this House that the purpose of operating the means test at the moment is to extract money from those in the household who are working. The Minister knows that the Government are not prepared to remove the means test because it is a tax on the 2716 wages fund. They are taking wages from the household. The figures given by the Minister indicate that in the case of a single man working part time the wages he earns will be taken into calculation when the amount of allowance is assessed. In former days that was not so. If a person worked part time and was idle for three days he received benefit for those three days. In the future if a person works three days that will deprive him of benefit or of allowances for the other part of the week. It is nothing but a piece of trickery on the part of the Minister to put forward these figures and make the House believe that people are receiving this benefit. It is true that the new Regulations are better than the old Regulaions, but the Government had to withdraw the old ones because they were so bad. A Miniser was removed because the old Regulations were so bad.
It is true that the new Regulations are better than the old ones, but it is equally true that they make the position substantially worse than in 1931, because all persons in receipt of transitional benefit then received the same amount as those in receipt of unemployment benefit. The Minister has deliberately deceived the House by comparing the new Regulations with the old. He should compare the new Regulations with the position before the Economy Act. If that comparison is made it will be found that millions of pounds have been taken from the earnings of those at work to keep those who are idle. It is a tax on the wages fund of this country and to that extent the Government are escaping the obligation to pay money out of the Treasury. We hope that Members who have heard the Debate to-day will feel dissatisfied with what the Minister has said and will follow the Opposition into the Division Lobbies. All we ask is that there should be no reductions. The substance of the Minister's reply is that there are no reductions. That being the substance of his speech, he ought to be prepared to accept the Motion.
He is not prepared to accept the Motion because he knows that in the near future there will be a reduction in the case of a single man from 17s. to 10s. He knows that by the normal operations of the Regulations a single man in future will have to live upon the other members of the household. I trust that Members who have heard the Debate, 2717 and particularly the reply of the Minister, will find something lacking in that reply and will support us. We who live in the depressed areas realise what it is that confronts these people. This is the reward of thrift. This is the incentive they have to save a little. If they have saved a little and they strike vicissitudes the little that they have saved must all be used up to carry them through the lean periods that arise under the present economic order. We are asking, if you like, for a standstill order to apply. We ask that no further cuts should be imposed on these unfortunate people and we consider that we ought to have the support of most Members in the Division Lobby.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Mr. MAINWARING
There has been a presumption in this Debate that the unemployed in this country have been living upon and are to continue to live upon the allowances provided under these Regulations. There is no justification whatever for that presumption. The plans of the Government for dealing with the unemployed go far beyond the Regulations. Indeed one might usefully spend a little time in considering how many Government Departments are now directly or indirectly interested in the problem of unemployment. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) in the course of his strongly reasoned speech in introducing this Debate said that in the early days of unemployment insurance it was emphasised by Ministers that insurance benefits were never intended to take the place of wages. They were simply to be regarded as sums of money provided for the purpose of tiding over an unfortunate individual who was unemployed for three or four weeks.
I remember a responsible Member of the Government dwelling sympathetically and almost lovingly on the position of the unfortunate working man or working woman who for some cause, from a seasonal or other cause, was thrown idle for a period of four weeks. A working man in that position who had drawn wages regularly perhaps for four or five years, who possessed a home as near completion as any ordinary wage-earning man could have, became unemployed for four weeks, and the Government said they were going to deal sympathetically 2718 with him. They said, "We don't want you to get into debt. We will provide 26s. a week to tide you over these four weeks." These insurance benefits were simply intended, in the words of Ministers, to be a slight assistance to enable a man to tide over a brief spell of unemployment.
Then when the Government had to deal with the hard core of unemployed they said they were not going to consider whether they could assist to ease the burden of an unemployed man. Under the Unemployment Assistance Regulations they would consider every need of his family. Does the Minister charged with responsibility for a miner in my division who has been unemployed 14 years accept responsibility to consider every need of his family? If so, how has he done it? He has done it by introducing Regulations which actually reduce the assistance given to that man and his wife below the assistance granted to a man who has been idle only four weeks. Where, after five years, say, of regular work, a man suddenly becomes unemployed for four weeks, the Minister of Labour says that under the Unemployment Insurance Act that man is entitled to 26s. per week, independently of whatever resources he may have, but the man who is idle for 10 years is entitled only to 24s. The workman who has worked regularly for five years has a home as near to his standard of comfort as he can bring it, his furniture is intact, his household utensils are plentiful, he, his wife and children are adequately, though not sumptuously, dressed and the children are fed within the home, but the home of the man who has been idle for 10 years is reduced to a skeleton, the utensils have been destroyed by the accidents that occur in every homestead, his clothes and those of his wife are worn out, and his children are no longer fed in the home. That is what the Minister has to deal with. What use is the nonsense that he talked from that Box this evening?
What is the Department of Education doing in connection with this problem? The Minister of Education is bearing a greater responsibility for the school children in my Division than is the Minister of Labour, because he is feeding them. The Minister of Labour, who is responsible for public assistance, has declared: 2719 "We have assessed all your need." If he has assessed all the needs of the unemployed in the Rhondda, what has the Minister of Education to do with it. Why is he bothering? Where is the Minister of Agriculture? Bring him in. Why is he bothering about milk schemes if the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Education have already dealt adequately with the matter? The Minister of Agriculture comes in, as it were to complete it, but there is still another Department interested, the Ministry of Health. When are we to get the complete estimate of needs? Perhaps the Secretary of State for War will come in and say what he requires to be done in respect of physical fitness. Perhaps the Admiralty will have a shot at it, and the Royal Air Force, after that.
Perhaps the needs of the unemployed will be adequately met when we have completed the round of all the Government Departments and sub-Departments. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"] I would like to divide some of those hon. Members among the unemployed of the Rhondda. I would like to take them to see the people there, and to see the problem in all the horror of it. People are not living upon the allowances which the Minister of Labour talks about. Nowhere are people doing it. I have shown that many other Government Departments are compelled to come in and fill up the gaps left by the Minister of Labour, because he and the Unemployment Assistance Board have not done their job. They have failed to assess the full needs of the unemployed. When we were provided with a procession, a sort of circus, the other day in South Wales, I said that they were coming down to bolster up a piece of charity-mongering. In addition to the Departments which I have mentioned, there is the charity side of it. Not only does the Minister of Labour fail to rely entirely upon public assistance, plus the Ministries of Education, Agriculture and Health, but he goes outside them, and looks for charity to assist the unemployed. When any special need of an unfortunate workman has to be considered, it is referred to an outside body, some charity organisation in the area. There is no justification for the Minister of Labour pretending to take unction to his soul that he has succeeded, 2720 by way of the new Regulations, in doing something which the old Regulations failed to do.
If the Minister of Labour says that the new Regulations will place a family on a better footing than the old Regulations, I invite him to name the family in the Rhondda that will be better off. Only the new age class differentiates the new Regulations from the old, as applied to South Wales, the group from 16 years of age to 18. If the Minister contrasts the new Regulations with the old, he must do it on the basis of that class. He tried to hold up his end against the charge levelled by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall)—which the hon. Member would have no difficulty in sustaining—that the reason why the average payment per head of applicants has risen is because the mass of single men has been taken out. Thousands of single men have left South Wales; leaving a larger proportion of married applicants. The average of the married applicant is higher. The Minister knows that full well, and it is a piece of sophistry on his part to attempt to get out of his difficulty by such a specious argument.
I will give the Minister a further reply on the same lines. Many of our children have left South Wales, particularly the girls who have entered domestic service all over the country, and consequently, families cannot benefit by the increased allowance per head for children between 16 and 18 years of age, because the children are no longer there. That is a factor which the Minister, and anybody who tries to defend him, must face. Hon. Members opposite claim that they speak with the full accord and support of the working class in their Divisions. Let me now challenge anyone to invite me to come to his Division and address that same working class, and let them agree to abide by the result. I do not care where it may be in this country; I guarantee, when the full statement of this case is put before those people, that no body of working men and women in Britain would not support the Motion. I include the Minister of Labour himself; I will go to his Division if he likes. I guarantee that you will not find audiences to support him against this Motion. If he thinks they will, let him accept this challenge and arrange a meeting.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Mr. S. O. DAVIES
I would not have intervened at this time in this Debate had it not been for the extraordinary and deliberately provocative speech made by the Minister a few minutes ago. Hon. Members who are in the House now and who object to my rising, should have been here during the hours that this Debate has been going on. It is not for those who have only just rushed in to determine the course of the Debate or the procedure, particularly after the exhibition which we have had from a responsible Minister in respect of one of the greatest and most serious problems confronting this country. We are annoyed and angry at the attitude the Minister took up when he addressed the House. He deliberately avoided dealing with the real subject matter of the Motion, and he has not answered the questions that were placed before him. Let me put a question to him: Is it not a fact that the allowance of 26s. a week paid to thousands of married men will be reduced to 24s., if there are any means, however small, in their households; and that thousands of single men under the Unemployment Assistance Board will have their present allowance of 17s. reduced to a maximum of 10s. 1 The Minister refused to give us anything approaching an estimate of cases of that kind.
Representing a constituency which the Minister has often admitted is possibly more hard-hit by unemployment than any other—he has expressed his sympathy repeatedly with conditions in my constituency and in the county of Glamorgan—I tell him that these reductions will affect hundreds of cases. The purchasing power in that constituency is going to be—I am not exaggerating my language—disastrously reduced when these new scales and Regulations come into operation. We are appealing to the House to-night because we know what will be the effect of these new Regulations on the constituencies that we represent. Not only will individual applicants have their present harsh conditions made worse, but scores of small business people, who are now tottering on the verge of bankruptcy, will be driven over the precipice, their businesses will be destroyed, and there will be fresh streets of closed shops in the constituencies that some of us represent.
2722 It is all very well for the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay) to talk in what I am bound to say was the perfectly stupid fashion in which he spoke this evening. He appeals for humanity, and then gets up in support of the Government, speaks against this Motion, and gives support to the means test and the drastic reductions which the new Regulations will bring into being. The hon. Member told us more than once during his speech that he was surprised that he was not getting complaints, that he was not getting the reports that we were getting from our constituencies. After his speech to-night, I am not surprised that nobody is taking any notice at all of the hon. Gentleman. He made a disgusting exhibition of an apology for the Government in the form of a speech that he dare not make to the unemployed in Gateshead.
Further, will not the single woman coming within these scales and Regulations have her benefit reduced to a maximum of 9s.? It is all very well for hon. and right hon. Gentlemen to smile; they will go into the Division Lobby at some time this evening—I do not know when— to vote against this Motion, and again they will decide that 10s. a week as a maximum payment is enough for a single man over 21 years of age, and that 9s. a week is the maximum income on which a single young woman with no resources must be expected to live. The Minister has made a speech to-night trying to persuade the House, and I am forced to the conclusion that on methods of this kind it is not difficult to persuade the supporters of the Government. In fact, the cheers from the Government Benches this evening, the smiles of superiority, and the supercilious attitude adopted, show that they have never appreciated the social dangers involved in the problems that we are discussing to-night.
As was pointed out this evening by an hon. Member on these benches, there is a limit beyond which the finest and most robust citizens that we have in this country will not accept humiliation. One of the most amazing things that I have seen for some years was that extraordinary march, from almost every point of the compass in this country, of 2,000 men, travelling from the North of Scotland, from the North-East Coast, from Cumberland, from South Wales, and the splendid, orderly, dignified way in which 2723 they made their protest. But let the Minister and the Government be under no illusion. Those men have been bred in the industrial life of this country; they belong to a section of our population that has a minimum of squeamishness; they are men who are very sensitive to the way in which they are treated in their unemployment; they are men who know the meaning of a splendid day's work; they are men who hunger for work. They have had to face a series of humiliations on the part of Ministers on those benches, and there is a limit beyond which they will not accept any further humiliation.
The Minister was asked—he did not reply—what would be the price of this concession. It is known that in the aggregate, in pounds, shillings and pence, it would not be a great deal, but the spirit of the concession would be appreciated by those who have suffered years of unemployment. The formula which the Minister gave to-night blinds nobody who lives in the constituencies; these reductions arc going to be effected. It is no use talking about the local advisory committees. They are mere shock absorbers. We know, and the Minister has been compelled to tell the House before to-day, what are the limited recommendatory powers of these local advisory committees. He knows that they can only make recommendations with regard to rent, or possibly the length of time that these atrocious reductions will take to become effective as far as the people are concerned.
§ I am not apologising to the House for having got up at this time of the evening. The Minister has provoked us. The callous way in which he has reacted to the appeal of these unemployed people has proved to-night that his sympathy for the depressed areas is purely rhetorical lip-service. A Minister with the courage of a man who professes to entertain the ideals that the present Minister does, a Minister who had any semblance of Christian spirit, would have responded, whatever the consequences, to the appeal of these men, women and children. I must ask him not to throw figures across the Floor of this House. Yes, £8,000,000 was paid out last year in South Wales to 750,000 souls. Most of them had known the hunger and the shortcomings of unemployment for many years. This side of the House will not permit any Minister of Labour to treat masses of people in this country with the contempt with which the right hon. Gentleman has treated them, and they will always find a voice raised in their defence, whatever the consequences within this House may be.
That, being opposed to any action calculated to intensify the appalling distress prevailing in many parts of the Country, this House is of opinion that the Unemployment Assistance (Determination of Need) Regulations, in so far as they will involve reductions in existing allowances., should be suspended.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 135; Noes, 218.2727
|Division No. 47.]||AYES.||[7.55 p.m.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)||Jagger, J.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)|
|Ammon, C. G.||Evans, E. (Univ. of Wales)||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||John, W.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Gardner, B. W.||Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Garro Jones, G. M.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)|
|Barnes, A. J.||George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)|
|Batey, J.||Gibbins, J.||Kelly, W. T.|
|Belienger, F.||Gibson, R. (Greenock)||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.|
|Benson, G.||Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Kirkwood, D.|
|Bevan, A.||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Lathan, G.|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Grenfell, D. R.||Leach, W.|
|Broad, F. A.||Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||Lee, F.|
|Brooke, W.||Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Leonard, W.|
|Buchanan, G.||Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Leslle, J. R.|
|Burke, W. A.||Groves, T. E.||Logan, D. G.|
|Chater D||Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Macdonald, G. (Ince)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Hall J. H. (Whitechapel)||McEntee, V. La T.|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R.||Hardle, G. D.||McGhee, H. G.|
|Cocks F. S.||Harris, Sir P. A.||McGovern, J.|
|Daggar, G.||Hayday, A.||MacLaren, A.|
|Dalton. H.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||MacNeill, Weir, L.|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Mainwarlng, W. H.|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Mander, G. le M.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Holdsworth, H.||Maxton, J.|
|Day H.||Hollins, A.||Messer, F.|
|Dobbie, W.||Hopkin, D.||Milner. Major J.|
|Montague, F.||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)||Thorne, W.|
|Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Ha'kn'y, S.)||Rothschild, J. A. de||Thurtle. E.|
|Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Rowson, G.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Muff, G.||Salter, Dr. A.||Viant, S. P.|
|Naylor, T. E.||Sanders, W. S.||Walker, J.|
|Noel-Baker, P. J.||Seely, Sir H. M.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Oliver, G. H.||Sexton, T. M.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Owen, Major G.||Shinwell, E.||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon, J. C.|
|Paling, W.||Short, A.||Westwood, J.|
|Parker, J.||Silkin, L.||White, H. Graham|
|Parkinson, J. A.||Simpson, F. B.||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Potts, J.||Smith, E. (Stoke)||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Price, M. P.||Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)||Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)|
|Pritt, D. N.||Sorensen, R. W.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Richards, R. (Wrexham)||Stephen, c.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Ridley, G.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Riley, B.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Ritson, J.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)||Mr. Whiteley and Mr. Mathers.|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side)||Lovat-Fraser, J. A.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Duggan, H. J.||Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Duncan, J. A. L.||McCorquodale, M. S.|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'kn'hd)||Eastwood, J. F.||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Ross)|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S.||Edmondson, Major Sir J.||MacDonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)|
|Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.)||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Macdonald, Capt. P. (lsle of Wight)|
|Assheton, R.||Ellis, Sir G.||McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.|
|Astor, Major Hon. J. J. (Dover)||Elliston, Capt. G. S.||Maclay, Hon. J. P.|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Elmiey, Viscount||Magnay, T.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Emmott, C. E. G. C.||Makins, Brig.-Gen. E.|
|Balfour, G. (Hampstead)||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle ot Thanet)||Errington, E.||Maxwell, S. A.|
|Bainiel, Lord||Erskine Hill, A. G.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J|
|Baxter, A. Beverley||Everard, W. L.||Meller, Sir R. J. (Mitcham)|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Fox, Sir G. W. G.||Mills, Sir F. (Leyton, E.)|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Fraser, Capt. Sir I.||Moore, Lieut.-Col. T. C. R.|
|Belt, Sir A. L.||Fyfe, D. P. M.||Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. T. C.|
|Bird, Sir R. B.||Ganzoni, Sir J.||Morgan, R. H.|
|Blair, Sir R.||Gluckstein, L. H.||Morris, O. T. (Cardiff, E.)|
|Blindell, Sir J.||Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cir'nc'st'r)|
|Boulton, W. W.||Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)||Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.||Munro, P|
|Bracken, B.||Gridley, Sir A. B.||Nall, Sir J.|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Grimston, R. V.||Neven-Spence, Maj. B. H. H.|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Gritten, W. G. Howard||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor)||O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh|
|Brown. Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Guy, J. C. M.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.|
|Bull, B. B.||Hamilton, Sir G. C.||Patrick, C. M.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Hanbury, Sir C.||Peake, O.|
|Burghley, Lord||Hannah, I. C.||Peat, C. U.|
|Burgin, Dr. E. L.||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Penny, Sir G.|
|Burton, Col H. W.||Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)||Percy, Rt. Hon. Lord E.|
|Butler, R. A.||Hellgers, Captain F. F. A.||Peters, Dr. S. J.|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Cary, R. A.||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan-||Plugge, L. F.|
|Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester)||Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Porritt, R.W.|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. J. W. (Ripon)||Procter, Major H. A.|
|Cazalet, Capt V. A. (Chippenham)||Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S.||Radford, E. A.|
|Channon M||Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)|
|Chapman, A. (Ruthergien)||Howitt, Dr. A. B.||Reld, W. Allan (Derby)|
|Chapman, Sir S. (Edinburgh, S.)||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Remer, J. R.|
|Chorlton, A. E. L.||Hudson, R. S. (Southport)||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)|
|Clarke, F. E.||Hulbert, N. J.||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)|
|Clarke, Lt.-Col. R. S. (E. Grinstead)||Hunter, T.||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Clarry, Sir Reginald||Hurd, Sir P. A.||Ross, Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)|
|Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Jackson, Sir H.||Rowlands, G.|
|Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J.||James, Wing-Commander A.||Russell, A. West (Tynemouth)|
|Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)||Salt, E. W.|
|Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)||Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)||Samuel, Sir A. M. (Farnham)|
|Craddock, Sir R. H.||Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F.||Sandys, E. D.|
|Crooke, J. S.||Latham, Sir P.||Scott, Lord William|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.||Law, Sir A. J. (High Peak)||Selley, H. R.|
|Crowder, J. F. E.||Leckie, J. A.||Shakespeare, G. H.|
|Cruddas, Col. B.||Leech, Dr. J. W.||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)|
|Culverwell, C. T.||Lees-Jones, J.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)|
|Davies, C. (Montgomery)||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Simmonds, O. E.|
|Davison, Sir W. H.||Levy, T.||Simon, Rt. Hon Sir J. A.|
|De Chair, S. S.||Liddall, W. S.||Southby, Comdr. A. R. J.|
|Doland, G. F.||Little, Sir E. Graham-||Spender-Clay, Lt.-Cl. Rt. Hn. H. H.|
|Donner, P. W.||Liewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J.||Spens, W. P.|
|Duckworth, G. A. V. (Saiop)||Loftus, P. C.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)|
|Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)||Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.||Wedderburn, H. J. S.|
|Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)||Tufnell, Lleut.-Com. R. L.||Wells, S. R.|
|Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)||Turton, R. H.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)||Wakefleld, W. W.||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)|
|Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)||Walker-Smith, Sir J.||Withers, Sir J. J.|
|Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Sutcliffe, H.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Tate, Mavis C.||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.||Wright, Squadron-Leader J. A. C.|
|Thomson, Sir J. D. W.||Warrender, Sir V.||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Touche, G. C.||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Tree, A. R. L. F.||Wayland, Sir W. A.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Dr. Morris-Jones and Mr. Cross.|
Resolutions agreed to.