HC Deb 22 June 1936 vol 313 cc1516-57

Again considered in Committee.

[Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]

Postponed Proceeding resumed on Question proposed on consideration of Question. That a sum, not exceeding £1,370,000, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1937, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of the Unemployment Assistance Board and of the Appeal Tribunals constituted under the Unemployment Assistance Act, 1934; and sums payable by the Exchequer to the Unemployment Assistance Fund under the Unemployment Assistance Act, 1934, for direct administration:"—

Question again proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £1,369,900, be granted for the said Service."

8.41 p.m.


I am in the unfortunate position upon rising at the present moment that there is no Minister present to hear my words of wisdom. I have no doubt that the unexpectedly quick ending of the previous discussion has put Ministers in difficulty, and I in no way reproach them for not being present at the moment. I had desired to make certain answers to the very interesting speech of the Minister of Labour. I gather that in any event it will be the Parliamentary Secretary who will reply to the Debate, but as most of the observations of the right hon. Gentleman were addressed directly to those who had spoken from this bench, I ought to make some reply.

The Parliamentary Secretary has now come in. I was about to say that the right hon. Gentleman made the point, which I think was directed equally against Liberal and Labour benches, that we were not in a position to criticise this particular form of administration, that is, a centralsed Board, because we desiderd centralisation. The only thing in the nature of a quotation from hon. Members which the right hon. Gentleman produced was that we had demanded that unemployment should be made a national charge. Speaking on my own behalf, and, I think hon. Members above the Gangway would agree also, we still demand that the maintenance of the able-bodied unemployed should be a national charge. What is more, we have not got it under this system. To say that we desire maintenance of the able-bodied unemployed to be a national charge does not in any way imply that we desire a bureaucratic system of this kind, divorced from Parliamentary control and practically without any kind of real local contact. That is what we have at the present time. Therefore, the charge of the right hon. Gentleman against the Opposition benches generally, completely missed its mark. It was aimed at the wrong point.

The right hon. Gentleman went on, with what I thought was extraordinary temerity, to say that the Board had reached a solution of the problem and that he was surprised that there was so little objection to it. What solution of the problem have the Board arrived at? They do not think they have in any sense reached a solution of the problem. We are working at the present moment under the standstill system, and if the Board think they have arrived at a solution, that must be the solution, because that is the only thing that has been arrived at; but the Board express in most unmistakable terms their disgust of the standstill system which, so far as one can make out, they regard as a loose, unregulated system, which is a good deal too favourable to the unemployed. They want to put in its place something a great deal more strict.

I have been astonished in the course of this Debate that it has departed from Parliamentary precedent in that here is an outside body, set up practically in the position of civil servants, and the attack has been made not only upon their Report, but has been made upon them. That is a very unusual thing. It would not be done in the ordinary way, because hon. Members above the Gangway and I myself are concerned as much for civil servants and their position as anyone in the House, but we are considering to-day a board of a very unusual character. We protested against the setting up of this board; we said that there should be no such body; and, when it is set up against our protests, we are entitled to call attention to the bad way in which it has functioned. That is what we are endeavouring to do to-day.

Further, we are not treating it as a board which comes before us with a clean sheet. It has a history. On the very first possible occasion it fell down entirely upon its job. It produced a result, if one can call it a result, which was repudiated first by the nation and next by the House of Commons. I was rather sorry that it should have been in that order, for I should always prefer that the House should lead the nation in finding defects; but with regard to these Regulations, while some of us did our best, it was really an uprising of public disapproval which caused their withdrawal. It is that body which is now, after an abnormal period of gestation, about to give birth to some child which we have not yet seen. We are bound to distrust profoundly beforehand the kind of result at which it is likely to arrive, and the doubts which we actually feel are reinforced on almost every page of the Report.

We find that the Board is not merely on the defensive—which is natural, because they have been attacked and we are not going to say that an animal is malicious because it defends itself—but there is a certain amount of truculence about its attitude. There is no sort of apology for having been found in the wrong. They are in the position of people who have committed contempt of court and have not yet purged their contempt by producing a new set of regulations. By all that we read here, we find that they are rather proud of what they did before, and consider that it is we, the House of Commons, who made the mistake in not adopting their proposals. If I wanted any quotations to show the attitude taken up by the Board, I could begin earlier than anyone has done today. On page 9 they speak of the household test. I realise that I must not discuss the desirability of a means test now, because that would require legislation, but this is how the Board describe the system which they have to administer. An hon. Member above the Gangway talked of the unconscious humour of some of their remarks, and I think that this is an instance: It recognises"— that is to say, the system of the means test— that the members of the household who have resources, particularly wages, which form by far the largest part of the resources in the main of the household's inhabitants, are entitled to some part of their earnings for the purpose of living their own life. What generosity ! What a beneficent dispensation we are living under ! The Board says that some part of their own earnings may be actually appropriated by these people for themselves. I am very glad that I am born into an age in which such privileges are given. As was pointed out by the hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate, on pages 14 and 15 there is a defence of the old regulations, showing no sign of repentance whatsoever; and on page 15 there is a bitter complaint of the standstill arrangement. But, if they complain of the standstill arrangement, it is only from one point of view, namely, that the standstill arrangement contains what they call anomalies, which give rise to cases where they think unemployed persons are getting too much—more than they would give them. Therefore, we have every reason to suppose that, when these Regulations appear, they are bound to be less generous than the administration we see at the present time. My hon. Friend the Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) referred to the local advisory committees, and seemed to place some little hope upon their operation. I must say that I have considerably less hope, for the reason that they are brought in so very much too late. The Board say, on page 16 of the Report: The Act has recognised the value of co-operation between voluntary effort and public service by placing upon the Board a statutory duty to appoint local advisory committees. I am glad that they recognise that they had a statutory duty to appoint these committees. On page 17 we find how they have fulfilled their obligation: The necessary steps have been taken to set up the committees in each area at an early date. This is more than a year and a half from the time when they received that mandate, and they are only in a position to set up the committees now. I suggest that here, on page 17 of the Report, we have a clear acknowledgement of a breach by the Board of its statutory duty. Where no time is appointed for an act to be done, the law generally implies a reasonable time. Can anyone say that, with regard to one of the major duties of the Board, it is a reasonable time to wait for 18 months before being in a position to say that the necessary steps have been taken to set up the committees in each area at an early date? What does an early date mean? It is about as indefinite as the spring; it probably means the winter. We are told that these Regulations are to be produced to us before we separate for the summer holidays. That may or may not be true, but it has been stated in the Press, and one can hardly imagine that there will be a. longer delay than that. But what does that mean? It means that the new Regulations, if nothing of a startling nature happens, will actually be in force before these local advisory committees get to work, and the result will he that the Regulations will be administered with just the same lack of local advice or opinion of the people on the spot as the old ones were.

Surely that will defeat to a very large extent the purpose of setting up advisory committees. It means that, by the time they get on to the job, the system will be in process of becoming rigid; it will become canalised according to practices which the Board have adopted during the previous two years, as it will be by then. What sort of influence can we expect these advisory committees to have then? It will only be on very minor matters. Moreover, let it be remembered that these advisory committees, defective in themselves because they have no sort of executive power, will only be able to advise on purely minor points, and any sort of idea that was created in the public mind when the Bill was introduced that these local advisory committees would be some kind of safeguard against bureaucracy must necessarily go by the board, because, before they can operate, the whole system will have become so much embedded in a tradition of its own that it will be practically impossible to alter it. I find on page 19 of the Report—still in the Introduction by the Chairman, Lord Rushcliffe—these words: The Board is … a trustee for the public conscience … It is also a trustee for the taxpayer. Here are two points of view. The public conscience must mean the public conscience desiring that these unemployed persons shall get decent treatment—a point of view, I suggest to the Committee, which ought to be that of the Minister of Labour, and I have no doubt that personally it is. The other point of view is that of the trustee for the taxpayer—the point of view of the Treasury; and I want to know what of these two is to prevail. When I look at the. Report, I find that, wherever I am given any sort of guide, it is the Treasury point of view that is going to prevail, and, speaking on behalf of the unemployed people whom I happen to represent, I am bound to view the whole situation with the gravest apprehension. We then come to the Board's interpretation of means, and once again I am very careful not to transgress any Ruling that may have been given by attempting to decide whether there should be a test of needs, because I imagine that that is laid down by the Act itself, and could not be altered without legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for East Birkenhead was challenged on the point by the senior Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh), and it was because he imagined that he could not deal with it that my hon. Friend did not deal directly with the question of the means test.

What is the interpretation of need given by the Board? I would crave in defence of the Board that they have been given a very difficult problem, because they have been told, on the one hand, that the first thing they have to do is to interpret need, and nothing can override that. That was made quite clear in the Debates on the Bill. They were also told that they must not lay down a scale which would create a better situation for applicants than if they were still in employment. In some cases that is an impossible problem, because there are many people in employment whose wages do not give them what their families need. In a situation like that the Board has the double direction that it must not exceed a certain standard set by wages, which does not satisfy me, and that its paramount duty is to satisfy me. That is literally the horns of a dilemma.. It is an impossible problem for the Board to solve. I pointed this out at the time when this question was originally under discussion and it was possible to put it right, but that dilemma which I foresaw is obviously weighing upon the Committee now when they come to the administration of the Act. Their interpretation of need has been dealt with so excellently by an hon. Member who spoke of the inhuman terms in which the Board itself talks about primary needs, and reducing them to the very barest elements of human existence, that I do not need to say much more. I am reminded of Shakespeare's lines: Allow not nature more than nature needs, Man's life is cheap as beast's. It may well be so in this case. If it is a mere roof over the head and clothing and food and there is nothing more, you are merely keeping the body together, and it is very improbable that you are going to keep the soul together. If nothing is allowed for the elementary recreations, which are more necessary to an out-of-work man, if you are not going to give him an occasional cigarette or perhaps a show of some sort, a cinema or a football match—if all that is left out of account, I do not know what kind of human creature you imagine is going to survive at the end of the process.

I should like to draw attention also to a very interesting discussion as to how to calculate need when people leave the house. It says that, where there is only a temporary absence, the Board will treat it as a temporary absence, but, when separation is definitive, the Board has no power under the Act to include with the needs of the applicant the needs of a person who is not in fact living with him. I do not quarrel with that, because I take the Board's word for it that that is in the Act, and therefore they are bound to follow it, but page 181 happens to deal with Middlesbrough. I did not select it for that reason, but for the interest of the matter therein set out. It deals with homes being broken up. The Minister did not reach that part, no doubt, because he was interrupted and had not time to deal with this instance where a district is finding that 100 earning sons and daughters have changed their residence during the year. They say: A number of cases have occurred in which applicants with a nil or very low determination have left home for the purpose of securing a determination or an increase in the existing determination. "Very wicked of them," some people will say, but is it not exactly on the lines of what we have been hearing about Income Tax, that you have to deal with the law as it is and, if you can get the better of it, you are fully entitled to do so? I would claim the same liberty for the unemployed as is claimed for much richer persons. It goes on: In cases where the officer has maintained a previously existing nil determination, appeals have usually resulted. The Appeal Tribunals have judged these cases upon their merits, and in certain circumstances have confirmed the action taken. By what right could they possibly con firm the action taken if a man had gone out of the household, and was in fact out of the household? How could they go into an elaborate discussion of his motives and say, "You are a naughty boy. You did this to get out of the Act and we will not pay you anything"? If, when they are considering need, that is to say something that might be to the advantage of the applicant, the decision is going to turn on the actual fact whether he has definitely left the house why, when they come to the question of resources, where their determination is going to operate against the applicant, do they arrogate to themselves the right to decide that it does not matter whether he is inside the household or not? The two lines of conduct are entirely inconsistent. This is a matter in which, if these people had been rich and able to employ cunning solicitors and learned counsel, with more ingenuity than mine I hope, they would probably have been able to get away with it altogether. That is the situation with which we are faced. I call attention to it as one-sided administration.

There are some things in the Report which I can regard with pleasure It would be a sorry Report if one could not find some comfort somewhere. On page 41 there is a description of the discretion that is allowed for extra nourishment on medical grounds. I have found this kind of discretion extremely useful in my own constituency. When I have not been able to find any means of increasing what I thought to be an insufficient allowance I have sometimes found a loop-hole here, and the representatives of the Board have been, very ready to take into sympathetic consideration medical grounds for extra nourishment and, when they had the opportunity, they have done very well and: people in my district have substantially benefitted. I am grateful to them for that. I am also grateful, although it may not appear to be directly within their job, for all the efforts they have taken to call the attention of the local health authority to cases of overcrowding and to endeavour to move applicants from one house to-another, perhaps with a larger rent but where the allowance for rent will be greater. In these matters I regard the discretion as having been properly and genuinely exercised. I bear no malice too any of the proposals. I want proposals which will help my people and, where they do so, I am glad to recognise the fact.

I should like to come to the arithmetical calculations at the end of the Report where the imposing total of £24,500,000 is given as the approximate value of the resources that have been taken into, account. I want to know for what precise purpose that imposing figure wasp arrived at. For what precise purpose also is the figure given of other income of other members of the household— £5,450,000? For what purpose are we informed that of that total 89 per cent. was derived from public funds? Is it not all part of a propaganda attempt to say, "Look at the enormous sums of money that are coming into these families that complain of the means test and, when you look at the resources that come to other members of the household, 89 per cent. of them are paid by the State." That seems to be the purpose of these statements. For any purpose whatsoever the figures are utterly misleading. This £24,500,000, the total of the resources, has not only to be divided among over 700,000 applicants, but among the people in the household of those applicants who have resources, so that when you have arrived at this tremendous division you will not have very much at the end of it.

When you come to the £5,450,000, of which about 89 per cent. was derived from public funds, I would ask what sort of public funds? Unemployment benefit, something for which they have contracted and have paid contributions. It is as much a matter of contract, as if I had made a contract with any ordinary insurance company. Health insurance benefit, disability pensions, Service pensions, Army Reserve pay, all payments made in the way of reserve pay, are in recognition of services previously rendered. To try to represent that these are sums which are simply being poured out by a grateful, and perhaps, they might even say, an extravagant public to these recipients, is ludicrous. They are things which the people who receive them have earned, and the fact that they have actually flowed, as through a conduit pipe, through some public fund is neither here nor there.

I received the very worst of impressions from finding these figures set out on these last pages. They have been seized hold in the Press, and they have therefore produced a misimpression, which ought to be removed at the earliest possible moment. I am also uneasy because of the disposition to take these particular borderline cases. A bad case can be made sometimes by telling hard line stories, and by taking a few exceptional cases where people are very badly trated, but it is none the less true, that a worse conclusion can be arrived at by taking good-luck stories and particular people who have been fortunate. You will never on this earth arrive at a system which will not produce some kind of anomaly somewhere. I regard with a considerable amount of sympathy the plea which the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) addressed to me, that by the time you had abolished the household means test, you would have so few people left that it would not be worth while administering the rest of the problem. I am not authorised on behalf of my party to say that we agree to that, and I recognise that there is something to be said for maintaining, even at some cost, the principle that no individual applicant shall profiteer at the expense of the Fund, but I am bound to admit that there is a great deal in what he said.

I am certain that you cannot find a sound system of administration merely by producing a few cases in which £12 10s. is going to the family and where there is one boy getting 15s. from the Fund. Remove that boy out of the household and put him in the house next door, and you cannot get at him, and he can get his determination. In nine cases out of ten he would get his determination. Yet he is in no different position actually from that in which he was when living under the other roof. I am not sure that if the £12 10s. family had a bit of garden and the boy put up a tent in the garden, with a primus stove, and a latrine similar to what is usually put up by Boy Scouts, he could not say that it was a separate household and could get away with it. I have known thinner cases than that. I regard the greater part of these instances which have been given as really unhelpful. I am prepared to say that there will be a certain number of them, but I would much rather too much public money be spent and these people get perhaps what they ought not to get, rather than impose a rule which will cause hardship and destitution to hundreds of thousands of people. That seems to be the alternative we have before us. Although it may seem a strong measure to condemn this Board, which we have set up in the only way in which we could do it, before it has produced its second lot of Regulations, on its previous history, and what it has shown in this Report to-night, I have no other, alternative.

9.11 p.m.


The speech that we heard from the Minister at least brought home to some of us a suspicion that he was far from being happy when he dealt with the Report, which I and other hon. Members assume he must have read. Whenever the Minister has a very poor case to place before this House he engages in the maximum of flippancy and a great deal of incoherency. But I really feel sorry for him, because as far as the Unemployment Assistance Board and its past organisation are concerned, the post of the Minister has been reduced to a mere cipher in the scheme of things. It is grossly unfair that he should be called upon, by the order of things presumably in this House, to hold a brief for a creature that is not his own and over which he has no control, when all that he is asked to do is to get up here and apologise ignominiously for this Report and the work of the Unemployment Assistance Board. It is no use the right hon. Gentleman telling the Committee that very few cases of complaint against the administration of this vast mechanism have reached him. Why should they come to the right hon. Gentleman? He has no power and no influence, and there is nothing that he can do while this ghastly and costly machine is at work—and I say this deliberately—creating the moral and social devastation that it has created in the last 18 months.

I live in an area where the consequences of this administration possibly have been felt at their worst, notwithstanding the very best spirit, in the circumstances, shown by those who are called upon locally to administer it. So we are not impressed by the contention of the Minister that he has received very few complaints, because, as I have said, he hardly exists as far as this scheme is concerned. I have had to make—and I say this without any exaggeration, and I say it deliberately—hundreds of complaints and representations in trying to obtain some measure of justice and to mitigate the inherent evil consequences of this organisation. I have not communicated them to the Minister. Should a miracle happen and were I to find myself in the position of the Minister, I would tell these well paid gentlemen, who feel that they are above ordinary people, that they should come along and make their own personal apologies, and not to call upon me to do it as Minister.

So many excellent contributions have been made in analysing the Report and, as a result, condemning it, that I shall devote a few minutes to dealing largely with this organisation and the field within which it is called upon to operate. The Report is deliberately written up to give the best colour in the world to the activities of the Unemployment Assistance Board and its organisation, which has not justified its existence. Here is a Board undeservedly highly paid. Neither the chairman nor the vice-chairman nor any member of the Board has justified his extraordinarily high salary. More than 7,000 persons constitute the staff of the Board in the country. There are 130 odd tribunals, the chairmen of which are extraordinarily well paid. In addition, there are over 300 area and district officers. I have had an opportunity of seeing how generous the Board has been with public money in putting up offices that are palatial, some of them cheek by jowl with the most rotten houses that no civilised Minister of Health would permit to exist so long.

This huge organisation has been brought into being. Within what ambit is it called upon to function? The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. B. Griffith) did not deal with the table on page 308, which the Board has been so foolishly indiscreet as to place within the Report. The Minister exulted in the fact that the reception of the Report by the Press had apparently been in favour of the Report. We know whose views the Press generally utter. May I draw the attention of the Minister and the Committee to the facts on page 308? Here, we are told, is an analysis of resources other than unemployment assistance, the estimated annual value of the resources of applicants in receipt of allowances and members of their households, based on a statistical inquiry in April, 1935. Let us see how meticulous the means test has been. What does the means test take into consideration? What are the resources of the household that it is pursuing with so much avidity in some of the most impoverished parts of the country? Unemployment insurance benefit, national health insurance benefit, old age pensions, widows' and orphans' pensions, blind persons' pensions, compensation, disability, and dependants' pensions, outdoor relief and—most significant of all, an item which condemns the existence of the means test and removes every justification for keeping the Unemployment Assistance Board, with its vast ramifications, any longer in being—"savings; capital and property." Here we have the value of the capital and property of some three-quarters of a million of applicants under the Board. What is the value of the property and the savings of those three-quarters of a million people, whom these gentlemen with their £5,000 a year salary are pursuing in such a deadly way? It amounts to £175,000. That is the value of the capital and property of the three-quarters of a million of working men and working women. The means test pursues that value, draws its toll from it and uses it in the application of scales and allowances. The total value of the property and savings of these people, whose poverty has squeezed them almost dry, does not work out at more than an average of ld. per person per week. Yet they are the people the Board is pursuing, importuning, embarrassing, and then the Minister is called upon to apologise for the Board.

At the bottom of page 308 there is reference to earnings of husbands and wives, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters; members of the household. The household is very widely defined. Here is a vast total of £17,300,000. Is it wise to spend over £1,500,000 in paying salaries in order to see how much can be squeezed out of £17,300,000? What does it mean? Let us not forget that there are three-quarters of a million applicants who, with their dependants, total from 2,500,000 to 3,000,000 persons. When we visualise the millions of people who are called upon to exist on the £17,300,000, what does it mean? It works out at an average of 2s. 3d. per person per week. Is it worth it?

Are we justified in bringing this vast and brutal system of espionage into use? It is no use the Minister telling us who unfortunately come from these depressed areas that he has seen this and that. May I say very kindly that I see more in one morning on my doorstep than the Minister sees in a twelvemonth? That is no boast. I hate the thought of it. I hate the circumstances of these people, who are as good as I am, who have given to this country certainly as much as I have, some of them first-class coal hewers, iron and steel workers, some of them young men who have never had a day's work, but who have the will to work and a hunger for work. I know that there are many on these benches who will say the same as I am compelled to say.

I appeal to the Minister to see whether by taking this Committee into his confidence some radical changes cannot be effected. There is no justification for this vast mechanism. Here you have a statement of the resources into which they are called on to dig. These are the resources that apparently justify the Minister in presenting a Report of this kind. The total is £24,500,000, after garnering all the small details, the wee pensions and payments that go into the distressed homes of our country. The Minister seemed to believe or wished to impress the Committee that we are here in a purely party sense, for he said of what I regarded as the excellent contribution made by my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar), that we just look for the most appropriate and effective adjectives. Surely the Minister cannot believe that. I have admitted that there is little which he can know about the working of this machine which we are condemning, but is knowledge cannot be so meagre that he is forced to believe the statements which he made against the hon. Member for Abertillery to-night. May I tell the Minister—and I am not depending on any rumours—what my experience of the means test has brought home to me, as to whether it breaks up homes or not? There is not a shadow of doubt that it does.

I have hon. Friend on these benches who know that only this morning in coming from my home to London I had to occupy myself to see that three children under 16 should get from their homes in Merthyr Tydfil safe to Paddington Station in London—two young girls and a young boy. They were two bright and intelligent girls, who come from a district with a splendid position in secondary education, girls who were obviously mentally adapted to education. What is breaking up their homes? What is driving these children out? I have a girl of about the age of these two girls; she will not leave my home at that age unless a means test somehow gets hold of me in its claws and compels me to disintegrate my home and compels my child to be separated some hundreds of miles from her mother and other immediate associates. What is depriving these children of their education and of opportunities to develop their minds so that they can grow up into courageous, independent young women? It is the wicked means test, driving into the homes of these children and compelling them to come to this city to work for a few shillings a week. Every morning when I travel in this direction from the local station I am the custodian of three, four and sometimes half-a-dozen children, and I tell the Minister, deliberately and solemnly, that if a tithe of the pretensions of the Unemployment Assistance Board, as written up in this Report, had any substance, young children of 15 and 16 would not be driven by the application of the means test to this city.

It is a, social crime. We are capable on these benches of having the same kindly regard for the young children of the unfortunate, as we have for our own, and there is no justification for bringing into being this costly machine, which is absolutely soulless, which is squandering £1,500,000 in paying salaries and which is even housing its staff in palatial buildings. For what purpose? What are the resources they can work on? Into how much wealth can they examine? What is the average these people have? It is a miserable average of two or three shillings a week per person. I need not warn the Minister. At least he has sufficient political acumen to realise that there is danger in any attempt which the Board might make to transpose this miserable attempt at justifying its work of the last 18 months into new scales and Regulations of the same spirit. I say that solemnly and seriously. That was one of the reasons why a few minutes ago I urged the Minister not to be made a pawn, the slave, and perhaps ultimately the next victim, of a fiendish thing of this kind.

9.35 p.m.


I have been somewhat agitated as to whether I should address the Committee this evening, because it seems to me that hon. Members on this side of the House would be far better occupied in speaking outside the House than inside. I took part in the protracted Debates in 1934 on the Unemployment Insurance Act, under which the Board was established, and at that time I warned hon. Members as to what would follow the establishment of the Board. It was my contention then that the establishment of the Board would have the effect of disfranchising all those citizens who are chargeable to the Board. Look at the spectacle of the Committee this evening. The Front Bench has been almost empty while we have been considering the welfare of practically 3,000,000 people. On the second appointed day, according to the figures of the Board itself, an additional 200,000 applicants will be added to those chargeable to the Board, which will bring the total to over 3,000,000, and that figure can at any time rise to 5,000,000 if unemployment should rise sharply in the future. As a matter of fact, if the unemployment figures had remained as they were when the Board was established the number of persons chargeable to the Board would be well over 4,000,000. In my own constituency 50 per cent. are unemployed, and in other constituencies the vast majority of the population are out of work.

What does that mean? It means that we are now discussing the only single service by means of which that population lives. Everything of any moment that happens to them is now under discussion. Their income, the welfare of their families, the destinies of their children and their own hopes and dreams and ideals, are all under discussion for a few hours this evening, and during the whole of the time the benches opposite have been practically empty. This is the first time we have had a chance of discussing the administration of the Board, and such respect have the chairman and the Board for this House that they do not come down to listen to the Debate. It is the first time I have known anything like it in the history of this country. We are paying this man £5,000, and £12,500 to the members of the Board. We are discussing their Report, and they are not here listening to the Debate. All that we have got is a puppet, an incompetent hack, who comes down to this House to make a disgraceful speech for an administration over which he himself has no control. We are here discussing the Board; and we are not masters of it. I could have understood the Minister of Labour saying, "I will represent to the Board what has been said, but I can do nothing about it because I am not their boss." But he went beyond that. He made himself a special pleader for the Board. He identified himself and the Government with what the Board have done, with the Board's administration and with everything said in the Report. So much the worse for the right hon. Gentleman and the Government.

I admit that I was plunged into gloom. It seems to me that if the House of Commons has reduced the persons I represent to such impotence, what is left for them to do? I am not going to use exaggerated language, but I ask hon. Members opposite to tell me what they think these people can do. You have deprived them of any voice anywhere. You have established 7,000 officials without the slightest responsibility to the people, and we cannot control them here. What do hon. Members opposite suggest they should do? Vote every four or five years? I am not going to use exaggerated language, but I hope that if the Regulations which are brought in worsen the condition of people in my district they will behave in such a manner that you will require to send a regular army to keep order. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!"] I say that without the slightest hesitation. Hon. Members sit on those benches in cynical indifference to what has happened.




I am not going to give way. There is not a single Member opposite who has the guts to defend this Report, and they expect us to sit silent whilst thousands of our people are under the control of this Board for the next year. I say quite frankly—I am weighing my words carefully—that there is only one way in which hon. Members opposite can be brought to reason, and that is by trouble outside, because argument inside the House has failed to move them. If Income Tax is under consideration those benches are packed. If electricity is under consideration those benches are packed. If there is some opposition to a little municipal Bill for which hon. Members have been subsidised by private concerns, those benches are packed. If it is a sugar subsidy they are packed. If it is a swab the benches are packed, but if it is the poor, they are empty. There is only one way in which the poor can make their voice heard here and that is by making trouble outside. I have been filled with utter contempt and disgust at the British House of Commons, which has failed to become the forum for the distress and the grievances of nearly 3,500,000 British subjects.

What are we going to do? Argument has failed. This Report envisages that the people of South Wales and Durham, 400,000 people, are going to have their standards of living reduced when the new Regulations are made. Is that not so? If the Minister means what he said he justifies the Report, and the Report justifies the old Regulations. It has been written by the chairman as an attack on the House of Commons for having turned down his Regulations. This Board was supposed to take the problem of unemployment out of politics. All you have here in this Report is a political manifesto. We are paying £5,000 a year to the chairman to write a political manifesto for Conservative Members of Parliament. Read from beginning to end of the Report. There is a selection of facts, a misrepresentation of cases, a deliberate travesty of circumstances, all in order to provide material for speeches for hon. Members opposite in their constituencies.

I have read carefully the reports of the officers in the various districts. Those reports are a disgraceful exhibition of cynicism and arrogance. An example of that is to be found in their remarks about the operation of the means test and the breaking up of families. I would like, in passing, to ask the Minister of Labour to ask the Board—because he is only an errand boy for the Board—why it is that the officer responsible for the Monmouthshire area does not answer the question as to what is the effect of the means test upon the family. There is not a word about the effect upon the family of the operation of the means test in Monmouthshire. Why is that?


It is because too many homes have been broken up there.


Either it is that, or it is because it would compare unfavourably, for the Board, with the rest of the country. As I have said, I do not intend to address myself, as I had originally intended, to an analysis of the Report, because after having listened to the Debate this evening, I have come to the conclusion that it is a sheer waste of time to talk to empty benches and to hon. Members who are indifferent. I was convinced when this Board was established that a wrong kind of machinery was being set up. The argument was that the establishment of the Board was necessary because of the great variation in the treatment of the unemployed in different parts of the country and because the local authorities making the transitional payments were irresponsible owing to the fact that they were paying out money which they had not to find. It was said that some machinery was necessary to meet such cases. In other words, the argument was that as the Exchequer had to find the money, it should make itself responsible for the administration of those funds.

What does the Report disclose? On the admission of the Board, more than 20 per cent. of the cases have had to be considered on the discretion of the officers of the Board. This means that for the irresponsibility of elected representatives there has been substituted the irresponsibility of non-elected officials. That is what has been done. There are 7,000 officials. Does any hon. Member with experience of public administration suggest that any system of inspection can control the administration of 7,000 officials in a vast variety of circumstances? There is a number of officials all over the country responsible to nobody. To the extent that they are responsible they apply the Regulations; to the extent that they apply the Regulations they are rigid in their administration; to the extent that they are rigid, they are unjust; and to the extent that they are flexible, they are irresponsible. Therefore, in point of fact, there are 7,000 irresponsible officials all over the country, but unfortunately their irresponsibility works only in one direction.

I challenge the Minister of Labour or the Parliamentary Secretary to mention to me a single officer of the Board who has been censured or dismissed for giving too little assistance. I can give examples of officers having been censured for giving too much. What happens is that every official is irresponsible in one direction, because the people among whom he is living have no control over him. Nobody can question him and there is no public opinion to which he is answerable. From the point of view of the people, he is irresponsible; but from the point of view of the auditor and of the inspector he is responsible for not giving too much. He becomes a safety-first official. The irresponsibility of the Board operates one way only, to the disadvantage of the man who applies for allowances. I challenge hon. Members in any part of the House to deny that statement.

If hon. Members had any experience of Poor Law administration, they would realise that these reports disclose a shameful and distrusting mentality. One officer in a division actually boasts, in discussing the means test, that he was able to disclose to the parents that their sons and daughters were earning much more money than they had told their parents. There exists a system of domestic espionage subsidised by the State. What a splendid way of keeping a family together. What happy homes this will make. The assistance officer goes along to the mother and father and says, "It is not true that your son is earning £2 a week; he is getting £2 10s. a week and has not told you of the 10s." This mighty nation is paying £1,500,000 a year to employ officers to sneak on sons and daughters. That is what is happening.

I suggested in 1934 that the establishment of the Unemployment Assistance Board was bound to work to the detriment of the people it was charged to support. Without the means test—and I know I cannot argue against the means test—it would be unnecessary. The Board exists to operate the means test. It has been asked to advise the Minister on what the new Regulations should be. If the Board advised the Minister that the means test should be so modified—to use the statement of the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith)— that it would include only the individual applicant for allowances, the recommendation of the Board would mean that the amount of money that would be saved by the Board would be less than its administrative expenses.

I know there are hon. Members who really believe in a means test, but who have grave doubts about the family means test. Many of them suggest that there ought to be a means test because a man ought not to receive public funds if he is able to keep himself, but they nevertheless think that the application of a family means test has grave disadvantages. Obviously hon. Members in that position ought to be able to obtain the advice of a disinterested body of investigators informing themselves whether it is possible to carry out that principle. What have they done? They have established a Board; they have established 7,000 officials with a vested interest in the maintenance of a means test. So far as I know, it is the first time in the history of British politics that persons have been appointed whose interest it is to make things more difficult for the people.

That is the position now under the Board, and I want the Minister and hon. Members opposite to consider that position. These people were appointed in substitution for the old guardians of the poor. If a guardian gave less or more to any applicant for public assistance he was not concerned at all about it; he was not affected particularly by it. But this body of people, appointed in substitution for the old boards of guardians, would commit suicide as an administrative body if they gave more, because the more they give the less justification there is for their official existence. In other words, you have created not guardians of the poor but enemies of the poor. You have created a vested interest in the perpetuation of the poverty of the poor. If those people recommended a modification of the means test so substantial that a large expenditure of money would be involved, the Board would have no further justification for its existence and would disappear. But we consider these gentlemen to be so philanthropic, so altruistic, so idealistic, that they would make a recommendation which might result in their own dissolution on the following day. It is a fantastic situation, and the House of Commons and the country ought to consider the position before it is too late.

As I said at the outset, I do not propose to analyse this Report. That has already been done microscopically by hon. Members on this side, and I am sure I could not better what they have done in that respect. I do not want to conclude by warning hon. Members, because I know from experience the impossibility of making a warning appear real in so unreal an atmosphere as that which has been created by this Debate. But I would suggest to hon. Members that they ought not to remain satisfied with the speech of the Minister this evening. In my judgment it was one of the most ominous speeches to which I have listened since becoming a Member of the House of Commons. It means that the Minister has identified himself with this Board. We are told that a tug-of-war has been in progress between-the Minister and the Board, and I do the Minister the justice of believing that he is not as bad as the recommendations of the Board would represent. But his speech this evening caused me grave misgivings. It seems to show that he has surrendered. If the new Regulations are in accordance with the mood and the temper which underlie this Report, I am sure we shall see grave disturbances in this country. I do not believe that the South Wales area will rest content with any Regulations which worsen existing conditions there, and I believe the same to be true of the rest of the country. I sit down in the full consciousness that, if events of a disturbing and alarming kind occur in the country the responsibility will rest upon those Members of Parliament who are abrogating their representative functions to-night.

10.0 p.m.


I was rather surprised at the suggestion of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) that it would be more useful to stir up trouble outside than to address a speech to the Committee upon the merits of this Report. He suggested that the remedy required was not a Parliamentary remedy and thereby went right against the argument which, as he reminded the Committee, he used in 1934 when he objected to the setting up of the Board on the ground that it would take the relief of the able-bodied poor outside the sphere of politics and outside the control of Parliament. We all know that that forecast has been falsified because within a few months of the passing of the original Regulations, we had the whole question of the Unemployment Assistance Board brought within the political arena, and it is still within the political arena, and we are shortly to have new Regulations. Therefore, I think the suggestion that the setting up of the Board would take away Parliamentary control has been falsified by events.


Does the hon. Member suggest that the kind of Debate we have had this evening is an adequate review of the administration for a year of the Unemployment Assistance Board which is responsible for 750,000 people?


I would point out in reply to that question that hon. Members opposite, instead of applying their minds to the merits of the Report, have endeavoured to create an atmosphere of prejudice against the Board. I wish to deal with some points in the speech of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale as showing the nature of the arguments used by him. He admitted that he was not going to deal with the merits of the Report, and although he referred to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister, he made no attempt whatever to reply to the questions which the Minister put to hon. Members opposite. [HON. MEMBERS: "It would have been out of order."] It is no reply to say that the questions would have been ruled out of order. That is a matter for the occupant of the Chair, and not for hon. Members opposite. If any attack is to be made on the speech of the Minister, it should be made on the merits of that speech. Another point which the hon. Member used was that the officials of the Board had an interest in making the administration of the Board as difficult as possible. That is a fantastic suggestion. If the officials deliberately set themselves to hamper and obstruct administration and to make it more and more unpopular, their term of office would be limited to a few months. It would be just as reasonable to say that the officials of the Board who hold temporary appointments have a vested interest in maintaining the volume of unemployment, because, as the volume of unemployment falls, their chances of retaining their posts become more precarious, and therefore they deliberately go out of their way to foster unemployment. I think that is a test of the value of the arguments submitted by the hon. Member.

I wish to devote myself to what, I think, is the main question that we ought to be considering, and that is whether, in the last 12 months, judging the value of the work of the Board by this Report, the Board are justified in their existence, and whether the time that they have spent and the work that they have done have laid a useful foundation for subsequent alterations to be made in the administration. I will admit, as has been admitted by several other Members who have addressed the Committee, that one must to a certain extent discount this Report. One must make allowances for the fact that this is their first full Report and that it is inevitably rather highly coloured.


From what other source can we get information except from the Board's Report?


I make the frank admission that there is a certain amount of colouring in this Report. There is quite definitely an attempt to justify the work that the Board have been doing during the last 12 months, but discounting all that, there remains a very solid record of achievement by the Board during those 12 months, and I think that the Board in their Report have made a very valuable contribution to the consideration of this great human problem, the treatment of the able-bodied poor, and that without that Report our task in discussing the new Regulations when they arrive would have been infinitely more difficult.




Because we would not have had the record of progress made by the Board.


The hon. Member says they coloured the Report. Will he tell me one fact in that Report that he, as an intelligent Member of Parliament, could not have produced himself?


I would refer to one administrative reform effected by the Board in their interpretation of the word "family," not contained in the 1934 Act or in the Regulations. They have, in dealing with the case of the girl who stayed with the married sister, interpreted the word "family" in that case by saying that she was not a member of the family. I regard that as a small but not unimportant administrative reform in the right direction. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) made a violent attack on the Board earlier to-night and referred to a certain rumour in connection with the senior Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh). While the hon. Member was speaking, I remembered another rumour that was circulated some few years ago that he him-self had received an invitation to join the Board. I do not know the truth or otherwise of that report, but if it be true, I think it comes rather badly from the hon. Member if in fact he did refuse to join this Board—and if he did, I am not blaming him for that at all—to jeer and gibe at those people who have undertaken the task that he himself refused.

I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, if he will say a word about the setting up of the advisory committees. That has been one of the great problems in the administration of the Board, to set up some kind of machinery that would keep the Board in contact with local opinion in terms of the Government election manifesto, and I know, as we all know, that because of the standstill arrangement there has been delay in the setting up of these advisory committees. I hope that the appointment of these committees will not be long deferred, and I would like to know if the Parliamentary Secretary can tell us what the present position is.

There is one other point, in connection with the welfare responsibilities of the Board. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), who opened the discussion to-day in a very moderate and well-reasoned speech, if I may say so, suggested that the Board should have certain responsibilities which I think were clearly beyond the scope of their activities. The Minister has already dealt with that point. The hon. Member suggested that the Board should undertake responsibility for industrial development. I think that is clearly beyond the scope of the Board, but the Board have a definite legal responsibility, not merely for paying out sums of money to applicants. We cannot go into that question to-night, but I think I am entitled to deal with the other duty that the Board has of dealing with the welfare of applicants, and I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary could amplify in some way what exactly is the scope of the welfare duty of the Board, because I have been rather puzzled, in reading the Report, to find out where this duty begins and where it ends. As to the value of this work, either done entirely by the Board or in conjunction with the Ministry of Labour, the local authorities and private efforts, I have no doubt whatsoever, and I should like to see a larger sum spent upon this branch of the Board's activities.

Before I sit down I will make a definite reply to the challenge of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, who said that no Member on this side of the Committee had said a good word for this Report. I think this Report is a very valuable Report. It shows steady progress by the Board. We have been under a standstill agreement, but the Board has not been standing still; it has been making progress towards a satisfactory settlement of this great social problem.

10.15 p.m.


I crave the indulgence of the Committee on this the first occasion on which I have addressed hon. Members. I do not intend to enter into the technicalities of this subject. I have been able to study the results of the operations of the Unemployment Assistance Board in that part of the country which I represent, namely, the Western Isles of Scotland. These conditions are not confined to the Western Isles, but that area is the most familiar to me. The more we study the Report of the Board the more we come to the conclusion that the Regulations were framed for industrial areas, for districts where there is a reasonable hope at least of regular employment and the regular payment of contributions. We must deplore the fact that the Regulations so framed are there applied to conditions that do not exist. In a rural area like the Western Isles there is no such thing as regular employment all the year round, that is to say, employment which is insurable. In that district the failure of fishing means the failure of fishermen and women to get work. That means failure to pay contributions, and when they are not paying contributions in certain seasonable work they cannot get benefit, and they are put in a difficult position.

I shall speak of the case of the fishing capital of the western coast of Scotland, namely, Stornoway. There is a limited demand for workers there and those who are lucky enough—I say "lucky" advisedly—to get work in Stornoway during the fishing season may or may not get a sufficient number of contributions paid and a sufficient number of stamps to qualify them for benefit. Those who are not sufficiently lucky will not qualify for benefit at all. Those who are not lucky enough to secure employment in a limited market for a limited time very often, in order to qualify for benefit, go to other parts of the country, to other fishing ports, and work there, just as long as those who were fortunate enough to get work in Stornoway. They often work longer and pay more contributions and receive more stamps, and yet they are disqualified unless they have been lucky enough to obtain employment in Stornoway. The principle is very unfair and unjust that people who work far more than other people should be denied benefit simply because they were not fortunate enough in a limited market and limited time to get work. They have been penalised simply because they have not been able to find work, as happens in so many other cases.

Another point that may be raised tonight is that even the possibility of getting the 30 stamps as the first statutory condition is rather uncertain because their work involves matters all the time outside their control. These people have not the certainty of good fishing for a reasonable period in the year which would enable them to qualify. If the fish fail, then the workers cannot get unemployment benefit. These fishermen and women are prepared to work all the time. They lay themselves open to be called to work at any time, but because there is not enough work they are denied the right to benefit. At the fishing they are denied it because of a mere freak of nature. A number of these people find great difficulty in procuring the number of stamps required under the first statutory condition. They are dependent on very uncertain seasons, and even over two seasons often can only get 30 or 31 or 32 stamps. If a man goes before the officer with 31 stamps, he is at once under suspicion of fraud. There have been cases where people have been challenged on the question whether or not their employment was bona fide because they had 31 stamps or 32 stamps. It was surely not their fault that they had only 31 stamps.

Again, in connection with the exact number of stamps required to satisfy that condition the question arises whether those people have patched together odd jobs in order to make up a sufficient number of stamps. I should not blame them very much if they had been doing so. The people there have had to choose between wages of from 2d. to 6d. an hour and unemployment benefit. I should not blame them very much if they decided to do nothing and draw more rather than to work and draw less. These people working under the county councils, and at times under the supervision of the Ministry of Transport, have been offered wages of from 6d. to 2d. per hour, and any man who can secure more money by doing nothing is a fool unless he accepts it in these circumstances. Instead of suggesting that there is immorality in that I would suggest that the immorality is on the part of those who present such a choice to these people.

We are told that the people resort to trickery in order to qualify for unemployment benefit. I should say they would have to resort at times to trickery to obtain work in the Western Isles. There is a very limited demand for labour there, and regulations which can be applied in industrial areas where there may be the possibility at least of regular work over regular periods will not apply there at all. That is the whole position. You cannot draw deductions from what happens over the country as a whole, or in places like Glasgow and London, and say that is what ought to happen in the Western Isles. The people there have a cynical proverb which they quote among themselves. I do not suppose I am allowed to say it in Gaelic. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] It is: "Trog so orm agus bheir mi dhuit 'stamp'!" That simply means: "Help me with this job and I will give you a stamp!" That is merely a cynicism, however that is not a practice. It is a proverb which the people quote jocularly against themselves, because they can make a joke against themselves even in their present conditions. I know that I am not permitted to propose legislation in Committee of Supply, but I suggest that the Minister should consider adapting the present administration to permit allowances to be made for the very different and difficult conditions of the people in those parts.

I know those people as nobody else in the House knows them. If they can get work at decent wages they will take the work. They are always open to take work. They do not even specialise in one type of work. They aye fishermen or crofters, and they will do anything—make roads or do anything else—as long as they can get decent wages for the work; but they have only this choice between public assistance and wages which are even lower than public assistance in runny instances. These are facts. It is not a sentimental appeal that I am making. I have already put my point of view in this House, and on several occasions I have written to the Minister of Transport, the Secretary for everything in Scotland and the Minister of Labour himself, but it is of no use. All they can tell me is that certain Regulations have been framed and that the Minister can do nothing. I hope, however, that he will do whatever he possibly can to disentangle himself, and at least to disentangle the tangle the islands are in, in relation to this question of unemployment assistance.

10.24 p.m.


The very pleasant duty falls to me of congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) on a very agreeable and nicely-phrased maiden speech. I have now to call attention to the extraordinary behaviour of Members opposite during this Debate. In the earlier part of it we had a few speeches from Members on that side of the Committee, but the talkers have departed, leaving only the dumb, driven supporters of the Government to await the call to the Division Lobby. We have presented them with an opportunity of voting for it, if they care to do so. We warn them that we shall come back to the subject in a few days, at the very earliest opportunity, in order to give this side of the Committee a chance of saying what they have to say in further condemnation, and the silent Members on that side of the Committee a further chance of voting with us.

The Debate to-day has assumed the form of a general survey of conditions in our constituencies, and has disclosed a remarkable unanimity of disapprobation of the area officers and of the terms of this Report. The information given by hon. Members has thrown much more light upon the subject than have the artificial and carefully chosen examples submitted by area officers. There are occasions when we are disappointed with ourselves in this House, and to-night is one of them, as I view it. We are always best when hearing questions which reflect our direct responsibility to the people who have sent us here, but to-night is an exception. To-night is a tragic exception, because of the failure of hon. Members to respond to those responsibilities. I would very much like to congratulate this Committee on its manifest sympathy with the unfortunate fellow citizens who are receiving the attentions of the Board, and who are the subject of this Report. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), who opened the Debate, threw out a challenge to the Minister to justify the operations of the Board during the last year and a-half. He dealt with the effects of this vast and complicated machinery upon the physical welfare of those who have received the ministrations of the Board. This question has loomed large in the Debate from this side of the Committee.

I would warn the Minister of the shock awaiting him should he rely placidly upon this Report, and upon the further proceedings outlined in it. The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. G. White) strongly criticised the Board, and challenged the propriety of entrusting to such a body, independent of Parliamentary control, the intensely humane responsibilities which are now so inadequately discharged by it. He denounced, in words of exceptional eloquence, the imposition upon the slender resources of a household the burden of maintaining the victims of the great social scourge of unemployment. The sentences he quoted showed the painful effects upon family life, and carry 100 times more conviction than the smart and cheap comments upon this subject by the area officers. The hon. Lady the Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh)—I am sorry she is not in her place—who is such a loyal heart to the Government, always ready to bear the burden of party duties and to be hitched on to any creaking old vehicle bearing the Government mark, tried to get over the family means test. She jibbed at carrying what she described as a tribe masquerading as a happy and contented family, and she finally kicked the traces at the sight of the underground dens to which the poverty which the Board perpetuates has condemned so many of her constituents.

The hon. and learned Member for East Newcastle (Sir R. Aske), in a speech which showed his great interest in and knowledge of the subject, summed up the position of the unemployed relatively to the position which they occupied before the Regulations were introduced a year ago; and he rightly said that more than half the applicants had been assessed at a lower figure in consequence of the Regulations. We have not been given, and I would like the Minister who is to reply to give us these figures. The Board is strangely reticent upon some of the aspects of this matter. We have not been given the aggregate figures for the assessments under the Regulations and for the assessment of transitional payments under the public assistance committees. As the second category represents the actual payments made under the standstill agreement, the excess of the second over the first represents the extent by which the unemployed would have suffered if the Regulations had remained in force. We have not had that information.

There are one or two other pertinent matters of information to which I desire to call attention. Every speaker in the Debate has said in effect that the Unemployment Assistance Board is not doing what we believe should be done for the unemployed. There is one exception. Just one solitary individual in the whole of to-day's Debate has expressed any measure of satisfaction with these Reports. The Minister of Labour tries to keep smiling. We know that he is uncomfortable, but he has no wish to disapprove publicly of the Board and its works. The House is anxious to relieve him of a discomfort. We know him to be very keen and alert, and he cannot have mistaken the omens to-night. He is responsible to the House of Commons for the further communications that are to be made in the course of a few days, this summer—spring has gone—or perhaps later. We shall await those communications. We advise the right hon. Gentleman not to hurry unduly. Let him rather take these unemployed people back into his own fold, and not separate them from their fellows who are unemployed.

There is one aspect of this question with which I shall conclude. The resources of a large number of people who are unemployed, and their dependants, are given in some detail on pages 80 and 81 of the Report, where it is stated that 45 per cent. of the applicants for unemployment assistance have resources of their own, or resources in their households which they are required to share. Those resources amount, I understand, to a total annual value of £24,500,000—a triflingly small figure, a tragically small figure, to be divided over the large number of people with whom we are dealing. The remaining 55 per cent. of the applicants have no resources. Those without resources get the ordinary unemployment benefit. The Report does not give complete details of the number of persons assisted; whether it is 2,500,000 or a smaller number we do not know. We are not told in the Report how many men, women, young persons and children are included. The total of the allowances covering all the persons assisted is given at £42,000,000.

A more pertinent question, to which I find no answer, is the total number of persons included in the households to which applicants belong. That figure is not given. Their resources are stated to be £24,500,000. If we add to that figure the £42,000,000 which the Board pays out in unemployment allowances, we find that for the whole of this vast body of people the annual income amounts to £64,000,000. I have made the computation that the number of persons involved in these households cannot be less than about 4,000,000, so that, when you add the amount paid in allowances to the existing resources of the household and divide it by the number of people, the average income per person is between £18 and £19 per annum. If we take an average family of four or four and a half persons, the income per family is somewhere about £70 per annum. If you take £20 of that for rent and another £20 for clothing and ordinary domestic accessories, the amount left at the disposal of this mixed community of men who work and men who do not work, and women who are employed and women who are engaged in their ordinary domestic duties, and young people of both sexes from adult age to childhood, the average available for food for all these people—not the unemployed only, but all the employed people associated with them—is less than 4s. a week. This is the condition to which this Board, this machine, this very scientific system for the perpetuation and standarisation of poverty, has reduced not only the people who are unemployed, but all those who share with them the community life in the family, which is the fundamental basis of our modern society.

The original intention of the means test was not to remove poverty, but to lessen the cost of unemployment relief to the Treasury. We must not allow the Government to forget that. We must not allow our own people to forget it. That is the charge that we level against the Government. They have been successful in saving expense to the Treasury, but they have condemned millions of our fellow citizens to a lower standard of poverty, from which there is no escape so long as this Board is given the authority that it possesses to-day. We read in the Report, under the heading, "The Welfare of Applicants," this statement: To promote the welfare of applicants for assistance is one of the statutory functions of the Board. There is much pretence of that kind in the Report. A little later we find: Subject to the general standards laid down for them by Parliament, the Board and its officers must on individual cases try to do what responsible public opinion at the time would wish them to do. We charge them with having ignored public opinion. We are told that the Board is in this respect a trustee for the public conscience. I am sorry that the still small voice of the public conscience has been overwhelmed by the blatant trumpetings of supporters of the National Government inside and outside the House. There are signs that the public conscience is moved on this question of poverty. We hope to give a new set of deeds to those who offer themselves for trusteeship, and this Committee must try to put themselves into line. Their first duty is to protest against the standards contained in this Report, then to denounce the Report itself, and finally to demand the abolition of the Board and the entire system, lock, stock and barrel. It is all very well to remain silent, but you cannot avoid the responsibility. Let hon. and right hon. Members ask themselves this question: Would you vote for yourselves what you propose to vote for the unemployed tonight? Would you vote it for your own children?

Let me warn hon. Members in one final word. Great events are stirring mankind in these days. There is a demand for national unity because of the possibility which may be upon us. A grave national emergency may come upon the people of this country almost overnight, and again, I repeat that you will not get national unity on those terms. There is not a man on this side of the Committee who will help you to get national unity on the terms of the Unemployment Assistance Board and the Regulations. If hon. Members wish to vote as trustees of the public conscience to-night they should vote on the side of those who wish to change the condition under which this Board has been operating. They will be doing an act of great national disservice if they remain quiet or abstain from voting. They should not abstain from voting, but should show that they are detenmined radically to change the conditions under which relief and succour have been given to the unemployed.

10.43 p.m.


I should like in his absence to add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. MacMillan) on a very well-timed and most successful maiden speech. This is the first time in my experience of the House that I have heard anyone speak in Gaelic, and in many ways it has an advantage of its own. I think it enables an hon. Member who quotes it to say most unparliamentary things. I believe that the hon. Member for the Western Isles really said dreadful things about the Minister and myself, and when he said, "That's what it means," he put it into the most Parliamentary language for the edification of the House and for you, Sir.

I need not spend very long to-night in answering the points, because my hon. Friend intervened comparatively late in the Debate and covered a good deal of the ground himself. My right hon. Friend deft the Committee and hon. Members opposite in no doubt as to his own point of view, and when an hon. Member on the opposite side said that there were many Members in this Committee who were far from satisfied with it, I think he spoke the truth because there are those Members who have pursued an absolutely unceasing and unthinking course of abuse of the Board and the chairman and all their works. I can assure them that my right hon. Friend did not mean them to be satisfied with his speech. A good number of hon. Members complained because in the Report the Board said a certain number of nice things about itself. The hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. Guy)—[An HON. MEMBER: "He is only one!"] He may be only one, but I think that his speech was worth a great many of the other speeches put together. The Board is only giving an account of its own doings, and it naturally gives a true account. If the true account of its doings happens to be good, the Board has no hesitation in saying so. The Board has introduced in the Report a certain number of what we may call abuse cases, and hon. Members opposite take up the line that it was very unfair for them to do so. Let hon. Members consider why the Board did it. I am certain that the Board would not have introduced those cases had it not been for the campaign of abuse and misrepresentation with which they have been met by hon. Members opposite. [Interruption.]


Now we have got to the position—

Lieut.-Colonel MUIRHEAD

If hon. Members opposite like to take up that attitude, they must not complain that the Board put up a certain number of points in their defence. That is what the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith) said. You must not accuse the Board of being a vicious animal because it defends itself. That is what the Board has done. The number of what I may call abuse cases form such a small proportion of the Report that it is entirely wrong to say that there is nothing else in it. There is a great deal of very solid, sound reading in the Report, quite apart from these cases. That emphasises what I am certain all reasonable Members of the House desire and that is that the Board, whatever people may have thought about the situation in January, 1935, the Board and its officers have had 18 months' experience through- out the country, and it is obvious that any organisation, starting as the Board did 18 months ago, must have acquired an enormous amount of useful experience in that period and must, therefore, be better qualified to go forward with their work.

Dealing with some of the detailed points that have been raised, the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) asked for the number of cases dealt with under the Regulations and the number dealt with under transitional payment. The number dealt with under the Regulations—these are the figures for December, 1935—is 305,000, or 44 per cent., and 388,000, or 56 per cent., under transitional payment.


I asked whether the Minister would give the amounts, so that we could find out the benefits under transitional payment and the Regulations.

Lieut.-Colonel MUIRHEAD

I thought the hon. Member asked for the number of cases. I hope to give him the figures before the end of my speech. We have heard a great deal about the break up of homes. I suppose it is of little value to quote the Report to hon. Members, but seeing that we have to discuss the Report in order to keep within the terms of order, that situation rather brings me to a standstill. The Reports from the district officers with regard to the effect on homes are very material. They give cases of four districts — Durham, Liverpool, Middlesbrough and Cardiff, where the question is appreciable. In four districts—in London (1), in Newport, in Glasgow (1) and in Inverness it does not obtrude itself and the Board's officers do not mention it. In the remaining 20 it was a factor but certainly inconsiderable.


They were the judges.

Lieut.-Colonel MUIRHEAD

It is true, of course, that there is quite a difference of opinion and perhaps a certain amount of disquiet in many districts about whether the earnings rate is the best or not. Do not let anybody think that I am suggesting that all is well in the garden, but that is quite a different thing from suggesting that the whole of England is in an absolute upheaval about the effect on the household.


Every social worker in Durham tells you that.

Lieut.-Colonel MUIRHEAD

In making determinations regard is had to the Reserve pay and a certain amount is taken into consideration as and when received. Half of the amount of Reserve pay is disregarded; the remainder is brought into the calculation of the determination. It comes in, perhaps, as a lump sum once a month and is worked off possibly in that week or next week, and when that has been worked off the ordinary determination goes on being paid. In point of fact, that disregarding of half of the Reserve pay is appreciably better treatment than was the case in a large number of determinations made by local authorities. The hon. Member opposite with his experience of the War Office would naturally consider the effect on the Service and before this arrangement was introduced the Service Department was consulted if concerned.


Do they accept it now?

Lieut.-Colonel MUIRHEAD

They do accept it. With regard to the general discretionary operation of the Board's officers and as to where authority lies, the Committee knows the organisation, and it has been the aim of the Board to try to introduce a certain amount of elasticity in the administration which is thoroughly desirable. Quite clearly the responsibility is known to the hierarchy—the area and district officers, the Board, the Minister and Parliament. [Interruption.] The hon. Member opposite does not understand the advantages of delegation of duty, and it is quite clear that unless you do that you get that hard, rigid mechanical administration to which I am certain the hon. Member would object. As the Report says: Every applicant is a separate human being with his own needs and his own environment, and the Board has through-out encouraged and instructed its officers to take this view of each case. To show that this is so in no less than 20 per cent. of the cases the officers of the Board have used their authority to grant allowances above the normal rate.

The Board has encouraged, and gratefully acknowledges, the co-operation of local authorities and other voluntary bodies. That is all to the good. There is no reason why everything should be done by the Board. I do not suppose there is any country in which voluntary effort is so highly developed as in this country, nor a country in which the co-operation of voluntary and statutory effort is more highly developed. With regard to the details of the welfare work of the Board, it is quite true that welfare work is not laid down within the strictest limits, but the Board is co-operating with the Ministry of Labour and with the Commissioner for the Special Areas and with bodies such as the Land Settlement Association. As the Board says, the highest form of social work in which an immense deal can be done is by personal relations with the applicants themselves. The hon. Member for Gorbals was rather scornful of the idea that you can patch up a family quarrel between husband and wife with a sum of £2, but I am certain that if the hon. Member knew of a case where by saving 1s. we had parted husband and wife he would very soon let us know about it. He must give the Board the benefit of the doubt when the boot is on the other foot. With regard to the question of advisory committees raised by both the hon. Members for East Edinburgh and West Middlesbrough—and I do not take any exception to the criticisms of the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough—I can say this. The composition of the Advisory Committee is very far advanced. There is one further point, the question of school meals. There again the Board was confronted with a diversity of local authority practice. There has been some debate as to the actual nature of the Unemployment Assistance Board, and the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough said that they were civil servants. The Board is a statutory body.


I did not say that they were civil servants but that such bodies were generally considered as such.

Lieut.-Colonel MUIRHEAD

That is why I wanted to make the distinction plain. They are a statutory body. It has been said that they are outside the control of this House. That is not so. The Unemployment Assistance Board was set up by an Act of this House, and the Regulations under which they work have been or will be passed by this House. The Minister of Labour is daily subjected, or can be, to Parliamentary questions and, finally, you have the time-honoured and ultimate measure of control which the House can exercise by bringing forward its operations and dis- cussing them by moving a reduction of the Minister's salary. That has been done to-day, and I have no doubt that the reduction will be heartily defeated by the Committee.

Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £1,369,900, be granted for the said Service."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 124; Noes, 187.

Division No. 246.] AYES. [11.0 p.m.
Acland, R. T. D. (Barnstaple) Grenfell, D. R. Morrison, R. C (Tottenham, N.)
Adams, D. (Consett) Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.) Muff, G.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.) Griffiths, J. (Llanelly) Naylor, T. E.
Adamson, W. M. Groves, T. E. Oliver, G. H.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.) Hall, G. H. (Aberdare) Owen, Major G.
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven) Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) Parker, J.
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R. Harris, Sir P. A. Parkinson, J. A.
Banfield, J. W. Henderson, A. (Kingswinford) Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.
Barr, J. Henderson, J. (Ardwick) Price, M. P.
Batey, J. Henderson, T. (Tradeston) Pritt, D. N.
Bellenger, F. Hills, A. (Pontefract) Richards, R. (Wrexham)
Benson, G. Holdsworth, H. Riley, B.
Bevan, A. Holland, A. Rltson, J.
Broad, F. A. Hollins, A. Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Brom.)
Bromfield, W. Hopkin, D. Rothschild, J. A. de
Brooke, W. Jagger, J. Rowson, G.
Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (S. Ayrshire) Jenkins, A. (Pontypool) Salter, Dr. A.
Buchanan, G. Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath) Seely, Sir H. M.
Burke, W. A. John, W. Sexton, T. M.
Cape, T. Jones, A. C. (Shipley) Silkin, L.
Chater, D. Jones, H. Haydn (Merioneth) Silverman, S. S.
Cluse, W. S. Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Simpson, F. B.
Cove, W. G. Kelly, W. T. Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)
Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T. Smith, E. (Stoke)
Daggar, G. Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G. Sorensen, R. W.
Dalton, H. Lathan, G. Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)
Davies, D. L. (Pontypridd) Lawson, J. J. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton) Leach, W. Thurtle, E.
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Lee, F. Tinker, J. J.
Dobble, W. Leslie, J. R. Viant, S. P.
Ede, J. C. Logan, D. G. Walker, J.
Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty) Lunn, W. Watkins, F. C.
Evans, E. (Univ. of Wales) McEntee, V. La T. Watson, W. McL.
Frankel, D. McGhee, H. G. White, H. Graham
Gallacher, W. Maclean, N. Wilkinson, Ellen
Gardner, B. W. MacMillan, M. (Western Isles) Williams, D. (Swansea, E.)
Garro Jones, G. M. MacNeill, Weir, L. Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)
George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Mainwaring, W. H. Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey) Marklew, E. Woods, G. S. (Fintbury)
Graham. D. M. (Hamilton) Maxton, J.
Green, W. H. (Deptford) Messer, F. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Ha'kn'y, S.) Mr. Whiteley and Mr. Mathers.
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J. Clarry, Sir Reginald Emery, J. F.
Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G. Colman, N. C. D. Everard, W. L.
Albery, I. J. Colville, Lt.-Col. D. J. Fildes, Sir H.
Anstruther-Gray, W. J. Cook, T. R. A. M. (Norfolk, N.) Fleming, E. L.
Apsley, Lord Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.) Fox, Sir G. W. G.
Assheton, R. Courtauld, Major J. S. Fraser, Capt. Sir I.
Astor, Major Hon. J. J. (Dover) Courthope, Col. Sir G. L. Fremantle, Sir F. E.
Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.) Cranborne, Viscount Furness, S. N.
Baldwin-Webb, Col. J. Craven-Ellis, W. Gluckstein, L. H.
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H. Crooke, J. S. Goldie, N. B.
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h) Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C. Goodman, Col. A. W.
Blair, Sir R. Croom-Johnson, R. P. Gower, Sir R. V.
Boulton, W. W. Cross, R. H. Gridley, Sir A. B.
Bower, Comdr. R. T. Crossley, A. C. Grimston, R. V.
Boyce, H. Leslie Cruddas, Col. B. Guest, Maj. Hon. O.(C'mb'rw'll, N.W.)
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Culverwell, C. T. Gunston, Capt. D. W.
Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith) Davidson, Rt. Hon. Sir J. C. C. Guy, J. C. M.
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury) Davies, Major G. F. (Yeovil) Hamilton, Sir G. C.
Bull, B. B. Dawson, Sir P. Hanbury, Sir C.
Burghley, Lord De Chair, S. S. Hannah, I. C.
Caine, G. R. Hall- Dorman-Smith, Major R. H. Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan-
Campbell, Sir E. T. Dower, Capt. A. V. G. Hills, Major Rt. Hon. J. W. (Ripon)
Cartland, J. R. H. Drewe, C. Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S.
Carver, Major W. H. Dugdale, Major T. L. Holmes, J. S.
Cary, R. A. Dunne, P. R. R. Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.
Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n) Eastwood, J. F. Horsbrugh, Florence
Channon, H. Eckersley, P. T. Howitt, Dr. A. B.
Chapman, A. (Rutherglen) Edmondson, Major Sir J. Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)
Hudson, R. S. (Southport) Munro, P. Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U. B'lf'st),
Hulbert, N. J. Neven-Spence, Maj. B. H. H. Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.
Hume, Sir G. H. O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh Smlthers, Sir W.
Hunter, T. Orr-Ewing, I. L. Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)
James, Wing-Commander A. W. Palmer, G. E. H. Somerville, D.G.(Willesden, F.)
Joel, D. J. B. Patrick, C. M. Southby, Comdr. A.R. J.
Jones, L. (Swansea, W.) Peat, C. U. Spens, W. P.
Keeling, E. H. Penny, Sir G. Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)
Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose) Petherlck, M. Storey, S.
Kimball, L. Pickthorn, K. W. M. Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)
Lamb, Sir J. Q. Plugge, L. F. Strauss, H. G.(Norwich)
Law, Sir A. J. (High Peak) Radford, E. A. Strickland, Captain W. F.
Law, R. K. (Hull, S. W.) Ralkes, H. V. A. M. Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)
Leckie, J. A. Ramsay, Captain A. H. M. Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Leech, Dr. J. W. Ramsbotham, H. Sutcliffe, H.
Liddall, W. S. Ramsden, Sir E. Tasker, Sir R. I.
Lindsay, K. M. Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmln) Touche, G. C.
Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J. Reed, A. C. (Exeter) Train, Sir J.
Mabane, W. (Huddersfield) Reid, Sir D. D. (Down) Tree, A. R. L. F.
McCorquodale, M. S. Remer, J. R. Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.
Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight) Rickards, G. W. (Skipton) Tufnell, Lieut.-Com. R. L.
McEwen, Capt. J. H. F. Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool) Wakefield, W. W.
McKie, J. H. Ropner, Colonel L. Warrender, Sir V.
Maclay, Hon. J. P. Ross, Major Sir R. D. (L'derry) Waterhouse, Captain C.
Magnay, T. Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A Wedderburn, H. J. S.
Makins, Brig.-Gen. E. Russell, A. West (Tynemouth) Williams, C. (Torquay)
Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Salmon, Sir I. Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. [...] M. Salt, E. W. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.
Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J. Samuel, M. R. A. (Putney) Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth) Sandeman, Sir N. S. Womersley, Sir W. J.
Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Sanderson, Sir F.B. Young, A. S.L.(Partick)
Mitcheson, Sir G. G. Savery, Servington
Moore, Lieut.-Col. T. C. R. Scott, Lord William TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. T. C. Selley, H. R. Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert
Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Unlv's.) Shakespeare, G. H. Ward and Dr. Morris. Jones.
Mulrhead, Lt.-Col. A. J. Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.

Question put, and agreed to.

Original Question again proposed.

It being after Eleven of the clock and objection being taken to further Proceeding, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.