§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ "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."—[NOTE: £630,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100.
Perhaps I ought to explain that, as this is the Vote upon which the Unemployment allowances are paid, the last thing we on this side of the Committee would desire to do, would be to vote against this Estimate—[An HON. MEMBER: "Why do it?"]—but as this is the first opportunity we have had of discussing the first Report of the Unemployment Assistance Board, we must, under the Rules of the House, take this line in order to challenge effectively that Report. When I read the Report, and the Press comments on the following days, I was reminded of the days in December, 1934, when the Regulations were issued, and of the Press comments following the issue of those Regulations. The Government will probably claim that the Report has had a good Press, but the Regulations had a good Press, too. The remarkable thing about the Regulations was that the Press, the public and this House were misled until the moment when the storm broke, and the Regulations were broken with it. It ought to be made plain that we on this side of the Committee consider that the Report is as equally misleading as the Regulations. It is the Report of the Board, but the chairman of the Board, 1438 by reason of his experience and his position, is the dominating character of the Board. He is more than that; he is the architect of the Report.
§ Mr. LAWSON
And of the Board, as my hon. Friend has said. Those who knew the chairman when he was a Member of this House respected his qualities, and every hon. Member knew that he was a modest, courteous and supreme master of the great art of making the bitterest Bill taste sweet. I think that Members on all sides of the Committee will accept that description of the Noble Lord who is now chairman of this Board. In the writing of the Report I suggest that he has excelled himself. He has in mind the fact that the Report is the preliminary to the Regulations, and that it is preparation of the public mind for the Regulations. One might describe it as a kind of try-on for the Regulations. The disappointing thing in the Report is the fact that it is clear that the Board still think that their Regulations were right. There are two pages in the Report, pages 14 and 15, dealing with the Regulations, and if one were to read a paragraph one would be tempted to read the two pages. Those two pages are illuminating as to the state of mind in which the Regulations which broke down were framed. The same mind apparently prevails so far us the Board is concerned. The chairman thinks that the Regulation would have been all right had it not been for the maladministration of the local authorities before they came into operation, and if they had only been given a proper chance to develop and operate properly. It is necessary, as the other side of the same point of view, to attack the standstill arrangement. The Board uses some scathing words about the standstill arrangement, which was forced upon the Government by the public outside, which was submitted to the House of Commons by the Government and was passed unanimously by the House.
The Board makes it clear that from their point of view more than half the people who are now receiving allowances, some 400,000 people, and who are, in a way, outside the Board, because they are subject to the decisions of the previous public assistance committees, ought to be under the thumb of the Board and be 1439 subject, accordingly, to reductions. That is a very serious outlook for the people concerned. The Report deals with the interests of applicants and dependants representing over 2,000,000 people, and makes it clear that of those 2,000,000 people more than half the cases have been unemployed for over a year. All have been subject to the wear and tear of unemployment, their resources have been undermined and they have been reduced to a condition which undoubtedly has aroused the pity of the great mass of people in this country and has caused concern to all who have the wealth and being of the people at heart. The Report points out that when the Regulations broke down there was an investigation.The Board at once began a full inquiry into the whole situation.The House of Commons has a right to demand from the Minister that we should know the full extent of that investigation, and that we should be put in possession of the whole Report and not with some sections of it. In the reports of the officers of the areas some results of the investigations are used, as the Minister used them in the House sonic weeks ago. There are cases in which it is said that £5 or a week was going into the house. The reports have been trimmed in order to give an impression to the public that there has been gross maladministration on the part of the local authorities previous to this virtuous Board coming into existence. The whole combined forces of the Blackshirts could not make a more forthright attack on local authorities, democratic government and this House than is to be found in the Board's Report, and particularly in the reports of the officers of the Board. I know that there is another side to it.
They are represented as a kind of benevolent, warmly generous body of people. The chairman is a kind of Santa Claus, in full robes, if one may use a comparison like that in the Spring. I rather think that the Spring is over now. The officers in their reports give some instances of treatment. Most of the newspapers gave pages on the day following the issue of the Report to show how wonderfully humane the area officers were. I do not know why that sort of thing should be put into reports of this kind. Up and down Great Britain there 1440 are public men who, if they wrote of their 12 months' work, could write a much more illuminating document than this. Hon. Members who have contact with their constituents could tell of the many instances in which they have been called in to make peace, to use their influence in dealing with overcrowding, and to improve the position for this family and that family. They could give the officers of the Board points. But that has nothing to do with the case.
It is all part of the trimming., a process in which I notice that the Minister has joined in recent weeks, in order to give an impression of maladministration on the part of the local authorities which were in charge before the Board came into existence, and in order to prepare the public mind for some change-over that is coming. The right hon. Gentleman recently gave an answer which showed that there were 388,000 people who were on transitional payments as laid down by the local authorities before the Board was established, and that there are about 308,000 receiving payment on the Board's scales. The Board, of course, say that if they had been given a chance to operate the Regulations things would have been much different. But there were 388,000 people on the previous scale. I ask the Minister whether he is going to give the Committee the Report which deals with the whole of the investigation at that particular time. I cannot give him a, promise that I will accept that Report without reserve. It is the Board's own investigation of its own failure, and the standstill arrangement is the official record of that failure. That Report is necessary to a proper discussion of the Regulations. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not going to dodge that issue.
One of the outstanding things upon which the Regulations broke down was the fact that the means test was breaking up home life. There is a strange contradiction in these officers' reports on that important issue. The officer in Durham frankly admits that 250 boys have left home as a result of the operation of the means test. But in some other parts of the country the admission is not quite as forthright. It is amazing how some of the officers try to gloss over this grave matter. In the life of the nation we pride ourselves upon the integrity of our family life. We have not a monopoly of that virtue but we have always claimed that 1441 we are a little more virtuous than other nations in that respect. The Tories have always claimed to be the protectors of that principle. Here in this Blue Book is an admission of the fact that the means test is breaking up some home. It is amazing how some of the officers try to gloss over the fact. It is said that at Leeds "there are few individual cases." It is said that at Liverpool soon after the first appointed day there was a steady flow of cases in which men had left home by reason of the poverty of their parents and as a result of the allowances granted them. So one might take the 20 or 30 reports in which the officers analyse the charge that the means test is breaking up homes. It is in Manchester, I think, that it is said that there is a kind of nomad population, but that it is the kind of thing to be expected.
I deal with this matter because it is ore of the facts that have to be faced, and the new Regulations will have to deal with them. The Government recognise that in their political manifestos. We say that, however much the fact may be minimised, one of the basic charges against the means test is that admittedly men have to leave home as a, result of the test's operation. I had a man in my own home this week-end. He is getting on towards 50, a strong man, virile, capable of many years' work, and a very good worker, too. His pit has been closed. He has not been working for a year, and he is not likely to get work anywhere. His boys have been tought to look up to him; they have always been proud of their father as a worker. As a result of their earnings he was reduced to the receipt of a few shillings a week. The father as ashamed of the fact that he has to depend on the boys, and the boys are almost ashamed that they have to be placed in that relationship to their father. This is not a case in which you simply have a boy at home for a week or a month or two. It is the ease of a strong, good workman and a virtuous citizen who, as far as Government policy is concerned, is doomed to idleness for the rest of his days. Would anyone challenge the boys if they left home in such circumstances, so that the father could receive a bigger allowance? I should not.
That is an illustration of what is happening all over the country. The Minister should at least give some in- 1442 dication of what the Government intend to do about the means test and about the position of families and of the young men members of families. It is quite clear from the Report that the charge made by public men of all parties and by leaders of all sections of the churches, even accepting the Report as it stands, is true. The Minister ought to tell us how many have lost allowances as a result of the operations of the means test and how many had had their allowances reduced during the last 12 months. The operation of the means test is a serious matter. In the years 1931 to 1934, if the unemployed who are now on the means test had received the same amount as the rest of the men on benefit they would have received £60,000,000 more in that period. We do know that much about the four years previous to the operations of the Board, but we do not know how many have been deprived of income altogether and how many have had their incomes reduced since the coming of the Board.
There is one thing that the Report avoids mentioning. It does not mention the fact that an ex-soldier's Reserve pay, or a portion of it, is impounded for the purpose of the operations of the means test. That is one of the things about which the Secretary of State for War ought to know. A man who has given years of service in the Army and is in the Reserve gets his quarterly Reserve pay. When the pay comes, if he is unemployed it is calculated as income and he is deprived of the benefit of most of it in his home. Does the Minister deny that? He shakes his head as though he were questioning my statement. Let me give the right hon. Gentleman an instance that came my way about six months ago. A young man, unemployed, an ex-soldier, bought an overcoat, anticipating that when he received his quarterly Reserve pay he would be able to pay for the coat. When he received his quarterly pay the bulk of it was counted as income and he was deprived of that amount. If he had been in the Army he would have got an overcoat for nothing, but as things are he has had to find other ways of paying for the coat. Are the Government going to continue that system? There is no wonder that the Army does not get recruits if that kind of action becomes generally known among the friends and neighbours of ex-soldiers.
1443 There is another shameful matter—the taking into calculation of the increased wages of the miners granted during the past few months. In some cases men got is a day increase, and in some cases 6d., but when the increased pay was awarded, the Board at once, in households where there was unemployment, took the increased pay into calculation, and the result has been that the increase in wages wrested from the owners by public opinion and the threat of a stoppage, has actually gone to the credit of the Chancellor of the Exchequer through the Unemployment Assistance Board. We have seen the right hon. Gentleman on several occasions on this matter and implored him to do something, but, so far, he has not been able to do anything. The Board insists on carrying out this policy. There is not the slightest reference to it in the Report, and I submit that the right hon. Gentleman should give the Committee an explanation of the steps he is going to take about this grave question.
What is the result of the 12 months' administration of the Board? Is it satisfactory to this House and to the country? After 12 months the fact still remains that two out of every three men who offer themselves as recruits for the Army are physically unfit, and the Government make no secret of the fact that many of these recruits come from areas where unemployment is bad. I can speak for my own part of the country. On Saturday morning I took steps to find out the position so far as children were concerned. After 12 months operation of the means test in Durham, a Commissioner was put in charge. When he began, in 1932, 10,000 children were receiving milk on doctors' certificates in the schools. When he finished there were 20,000 on the charge of the local authorities receiving milk; and 12 months later there are now 25,000 children receiving milk in schools. Doctors are really alarmed at the state of the children in the area as compared with other areas.
I was talking to a doctor in my own home on Saturday evening. He is not a politician. He is a man who does his own duty, and is much concerned about the people to whom he ministers. He told me that 75 per cent. of the children who were sent to the isolation hospital in my own area for various kinds of sick- 1444 ness were the subject of malnutrition. That is the story all over the country. The right hon. Gentleman and the Board cannot blink the fact, that during the 12 months the Board has been in operation they not only have not touched the edge of the problems affecting work but that the physical condition of the people in the areas is getting worse. This doctor told me that it was almost impossible to deal with some people; they ought to get better, but it is hopeless trying to deal with them because they are hopeless themselves. That is the statement of a medical man who cannot be said to be overrun with sentiment, whose political opinions I do not know, but who is deeply concerned about the people to whom he has to minister, and he kept asking me what Parliament was going to do and what was going to happen to the people in these areas.
§ Mr. HENDERSON STEWART
Does the hon. Member suggest, or does he know, that the malnutrition is due to lack of food or to the quality of the food? Or what is the reason for the malnutrition?
§ Mr. LAWSON
I do not think there is any doubt about the matter. It is due to the fact that the people have not got sufficient purchasing power. For years their income has been growing less. In an area like Durham the Commissioner appointed by the Government so reduced the income of the unemployed that he took away more than £300,000 in purchasing power from the unemployed alone. Year after year they have been straining to make ends meet. The unemployment which comes under the Board is generally concentrated in the areas of Wales, Durham, Lancashire, Scotland, and about three or four of the big cities, where you have long-term unemployment. The matter is summed up in the question I am going to put to the Minister: When are the Government going to start to get the people in these areas some work? The right hon. Gentleman in answering a question by the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) gave some replies which were good debating points. His figures were accurate, but his answers ran the danger of conveying to the country generally—
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Mr. Ernest Brown)
I answered the questions, and that is all I can do at Question Time.
§ Mr. LAWSON
Yes, but I think the right hon. Gentleman seized the opportunity of making a debating point which would lead the House to a wrong conclusion. The fact is that in the centre of the coalfields, South Wales and Durham particularly, there is a continually decreasing number of people employed. What are the Government or the Board going to do for these people? When it comes to the remedial side it seems to me that the Board have stolen the thunder of the Minister of Labour. They suggest transference and training. Is that what the Board was set up to do? The Minister of Labour can do it far better than the Board. The Commissioner for the Special Areas also suggested transference and training. The Board is going to get into touch with social service organisations, but from one end of the report to the other there is not a single suggestion of any possibility of hope from the point of view of work for the people who have been unemployed for long periods.
What is the outlook of the Government on this question? Is it that the young people in Durham, South Wales and Lancashire are to be transferred Is it that these areas are to be deprived of the young life until there is nothing left but the aged and the hopeless? Are these areas in the future to be empty villages, long empty streets with here and there an aged person slipping about? They may give a battleship to the Tyne, but what is that going to do for the people in the centre of Durham? They may give a little commercial work at the ports in South Wales, but what is that going to do for the people in South Wales? The Report is barren of any suggestion for dealing with the problem. It is really getting to a stage when people who believe in this House and in its spirit are beginning to wonder whether to conduct it along orthodox lines is the right way of dealing with the condition of the people.
This Report is dangerous, because it reveals that the Board are still clinging to the spirit of the Regulations which failed. It attacks the standstill arrangement, and touches none of the problems affecting the unemployed in any constructive way. It justifies the means test which, as I have said, has deprived masses of people of some £60,000,000. It attacks the elective authority of local 1446 bodies. It misleads the public as to the real facts concerning great numbers of people whose lot every citizen laments. It justifies allowances and conditions which were repudiated by the nation, by this House and by the Government.
This Debate is a preliminary to Regulations which will affect the future of great masses of people whose lot every one laments, and I challenge the Minister to line up with the Board. There was a Minister who would not accept the Board's dictation, and he threw over the Regulations. There was a scene in this House last week which some of the newer Members might have thought very striking, when there was a debacle on the Government Benches such as they had scarcely dreamed possible when they entered the House; but hon. Members who were in the House when the Regulations were discussed, after having been in operation for a week or two, saw a sight on the Front Bench opposite which they had scarcely ever seen before. It seems to me that the Minister is lining up with the Board. If he accepts the spirit of the Report, he is in for disaster like the previous Minister. I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to accept this Report.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Mr. GRAHAM WHITE
I hope my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour will respond to the challenge made by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) and make clear to the Committee where he stands with regard to these Regulations. The right hon. Gentleman is in a somewhat peculiar position this afternoon because, for the first time, he has to deal with a Report concerning the administration of a body for which he is not responsible. That is a comparatively new innovation in our Constitution and one which I venture to think is not very satisfactory. This is a very interesting Report. We have had it before us for some days, and I think hon. Members will find that it will repay closer attention and study than they have been able to give it since it made its appearance. If one can disentangle it from the embellishments, and if one can dismiss from one's mind the vision of a company of guardian angels descending upon the distressed areas to remove in their beneficence the ills to which mankind is subject, one will nevertheless find much in 1447 the Report which is of importance and worthy of consideration.
The Report is of interest not only because of what is in it—and indeed because of some of its omissions—but also because of its nature. Parliament has set up several quasi—autonomous bodies to transact certain national business, and, like the bodies themselves, the Reports which they submit to Parliament are in the nature of an experiment. For that reason hon. Members would be well advised to look at the nature of the Report. We have an annual report from the British Broadcasting Corporation which I consider to be a faithful record of its transactions. Lately the operations of the British Broadcasting Corporation have been the subject of an inquiry and the Corporation was pleased to issue what was called a rejoinder to the report. That rejoinder was felt by many people at the time to be a little unusual. This Report of the Unemployment Assistance Board is also in the nature of a rejoinder. I do not know that I complain of that, because the Board have had very few friends, and I make no complaint if their Report is frankly in some respects a propagandist document. I think the Board are entitled to defend themselves, because there is nobody else who is willing to do so. We must bear that in mind. It is interesting to observe the general tenour of the Report as an indication of what the nature of the new Regulations which we are to have this spring or next spring—
§ Mr. WHITE
—whenever they do appear —is likely to be. There has been a great delay in the preparation of those Regulations. I am not sure whether those who have been pressing for them to be produced as quickly as possible have not been making a mistake. If this Report indicates, as I believe it does, a state of mind on the part of the Board very similar to that which prevailed at the time when the Regulations were introduced and rejected, then I think we may not look forward to any very pronounced change in the new Regulations. However, that remains to be seen. We know that the Board's view was that if they had had a reasonable chance all the difficulties would have been overcome. At that time the Board had not been able 1448 to appoint the advisory committees, nor had they been able to bring into operation the full machinery for exercising discretion and given a little time all would have been well. I would like in passing to ask my right hon. Friend to inform the Committee, if he can, where the authority for exercising discretion now resides. Is it still in the hands of a superior official or does it reside with the local officer? Where exactly does it reside?
I would like here to say that if I am critical of the Board, as I always have been critical of it from the very moment it was proposed, I am not altogether without sympathy for it in the task which it is trying to carry out. I recognise that the officials of the Board have a very heartbreaking and very difficult job. So far as my experience goes, within the limits of what they are allowed to do under the Regulations, they are trying to carry out their task in a human way. The administration of the Board has improved since the first days of their operations. Discretion has been brought into play and it is something which, in fact, is capable of arithmetical definition. It is 20 per cent. better than it was, because the number of cases in which discretion has been exercised is 20 per cent. of the total. There is thus a means by which we can measure the improvements that have taken place.
§ Mr. WHITE
My hon. Friend will, no doubt, develop that point. My criticism of the Board and their operations must be tempered by the fact that they have been given an impossible task. There has been much talk of anomalies of one kind and another, but the biggest anomaly of all is the existence of the Board. There is no scope in any well—ordered system of social services in this country for this autonomous or semiautonomous body thrust in between the unemployment insurance system on the one side and the health and educational services on the other. When the Board are asked to perform the task of relieving the needs of a specified category of unemployed people, they are dealing with a class which in actual fact has no real existence. Poverty in a great multi- 1449 tude of cases, as the Board point out in their Report, is a family affair. It does not arise solely from the fact of unemployment, but from a very large number of reasons. The Board in their Report speak of co-operation with the other authorities, and I am glad to find that there is co-operation. Indeed, it would be shocking if there was not; nobody thought they would not co-operate to the best of their ability.
It is, however, clear that there must always be overlapping and uncertainty. If there is a family which, for one reason or another, is below the poverty line or on it, and if it requires help from the State, it is in my opinion a sound and inescapable principle that the fewer authorities which have a hand in the job the better. The more authorities there are the more uncertainty and delay there will be, and the less likely it is that the particular needs of the family will be met promptly and adequately. There is an inevitable shifting of responsibility and uncertainty as to where the responsibility lies. My own experience is that that sort of thing works to the detriment of those who come under the Board. '[here are one or two other matters—not perhaps of the first importance but nevertheless important—with regard to which the Board have shown wisdom. In the first place, with regard to their schemes for training and instruction, they have relied, and I hope will continue to rely, upon the experience of the services already set up by the Ministry of Labour. I think the Board are well advised to arrange for such co-operation as they can from such bodies as the college at Wincham Hall. I have heard from those who have attended courses there that those courses are very valuable. I am glad to know that the Board are at last proposing to set up their advisory committees. The proposed scheme for the establishment of those committees appears to me to be sound and the best which can be devised in the circumstances.
I think the proposal to invite local authorities to nominate representatives on the advisory committees is a sound one, as is also the proposal to draw upon some of the members or panels of the advisory committees of the Ministry of Labour itself. They, of course, have experience in these matters, and 1450 again one is driven to ask, Why not use these committees; why duplicate all this machinery? The committees under the control of my right hon. Friend have much experience in these matters, and have in most cases drawn into their ranks those who are most readily available and most keenly interested in trying to develop that kind of work. The number of those who are qualified in any act to render this kind of service is limited and there may be a tendency to believe that the advisory committees of the Board are a sort of second best to those already using the machinery of the Ministry of Labour. That is not desirable.
The duties of the new committees will be confined, it is true, to some of the most difficult and I may add some of the most disagreeable tasks which the Board will have to perform, but there is no question of any committee being given authority to recommend or give advice in regard to the scale of remuneration which is to be paid. That is an omission which I find difficult to square with the declaration of the Government in their Election manifesto in regard to the means test that any changes which were brought about would have to be in conformity with local public opinion. I think the sooner the committees are brought into operation the better.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street referred to the operation of the means test in its relation to family life. It has been said, and I repeat the statement, that the operation of the means test in the name of the family is breaking up families. The Report states that that is taking place. I do not know to what extent it is taking place. I can speak only from my own experience, just as other hon. Members can speak only within the range of their own knowledge on these matters. But my impression is that the statements in the Report in this regard are under-statements rather than over-statements. It is, of course, impossible to say, and no doubt the position varies from district to district. But I remember that the Government manifesto issued on the eve of the Election said that the Government attached particular importance to the maintenance of family unity. I hope they will not make the mistake of thinking that family unity is 1451 ensured simply because the people remain under the same roof.
The real charge against the means test is not that it involves a son or a father leaving home from time to time, but that it is changing the whole basis of family life. The natural sentiments of devotion of respect and of duty are being undermined, and the relationships between the members of the family are being assessed on a cash basis. That is the real trouble, and I hope that whatever Regulations may be introduced, the Government will bear that fact in mind. I have read of the way in which the Board deal with the various difficult cases which come before them, and from the report it would appear that every effort is being made to deal with them, but there is no question that, as a poor woman said to me in a crowded street only last week, "The means test has been the cause of more rows between fathers and sons than anything else in the world."
A youth came in to see me the other day to tell me of the situation in which he had been placed under the means test, and to ask me what he ought to do. Incidentally this will be a test of the popularity of the Board and the satisfaction which it gives to its clients. In my experience I do not think I have ever heard any of its clients speak about the Unemployment Assistance Board. They call it "the means test." This youth told me he had got an assessment of half-a-crown and that when he returned home and told his father, his father had put him out. An old lady further down the street had taken him in for 6s. a week, and he already owed her 30s. What is the action of the Board in a case of that kind? I do not know whether they have paid the old lady the 30s., but they advised the boy to return to a home in which there were resources, and they advised the father to take the boy back. They could not ensure that advice would be accepted.
That leads me to another matter on which I wish to put a specific point. I would like to have an answer on this point from the Minister to-day if it is possible, and I propose to illustrate the point by another example. This is the case of a household consisting of father, mother, a son who is incapable of work, 1452 an unemployed youth who is the applicant, and two sisters. The father is an old-age pensioner. The two sisters were in work and drawing good money, and for some time, as in so many other cases, they provided practically all that is coming in to the home. One of them, however, was saving in order to be married, and eventually they left home. There was distress in the family and the mother persuaded them to come back. They said they would only come back on these terms—that they paid 10s. a week for their rooms and no more, and provided their own food.
That is not an isolated instance. The Board make a family assessment and they allocate so much for this one and so much for another, but if those amounts are not paid by the persons who have the money, what is to happen? The custom which I have indicated is spreading and will defeat the whole arrangement, unless grave hardship is to be placed upon the remaining numbers of the household. The question which I wish to put is this: What is the practice of the Board in those cases where an assessment is made but where the assessment is not carried out by those who have the money? We feel that there is no permanent solution of the problem in the organisation of our social services on this basis. A centralised relief service for a special category of unemployed cannot fit into any well-organised, well thought out scheme.
I should not be in order on this occasion in discussing the lines which reorganisation ought to take, but many of the tasks which are now being done by the Board could be taken in its stride by the Ministry of Labour on its own responsibility. We have yet to see the result of the administration of the Board upon the unemployment insurance scheme itself. It is still too early to estimate the effect upon the situation of this new competitor—I use the word advisedly—coming into the same field of work as our local health services and education services. Nothing is more urgently needed than a little clear thinking on this point. If the country were to decide that its poverty services should be centralised, that would be an intelligible policy, but we ought to make up our minds as to the lines on which these services are going to be developed. As the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street has said, you cannot deal with poverty on 1453 these lines and by machinery of this kind. What is wanted is work of a constructive character, and neither the duty of humanity nor the responsibility of the State in this matter can be discharged by means of machinery which is clearly out of date.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Sir ROBERT ASKE
I think the best commentary upon the arguments contained in the Report and upon those used in the Debate so far, is to be found in the statistical tables of the Report itself, supplemented as they are by certain short tables which the Minister of Labour was good enough to supply in answer to questions put by me a fortnight ago. From those tables one finds that the average weekly payment, including payment for dependents, made under the transitional payments arrangement—that is just before these Regulations came into force —was 21s. 11d. The average unemployment allowance after the Regulations at the end of December was 23s. 4d., and at the present time is Ms. 6d. In other words, the effect has been to confer an average increase per applicant per week of is. 7d. That is a significant fact. Appendix 8 shows what that amounts to in actual payments per annum, and one finds that in the last recorded period before the Regulations the number of applicants was 720,000, and there was a total payment at the rate of £41,000,000 per annum. At the end of December after the Regulations, payments were being made at the rate of £1,000,000 more per annum for 690,000 applicants.[HON. MEMBERS: "Transitional payments."] I am taking the difference between the average amount paid before the Regulations came into force and the average weekly payment which is made now.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I follow that, but the hon. Member is to be reminded that we are now working under a standstill arrangement in which the applicant has the best of it either, way, and the increase to which he refers is partly due to the fact that in many cases the applicant is getting more under the standstill arrangement.
§ Sir R. ASKE
What the hon. Member says is obvious. Of course there is a standstill arrangement, but I am pointing out that under the existing adminis- 1454 tration £1,000,000 more is being paid to a reduced number of applicants.
§ Mr. LAWSON
But the hon. Gentleman is overlooking the fact that more than half those applicants, nearly 400,000 of them in fact, according to an answer given by the Minister, are on a scale higher than the Board's standard.
§ Sir R. ASKE
I am not overlooking anything. The table is published here and is sufficiently simple to be understood by the meanest intelligence. All I am indicating is the fact, which it is impossible to challenge, that £1,000,000 per annum more is at present being paid to a number of applicants which has been reduced by 27,000. Of course there is the standstill arrangement in operation, and it is impossible to look at the situation without taking the standstill arrangement into account.
§ Sir R. ASKE
It amounts to this, that, taken over the same number of applicants, there is an increased payment being made now of £2,500,000 per annum as compared with the date just before the Regulations came into existence. It is interesting also to bear in mind one other figure which is given in the Minister's answer, namely, that the average amount paid per week in transitional benefit, that is, the amount being paid during the last Labour Administration, was only 20s. 7d. as against 21s. 11d. in transitional payment just before the Regulations came into existence. Those are primary factors which have to be borne in mind, but in order to ascertain what the real effect of the Regulations has been, having regard to this larger payment, one has to go to another table which the Minister has supplied. That indicates that, taking the figures for Great Britain, 45 per cent. of applicants are now being paid according to Unemployment Assistance Regulations and 56 per cent. are being paid according to transitional payment practice. Under the former head are all the cases where the Regulations scale is either equal to or more than the public assistance scale, so that 44 per cent. of people are being paid at a sum equal to or more than the public assistance scale, but 56 per 1455 cent. would have been paid at a rate less than the public assistance scale but for the standstill agreement.
That is a most significant and important fact which emerges from these Regulations and this Report, coupled with the Minister's reply, and that is an entirely different situation from what was stated to this House by the then Minister of Labour. I do not believe there was a Member of this House who would have voted for the Unemployment Bill or would not have opposed the Regulations had it been known that more than half the people in this country who were receiving unemployment payments would have actually been brought down to a level which was less than the public assistance level. The whole purport of the speeches made in this House was that these people ought to be put upon a level above that of public assistance instead of being reduced below it.
I am quite aware of the fact that included in that 56 per cent. must be a percentage, which may be great or small, of cases where the local public assistance committee may not have been administering according to law. The Minister agrees, and no doubt that is so, and that is why I obtained from the Minister the figures for Newcastle—on—Tyne, where throughout the system has been strictly administered according to law and where the public assistance figures have been applied to transitional payments. There one finds a very different percentage. The percentage who are being paid according to the regulations is 70 and the percentage who are being paid according to transitional payment practice is 30. That is a fair picture. It may be that if one took in all cases throughout the country of the strict application of public assistance scales, that might be a fair guide. At all events, I am certain it is a fair guide in the North—East of England. That means that, but for the standstill arrangement, 30 per cent. of our people would have been brought down to below the public assistance scale, a scale of which I have complained in this House many times as being far too meagre and niggardly.
I have had what I believe to be a reliable investigation made in my area of typical cases, and I find that those transitional payment scales, after taking into account what one may call the nor- 1456 mal first charges of a working-class household, such as rent, fuel, light, insurance, clothing, boot bills, newspapers, and matters of that kind, leave in a large percentage of cases less than 3s. per head per week for food. That is far below any figure of nutrition which, I am sure, any Minister in this House would wish to fix, and these being actual facts, which are proved to demonstration by these statistics, everyone in this House is amply justified in an attitude of hostility in approaching these Regulations. What I feel about the matter is that any body of persons who could conceive of Regulations which would bring 30 per cent. of our people below the meagre public assistance scale are people who are not fit to hold their jobs, and I think the sooner there are placed on that board some persons with a firsthand, practical knowledge of the conditions of working-class homes, the better it will be for all concerned.
The only further comment I would make is that this disparity is due to various causes. The first one is that a reduced allowance is paid because of low rents. In my view that consideration ought to be entirely ignored. In an industrial area, if people are paying a low rent; so low that it has to be brought into account in their allowances, it is due either to the fact that they are living in overcrowded conditions, or to the fact that the house is sadly lacking in conveniences for cooking, or washing, or for keeping food, and other matters of that kind, and the people who live in those houses are put to extra expense in consequence of all those matters, in addition to the inconvenience which they have to suffer. Another matter is the reduction of is a head when there are more than five in the family. That, with the other matters which I have mentioned, is quite contrary to public assistance practice and experience, and I think that ought to go as well.
But, as hon. Members who have preceded me have indicated, the family means test is the most serious consideration of all, and is the factor which has caused the greatest unrest and has undoubtedly led to a deep-seated feeling of injustice. The people absolutely fail to appreciate why it should have been brought, at all events in its present form, into the consideration of what men who 1457 are unemployed ought to receive, particularly having regard to the fact that these men have to be kept in such a physical condition that they are able to take their place in the industrial economy whenever work is available for them. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman who preceded me said on this topic. It is idle for any of the officials of this Board to suggest that the operation of this family means test is not breaking up family life. We know scores and hundreds of cases in our own area where it happens, but, reading the Report, it would appear as though the officials of the Board think that applicants are going to advertise the fact that they are leaving home because of the Regulations. Obviously that is the last thing that they would disclose to the officials of the Board. Take the case of an applicant who is a married man with a family, and a son who is working and earning £3 a week, and he has his allowances reduced, probably by 30s., because of that. Do the officials recognise that in a very considerable percentage of cases the applicant does not get the 30s.? The sons in many cases refuse to pay it. There is no means of making them pay, and as a consequence one finds that there is malnutrition in all these homes; there is an inadequate sum available for the food table of the house.
I invite the Minister very seriously to consider the continuance of this matter. It really is not worth it from any point of view, either financial or otherwise. There are no obligations, legal or moral, of which I am aware, on a brother to contribute to the maintenance of his brothers and sisters. Why should it be imported into a system of this kind? I strongly suggest to the Minister that if he wishes the new Regulations to be welcomed by the community at large, and to work satisfactorily, he ought seriously to consider the wiping out of that factor of the family means test, in order to make the whole scheme run far more smoothly. If you want to have a means test at all, why is not an individual means test, the means of the applicant, sufficiently applicable? I venture to make these suggestions for the consideration of the Minister.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
I have listened with the greatest interest to various hon. Members who have addressed the Com- 1458 mittee on this very difficult problem, and I am certain that hon. Members in all parts of the House are realising more and more the extreme difficulty of dealing with this question. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) rather looked back to the time when the local authorities were in complete control as a time when all was well. During that time all of us who were in the House discovered difficulties owing to the fact that people in different local areas were receiving entirely different amounts. We saw glaring anomalies, and the majority of hon. Members were anxious to find some better treatment—I do not put it higher than that—and to find something that would work better. New machinery has been set up, and the more we study that problem and the more we study the Report, the more we realise that any new machinery must be tested and tried to see if it is satisfactory. Hon. Members have pointed out that a central authority perhaps cannot deal with this subject, but I think that I am right in saying that over and over again in, the past hon. Members opposite have wanted to try some central machinery in order to see whether it would work out more fairly to the applicants of different areas.
We all agree that although central machinery may be necessary, there must be a large amount of local and personal discretion. In the Report that we have before us we read of discretion that can be used by the Board, especially in the case of sickness, and I would like to ask my right hon. Friend whether he will deal with this power and tell us something more about it. Can it be wielded speedily enough? I am frightened that in some cases the applicant may have to wait because a particular official of the Board may not have the authority, and the really serious time in the sickness may have passed before the discretionary power can have been used. It is all very well to say that the money will come in afterwards and that the result on the year's income will be the same, but it is at that particular time that the power of discretion should be used quickly. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Sir R. Aske), ended, as most hon. Members do, with discussing the family means test—probably the biggest problem of all. Hon. Members in the official Opposition have clearly declared their policy, which is that 1459 there should be no family means test whatever. We know their point of view and it is clear. I am sorry that the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) is not here now, because I wanted to know whether that was also the policy of those who sit on the Liberal benches.
§ Mr. KINGSLEY GRIFFITH
It was declared 18 months ago, about five or six times, by myself in this House. Of course, the hon. Lady is not always here.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
I am here more often than the hon. Member is, but I regret very deeply if there is a single speech of the hon. Member to which I have not listened. Every time I hear him speak I am interested, and I am sorry if I have missed one of his speeches in which he made clear that he and his colleagues definitely stand for no means test.
§ Mr. GRIFFITH
The hon. Lady referred to "family means test." Now she says, "no means test," leaving out "family."
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. His position may have been made clear in one of his speeches, which I deeply regret I did not hear. I think that I am right when I say that in some cases it has not been made clear, and I wished to know for certain that those who sit on the Liberal benches do clearly state that there should be no means test bar the means test of the one individual receiving the allowance. I am sorry to have misled the Committee, but I wanted to know what the position was, because, although I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for East Birkenhead, I do not think that he made it clear that that was the case. I am not sure that my hon. Friend, who also represents Dundee (Mr. Foot), put that case to the electorate, but now we know for certain that the Liberal opposition stand for doing away with the family means test and that the test should be on the applicant only.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Newcastle-upon-Tyne said that there should not be any means test as between brothers and sisters and that there was no legal tie. I am not sure whether he thought there should be a means test as between parents and children. One of the difficulties that 1460 comes up is to decide whether a man earning, say, £6 a week should have to contribute in Any way to the keep of his son should the son be still unemployed after six months. That is a point that I hope will be considered. The right hon. Gentleman knows that every Member has criticised, and continued to criticise, the way in which the machinery of the means test is working. I have done so over and over again, and I am not yet convinced that we should go as far as to say that a parent in the case I have mentioned is in no way liable to contribute towards the keep of his son or daughter who is living with him, if he has sufficient means. The whole difficulty is to know where to draw the line. In the last Parliament I brought cases to the notice of the Minister when I said that the people residing in a particular house were not a family but almost like tribe, with uncles, aunts, brothers-in-law, and so on, brought in. The whole subject is fraught with difficulty, and I am not as yet convinced that the parent should entirely have taken away the responsibility of contributing to his son or daughter. There must be some scheme, and that is evidently where I do not agree with hon. Members on the Liberal benches.
The question of rents was mentioned by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and I would like to stress that matter. I know of cases where, although a low rent may on paper seem to be a great advantage for the occupant of a particular house, it is not anything of the sort. In many low-rented houses the amount that is paid on the weekly gas bill would make the rent far higher than the rents of many more modern houses. I have tested that very carefully. I have taken a large number of houses where there were ill-lit, almost underground dens, where no human beings ought to be living, and I have examined what is spent on light. When that amount is added to the rent I have found that these people have to pay as much as those living in much better houses. These amounts should not be taken off the allowances because of low rents. My hon. Friend spoke of the discomfort and misery of living in low-rented houses. There are various things that add up to make it far more expensive than living in houses with higher rents, and I hope that the Minister will 1461 not think in terms of so many shillings paid for the actual rent, but will think of what is the cost of existing in some of these appalling slums. In this Report we find that on more than one page, and particularly on page 55 under the heading of "General," it is pointed out—and many of us have realised it—that in a great many cases adjustments have been made and that many applicants do not know, that, if they would go to the offices of the Board and discuss their circumstances and put the facts to them, improvements may be made. That paragraph states:In a number of cases new facts not previously revealed by the initial investigation a re disclosed, on the basis of which adjustments in allowances are made.It is very difficult when you are dealing with new machinery to make clear to the people how the machinery works. I wish that more could be done somehow or other to tell the people in the country what chances they have. A great many people to whom I have spoken and suggested that they should go and discuss the matter, say, "That means an appeal, and I would rather wait until I get more facts." When, however, I have urged them to discuss the matter, pointing put that it is not an official appeal, adjustments have often been made. Fuller information ought to be given to the applicants as to what their rights are and the necessity, if they feel they are not getting a fair deal, of putting their cases to the officers of the Board, for I feel that in many cases all the facts have not been before them. I am trying to keep entirely away from the sums of money and actual allowances and the question of whether they are sufficient or insufficient. We shall be discussing that subject in a short time. I have already stressed the subject of sickness and the subject of discretion in the giving of extra help at a particular time. This Report shows that in various districts money is given for the purchase of blankets and to meet difficult circumstances of one kind and another, and I would like to ask my right hon. Friend whether he is certain that these efforts are being made in all districts. Exactly how is it arranged? Where discretion is used, does my right hon. Friend think that in all districts under these Regulations the same discretion is being used and that these 1462 difficult cases are being treated in the same way?
Lastly, I must say a word on the subject of which we hear so much, that of malnutrition. We often discuss this subject simply in connection with unemployment allowances or some scheme to deal with poverty. We ought to be discussing it in connection with schemes of education. Just as I think that in a great many cases applicants for assistance do not realise how that assistance can be obtained, so I think that all have far too little knowledge of what is the best food to give the most nourishment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I know that hon. Members will say that in stating this I imply that people who are poor could be well nourished and that it is their own fault if they are not. I do not say that in the least, but I do think—and it ought to be said, and said with courage in spite of the jeers outside and sometimes in this House that we maintain that people can be well nourished on a small amount of money—that there ought to be, especially where there is a small income, further education as to the best way that income can be made out. We hear from medical officers that if they could—I do not think they could, because it would mean interfering with the individual—guide better the food that was chosen, there would be less malnutrition. That word is used in this House in connection with undernourishment, but I think that there is a, good deal of lack of food, especially in houses where high rents have to be paid. I do not disagree with hon. Members on that subject, but the people who study the matter, not simply from the point of view of public assistance or unemployment, say that there is a lamentable ignorance about food values.
This lack of knowledge is not confined to the common people, but it is evident also among the rich. Over and over again we hear in some pronouncement that children ought to be fed on this or that, and of children whose nourishment is lacking in certain food values. It is no insult to the intelligence of the poor to say that sufficient education has not been provided about nutrition. I think the subject of nutrition should be studied by all who are interested in the people of this country, and that poor people who have little to lay out ought to 1463 be provided with much more guidance. Instructional centres could teach the people more about food values, and they ought to be taught, and then I think we should see some hope that the money would be laid out to the best advantage from the point of view of securing the highest nutrition values in foodstuffs.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Lady was perfectly in order in raising this point, but I do not think she ought to go too far in developing it. The question of food values is a long way from the subject of this Debate.
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
On a point of Order. It may be necessary for some Members of the Committee who feel inclined to do so to reply to the very interesting speech being made by the hon. Lady, and I submit that the terms of reference under which the Board are acting includes the administration of allowances and—
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member is now raising a quite unnecessary point of Order. I am quite aware of the points he seems to be raising, and so far as I know there is no reason to suppose that he or any other hon. Member will not have the opportunity of answering what has already been said.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
I am sorry if I have gone too far in what I have said, but I should like to add that I think the whole question of nutritional values should be looked into, and that in particular in cases of under-feeding more knowledge ought to be available. In conclusion I would only say this: We all agree that those who wrote this Report would be likely to put before us all the good work that has been done and perhaps not so likely to include all their sins of omission or commission, but after listening to the speeches about the Report I think that, on the whole, the criticisms of the work done have not been very severe. I think most of us are inclined to feel that what we would like are not further explanations of what is in the Report, but information on many 1464 things which are not in the Report, but about those I had better not begin to ask questions in case I should be out of order.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I do not want to follow the hon. Lady the Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) in her remarks about the value of education in regard to nutrition and foodstuffs. I hate to say hard things, particularly to a lady, but I remember that when it was a question of appointing an Under-Secretary for Scotland her name was associated with a rumour in the public Press in Scotland, and I must confess that after having heard her speech to-day I thank God for what Scotland missed. Her speech to-day about the poor feeding wrongly and about all this education business in connection with nutrition filled me with feelings of revulsion. My wife, when I married her, had little experience of domestic affairs. She had been in a shop and had little knowledge of cooking, and she thought she could do what the hon. Lady suggested, but after three months' experience of going to these so-called educational classes she became convinced that what they taught was a most expensive way of feeding people. I am afraid that if my mother had acted on the lines of what is taught in those places I should not have been here at the present time. As one who has never for a week missed visiting the people in his constituency I say that to me the marvel is how well the poor feed their children and how well they are clothed, and they do not need offensive lectures from people of the middle class, however well intentioned.
I turn from that to discuss the work of the Board itself. I am not going to lay on the Board jobs which it is not theirs to do. I am not going to criticise the Board because they have not formed a plan for finding work for people, because I do not think that is their job, and indeed, I should not wish to make it their job. They have already proved to be too incompetent for other jobs, without forcing that one on them. Therefore, I differ from the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), who took them to task about not finding work schemes. I am not a keen looker for work. I confess that. This idea of chasing work, of finding "Queen Marys" and battleships to 1465 construct, has very little place in my philosophy. In reading this Report I get the impression that the idea of work is not a very handsome one. What does the chairman of the Board say? The great idea of this chairman, who used to appear so kindly and benevolent when he was sitting with us in this House, is that the unemployed are coming to be paid more than the fellows who are at work. That is one of his themes. What a criticism that is of the system under which we live, when the chairman of the Board says, "Watch, or you will be paying them more for doing no work."
What a criticism that is of the conditions under which men are employed at the present time. The mine owners, as a result of economic conditions which have given them a stranglehold over the miners, have been able to lower wages and conditions of employment to a level which is indefensible. The chairman of this Board, who gets £5,000 a year to live on, says the conditions which are forced on the mining community must be the conditions which the miners must have. I confess to feeling cynical about present-day conditions. Last week the House of Commons was packed for a foreign affairs Debate, but to-day, with an issue of even greater importance, the House seems to be almost listless. The hon. Lady for Dundee got up and questioned and cross-questioned, like a Norman Birkett, those who sit on these benches and those who sit on the Labour benches. She wanted to know how we stood about the family means test. I say to the Members of the Labour party anal the Members of the Liberal party—I hope not offensively, because I am not trying to be offensive—that if this Report proves anything it proves that there must either be a cruel means test or none at all.
To those Liberals who say, "We would have a means test, but not a family test," I say, "Look at page 80 of the Report," which deals with applicants who had resources. That shows that of the resources £15,700,000 represented "earnings of other members of household"—that is, 64 per cent. were the earnings of other members, of brothers and sisters and others. The sum of £5,500,000, or 22 per cent., represented "other income of other members of the household." Then there was £1,600,000 as "earnings of applicants." They were doing some sort of 1466 spare time work—perhaps a branch secretary of a union. Branch secretaries of my own unions have their little pennies assessed. Then there is the figure of £1,750,000 representing "other income of applicants." That other income includes superannuation money, soldiers' pensions, widows' pensions. When we have deducted all these other sources of income we are left with the handsome total of less than 3 per cent. due to no income at all. Once when I challenged the whole basis of the means test Tory Members got up and said, "Would you pay the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. de Rothschild) unemployment benefit?" I said then that if people wanted to catch the so-called rich they could spend a fortune on catching them—if they thought it worth while. In my view it was not worth while. I said further, that in view of all the Regulations for getting even standard benefit which had to be complied with—the signing-on, the going to jobs, the search for work—no rich man even among the working classes would ever claim it. I am sorry the right hon. Member for West Stirling (Mr. T. Johnston) is not here, because I wanted to say a word about him. His paper "Forward" published the so-called rich people under the Anomalies Act. It is a lie, an untruth, to say that there are rich people among the working class, and I regret that a Member should have done it.
Another thing of which I have to complain is the shocking offensiveness of the district reports. Superior men who earn more than £1,000 a year write shockingly offensive things such as are to be found in the Report of the London District No. 2, under the heading of "Fraud." I am not a native of London, but the chairmanship of my union has taught me to have a great regard for the people of London. The tremendous toleration they have in matters of religion and in other respects is, I think, wonderful. The author of that district report says, "The following case is typical," and goes on to talk about a man with a wife and six children who had an allowance of 50s. and committed some kind of fraud. It is said that that was typical, and yet we read at the end of the Report that there are fewer than 400 cases of fraud in the whole country. Out of 400 cases there were fewer than 200 criminal indictments. "This is typical"—as if the applicants 1467 were all committing fraud. I would say to the offensive gentleman who wrote this, this contemptible type, that the applicants are possibly more honest than he is.
A man is entitled, in this House, to put in a plea for generous treatment. Running all through this Report is the suggestion that the poor were always mean. There was a painful incident in this House, when an ex-Cabinet Minister was in a painful position. I never wanted to harangue that man or to kick him unduly, but I think this House dealt with him terribly generously and, possibly, at the end of the day, rightly generously. The Government pleaded for generous treatment, but if they can ask that for an ex-Cabinet Minister, is it too much to ask them for generosity for 1,500,000 people who are living in poverty, in slums and in overcrowded conditions? Is it too much to ask that the same House of Commons that could be generous to an ex-Cabinet Minister might be generous to them? Or have you a different code for your own people? Do you look upon these folk as different?
Another offensive gentleman comes along with an amount of benevolence, a Samuel Smiles, with a sort of "I am a good Samaritan, handing it out." He speaks, on page 280, of an applicant of 23, a bit of a lad who got married, and was leaving his wife, aged 19, and an infant child. The two were interviewed and reconciled and clothing was supplied by a local organisation "on our recommendation," and, it adds:the domestic prospects are now brighter.Then there is another one, on another page, where the family has been split up. They were not getting on too well. The Board came along and made a grant of £2, and now the family are living happily ever after. I see the hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. Guy) sitting here. He is a Scottish barrister. How easy it would be if a barrister could secure domestic happiness for a couple of quid. The Board's Report should be called, "How to secure domestic happiness cheaply." If I could do it for two quid I would do it any day. The Board should cease to be an Unemployment Board and should be a domestic relations Board.
1468 I happen to know some of the Board. I know the chairman. I knew him for 12 years in this House, and worked close to him. He is a very decent man, but he is not so awfully clever. He is the ordinary average Member, lucky to get in. There is one from Glasgow, Mr. Reynard, who made his reputation by defying the law. This man becomes offensive. I remember when the first 7s. 6d. of National Health Insurance was to be exempt. I went to him and I said: "Why do you not apply the law?" He said: "I am not going to apply the law. It is not right," and he ordered me out of his room. It was to the credit of the then Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the late Mr. Skelton, that that man was compelled to carry out the law. That is the type of man that is here, and the type that is offensive. The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. G. White) said that the Board were outside Parliamentary control, and the hon. Lady the Member for Dundee made a pious speech about the future. What is the use? This Board will decide the Regulations, along with those officials who are showing arrogance now.
What is amazing me is that this Board were out to attack the unemployed, and they have done it. They have sought every kind of case. There is a fellow from Glasgow 2, whom I have known for 25 years, since I was a boy. He comes along with arrogance and talks about this, which is one of the bad cases:The household consists of the applicant, his father and mother, and six brothers and sisters, the youngest of whom is 21 years of age.The total income in that case is £10 4s., and they get an allowance of 17s. That family, consisting of six adults and the mother and father, a total of eight, had £10 4s., and then they get 17s., and that is terrible. But the man who writes it gets £10 a week, nay, £16 per week, for his wife and about one child. The offensiveness of it. I know him and he is no smarter than the men he is criticising. They pick out another case:The household consists of three applicants (brothers), their father and mother, and six other brothers and sisters, the youngest of whom is aged 20.They have an income of about £10 6s.
That is the best that the Board can do, to save a miserable sum, compared with what the Government are spending. I 1469 would not be in order to discuss the armaments programme of this Government, but the Board's total saving is round about £25,000,000. In order to get that saving, we have set up a Board at a cost of over £2,000,000 and also at a cost of the imprisonment of others and the breaking up of family life. All through this Report they say: "We do not know about family life." Why? Because the applicant takes care to hide it. If he admitted that he was breaking up family life he would not get an allowance. He keeps it back, or he denies it. The hellishness of the system is leading to a great act of benevolence; the Tyne is to get a battleship for £8,000,000. That means £8,000,000 for death, and is one-third of the total saving of this Board.
If the Report demonstrates anything it is, as an hon. Member said, that the Board cannot be trusted with the work of the future. It entirely proves that the sooner we get back to putting the unemployed all together, the better. I refuse to accept the belief that a man with 30 stamps on his card is better than a man with 24, or that the man who can get 10 stamps is better than the poor devil who can get only nine. I refuse to accept the belief that the unemployed in Durham, Wales and Lanarkshire, after their weary years of unemployment, are different from the unemployed in a city like Birmingham, where trade has been fairly prosperous. The Board may deny that they are cutting up the unemployed and that there are two classes, but they have got two classes. Is it not a fact that employers, when they send for a man, want a man who is on standard benefit? Those men are the most fit and are least likely to have had their physical powers depreciated. Employers demand them first. The other men belong to another section of the community, the depressed section, the untouchable.
I say to the Minister to-day: Spend your millions. I listened to a Debate in this House in which it was stated that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet were underpaid, and this House carried the Resolution for better pay. This House can spend money on Armes and in telling us that we have all to be ready to arm; surely, with all its so-called generousness, this Committee might say to the Minister to-day: "This board is ended. Away with this contemptible report, that 1470 ought to be torn in two, slashed and sent into limbo"—from which I hope it would never emerge.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. DAGGAR
The report now under discussion seeks to justify, as one would expect, the Regulations which were condemned not only by Members of this House but by the whole of the country, a condemnation which compelled the Government to suspend the operation of the Regulations at that time, and found a manifestation in the resignation of the Minister of Labour who was in office at the time when the Regulations were issued. I trust that the present Minister of Labour will not ignore the fate of his predecessor. Repeated inquiries have been made with regard to the issue of new Regulations. I hope that the present Government and the Minister of Labour will not forget the past because, if justice is not meted out to the unemployed, whose circumstances are cruel enough, we, on these benches, shall not hesitate to organise opposition to the new Regulations.
It is patent to any person who has read the document which is now under discussion that it has been compiled to order. Practically every one of the 28 reports of district officers deals with precisely the same subjects, especially when discussing the allegation that we made on more than one occasion, that the Regulations would have the effect of breaking up the homes of the people. The evidence submitted in the report consists largely of the opinions held by the district officers, and is most unreliable and unsatisfactory. An instance of what I mean is this statement, contained in the report submitted by one of the district officers:In those cases, therefore, where no allowance or additional allowance is made the applicant leaving home, and the applicant returns home, it would seem that the method of administration has tended to consolidate rather than to break up those homes.There is plenty of material to assist in coming to the conclusion that the administrative application of the means test has broken up homes in this country, and, to those who are continually talking about the sanctity of home, I would say that in my opinion, if it breaks up one home, the regulation responsible for that stands condemned.
1471 The most striking feature of the Report is that the Board defends the Regulations by emphasising the value of the "standstill" agreement, but it is necessary to bear in mind that the Regulations nevertheless constitute the basis upon which allowances are made at the present moment, and they contain the pernicious, indefensible means test. As the general character of the Report has been examined, I propose to deal with a few particular points, because I consider that it would be regrettable if Members of the House formed the opinion that the advertised generosity of the Board was general, or that the cases referred to in the Report were typical of the manner in which applicants are treated either by the Board or by its officers. The Board point out in the Report that the Unemployment Act, 1934, did not define the term "need" —which is quite correct—and go on to state that there is no absolute criterion or scientific basis of need, and that they were guided by consideration of an allowance thatwould be adequate to permit some variety of diet, and some command over items which, having formerly been luxuries, are now conventional necessaries.That, I submit, is the most callous and brutal piece of irony to be found in any Government publication, when the average allowance per unemployed person amounts to a miserable 23s. per week. What articles at one time considered luxuries can be purchased out of 23s. per week? You cannot maintain an ordinary diet upon that allowance. On Thursday of last week a question was put to the right hon. Gentleman, and, in reply, he stated that 24,000 children from the distressed areas were sent to various holiday reconditioning camps, and the weight of each of those children increased on an average by 3.48 lbs. in 14 days. It is admitted that the children are generally, if not invariably, the last to suffer from the effects of industrial depression which finds its expression in unemployment. Have the Board never read the recent report issued by Sir John Orr, in which he showed that this country the number of persons—and this state of affairs can only exist among those who have been unemployed for a long time—who are in the position of not being able to spend more than a paltry 4s. per head per week on food is 4,500,000, or 10 per cent. of the population; while 9,000,000, or 20 per 1472 cent. of the population, are not in a position to spend more on food than 9s. per head per week. These statements can be borne out by reference to other authorities in this country. If our people were in a position to purchase and to be maintained upon a reasonable diet, it would involve an additional expenditure of £200,000,000 a year. That object cannot be achieved by paying the unemployed man or woman in this country 23s. per week. But, in spite of such facts, we are told by the Unemployment Assistance Board that itwas concerned with such primary needs as those of food, shelter, fuel, clothing, and the like.Never in my opinion was there a more callous piece of inhuman cynicism. One of the reasons or excuses given for that 23s. per week is to be found on page 33 of the Report, where the Board says that:It had to keep in mind, however, the necessity of not proposing scales of allowances which would place unemployed persons in a better position than large numbers of persons who were in work.A similar observation was made by the right hon. Gentleman when the House had under consideration the Report of the Statutory Committee on the 4th July of last year. The Statutory Committee recommended in their Report that the allowance to children should be increased from 2s. to 3s. per week, but that it was not to be paid in the case of a family where the income approximated to 41s. per week. It appears that even great minds occasionally think alike, for neither is an argument against increasing the present scale, but each constitutes part of our indictment of the present system which permits such miserably low wages to be paid. The Report deals with what are called exceptional cases, that is to say, with the power that is conferred upon the different area and district officers in dealing with "special circumstances" of cases, and "needs of an exceptional character"; but, because of the just criticism against such inquisitorial methods, the Board hastens to add that:An officer's inquiries into the circumstances and conditions of a household should not be pressed against the applicant's natural susceptibilities.Our people have strong objections to such practices. That procedure, in the opinion of the unemployed, is most humiliating, and it is unjust because those who will not submit to this method 1473 are placed at a considerable disadvantage compared with those who do, since as a result they do not receive any increase in their allowance. We contend that intelligent members of any board ought to know that, in the case of persons who have been unemployed for more than 12 months, "needs of an exceptional character" must exist. There are, according to the Report, no fewer than 124,926 of such cases. The number of persons who have been unemployed for a period of five years and more is 25,709; those who have been idle for four years and less than five years number 49,357; those who have been idle for a period of three years but less than four years are 65,132 in number; while there are 80,023 who have been idle for two years but less than three years. There is no need, in a single one of these cases, to appoint officers to visit the bedrooms and examine the bedclothes of these individuals. Respectable, independently-minded people resist and resent such procedure. Let me remind the Committee of the report made by the area officer which covers a part of my Division. In that report these words occur:There is an alarming number of young men between 21 and 30 years of age who have been unemployed for anything from three to 10 years, or have never been employed at all.I think it is of importance that the House should be given some information as to what the Board, through its officers, is doing in depressed areas, particularly in South Wales. There is not a Member of the House—and the Board warrants me in making this statement—who did not receive the impression, when the Regulations were under discussion, that the first Li of disability pension would be disregarded. The Report says:That the first £1 of a disability pension should be disregarded.Will the Minister stand at that Box and say that that Regulation is observed? If not, I will give him two cases that he might investigate. I will give him the names and addresses and, if necessary, the determination forms. One case is that of a man named Taylor, who lives at King Street, Nantyglo, Monmouthshire, who has a disability pension of £1 per week. This week I have been informed that the Board, with all its generosity, has, through its officers, robbed his wife of 8s. of her allowance. 1474 Another case was sent to me this morning from the same place, and it is one of the most distressed areas in the whole of Great Britain. It is that of a man named Oakey, of Nantyglo, who was in receipt of only a paltry 10s. per week as disability pension. The Board, through its officers, robbed his wife of 8s. out of that 10s. pension. I am informed that that is not an exceptional instance. What is the use of the Board or the Minister telling us about increasing the allowance in 38,000 cases in 12 months, when an ex-service man's wife is robbed of 8s. a week? I should like to inform the Secretary of State for War that he cannot hope to secure recruits for the Army by those methods. The Report states—and this is in the general body of the Report, and not in a report submitted by any officer:Further, it was anticipated that although the upkeep of clothing and the like could be met from the weekly allowance, there would be cases where, on review, it would appear that the applicant had had no opportunity to make proper provision for himself. The Board wished to be provided with power to give appropriate assistance in such cases.It then proceeds to point out that these powers were taken, and applicants were assisted by an extra allowance. The Committee can imagine what value can be attached to that statement in the Report when a man met me on Saturday evening and informed me that he had been to the local officer to ask for an additional allowance in order to buy working boots, and, although the man had been idle for over seven years, no allowance was given him for that purpose. The Report mentions a, case in which an extra allowance of 2s. 6d. a week for nourishment was given to the wife of an applicant, but I met a man last week who told me that, while, as a result of producing a medical certificate, his wife was given an extra allowance of 3s. 6d., the ordinary allowance was reduced by 1s. per week.
Let me give another instance, in order to prove that the general information contained in the Report is not of a reliable character. A man told me that he effected a reduction of 5d. per week in his rent, and, strange as it may appear to the right hon. Gentleman, the area officer reduced the allowance that went into that household by 6d. a week. I am giving cases to prove that the character of the Report is unreliable and that whatever may have been done by some officers administering 1475 the Regulations or the standstill arrangement is not general in the administration of either. I know of cases where men who have done casual jobs and got 1s. 6d. or 2s. 6d. have had their allowance reduced by half the amount they have earned.
The meanest action of the Board is in connection with meals supplied to children attending elementary schools. Area officers have been instructed to value the meals at a penny and to vary the allowances accordingly. The Report points out that, if the number exceeds two a day for one child or one meal per day for two children, unless the meals consist of cod liver oil and milk, they ignore the first 12 meals but, if there are 15, they reduce the allowance by the cost of the 15 meals. What a wonderful method, and 7,000 officials are engaged in carrying it out! The Board refers to the report on nutrition by the British Medical Association and the report of the Ministry of Health's Advisory Committee. It would be very difficult to find so much unconscious humour as in some of the statements in this Report. These are a few of the cases that have been brought to my notice. The cases cited in the Report are not general in any sense of the word and, to the extent that the Report creates any other impression, it is a deceitful and a fraudulent document.
I should like to stress the need of making it possible for some of us, if no one else, to have access to the circulars issued by this secret society. The Board at intervals issues circulars and memoranda to its district and area officers. As the Report states:The officers were expected to exercise such powers, however, with due regard to the law, to the regulations and to the Board's own views as expressed in instructions and memoranda issued from time to time on special topics.Why cannot copies of such circulars be made available to persons affected by the Board's decisions? There is no justification for differential treatment to the unemployed affected by Part II of the Act of 1934 and those affected by Part I. There is a vast difference between men and women receiving standard benefit and those in receipt of an allowance. I asked the Minister on 10th December whether he would make available to a person who desired them copies of all 1476 the circulars and instructions issued by the Unemployment Assistance Board to their local area officers. The answer was:I do not think this would be practicable or desirable but I will consult with the Board as to the best means of making Members of the House acquainted with important general circulars on the regulations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th December, 193,5; col. 747, Vol. 307.]I should like to know why such a course is impracticable or undesirable. I should like to know since when it has become undesirable to make such circulars available to Members of this House. A similar question was put to the right hon. Gentleman on 27th February and the reply was:I am still in communication with the Board on the subject."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1936; col. 615, Vol. 309.]Could the right hon. Gentleman give us some further information to-day? It would be presumption for an occupant of these benches to warn the Minister of Labour or the Government. The Minister has the experience of his predecessor to guide him. The Government's ignoble past should be sufficient warning to them. We demand the abolition of the means test so as to make it unnecessary for this House to discuss such a publication as it has had presented to it to-day.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Mrs. TATE
Hon. Members opposite have waxed very eloquent over instances which the Board gives, in which it tries to prove that it has taken an interest in the lives of those for whom it administers. In any case, where we are describing inequalities of human existence it is extremely easy to draw a lurid picture, but it is as well to remember that we are discussing the means test, and no one has thought more than myself that the family means test is carried too far. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that the Government was returned with the full understanding that some test of need would be applied and that it has the approval of the vast majority of the people of the country, who in the vast majority of cases are working-class people of whom hon. Members opposite are so fond of pretending they are the only representatives. If you want to make a piteous case from this Report, you have missed far the worst part. A footnote to Appendix VIII says: 1477(b) In Wales a small part of the higher average payment is due to a low percentage of women applicants.When the Regulations were first brought pefore the House I was one of the very few on this side who refused to vote for them, for the reason that women on relief were to be paid less than men. We have been told a great many times that these transitional payments are on a basis of need, and I claim now, as I have claimed in the past and as I shall again, that the needs of a man or woman when they get down to subsistence level vary in no degree whatever. If you can afford to economise on one sex or the other, you cannot afford to economise on the women because, if they are young women, there are two dangers. There is the danger that, if they have to exist for a long time on a subsistence level which is so extraordinarily low, you are going to undermine the health of the women who are the future mothers of the race, and there is the other danger that it is very easy for them, if they wish, to augment their income, if driven sufficiently far, in a way which none of us would want. In reference to inequality of payments to men and women, I should like to refer to a case in the Report.Applicant, a married woman, had been obliged to resume insurable employment owing to the ill-health of her husband. They had one daughter aged four. They were buying their house and, even with a sub-let of 4s. 6d., the weekly interest and rates amounted to 16s.She had to look after an invalid husband and the lodger to whom she sub-let, and to go out to work. The husband was taken ill with tuberculosis and the child was sent to grandparents. Out of her earnings the mother saved 10s. a week to pay for the child and give it extra nutrition in the way of cod liver oil. She then became unemployed. Is not the case of a woman in those circumstances far more difficult than that of a man? But if she is on subsistence allowance she gets two shillings less than a man. I hope that when the Regulations come before the House, as they shortly will, we are not going to have that differentiation maintained. I do not speak as a feminist. I speak as a practical human being interested in the welfare of the present and the future generation. There are a great many books and articles written by thinking people on the very serious fall in the birth rate and the serious effect that 1478 it is going to have. The abolition of this distinction will be a very practical way of starting to do something to encourage the birth rate. I have made no bones about it. I stand for a test of some form of need. [An HON. MEMBER: "Shame!"] I am not in the least ashamed.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Bourne)
I must point out that the question of the means test is not under discussion. All that we are discussing is the administration of the Board.
§ Mr. BEVAN
On a point of Order. I believe that technically your Ruling, Sir, is impeccable, but had the same Ruling been laid down by your predecessor half the speeches that have been made would never have been made. It is most undesirable that we should have a Ruling which narrows down the discussion far more than it has been narrowed hitherto.
§ Mr. LAWSON
The chairman's Report very definitely involves discussion of the means test, because he gives cases in proof of need of the test.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not appreciate that what I ruled is that, in order to remove the means test, legislation is required. That is obviously outside the Committee of Supply. The administration of the Board is in order, but the hon. Lady was going on to the merits of the question whether it should be taken away, which would obviously need legislation.
§ Mrs. TATE
In assessing the needs of the household it is difficult to get away from the means test. I realise and approve of the principle that a man drawing relief should not draw as much as a man who is in work. I may be said to be contradicting myself when I say that women should draw on a scale equal with men because they do not earn equal wages with men, but the sooner they do so the better both for men and themselves. It is not to the advantage of men in employment that women should be used, as they are at present, to decrease wages, and the sooner the country realises that the better for the men and the women.
There is one other point upon which I wish to touch—it is mentioned on page 59—with regard to land settlement 1479 schemes. The Board says that it has joined with the Land Settlement Association and has been able to pay training allowances. I should like to say a few words upon the land settlement and transference schemes. In theory they may sound very delightful, but I have never been able to understand—and, therefore, for once I entirely agree with hon. Members opposite—that it is It really good cure for unemployment to take unemployed people from one area and place them in another, and thus increase the unemployment in that area. If you only take the unemployed to an area where there is a real scarcity of labour, it is an admirable scheme—but that is not always the case. When I represented West Willesden there was a training centre there to which men were brought from depressed areas, and the local unemployed felt a very justifiable bitterness because they were not allowed to enter that training centre, and it certainly did nothing to help the housing conditions in that part of London. I believe that now there are schemes for land settlement in the different counties of the country. If there are to be any land settlement schemes under the Board or under any other body, the local unemployed should be the first to have the benefit of them, and strangers from another area should not be brought in until they had absorbed the local unemployed. I hope that the Minister will take note of that fact.
At the present time there is talk of a land settlement scheme in Somerset. Somerset Already has the second largest number of small-holdings in the country, and I think the Minister will agree with me that the north of Somerset is in very great danger of being, in the not far distant future, a part of the country where unemployment may be serious. Therefore, it is not going to be to the benefit of anyone to bring in unemployed to settlement schemes from outside areas, unless, first of all, you absorb your local unemployed.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Mr. ELLIS SMITH
This Debate is very opportune. The new Regulations are to be issued, so we are informed, in the near future, and, therefore, it is good that we should have an opportunity of considering the administration of the 1480 Board. I want to make a close analysis of the Report in order to influence the Minister, if that is possible, so that when the new Regulations are introduced, they will be a great improvement on the present Regulations. I am also pleased that we have the opportunity of considering the administration now, because once the Government decide upon these Regulations, we in this House will not be able to alter them, unless we can bring sufficient pressure to bear in other directions. I would remind the Minister that already we have had one experience of Regulations being introduced and accepted by the House, and then of other methods adopted in order that those Regulations could be withdrawn. I believe that there is a feeling in this country similar to that which compelled the Government to reconsider the Hoare-Laval proposals; that if the Government introduce Regulations based upon the mentality contained in this Report, the pressure that was brought to bear upon the Hoare-Laval proposals will be infinitesimal compared with what they will have to put up with if Regulations of this kind are issued. I would remind the Minister of the undertaking that the Government gave to the House and to the country when the Act was being considered. The then Minister of Labour gave an undertaking to the House which has not been carried out he said:A man would be given assistance to prevent him from becoming destitute.Is there anyone in this Committee who will get up and say that that has been done? He went on to say:The limit of the need will not be confined in any way to the receipt of unemployment benefit. It will be possible for the Board to supplement benefit in the case of persons under Part I in respect of unemployment benefit, and they will also be able to meet the whole needs, other than the medical needs.He said further:Long continued unemployment often creates more needs than can be relieved by mere cash relief … Most important is the maintenance of a man's employability."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th November, 1933; col. 1089, Vol. 283.]These promises have not been carried out by the Board, and the assurances that were then given by the Minister have not been carried out. On the contrary, we have had a harsh, mean administration of the Regulations that 1481 are in force. This problem is mostly a Northern problem, and I join with the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) in noticing the difference in regard to the interest that is taken in this question. Last week there were not sufficient seats in the House to accommodate hon. Members, and there was some trouble because Members of the Government were sitting on the Opposition Benches. To-day, when this internal question, affecting the North in particular, is being considered, what do we see? Not more than 12 supporters of the Government taking an interest in the question. In the four Southern areas, the unemployed percentage is 9.8, but in the four other areas including Wales and Scotland, the percentage of unemployment is 26.4 This is having a serious effect upon the whole of the North, and it will reflect itself in a way that the Government do not anticipate, unless the Regulations that are to be introduced are different from those which are being administered at the present time.
I have a pamphlet in my hand issued by the Conservative party for the guidance of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who sit opposite. I do not forget that there are some Members who occupy the Front Bench opposite and some who have left our own movement, who have not had any experience of this kind of thing. They are used to having a brief put into their hands, and this is the kind of brief that was put into their hands when this question was first being discussed. It states: "A Great Social Reform," and then goes on to analyse the improvement that would follow from this administration. If the Minister will be good enough to turn to page 6 of the Report he will find the following:The Board was charged by the Act with the duty of creating a new social service for the assistance of able-bodied unemployed persons who normally are wage-earners, not only for the relief of their material needs, but also for the promotion of their welfare.Does the Minister consider that that has been done by the Board? The benefit scales are altogether too low, but I am not going into that now. I am dealing with the administration of the Regulations and the new benefits that have been laid down. In the administration, generally speaking, no heed has been paid at all to the necessity for new clothes. We who sit in this House are not the only people who require new clothes. 1482 Unemployed men, their wives and children require new clothes, but by reason of the meagre benefits paid and the mean way in which these Regulations are being administered, the unemployed cannot possibly afford new clothes. How is this reflecting itself? If a jumble sale is advertised in any of these localities, huge queues are formed outside the school where the jumble sale is to be held. The unemployed are being driven to wear the cast-off clothing of relatively decently placed people in their area simply because the Regulations are being administered in this way. I ask the Minister to turn to the bottom of page 9, where it says:It does not require a destitution test to be applied to the household.These Regulations, in the way they are being administered, apply a destitution test, and, if need be, concrete evidence can be produced to prove that statement. On page 10, the Report says:Persons like sons and daughters living with the applicant in mutual enonomic dependence must in any circumstances be members of one household.How does this work out in practice? A father of between 50 and 60 years of age has made great sacrifices to bring up his family, as most working-class parents have to do in order to bring up their families. They give of their best to their children, and they see them grow up. When a man reaches 55 or 60 he finds himself unemployed. He cannot hold his own industrially to-day with the great increase which has taken place in production and the mechanisation of industry, particularly in the mines and the heavy industries. The result is that he becomes unemployed. Time goes on until he finds himself upon the means test, not having received one penny of benefit after having paid into Employment Insurance, in some cases, since 1912. To what does this lead? It leads to internal domestic friction. The father walks about with his head down, talking to people and telling them that he is thinking of committing suicide and of doing all kinds of things, as life is not worth living because he feels that there is no place for him in this world, and his sons and daughters have to keep him.
If these statements are challenged, and hon. or right hon. Gentlemen opposite think we are exaggerating, we 1483 can give them evidence from our personal relationships of the way this kind of thing is working itself out. We find that it is affecting the mother. A daughter looking forward to getting married and wanting to prepare for that time, finds that a very big percentage of her hard-earned income is having to be paid into the domestic exchequer towards keeping her father because of the harsh means test which is being administered. The mother at night, when supper time comes round, talks to the father, and they both sit there almost crying because their sons and daughters are placed in this position. I warn the Minister that, if the new Regulations are to perpetuate this kind of thing, it will have the effect of rousing the country in a way that the Government can never have thought possible. That is the kind of thing that is happening.
On page 11 the Report says that they have applied discretion. It may be true that, according to the Report, they have applied discretion, but discretion applied generally has been applied within very narrow limits. Later, the Report says:Every applicant is a separate human being with needs of his own and with his own environment.If that statement be true, why is it not applied to the whole family? Why is it not applied to the sons and daughters? The fact is, that that principle has not been carried out. On page 12, the Report says:The amount of assistance granted in many cases may be so little below the applicant's normal net earnings as to diminish both his eagerness to obtain work and his reluctance to relinquish it.That is a deliberate lie. It may be true as far as isolated instances are concerned, but to insult in this way the class to which we are proud to belong, justifies me in saying that there is no other way to describe it than the way in which I have just described it. The Report further says:Similarly, many of the young women without prospects of employment in their own area have shown themselves unwilling to take employment elsewhere.I do not blame the young women for refusing to go away from home. They ought not to be prepared to go away from home. Those who have had experience in bringing up children know the 1484 value of parental control and influence between the ages of 18 and 25. They know the temptations that beset the path of young women between those ages. Yet the people who prepared this Report have the audacity to put in a phrase of that description. On page 13, the Report says that the families may and do receive sums of money, etc. It was never intended when the Act was passed that the Regulations should be administered in this way. On page 16, the Report says:The question is not whether there should be a means test, but what that test should be. This is a matter which is now under close examination, but in any scheme great importance will be attached to maintaining of the unity of family life.I plead with the Minister that when the new Regulations are introduced they should be introduced in order that family life may be maintained. I hope that there will be drastic alterations. Despite our political differences this is a human problem, and the country will not stand for any unfair treatment. If the country knew the facts contained in this Report, if we could broadcast what appears in the Report in the same way that it is being broadcast in the House, the country would not stand for this kind of thing.
A very noticeable feature of the Report is that it makes no apology for the last disgraceful means test Regulations. They seek to justify the Regulations. Therefore, a great responsibility is placed on our shoulders and especially on the shoulders of the Minister of Labour with regard to the new Regulations. It is reasonable to suggest that the scales that are in operation at the present time will suit the Board again. The Board in their report say:The public conscience asserted itself on the last occasion.The public conscience will assert itself on this occasion unless there is a great improvement in the Regulations. I read the "Observer" yesterday. I got sick of the "Observer" some time ago, but I started reading it again, because I find that it is the intellectual guide for the present Government. Therefore, I read the "Observer" yesterday, purposely, and this is what I found:The Report of the Unemployment Assistance Board, couched in a spirit as humane as it is efficient, is a decided challenge to the Government's hesitation. One of the Board's first duties was to check the ramp into which relief had been converted by unscrupulous local authorities.1485 Who are the unscrupulous local authorities? Where they have had a Labour majority. Who are the unscrupulous majorities? They are where Conservative, Liberal and Labour have joined together and have not been prepared to administer the Unemployment Acts in the way that these people have administered them. They have been humane and have administered the Acts in a humane way, in a reasonable, manly and womanly way. Who is behind Garvin, the intellectual guide of this Government, who calls them unscrupulous local authorities? The Astors. The Astors and the Garvins are the people who are responsible for pursuing a policy of this kind. That quotation shows what this type of people think about our men and women, who have built up this country. This country has not been built up by the Garvins, nor the Astors, nor by earls and ladies, but by the miners, the engineers, the steel workers, the agricultural workers. Yet the mean Unemployment Board is meting out this kind of treatment to them.
One could go on at length if there was time, but other hon. Members desire to take part in the Debate. I have three or four letters that I should like to quote. We are receiving piles of letters. A few weeks ago, on the Motion for the Adjournment, an hon. Member on these benches raised the question of the administration of the means test. There was not time to do justice to the position, but I spoke for about five minutes, with the result that I received shoals of letters congratulating me and my colleagues because we had said a few words on behalf of the unemployed. Here are one or two examples. The first letter relates to the son of an unemployed man. He received the Norman Angell peace poster competition prize, and because he received that prize the allowance for his father was reduced from 12s. to 6s. a week.
Another letter relates to a man whom I know personally, a man as good as anyone in this House or outside it. He is a man eager for work. If ever a man was eager for work this man is. He used to be a professional footballer and built up a standard of living which he has not been able to maintain. Against my own criticism, this man, because of his position, has been prepared to grovel if necessary in order to get a job. Last 1486 winter he went snow shifting. Because he showed himself eager for work the local town council gave him the first job on relief work. He received 9s. The following week he did a bit on the football field and received 5s. He also received 2s. 4d., making altogether 16s. 4d. He had 1s. 8d. stopped for National Health Insurance and under the 1934 Act he had 9s. 4d. stopped. The result was that after working snow shifting and doing something on the football field he was 5s. 4d. worse off.
There is another case to which I would call attention. It relates to a lad whose parents I know. Like all working class parents, they had tried to give their lad a better chance in life than they had. The lad got heartily sick of being out of work, and his mother got on to him because he could not get a job. Eventually, he threw himself under a railway train, and in his pockets, so the police report says, there was a note to his father, which said: "Nothing to live for." I have other letters, but I will not worry the Committee with the whole of them. I will, however, read one. It is from George A. Woods of 112A, Hope Street, Hanley. It says:
"Dear Sir,I am putting my case as regards the means test before you, as from what I have seen and heard you speak I think you are. more able to tackle it than"—He goes on to refer to another hon. Member, whose name I will not mention.I am living apart from my wife, who resides at No. 1, Fountain Street, Pitts Hill, through the means test, and have been close on four years. I was drawing 18s. transitional benefit and the wife was always grumbling. It was not keeping me, never mind both of us, and I was living on two cripples, so I decided to go for peace and comfort. I draw 9s. for her now and send it on to her. I could go back any time, but they would reduce my dole and make the two lads keep me and wife, so I am better off where I am at present.I should like to explain what the two, cripples are as mentioned by wife. The oldest is totally blind—If hon. Members had been in the position of some of these people, perhaps they would take more notice of a letter of this kind—and works at Fenton workshops for the-Blind. His age is 24. The youngest is 19: He has been in poor health for this last six years and is always in the doctor's hands. It takes him all his time to do, four days a week. He is growing too fast. He is over six feet now. What I want you 1487 to do is when they introduce the new regulations to ask the Minister of Labour or the House generally whether they would like to eat the bread a blind man earns. It should be the other way about, me to work and him to eat, and me to put a trifle on one side for him for the time will come when he will lose mother and father.One could go on giving experiences of that kind. One of the best friends I ever had committed suicide because of the harsh means test. Therefore, I hope that the Minister of Labour will be good enough to consider the effects of the administration of the means test when he is introducing the new Regulations. I hope that the Regulations will be worthy of the House, and that the Unemployment Assistance Board will be instructed, if they are to carry on the administration, to act in as generous a way as possible.
§ 7.0 p. m.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
It may be to the advantage and convenience of the Committee if I intervene now. The Debate on the Vote will be interrupted at 7.30, but after the business to be taken at 7.30 has been concluded, my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be glad to deal with any points that I have left untouched or that may be raised in the course of the discussion.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) opened this Debate on the Report of the Board and its administration in a temperate and moderate speech, but in that speech he said one or two strong things. Some of those strong things have been said in stronger language by other hon. Members since. I gathered the impression that the Report has clearly made a considerable impression on hon. Members opposite, and that they are aware that it has also made a considerable impression in the country. I cannot help suspecting that many of the adjectives used, and they have been without limit—the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar), for example, chose his adjectives with great skill and care to achieve the maximum of prejudice against the Board—would have been much the same in any event. If complaint is made that the Board have put their case so that they have achieved a favourable impression for what they have been doing, something has been done to attempt to redress the balance in the last few hours. We shall be discussing in a short time 1488 what shall be done about it, but that is not my purpose this afternoon. My purpose has been to listen with scrupulous care to every point made about these difficult problems.
A thoughtful observer would not have gathered from the speeches any great sense of perspective about the problem as a whole. He would not have gathered that this Board is administering a new technique in a field of social problems which has been one of the most difficult that this or any other country ever knew. The right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) knows that well. He has been working at it for years. I was reading a few days ago a report he signed on this problem, and noted the difference of view now taken in the light of this new technique. I am not going to discuss the basis of that technique to-day. I am here to point out that if any fair judgment is to be given on the Board and what it has been doing, some attempt must be made to face the problem objectively, frankly, and as a whole. From my share in the investigations of the administration of the Board's officials and their work, I agree with their judgment rather than with some of the heated words used about them.
§ Mr. BROWN
Then the hon. Member is not disappointed, and we are both happy. The hon. Member and his friends are in a unique position, and he knows it. He and his friends have taken consistently one particular view. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] That gives him an advantage when he is dealing with a complete objection to the whole of this system. The Board's task has been exceedingly difficult. Great demands have been made for a change of system; great demands have been made by hon. Members opposite for a change in the administration of assistance to unemployed able-bodied men and women. Hon. Members below the Gangway on the Liberal benches have joined in the demands that the able-bodied unemployed, as apart from other unemployed men and women, should be made a national charge. Great complaints have been made because there were differences in administering relief to able-bodied unemployed up and down the country. When the hon. Member 1489 for Chester-le-Street raised his first major point about the standstill, I could not help thinking that he had put the point that is the greatest justification for the Board, because the circumstances underlying the administration of transitional payments under the standstill show how admirable and how difficult has been the work of the Board.
Let me take this illustration. If the Committee will turn to page 169 of the Report, they will find an example of the most extreme cases. What was the difficulty the Board inherited? What was the difficulty underlying the breakdown that has been referred to? There were many difficulties, but the major one was this—that there have been unexpected variations in the practice of local authorities. If hon. Members will turn to page 169 they will see "Manchester, District No. 1"; the following example, which shows the different determinations under the different local authorities for a household consisting of the applicant, his wife, one dependent child and two other children earning 44s. a week:
- "County borough A. 17s. 3d.
- County borough B, 7s. 6d.
- County borough C, 28s.
- County borough D, 16s. 6d.
- County council E, committee area (1), 3s. 6d.
- County council E, committee area (2), nil.
- County council F, committee area (1), 15s.
- County council F, committee area (2), 16s.
- County council F, committee area (3), 18s. 6d.
- County council F, committee area (4), 20s.
- County council F, committee area (5), 20s. 6d."
The Unemployment Board's allowance under the Regulations would be 17s. That shows the extraordinary complexity of this problem. It shows that when claims are made—and they have been made by all parties of the Left for years—that we ought to have a system which was national in character and uniform in its treatment of unemployed men, that when you apply that to a series of cases of this kind, inside the same districts, the difficulties arise. Forty-four per cent. of the applicants are on the original Regulations, and 56 per cent. on the transitional standard according to the previous local practice, and it will be seen that the Board has made no mean administrative achievement in that it has 1490 been able to solve this problem as it has done with so little objection made. I put this point deliberately, because it is an illustration of the whole problem. It is simple for hon. Members to bring up individual cases in the House. The hon. Member for Abertillery put one or two cases to me. Every hon. Member knows that when individual cases are put to me, or to the Parliamentary Secretary, we always do our best to sift them to the bottom and get them answered. With regard to the disability pensions cases he mentioned, I find, without evidence, that it is almost incredible of belief. As far as I know the rule he quoted about the first pound is religiously observed. If he will send me the particular cases I will have them investigated.
§ Mr. DAGGAR
Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake, without evidence, that my other statements have been incorrect? I have the papers in connection with the disability pensions, and there is no doubt in my own mind nor in the minds of the people.
§ Mr. BROWN
They are typical of the kind of way an atmosphere of emotion is aroused. I will do what any Minister should do. If the hon. Member will send me details, I will have them examined, but I will not here undertake to concur with any ex parte statement made by any hon. Member. From my knowledge of how the disability rule is administered, I find it almost incredible of belief that these things can have been as the hon. Member said. I am not doubting his good faith, but am only making the point that I think it is an ex parte statement. The same is true of the application of the test of need. There are 28 districts. We find that there are four district officers who point out that this problem is of some importance in their area. The principal one is Durham. The number of cases there of sons who may have been affected by the breaking up of homes by the test of need is 250 where the son is the applicant; and also 250 cases where the son is the wage-earner.
Then we have Liverpool. There the statement is carefully drawn. I was glad to note that the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) did not make the extreme statements that some other hon. Members have done. I looked for some evidence to justify his claim that we ought to have an individual test of need rather 1491 than a family test of need. I would like to put these questions to him, and to all hon. Members who are saying that there should be an individual test of need and not a household test. Any hon. Member who wishes to satisfy his constituents of his devotion to retrenchment and says he is against the means test, must ask himself these questions:Are the needs of the unemployed applicant to be treated wthout any reference to the home surroundings in which he lives? Is he to receive the standard rate of benefit or some other fixed rate? Is that fixed rate to be determined without any reference to the difference between the resources of one household and another? If the father in addition becomes unemployed, is the assistance to the unemployed son to remain at the fixed figure, or is the authority to take into account the fact that the father's resources are no longer available in the household?
§ Mr. BROWN
The hon. Member is always so suspicious. I am quoting from the OFFICIAL REPORT of 29th May, Col. 2437. The questions are worth quoting now that this matter is to be a major issue. Let me read the passage again:If the father in addition becomes unemployed, is the assistance to the unemployed son to remain at the fixed figure, or is the authority to take into account the fact that the father's resources are no longer available in the household? Is the father to be paid a fixed rate, or is that rate to be subject to adjustment if in any respect the position of the son alters? Are savings or capital resources to be taken into account? If so, why should they be the only resources to be taken into account in the case of a test of means? Finally, how can any man or any Minister deal with subterfuges such as the transfer of such resources from the applicant to some other member of the family? It is very simple to say, I pay my tribute to a test of means, but I do not mean a household means test; I mean an individual means test,' without applying one's mind to what that means."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th May, 1936; col. 2437, Vol. 312.]The fact is that in all the years during which a test of need has been applied no one has yet discovered an effective way of applying a test except on a household basis. Two things remain. The first 1492 question is: Ought you to define your household and define in law or in practice what the definition should cover? The second question is: Where and how shall the line be drawn? Hon. Members opposite talk about abolishing the test of need. The facts produced in the Report prove conclusively that if you take this matter from the point of view of what the nation is doing for the able-bodied unemployed it is impossible not to apply a test of need when men who are unemployed and who have run out of benefit ask for public assistance from the State. Hon. Members also know that in the General Election that issue became quite clear. Hon. Members have attacked the Board because the Report shows that various resources are going into families who have applied for relief, but there are cases even more difficult than that. Some of those who have complained about the household test overlook the fact that there are in the same street those who have large incomes coming into their homes—they are asking that such a household shall be relieved from a test of need —and unemployed men on the register of the Unemployment Assistance Board who have no resources.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I understood the Minister to be dealing with the administration of the means test, and, as I said earlier, it is open to every hon. Member to criticise the administration. I said that it would not be in order to discuss whether there should be one or not, but the Report itself specifically states that the duty of defining the operation of the means test was placed by Statute on the Unemployment Assistance Board, and, therefore, in considering their Report it is open to hon. Members to criticise the interpretation which the Board places on this point.
§ Mr. BEVAN
I submit that the Minister in the last 10 minutes has been addressing himself to a justification of the means test in principle, and has made no reference whatever to matters of administration. I want to have your guidance as to whether it will be competent for us to address ourselves to the question of principle, because the Minister started his speech by the taunt that there was only one Member on this side of the Committee who was entitled to object on principle to the means test—the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). I submit that the Minister should be allowed to continue his speech and that we should be allowed to reply, or that he should be called to order.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I had better deal with one point of Order at a time. I do not understand that the Minister in his speech is raising the principle of a means test, but that if you have a means test you must administer it on certain lines. As I have listened to the speech of the Minister I understood that he was dealing with the household means test, which I think is admissible.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The speech of the Minister of Labour is word for word the speech he delivered on 29th May. There is hardly a word of difference, and I want to ask you, Mr. Deputy-Chairman, whether you have any power to stop a Minister repeating in Debate a speech which he has already delivered to this House? Mr. Speaker has ruled against repetition and against what is practically a read speech. Will you, therefore, ask the Minister to reply to the Debate and not read a speech he has already delivered?
§ Mr. BROWN
I was trying to deal with a point put by the hon. Member for East Birkenhead and I thought that as I had already made a concise summary of the position in a previous speech it was much better the Committee should have it in that form than in any other way. Really there is no pleasing hon. Members opposite. And let me add that the questions I have quoted remain still to be answered by anybody who criticises the admininistration of the household means test. Other questions have been put to me. The hon. Member for 1494 Chester-le-Street asked a question about the reports. In the past 18 months a large number of reports and memoranda have passed between the Board and myself. The Committee will understand that they are condential, and I cannot undertake to publish them. The Report of the Board is now before hon. Members and it contains a mass of information, but in addition I will make it my business, when the new Regulations are presented to the House, that all the information which is required shall be given in order that hon. Members may form a judgment on the proposals.
§ Mr. LAWSON
The right hon. Gentleman says that these reports are confidential, but they are reports into the reasons for the breakdown of the last Regulations. The right hon. Gentleman cannot get away by saying that they are confidential. It is due to the Committee that it should have these reports.
§ Mr. BROWN
I have said that the Committee shall have all the information it ought to have. The Report of the Board is now before hon. Members, showing the result of 18 months' hard work. The discussion to-day shows that these debates do tend to get out of perspective; individual cases seem to take the whole field, and little attention is given to the magnitude of the work being done by the Board in this complex problem. The Board took over nearly 1,800,000 persons, and at the moment are paying out to 660,000 applicants unemployment assistance, either on the basis of transitional payment or the original Regulations. It is a vast field to cover. The extraordinary thing about the whole of this problem is not the number of individual cases which have, been brought to light, but the small number of such cases. I have had many communications from hon. Members and have had them analysed. I am trying to get this matter into its proper perspective. It is only fair to the Board to say that with 660,000 applicants in receipt of allowances and weekly payments of £775,000 in the last 12 months, the Parliamentary Secretary and I have received fewer than 500 individual cases of complaint, and many of these dealt with complex technical matters—
§ Mr. BROWN
I am talking about my own experience. There is no pleasing hon. Members opposite. When I discuss the Board they say that I ought not to quote the reports of the Board, and now when I am discussing my own experiences they say that I ought not to do so, but that I should discuss the Board. In this matter they have prejudged the issues before we begin the Debate, and no matter what facts and arguments are put before them, their language will be the same and their attitude will be the same. That is the atmosphere in which hon. Members opposite have approached the Report of the Board, and when they use strong language about the Report, in reply I say that, having made my own attempt in the country to verify what is in the Report, so far from the district administration being a soulless bureaucratic thing, it is immensely superior to anything that has ever been done for the unfortunate citizens who are unemployed in the history of this country. More than that, hon. Members have complained about the individual test with regard to need, but when you come to the question of discretion and exceptional need, the plea is for exactly what the Board are doing. They have made individual examinations. In my judgment the Board have done the wise thing. They have not only given their local officers discretion, through the district officers, to do their best for human welfare in the cases of exceptional need, but, as the Report shows, they have in several districts carried out exceptional examinations in order to find out just what exceptional need there is in the household of the applicant whose affairs they are administering on behalf of Parliament under the Unemployment Assistance Act Regulations.
With regard to the other points, I will ask the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with them. I beg the Committee not to be misled by the heated atmosphere produced by individual cases but to see the great problem of the Board as a whole. If the Committee does that, then when the time comes they will find out whether the Board have made Regulations which the Government can accept and which the House as a whole can support.
§ It being half-past Seven of the Clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of The CHAIRMAN OF 1496 WAYS AND MEANS under Standing Order No. 6, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.