HC Deb 29 May 1936 vol 312 cc2403-22

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

11.24 a.m.


Before we adjourn, it is desirable, in the opinion of the Opposition, to extract certain information from the Government as to their intentions with regard to the presentation of the Unemployment Assistance Regulations. We are concerned with the un accountable delay that has been experienced in connection with this matter over the last 12 months, and we are anxious about the introduction of these Regulations; but our primary concern is as to the form and content of the Regulations if and when they come before the House. The Government's policy during the past 12 months has been characterised by evasion, by subterfuge, by wobbling and by a complete inability to face up to their responsibility. That is not the opinion of the Labour party aolne; it has been voiced for some time by hon. Members opposite, and even by certain right. hon. Gentlemen on those benches; and it has been referred to frequently of late in the Press associated in one way and another with the Government.. There is a feeling that the Government do not know their own minds on this matter. That is a state of affairs which neither the Opposition nor the country will tolerate for long.

Let me recall briefly the circumstances and history of this deplorable business. In 1934, the Unemployment Assistance Board was created and vested with powers to deal with all cases of unemployment assistance other than those which came within the ambit of insurance. 'We recall that that change was regarded with considerable enthusiasm by hon. Members opposite, who had expressed a desire to take unemployment assistance out of the political arena. Unfortunately for them, public opinion exercised its influence through out the country, and that issue returned in more vivid fashion to the political arena. In consequence, Regulations were devised and presented to the House, and it will be remembered that their introduction was received with cries of indignation throughout the country. The protests were of so universal a character that the Government were compelled to withdraw the Regulations; it was a complete humiliation for the National Government. I do not intend to dwell unduly on that pathetic episode; it would in my view be unseemly to resurrect that corpse; but when the Government introduced what is known as the Standstill Arrangement they made two specific promises. The first was to introduce new Regulations at the earliest moment; the second was that no person should suffer by the change. I want to say with the greatest emphasis that I can command that neither of these pledges has been fulfilled. The Government's treatment of the unemployed has been shameful. The constant delay in dealing with the matter has been a standing joke in political circles.

For the convenience of hon. Members, let me present the matter in chronological order. To listen to it may be somewhat wearisome, but I venture the opinion that it will prove instructive. Immediately after the Standstill Arrangement was effected, questions. began to be asked by hon. Members in all quarters of the House. The inter rogations began on 4th March of last year, and the reply then given was the hackneyed one that the Minister was not in a position to make any statement. Subsequent replies given in the following weeks revealed no originality; the same words were used in reply to similar questions; but, after several weeks had elapsed, on the 22nd May the Minister gave a somewhat fuller reply. He said: A report on the whole situation under the existing unemployment I assistance regulations and the standstill Act has been prepared by the Unemployment Assistance Board and was submitted yesterday to the Ministry of Labour. The Report also discusses in some detail the lines along which. in the view of the Board, the existing Regulations should be amended."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd May,:1935; col. 351, Vol. 302.] It seemed, therefore, as if the matter had received a measure of analysis and in vestigation. But, in spite of that, ques- tions continued to be asked, and they elicited the same hackneyed replies—the Minister was not in a position to make any further statement; he could not say when the Regulations would be published. That went on in the months of May, June, July and August, until we came to 22nd October, immediately before the General Election, when the Minister made a somewhat long statement on the subject. He said: I had these matters under anxious and prolonged examination and consultation with the Unemployment Assistance Board, and our inquiries are not yet completed. As the right hon. Gentleman"— I think he referred to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Green wood)— is well aware, the subject is one of great difficulty and complexity, and, in view of the importance of a right decision, not only to the unemployed but to the whole fabric of our social life, it is essential that before new arrangements are submitted to Parliament for approval they should first be examined thoroughly from every standpoint. In these circumstances it will not be possible to take any action immediately. I do not anticipate that any alteration can be made in the existing position of the Standstill arrangements before next spring at the earliest."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October, 1936; cols. 1–2, Vol. 305.] That was the first that we heard about the coming spring. Then the General Election intervened. We had the Gracious Speech from the Throne, which contained these words: Proposals for making improved arrangements for assistance to the unemployed … will be laid before you. It is clear from that statement that not only were we to have revised and improved arrangements, but they were to come before us at an early date. The Prime Minister ventured these observations: It will be necessary … to take an early opportunity of overhauling the arrangements for provision of assistance to the able-bodied unemployed. That will be a very important piece of work for this House, and I hope that it may be under taken before we have come together for very long after the Christmas recess."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1936; col. 73, Vol. 307.] That was a very firm and emphatic declaration. Then, on 5th December of last year, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour said: As was said by the Prime Minister on Tuesday, it was hoped to lay proposals before Parliament not long after the end of the Christmas recess."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th December, 1935; col. 272, Vol. 307.] Thereupon the Prime Minister's views were confirmed by the Department. Then we proceeded until we reached February this year, and through February and March questions continued to be asked invoking the same replies as before "nothing to add "—until we come to 12th March, when the Parliamentary Secretary stated that the Minister had been in almost continuous communication with the Board on this subject and other subjects for months past. In reply to a further question he said the Regulations would be issued very soon. The approximate time had been given on many occasions—the Spring—and that still held. At the end of March the Minister again informed us that he had nothing to add to previous replies, and went on to say: The House is entitled to certain statutory information at the proper time and all relevant matters will be laid before the House at the proper time. The method of communication between the Minister and the Board meanwhile is a matter for the Minister and the board."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th March, 1936; col. 1618; Vol. 310.] Then the Parliamentary Secretary said once more; The proper time will be in the Spring "— and when asked to state when the Spring would come he said Spring had come but had not yet gone. He was, in fact, quite poetic. Then we come to the Debate on the Adjournment over the Easter Recess, when the Minister made a statement on the reasons for delay and concluded the House would not have long to wait. The Government intended to tell the House when they intended to produce the precise Regulations in the precise form. Again we went round and round the mulberry bush. The right hon. Gentleman informed us that he had nothing to add to previous replies, referred us to previous replies and the like, and again on 11th May, the Parliamentary Secretary declared that the National Government election address in relation to the matter said that the Regulations would be issued in the Spring at the earliest. Then more questions and more answers—" nothing to add "—until we come to 26th May, when we were informed that the Regulations would not be published before the Whit-sun Recess. Finally, the Prime Minister stated the other day that he was not able to indicate the precise date when the new Regulations would be presented to Parliament, but he did not anticipate that the final decision would now be long delayed. What a record—playing fast and loose not only with the country but with the House. The motto of the Government should be that well-known line from the well-known song: It may be for years or it may be for ever. It is easy for hon. Members to exercise their souls in patience but it is not so easy for the thousands of people who have endured the sufferings of reduced payment and the severance of family life. There are two classes of grievance. There are, first of all, the reductions that have taken place based on fresh determinations due to the increase in miners' wages. Because of the pressure of public opinion, and also because of the very low wages paid in the mining industry, an increase of wages was agreed upon. In some parts of the country they amounted to a shilling a day or shift; in other parts, notably Durham, the increase for adults was 6d. and for youths 3d. per day or shift. I understand that there was a variation also in South Wales. The average, I am informed, was 3½. a day. We have discovered that, in cases where members of a family received an increase of 3s. 6d. a week, a fresh determination was effected if the parent was unemployed and there was a corresponding reduction in the assistance provided. In some cases we have found that after the fresh determination there was actually a higher reduction in the amount paid in unemployment assistance than the actual amount of the increase in wages. That is an astonishing position. This increase in wages was regarded as of a special and unique character. The public volunteered to pay increased prices for coal. It is not a charge on the coalowners. It was unique and had special and characteristic features. In those circumstances we are entitled to ask that that increase in wages should not be taken into account in effecting fresh determiniations. That is the view of every one on these benches.

Then I wish to refer to the effect on family life. We have found in certain cases that Unemployment Assistance officers have actually gone to the recipients of Unemployment Assistance and declared that, if a young person or a relative in receipt of an income, either directly in the form of wages or from compensation or some other source, continued to reside with the family, a fresh determination would be necessary, resulting in a reduction of Unemployment Assistance. In my judgment that is a definite incitement—I put it no higher than that—to the break-up of family life. It is telling a young person, "You do more harm to your parents by remaining at home than by leaving and finding a nest for yourself." The late Prime Minister was very definite on that issue before he vacated that position. He said any means test that tends to the destruction of families is bad in its application. I believe in the unity of families, the old idea that the family was the unit of life. To apply a sort of three foot rule is to create many injustices. He was right but, inasmuch as he was right, the Government deserve the most severe condemnation. During the last election the Lord President of the Council declared from the public plat form, in the division that I now represent, that it would be the duty of the Government to reform the means test, by which he obviously meant the general Regulations governing the payment of Unemployment Assistance, and that if the Government did not reform the means test he would resign. He has not resigned, but the grievances remain. We are entitled, therefore, to ask why these declarations were made from time to time, and yet we now find ourselves in the present appalling position?

I ask very direct questions of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. Why has there been this inexplicable delay? Who is to blame? Is it the right hon. Gentleman himself, or is it the Chairman of the Unemployment Assistance Board, or both? Is there some difference of opinion, and, if there is, can it not be revealed to hon. Members? Are we not entitled to know? Is it some. friction or defect in the machine, and, if so, can not it be remedied Is the responsibility to be placed upon the shoulders of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Are financial considerations involved? Are the Government afraid to issue the Regulations because they will mean a further charge upon public funds, or can it be that the Regulations have not been issued so far because the financial commitments would conflict with the Defence programme of the Government? I merely ask these questions, as I am not in a position to know, neither are my hon. Friends behind me, nor even hon. and right hon. Members opposite, they are as much in the dark as we are, and so are their constituents. When are these Regulations to be introduced? This is the 32nd time that the question has been asked in 12 months, and it will also be on the records. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not say to-day that there is nothing to add to the previous replies. Let him reveal some originality this morning in preparation for the brief interlude we are to enjoy during the Whitsuntide Recess. The right hon. Gentleman tells me that he has to go to Geneva. I hope that he will not indulge in the same vexatious delays in relation to the subject with which he is called upon to deal at Geneva as he has done on this question. If so, he might as well remain at home and save the Treasury the expense of the journey. Let us not have this morning the answer which we have had so often, than this information will be revealed to us in the Spring. I think that something has gone wrong with the Government's understanding of the calendar.

Over and above all these considerations is the paramount consideration—what improvements are to take place in the Regulations when they come before this House and the country? We do not want these revised Regulations— and here I speak for every Member of the Labour party in this House and in the country —if they do not reveal a substantial improvement. Therefore, we warn the Government in no uncertain fashion that, if no improvement is revealed, we shall carry on this just agitation in the House and in the country. We believe that we represent public opinion in demanding that the vexatious interference with family life must be abandoned, that the present scales are much too low, and that they represent want and privation, even semi-starvation, in many families in our divisions. We very rightly protest against them and we shall go on protesting until the matter is remedied. I hope that on this issue the right hon. Gentleman will not only enlighten us this morning, but will give us some satisfaction.

11.50 a.m.


I am glad that we have the opportunity before the House adjourns for the Whitsuntide Recess to say a last word on the policy of the Government in regard to the unemployed and to condemn the shabby way in which the Government are treating the unemployed who come under the Unemployment Assistance Board. A huge amount of poverty exists in thousands upon thou sands of families in this country because of the policy and shabby treatment of the Government. The Government can not place that responsibility upon any body else. They have to shoulder the responsibility for the huge amount of poverty existing in the country, and they have to accept the responsibility for the machine which they set up in 1934 to create poverty. My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) asked who was responsible for the delay in doing something to better the conditions of the unemployed. He asked whether the responsibility was that of the Minister of Labour, the Chairman of the Unemployment Assistance Board, or the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I do Dot believe the stories that the Government are withholding their new Regulations because of any differences of opinion between the Minister of Labour and the Chairman of the Unemployment Assistance Board. I believe that the Government are doing nothing, and intend to do nothing. We are justified in believing that the Government intend to do nothing. The Prime Minister announced the withdrawal of the Coal Mines Bill yesterday on the ground that there was no time to deal with it between now 'and the next Session. If there is no time to deal with the Coal Mines Bill between now and the next Session, there will not be time to deal with new Unemployment Regulations, so I believe that I am justified in saying that the Government do not intend to bring in the new Regulations, or to do anything upon this question this Session.

I believe that they are adopting that attitude because they are satisfied with the standstill order, and are prepared to allow the present condition of things to continue. They want no change. They know that it is only a matter of time when all the people who were on the means test when the standstill agreement came into force will fall out and new entrants will come on to the means test under the old Regulations. The Government are prepared to continue the means test and to smash up family life in spite of what was said in the Manifesto at the General Election, allowing thousands upon thousands of the best people in this country to be pushed into the depths of poverty and be compelled to remain there. The Minister ought to be prepared to bring in the new Regulations. We are not satisfied and We shall never be satisfied with things as they are. We see all the poverty that has been and is being created in our villages, and we shall pro test against the present conditions of things. The first step towards remedying these conditions is for the Minister to bring forward the new Regulations. We can then see how the Government propose to carry out the promises they made at the General Election, and how they Propose to prevent the disunity of family life. We want to see how they propose to humanise the present condition of things and the means test. Even when they bring in the new Regulations we shall not be satisfied unless they put the unemployed particularly concerned into the same position as the unemployed who are receiving standard benefits. We are not pleading for new Regulations merely to tinker with the question and to better things in one or two respects.

There is no justification for treating an unemployed man on the Poor Law basis, because he has been unemployed for more than six months or 12 months. We protest against that. We protested against it in 1934 and we shall continue to protest. We shall protest against it when the Government bring in the new Regulations. The present policy of the Government, the standstill agreement, was discarded not only by the House but the country, yet the Government are prepared to rely upon it. That is a shocking way for the Government to treat these men. This is a human question. Thousands of people are suffering in poverty because of the Government's policy. The Government ought to get a move on and not be content simply to slide along as they have been doing.

11.59 a.m.


The House is en titled to an explanation of the long delay in bringing forward the Regulations. It is a delay which affects nearly half the unemployed at the present time. Nearly half of the unemployed are subject to the Unemployment Assistance Board's Regulations.

The MINISTER of LABOUR (Mr. Ernest Brown)

indicated dissent.


The Minister shakes his head. I think the figure in March was 45 per cent. If I am wrong the right hon. Gentleman Ns ill correct me. In any case, a very large section of the unemployed are subject to these Regulations. The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) has spoken of the means test. I do not wish to add very much to what has been said on that question, but I would point out that we want some modification of the household means test in the new Regulations. We cannot ask for or expect to get more, because the means test is in the Act. Hon. Members on this Bench are absolutely opposed to the household means test, and we should like to see it abolished, but it is no use hon. Members above the gangway thinking that they can get it abolished in Regulations, because it is part of the main Act. Although we cannot look for its abolition we can look for some modification which might at least make its incidence a little less severe.

The point to which I should like to draw attention is the question of the basic rent of the house, because it vitally affects the North of England and the de pressed industrial areas. When the Regulations were first introduced, on paper they appeared to give some measure of improvement to unemployed persons with large families, but in the mining districts with which I am familiar any benefit which might have come from the increased allowances for children was lost owing to the operation of other Regulations, and in particular owing to the operation of the basic rent allowance Clause. I hope that this question is receiving the careful attention of the Minister. No one would suggest that an unemployed man living in a high-rented house ought not to receive a higher allowance on the question as to what the basic rental should be, I am speaking for many thousands of unemployed men in the mining districts of the North of England and in my own industrial areas, where the houses are bad and the rents are low. The rents are low not by chance but be cause the houses are indifferent, and I cannot see any reason for giving a man a less allowance because there is not in the house the modern conveniences which a more expensive house would have.

The cost of living in the scattered mining villages where there are not facilities for shopping is often higher where the rents are low, This is a question which the Committee recently appointed might look into, and it might obtain evidence on the subject, because it is one that is being constantly discussed. It is often suggested that where rents are low the cost of living is also low. I do not believe that that is true. Anyhow the result of the Regulations, or particularly the result of fixing 7s. 6d. as the basic calculation for rent, has been that through out the low-rented districts there has been no advantage whatever to persons with large families. This is particularly a question which affects Scotland, the North of England and Wales. The whole question that we are discussing affects those districts far more than the south east or the midlands. I think I am correct in saying that out of very five applicants to the Board, four are in Scot land, the north of England and Wales and only one in the midlands or the south-east.

In speaking on this question on the Easter Adjournment Motion the Minister produced some cases which tended to justify the means test as it stands to day. We must consider Regulations not as they affect particular individual cases but as they affect a very large section of the community, not scattered throughout Great Britain but specially located in the distressed areas and in the hard hit industrial districts of the North of England and South Wales. It is the question of poverty generally which should be dealt with, because it affects the mass of the community, and in spite of what the Government have done there is very little more chance of employment to-day than there was two or three years ago. There have been many voluntary inquiries to show that malnutrition is widespread, but I should like to ask why it is not possible for the Minister of Labour to make these inquiries himself, and not allow them to be made almost exclusively by voluntary or semi-voluntary associations.


The hon. Member will understand that that is not my responsibilitly, and he will not overlook the fact that many months ago a committee was appointed by the Minister of Health on this subject, and that it is sitting now.


My point is that the Minister himself ought to suggest that allowances must be in proportion to the needs, and I want the right hon. Gentle man to make a further and fuller investigation of the need in light of the facts which have been brought to our knowledge by the voluntary bodies who have made independent investigations.


The hon. Member is not unaware that last week I announced the appointment of a powerful committee to assist me in this particular problem.


I welcome that announcement, but I would remind the Minister that this is late in the Spring of 1936 and some of us have been pressing upon the Government the importance of this problem not for months but for years past. It is only now that the Committee has been appointed. We welcome it. The Unemployment Assistance Board has been in existence for 18 months, and as the Minister and the Government lay such stress on the needs of the applicant, I suggest that they should have gone more fully into these needs. The suggestion has been made that the Regulations have been delayed owing to a desire to prevent discussion by many bodies which meet at Whitsuntide. I do not think there is anything in the suggestion, but I hope we shall have a full opportunity of discussing the Regulations when they are laid, and that they will not be rushed through. The view is expressed that we should not press the Government to produce these Regulations because they must, in the nature of things, be worse than the existing state of affairs, and by "worse" I mean that they will adversely affect the standard of living of the applicant. That view is based on the general principle that the whole policy of the 1934 Act was wrong, that to take this matter out of the hands of the House of Commons was a mistake. The Minister has been so tied up by that Act that it is impossible to frame Regulations which will be fair to the whole country and meet the local needs of Scotland and South Wales, the varying rates in different districts and other local conditions which exist.

There is a good deal of force in that argument. The authority has been taken out of the hands of the House but not out of the hands of the Minister, and although technically we are awaiting the Regulations of the Board, the fact re mains that the Minister has the right to table Amendments to the Regulations and to give reasons for the Amendments. Therefore, essentially we are waiting for the Regulations of the Minister. We wish him well and hope that the matter may be cleared up. Even if the new Regulations are less satisfactory than the existing state of affairs, it is only fair that families concerned should know where they stand. Great bitterness has resulted from this delay, which will make it more difficult to get agreement on the Regulations when they do appear. There has been much talk about the weather. It has been a very hard and cold winter in many parts of the North, and it has strained the resources of families. It has been a late and cold and rather depressing spring. The Minister of Labour quoted some verses on the last occasion. May I quote to him this verse:

  • "December days were brief and chill,
  • The winds of March were wild and drear,
  • And, nearing and receding still
  • Spring never would, we thought be here.
  • The leaves that burst the suns that shine,
  • Had not the less, their certain date,
  • And thou', Oh human heart of mine,
  • Be still, refrain thyself, and wait."

12.8 p.m.


The delay that has taken place in the issue of these regulations is indeed very alarming, but if they are likely to make the position worse than it is in South Wales to-day, then I for one do not want the Regulations. I remember quite distinctly what happened when the last Regulations were introduced. We cannot hold the present Minister of Labour entirely responsible for them. The Government were responsible, and I remember the effect which they had on the County of Mon mouthshire and the whole of South Wales. When they were issued we asked the public assistance committee to go into the matter fully, examine every case in the county and ascertain the effect on the income of unemployed people in the county. There were at the time about 29,000 unemployed, and about 60 per cent of them would come on the Unemployment Assistance Board for assistance. The information we received from the public assistance committee was that the Regulations would reduce the income of unemployed people by no less than £300,000 annually They meant an average reduction of about 4s. to 5s. per week. Everyone knows what an outcry they produced. Demonstrations through out the county grew up without any organisation at all, and all classes of the community were associated with them. It was not a question of the unemployed only. The employed, professional and business people—every one was associated with the demonstrations. There were demonstrations of 50,000 people and more, all voicing their protest against the result on the unemployed of such harsh conditions.

I make an appeal to the Minister. I think it was Beverley Nicholls who said that discussions of unemployment allowances ought to be carried on, not in the House of Commons but in the homes of the unemployed people. I want the Minister to try to picture those homes of the unemployed. Possibly he does not know them as well as I know them, for I live among them. We have men who have been unemployed, not for one year or two years but up to six and seven years. I do not want to take extreme cases but to quote an average case. A man and woman have had 26s. coming into their home. Has any one ever contended that unemployment benefit rates were or are full maintenance? I suggest that all through our discussions on unemployment the rates of benefit have never been held to be anything more than sufficient to meet occasional periods of unemployment, the money to be used for the purpose of helping the workpeople over those periods, the assumption being that they would use what little reserves they might have in order to carry them through their difficulty.

I ask hon. Members to try to picture the home of a man and wife with 26s. a week, with 7s. or 8s. to pay for rent, and 16s. or 17s. left, out of which every thing has to be purchased—clothes, food and all the incidentals that are necessary to maintain life in decency. I do not think that the Minister or any Member of the Government will dare to suggest that that sum is adequate. Six months of that, and then the Regulations operate. What happens when the Regulations operate 1 There is a reduction of 3s. a week, a reduction of 11 per cent. or 12 per cent. I ask hon. Members whose incomes may be £1,000 a year what would be the effect on their homes if they had a reduction of 11 per cent. or 12 per cent. in their incomes. They know perfectly well that the effect would be very damaging. But do let hon. Members try to picture the effect on a home where it is 10, 11 or 12 per cent. out of 26s. That is the problem that has to be faced. I think Beverley Nicholls was perfectly correct when he said that these discussions ought to take place inside the homes of the unemployed and with a full consciousness of what is happening in those homes.

We have had these conditions for years. I put a question to the Minister of Labour yesterday, asking him the number of people on statutory benefit in Mon mouthshire and the number who went for assistance to the Unemployment Assistance Board. There are 13,000 on statutory benefit and 19,000 who are dependant on the Unemployment Assistance Board. What is going to happen if the new Regulations impose further reductions on these people? I put it quite definitely to the Minister, that before he makes himself responsible for imposing further hardships on these unemployed people—they are people who have rendered ser vice to the land and are ready and anxious to render more service—he should remember what effect that action will have on him in the future. The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) told us of the low standard of life of the people who live in areas where unemployment has existed for so long. The Minister of Labour interrupted the hon. Member in order to state that he" has a committee sitting at, the present time. Are we to await the decisions of that committee before we get the Regulations, or are the Regulations to be produced before the Minister gets the report of that committee? We are entitled to know. I am sure that if every individual case in these names of the unemployed were gone into carefully, every hon. Member opposite would say that very much more than 26s. was needed by a house hold.

The real trouble is that we discuss these things away from these homes. I sometimes think it is too a harsh a thing to say that hon. Gentlemen opposite have no sympathy with the unemployed. I try to persuade myself that hon. Members opposite are not conscious of the conditions that exist. I hope I am right in that. If some day we are able to convey to hon. Gentlemen opposite the real conditions in the homes of the unemployed, perhaps we could expect some thing better than we halve yet had. There is the breaking up of homes, a son or daughter being made responsible for the maintenance of a home, 10s. being allowed to an unemployed son for his maintenance and 8s. for a. daughter, and all the balance going towards the maintenance of the home. In my judgment that is too great a strain to place on any one. Family ties in working class homes are quite as strong as in other homes, but if that test is put upon them it will break up the homes, as happened under the last Regulations.

I appeal to the Minister to see that the new Regulations when they are issued shall not have regard only to the rates of benefit that are paid but shall have regard to the needs of the home. Let us meet the needs of the home. If the Minister accepts that responsibility he will render a very great service not only to the unemployed but to the whole of the country in maintaining unfortunate people who are living under conditions that are of a very low standard. I ask the Minister to give careful consideration to this matter and to see that the Regulations when introduced in no way worsen the present conditions, but take into consideration the needs of every house hold.

12.24 p.m.

Wing-Commander JAMES

I do not suppose that the Minister has felt his withers unduly wrung by four consecutive Opposition speeches. We recognise, of course, that the Opposition have a constitutional duty to oppose and to examine; but what we are entitled to regret is that the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) and the Seconder should have introduced this subject to day with quite unnecessary and characteristic violence and exaggeration. Hon. Members opposite must know perfectly well that the means test agitation is really flat. [HON. MEMBERS: "No"] Oh yes. After all, we have had it in the last three elections, and I know very well from my experience in my own constituency that in the last election the means test attack had no sting in it. That is why, after the few first days of the campaign, hon. Members opposite transferred the gravity of their attack from the means test to foreign affairs. Now, rather naturally, when the line they took then on foreign affairs has been proved by the event to be so hopelessly wrong, they feel fairly safe in trying to shift back the agitation against the Government to the basis of the means test Regulations.

Let hon. Members cast their minds back to the last election but one, the election of 1931. At that time there was not a single hamlet in my constituency in which there were not people who were not indignant at the abuses which had crept in during the administration of the last Labour Government, thanks to the relaxation of the Regulations. Hon. Members opposite know perfectly well that their cause suffered more harm from the absence of the means test and the grave abuses which crept in in consequence than our cause has suffered, or will suffer, from the imposition of any means test. I say to the Minister that while we regret this delay we realise, as the hon. Member for one of the Cumberland Divisions seemed to realise, that it is not a simple problem which faces the Minister. Of course the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) would find no difficulty in dealing with it. His solution would be to dole out unlimited public funds to anybody who needed the money. [Interruption.] Of the hon. Member who is intervening now behind the hon. Member for Seaham, I say that his was a constructive opposition speech, to which I take no exception, and I was not referring to him.

To the Minister I say that we regret the delay, but hope he will not allow the party opposite, who made such a mess of this matter when they had a chance to deal with it, to "rattle" him. I do not suppose they will. Let us have these Regulations in due course, and the sooner the better, but let them be good Regulations, an improvement on the present Regulations. Let us wait until the Minister himself is quite satisfied and let us have good Regulations, and then let the Government stand firmly behind them, and we back bench Members will not be afraid to give them all support.

12.28 p.m.


I must thank the hon. and gallant Member for Welling borough (Wing-Commander James) for his very kindly lecture to us on this side about our constitutional duties and our constitutional rights. I cannot speak for the official Opposition, but I should say that they know their rights just as we know our rights, and just exactly how to raise these questions from day to day without being lectured in schoolmaster fashion. Some of us nay not belong to the hon. Gentleman's class, but we are not devoid of ordinary intelligence and capacity. He said the means test was to a large extent dead at the last election. I do not know his constituency well, and it would be presumptuous of me to say anything about the feeling there, but sitting in front of hint is the hon. Member for one of the Renfrewshire Divisions, and I am sure that lie would not agree that the means test was dead at the last election. It was one of the leading issues.

Wing-Commander JAMES

I said the agitation had no sting in it.


The sting was so great that Cabinet Ministers deemed it necessary to issue special messages on the subject to the electors and I am convinced that it was the biggest problem facing the Government in that election—in any of the great industrial districts. Then the hon. and gillant Member talked about the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) doling out public money. I wish that hon. Members when they get into politics would try to be fair. Fancy a supporter of a Government with the record of this one talking about other people doling out public money. They have given money to the shipowners, to the railways, to sugar beet cultivation, to the "Queen Mary," and their sup porters are still claiming that other sections of industry have not been subsidised. The right hon. Member for Hill-head (Sir R. Horne) has said that ship ping has only been partly subsidised, that there are certain lines in a bad way, and that to keep them going they need to be subsidised. Then there are branches of agriculture which have not got all the money they want, they are still in a bad way and are lining up in a queue for more. In face of that the hon. and gallant Member talks about hon. Members on this side handing out a few shillings to some miserable workmen, living in a miserable alley or a miserable backyard. It is a shocking and disgraceful thing.

Hon. Members opposite may talk as much as they like about the difficulties of farmers and the difficulties of shipping, but take all their difficulties and multiply them by 10 and they still will not be anything like the difficulties of the people whom we are discussing to-day. Money has been handed out to the people in those industries without any test, money doled out by the million—and then the hon. and Gallant Member comes here with his contemptible and miserable sneers in talking about the difficulties of the poor. I also feel terribly annoyed at the flip pant way in which the Minister has discussed this question. I hope that I can see the jocular things in life and am not without some sense of humour, and at the outset I took the answer about the Regulations coming with the Spring in a partly humorous way and partly serious, but lately I have got sick and tired of it, the humour has lost all its savour. When he said it would be done in the Spring we thought he meant the Spring; now we have gone on until the thing seems to be treated as though it were a comedy. There may be a reason why the Regulations were not introduced in the Spring. The House is entitled to know the reason for the delay.

The Minister has not been pressed for this reason, that there is a genuine feeling along the line of the fears expressed by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) when he said "I do not want the new Regulations if they are not going to be better than the old ones." Some of us have not pressed for them for fear they would be worse. But the Unemployment Assistance Board have reported and the Minister has now got all the particulars before him. Will he deny it? Of course he will not. The present position demands that something shall be done. I do not think anybody really knows what the law is at the present time. The law before this situation arose was that, roughly speaking, transitional payments were paid according to what the Poor Law authorities in the area had paid until the Regulations came in. Now we have this position. The transitional payments people pay either their scale or the Poor Law scale but it is not the Poor Law people who determine what scale shall be paid. It is the transitional payments people who determine the scale. What is happening now is that people do not know what the Poor Law scale is and all sorts of confusion arises. A person goes to the transitional payments people and says, "I want the Poor Law scale because it is better" and they say "What is the Poor Law scale; how do we know it?" A decision on this matter was made two years ago but no one knows it and thus we have all sorts of conflicting views.

I have a personal complaint against the Minister. Last Easter I raised a matter and asked him to make inquiry into it and he promised to do so. I have waited since for an answer but I have not got an answer yet on a point which I raised, I hope, with sufficient courtesy. It arises out of the stand still order. Under standard benefit a person who claims, say for his mother, has the right, if refused, to appeal to the court of referees. That right has now gone, as far as the person under transitional benefit is concerned. The person who determines the matter now for transitional benefit is the insurance officer and the claimant has no right of appeal to the court of referees. What ever else we may do, at least we ought to retain for the unemployed whatever rights of appeal they now possess. There is one point arising out of standard benefit into which I would ask the Minister to look. I may say that I am not at all satisfied with the position as regards standard benefit and in one respect, indeed, it is almost intolerable. Take the position of a woman who is acting as a housekeeper. The position, as I see it, is that where there are children; benefit is payable, but where there are no children no benefit is payable. Take the case of a man who is living with a sister. He and his sister may have lived together since the death of their parents but that man when unemployed gets nothing for his sister.

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