§ Again considered in Committee.
§ [Captain BOURNE in the Chair.]
Question again proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £14,338,000, 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, 1938, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Labour, including sums payable by the Exchequer to the Unemployment Fund. Grants to Local Authorities, Associations and other bodies under the Unemployment Insurance, Labour Exchanges and other Acts; Grant in Aid of the National Council of Social Service; Expenses of Training, Transfer and Resettlement; Contribution towards the Expenses of the International Labour Organisation (League of Nations); Expenses of the Industrial Court; and sundry services."—[Note.—£9,500,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Lawson
When we were interrupted I was dealing with the amount of the cost of administration of the Unemployment Assistance Board. I think it is more than a mere debating point and that it is of 223 the deepest import to this Committee that the matter should receive serious attention. I think my figures are quite sound. They are based upon what are the estimates as compared with the figures for 1930–31, when the administration of something like 900,000 transition people cost just over £1,000,000, and now fewer than 600,000 are costing £5,000,000 for administration alone. When one considers that we have duplicated the machinery and that the Ministry of Labour still stands, and when we remember all that the right hon. Gentleman said about the machinery, about the skilled men who do the work in the Department, and about the managers who take some part in the social life of each area—I would confirm all that he said on that score—it will be seen how important the question is. I have never seen why the Ministry of Labour with its own staff should not have continued to be responsible for the welfare of these long-term unemployed. I think an examination of the facts will underline my view that this House and the country at a moment of economic crisis were stampeded into doing something which, on closer and calmer investigation, will not hold water.
I do not want to take up too much time, because there are many other hon. Members in all parts of the House who want to speak, but I would like to say that the cost of living matter which was raised by the Minister is not merely a matter for the new committee that has been set up. We are very pleased that that committee has been set up, as there was need for a re-examination of the whole of the factors, but I think something more pressing is needed. I took some pains to get out some figures in an area like my own, last week-end. I have never been satisfied with o. this or o. that, which does not convey much. It is all right as an approximate measure, but in dealing with human things it does not give you a true estimate. I find in my own neighbourhood that since 1934 bacon has increased by 3d. per lb. and butter by 2.d., but, worst of all, flour has increased from 1s. 1d. to 2s. 3¼d. per stone. The cost of flour is a very important item, and it has doubled in the North, where we still bake our own bread, particularly in some of the poorer areas, because they find they can get more out of the flour 224 than they can by buying bread by the loaf. Think what a tremendous thing it means that the cost of flour since 1934 has been doubled. Is there not there a reason for re-examining these scales of payment to the unemployed who are the hardest hit and who have to live very meagrely? If substantial commodities of this kind have gone up in that way, there is really need for something more pressing than merely waiting for the report of a committee that, after all, deals only with the factors that make up the cost of living.
There are naturally many other items on which one wanted to speak. My hon. Friends from Durham will deal with a very important document that has been sent out by the Durham County Council—and I think most of the depressed areas are in the same position—in which they take exception to the number of people left out of the calculation instead of being provided for by the Unemployment Assistance Board. While the right hon. Gentleman dealt with the whole of his Department—and I was very pleased that he should have had that opportunity—the outstanding thing about his speech, as will be seen particularly in a year or two, was the complete absence of a policy to deal with a state of things which every sensible person in this Committee and in the country knows will prevail once this £1,500,000,000 is spent. We are coming to a time when there will be an increase of unemployment, and in the light of that I think the Government should be severely surveying the whole situation, in order to do public works on the same generous scale as they are doing these other works for munition purposes.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Maitland
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) is always a very fair debater, and I am sure he has found, in regard to certain of the matters which he introduced, sympathy in other quarters of the Committee than those in which he sits. I would, however, say to him with regard to one point which he raised—which is not a new point, but is one which is frequently used by him and his friends—in regard to the present position. He gave us, I have no doubt quite accurately, a list of percentages of unemployment in certain parts of the country, but I would remind him that the short 225 answer to that is that in 1931 those percentages were infinitely worse than they are to-day.
§ Mr. Lawson
In 1931 there were nearly £1000,000 men working in the mining industry in this country, and there is nothing like that number now. We have lost 160,000 men in the mining industry since that time.
§ Mr. Maitland
I do not want to lead the hon. Member into a detailed discussion. I am merely dealing with a point which he made, and I want to say to him and his friends that the mentality which is always looking for pessimism is the wrong kind of mentality with which to approach the problems of the day. I think we have great cause for rejoicing in the great improvement in employment which has taken place since the year 1931. The hon. Member mentioned that the improvement in the year 1936 is largely due to the expenditure which is being incurred by the Government in connection with rearmament, but I think very little of the money that has been spent on the rearmament programme accounts for this increased employment during the year under review. It is a comforting thought to remember that, apart from rearmament, one of the industries which provides the greatest amount of employment in this country is the building industry and particularly the building of houses. In fact, a great deal of the improvement that has taken place in our employment figures in recent years has resulted from the fact that, inspired by the policy of the present Government, great strides have been made in improving the housing conditions of our people. [Interruption.] No one in this Committee can deny that His Majesty's Government have initiated great schemes of housing progress, which have resulted in great benefit to the people of the country, and if any proof of that fact is wanted, hon. Members can find it in the report of the Ministry of Health, which will show that more homes have been built during the last five years than at any other time in our history.
§ Mr. Maitland
That is immaterial. The point is that under the existing Government the houses have been built. Now I want to deal with the Unemployment Insurance Fund and to draw the attention 226 of the Minister and of the Committee to the history of that fund. It is to the credit of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) that when he introduced the Unemployment Insurance scheme first of all, he introduced it upon such a basis as to make it actuarially sound. Hon. Members will remember that on its first introduction it was a very modest scheme. It provided for only 2,500,000 workers, and its annual income at that time was about £3,000,000. In the first Act provision was made, recognising the fluctuations that would ordinarily come about in trade, for Treasury borrowing to the extent of £3,000,000, equal to one year's income, and it was quite realised then that it might be necessary for the Treasury borrowing to be called on owing to trade fluctuations. The Great War was, I suppose, responsible for the fact that there was no great extension of the scheme until 1920. In that year the scheme was extended and revised to a very large extent. There were then brought under the scheme no fewer than 12,000,000 workers, and certain alterations were made in the financial provisions, still bearing in mind the principle that it should be a self-supporting and financially sound scheme.
It started with a surplus of £22,000,000 in accumulated funds, and because of the surplus it was resolved that there should be no more Treasury borrowing. In 1921, however, unemployment increased rapidly and various alterations were made both as to contributions and benefits. Rules were relaxed, and, stated in a sentence, the whole surplus which existed in 1920 was exhausted. From 1921 onwards Governments came to the House to ask for more money, until in 1931 the fund had reached a debt of £115,000,000. Then there was a halt to borrowing. It was called by reason of the circumstances which are well known to hon. Members below the Gangway, and it was caused by circumstances which necessitated a wholesale change. Contributions were increased and benefits were reduced, and as a result of these and other changes it was decided that there should be no further increase in the fund's indebtedness. A Royal Commission reviewed the whole scheme, and as a result and recommendations they made we had the Act of 1934. The debt, then £106,000,000 outstanding, 227 instead of being a short-term debt, was converted into a long-term debt on the basis of interest of 3⅛ per cent., and on terms which provided that there should be repaid to the National Debt Commissioners a sum of £5,000,000 a year in respect of capital and interest for a period of 37 years, when the debt would be totally extinguished.
There are sound reasons to believe that this debt could be quickly extinguished, a fact due in large measure to the steps taken in 1931 by His Majesty's Government. They set up the Unemployment Statutory Committee, the debt was converted, and arrangements were made that the Fund should be kept solvent. One of the main duties of that Committee is to see that the Fund is kept solvent, and if at any time they have any grounds for believing that it would be in danger of insolvency, they must send an immediate report to the Ministry of Labour. It is common knowledge that the Fund has been kept solvent. I was looking at the figures for the last three years, and it is a remarkable fact that for that period it has an income equal to the total of the pre-War budget—a sum amounting to nearly £200,000,000. It should be borne in mind that that sum is paid as to one-third by the workers, one-third by the employers and one-third by the State. That should be remembered when hon. Gentlemen are making suggestions as to what should be done by the Government in regard to the Fund. I notice that during the three years to December, 1936, the benefits paid have amounted to £123,000,000, that £15,000,000 has been paid in respect of debt and interest, £13,000,000 for administration charges and £1,000,000 for other purposes. There was a surplus in 1936 of £39,000,000, and to-day it is £47,000,000.
I wish to ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary one or two questions, and I am grateful to the Committee for having allowed me to give that review of the history of the Fund. It is important on the few occasions that we have of dealing with this matter that the Committee should have some intimation about the finances of the Fund. I understand that the basis upon which the Statutory Committee has worked has been to assume an average percentage of unemployment over a period of time, to create 228 a reserve to meet fluctuations and to reserve sufficient to pay the £5,000,000 fixed annual charge, and finally to distribute a certain sum by way of reduction of contributions and increased benefits, but there is one specific point with which they have not dealt. They have now £47,000,000 in hand and they are still paying 31⅛ per cent. on the outstanding debt. The question I want to ask is whether any representation has been made by the Committee with regard to the extinction of the debt. I hope that in the light of the experience of the Fund, and particularly of the necessity for maintaining its solvency and stability the Government will not be attracted by the idea that there should be an undue increase of benefit to contributors. It is more important that the benefits which are guaranteed should he continued than that there should be a transitory period when they are increased at the expense of people in future who might not be able to get even the minimum benefits which are now secured. The Committee have already achieved, on the figures which they have given more than is deemed necessary by them for a proper reserve. They have therefore what may be termed a disposable surplus. I hope that they will have due regard to the fact that this surplus has been built up by three parties—the State, the employers and the workers, and I shall he glad if the Minister can give us information as to the intentions of the Government with regard to the distribution of the surplus.
We have had many Debates on the Ministry of Labour during recent years which have been very depressing, and it is to-day a welcome change that we are able to appreciate the fact that there has been a great improvement in 1936–37. I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Chester-le-Street that it will be necessary for the Government to have regard to the fact that when the programme of rearmament has been completed care should be taken to see that there is not serious trouble. I would remind the hon. Gentleman and his friends, however, that we must deal with first things first, and while doing that I am sure the Government will have regard to the position that will be created some years hence.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. W. Roberts
We have just listened to a speech outlining the history of the 229 Unemployment Fund, and I am sure the hon. Member need have no fear that the present Government will increase benefits beyond a point which he might consider reasonable. I think that one of the real lessons of that history is that if we are at present enjoying a period of trade boom, as we are told, this is the moment when the Unemployment Fund should build up a reserve against the possible contingencies which may come in the next few years. I think that there is a strong case, merely on the cost of living alone, to raise the rates of benefit. Apart from that, unemployment, as the Minister was anxious to point out, has reached a lower level than it has been at for some years, and that is the reason why the fund should undoubtedly be in funds at the present time and be increased against the possibility, of which people of great eminence are warning us, of a return of increased unemployment in the not too distant future. The Minister made no reference to the possible outlook in the next year or so. He dealt mainly with the administration problems which are occupying his Department.
I want to call the attention of the Committee to the outlook for the future, and to deal particularly with the problem with which we have so often dealt in this House, but which still remains in spite of all that has been said, and of the few things that have been done, namely, the problem of the Special Areas. The Minister said that there was a fair trade wind blowing at the present time and that he had many cargoes of valuable merchandise which were coming to harbour under that fair wind. Any Minister of Labour must be a man who is particularly subject to either fair or adverse winds. He is particularly subject to the effects not only of general trade conditions, but of the actions of other Ministers. That is one reason why we still deplore that there is no special Minister responsible for the Special Areas. The position is improving as a result of the activities of the Defence Ministries, but that will not continue. In some ways I sometimes wonder whether it is an advantage to have munition factories and other parts of the Defence programme established in the Special Areas, because many parts of the Special Areas are in their present plight just because that was done during the War. Unless the Government face the problem of what is to happen at the end of the 230 five years, assuming that the munition factories are not then working at full output to meet the demands of a war, what will be the position then? I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us whether any plans are being developed.
A few years ago we were told that in the adverse financial conditions then existing it was useless for the Government to consider plans, because a time of bad trade was not the moment to be spending money. Are we to be told now that the Government Departments are so fully occupied that they have not the time to deal with the problem? Is it to be left until unemployment does begin to rise again? Some experts suggest that that date may be the first quarter of next year—I hope they are wrong—but it is a possibility which I hope the Government are facing. The Minister referred to the past year as a very satisfactory year of constructive and creative administration, but said that in spite of this he could not sit down complacently in face of the circumstances still existing, and referred to the inquiry which is being made into the very difficult problem of the older men and the very large number of younger men. But there is a much bigger problem even than that. Those are the symptoms of the problem, not the problem itself.
Have the Government really got any plan to deal with the situation which is bound to arise when the expenditure on armaments begins to flag? The position of the Special Areas is not too good even to-day; I could really put it much more strongly than that. In the distressed area which I know most about there was a percentage of unemployment of 21.9 on 24th May. I think I am correct in saying that the percentage of unemployed in the country as a whole was 10 per cent. or thereabouts. We have double the number of unemployed in the distressed areas. There are districts like Bishop Auckland where the unemployment figure is 36 per cent., and there are towns where it rises to very nearly 50 per cent. The fact of the matter is that though the distressed areas have benefited to some extent by the general improvement in trade the percentage of unemployment there is at least twice, and in many cases four times, as great as it is in the country as a whole. We have not yet had a report from the new Commissioner 231 of the Special Areas, and we do not know exactly what he is working upon. We hope he is producing plans. We have not had a report upon the Special Areas since last November. I should welcome a six-monthly report, because the problem ought to be continuously and closely watched.
A committee has been promised to look into the location of industry, but while it has been promised—it was the recommendation of the Commissioner last November—it has not yet been appointed. Judging from the lack of system in the location of armament industries, we may fairly press the Government to say whether they do in fact mean to appoint the committee and attempt to deal with the ever-increasing problem of the growth of industry in the South. The moral we can draw is this: The armaments plan has been hurried, and because it has been hurried it has been more expensive and the location of arms' industries has, been frequently unsuitable. If, when the armaments programme comes to an end, the Government did by any chance decide then to carry out a programme of what I may describe as civil rearmament, a programme of equipping this country with some of the social and industrial equipment which it greatly needs, and that has to be hurried through at the same pace as the rearmament programme, there will be vast waste. Can we not persuade the Minister of Labour to face the situation now while his position is fairly easy by reason of the reduction in unemployment? Unless the plans for the location of industry and for the development of the distressed areas are worked upon now he may be hustled in the making of plans when the rearmament programme comes to an end, and he will be wasting money and will not carry out the plans with any real efficiency.
The improvement in trade which has resulted from rearmament has really proved our main contention. When I say our main contention I refer to the proposals offered to the Government repeatedly ever since 1929, and perhaps before that date, by the Opposition. It was the contention that Government schemes could relieve unemployment not only by the actual work which they provide but by breaking the vicious circle 232 of under-consumption and the resulting under-employment, and that money ought to be spent at times when trade is not naturally active. Although some parts of England are enjoying a trade boom there is still the same need in the distressed areas for the stimulation of industry as there has been in the last few years. Normally a private individual spends money when trade is good, and the normal member of a local authority feels that when his own bank balance is not too bad it may be possible for that authority to spend money on such things as roads and houses.
I am convinced that the rearmament programme has proved that the important thing for a Government is to spend when normal trade is slack. Therefore, while we welcome such work as the Post Office programme which will result from the loan of £35,000,000 recently sanctioned, I suggest that that work could and should have been carried out in the lean years, and not in these more prosperous years. If that had been done it would have paved the way for far greater normal industrial activity at the present time. As to the difficulty of getting these plans started, I would point out that at the election we heard of a great five-year plan to spend £100,000,000 on the roads. Though this is 1937 and 1¾ years have passed since the plan was announced, I believe that only £9,000,000 has yet been spent, because of the difficulty of getting the actual work put in hand. That leaves £90,000,000 to be spent in the remaining 3¼ years if the plan is to be fulfilled.
One aspect of the case of the Special Areas to which I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give some consideration when he replies is that of providing them with better communications. We in Cumberland have the advantage of an exceedingly active Development Council, which has received many inquiries from industrialists who may possibly establish new industries there, but I know that hon. Members who will he speeding up to Scotland next month will pass through Cumberland without realisng for a moment what the real needs of the situation are. The main road north goes through the agricultural part of the county, and leaves to the west that isolated area of industrial depression, depressed partly because our export industries have not revived in spite of some slight improvement, and partly 233 because rationalisation and modern inventions have made it possible to produce a greater output of steel and iron and coal with fewer men. Those hon. Members who go through that smiling and pleasant county will leave away to the west all the distress of a Special Area. If they wish to travel to that Special Area they must at present find their way somehow or other through the Lake District and on to the coast. If they go around the north they travel actually 50 or 60 miles further than if they went by the southern road going from the north of Lancashire and then up the coast.
I plead with the Parliamentary Secretary to use his influence with the other Ministers concerned, and particularly with the Minister of Transport, to consider a project which the Cumberland Development Council is putting forward with the very full approval of the Cumberland County Council, to create a new road round the west coast of Cumberland. That is not a new proposition; it has been before the local authorities and the Ministry for many years. The general contention I want to make with regard to it is that if that work, which may cost a very considerable sum, had been carried out during the really lean years about 1931, when it was not easy to find new industries, we should now be able to place many new industries in West Cumberland.
Communication is vital. If that preliminary work had been carried out when trade was bad—it is true that financial facilities were stringent—we should be in a very much better position to-day than we are. We should not have the remaining hard core of unemployment which, in our case, does not drop below 10,000, and e should have real offers to make to men who are prepared to receive the facilities which the Government now can give them. I reinforce the plea which was made from the Opposition Front Bench that this is the time to be preparing those major works so as to have them ready to be made use of as soon as the employment due to rearmament begins to slacken.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Sandys
The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) made two main points. He first drew attention to the fact that the percentage of unemployment is much greater 234 in the distressed areas than in the country as a whole. The Committee know that I have always taken a very keen interest in the problem of the distressed areas and have always been among those who have pressed the Government for greater activity in this matter, but I do not think there is much weight in the hon. Member's argument. The important thing is not the percentage but the actual numbers. So long as there is any unemployment at all there will always be big differences in the percentages of unemployment in different parts of the country, and it may not always be the same areas in which unemployment is greatest. The regrettable fact is that there are still areas where there is heavy unemployment.
But in referring to this matter, it would only have been right to draw attention to the very great decrease in unemployment which has taken place even in the distressed areas. I cannot help feeling, therefore, that the general policy of the Government is right, though some hon. Members may say that in this or that respect they should go further and faster. The general policy of the Government in regard to unemployment has been, as I understand it, to create conditions in which prosperity is possible over the country as a whole, and then to deal, by special measures, with the remaining hard core where it has not been dissolved as a result of the general improvement. There is still a great deal to be done, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend would be the first to ackowledge that that is so.
The hon. Member made another point. I think it was his main point. He criticised the Government for not taking steps to deal with the unemployment which might occur in the future. My right hon. Friend is indeed in an enviable position. A Minister of Labour is surely to be congratulated who has done so well that his opponents can only criticise him for not curing unemployment which has not yet taken place. It is important to see that slumps and booms are minimised as far as possible, but the fact that this was the principal point emphasised in a speech from the Liberal benches is a great tribute to the success of the Ministry of Labour. My right hon. Friend, in his very comprehensive survey of the successful working of his Department gave us the answer 235 to the question why the Opposition during the past two years have not been in more of a hurry to discuss the Ministry of Labour Vote.
I wish to confine my remarks to one matter to which the Minister referred briefly in his speech. I refer to the training centres for soldiers when they leave the Army. This work has very recently been transferred from the responsibility of the War Office to that of the Ministry of Labour. The previous position was that there were—and for the moment still are—three training centres under the control of the Army. These had adequate accommodation for training 3,000 men every year However, this accommodation was not sufficient to deal with the large number of soldiers who return from India and from oversea stations. Therefore with the purpose of providing more extensive facilities for the training of soldiers for civilian life, the Government decided to transfer the whole of these activities from the War Office to the Ministry of Labour. Under the new scheme two new training centres are to be constructed. Two of the three existing Army centres are to be taken over by the Ministry of Labour, though the Aldershot centre is to be closed down for technical reasons Some of the existing Ministry of Labour centres are to be reserved exclusively for soldiers. However, the remaining applicants, amounting I understand to as much as 50 per cent., will have to go to ordinary Ministry of Labour unemployed training centres.
Such a scheme obviously could not be put into execution overnight. At present there is a transitional scheme in operation. The three Army centres continue to function as before, but applicants for whom there is no room are offered facilities for training in Ministry of Labour centres. Although the transitional scheme has been in operation for about six months there has been practically no response at all to the offer of facilities for soldiers to enter Ministry of Labour training centres upon their discharge from the Army. During that period some 2,000 men had their applications for admission to the Army training centres rejected owing to there not being sufficient accommodation. Yet, as far as I can find out, less than a dozen of those 2,000 men have gone into the Ministry of Labour centres. I understand that reports from 236 units all over the country show that nearly 100 per cent. of the applicants stated that if they should be refused admission into Army centres they did not wish to go into a Ministry of Labour training centre as an alternative.
There must be some reason for that. Why are the Ministry of Labour training centres so unpopular in the Army? There is nothing wrong with the training centres themselves. What is wrong is that the difference in the conditions between the Army training centres and the Ministry of Labour training centres is so great as to offer little inducement to men to go into the Ministry of Labour training centres. The training in the Army centres takes place during the last six months before the soldier leaves the Army. Under the new scheme men will have to serve their full time in the Army and then go to the Ministry of Labour training centres like any ordinary unemployed men, during the six months after they leave the Army. At the Army centres they receive their full Army pay and allowances, but in the Ministry of Labour centres they receive merely the regulation unemployment scales. That makes a very big difference. A private soldier, who in the Army was receiving £1 or an N.C.O. who was perhaps earning double that amount when he goes into a Ministry of Labour training centre is paid no more than 4s. to 5s.
Hon. Members may say that that is fair or unfair. The fact remains that the centres are not popular in the Army at the moment. Men are not going into them. The result is that many of the men are going out untrained into the world after leaving the Army, and that fact cannot possibly have a good effect upon recruiting.
§ Mr. Silverman
Does the hon. Member not think that the real reason why there is this great reluctance to go into the training centres is that the men have relatives outside, and from their knowledge of the experience of those relatives they have no confidence whatever that the training centres will enable them to find employment?
§ Mr. Sandys
I do not think that is the reason at all. So far as I understand the position, the percentage of men placed in work after they have been through the training centres is extremely satisfactory.
§ Mr. Sandys
The point which I wish to emphasise is that, under the new scheme, soldiers upon leaving the Army are being reduced to the status of unemployed men. Hon. Members may say that there is nothing dishonourable in being unemployed. There certainly is not. However it is not, on the other hand, exactly an inducement to join the Army. What I wish to consider is the effect of this scheme upon recruiting. The scheme is unpopular. That unpopularity may, in the opinion of the Government, be justified or unjustified. The fact remains that the unpopularity exists, and, so long as it exists, it cannot but have a detrimental effect on recruiting. Anybody who studies the problem of recruiting knows that one of the first thoughts in the mind of the prospective recruit is, "What will happen to me when I leave the Army? What are the prospects of my getting a good job?" A man who gets a good job on leaving the Army is the best advertisement that the Army can possibly have. In the same way, a man who is unemployed, or who gets an inferior job, after having served his time with the colours, is a great deterrent to recruiting. Rightly or wrongly, the responsibility for this, which I regard as one of the main factors in the whole recruiting problem—
§ The Temporary Chairman (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
The two matters are very closely connected. The hon. Member is quite in order.
§ Mr. Sandys
It would not be possible, I submit, to raise this question on the War Office Vote, now that it has been transferred to the Ministry of Labour. Rightly or wrongly, the responsibility for this, which is one of the principal factors in the whole recruiting problem, has been transferred from the Secretary of State for War to the Minister of Labour. Personally, I am inclined to doubt the wisdom of that decision. It divides responsibility on an essentially military question in a manner which, certainly from the point of yew of the House of Commons, is most unsatisfactory. If it is not too late, I would ask my right hon. Friend and the Government seriously to reconsider their decision in this matter. If it is too late, 238 if the arrangements have already gone so far that they cannot be reversed, I would ask my right hon. Friend seriously to consider taking some active steps to remedy the position.
I would like to submit for his sympathetic consideration three modest proposals. The first is that the Army centre at Aldershot together with one other should be kept running under Army control, and should be reserved for certain privileged categories, in particular long-service men, who, I think, have some claim to be treated preferentially. In the second place, I would suggest that all applicants who cannot go to the Army-controlled centres should be sent to those Ministry of Labour centres which are exclusively reserved for soldiers. That should not be very difficult to arrange. My third proposal is that Army men going to these Ministry of Labour centres should be given pay equivalent to that of private soldiers in the Army. That would put most of them back in the same financial position in which they were under the old scheme when they were trained during the last six months of their Army service. These are modest proposals. Certainly nothing less is likely to meet the case.
In conclusion, I would like to say that nothing I have said in this respect should in any way be regarded as a criticism of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. On the contrary, I think we ought to sympathise with him in the very heavy and, I can imagine, unwelcome task which has been laid upon him by the War Office. I am sure he fully recognises the great new responsibilities which he has assumed under this new scheme, and I am confident that we can rely upon him to do everything in his power, either on the lines I have suggested or in some other way, to improve the conditions in training centres for soldiers when they leave the Army.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Daggar
Most persons who read the Ministry of Labour Gazette will have noticed the cost of living figures which are given each month. That document shows the variations in all the items of the cost of living figure—food, rent, clothing, fuel and light, and so on—for each month from 1920. I would suggest that we might be given particulars for each item over the same period. In a 239 Debate in the House on 13th April, the Minister of Health made this very pertinent observation:A man does not live by calories alone; the national health does not depend only on vitamins, but, I believe, on a steady pursuit of many objectives, such as better housing, the clearance of slums, maternity and child welfare, the provision of more open spaces, and physical recreation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th April, 1937; col. 864, Vol. 322.]All persons, even politicians, now agree that man cannot live by bread alone, but our problem is that he cannot live without it, and that open spaces and physical training and recreation are poor substitutes for a decent standard of existence for our unemployed. I propose to deal with the increase that has taken place in the cost of living as a justification for making an increase in the allowances now paid to the unemployed. Whenever this issue is raised, we are always reminded of the increase that has taken place in rates of wages. In fact, the Minister of Health, when he spoke on 13th April, told us that since 1933 conditions had improved, and that in 1935 over 2,350,000 workpeople benefited from a net increase in wages of nearly £190,000 a week. I think the Minister of Labour destroyed the effectiveness of such a statement, because, on the first of this month, he observed, in reply to a question:It is certainly very good work for the employers and trade unions, and for the Government, which made the atmosphere possible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1St July, 1937; COL 2128, Vol. 325.]In my area, at any rate, women cannot pay bills with atmosphere. I have never been impressed by the argument that wages are affected by the political complexion of any Government. In any case, such an argument is undoubtedly over-stressed, because, if such an increase is due to the existence of the present Government, the right hon. Gentleman and his friends must accept the discredit of having been responsible for a reduction of wages at the rate of £6,000,000 a week in 1921, of £4,000,000 a week in 1922, of £249,000 a week in 1932, and of £65,000 a week in 1933. It will be interesting to have the observations of the Parliamentary Secretary, who, I understand, is to reply to this discussion, on the following statement in Reynolds's Newspaper for 20th June last: 240Wages, announce the Ministry of Labour gleefully, are going up at the rate of £18,000,000 a year. They rejoice that the standard of living for 11,000,000 employed workpeople will rise in 12 months by one penny per head per week. We, too, could rejoice in that increase, ridiculously small though it is, but for the fact that, when 20s. of wages goes into the housewife's purse, its value in terms of what she can buy is only 17s. 6d. compared with 12 months ago. On a total wage bill of £1,520,000,000, workers will gain £18,000,000; their wives will lose £190,000,000. And they call it prosperity!Even that newspaper can make just as reliable observations as the "Morning Post" or the "Daily Telegraph." While we on these benches admit that there has been an improvement in trade, with a consequent decrease in the number of unemployed, this question of an increase of unemployment allowances is one of enormous importance, especially in Wales, where we have 32,000 unemployed miners, and where, according to the Second Industrial Survey, there are 22,000 wholly unemployed men between the ages of 54 and 65. Allowances, therefore, appear to have become a permanent feature of our social life, and they should be adequate to maintain an unemployed person in accordance with a decent standard of existence.
I want to emphasise the fact that these increases in wages are now being used to effect reductions in the allowances paid to the unemployed. Increases in the wages of the employed are exploited or appropriated in order to subsidise the fund of the Unemployment Assistance Board. In my opinion, no meaner treatment could be imagined; no more dishonourable method could be devised. This is being done at a time when the nation, assisted by this Government, has been spending millions of pounds on celebrations, ceremonials and displays, and at a time when the cost of living is continually rising. Again, I desire to remind hon. Members that, whether there has been a rise in nominal wages or in real wages, the unemployed man is not at an advantage. The one factor which affects him is the cost of living, and an increase in the cost of living affects him adversely. To him it means a reduction of his allowance.
On 13th April last, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health indulged in a quibble about percentages or points in connection with the increase in the cost of living. I do not know why he 241 did so, unless he wanted to kill time during the Debate, because the facts are very simple. According to the Ministry of Labour Gazette for May of this year, the cost of living is higher than it has been for seven years, and I should be happy to hear the observations of the Parliamentary Secretary on the facts that I propose to lay before the Committee. In May it was 152 points, as compared with 100 in July, 1914. In other words, the average percentage increase in May of this year was 52 compared with July, 1914. You have to go back to February, 1931, to reach the figure of 52 and to January, 1931, for the figure of 53, and the lowest figures during that period was 36 for the months of May and June, 1933. The cost of living figure has increased in May of this year compared with May, 1933, by 16 points. That increase detrimentally affects the standard of existence of the unemployed man or woman, and the allowances paid by the Unemployment Assistance Board should be proportionately increased. To take food alone, the rise from May, 1933, to May of this year has been from 14 per cent. above the 1914 level to 36 per cent., an increase of 22 per cent.
In discussing this important question I wonder how many Members have perused the publication entitled" The Cost of Living Index Number, Method of Compilation," the first paragraph of which points out:As the phrase 'increase in the cost of living' can be interpreted in various ways, it should at the outset be observed that the statistics prepared by the Minister of Labour ale designed to measure the average increase in the cost of maintaining unchanged the prewar standard of the working classes. By this is meant the standard actually prevailing in working class families just before the War, irrespective of whether or not such standard was adequate.The family budgets taken as the basis of these calculations were those of 1904, and the standard of existence of the working classes as far back as 1904–33 years ago—is not suitable for our people to-day, especially when it is stated in an official document that such a standard was accepted, "irrespective of whether or not such standard was adequate." Who today considers that the standard of living of our people is adequate? Yet in spite of these facts, we are told by the Minister of Labour on behalf of the Government that it is not proposed to increase the unemployment allowances, although 242 the cost of living has increased by over 16 per cent. I wish that I could say when the working class of this country will refuse to accept a 33 years' old standard of living.
Worse than that is the knowledge that in areas where economies have been effected in local government administration which have resulted in rent reductions, the Unemployment Assistance Board have exploited these conditions at the expense of the unemployed man and woman. I want to give the Committee one or two examples, and to point out that the Ministry of Labour have had the information in regard to these cases since 26th May, and that up to now neither the Minister nor his Secretary have had the decency to acknowledge the receipt of the last communication I sent to them. What steps are to be taken to expose the meanness of men who are in receipt of at least £96 a week? In Abertillery they have been successful in effecting a reduction in rates, with the result that rents have been reduced. In cases where the rent has been reduced by 3d. a week the Unemployment Assistance Board at Thames House have reduced the allowances by twice that amount—6d. a week. I have another individual whose rent was reduced by 5d. and they stopped 6d. Another man's rent was reduced by 5d. and his allowance was reduced by 6d.
I have other cases which illustrate the mean actions of the Board or their local officials. I mention them because publicity may cause them to feel ashamed. I have a case of a father who has a crippled son. That son is 30, has never worked and never will work, with the result that previous to the operation of the existing regulations, the son was in receipt of public assistance. He was taken over by the Board, and the Board had the good grace to reduce the allowances going into that home by no less than 3s. a week. I have another case of a man, wife and invalid daughter. The total determination was 1 12s. 6d. The father-in-law, when he was permitted to remain on public assistance, received 7s. plus 10s. pension. The Board took over the lot and reduced the allowance in the case of the father-in-law by no less than 7s. a week. That case has been seen to and has been altered, but what I am objecting to is that these persons should he put to the inconvenience of having to 243 wait for payments to which they are justly entitled. To be unemployed is cruel enough; to be harassed by the use of such methods is contemptible, and constitutes a disgrace to any Government.
I have never been able to appreciate the difference made by some persons—many of whom are Members of this House—between what is required to maintain an unemployed man, his wife and his children and the requirements of an employed man with similar responsibilities. That being my attitude, let me direct the attention of the Committee to another statement of some importance. Quite recently the Minister of Health made a complimentary reference to a book entitled "The Human Needs of Labour," written by Mr. Seebohm Rowntree, the book which the Noble Lady opposite observed was of sufficient importance to make unnecessary the further inquiry proposed by the Minister. The author states that he is convinced that his main conclusions cannot be challenged and he adds:In assessing the cost of the various items necessary for the maintenance of physical efficiency, I come to the conclusion that these cannot be provided at less than 53s. a week for an urban worker with a wife and three dependent children.There is an enormous difference between 53s. and the miserable amount now being paid out by the Unemployment Assistance Board to an unemployed man with similar responsibilities. Let me in connection with this issue direct the attention of the House to another brilliant observation recently made by a younger Member of the Government, by one whose facility of speech is only equalled by his distorted idea of what constitutes progress. I refer to a statement by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education. He said on 14th June last:In the last 11 years the number of local education authorities providing free meals has increased from 132 to 235. It is about 248 now. The number of children fed has increased from 70,000 to 479,000, and the number of free meals from 7,500,000 to 86,500,000. If that is not progress, I do not know what is.He has no need to justify the office he now occupies. If that is his idea of progress, it is not mine. While none of us would under-estimate the value of feeding our children in the schools, we say that that is a poor substitute for giving their 244 parents enough money to feed them at home. The hon. Gentleman added:I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour will agree with me that, although unemployment has gone down considerably, there still is deep distress in specific areas."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th June, 1937; col. 159, 235.]That utterance, I admit, contains one bit of common sense. Those of us who come from the distressed areas know it to be true. The Government can relieve that distress by an adjustment of the allowances paid to the unemployed to the admitted increase that has taken place in the cost of living. In connection with this question of the increased cost of living and the need of an adjustment of the allowances made to the unemployed, I desire to remind the Minister of Labour of some of the statements which he made when he sat on this side of the House. On 22nd June, 1931, he made this observation in the House:The statement which I have read to the Committee"—that was an article written in one of our newspapers by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill)—makes no attempt to define 'proved primary needs.' What are they? The main benefit is 17s. a week. I think it would be a good thing for all Members of this House to visit the homes of the unemployed and talk with them about that benefit. I speak with some feeling, because I happen to know how difficult it was to live on 30s. a week in 1913, and it is much harder now. Sentiment is irrelevant here, because unless in this House any hon. Member is prepared honestly to get up and say here what he will say anywhere else that he means to save money out of the fund by cutting down the benefit, that is a kind of argument that is founded on dishonesty, and cannot stand."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd June, 1931; col. 97, Vol. 254.]I wonder whether the Minister experiences as much difficulty now in living on £96 a week as he did in 1913 on 30s. a week. This speech to which I have referred was made in 1931, when the figure of the cost of living was 45 per cent. above that of 1914, and not 52 per cent. as it was last month, and for nine months in that year, the figure was never higher than 47 per cent. That same observation of the right hon. Gentleman is much more appropriate to-day, and its reliability is borne out by a memorandum issued by the Children's Minimum Council, a report of which was published in the "Times" on 24th February this year. According to the "Times" this council submitted a table to show 245that while the Unemployment Assistance Board's scale falls below the standard of primary needs by 9½d. a week for man, wife and one child, it does so by 6s. 2½d. a week where there are three children, and by 13s. 7½d. a week where there are five children.Finally, I ask the Minister to request the Unemployment Assistance Board, who already possess the power, to increase the allowances now paid to the unemployed so that they will correspond to the increased cost of living. Let me remind the Minister of what his predecessor said in this House in referring to the miserable conditions of our unemployed. He said:It is clear that we have first of all to ensure to them a tolerable physical life for the future but I am not certain that, when we have done that, we have really done all that is expected of us, or that the mere possibility of physical existence for the rest of their lives is all that they are entitled to ask. We have to go beyond that and bring into their lives some sense of diginity and utility, some sense of feeling that they are of use to themselves and to the community.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th July, (934; col. 1831, Vol. 292.]That can only be done by recommending to the Board that they should make an increase in the allowance in view of the increase that has taken place in the cost of living.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Anstruther-Gray
I should like to revert to the question of the employment of ex-service men, and particularly soldiers. This affects the Ministry of Labour not only when the ex-service man has completed his time and is on the labour market, but at the time when he is leaving the Colours and is entering a training centre to be fitted for civil life. I should like to reinforce the doubt expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) as to whether the policy agreed upon by the Ministry of Labour and the War Office of transferring vocational training centres under the control of the War Office to the control of the Ministry of Labour is sound, because the position as I see it is that at the end of his period of service the ex-soldier finds himself going to a training centre and placed on exactly the same footing as an unemployed youth who has never done any work at all. When he is there he lives on unemployment benefit and exhausts his right to draw benefit during the weeks that he is there.
§ Mr. Anstruther-Gray
I am delighted to hear that remark, and to understand that the fact of having lived on unemployment benefit while at the training centre for six months in no way reduces the unemployment benefit that he is able to draw later.
§ Mr. Buchanan
It does reduce it. He is entitled to 12 months, and what he now gets instead of 12 months is six months.
§ Mr. Anstruther-Gray
I am afraid my impression was correct, and that, in fact, the time spent in the training centre, when he is living upon unemployment benefit, reduces the period for which he is able to draw benefit after he has left the centre.
§ Mr. Anstruther-Gray
I am sorry I used an incorrect word. I meant that he exhausted a portion of his unemployment benefit.
§ Mr. Anstruther-Gray
It seems to me that that is a poor way to treat men who have given some of the best years of their lives serving in the Forces, perhaps over-sea, leaving their families, their homes and friends, running all the risk of catching tropical diseases that we meet with in India, China and Palestine, and, furthermore, holding themselves liable at any moment not only of Colour Service but of Reserve Service, too, a total period of 12 years, to be called back and sent out on active service to fight in any war or any disturbance in which the country may become embroiled. This is not only a poor way to treat these men, but it is also the worst possible way to encourage others to join the Forces and to induce parents to allow their sons to join up. Could not the Minister reconsider this decision to transfer the training centres because, if they are still kept under the control of the War Office, and if soldiers are still serving when they go to these centres and draw their Army pay, they do not feel that their only reward for their years of service is to be put on the same footing as the unemployed youth who has never done any service to his country at all.
I do not want to male too much of the point because, after all, the Government provides a good many posts for ex-service men but, even so, they do not 247 provide enough for nearly all those who leave the Colours. Again, the problem of finding a job in this year of grace 1937 is easier than it has been for many years past but, for all that, there is considerable unemployment amongst ex-service men. I understand that two years ago something like 31,000 ex-service men were unemployed, and I believe that figure has been reduced to 25,000. That is an improvement but, for all that, I believe that two years ago of every 100 soldiers who left the Army no fewer than 36 found themselves unemployed at some time or other during the first 12 months.
One does not want to make too much of that fact either, because obviously a lot of men on leaving the Army would spend their first week or two in civil life looking round and would draw benefit during that time. Again, a lot of men who take a job would, perhaps, find after a month or two that it was not the one they liked best, and would leave it and go on unemployment benefit for a week or so and then take another, and all those cases are included in the 36 per cent. But it leads one to think, if 36 out of every 100 are to find themselves drawing unemployment benefit at some time or other, that it is a poor advertisement for the Army as a means of finding permanent civil employment. I am not suggesting that my right hon. Friend can abolish all unemployment among ex-service men. Though I have been a soldier for a short time, I am not sloppy and sentimental about it. I know there is such a thing as the old soldier who is not fit to have a job at all, and there is the idle old soldier, as there is the idle man in every walk of life, but in the Army to-day I do not think there are very many of that type. The great majority of soldiers leaving the Colours are men of very good, even exemplary, character and I think the Government should try to give them some approach to certainty as to employment when they leave.
What can the Minister promise about this? Can he guarantee them a job? Perhaps not. Can he guarantee them a definite preference? Can he guarantee them the first chance of any jobs that come along? It does not seem to me to be much to ask. One is only asking for men who have very good characters. Without this preference the very fact that a man has served seven years with the Forces is 248 going to put him at a direct disadvantage compared with others who are trying to get a job.
§ Mr. Kirby
I served for many years in the Army, and I am interested in this subject. We are particularly anxious to provide ways and means of providing employment, but I should like to ask the hon. Member exactly what the point is behind all this. You can give the soldier about to leave the service any amount of training, and make him a perfect tradesman, but having guaranteed him a job, what difference does that make in the aggregate to a solution of the unemployed problem?
§ Mr. Anstruther-Gray
The Army is considerably short of men and, if it were made a popular employment, jobs would be found for perhaps 20,000 or 30,000 more men and that would materially help unemployment.
§ Mr. Kirby
I should like employment to be found for all, but can the hon. Member explain why there should be this special appeal for the young serving soldier, with perhaps 30 or 40 years of life before him, that he should be taken on and trained in preference to men of 40 or 50 years of age who fought in the last War and have been suffering ever since?
§ Mr. Anstruther-Gray
The hon. Member misunderstands me there. I am not suggesting that the young ex-soldier should have a preference over the old ex-soldier, but we should see to it that the young ex-soldier who has served his country has a better chance of getting a job than people who have not served their country.
§ Mr. Anstruther-Gray
I am not suggesting that the miner should lose his job. He has his job and is keeping it. I want to give the man who serves in a dangerous trade a good chance of getting a permanent job in life. I am sure that hon. Members want to do that, too. Furthermore, to take it from another point of view, we cannot defend the country without men, and we have to make it worth while to join the defence forces, and the way to do it is to give them a decent job on leaving the Service. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) 249 interrupted that the soldier is not at a disadvantage.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I did not say that. I wanted the hon. Member to show me where he was at a disadvantage.
§ Mr. Anstruther-Gray
I think he is at a disadvantage for this reason, that most employers, if left to themselves, looking for a man for a job, will take the man they think will give them the best value for money. Most of them think that the best man to do a job is a man who has been doing a job in the last few years. A soldier cannot have been doing it because he has been serving.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I understood that all employers, like the hon. Member, were patriotic. Does the hon. Member say that an employer is going to put business before patriotism? Surely that is his argument.
§ Mr. Anstruther-Gray
The hon. Member for Gorbals knows very well that people like to get in this wicked world the best value they can for their money, and I believe that it is for us in Parliament to do the best we can to see that people are not given an advantage for doing what is not best for the country as a whole. Therefore. I would like, if possible, to give employers a definite incentive to employ ex-service men rather than other people. I would also like Service to be regarded as the decisive factor in making an employer choose one man for a job in preference to another, and the young man planning his life ahead to be able to say to himself, "If I do a period of service with the Colours I can always count, in good times or in bad, upon a better chance of a job than other fellows who have not served their country." That is what I would like, and I believe that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour can do it by giving to the Service man such a good training that he will be more valuable to the employer than the ordinary man. That is done in the Air Force where the training makes expert mechanics, so that they are always sure of a job, and as a result, the Air Force is never short of recruits, but I doubt whether the Minister of Labour could achieve such a high standard with his training centres. I doubt whether six months in a training centre would really make a man expert. It might teach him the groundwork of a trade and put him 250 on a level footing with other unskilled or semi-skilled men, but I do not think that it would make him an expert.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Lawson
On a point of Order, Sir Charles. May I ask your ruling on this matter. The Ministry of Labour Vote has so many sides to it that it is really already overloaded, and Members of the Committee want to get in with speeches on subjects that they have always associated with it, but now we have, through the decision of the War Office, this training of the soldiers, and apparently there is to be another big section taken up with a matter which formerly was outside the purview of this Debate. That is really what is troubling hon. Friends behind me. The War Office took this decision, and I do not remember any section of the Debate on the Army Estimates being taken up with this decision. The hon. Gentleman is really arguing against the decision of the War Office and against the law as it stands whereby the soldier receives six months' training. Is it not possible to have the Debate limited as far as the War Office decision is concerned by reason of the fact that the War Office has come to a decision, and we cannot make any better of it in this Debate.
§ The Temporary Chairman
The point which the hon. Gentleman raises is that we cannot propose legislation in Committee of Supply, but I have listened very carefully to what has been said, and as soldiers are now taken over by the Ministry of Labour and dealt with under the unemployment section, the matter seems to be quite in order.
§ Mr. Lawson
I am not complaining that time is taken up with the soldier, because, as a matter of fact, I was against that decision, but I am against time being given to the soldier, in respect of a decision that has already been taken, to the exclusion of the regular industrial worker who should be considered during this Debate.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Anstruther-Gray
Further to that point of Order. I am trying to keep within any Ruling that is given, but my remarks are directed to the Ministry of Labour, and refer entirely to the treatment of ex-soldiers who have passed into the control of the Minister of Labour in training centres as such. I do not see 251 on what other Vote I could raise this question. I will not keep hon. Gentlemen opposite very long. I do not speak very often in this House, and I will get on with my remarks as quickly as may be. I was putting to the Minister of Labour that I feel that it is his duty to try to find some other method to persuade employers to choose ex-service men in preference to others. That could be done possibly in the same way as with the Special Areas by giving financial concessions or reductions in Income Tax by which it is sought to induce employers to put their industry in certain districts, but I am not advocating that course. The better plan is to pursue the method which is already adopted under the King's National Roll system for providing jobs for disabled ex-service men. I would like to see the Minister extend that system.
The Committee will be familiar, no doubt, with the working of the King's Roll. The Minister of Labour referred to it in the course of his opening speech today, and stated that it included all Government Departments, about 1,000 local authorities and some 22,000 private firms. I was glad that the Minister was able to announce that the number of private firms and the number of local authorities belonging to the King's Roll had increased. Members of the King's Roll undertake that of their total staff at least five per cent. shall be disabled ex-service men, and in return the Government agree to restrict wherever possible all Government contracts to firms upon the Roll. That scheme is working very satisfactorily. The unemployment among disabled ex-service men is something like half what it is among insured men generally, and when you consider how great the disability of some of these men must be, it is a very satisfactory achievement to have persuaded about one-third of the employers of this country to join the Roll and employ 5 per cent. of disabled ex-service men. I would like to increase the percentage to 10 per cent. to include all ex-service men, but I must make it quite clear that I have no idea of suggesting that the present scheme should be curtailed in any way. You could assure that by having a proviso that of the 10 per cent., which would include both disabled ex-service men and able-bodied ex-service men, at least half, that is to 252 say, the original 5 per cent., should be disabled ex-service men. That would not in any way reduce the number of disabled men getting jobs, but would merely put a further obligation upon firms who are members to employ five per cent. of able-bodied ex-service men in addition.
The only danger is that it might be argued that by increasing the obligation you would make firms resign from the King's Roll. Personally, I do not think that it would. The number of Government contracts to-day is so great that no firm would willingly surrender its opportunity of tendering for them. I recognise that it might be said that 10 per cent. is all very well on paper and for big firms employing several hundreds of unskilled or semi-skilled men, but that for smaller firms employing only highly skilled men, it might be very dffiicult to find such a percentage of jobs for which an old soldier is really suited. I have been wondering how to overcome that criticism, and I put it to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, that it can be overcome by allowing the serving Territorial to count as an ex-service man in particular cases. I appreciate that that would complicate the system and that as soon as you introduce special circumstances the question arises of who is to decide them. At present, although the King's Roll is under the Minister of Labour, I understand that the local administration of it is left to local committees which consist largely of the British Legion. Although the British Legion are the best body for dealing with ex-war soldiers, they are not necessarily the best body to deal with existing Regulars or serving Territorials.
§ Mr. Anstruther-Gray
It is a matter of opinion. The British Legion concentrate their endeavours—and rightly—on the welfare of the ex-World War man, and I want to include the welfare of the ex-soldier who was too young to fight in the Great War. I suggest that the Minister of Labour should take rather a closer control of the King's Roll system and that the local administration be conducted, as now, through the local Employment Exchanges, but with the addition of some of his inspectors, whose sole duty it should be to see that it was properly administered. I want to make it again quite clear that, while my suggestion would not entail any interference with the present work 253 for the benefit of the disabled man, I am convinced that it is possible to include the two types of men, disabled and able-bodied together, without damaging the opportunity of the disabled man at all.
Before I leave this point, I would suggest to the Minister of Labour that the time has come to amend the definition of a disabled ex-service man under the King's Roll. It is laid down that, apart from being disabled, he must be a man who has served with His Majesty's Forces between 4th August, 1914, and 11th November, 1918. I think the time has come when we should include also soldiers who have been disabled on active service since the War, it may be on the North-West Frontier or in Palestine. I can see no justification for differentiating between the man who was disabled on active service in the Great War and the man who has been disabled on active service since then. I put that small point to my right hon. Friend.
Finally, I am not suggesting that this is going to be the one way of solving the Army's recruiting problem or that it will necessarily get all the old soldiers jobs in civil life, but it provides one method of giving them a promise of employment when they leave the Colours. It is because I think that it is so essential than men should see the prospect of civil employment at the end of their term of service, and that it is shameful that men who have served with the Colours should be placed in a worse position in civil life than the man who has not served, that I put forward this suggestion with all sincerity for consideration.
§ 7.44 P.m.
Mr. W. Joseph Stewart
I have listened this afternoon with a great deal of interest to the speeches that have been made especially by Members sitting on the other side of the Committee. As the hon. Member for North Lanarkshire (Mr. Anstruther-Gray) was speaking and putting the case on behalf of the ex-service men, my mind went to Durham County, where we have thousands of men who have been unemployed for a number of years, whose morale has been broken, and who are perhaps reaching an age bordering on 50 when employers of labour will have nothing to do with them. The Minister of Labour seemed quite satisfied with the achievements of 254 the Government during the past year. If he is satisfied with what the Government have done, we in Durham County are anything but satisfied with the conditions that prevail there. Nothing has happened in Durham during the past year of which the Government can be proud. There are many thousands of people unemployed there, and the unemployment figures in that county are among the highest in the country. To me, they are very alarming, and prove without a shadow of doubt that Durham as a county is a long way off the time when anyone with any reason at all will be able to suggest that we have reached a satisfactory degree of prosperity.
I was interested during the last week or so in going through the unemployment figures for South-West and North-East Durham. As a Durham resident I was anxious to know exactly what was happening in that large industrial county, and when I perused the Ministry of Labour Gazette I found that in South-West Durham, in the Bishop Auckland area, which has been mentioned this afternoon, we have a percentage of 36.2 of insured workers who are unemployed. In the same area at Shildon we have a percentage of 35.2, and in the Crook area of South-West Durham a percentage of 26.9. Turning to the North-Eastern side of the county, we have Sunderland, a large county borough, with big shipbuilding yards and other industries, with an unemployment percentage of 24.8, and South Shields, an adjoining county borough, with a percentage of 27.9. Taking those figures into consideration, surely the Minister of Labour, let him be as optimistic as he may, cannot suggest that the conditions in that county are satisfactory. We have asked time and again in this House that something more should be done other than has been done up to now on behalf of these large numbers of unemployed persons.
It was suggested as far back as 3rd December, 1935, by the then Prime Minister that when the trading estates were established in the Special Areas they would bring such a measure of relief that unemployment would appreciably diminish and a measure of satisfaction would be brought to the areas concerned. A trading estate has been established in the Team Valley, but that estate will not appreciably affect South West Durham, which is over 20 miles away. 255 What we need is something to be established in South West Durham itself. In the 1936 report of the Committee on the Special Areas it was stated that in South West Durham, in the Bishop Auckland area, there was a pocket of unemployed people of approximately 12,000 persons to reach whom no effort had been made by the right hon. Gentleman's department. As representative of a constituency in Durham, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether anything of a tangible nature has been done by his Department to meet that large volume of unemployment in South West Durham. The Commissioner for the Special Areas suggested that the industries were played out in that area, and that unless new industries were introduced, at least 12,000 persons would have to go back to the land. That could not be accomplished this side of 20 or 30 years. If the Government had been alive to the situation, and had sought to get the Improvement Association established in South West Durham sooner than last month, in all probability more would have been done in that area. What are the Government going to do in the Sunderland and South Shields areas, with percentages of unemployment of 24.8 and 27.9 respectively? We have asked them to establish a trading estate in order to meet the position in that part of Durham County, but nothing has been done. That area has been left to work out its own salvation.
We have often dealt in debate with the question of the location of industry, and have asked the right hon. Gentleman and other Members of the Government to use their good offices and to face up to their responsibilities and deal with the location of industry. I have here the figures for 1935. I am sorry that I cannot get more recent figures. In 1935 in Greater London there were established 213 new factories, employing 19,000 persons. In the same year in North East England 45 new factories were established, employing 6,650 persons. In 1935, 51 factories were extended in Greater London and only 22 in North East England. If the Government had been alive to the situation much more could have been done in dealing with the question of the location of industry. Hon. Members this evening have said that the Government have a right to be proud of their 256 record in recent years, but I want to give some figures which show that the Government's idea of prosperity may have reached some counties, but Durham has been left out in the cold.
In 1931, when the National Government took over, we had 48,094 persons in receipt of Poor Law relief in Durham, and in 1936, after five years of National Government rule, that figure had jumped to 67,900. So far as Durham is concerned, instead of people being absorbed into industry, we are going forward with leaps and bounds as far as the recipients of Poor Law relief are concerned. In 1931 we expended for Poor Law purposes in Durham, £891,418. There has been a gradual rise in the expenditure since then and in 1936 we expended £1,128,894. Does that suggest that prosperity has come to Durham? Does it suggest that we ought to be satisfied in that great county with the condition of things as they are? During 1936 in the administrative county of Durham, leaving out the great county boroughs, there was spent in Poor Law relief, in transitional payment and in standard benefit over £4,000,000, covering a population of less than 1,000,000 persons. That being so-and the figures come from the right hon. Gentleman's Department and the Ministry of Health—it suggests that, instead of things going better, they are going gradually worse in Durham.
There is another side of the question with which I should like to deal, and that is the cases taken over by the Unemployment Assistance Board on the second appointed day. We were told, as the local authority responsible for the county services in Durham, that when that time arrived we should be relieved of the responsibility of the maintenance of practically the whole of the able-bodied unemployed. The figures have been gone into, and although approaches have been made time and again to the Unemployment Assistance Board in the county, we are still left as the public assistance authority with over 1,200 persons who have to be maintained. During this year 578 able-bodied cases are chargeable to the Durham public assistance committee, and we have to spend out of the ratepayers money for that purpose, £29,224. That is a liability which the local authority ought not to bear. It ought to be a national and not a local charge. That liability is 257 levied on an authority whose Poor Law rate is three times as high as the average for the whole country. One can understand, therefore, that increasing their burden and making them spend this £30,000 is totally wrong. The Unemployment Assistance Board ought to face up to their responsibilities and take over this liability, which ought to be theirs, and not the liability of the local public assistance committee.
Other things have been done by the Unemployment Assistance Board which are very unsatisfactory. Many men have been ruled out of benefit through trying to find work in other directions when they have been robbed of their occupation through industrial depression. When they have failed in their enterprise and have made application for unemployment benefit, they have been turned down. In this category are men who had a good record of insurable employment prior to the depression. Rather than become a public charge these men attempted to establish themselves in small businesses, such as greengrocery, boot repairing and milk rounds, but owing to the depression in the country they could not carry on these small industries, and when they failed and made application to the Unemployment Assistance Board for benefit, they were turned down, and are now chargeable to the local rates.
There is another category of men who have good records of insurable occupation up to the time of the depression, but who have since have had work only on odd occasions. The Board's officers, taking the view that these men have ceased to be in insurable employment owing to their absence from regular employment for a number of years, have turned them away from the Employment Exchanges, and the only resource left to them is to become chargeable to the rates. Many of these men resent very much being pauperised and being a charge on local rates. What they want is to be maintained out of national funds, which, after all, is a different matter altogether from local public assistance, and if they cannot have that, then the only alternative is for the people who are responsible, that is, the Government, to find them work.
There is another type of case somewhat prevalent in Durham County—the case of the married mother who has been separated from her husband. Many of these cases have gone through the courts 258 of summary jurisdiction and separation allowances have been made by the local bench of magistrates. The Unemployment Assistance Board for a while continued to pay the man his ordinary scale and when it was paid he gave to his wife and children the amount allocated by the bench of magistrates. But after a while the Board got a new idea and said that the Act determined that if a person drew unemployment assistance for any other person then that person must be resident in the same house, and because the wife was domiciled in another house the Unemployment Assistance Board determined to stop the allowance altogether. That is where we stand in Durham County, and the result is that owing to the action of the Unemployment Assistance Board many cases in the county have become chargeable to the local ratepayers. I ask the right hon. Gentleman in his reply to deal with these types of cases and let us know whether the Unemployment Assistance Board are going in the near future to revise their attitude and the conditions, and place these people back again in benefit, as they should be in justice to all concerned.
§ 8.5 p.m.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) said something which must appeal to all hon. Members, and he also set an example which I will follow. He said that there was so much in this Vote upon which they could talk and there were so many Members who wished to speak that he would restrain his remarks and be as brief as possible. I promise to do likewise. I should like to congratulate the Minister on the discussion which has taken place on his Vote. It must give him great satisfaction, because no one can deny that a vast measure of improvement, which he was able to demonstrate to the Committee, has taken place in the employment position. The point I wish to deal with is, in my opinion, just as vital as the problem of unemployment. It is the problem of the security and continuance of existing employment. It is an appalling thought that all the efforts and expense on the part of the Government and of industry, all the great efforts on the part of men themselves to secure work for perhaps a month or six months or even a year, should come to nought because of some factor which is 259 quite outside the control of the Government or the men, some factor not occuring in this country but which will turn these men out of their work. It is really a devastating thought that the continuance of work is dependent on so many factors over which we have no control. A loose bit in the complicated machine of international trade; a dictator on the left or on the right firing a gun when he should not have committed such an act, may alter the policy of this country towards that foreign country; some country which reorganises its shipping subsidies or takes some step for its own economic good—any one of these steps may turn a man out of work in this country after all the effort which we discuss to-night has been expended. I submit that such a problem, the problem of security and continuance of employment, is as vital as that of unemployment.
The only thing we can say with certainty is that work will go on and that men will be needed. The Minister said that the present improvement in the industrial position of this country has allowed him to introduce reforms of administration which would not otherwise be possible. It seems to me that there are possible reforms of administration which will give greater continuity and greater security of work, and now it the time to consider them. The right hon. Gentleman said that our social insurance is the best system of any country in the world. I think it is. After all, insurance is the capital of the ordinary man who has no currency in the bank. He has the skill of his hands and the energy of his body, and it is only by insurance that this capital can be cashed in by him. I believe that we can improve the insurance schemes of the Ministry of Labour and other Departments. I shall not transgress the rules of order by discussing what other Departments do, but I should like to point out that we have eight different sorts of insurance to-day administered by four different Departments. We have unemployment insurance, unemployment assistance, public assistance committees, contributory pensions, national health, old age, service pensions and disabled ex-service men's pensions. There are four Departments touching insurance, each with its own system and dealing with different aspects of what is after all a common problem.
In order to co-ordinate the work of our fighting Services, the Ministry for 260 the Co-ordination of Defence was set up. I believe we should now set up a ministry for the co-ordination of the social services of this country, in order that we can obtain the best possible results from our various social services and forms of insurance. Such a ministry would touch Labour, Health, the Home Office, and the Board of Trade, Pensions, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Board of Education and the Scottish Office, as all these various Departments are affected one way or another by insurance. Surely if it is considered necessary to co-ordinate the three fighting Services in order to obtain the maximum of efficiency, it is not illogical to say that co-ordination is needed of these eight Departments in order to obtain the best results for our social expenditure and an extension of insurance, in which alone I believe lies the great hope for the future improvement of conditions in this country.
That is the only point I desire to submit to the Committee and, therefore, I will conclude by saying that as we have found it necessary to co-ordinate our fighting Services I believe it is also necessary to co-ordinate our social services. Now is the opportunity for doing so, as the improvement in employment enables us to take advantage of the present situation, an improvement which the Minister showed us in a very direct way in his speech this afternoon.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Brown
The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour) has made a suggestion typical of many suggestions we hear in this House. He has suggested that quite a lot of our problems would be solved if we could set up same new machinery. We are always setting up new machinery of one kind or another, we shall soon have nothing else but machinery. My view is that we want a change of spirit, not new machinery.
§ Mr. Brown
It would be far better if we could change the Government, because that would bring an entirely different spirit in the government of the country. I have listened to all the speeches except that of the Minister himself, which I could not hear because 261 of a prior engagement. Up to the moment they have been entirely what I will call, without any disrespect, recruiting speeches. Hon. Members opposite would probably partially solve the problem which weighs so heavily on' their minds at the moment, the lack of recruiting, if they would pay the Army better, give them better pensions and improve the conditions generally. I commend that to them as a way of relieving their minds of the burden which seems to oppress them in regard to the poverty of recruiting. The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) mentioned one or two points which I gather from what he said were mentioned by the Minister of Labour in what, I understand, was a long and exhaustive review with which he favoured the Committee to-day.
One of the points to which I want to refer is the location of industry. After re-reading the last annual report of the Ministry of Labour, I cannot see any reason why hon. Members on both sides of the House should be asking for a new committee to be set up to deal with this problem. All the relevant facts seem to be known, and I do not think any more time need be wasted in having more inquiries. We are always setting up inquiries of one kind or another, and usually they do not elucidate any more facts than we have already obtained in various ways, although sometimes they co-ordinate those facts. In the last annual report of the Ministry of Labour, in a paragraph dealing with the geographical distribution of employment, there is the following very important sentence:The result is that the southern section's share of the country's total amount of employment increased between 1923 and 1936 from 47.6 per cent. to 54.8 per cent.That fact ought to be sufficient to convince us of the tendency in regard to the location of industry without any more elaborate arguments being made. The process is going on steadily all the time. We are entitled to ask the Government what, if anything, they are doing about it, or what they propose to do. I know this is not the right occasion on which to elaborate the reasons why this matter should be given attention. Obviously people will seek a livelihood in those places where they think they can have the greatest amount of economic security 262 and where labour is most required, and the corollary of that is that certain other areas will be denuded of population as a result of industrial migration and also, as we now know, by a falling birth rate in many cases. That is creating great and serious problems in many parts of the country. I hope the Government will turn their attention to this matter, for surely it largely concerns the Ministry of Labour, which gathers together all these facts about employment and unemployment and the movements of the industrial population. This is a matter to which the Ministry ought to pay special attention, having regard to the serious consequences that are involved.
The age distribution of unemployment is also dealt with in the annual report. From what was said by the hon. Member for North Cumberland, I gather that the Minister made some reference to this matter in his speech. The annual report states that on 2nd November, 1936, when a special analysis was made, it was found that over 250,000 men then unemployed were over 55 years of age. That is a very important matter, and I say that particularly because of my knowledge of what happens in mining areas. If, for economic reasons, the management thinks it wise to close down a pit in a certain district, a considerable number of men become unemployed, some of them perhaps after working in the pit for 30 years or more; and if there are any who are about 55 years of age, they never get another chance of going down a pit in that area. Unfortunately, it is on those men that the means test often falls most hardly, because some of them have been very thrifty and careful and have worked regularly.
The same applies to another industry in my area, the hosiery industry. Until recently that industry was run by small private partnerships or individual businesses, but it is now rapidly becoming a mass-production industry, localised in other places, and some of the small concerns are closing down. In that industry exactly the same sort of thing happens as in the mining industry. Men who have been with a firm, perhaps, 30 or 40 years, now that the new and more speedy machines are being introduced and the small concerns are stopping, are thrown out of work at 55 years of age, and never have another chance of getting a job. I ask the right hon. Gentleman and the 263 Parliamentary Secretary—for they are responsible for the administration of the Unemployment Assistance Board—to see whether something cannot be done to alleviate the pressure of the means test on the men between 55 and 65 years of age. It is on them that it falls most harshly.
The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys), who made a speech earlier in the Debate—I regret to say I have not seen him since, but he may have other urgent duties—chided hon. Members on this side of the Committee on the great poverty of our arguments. He said that we ought to remind the Minister not of what actually is at the moment, but of what may be in the future. He suggested that we have no grounds on which we can attack the Ministry of Labour in regard to present conditions, but that we may have some grounds on which we can attack him in regard to what may happen in the future; and he added that it is not, after all, the business of the Minister of Labour to be responsible for what may happen in the future.
I rather dissent from that argument. I will give the Government all the credit that is due to them; I do not think as much credit is due to them as some hon. Members opposite may imagine, but I know that British industry is now employing more people than it ever did before. I understand that something like 750,000 more people than ever before are employed by British industry. I want to give the Government credit for every fact in their favour. I know that they can point to 1931—and they do—and say that unemployment then was 21.1 per cent. They say that in 1932 they had not quite got into their stride and it was 21.9 per cent., but still they had passed the Import Duties Act. I suppose the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) would argue that in 1933 British industry was giving employment to 333,000 more people than in 1931, in 1934 455,000 more people than in 1931, in 1935 696,000 more people than in 1931, and in 1936 1,215,000 more people than in 1931. I often wonder whether the claim which is so often made on those lines is the true explanation of what has happened.
I assume that it is in order on this occasion to argue from the figures which are in this report in regard to unemploy- 264 ment and trade cycles—the history of which is so forcibly set out in these pages. These are statistics with which the Ministry of Labour is concerned. I do not propose to dogmatise about the matter but there are, I suggest, certain facts which throw some doubt upon the plausible explanations put forward by some hon. Members, of the course of events in recent years. It was, I think, in 1931 that I heard a well-known economist, speaking in the precincts of the House of Commons, expressing the opinion that when our Protectionist system had adapted itself to economic circumstances, or, rather, when the economic life of the world had adapted itself to our Protectionist system, then that system would have little permanent advantage or value to the economic organisation of the country.
There is, to-day, a general recognition of the fact that we are in the midst of a trade boom. A few weeks ago in the discussion on the National Defence Contribution hon. Members opposite who speak for important financial and commercial interests, warned us on this side, and even more emphatically warned the Government that what they called a slump would come in the not distant future. A fortnight ago I heard another eminent economist state that the history of trade cycles during the nineteenth century showed that an industrial boom never lasted longer than four years. This boom started in 1933, or perhaps a little later, and obviously on the basis of past experience it will soon end. Indeed there is a leading article in the "Times" today which deals with only one section of industry, namely, the building industry, and it suggests that probably in that industry the process has already begun. In spite of what the hon. Member for Norwood said, I think we are entitled to put this case to the Government. The hon. Member for North Cumberland suggested that it was the business of the Government to hold back works in connection with local government and undertakings of various kinds which local authorities might wish to carry out, until we knew that the industrial depression was coming. I was surprised to hear the hon. Member use that argument, because we know that immediately an industrial depression is shown to be on the way, we shall get an economy committee and the cutting down of expenses on every side. 265 The axe will be wielded right and left and local authorities, so far from being allowed to proceed with works of that kind will be told by Government Departments—unless there is a great change of attitude on the part of those responsible—that they must not proceed with such works.
The Ministry of Labour is responsible for watching these figures in relation to employment and unemployment. It is their business, I take it, when they see that employment has reached its peak and is beginning to fall away, to impress on the Government, if they really believe in the policy which has been indicated, that that is the time to put such works into operation. I feel that the explanations put forward by Government spokesmen of the larger amount of employment which they say we are now enjoying—and I do not deny that—are plausible but not convincing. The figure of unemployment in the best of the immediate post-war years was about 10 per cent. To-day, when we are at the peak of this boom, it is still just about 10 per cent. In 1928–29, which was the best period after the War ended, we were on the Gold Standard and had a system of Free Trade. Now, in 1937, in the best year of the present boom, when we are told that employment may begin to fall away at any time, we are off the Gold Standard and have a system of Protection. It is the duty of the Ministry of Labour to keep the Government cognisant of all the facts relative to employment and unemployment, but we do not know yet, and they do not know yet, the real causes of unemployment. I feel that those causes lie much deeper than manipulations of currency or questions of Free Trade and Protection. They are fundamental in the present economic structure of society, and hon. Members opposite recognise the fact because they, more than we, are the Jeremiahs in the present situation. They are now predicting a slump to follow the boom. If they believe in those prophecies, then it is their business to join with us in impressing on the Government the necessity of attending to the matter now, if millions of our people are to be spared what they suffered in the great depression between 1931 and 1933.
§ 8.32 p.m.
Lieut.-Colonel H. Guest
I propose to intervene for a very short time in this 266 Debate because a Member who has recently come into the House of Commons from a constituency must be closely in touch with the position among the people, and must know something of the problems and difficulties which the people have to face. This Vote provides Members with an opportunity of saying something in the interests of the working people and the poorer members of Society, and I avail myself of that opportunity in order to bring two points to the notice of the Ministry of Labour. I hope the Minister of Labour will realise—I think he does—that the cost of food is a most critical thing for the working classes in this country. There are indeed cases in which men to-day are earning higher wages as a result of trade prosperity, but a large section of the population are not getting any increase in what they have to live upon, and it is to their situation that I would first direct attention. There are pensioners of all kinds and other classes of people who have to stand a higher cost of living with no increase in the means available to them for the purchase of their necessities. I strongly recommend to the Government, that while consideration is being given to such big problems as the stimulation of agriculture throughout the country, they should also bear in mind the case of the great populations living in our cities who are also under their care.
There is another point which I wish to bring to the notice of the Minister of Labour. The men whose names are down on the lists in the employment exchanges have often had their names on those lists for many years. The man who most recently comes on to that list is probably the man whom the employer will take. There are men who have been out of employment possibly five years or even more who, by virtue of being out of employment, are getting worse in their prospects of ever getting employment. Some recommendation or some step, it seems to me, is necessary from the Ministry of Labour to get those men started again and to bring them back into the ranks of industry, so that they will be capable of earning a living and of maintaining the families dependent upon them.
There is one further point, and that is that the Employment Exchanges in our cities are the great centres where all those who are in doubt as to what they can 267 do for themselves can go for information. I would like the Minister of Labour to build up around them a complete bureau of information, where men who are out of employment can go and get advice and sympathetic consideration of their difficulties. The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour) made a suggestion about the co-ordination of all the social services which we have in this country to-day, I think it was under the Ministry of Labour. I think some system of that nature might well be brought into force, so that men could realise what social help and what social services there are for their benefit. Those are the two points that I wanted to bring before the notice of the Minister of Labour.
§ 8.37 p. m.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Colonel Guest), who has just sat down, was making a maiden speech. I do not want to be discourteous—I only heard the last portion of his speech—and I hope we shall hear him often in the future. It is a very good thing to hear a Member for one of the seaport and dockyard towns talking on subjects other than those naval or military subjects in which such constituencies are mainly interested.
I want to raise one or two points that are interesting, at least to myself. First of all, may I make a point that I have made time and time again and that, I am afraid, I must continue to make in these Ministry of Labour Debates? In religious circles there are certain phrases that they say must be repeated. We hear about "the old, old story" being ever new, and I must confess that in this case it is the old, old story. I am afraid I must continue to repeat it and repeat it, because it is in danger of being forgotten in these days. I still want to mention that the unemployed have never yet received back their cuts. Everybody else but the unemployed has got them back. Perhaps the most serious cut imposed on any section of the community was that imposed on the unemployed, and that cut has never been restored. Before the economy measures came into force a person with 30 stamps was entitled, roughly speaking, to a year and four months' standard benefit. To-day 268 a person with 30 stamps receives only six months' standard benefit, a cut in his standard benefit of 10 months. When Members tell me about giving them the three days' waiting period, a concession for which I, with every other Member, am thankful, and when they tell me about increasing the children's allowance, none of them, valuable concessions as I admit they are, account for the tremendous cut made on the standard benefit of the unemployed. I hope that no one on this side will ever let the Government forget that they have never restored those cuts to the unemployed, and I repeat it to-day, as I have done before, that until the standard benefit is restored to its pre-economy level, we must ask, in common justice, that it should be restored in order to place the unemployed in anything like an equitable position.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour indulged to-day in some bragging. His speech was brag from start to finish, and in some cases I have no doubt by no matter who had been the Minister of Labour, there would have been bragging. I do not grudge him that, but when he is doing the bragging, he ought at least, in common fairness, to offset it with that which has not been done, and that which has not been done is to give the proper benefit that was given in the pre-economy days. The reduction of the standard benefit period was not a thing that was justified on its merits. It was an economy measure, introduced for economy purposes and for no others, and in these days, when we have, it is said, swept away every other economy measure—imposed on civil servants, teachers, Members of Parliament, those who sit in judgment on the unemployed, the chairmen of courts of referees, the managers, and so on—it surely is not asking too much to ask that this economy also should be swept aside.
My second point is this. I want to say, quite frankly, that I find myself to-day, as other speakers must have found themselves, cramped because we can only discuss points of administration. I recognise as frankly as anyone that the chief cleavage between this side and that is not so much on administrative points as on questions of legislation itself. Within the administrative compass, I readily admit that in the main employment exchange managers, with all due respect to the 269 letter that was read out to-day, are fairly decent men. In the main, as far as I have met them, they are, like other people, some of them very good, some fairly good, and some bad, and that is the common thing with humanity all over. In the ordinary running of an exchange, I have little to say against them personally. Indeed, for my part, in dealing with them over a considerable period I would say that the standard of manager now, as compared with my first days at the employment exchanges, has considerably improved, and my knowledge of managers now makes me think them much more amenable to reason, much more easily interviewed, and, when they are interviewed, much less stand-offish than they were in my earlier days. I wish to put one or two points to the Committee, within the scope of administration, which I think ought to be dealt with, but I would like to make it plain that in raising these points I am not accepting the system under which we are working. I have only to take it to-day as being part of the administration and to try to see whether I can humanise it. I would much prefer to see the whole system dominating over it swept aside, rather than be put to the necessity of going into administrative details.
One thing I ask the Minister seriously to consider. To-day we have been discussing all forms of training, and whether training be good or bad I am not now arguing. Some unemployed men find training good, and accept it; others do not, and there is room for a good deal of difference of opinion, but this much I ask, and that is that training should be placed on the same footing as ordinary employment, in this sense, that every person who accepts training is performing some kind of work or is getting ready to perform it. He ought to be given stamps for his period of training in the same way as if he were in private employment. Employers bring boys into their works for training and they receive stamps for their period of training, and I maintain that an unemployed person who goes for training should have his card stamped in the same way as if he were in employment. We have already accepted the principle in dealing with youngsters, for we credit them with 20 stamps up to the age of 16, and if they can get another 10 stamps it puts them on to standard benefit. If we accepted the 270 principle for a person undergoing training, it would mean that if he had 26 weeks' training he would receive 26 stamps, which would enable him, if he were fortunate enough to find a job, to claim statutory benefit. I ask that that should be done, not merely for unemployment insurance, but for health insurance, because it frequently happens that when a man leaves a training centre he has a period of sickness.
The Minister mentioned the question of trade boards. I cannot understand the extraordinary delay in setting up a trade board for the catering trades. In 1924 Miss Bondfield set up a committee to inquire into the catering trades. That committee duly reported with all the information, and now we are met by the Minister telling us that things have changed. Of course they have, but that change strengthens and not weakens the case for a trade board. I cannot understand this terrible delay, because of all the trades that I know within the insurable field where there is an indefensible standard, it is the catering trade. I am not thinking so much of wages as of hours of labour. In these days conversations are going on for a 40-hour week. I wish them every success, but there are waitresses to-day who work as much as 80 hours a week. In these days of scientific development that is indefensible, and no further delaying process should be adopted in this matter. Every time I hear that a committee has been set up, or that conversations are to be undertaken, I look upon it, not as a means to attain my end, but merely as a means to delay it.
There is an agitation—and I think a legitimate one—for payment for holidays. I am not going into the larger question, because it would involve legislation, but I want to ask whether trade boards have any power, and, if not, whether it could be made one of their powers, to make payment for holidays one of the wage conditions. It would not apply to the miner or the engineer, but nobody who is a miner or an engineer would grudge it if the trade boards could have power to bring within the scope of their work, not only making decisions as to wages and hours, but making decisions as to payment for holidays.
I want to turn to a point which is somewhat more narrow inasmuch as it is of 271 local application. I make no apology for raising it, because it concerns my native city and the West of Scotland. Most hon. Members are familiar with what we call the holiday rule in unemployment insurance. That rule is that, if a person is suspended from his work, he must, before he becomes eligible for benefit, be out of employment 12 days plus his normal holiday. It happens that it affects us in my native city worse than any other part of the country, because in the West of Scotland the normal holidays for engineering and shipbuilding run from 8 to 10 days. In London and other parts there is no stipulated holiday, but in this case the whole city shuts down for that period. A man is suspended for 10 days. Nobody can say that he is not paid off, because as far as he is concerned, he is paid off. Then he has to go another 12 days. If he goes 11 days it means that he has been out 21 days, but he does not receive a penny. He has to be out 22 days before he can get any benefit.
It is a terrible hardship on the shipbuilding repairing people. This system affects shipbuilding towns throughout the country, and I want to make a plea that something should be done. The shipbuilding repairer is in a worse position than anybody. A week on Thursday we shut down for 10 days for the Glasgow Fair. The ship repairer works all day on Wednesday and all night into Thursday to get a job done. Then he is sacked. What happens to him? He gets no benefit, although he is dismissed, unless he is out 12 days plus the customary holiday. Here is a man sacked, not even suspended, but under the administration it is held that he is suspended only because he must he available for work during that holiday period.
In this House I have often heard about people who do not want work, and I have a great deal of sympathy with them. I have tried to dodge it as much as I can. All this idea of work being uplifting and ennobling has not much place in my philosophy. If I were a miner I should try to keep my boy from being a miner, because I see nothing ennobling about mining. Members of my family have usually contrived to get into jobs as doctors and teachers because they thought that that was the easiest way of dodging work. Here we are dealing with a case 272 of a man who goes hunting for work, and because he gets a day's work his benefit is stopped. If he had dodged it benefit would have been paid right throughout the time without a single objection. Where is the fairness of that? I have been talking about the holiday period. I say a man is suspended; in everyday parlance he is "sacked." The whole thing was different before the War. Suspension for a day or so, which was not uncommon before the War, has gone by the board in modern industry. The idea now is that when you are suspended you are "sacked," and the wise man takes up his tools and tries to get another job.
The so-called casual worker who is dismissed ought to be treated decently, much better than he is. Whatever we do we ought not to punish people. I am sick to death of people being punished because they are decent people. In these days it is deliberate punishment. Take the case of building trade workers, dock labourers and some of the engineering and shipyard people. A large number of them are in casual employment and earn on an average only a comparatively small wage, because wet weather and one thing and another interferes with their work. These men will go off next Thursday for 10 days, because of the so-called holiday. All that they have been earning comes to a little more than unemployment benefit. What they used to do was to go to the Poor Law authority. The Poor Law authority said, "Let us see your wages for the last four or five weeks." The man showed them what his wages were—35s. or £2 a week. Then the Poor Law authority said: "You cannot go 10 days or a fortnight without some kind of income," and they always granted him so much. The Poor Law authorities are now stopped from doing that. It is no longer legal for them to assist. I want to know what is the position of such a man under the new regulations? Can he go to the unemployment assistance authorities and make the same claim as he could from the old Poor Law authorities? I think he can, but I want to know from the Parliamentary Secretary. What I want to know is this: Can a man who is, may be, in regular employment but receives a small wage who is laid off for 10 or 12 days of a holiday period, go to the unemployment assistance authorities and demand a certain payment for that 273 period in the same way as he could from the old Poor Law authorities? I think he can.
§ Mr. Buchanan
He may get "nowt," but that is another question. I am not assuming that he will get "nowt." In this House I always go on the principle of asking for a lot, though I usually get very little; but if I started from "nowt" Heaven knows where I should end. Another matter I have to raise concerns the treatment of men who undergo training. Take the case of a man and wife with one child. The man himself is allowed 4s. a week. For some reason which I cannot fathom he is "scaled" at 28s. instead of 29s. The sum of is. is "docked." Can the Parliamentary Secretary tell me where that 1s. goes? I am putting forward the case of a man who goes for training to that training centre in Argyllshire, a man who is on standard benefit. He is told that nobody can touch his standard benefit, not even his wife, that it is his; but somebody "docks" is., and he gets only 28s. I want to know who takes the 1s. [Interruption.] No, the Parliamentary Secretary and his Cabinet colleagues do not in these days work in shillings. The complaint against me—and it is the one bona fide complaint against me—is that we talk in shillings here when we ought to be talking in larger sums. That man is in a worse position than another fellow who is on unemployment assistance. In the latter case the wife is paid the money and it costs him nothing; but this poor man on standard benefit has to send the money to his wife, to buy the postal order and buy the stamp. Why should a man on standard benefit be placed in a worse position at a training camp than his fellow who is on unemployment assistance?
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) raised, perhaps, the most important question of all, the connection between the cost of administration of the unemployment benefit and the cost of the means test itself. A means test necessitates costly machinery. I would remind my hon. Friends on the Labour benches that in the days when we differed a good deal more than we do now, and when some of them toyed with what I call a "semi-means test," that I said then that 274 they had never examined the facts or they would not have toyed with it. The minute you embark on any means test it must be expensive, or it will not be a means test. You must inquire into earnings, and get somebody to do it. When any unemployed man who is on extended benefit, or unemployment assistance as we now call it, makes a claim it must be investigated. We investigate not only his position but the position of everyone in his family. And we do not end the expense with the £5,000,000 odd which it costs the unemployment assistance scheme. There are other costs to be added. The unemployed man himself is put to extra cost, and so is his employer.
The other day I was at the Glasgow Sheriff Court. I was coming away after the sheriff had tried five or six cases in which people were charged with fraud in connection with unemployment assistance. He said that they were the most difficult cases because they were not cases of criminals in the accepted sense, and that he did not quite know what to do with them. I put it to the hon. Member that when you have added the cost of jailing and the cost of the added crime that is made, the total cost is enormously increased. If the whole cost of unemployment assistance is round about £30,000,000, £5,000,000 of it is the cost of administration, and if this sum were not paid away in wasteful administration, such as investigations and irritating de-tails, there would be more money for benefits.
People often say to me: "Nobody need object to investigation," but I think there is a need to object. There was a case of my brother-in-law, who was receiving unemployment assistance and whose daughter was working at a biscuit factory, where she had been since she was 14 years of age. What happened? Every month, in goes a form, right through the office, and everybody knows that her father is on public assistance and has been idle for many years. How would hon. Members of this House like that to happen to them? It goes right through the whole factory. I am not a snob, but we have to take life as we find it and we know that there is an atmosphere in a stockbroker's office different from the amosphere in a laundry, where my wife worked. I begged a man to claim unemployment assistance, but he said: "No, George, I 275 am not claiming it. I have a girl in a stockbroker's office, and I would not for the world let anybody in that office know that her father is claiming unemployment assistance. I would tramp the streets, I would go almost anywhere, rather than let my lass be treated as though she were a criminal. It would stop her prospects." Hon. Members must realise that employers like to employ people when they think their fathers are in a decent position. I thought that we were living in an age of science, when, instead of going back to the Poor Law, we were getting away from it.
My main indictment is not merely that you do not feed people. in my city of Glasgow you are reducing a lot of young women from 17s. to 16s. from 16s. to 15s. and, in the case of girls, from 15s. to 14s. One of the most creditable things that I know in my native city is the improvement in the children and womenfolk. What woman does not want to dress well? You think your country is to be saved by pinching a shilling from girls in that way, when, at the same time, you are pouring millions away upon battleships? That is a cruel wrong in an age of plenty. I trust that the Minister will not get more and more into the feeling that he has struck it lucky. I bear him no grudge for telling me that the figures have gone down. Any other Minister would have said the same. He feels that things are moving right. The Minister may take credit for reducing waiting periods. A Minister inheriting his job would take the greatest credit if he did two things: raised the standard of the unemployed, and, above all, swept the whole means test away.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Boulton
There has been a notable difference between the arguments from the Opposition in this Debate and those we have heard on other occasions. On recent occasions when we have discussed matters connected with the Ministry of Labour, the Opposition have concentrated upon a wholesale condemnation of the unemployment regulations. It always seemed to me that they allowed their exuberance of language not only to cloud their better judgment but to outweigh that sense of proportion and responsibility which we are called upon to exercise in this House, and, I hope, on the platform, if we are 276 honestly to do justice to the unemployed. To-day I have been glad to observe that those severe strictures levelled against my right hon. Friend to which we have been so accustomed to listen have, in the main, been conspicuous by their absence.
§ Mr. Boulton
It has been a welcome change, and must have been a source of gratification to my right hon. Friend as it has been to most of us on this side of the Committee. I represent a great industrial area where we have experienced terrible unemployment in the past, and I have never hesitated to criticise in this House and on the platform the weaknesses of the system, or proved the cases of hardship under the old regulations. I would pay my tribute to my right hon. Friend and to the Government for the smooth and successful way in which the new regulations are now working, at any rate in my area, and I am speaking only for my own area at the moment. Now that there has been time to gain experience, I find that the officials who are responsible for administering the regulations are able to deal with cases with more care and understanding. A wider discretion, which I have already held to be the crux of the question, is, so far as I can find out, being used to the full, both in the spirit and the letter, and as Parliament truly wished it to be. That is borne out not only in my own experience but by the advices which I have received from those who are able to judge. Although you are bound to have grievances here and there, the legitimate grievances have, to a very large extent, practically ceased to exist. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Anyone who is in close touch with these matters must know the extent to which assistance is now being given in deserving cases, both in regard to rent and many other matters, apart altogether from the scale allowances.
Let me give one case, which is typical of many in my experience, and which has a bearing on what was said by the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar). It is the case of a man, his wife, and one son of 17. The scale allowance for the man was 24s., and he received an additional allowance of 2s. 3d. for rent, making £1 6s. 3d. together. The wife earns 8s. a week, and she is allowed to deduct 6s. of that, leaving 2s. for the 277 household. The boy of 17 is earning 26s. a week. Taking his personal allowance of 18s. 3d., insurance 1s. 6d., and an additional allowance of 2S. 6d. for dress, which was made to him in order that he might keep a decent appearance, that gave him 22s. 3d., leaving 3s. 9d. for the household. This 3s. 9d., with the wife's 2s., makes 5s. 9d., and this, deducted from the man's £1 6s. 3d., leaves £1 0s. 6d. On representations being made that case was reconsidered. It was pointed out that the boy was doing his honest best to make good; he was attending night schools, and was making a great effort. It was decided to disregard the whole of his wages in order to encourage him. The effect, of course, is to give the father an increase of 3s. 9d. This shows that these discretionary powers are being used as they should be used. That man, who up to the present has been a very severe critic of the regulations, has expressed his appreciation of the human way in which the discretionary powers are now being used.
§ Mr. Boulton
All I can say is that every case in my area—and I can only speak for my area—is now being considered with such care that I do not think there is any loophole for hardship in connection with these cases under the present administration in that area.
§ Mr. Boulton
It may be, but the case I have given is typical of many that have come within my experience. I think the very fact that while under the old regulations I, like many other Members of the House, had numerous cases of grievance brought to my notice, during the past year I have only had one, goes to show the general improvement that is caused by the more generous conditions and the wider discretionary powers that are now being used. The officials are getting into more intimate touch with the claimants, and are getting to know better the difficulties with which these people have to contend. I find also in my area that female officials are being trained and 278 appointed, as it is felt that they are better fitted to deal with many cases and circumstances. I think that that is all to the good. It shows that the discretionary powers are being used with great care, and that a genuine attempt is being made to make them work. That should be a source of gratification to all Members of the Committee.
The liquidation cases with respect to reductions recommended by the Advisory Board are now commencing to operate, and, as hon. Members know, most of these cases are to be spread over a period of 18 months. But I want to appeal to by right hon. Friend, although I admit I do not think my appeal is necessary, to see to it that the discretionary powers which are now being used in ordinary cases under the Regulations shall be used in the same sympathetic way in dealing with these liquidation cases. There are certain classes of able-bodied unemployed men, such as labourers, carters and so on, who want work but for whom work does not exist in their own line. I never like talking about myself, but I am glad to be able to say that I have been able to get a number of these men into jobs, simply by putting in a word here and there and giving a recommendation when I could. I was very glad to hear my right hon. Friend say to-day that he will consider this very important matter, because I believe that more can be done, either through the Exchanges, or direct with manufacturers, or in some other way, to get these men back into work. I find that in most cases they quickly adapt themselves to new conditions, and I cannot help thinking that it would be well worth while for my right hon. Friend to explore new methods. I happen to know of one or two cases in which manufacturers have taken on some of these men and have been training them in the evenings for the jobs that they will have to undertake, thus making them what I may call semi-skilled men. That is not only valuable to them, but it makes them a more valuable asset to the country, and I think that, if something on these lines could be extended, it would be worth while. I am glad that my right hon. Friend is going to apply his fertile mind to this matter, and I am sure we may look forward to some improvement. 279 Another question which I should like to mention, and with which my right hon. Friend also dealt, is the question of domestic servants, which is becoming acute. Although there are so many jobs available, there appears to be a great unwillingness to enter this service. Why is that the case? There are good and bad employers in all walks of life, but I believe to-day that the bad employer is in a very small minority. In any case, there is always a remedy at hand for him or her. I cannot imagine a more satisfactory or comfortable position for a girl who wishes to undertake work than working for a good employer.
§ Mr. Boulton
These girls are looked after, they are fed, they have good wages and a first-rate training for a time when a girl can look forward to having a home of her own. It is a common thing to find that employers, where employés have done well and have looked after them, do not forget them in their wills. I read only last night in an evening paper that one lady had left her maid £10,000, together with her dog and canary. These girls never know what their good fortune may be. The good employer will always look after them and there are much worse jobs. It has been suggested that domestic service is considered derogatory. Nothing could be further from the truth in fact, because domestic service entails responsibility and trustworthiness equally with any employment a girl or boy could engage in. Such an aspersion is pure snobbishness.
§ Mr. Boulton
In any case where there are so many jobs and where so many girls take precarious work or are unemployed, it does seem wrong that we should have to import so many foreigners into the country to undertake this work? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I am not prepared to say without further knowledge whether an insurance scheme applicable to domestic servants would be practicable or a greater incentive to girls to enter the service.
§ Mr. Boulton
What are the schools doing to encourage girls to enter a service 280 which offers so many advantages? Perhaps the Parliamenary Secretary will tell us what the schools are doing.
§ Mr. Boulton
I hope that they always educate girls and help to turn out girls to look after their best interests.
§ Mr. Boulton
There can have been no more difficult or delicate matter to deal with than unemployment assistance. From what I have seen of it, my right hon. Friend has broken the back of this vexed question. We now have the machinery for dealing with almost every class of case, and it now depends on the administration of these Regulations in each area. If things are not satisfactory in any particular area—and I would say this to the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar)—let hon. Members look to the administration and find out where the weak spots are. There is no excuse to-day for weak spots. If they should appear again and hard cases should be proved, I for one shall not hesitate again to bring the matter to the notice of the Minister, and I am satisfied that I shall get a sympathetic hearing. I do not believe that hon. Members opposite can honestly deny that we have gone a long step forward to the advantage of the unemployed in improving their lot. I cannot imagine a greater disservice to the unemployed than to magnify grievances or to encourage extravagant beliefs which we know can never be fulfilled without bringing down this great structure to the deplorable position in which we found it in 1931. This question does not concern one party only, and I would ask hon. Gentlemen opposite to believe that we on this side of the Committee who, like myself, have been returned by the votes of the workers—and some of the poorest of the workers—are no less anxious to improve the position of the unemployed.
§ Mr. Boulton
I would appeal to hon. Members in common justice to pay tribute where tribute is due for the great improvement which has taken place.
§ Mr. Boulton
I am only too glad to have had this opportunity of paying my tribute to the Minister and those who are so strenuously working with increasing effect to lessen the hard and depressing lot of the unemployed.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor
I have listened to many speeches in this House and I do not think that I have ever heard a speech which left me so hot as the speech which the hon. Gentleman has just delivered. As an apologist for the Government he is absolutely supreme. He ought to be sitting with the Minister. They would make a splendid pair. He gave an illustration of the beneficent treatment of the right hon. Gentleman in regard to unemployment benefit. Let me give him one, one that I had on Sunday night. A man, his wife, and a child who goes to school, a boy of about 15 who is working, another one of 18 and another one an adult, and this man is getting the handsome sum of 5s. a week unemployment assistance allowance. Is that beneficent treatment? The thing that we are indignant about is that this man and hundreds like him have served their day and generation, have given the best of their strength in industry as long as that industry required them, and then when it had no further use for them threw them away like a spent match. If hon. Gentlemen sitting on the other side, with their smooth smuggishness, could be compelled to live on 26s. a week or 24s. a week, and then, because a boy they had reared was earning £2 a week, 12s. was taken from their allowance, would they call that beneficent treatment? Is there anything beneficent in that?
As for domestic servants, I say to hon. Members opposite "You ought to think shame of yourselves employing our girls to comb your women's hair." These girls ought to be doing something more useful, more productive, contributing to the national wealth. I am going to make a proposal. The hon. Member who spoke last is very sorry because the supply of domestics is running short. I will tell hon. Members opposite what I think they ought to do. Instead of spending so much time training girls to be domestics, and deploring the fact that in the school curriculum they are not taught to be humble enough—[Interruption.] The hon. 282 Member is not on the quarter-deck now. In this House we are all equal. I suggest that the Minister should appoint a board from our most excellent girls who have had domestic experience and that those who want servants should appear before that board and pass an examination and, if they fail, so that they may be made to qualify, they should be sentenced to a certain period of domestic service.
The Government take a tremendous amount of credit for what they have done for the unemployed. I admit, and I am delighted, that we have more people working to-day than we had, but do not let the Government take any credit for that, because it is largely due to the £1,500,000,000 that they are spending on Defence, and when they have spent that they will be like the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo. I do not think they deserve very much credit, but if they want credit I will tell them where they might get it and it will be only common justice. My hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) told the Committee how the cost of living had been rising. We remember that morning when the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour came down with eyes beaming and his step lightsome and gladsome, to tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he had a gift of £2,500,000 for armaments. Now there is £47,000,000 in the Unemployment Insurance Fund and the bulk of these millions belong to the workers. It is they who are subscribing them. An hon. Member said a penny was subscribed by the employer, a penny by the workman and a penny by the State. That is all nonsense. It is sheer bunk. The employers do not pay it. They pass it on to the workers. In 1935 Health and Unemployment Insurance costs, other than wages, in Scotland, Northumberland, Durham, South Wales and Yorkshire, amounted to £493,380. Had these schemes not been in operation this would have been surplus and would have accrued to the miners and owners as wages and profits in the ratio of 87 in Northumberland, and 85 in other districts, to 13 and 15. That means that the workers are paying £419,373 and the owners only 74,007. The cost of living rises. I know the Government have been in difficulties before this, because the big industrialists who are behind them will only 283 allow them to do as it suits them. When wages were at the lowest point, had they raised unemployment benefit they would have brought it higher than the sum received when the men were working. But wages are rising now and the Government have a justifiable reason to raise the unemployment scales to keep in step with the rise in the cost of living.
There is a further point that I want to put very seriously, and I want an answer from the Minister. When a man signs on, he has to state his occupation, his rate of wages and the income of the house, when he becomes unemployed. The whole of his benefit under unemployment assistance is fashioned by what was his income when ordinarily working. In other words, if it is a man, wife and five children and he was earning only £2 3s. in his ordinary employment, he would get only 41s., although on his benefit, worked out in figures, he might be entitled to 51s. or 61s. The regulation says:The sum so ascertained shall, where necessary, be adjusted in accordance with the following provisions. Except where special circumstances or need of an exceptional character exists, the said sum shall he so adjusted as to be less than the amount which would ordinarily be available for the support of the household out of the earnings of the applicant and other members of the household whose needs have been included in those of the applicant if they were following the occupation normally followed by them.When we had our advance of wages, when we got the 6d. a day and 3d. for boys, the return came from the colliery office and the applicant had a deduction made from his unemployment assistance. Is it possible to ask the right hon. Gentleman that, where the standard wage has been raised as a result of trade union negotiation for any particular class, the applicant in that case shall have an automatic rise as a result of the raising of the standard? Will the right hon. Gentleman take that question into consideration? If you are going to boast of being so fair just and honest, you cannot make it work one way. If you are going to reduce a man because a member of his family has had an increase in wages, then, if the standard of wages for the class that that man is in is raised generally, surely that man ought to be entitled to benefit. I hope that the Minister will take note of what I have said on that point.
§ 9.46 p.m.
Mr. Vyvyan Adams
After the eloquence of the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. j. Taylor), I hardly have presumption enough to speak in case I am charged with "smooth smuggishness." However, I, like many of my hon. Friends on my side of the House, represent the working class no less than the hon. Member for Morpeth. I was no less interested than he to hear the views of the hon. Member for Central Sheffield (Mr. Boulton) on domestic service. Hitherto I have never myself been a domestic servant, and, therefore, I am for ever precluded from being that kind of residuary legatee. I believe the objection to domestic service is, to some extent, a hang-over and a survival from the periods of Edward VII and Victoria. In far fewer households to-day are the conditions of domestic service either intolerable or humiliating.
I was unable, I am sorry to say, to be present at the earlier part of the Debate, and therefore, I missed the flow of congratulations which must have been directed to the Minister of Labour by His Majesty's Opposition. With mounting employment and dwindling idleness, he must indeed be a happy man to-day. I am sorry that I missed any public demonstrations on his part of happiness. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not hide his light under a bushel, because if a Labour Government had been in office for the last five and a-half years and had been able to record one-fourth part of the improvement which has occurred during that period, we should have seen throughout the country upon every eminence exuberant and exultant Socialist orators. It is alleged—and I believe that it has been alleged to-day—that the improvement, which everybody admits, is due primarily or exclusively to expenditure on armaments. Indeed, I heard that that charge was specifically made again by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson). It so happens that I represent a city or part of a city which has hardly yet been touched by the rearmament programme. Indeed, the latest figures for Leeds happen to show a very slight deterioration. That, of course, is momentary, but it is some evidence that Leeds is not affected by the arms expansion to the same degree as certain other great centres of industry. 285 I want, if the Committee will allow me, very briefly to give one or two salient figures of the percentage unemployment for Leeds for the last eight or nine years. In June, 1929, the figures of unemployment in that city were 9.2 per cent. By September, 1931—a very interesting political date—the unemployment percentage in that city had risen to no less than 25 per cent., or one in every four of the insured population.
It had sunk already by 1932. I am very glad that the hon. Member makes this interruption, because the experience of Leeds was exactly coincident with the political alteration in this honourable House and throughout the country. By May, 1937—this will be of interest to the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren)—the percentage of unemployment in Leeds had sunk to 7.9. Any hon. Member can work out precisely what that means, The figures of unemployment in that city sank from 43,000 in the autumn of 1931 to 14,000 in May, 1937, and it so happens that I am able to say—[Interruption]—I wish hon. Members on my right would kindly not interrupt when these figures are so inconvenient to themselves—I am able to say that the unemployment figure in my own division is one-quarter to one-fifth of the former figure when I had the honour of standing before them as a Parliamentary candidate in the autumn of 1931. There are to-day actually at work in Leeds a number of equivalent to the total of the insured population of 174,000 in September, 1931. If the figures had shown an opposite tendency I should have said to whatever Government was in office or in power, "You are not fit to govern." As they have shown an improvement without comparison and without precedent, I say to them with all respect, "Thank you." In Leeds the problem of unemployment has almost to-day melted away. No longer do we see at street corners at all hours of the clay that terribly and horribly familiar sight of six years ago of knots of men, ill-clad and furrowed with the lines of hardship, privation and anxiety. And for what has been done I am personally, and so too, I am sure, are the citizens of Leeds, sincerely thankful.
None the less I am rather anxious about the future. I would like an assurance 286 that the Government are ready with expedients to arrest and mitigate any backward tendency. I do not think that it will come upon us so deeply, so hardly, and so seriously as it did between 1929 and 1932. [Interruption.] I am not aware that I am saying anything paradoxical when I suggest that our control of our home market is some guarantee against that kind of contingency. But suppose international relations so improve, as we all hope they will, that the whole of our arms programme becomes no longer necessary? All of us in this House, to whichever party we belong, must hope for such a development, and as the months pass and we grow stronger, it becomes progressively more possible. I am assuming that there is no violent international collision in which we ourselves are involved. This is no arms race in the ordinary sense, because in the long run, owing partly to our superior resources and partly to our later start, we in this country are bound to win. When that awareness overtakes the totalitarian States an agreement for limitation and consequent appeasement will follow. Eventually there will come from that agreement for limitation an enormous and beneficent economy. But I hope that the Government are not unmindful of the immediate dislocating effect which such an agreement for limitation would have upon industry in this country. There are innumerable ways of helping to avert the trough, and I hope that the Government are to-day making ready for the moment when the wave may have passed its crest.
§ 9.54 P.m.
§ Mr. Maclean
The hon. Gentleman the Member for West Leeds (Mr. V. Adams) is at least modest in taking no credit to himself for any of the reduction of unemployment in Leeds. He is giving the whole of the credit to the Government, I should have thought that he ought not to say that it is not due to armaments. or to any other thing in connection with armaments because, as he knows perfectly well, Leeds is a very large clothing centre. The workmen who are receiving employment owing to the rearmament programme of the Government naturally find that the first thing required is clothing. The consequence is that there is more work in the clothing factories of the "Let Burton dress you" firm, and other companies.
§ Mr. Maclean
The fact that garments are being purchased in such large numbers by workers throughout the country makes the clothing factories in Leeds busier. In addition I should imagine—I speak subject to correction if I am wrong—that the Leeds factories tender for contracts for clothing for the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the police forces. Therefore, tracing back the hon. Member's argument, I think he will agree that the prosperity of Leeds is in some degree due to the rearmament programme of the Government.
I only wish to say that the bulk of the improvement in Leeds occurred before the rearmament programme was proposed, and certainly before it was set in motion.
§ Mr. Maclean
The hon. Member must bear in mind that, apart from these considerations, in this country one cannot go about without any clothing. Leaving these matters on one side, the hon. Member for Central Sheffield (Mr. Boulton) told us about the difficulties of obtaining domestic servants, and he also spoke of the manner in which the people in his constituency were being treated by the officials of the Unemployment Assistance Board. He seemed to think that that treatment was being carried out in every other part of the country. I do not know what the activities of the hon. Member may be in his constituency, but I have continued the practice that I set in operation when I was first elected to this House in 1918 of going to my constituency every Friday night. My room is then invaded by people who have grievances to submit to me; it is like a doctor's consulting room. They make statements to me and I check the statements. On many occasions I have had submitted to me cases under the Unemployment Assistance Board, and by analysis of the circumstances, by reference to the Regulations and by interpreting them in a manner in which they ought to be interpreted, I have been instrumental in getting allowances that I consider people are entitled to. If I can do that, why cannot the officials of the Unemployment Assistance Board on the first analysis they make of the circumstances of the individual make 288 a correct determination: I take it that these officials are trained in such a manner as to read the problems that are set before them. If a Member of Parliament can read and interpret the Regulations, surely the officials and supervisors in the areas ought to be able to do these things.
The hon. Member for Central Sheffield spoke of one case. I could give dozens of cases. I will give one. A motor driver from Glasgow was fined in England and had his licence endorsed. He had been sent into England on business by his firm, and was fined for exceeding the speed limit. His firm dismissed him. He lost his unemployment benefit and was cast upon unemployment assistance. He came to me with his assessment, which I worked out, and I found that, having regard to the rent that he was paying, he was being underpaid by about 2s. 6d. a week. I sent him back to the Unemployment Assistance Board with my assessment of the determination in his case, and he came back to me and said that I was right in my assessment of his determination, but that this sum was being deducted from his allowance as a punishment for losing his job. He had already been punished by being fined in England and having his licence endorsed, and the officials of the Unemployment Assistance Board think that they are entitled to punish him again by reducing his unemployment assistance allowance. That case has been sent on to the Minister.
I could go on reciting cases. There is not one hon. Member who takes an interest in his constituents, particularly those constituents who are suffering under the unemployment assistance regulations, who could not find cases such as I have indicated, where the individual applicants are receiving less than the amount to which they are entitled. Therefore, it is nonsense to try to make out that the whole machinery of the Unemployment Assistance Board is running smoothly and without any fault. Those of us who know of its working know perfectly well that there are faults. Complaints are coming to us and they must be looked into and put right.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon
The charge that the hon. Member is making against the public assistance officials is a very serious one. Does he say that public assistance officials are really imposing a penalty on a man.
§ Mr. Maclean
I said the Unemployment Assistance Board officials, not the officials of the Employment Exchange. I mean those who are assessing the determinations.
§ Mr. Maclean
I am repeating what was told to me by the man. The case is before the Minister of Labour, who can make inquiries and find out whether what has been stated to me is correct. I know that the man is not getting his proper allowance. The cost of living has gone up to such an extent that the Minister of Labour—I take it that the Government agree with him in what he is doing—is setting up a fresh inquiry in order to devise a proper cost-of-living index. The right hon. Gentleman made that statement to-day, and we are expected to look upon that as something that will give us a great deal more information and much more certain information than we have had in the past, when we have been going along the old method of assessing the cost of living. Let me warn the right hon. Gentleman. He says that there will be four inquiries in four different periods of the year. When he is having those inquiries made I hope that he is not going to work along the lines of a cost-of-living index in order to fix a cost-of-living subsistence level which is going to fix the amount paid not only by the Unemployment Assistance Board but will be taken as an example by unscrupulous employers in order to fix the lowest rate of wages that they can get away with. The Minister shakes his head.
§ Mr. E. Brown
It is a matter which will be considered by representatives of the Trade Union Council and the Co-operative Society, among others.
§ Mr. Maclean
That means that there are safeguards for a proper line of inquiry, but it is no safeguard against the unscrupulous employer. The hon. Member for West Leeds (Mr. V. Adams) made a statement with regard to prosperity and wondered why hon. Members on these benches found fault with a Government which has done so much for his constituency. He asked why we should take exception to these figures. The city of Leeds has 14,000 unemployed, Glasgow has 97,000 unemployed.
§ Mr. Maclean
The hon. Member may consider that a smart interruption, but I would remind him that when the Socialist majority came in the number of unemployed was much larger than it is now. There were over 100,000 on the Poor Law. Hon. Members wonder why we compare conditions in our part of the country with the conditions in those parts where there is plenty of work. The Minister in his speech said that the prosperity of the country to-day was due to rearmament, and took exception when the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) pointed out that £1,500,000,000 was being spent on armaments in this country. It is a case of profits going up and prices of materials going up, and these prices being hidden by the firms who are engaged in these profit-making experiments. Let me quote from a speech made by a director of one of these firms. It is an index of what is going on. The price of a raw material rises and it becomes scarce. People run away with the idea that there is a scarcity in the country. This is what Mr. Arnold Statham said in his speech at the general meeting of Banister Walton and Co., held at 60, Spring Gardens, Manchester, in the Chartered Accountants' Hall.The basic price of our raw material has recently been advanced by about 25 per cent. and the increase has been passed on to the consumer by general agreement amongst the trade, which has been organised into a strong association for the control of selling prices and prevention of severe price-cutting which caused such losses during the recent depression.The employer's association clearly fixed the price at the highest possible price they could screw out of the Government.
§ Mr. Maclean
They are to prevent reductions in wages of the employés. They are not a price-fixing organisation. They prevent employers trying to force them into starvation. But for the trade unions of this country that would have happened long ago through the rapacity of the employers, who were crushing the workers before the trade unions were formed. The Minister of Labour puts forward the plea that workers who are on unemployment benefit and unemployment assistance are receiving so much benefit. He knows that the position he occupies to-day is 291 due to a set of circumstances which arose from the first regulations, which were fixed in such a harsh manner and operated in such a harsh manner that the last Minister of Labour had to vacate his position. The old Regulations had to be scrapped and new ones brought in. The Committee must remember these facts when they compliment the Minister and the Government, as though they had never in the past attempted to screw down the workers to the lowest ebb of poverty by the harsh regulations they originally brought in. This point has to be remembered, and no optimism on the part of the Minister or the Government can take away from the people who had to suffer during the short time the first Regulations operated the harshness with which they were applied. There are one or two points on which I should like some information. The Minister made a statement that the King's Roll had increased by something like 200,000.
§ Mr. Maclean
Well, I take it at 2,000. There is a large firm in Glasgow employing probably the largest number of employés in the whole of Scotland, a firm which is very generous and loyal and which acted favourably to those of its employés who joined the Army during the War. The men who were brought in to take their places were warned that the employment was only temporary. The firm paid the wages of the men who went to the War in the case of a single man to his mother, and in the case of a married man to his wife. As the War went on and succeeding yearly increments to the salary fell due, those increments were added to the salary and handed on, so that when the individual came back, if he did come back, the salary he received was exactly what it would have been had he never gone to the War. That firm is excluded from membership of the King's Roll, although it has applied for membership, and the reason for its exclusion is that while it employs some 2,000 or 3,000 men, the bulk of its employés, some 15,000 to 20,000, are women. Because the majority of its employés are not men, it is excluded from the King's Roll, although the work that is performed by the women and girls is work that is generally considered to be women's and girls' work.
292 I am referring to the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society, which is entirely excluded from any of the benefits of the King's Roll owing to the fact that the number of men that it employs is less than the number of women it employs. While I will not say that no other firm equalled it, certainly no firm excelled it, in its treatment of employés who volunteered for the Army during the War and who, if employed by another firm, would have given that firm the right to be included in the King's Roll. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to make inquiries into the matter, and to see what can be done with regard to it.
With regard to the means test, the regulations that have been applied have fixed the lowest possible amounts that are considered capable of maintaining a home. On every occasion attempts are made to pare the amount down according to the income that goes into the household from other members of it. Hon. Members on this side do not believe that that is the way to treat those who are in such circumstances that they have to submit to the means test. We have had too much of that sort of thing in the past. We have been told by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) of cases in his constituency. Reference has been made to the application of the holiday period, which seems to be applicable only to shipbuilding and ship-repairing towns, such as Glasgow, where the men have to work night and day on ship repairs in order to get the ships out of dry dock as soon as possible. The men suffer because of that. They do not receive the same conditions as employés receive in other parts of the country.
I hope the Minister will deal with that matter in his reply. It is a matter which has already been the subject of a decision by the umpire. That decision has been reconsidered by him on several occasions. Deputations have been sent to him by various trade unions, but he has been unable to resile from the decision he has given. It affects many men in shipbuilding areas, and it is a matter which the Minister ought to consider with a view to seeing whether he cannot take some action under the Unemployment Act or under any regulations that have been issued. If he cannot do so I think in the interest of those who are being placed in a very disadvantageous position he might look into the possibility of 293 bringing in a small amending Measure or bringing in some regulations under the existing Act which would enable these men to have their holiday period without being "stood off" and deprived of the unemployment benefit to which we believe they are entitled. I trust these points will be considered. At the same time I say to the Minister that we do not agree with the outline which he gave at the outset of this Debate. We do not agree that everything is lovely, as he tried to make out. We believe that there is just as much poverty as formerly.
§ Mr. Maclean
I have shown that the number of people unemployed in Glasgow and in other parts of the country is still great. The only city that exceeds Glasgow in unemployment is Liverpool, where the figure is about 1,000 more than Glasgow, but in Glasgow we have 20,000 more on Poor Law relief. With all the talk of prosperity, and the rearmament programme and the fact that engineering shops, shipbuilding yards and garment factories are working at top speed to fulfil orders, we have to remember that we are living in an age when machinery has been perfected to such an extent that the ships, the machines, the cloth and the suits can be produced more rapidly and with fewer hands than formerly. The fact is that while you are giving trade to a number of centres, the amount of trade that would have absorbed the whole of your unemployed 20 or 25 years ago can absorb only about two-thirds of the unemployed margin which exists to-day. You will always have a large margin of unemployment because of the continued perfecting and development of machinery and that margin, growing every time there is a depression in trade and continually producing more poverty and more feeling among the people, will, sooner or later, bring you to the stage when you will have to admit that you have failed to cure the evil, and then a Labour Government will have to come in and take your place.
§ 10.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Logan
Having regard to the shortness of time available for the Parliamentary Secretary's reply, I intervene only briefly to give a cameo picture of the state of affairs in Liverpool. Last year we had a matter of 48,661 wholly unemployed, 1,132 temporarily unemployed and 1,981 294 casuals or a total of 51,774 and this year the figure is 48,911. There is a decrease of 2,863, but owing to the Government not taking over the whole of the unemployed, we find, according to the estimates at present before us, that the ratepayers of Liverpool will have to meet a sum total of £400,000. There is an anomaly that I want to put before the Ministry of Labour and the Committee. The Government are in duty bound, in their prosperity, to take over from the whole of the boroughs, counties, and cities the unemployed of the country. They have not done so, and it is an unfair burden. The differentiation between the treatment of the unemployed and those on the Poor Law is this, that you have marked out the unemployed man and his dependants to get a lesser amount than any of the poor people who are on the Poor Law. I contend that that is deteriorating, and you have no right to bring that into operation. People on the Poor Law who are sick and of old age receive more money than those who are unemployed with their dependants, and I ask for that to be regulated by the Minister of Labour. What is more, in regard to what is called the "pots and pans" arrangement, there is no allowance whatever made, and when they go to the tribunal and ask for boots, they do not get them. Last week I brought before the notice of the Minister—and I had to deal with it on the Motion for the adjournment of the House—a question of some children in Preston being refused boots.
It appears to me to be a soulless proposition, when we boast of having £47,500,000 in excess of what is required to meet the moneys for the unemployed, that we should have sick children in a land like England wanting boots. When I am told that they can apply, not to the Poor Law, but to the charity organisations up and down the country, I say that it is most demoralising, and the Minister should understand that this cannot be tolerated. We have £47,000,000, and if it is invested at 3 per cent., we have at least over £1,000,000 that could be given in additional money. I trust that the Minister will understand that 1, for one, am not satisfied with this anomaly. To me the Minister of Labour is only registering the dictatorial powers of the Unemployment Assistance Board. 295 This House has not got the right, and has ceased to have the power, to deal with the administration of unemployment insurance. You have changed the Poor Law régime and you have taken the power out of the House of Commons to deal with it, so that we can only deal with it annually on this Vote. It is most unfair, and if I had more time at my disposal, I would go into other anomalies. In regard to the City of Liverpool, with the charges that we have to meet you are not doing the fair thing by the ratepayers, and the poor of the city are not being properly treated.
§ 10.28 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Butler)
There is one very attractive character in Parliamentary history who was called "Single-speech" Hamilton, for the reason that he made only one Parliamentary speech. He had the other distinction of having perhaps the most famous orator in history, Burke, as his private secretary. I, therefore, turned to "Single-speech" Hamilton for advice as to how to answer many of the speeches, naturally, made on this most human of subjects, and he says this:You venture less by answering the weak, inconclusive things said by others than by advancing anything of your own.That is very tempting advice to a Parliamentary Secretary who has not had a very long time in which to acquaint himself with all the details of his subject, and who has had put before him so many "weak, inconclusive" arguments. I shall accept the advice of "Single-speech" Hamilton and try to answer those many weak points, but I think as well I shall add some of the strong points of my own and of my right hon. Friend's, because I think that never has there been so strong a case for anybody who was replying on behalf of the Ministry of Labour. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) said that when he wanted to state his claim, he stated it high, because when he stated it at nowt he got less than nowt. I am not going to stake my claim too high. I cannot say that I will reply to every point that has been raised, and I am afraid that I shall disappoint some hon. Members who have taken so much trouble to put their points, but I will reply to as many as I can. May I put it like this to the Committee, 296 that the more points I am allowed to answer in quietude and in the manner in which I have arranged them, the more I shall get through.
The hon. Gentleman who is to move the reduction when I sit down referred to the danger of the Government's policy in that, although we are encouraging, as he acknowledged to a certain extent, an improvement in trade and industry, we were not necessarily improving the conditions outside the Special Areas, in what he referred to as the depressed areas. He said that there were certain remedies being adopted in the Special Areas, but that outside these not a great deal had been done. He quoted the level of unemployment in various districts and he mentioned Lancashire in particular. I want to start my observations by giving the Committee some facts about the improvement in Lancashire. In the period from June, 1936, to June, 1937, there was a considerable improvement, and if we take the last five years we find a considerable reduction in the figures of the unemployed. There has been a reduction in Lancashire between 1933 and 1937 approaching 200,000 in the number of persons unemployed. In order to make my statistics fair, I should acknowledge that there has been a reduction in the number of insured persons, but I can say that the numbers of unemployed have declined in a much greater proportion than the numbers of the insured.
The conditions in Lancashire have not only been improved, as has been announced by previous Ministers in reply to Debates about the Special Areas, by the introduction of armament factories, but there has been a considerable increase in the number of other factories. Lancashire as a whole shows an improving trend of employment, and a further indication of this is the large number of new businesses established. There is information available that during 1936 at least 100 new factories or extensions to existing factories were established in the county, and this movement is continuing. This is not only the case in industries outside the cotton trade, but also the case within the cotton trade itself. Mills which had been closed have been reopened at Darwen and Great Harwood. I give these facts at the opening of my remarks in order to show that the point made by the hon. Gentleman opposite that we were not necessarily taking so 297 much trouble about areas which are not scheduled as Special Areas does not bear examination.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies
Can the hon. Gentleman state how many factories have been closed during the period he mentioned?
§ Mr. Butler
Naturally there have been factories closed, but the improvement in the employment figures indicate that there has been an improvement all round. Interest has naturally been shown in what developments there have been under Section 5 of the recent Act. Under this Section the Minister of Labour is required to appoint an Advisory Committee to consider representations from areas of heavy unemployment outside the Special Areas, that they should have advantage of the assistance offered under Section 5 of that Act. This Section provides, as the Committee will remember, for assistance to be given in respect of site companies in such districts, and also lays down certain conditions regarding unemployment and other matters that must be satisfied before the Minister can direct that the provisions of the Section shall be applied. My right hon. Friend has asked me to announce that he has appointed the following Advisory Committee:
The right hon. the Lord Strathcarron, K.C. (Chairman).
John William Bowen, Esq., J.P.
Theodor Emanuel Gregory, Esq., D.Sc. (Econ.).
Elias Wynne Cemlyn Jones, Esq.
The Lord Melchett.
To show that we wish as many applications to be made as possible, I would say that Mr. W. H. Hardman has been appointed secretary to the committee and all communications should be addressed to him at the Ministry of Labour, Montagu House. I hope hon. Members will take this as an earnest of our intention to try to encourage the development in areas which come under Section 5 of the recent Act. They may wish to know whether there has been any progress under this particular Section of the Act. Inquiries have been received from several districts, and I think I am entitled to mention one or two. The Biddulph Urban District Council have submitted a statement of conditions in their district. The Carmarthenshire County Council have 298 asked the Minister to receive a deputation, and the hon. Member for that district has shown his usual energy in approaching the Minister about the district which he represents. In the same way the Burry Port Urban District Council have approached the Minister and sent him a letter, but there has not yet been time to reply. Those are not the only instances, but I give them to show that progress is going on, and that it is the earnest wish of the Government that full use should be made of this Section of the Act.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) asked whether we were looking to the future. As the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) observed, it is a very healthy sign that hon. Gentlemen have to cast their gaze forward into the future, because they do not find it so easy to discover difficulties at the present time. The work undertaken by the Special Commissioner is one of economic development, and clearly a long view is necessary, and it seems to me very difficult for hon. Members opposite to criticise what they regard, quite naturally perhaps, as the comparative slowness of the progress when it is remembered that this must be a long-term policy, one of the economic development of these areas. In the Third Report of the Special Commissioner are set out many details of progress, but perhaps I might assist the Committee by giving them one or two particulars of further progress. The Commissioner has appointed honorary industrial advisers who are assisting him to a very great extent.
Here I would like to pay a tribute to the work that Lord Portal has done in going about the country and encouraging industrial enterprise of every sort. We must not only remember the Commissioner's work for economic development, but his work for the health services. Well over £3,000,000 has been promised for health services—for hospitals, for different forms of health development and the improvement of sanitary services. Land settlement has been provided already for 1,760 families, of which 600 are already in residence, and there is no better long-term policy than that. In all £3,400,000 has been spent, £1,000,000 during the last three months alone. That should be a dramatic indication of the amount of money which has been spent to improve conditions.
§ Mr. Butler
On various services during the last few months. My right hon. Friend gave an indication of the improvement in unemployment figures which has resulted. What the Special Commissioner is trying to do in the long-term policy for the Special Areas is directed towards the economic development of those areas. Therefore, he is working away at creating a lasting asset which should enable the areas to meet any future slump. For instance, such work as the deep-water quay on Tyneside, the fish quay on the Wear, improvements to the harbour at White-haven and improvement in navigation on the Tyne, could not be regarded as part of the armaments programme, but must be regarded as long-term works, destined to improve the economic position of those areas. Perhaps the most striking example is the creation of the two trading estates. Hon. and right hon. Members will realise that one of the dangers of the Special Areas has been that they depend upon certain old basic industries which have suffered from the slump, and about which there is fear for the future. It is refreshing to realise, therefore, that new light industries are being established, especially in the Team Valley, for the manufacture of food products, confectionery, clothing, electrical parts, furniture, plastic goods, glass, etc. So far there are only six factories started, but I promise that when figures can be given of the numbers likely to be employed that we shall certainly give them.
The development of quays, waterways and harbours, and so forth, the substitution of light industries and the inclusion of light industries in those areas indicates that the Special Commissioner is setting about facing the root troubles of those areas with a view to a long-term policy. I hope that, in the short time I have at my disposal, to be able to give specific replies to hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I would first deal with the points raised by the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. W. Joseph Stewart) and the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan), which were complaints about the transference on the 300 second appointed day of certain persons from Poor Law authorities to the Unemployment Assistance Board. As hon. Members will realise, that was to happen on 1st April. Some 90,503 persons have been transferred since then. That is a proportion of about two-thirds of those whose transfer was sought have been transferred. There have been several queries raised on this subject in the House. I will confine my observations to what was said in answer to a Parliamentary question by my right hon. Friend when he announced that the question of a deputation from the Distressed Areas Conference would receive his consideration. He now empowers me to say that he will be willing to receive a deputation from the Conference on the subject and will take steps to get in touch with the parties interested. I hope that will show hon. Members that we are willing to consider the difficulties that have arisen over this particular transfer.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street raised a very important question as to the cost of administration of the Unemployment Assistance Board, and even used rather strong language on the subject. I should rather like to correct what I am sure was his difficulty in appreciating the facts set out in our Estimates. The total present administrative costs of the Unemployment Assistance scheme is approximately £5,000,000. That we will take as approximately correct. Of that total, some £3,000,000 is the cost of the work done in the exchanges in the payment of allowances and so forth. The rest of the sum is accounted for by the administration of the Board itself throughout the country. The total, as I have said, is approximately £5,000,000, but the figure for the administration of transitional payments in 1933–34 was in fact nearly £4,000,000—about £3,750,000—because the services of the Ministry of Labour were used in these cases, and the odd £750,000, approximately, was paid to local authorities. Therefore, the increased expenditure on administration was something like £1,250,000. If the hon. Member will turn to the Financial Memorandum which accompanied the Unemployment Bill of 1934, he will see that we considered at that date that the approximate increase in expenditure would be in the nature of £1,000,000, so that the total difference about which we are quarrelling is something in the nature 301 of £250,000. There is a considerable difference between that figure and the £3,000,000 with which the hon. Member charged us, and he will find that the amount is not nearly so large as he expected it to be.
Several questions have been asked about the administration of the regulations by the Board. In the time at my disposal all that I shall be able to do will be to remind the Committee that the regulations, where they involve cuts, naturally press very hardly on certain sections of the population. They are administered upon the advice of advisory committees who understand the local conditions in each area. There is an elaborate system of appeal, and we believe that they are being administered in as sane and as human a manner as possible. The hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) discussed the question of the rate of allowances under the regulations in relation to the cost of living. It is always very difficult to discuss in Committee the question of the cost of living. It is very hard for a housewife to understand the broad and general economic figures which we bandy about so easily here, and it is very easy for us to use these broad figures without realising that perhaps a penny means very much more than we understand in certain working-class households where the broad figures that we use are not understood. Therefore, I approach the use of these figures with some trepidation.
I think that every Member of the Committee when going to a political meeting is interested in noticing, from the glass windows of the local co-operative society, whether bacon has gone up or down in the week preceding his meeting, and very often he has a better meeting if bacon has gone down than if it has gone up. That is a very much more human way of considering the cost of living.
As, however, the hon. Member gave me some figures, I will give him some in return. I will take the date just before we passed away from transitional payments to the administration of the Unemployment Assistance Board. I remember that in December, 1934, the cost of living figure was approximately 144, and it now stands at 152. That is an increase of 5.6 per cent. Now let me look at the unemployment assistance payments. The average weekly payment in December, 302 1934, was 21s. 11d., and in June, 1937, it was 23s. 11d. That is an increase in the average weekly payment of 9.1 per cent., as against an increase in the cost of living of 5.6 per cent. These are the comparative facts as between the average rise in the cost of living figure and the average weekly payment of the Unemployment Assistance Board.
§ Mr. A. Jenkins
What is the use of an average figure of that kind? Why not take the case of a man and his wife, and apply the percentage there? In such a case it will be found that there is a reduction of 2s. 7d. a week for the man and wife, and the average figure does not apply at all.
§ Mr. Butler
I am informed that the average weekly payment is a fair indication. I said just now, we feel a certain sense of disquiet about statistics, because of the difficulty of calculating an absolutely fair household budget, but, comparing the figures which I have given with those of the hon. Member for Abertillery, I think there is a great deal to be said on our side in regard to this matter. Several questions have been raised about the Unemployment Insurance scheme and in particular by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). I do not want to score any mere debating point, but unfortunately most of the points he mentioned would require legislation. For instance, holidays, the 12 days rule and the extension of the benefit period, would all require legislation. Therefore I would not be in order in proceeding to discuss them further, but they will receive the consideration which they deserve in view of the hon. Gentleman's expert knowledge.
§ Mr. Daggar
I submitted quite a number of cases for reply. Is it the Minister's intention to interfere with the decision of the Board in regard to three cases where men's allowances had been reduced because their rent had been reduced? In one case the rent was reduced by 3d. and in two cases by 5d. and the Board deducted 6d.
§ Mr. Butler
The hon. Gentleman referred to some correspondence. Personally I have not seen it, nor has my right hon. Friend, and I presume that it has been forwarded to the Board. In any case the cases which he has brought before us will receive our serious consideration.
§ Mr. Daggar
In the course of my speech I mentioned that I raised this question in the House on 26th May. I sent the cases to the Minister and got an acknowledgment of my enclosures on 1st June, so that it is not true to say that these cases were not received by the Ministry.
§ Mr. Daggar
That is not correct. I resent any Member of this House distorting the meaning of the words I use. What I said was that I sent another communication to the right hon. Gentleman asking him if he could now give a reply to the case I submitted, and in respect of that I have had no acknowledgment.
§ Mr. Butler
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that no one wishes to distort what he said. We shall look into these cases which he has raised and if he has not received an acknowledgment I hope that he will receive it soon. In regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for Gorbals, it is not within the statutory power of trade boards to inquire into the question of holidays with pay.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Will the hon. Gentleman answer my other point? Is a man on standard benefit who has been in receipt of low wages entitled during the long holiday period of say 10 days to have a payment made to him by the Unemployment Assistance Board?
§ Mr. Butler
The answer is "Yes if he is in need." The hon. Member raised a point about the return of soldiers to private life, as did the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) and the hon. Member for North Lanark (Mr. Anstruther-Gray). The Ministry of Labour has endeavoured to do its best by providing the training centres which have been referred to for the training of soldiers for employment in private life. I accept all the facts as put by the hon. Member for Norwood, except that I think he exaggerated a little about the time during which the scheme has been in operation. It is far too early to come to a decision on the
§ success of the scheme. I can only assure him that the points he has put will receive our consideration. We hesitate very much to make any alteration in the present arrangements of the King's Roll for the reason that there are several thousand disabled ex-service men still unemployed and we think it would be dangerous to add any more. But I undertake to give consideration to the point about those who have been disabled in action since the Great War, and I hope that will satisfy the hon. Member. I promised to draw to a close before 11 o'clock, so that the hon. Gentleman can move the reduction of the Vote, but I am in no doubt about the result, and the verdict of the Committee on my right hon. Friend's record. I am delighted to join him at this period and to help him in the very happy and human task that we have to undertake. The Department ranges over the whole of Great Britain. It considers the working conditions of some 14,000,000 people, and we have to answer in the House for much of their social welfare. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Thanet (Captain Balfour) referred to the need for coordinating the services of peace. There is great talk about the machinery for war. The machinery for which we answer is the vast machinery of peace, whose task is to keep at bay those enemies of our industrial system, demoralisation and poverty, and I am convinced that my right hon. Friend's efforts will be crowned with every success.
§ Mr. Lawson
I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100.
I only wish to say that I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's interpretation of the Unemployment Assistance Board's methods, and I challenge him to investigate the charges that I have made.
Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £14,337,900, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 139; Noes, 224.307
|Division No. 260.]||AYES.||[10.58 p m.|
|Acland, R. T. D. (Barnstaple)||Banfield, J. W.||Bromfield, W.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Barnes, A. J.||Brown, C. (Mansfield)|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Barr, J.||Buchanan, G.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Batey, J.||Burke, W. A.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'Isbr.)||Bellenger, F. J.||Cape, T.|
|Ammon, C. G.||Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Charleton, H. C.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Broad, F. A.||Cluse, W. S.|
|Cocks, F. S.||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Richards, R. (Wrexham)|
|Cove, W. G.||Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.||Ridley, G.|
|Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Riley, B.|
|Daggar, G.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Ritson, J.|
|Dalton, H.||Kelly, W. T.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland. N.)|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Kirby, B. V.||Rothschild, J. A. de|
|Davies, S. O.(Merthyr)||Kirkwood, D.||Rowson, G.|
|Day, H.||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G.||Salter, Dr. A. (Bermondsey)|
|Dobbie, W.||Lathan, G.||Sexton, T. M.|
|Dunn, E.(Rather Valley)||Lawson, J. J.||Shinwell, E.|
|Ede, J. C.||Lee, F.||Silkin, L.|
|Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)||Leonard, W.||Silverman, S. S.|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Leslie, J. R.||Simpson, F. B.|
|Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||Logan, D. G.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Lunn, W.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Foot, D. M.||Macdonald, G. (Inca)||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Frankel, D.||McEntee, V. La T.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Gallacher, W.||McGhee, H. G.||Stephen, C.|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||MacLaren, A.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Maclean, N.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Gibbins, J.||MacMillan, M. (Western Isles)||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Mainwaring, W. H.||Thurtle, E.|
|Green, W. H.(Deptford)||Maxton, J.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Messer, F.||Viant, S. P.|
|Grenfell, D. R.||Milner, Major J.||Walkden, A. G.|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||Montague, F.||Walker, J.|
|Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Watkins, F. C.|
|Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Watson, W. McL.|
|Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Muff, G.||Welsh, J. C.|
|Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Nathan, Colonel H. L.||Westwood. J.|
|Harris, Sir P. A.||Naylor, T. E.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|Hayday, A.||Noel-Baker, P. J.||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Oliver, G. H.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Owen, Major G.||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Paling, W.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Parker, J.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Hopkin, D.||Parkinson, J. A.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Jagger, J.||Price, M. P.|
|Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Pritt, D. N.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Mr. Groves and Mr. John.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Cayzer, Sir H. R. (Portsmouth, S.)||Furness, S. N.|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Fyfe, D. P. M.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Christie, J. A.||Ganzoni, Sir J.|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Clarke, Lt.-Col. R. S. (E. Grinstead)||Gibson, Sir C. G. (Pudsey and Otley)|
|Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.)||Clarry, Sir Reginald||Gluckstein, L. H.|
|Anstruther-Gray, W J.||Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C|
|Apsley, Lord||Colman, N. C. D.||Grant-Ferris, R.|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J.||Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.|
|Assheton, R.||Conant, Captain R. J. E.||Gridley, Sir A. B.|
|Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton)||Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L.||Grigg, Sir E. W. M.|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Cox, H. B. T.||Grimston, R. V.|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Craven-Ellis, W.||Gritten, W. G. Howard|
|Balfour, G. (Hampstead)||Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake)|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Crooke, J. S.||Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor)|
|Barrie, Sir C. C.||Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.||Guest, Maj. Hon. O. (C'mb'rw'll, N.W.)|
|Baxter, A. Beverley||Croom-Johnson, R P.||Guinness, T. L. E. B.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Crossley, A. C.||Gunston, Capt. D. W.|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Cruddas, Col. B.||Hannah, I. C.|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Aylesbury)||De Chair, S. S.||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Harbord, A.|
|Beechman, N. A.||Denville, Alfred||Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)|
|Beit, Sir A. L.||Doland, G. F.||Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)|
|Bossom, A. C.||Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury)||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.|
|Boulton, W. W.||Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side)||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Dugdale, Captain T. L.||Higgs, W. F.|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Duggan, H. J.||Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S.|
|Brass, Sir W.||Duncan, J. A. L.||Holmes, J. S.|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Dunglass, Lord||Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.|
|Brocklebank, Sir Edmund||Eastwood, J. F.||Hopkinson, A.|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham)||Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Hulbert, N. J.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Ellis, Sir G.||Hutchinson, G. C.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Elliston, Capt. C. S.||James, Wing-Commander A, W. H.|
|Bull, B. B.||Elmley, Viscount||Joel, D. J. B.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Emery, J. F.||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)|
|Burghley, Lord||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth)|
|Butler, R. A.||Entwistle, Sir C. F.||Jones, L. (Swansea W.)|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Evans, Capt. A. (Cardiff, S.)||Keeling, E. H,|
|Cartland, J. R. H.||Everard, W. L.||Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Fildes, Sir H.||Kimball, L.|
|Cary, R. A.||Fleming, E. L.||Latham, Sir P.|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Law, Sir A. J. (High Peak)|
|Law, R. K. (Hull, S.W.)||Peake, O.||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.|
|Lees-Jones, J.||Peat, C. U.||Smith, L. W. (Hallam)|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Perkins, W. R. D.||Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)|
|Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.||Petherick, M.||Southby, Commander A. R. J.|
|Lewis, O.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Spens, W. P.|
|Lipson, D. L.||Pilkington, R.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'I'd)|
|Loftus, P. C.||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton||Storey, S.|
|Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Procter, Major H. A.||Stourton, Major Hon. J. J.|
|Lyons, A. M.||Radford, E. A.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Raikes, H. V. A. M.||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.||Ramsbotham, H.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.|
|McCorquodale, M. S.||Rankin, Sir R.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|McKie, J. H.||Rayner, Major R. H.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Macnamara, Capt. J. R. J.||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)|
|Magnay, T.||Reid, Captain A. Cunningham||Thomas, J. P. L.|
|Maitland, A.||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)||Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.|
|Makins, Brig.-Gen. E.||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Manningham-Buller, Sir M.||Ropner, Colonel L.||Wakefield, W. W.|
|Marsden, Commander A.||Ross, Major Sir R. D. (Londonderry)||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Maxwell, Hon. S. A.||Rowlands, G.||Warrender, Sir V.|
|Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Royds, Admiral P. M. R.||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Mellor, Sir R. J. (Mitcham)||Russell, Sir Alexander||Wayland, Sir W. A|
|Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)||Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)|
|Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)||Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Mitchell, H. (Brentford and Chiswick)||Salmon, Sir I.||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)|
|Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)||Salt, E. W.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Munro, P.||Samuel, M. R. A.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Nall, Sir J.||Sanderson, Sir F. B.||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.||Sandys, E. D.||Wragg, H.|
|O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Savery, Sir Servington||Wright, Squadron-Leader J. A. C.|
|Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Selley, H. R.|
|Palmer, G. E. H.||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Patrick, C. M.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)||Major Sir George Davies and|
Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ It being after Eleven of the Clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.