HC Deb 01 June 1937 vol 324 cc957-84

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Sir A. Lambert Ward.]

9.26 p.m.

Mr. Tinkers

I want to take this opportunity of raising a point of which I gave notice to-day. I had a question down to the Prime Minister asking him to give a day to discuss the increased cost of living in relation to low income such as unemployment benefit and old age pensions. The reply of the Prime Minister was that Parliamentary time could not be given, and seeing that we have now an hour and a half it would be folly on my part to press the Prime Minister for a day if I did not take an opportunity such as this. Therefore, I want to call the attention of the House to the hard position of a large number of our people. To-day the House has been moved on the question of profits. The Chancellor has in mind that large profits and excess profits are being made which he thinks ought to be taxed. Nobody questions that. One remark of the Chancellor proved it when he said that approximately £600,000,000 to £700,000,000 profits were made annually. One cannot grumble if he tries to extract from that £25,000,000 for the purpose of revenue. Large profits are being made, and it is expected that further large profits will be made owing to armaments and the boom in trade. Increased profits have a relation to the increased cost of living.

It will not be questioned that in the last two years the cost of living has materially increased. There is a difference as to the amount; some say 12 per cent., some say 15 per cent. We can strike a fair average at about 10 per cent. My point is that the increased cost of living imposes a great burden on those with fixed incomes. The unemployed man and his wife get 26s. a week. With the cost of living up by 10 per cent. that is brought down by more than 2s. If they get 30s. a week, 3s. has to be taken from the amount. Taking the old age pensioners, who are among the hardest cases we have at the present time, a man and his wife get £1 a week. Take 2S. from that, and they are left with 18s. a week. In this House quite recently we have been dealing with increased salaries and the arguments put forward to sustain the increases have included the increased cost of living, and it has been admitted that some regard should be had to that. But nobody seems to have any regard for the class of persons I have mentioned, and yet they form a large proportion of our community. At times of prosperity such as the present we ought to have regard to all classes. The wage earner, though it may come rather late in the day, will get an increase some time or other. He will share in the improvement to a certain extent, but these people on fixed incomes cannot share in the improvement, which involves an increased cost of living, unless there is a common move to do something for them.

Anyone who moves among these people cannot but be moved with pity by their plight. They are in dire distress in regard to clothing and footwear, which they have no chance of replenishing. Even on the question of food these people on fixed incomes have difficulty in getting the ordinary things of life. It is quite common to see them going to the cheapest shops to try to make their money go further. If hon. Members want to find out the social conditions of our people, they should not go to their constituencies and meet a selected group of people, but they should go to the market place late on Saturday night and find out who are the people who go there to buy the odd lots. That is the real test of how the community is living. If they do that and experience what I have experienced they will find that it is the unemployed, and, even worse than that, the aged people who are looking round the stalls and waiting until a vendor, to clear his stall, says that he has a cheap lot which people can have for a few pence. You see these ragged people come forward and take what they can as far as their money goes. I asked one or, two of them once why they were there. I was told that they got £1 a week, and that their rent was 6s. a week. They had to try to make the 14s. go as far as they could, and they went to the market on Saturday night to try to buy sufficient food to last the week.

I am almost appalled when the Budget Debate is on and hesitate to take part. One of my friends was thinking of raising the question of pensions, but was overawed because we got on to what is termed high finance, and he felt that if he brought pensions forward he would almost be ruled out. I want to give one or two instances where money could be usefully spent in this direction. There are 1,600,000 people out of work at present. If I separate that figure into 1,000,000 males and 600,000 females, we may arrive at some useful conclusions. Anyone seeing these people will realise that they are never able to get decent clothes, and if this House could only see its way to grant them extra payment so that they could buy a decent suit of clothes a year, they would be doing a good thing in that direction. What would the amount be? We have been talking about £1,500,000,000 and £400,000,000, and the Chancellor said to-day that the Budget cost for armaments had gone up about £74,000,000 and that another £70,000,000 was being found by what is called capital expenditure.

If we tried to devote some of this money to these poor people, it would be much better for the country and would provide much more useful employment than if it were spent on armaments. If we were to provide 1,000,000 men with a suit of clothes each a year, at an average cost of £2 l0s., it would only come to £2,500,000, and if we were to provide the women each with an extra dress at a price of, say, Li a dress—and anybody knows how women like to dress decently and have more pride than men in that direction—it would add another £600,000. Then everyone should have a pair of shoes. There is no worse sight in winter time than that of down-trodden people without a decent pair of boots. It is almost a tragedy. Give them a pair of boots each, which could easily be done in this time of large profit-making. Then there is the question of food. Quite easily every family that I have mentioned could do with l0s. a week more money for spending on food.

These items that I have mentioned would come to between £40,000,000 and £50,000,000 annually, which would go a long way towards increasing the standard of living of these families, and yet this afternoon, knowing very well that there is going to be an increased cost of living for the next 12 months or even longer, no regard is paid to these classes of people. If we want to enjoy the confidence of these people and to give them contentment, we shall have to face this question at some time, and in our heart of hearts we ought to have sympathy for them. I know that most of us here come from the working-class movement and have seen the drudgery of their lives, and many of our people have experienced it. I cannot say that I have myself in that acute form, as I have always been employed, but one is bound to be moved with sympathy for those who suffer in that way, and so I think the House ought to-day to give time to examining this question and to seeing whether the case which we put forward has anything behind it.

The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour) tried to compute that the cost of living had not gone up, and probably that notion is in the mind of other Conservative Members as well. All that I ask is an examination of these matters, and when we have proved our case, that the cost of living has gone up in the last two years, it should follow that the increase for which we are asking should be given to these people. If I fail and am not able to sustain my argument that the cost of living has gone up, my case goes by the board. All that I desire is an examination of this question and to find from the Government whether there is any justification for my claim that those with low fixed incomes are suffering in comparison with other people. If I am wrong in that, I shall be quite willing to withdraw it, but if I am right. as I believe I am—and I am assured by everyone who goes to these shops for their food and clothing that there has been an increase in the cost of living—then, in fairness to these people, we ought to see them given something on their present income. I trust that the Government will pay attention to what we say and try to do something in this direction.

9.40 p.m.

Sir Percy Harris

The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) has raised a subject of urgent and immediate importance, and it is unfortunate that there is not a Minister present to give attention to what he has raised.

Mr. Tinker

I do not want to blame the Government for that, because they did not know there would be such an early Adjournment Motion.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Captain Margesson)

Owing to the fact that it was not until a quarter past eight that we received notice that this question would be raised on the Adjournment Motion, it was not possible to arrange for a Minister to be present. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) understood perfectly that there would be no Minister present to reply to him, but, of course, I will report what he has said to the Minister concerned.

Sir P. Harris

I was going to say that I assumed that in this case the Government were not sufficiently warned owing to the unexpectedly early Adjournment Motion. The hon. Member for Leigh has raised issues that are of immediate importance. Rightly or wrongly, there is considerable unrest, especially among the working women. The men do not realise the tendency of prices to rise so rapidly as do those who have to spend the money. The ordinary working man with a home gets his pay and hands over the balance to his wife, and it is on her that the responsibility for making both ends meet falls. I know that there is a great and growing discontent at the rapid rise in the prices of many articles of general use. I do not refer merely to food, but to things like pots and pans and to clothes generally. It falls particularly heavily on the poorer sections of the community, on the unemployed, the partly employed, and the lower scale of wage earners, and I think the suggestion made that there should be an investigation of the whole problem is worthy of consideration.

As we have on the Treasury Bench the right hon. Gentleman who is, after all, the biggest power behind the Throne, the Patronage Secretary, who really makes the puppets do their jobs, I think he should convey to the Minister responsible that this is a matter of urgent importance. We have a new Prime Minister and a reshuffle of the Government and perhaps the Ministers will do better in their new homes. We have new blood drawn from the various sections which support the National Government, and we hope, therefore, that the hon. Member's point, so well put, will receive the grave consideration of the Government.

9.44 P.m.

Mr. Kelly

I want to thank the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) for having raised this question, particularly as not only was his question not answered satisfactorily to-day, but during the course of the Debate last evening this matter of the cost of living was raised and hon. Members opposite denied that there had been an increase of 1s. 8d. in the£. Discussing it with one of the Members who had taken part in the Debate last evening, I found that he was raising a quibble in regard to it, and that he realised to the full that the cost had been increased by 1s. 8d. in the £ so far as food was concerned. He denied it because the hon. Member who was then speaking had mentioned the whole cost of living. I would ask the Patronage Secretary to pay regard to those people who are in receipt of old age and widows' pensions. I sometimes try to find out how these people manage to live on 10s. per week, even when the husband and wife together are receiving 20s. One has only to consider what it costs for the simplest and roughest food to realise how difficult it is for these people to live on the pension. I do not know how widows manage on 10s. a week to bring up children, even allowing for the few shillings they get for them. One wonders how they manage to carry on in these days with rents at the level we know them to be and with food and clothing at their present prices. We asked more than once from these benches that during the celebrations for the Coronation something extra might be given to these people, but even that was denied them.

Not only should there be an investigation into the rise in the cost of living, but we should consider, at a time when we are talking of increasing the salaries of Cabinet Ministers, increasing the amount paid in pensions. We have been hearing to-day of profits from industry ranging from six to seven hundred million pounds. Surely we ought to be able to find enough in this country for those people who have grown old in the service of industry and commerce an income sufficient to enabie them to live in comfort and ease in the eventide of their days. It is not creditable to us and something of which we ought to be ashamed that these veterans of industry are asked to exist on l0s. a week. Any Government that neglects those who have rendered such service to the community, and does not make an effort to give them a pension adequate for a reasonable standard of life, is not doing its duty to itself, to the country or to humanity.

9.50 p.m.

Mr. James Griffiths

We are indebted to the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) for taking advantage of the Adjournment Motion to raise this important question. I want to supplement the appeal, perhaps the most pathetic appeal that could be made, on behalf of the growing army of old people who are faced with the problem of trying to eke out an existence on a miserable l0s. a week. I hope that serious note will be taken of what has been said to-night and conveyed by the Patronage Secretary to the responsible Minister as an expression of feeling of hon. Members on all sides of the House. It must be nearly 12 months since we had a hectic time in the House debating the regulations and scales submitted by the Unemployment Assistance Board. It will be remembered that it was the second attempt made by the board and the Government to fix scales and regulations. The first were withdrawn. Then there was a gap and we were told that the board spent a good deal of time in considering in the then circumstances what were the scales required for the maintenance of a man and wife, and for single men and children.

Eventually new scales were brought forward and they were adopted by the House. We have the right to assume that those scales were fixed by the board after mature consideration and were regarded by the Government as adequate at that time. We denied that from these benches, but the Government accepted them as being sufficient, with the cost of living as it was, to maintain the unemployed in some kind of subsistence. I want to urge, therefore, that if those scales were adequate then they cannot possibly be adequate now. If 26s. a week for a man and wife was deemed to be the proper allowance 12 months ago it cannot be regarded as sufficient now because it is worth in real values only 24s. On the Government's own argument, therefore, 26s. is not now enough. We said at the time that the scales were inadequate. We did not accept them and we say that they are now in real values substantially less. Ten shillings for a single man living at home is less now that it was when the regulations were brought in. One of the most pathetic cases is that of a single man who is a lodger and gets 15s. a week. If he had to pay 15s. for board and lodging 12 months ago, what working-class family could afford to board him for that amount now?

I suggest that the Government should relate the scales which were laid down last year to the present cost of living and to increase them according to the increase in the cost of living since June, 1935. Everybody says that it is desirable that the price level should increase and all our efforts are designed to raise the price level. That means that the pound buys less and less every Friday as the weeks go round, and, therefore, the fixed allowances of these poor people, the aged worker and his wife who have to depend upon their miserable 10s., the unemployed and everybody who is dependent upon fixed allowances ought to he increased. I hope that what has been said this evening will be conveyed to the Government, because I would remind the Patronage Secretary that every Member, I think, on these benches has put questions on this subject, and I myself have asked the Minister of Labour whether the Unemployment Assistance Board would review their scales of 12 months ago in the light of the changed circumstances and the increase in the cost of living. In closing these remarks I would warn the Patronage Secretary that we shall take every opportunity of bringing this question forward, because we believe that it is our primary duty on these benches to lose no chance of bringing before the attention of the House the plight of these people.

9.57 p.m.

Mr. Higgs

We have heard of increased profits and the increase in the cost of living, but we seem to forget that there is always a lag between the two. The increase in profits occurs first and then the cost of living rises. We get the opposite effect when profits are reduced. The cost of living decreases, but wages do not fall at the same rate. I think we must all appreciate the sincere manner in which this discussion was opened, but I have taken advantage of this opportunity to make a few remarks in order to put the view of the industrialists. I do not think the State should be held to be entirely responsible for the maintenance of all people over the age of 65. Up to a few years ago there was no old age pension at all. I am not suggesting that the present pension is enough, but I am saying that the State cannot afford to do anything more at the present moment. We hear of the £800,000,000 profit which industry is making, but I am afraid those who criticise that £800,000,000 profit fail to realise that it is the nucleus of trade expansion. They seem to think that it goes into the pockets of the employers and that they spend it on their own recreation, but really a great proportion of it goes into the expansion of industry and finds additional employment for the workers. It replaces wear and tear. Since 1929 or 1930 wages have been the same as they were then, while the cost of living is reduced 8 per cent.

It is impossible to consider this question over a short period of time. We are not disputing that the cost of living is rising, but it is absolutely impossible to vary the wage return from week to week to keep in step with the cost of living. A nucleus of profit is absolutely essential to industry, which has to have it for expansion and in order to find further employment. I am not making these remarks with the object of opposing what the opener of this discussion has said, because I see his point of view, but when it comes to expecting the State to pay more than it is paying it has to be remembered that that money would have to be found somewhere, and in the present state of taxation I, for one, think it is impossible to increase the amount of the old age pension at the present moment.

10.0 p.m.

Mr. Shinwell

I should not like it to be thought that this is a matter for my hon. Friends on the back benches alone. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), in initiating this Debate, reflected the opinion of every Member of the Labour party, and not only of the Members of the Labour party but of a very large section of the community who are not usually associated with the working classes. While we are primarily concerned with the interest of the wage earners, and particularly the lower-paid wage earners, and those who are in receipt of old age pensions and unemployment allowances, I would remind the House, and in particular the Patronage Secretary, so that he may be good enough to convey it to his right hon. Friends in the Government, that a large section of the community, those who are on fixed incomes, are similarly affected. We are particularly entitled to raise this important matter because the Government do not seem to have in contemplation any steps to arrest the rise in the cost of living. It is indisputable that there has been an increase, but to the complaints which have been made by my hon. Friends only one answer has so far been vouchsafed, and I seem to detect it in the speech of the hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Higgs), namely, that wages have responded to those increases.

It is not true that wages have increased in recent years in proportion to the increase in the cost of living. If the right hon. Gentleman representing the Government takes the contrary view, then we invite the investigation of the question, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh has demanded, and we are willing to abide by such conclusions as may be reached. Irrespective of the position of the wage earner, and the allegation that wages have followed the cost of living, we direct attention to the fact that those in receipt of unemployment allowances have had no increases whatever. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) was right in his assertion that when the unemployment allowances were fixed 12 months or so ago the cost of living was less than it is now. I recall a speech made by the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities, the late Lord President of the Council, in 1931, when the National Government was formed. I remember it particularly because I took part in the Debate.

Mr. J. Griffiths

He broadcast it.

Mr. Shinwell

No doubt he broadcast it afterwards. He stated that if the cost of living increased then, clearly, unemployment allowances must respond. Something was said about a previous reduction of 10 per cent. in the cost of living and which formed the basis of the National Government's contention that unemployment allowances should be correspondingly reduced. It was clearly in their mind that the cost of living was associated with the scales of unemployment allowances. If that was true, it must remain equally true now. We are accordingly entitled to ask that the Government should pursue inquiries into this matter. We allege that the cost of living is going up and will go up further, and that there is clearly a case for the revision of unemployment allowances. There is a still stronger case in respect of those who are in receipt of the very meagre pittance of 10s. a week for the old age pension. There is no social reform that would be more highly valued than an increase in old age pensions.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is a matter which cannot be done without legislation.

Mr. Shinwell

I am aware of that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I am obliged to you for reminding me of it and calling my attention to it, but I used it merely as an illustration to fortify our call for an investigation into the whole subject. I do not propose to ask the Government to amend the legislation affecting old age pensions, because I know that this is not the proper occasion on which to do so; but I and my hon. Friends are asking that the increase in the cost of living should be arrested, if that alternative is not within our reach. This is not the first time that we have raised this question in the direct form. In an indirect form we raised it on the question of malnutrition, and we have raised the matter on several occasions. What answer has been forthcoming? The hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Higgs), whom I did my best to keep out of the House by making speeches during the by-election—I regret my failure—seemed to think that the State ought not to come to the assistance of certain people unless—

Mr. Higgs

I said that the State should not be responsible for solely maintaining people over the age of 65.

Mr. Shinwell

We have not asked that the State should be responsible for exclusively maintaining those who have reached the age of 65. There are sections of the community who have done very well and who, having reached the age of 65 and over, are quite well able to maintain themselves. They are in the category described by the hon. Member, those who have made profits. Others are in receipt of adequate pensions or come within various superannuation schemes operating in industry. The hon. Member must recognise, as, indeed, every hon. Member on the opposite benches recognises, that private industry is not in the least reluctant to approach the State and demand assistance NA hen this is regarded as necessary. Over and over again we have heard demands from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, representing, big business interests, that the State should come to their assistance. If that is a legitimate demand, surely a demand that comes from the impoverished section of the community is more legitimate.

The State has an obligation in this matter. The Government's tariff policy, their armament programme and the speculation consequent upon it and what is called profiteering or, at all events, excessive profit-making, are contributory factors in the increase in the cost of living. The Government have to show whether there is to be a further increase or whether the present increase can be arrested. On these matters the Government cannot remain silent. This is an important social issue and it may become an important political issue before long. I beg the right hon. and gallant Gentleman most earnestly to convey to his colleagues in the Government the essential need that exists for meticulous examination of the whole problem. This is not merely a party question, although we raise it as a party. but it is a national question. I beg him not to regard the Debate as one of those impromptu Debates that occur at convenient opportunities on the Adjournment, when Members take advantage of the time at their disposal, but as a serious Debate conveying a serious request, and that he should treat it in that light. If the Government fail to respond, the matter will be raised repeatedly, and the country will be fully advised, both of the action of the Government and of our intentions in the matter.

10.13 p.m.

Mr. Leonard

I think it will be agreed that sufficient has been stated already to warrant our considering this as a matter of major importance. I trust that the Patronage Secretary will have in mind the possibility of more comprehensive study being given to the matter and of it being discussed with all the facilities of the House at our disposal. I do not desire to enter any argument with the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Higgs) as to the lag between retail and wholesale prices nor the lag between wages and falling prices, for the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) has presented to the House to-day the problem of the people who cannot wait and who have to attend to things from day to day and week to week. Because of that, we cannot expect the problem to be looked at in the same way as other problems that balance one six months against another six months. Further, I would like to point out that the time is long overdue when the method of computing the cost of living figure should be reviewed. The basis of calculation used at the present time, with its various weightings, dates back to 1904, and it is unfair to assume that great changes have not taken place since that time even in working-class homes, in regard to what is necessary to maintain a decent life. A fortnight ago I met an artisan getting on in life, who happens to live in a part of my constituency where many other artisans occupy houses. He finds that his locality has been fortunate in that a great number of people who used to be in the same unemployed state in which he is have got jobs, but he spoke to me in terms which showed clearly that he felt that he was being left behind. Others were going on to conditions of life that he had longed for during his unemployment, but he was left at the dead level of unemployment pay as it is at present. There are hundreds in the same position, and I think that some regard should be paid to them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh made reference,to the advantage, meagre though it be, that accrues to the very poor in England from the fact that they have a certain amount of facilities for cheap buying in the form of weekly markets, but few towns in Scotland, if any, have such markets. and even if they had they have no facilities for keeping food, so that those who may have an extra shilling to spare can lay it out on commodities than can be eked out over the forthcoming week. I would like to draw the attention of those who are responsible for conveying information to the Government to the fact that that advantage does not exist in Scotland to any great extent, if at all. The single-apartment house and the room-and-kitchen house in Scotland do not afford any facilities for keeping food. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of houses in Scotland which are so constituted that the food which the people buy has to remain on the table until it is consumed; there are no cupboards in which to put it; and, therefore, the people could not take advantage of a weekly market even if there were one. They are, therefore, forced to the expedient of buying commodities once and twice a day, and, when they do that, they must perforce buy in very small quantities. The result is that the incline upwards in the cost of living is much steeper for these poor people, who must purchase their food once and twice a day, than it is for those who are able to purchase at less frequent intervals. I trust, therefore, that the Government will not consider this problem as one of weeks that people can make up at some other time; it is a day-to-day problem for the very poor, and I trust that it will receive the consideration for which my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh has pressed.

10.19 p.m.

Mr. Sexton

I take it that the cost of living includes the rent which poor people have to pay, the food which they have to buy, and also the clothes and bedding which they have to buy. I am not allowing anything for leisure; I am putting them down on the bare standard on which the National Government has kept them for so long. Ten shillings a week a year or two ago is now only worth about 9s. If you try to divide that 9s. among the four items I have mentioned, rent, food, clothes and bedding—and the cost of living includes clothes, food and bedding—you find that there is very little for these people to live on. A rent or 3s. a week—and you cannot get a house for much less than that—leaves only 6s. for food, clothes and bedding. These poor people, the veterans of industry, who have have given the best of their lives for the community, have to scratch along on meals costing about 1½d a time. Every time the old woman buys two ounces of tea or the old man buys his half ounce of tobacco. the taxes on those commodities go toward paying the allowances under the Civil List.

We have just passed a Civil List in which one child gets £6,000 a year. The widow's child is valued at 5s. a week. One child is worth 400 times as much as the other If you go to the worker and ask him if he thinks his child is worth only one-four-hundredth part of the child of the Palace, he will indignantly deny that the child of the Palace is worth any more than his. The cost of living has a great deal-to do with the standard of life. That stendard is already far too low in millions of cases. Experts consider that 50s. for a family of three is barely enough, but in my division I have men with families of three, four and five children working for 30s. and 31s. a week. How can they live honourably and decently? At the same time we have it from that Box that £600,000,000 or £700,000,000 are going to be made in armaments profits. It is the State's job to safeguard the country against its enemies, and the enemies are not all outside the country. There are many inside. For the enemies outside there is plenty of money to be got—£1,500,000,000 to defend the country against outside enemies and meagre pittances to defend the poor against poverty, distress and misery. I am glad to have had the opportunity of adding my voice in urging the Government to take into consideration this question of the rising cost of living compared with the miserable pittances paid to the old people and to the workers' children.

10.24 p.m.

Mr. A. Jenkins

Some weeks ago I put down a question to the Minister of Labour asking if he intended to take any action to deal with the rates of unemployment benefit and assistance in view of the rising cost of living. The reply was to the effect that he saw no reason at all why he should take any action. I gave notice that I would raise the question on the first available opportunity, and I am glad that it has been brought forward. I regard it as of very great importance. In view of the large numbers that one comes in contact with in districts where unemployment is high, there is a very great need to deal with the rates of benefit in view of the increased cost of living. I have tried to work out the effect of the rates of unemployment benefit on the increase in the cost of living since the rates of benefit were fixed. The cost of living in July, 1934, was 41 per cent. and in April, 1937, it was 51 per cent., an increase of 10 per cent. What is the effect of that upon the rates of unemployment benefit? A man and Wife in July, 1934, received 26s., and they receive the same rate to-day. What is the purchasing power of that 26s. to-day compared with its purchasing power in July, 1934? It is 2S. 7d. per week less, and for an unemployed family dependent upon 26s. a week, that sum is of tremendous importance. It is useless for the Minister to say that he sees no reason for inquiry into this matter. There is the reason—2s. 7d. per week. Take the case of a man, wife and child. In July, 1934, they received 28s., and at present they receive 29s. They are 2s. worse off.

One can go through the whole scale and find that these rates of unemployment benefit have so much less purchasing power now than they had before the increase in the cost of living. The hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) made a reference to the question as to whether or not these rates were adequate. It has never been contended in this House or anywhere else, as far as I know, that the rates of unemployment benefit or of unemployment assistance are adequate for maintenance. I listened to the hon. Member who recently came to this House—

Mr. Speaker

This Debate is getting very much out of order, It is obvious that unemployment benefit cannot be increased without legislation, and that being so, it is not in order on the Adjournment.

Mr. Jenkins

I understood that this discussion was to take and that an effort was to be made to give the reasons why there should be a proper inquiry into the rates of Unemployment Benefit, and that is what I am seeking to do. I am endeavouring to advance some reasons why we should have an inquiry into the rates of Unemployment Benefit to find out whether or not they are adequate for maintenance. I think that it will be accepted in this House that Sir John Orr is a very great authority on the amount of income that is necessary to maintain a family. He is gentleman who, as everybody knows, has devoted a very considerable part of his life to the study of food and family requirements. I want to make one or two references to an article written by him giving some comparisons between this country and other countries, showing the effect of low income upon the standard of health, physique and upon the death rate. He says quite clearly, in an article published in "Reynolds" on 23rd May of this year: The children of the poorest class of 14 years of age are two or three inches shorter than the children of the well-to-do classes. Infantile mortality is higher. In the wealthier classes it is only about 30 per thousand, among the poorest 5,000,000, it is over 100 per thousand, and in the poorest slums in this country it reaches 150 per thousand. Thirty lives are lost in the better-off homes, but in those homes where conditions of the most extreme form of poverty prevail, the number of children who die is 150 per 1,000. These are appalling figures, and any Government doing their duty to the State in an effort to protect life would do everything that lay in their power to bring down the 150 to somewhere in the region of 30. We are sometimes very inclined to be proud of our own country, but Sir John Orr quotes figures from other countries, and it may be as well if we give some consideration to them. He refers to Australia and New Zealand where the death rates are between 30 and 50 per 1000, compared with 57 in England and 82 per 1000 in Scotland. He deals with towns. Per-haps the towns are the most effective comparisons that he makes. He refers to Oslo, where the city council has taken upon itself the responsibility of seeing that every child in the city is provided with an adequate amount of food: Take Oslo, for example. Both housing and feeding have been radically improved. This is the town where they have what is called the famous Oslo breakfast. Every child in the town, rich or poor, can have at school a breakfast of protective food, which brings its diet up to near the new standard. In addition, mortality in Oslo which was 36 in 1931 is now n to 30, compared with 67 in London, 84 in Newcastle and 102 in Glasgow. Could there be any more convincing proof of the need for an inquiry into the loss of life of these young children? Could there be any greater reason as far as purchasing power is concerned than that which I have given in regard to 26s. a week? I do not think that it is possible to advance any stronger reasons, and if the Government will not act upon reasons of that kind, if their attitude was expressed in the reply of the Minister of Labour to me when he said that he saw no reason for an inquiry, then, clearly, things are not going to get better as far as these people are concerned, but very much worse. I am very glad to have had the opportunity of saying a word on this question, because I regard it as being of very great importance, and, in view of the continued increased cost of living, it is going to be a serious matter for this country.

10.33 p.m.

Sir Stafford Cripps

We had earlier this evening a very remarkable demonstration of the subservience of the Government to pressure from outside. The Prime Minister was forced to come before the House with a speech of excuse and apology, because during the last week or so the whip has been cracked in the City of London. He has withdrawn the proposal which he flaunted in his Budget speech. I very much fear that in regard to this far more important problem which we are discussing tonight the Government will not be so willing to act as they were when their master's voice spoke to them.

There are one or two matters to which I should like particularly to make reference with regard to this problem. The first is the question of the cost of living index figure. Unfortunately, to-day there are many people who are quite unable to ascertain the facts as regards the cost of living. The old index which was compiled in 1904 was always open to a good deal of criticism because of its method of compilation and the method used in collecting the statistics which, in fact, yield the monthly figures that are published. After a lapse of 33 years it has become so anachronistic and out-of-date that statisticians as a whole are unwilling to rely upon them. In an article in this week's "Economist" dealing with the rise in prices, the writer finds himself forced more or less to disregard the cost of living index figure because of its unreliability. The habits of the people have changed, one hopes for the better, to a more healthy dietary during the last 33 years, and probably the most remarkable feature of that change has been the large increase in the consumption of fruit and fresh vegetables, the price of which in many cases is rising rapidly. Such articles as tomatoes and oranges are at the present moment much more expensive than they were a short time ago.

If we are ever to tackle this problem, one of the first necessities is to get absolutely reliable information upon the problem. Not long ago I spoke of the necessity for a statistical department to be set up by the Board of Trade to inquire into the industrial statistics of the country, but it is equally important that we should have a really first-class statistical service as regards the social life of the country in order that the House and the public should have the means of judging these important problems. The article in the "Economist" to which I have referred points out the extremely rapid rise of wholesale prices in the course of the last few months, and notes that the rise in the cost of living has so far been comparatively slight compared with the great rise in wholesale prices, but it forecasts that in the near future retail prices must come into closer relationship with wholesale prices. That is to say, we are going to reach a period of even a more rapidly rising cost of living than at the present moment. It is not only a question of the foodstuffs and materials needed for the household, but there are in many districts particular problems as regards the rise in the cost of living. Let me instance one.

A fortnight ago I was in the southern parts of Scotland, and in all the places I visited I met protests against the rise in rents, which were as much as from £6 to £11 per year per house. That is an additional factor in the cost of living in those areas, and a factor which bears extremely hard on those who find themselves living in municipal houses in a district like Lanarkshire which is still suffering from unemployment, with these ridiculous and fantastic low rates of assistance upon which to live. This problem of the rise in prices without any proportionate rise in the money received by large masses of the consumers in this country will become one of the great problems in the course of the next few months or years in this country. I hope it will become one of the foremost political problems, because it is primarily a political matter. I say that for this reason. Those who are wage-earners in industry have at their disposal at least the industrial weapon; that is to say, when the pressure of prices grows more than can be tolerated, they are able to take industrial action by which they hope to be able to obtain, and in certain circumstances do obtain, some amelioration of their financial position; but the unem- ployed, the old-age pensioners, the persons on workmen's compensation cannot by industrial action get any amelioration of their lot.

Their struggle, such as it is, must be on the political field, or else they must be left without any opportunities of getting any advancement. Such persons as those to whom I have referred are today having to live upon standards which do not enable them to provide themselves and their dependants with sufficient nourishment to preserve them in a state of health, far less in a state of happiness. In my view, it must become, and I hope it will become, a prime political matter for those on this side of the House, if others do not take it up, to see that in those circumstances incessant pressure is brought to bear, not only on the Government in this House but on the public outside as well, to make the realisation of this fact far greater than I believe it is to-day.

As part of that, I think that it was an excellent suggestion of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) that there should be an inquiry which would make public these matters throughout the country. We have no fear of the results of that inquiry. The results of it will be inevitable once the Government are prepared to make public and to make clear what are the facts. At the present time, as one so often hears in debate, the whole issue can be confused by discussion as to whether this or that figure is accurate, whether there has been a rise of 1s. 8d. or 2s. 6d. in the cost of living, and so On. We want to get the accurate facts, because the more accurate they are the greater our case upon them will turn out to be. Therefore, although I am afraid it is unlikely, I hope the Government will take steps at least to make available to the people accurate facts upon which the people will be able to judge of the merits of the claim of those who are to-day suffering from this excessive poverty to get some immediate amelioration of their lot.

10.44 p.m.

Mr. Louis Smith

I have listened to a number of sincere and sympathetic speeches on this difficult matter, and I would like to say that hon. Members on all sides of the House have equally in mind the lot of those who are the less fortunate in this country. One realises that naturally the cost of living affects those who have the least means much more than it does those who are somewhat better off, but I would remind hon. Members that although during the last 12 months the cost of living has admittedly advanced—I believe by four points—it has not advanced in 1937 any higher than it was in 1930 relative to the base line on which we previously worked. I feel that this is a matter which must be considered from the standpoint of the money available for increasing either pensions or the rates of assistance to the unemployed, and the House will agree that it is, unfortunately, very difficult for the country to find any greater amount for social services than is being found now when the defence of our homes requires so much more than it did a few years ago. I think even hon. Members opposite will realise that the present Government have done as much as any Government in respect of the social services.

Mr. Speaker

The only thing which keeps this Debate in order at all, is the argument that there should be an inquiry, but the hon. Member is now going far beyond even the demand for an inquiry.

Mr. Smith

I have no objection to an inquiry, but it seems to me that it would be useless to have an inquiry into the matter if the country's financial position is such that it would not allow of additional assistance being given to these people if it were recommended. During the last three or four years, I would point out, wages have considerably increased and there are nearly 2,000,000 more people in employment now than there were three or four years ago. I think it is agreed that an old age pension of l0s. a week is not looked upon as enough to maintain the person receiving it, but if wages have increased as much as they have increased, and if so many more people are at work, there is far more money available in working-class homes for the support of the old. As I say, I have no objection to an inquiry being made, but it does not seem to me to be of any service to hold an inquiry at a time when the financial position of the country is such that we would not be able to find the money needed for any extension of these services. I think that when we have gone through the present period and when we have found the money which is urgently required now for the defence of the country, then will be the proper time to go into these matters and I have little doubt that in those circumstances this Government would find the means to help the people who have been referred to and would continue that work for the social services which they have done so thoroughly during the last few years.

10.49 p.m.

Mr. Garro Jones

The hon. Member for Hallam (Mr. L. Smith) appeared to overlook the fact that our motive in raising this question is the protection of those who live on fixed incomes. It is true that we are equally, if not even more concerned with the plight of those who live on wages, but the immediate object of an inquiry such as has been suggested would be to ensure measures being taken to deal with the case of those dependent on fixed incomes. The hon. Member appeared to recommend a very strange course. Because the Government in his view would not be in a financial position to apply the remedy, we must not, according to him, seek to ascertain the extent of the evil. That would appear to be burying one's head in the sand. I have had occasion recently to examine the relationship between wholesale and retail prices in a particular case. This, in my view, is one of the most serious questions that confronts us at present. I wonder if hon. Members are aware that the price of fish, for instance, is more than l00 per cent. above the pre-war price in the retail market, but is more than 25 per cent. below the pre-war price in the wholesale market.

That is typical of a great many of the relationships between wholesale and retail prices, and part of the reason for that discrepancy is that whereas you have an enormous power of organised buying superimposed on the producer to keep down his wholesale price, the consumer has no such organised power to keep down the retail price, and therefore we may well find that this delicately poised retail price may suddenly take a lurch upwards to the extreme discomfiture both of the people on fixed incomes and those on wages. Therefore, it seems an elementary political precaution that the Government should apply itself to ascertaining the extent of the evil and to organising measures for dealing with it.

The public are not quite so ill-informed on this question as they have been in years gone by. Hon. Members who travel about the country addressing meetings and keeping in touch with their constituents will know that the public are aware of the fact that all the improvements in amenities and wages which are the result of long struggles can be filched from them by this insidious and unseen rise in the cost of living, and of all taxes, hardships and expenses this unseen creeping upwards of the cost of living is one of those which bear most hardly on thrifty people all over the country. If hon. Members only realised what a difference it makes to a man receiving £2 5s. or £3 a week if the cost of living rises one or two points, they would be with us in demanding this inquiry.

Only a couple of weeks ago I went to speak in one of the mining villages. The chairman, a man of the finest type of coalminer, invited me to take a cup of tea with him. I went and found the usual neat, well-arranged, miner's cottage. After tea we started discussing his wages. I said, "What have you received in the last year or two?" He said, "Of course, as usual, we get free coal, but I have been fortunate. I have been working full time for the last two years, but in no one of those weeks with the exception of two or three have I received a figure greater than £2 5s. a week." On that he had to keep his wife and family, and in the weeks in which he did not receive £2 5s. he received under £2 because they had not worked full time. Imagine the almost intolerable burden on a home like that if the cost of living rises by two or three shillings a week. For the hon. Member for Hallam to say that the resources of this country are mortgaged so heavily for armaments that we shall not be able to meet the difficulty even if we realise its extent, shows a lack of appreciation of the fundamental sources of strength and unity in this country. What is the use of building up armaments if all the time you are undermining the health and strength and unity of the nation? Therefore I would add my small voice to that of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) in pressing on the Government that they should ascertain the extent of this evil.

10.55 p.m.

Mr. George Griffiths

I desire for a few moments to take part in this discussion. I was very much surprised at the Prime Minister's answer this afternoon, and his attitude to the question of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). He was very cold and short, and gave us the impression that the Government had not time to bother with this. He gave us the impression that they had something bigger than this on at the present time. I do not think there is anything in the British Isles or in the world that is bigger than looking after the people who produce the wealth. I go to my division every week-end and mix among my people, and I want to put three cases. The first is that of a cousin of mine, who has been a widow for some 15 years and whose children have grown out of getting their share of a combination of a widow's pension. That woman has just turned 50 and has had all her pension taken from here until she is 55. There are something like 200,000 people in the British Isles who have been receiving pensions and then, because the children have grown out of being entitled to pensions, they have had their pensions cut off. The hon. Member for Leigh asks that people of that type should have consideration, but the Prime Minister cannot give them time.

Coming out of the street in which I live yesterday morning, leaning over a gate in the street were two men who had worked in the coal mines for 55 years, and they said to me, "George, tha's 'ad an increase in thy wages this last week. See if tha can do a bit for us. Ten bob is nowt for us chaps." That is not something in Germany or America, but in my division this Monday morning, when I was catching the train to come here, and the Prime Minister says, "Well, we cannot give much attention to that." I am sorry I was not in while the hon. Member for Hallam (Mr. L. Smith) was talking. He always throws his weight against holidays or any increase for the working class. If we are after holidays, the capitalists cannot afford them. If we want anything on pensions, they say, "We cannot afford that, although we can afford £1,500,000,000 in five years for the manufacture of armaments." The amount that the men who get hurt in industry get is a standing disgrace to the country. A man who gets injured in industry is looked upon to-day in the British Isles as one of the biggest criminals. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] If he is earning £3 a week on an average—and our chaps do not get that now—he will get a maximum of 30s. compensation when he gets hurt. They say, "Why did you get hurt, you scoundrel? You should not have got hurt, and because you have got hurt we will cut your income into two, and you shall have 30s. instead of £3."

Mr. Wragg

Absolute nonsense.

Mr. Griffiths

It may be nonsense to the hon. Member, who does not understand it, but I have had some of it. I have had it in this hand and in my leg. I have had weeks and weeks of it myself, and I say that, practically speaking, the man who gets hurt only gets half his wages. Is not that taking half the income out of the house? Is not that the law of the land? If it is nonsense on my part, it is nonsense on account of the law of the land.

It being Eleven of the Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment lapsed, without Question put.

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

Mr. Griffiths

When the clock struck I was about to refer to a nystagmus case and compensation. This man had been suffering from nystagmus for five years and was getting 21S. compensation. He was paying 10s. 6d. out of that for rent. He partially recovered and the colliery company offered him a light job. The man got part compensation, and because the company has been working a little more regularly during the last few weeks the compensation was cut down to 4s. 1d. The man is receiving 7s. 9d. per day working on the surface and he worked last week three days—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member is arguing for an amendment of the Workmen's Compensation Act. That would require legislation and it is obviously out of order on the Adjournment.

Mr. Griffiths

I want to support the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) who is asking for an inquiry.

Mr. Speaker

The inquiry is getting a very large one. Hon. Members might ask for an inquiry into everything under the sun, and if I allowed on the Adjournment a discussion on an inquiry, there is no reason why any subject could not be raised. There would be no end to it. It is quite out of order on the Adjournment.

Mr. Griffiths

This is a proposal for an inquiry into the cost of living as it affects unemployment, old age, and fixed incomes for such things. I how to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, but I submit that I am not far out of order when I raise the case of this man who has a fixed sum of 4s. 1d. a week because, if there is an inquiry into the cost of living the question of compensation must be raised.

Mr. Speaker

In the question of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) I do not see anything about an inquiry. He is asking for a day to discuss this question.

Mr. Griffiths

I bow to your Ruling, Sir. I will come up some other day.

11.5 p.m.

Mr. Wragg

I should not like what was said by the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) to go forth from this House without contradiction. He must know if he gets the returns of the Mines Department that it is impossible for a miner to earn as little as 45s. a week if he is working full time. I just wished to make that correction, because I think it is wrong that such a statement should be made.

Mr. Garro Jones

May I say—

Hon. Members


Mr. Garro Jones

I have not spoken on this Motion for the Adjournment. It is a new Motion. I want to say to the hon. Member that I will provide him with the name and address of this man and of the colliery at which he works and a copy of the ascertainment upon which the wage was based.

11.6 p.m.

Mr. J. Griffiths

The hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) said that when he spoke to this man he asked him, "What do you bring home?"

Mr. Wragg

And what the man brings home most depend on what he earns?

Mr. Griffiths

The man said, 'I have not brought home more than £2 5s. a week during the last 12 months, and there have been more occasions when I have brought under£2." The hon. Member has been quoting from the returns of the Mines Department, which show the gross wage and not the net wage which the man brings home.

Mr. Wragg

It was not the gross wage. I have not included in that wage the value of allowances in kind and it was admitted that the man got free coal. I say it is absolutely impossible for any miner working six shifts a week to get less than 45s.

Mr. Speaker

We cannot have a further discussion on this.

Adjourned accordingly at Eight minutes after Eleven o'Clock.