Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £29,485,000, 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, 1939, for the salaries and expenses of the Department of the Unemployment Assistance Board and of certain Appeal Tribunals; and sums payable by the Exchequer to the Unemployment Assistance Fund. [Note.—£14,750,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Lansbury
On a point of Order or Procedure. Shall we be able, during this Debate, to discuss the administration generally of the Ministry as well as this particular document of the Unemployment Assistance Board?
§ Mr. Attlee
Would it not be for the convenience of the Committee if we discussed both the Votes that are to come before us? In that case I would not move my Amendment until the end of the discussion.
§ The Chairman
That is a course which has been adopted on several occasions lately by the Committee. It is a matter in which I am in the hands of the Committee entirely. The first Resolution, which I have read, is definitely a narrow one. If it be the wish of the Committee I will adopt the same course as on other occasions, and the right hon. Gentleman can then move his Amendment for the reduction of the Vote just before Eleven o' Clock.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
Do I understand that your interpretation of the wishes of the Committee is that we should have a general Debate on the administration of the Ministry of Labour and not a limited Debate on the administration of the Unemployment Assistance Board?
§ The Chairman
What I have stated is that with the general assent of the Committee the two Resolutions could be the subject of debate. The first Resoiution is the one I have read out, and the other one is NO.8,which deals with the salarier and expense of the Minisry of Labour. It is matters falling within those two Resolutions which can be debated.
§ 4.I2 p.m.
§ Mr. Attlee
We wish to discuss the report of the Unemployment Assistance Board, and it is quite impossible, in my view, to take that report as standing apart from the general administration of the Ministry of Labour and from the general unemployment question. We are not concerned to-day just to discuss details of administration. What we have to consider is the problem that is presented to us not only in this report but in the facts of the situation in this country, both with regard to unemployment and with regard to poverty. This report, with its detailed figures, its quiet statements, and its notes of what has been done and what might be done and can be done, only suggesting to most people's minds what has not been done, really covers an immense mass of human misery, and, above all, a mass of hopelessness, because it is a particular feature of this report that it deals so largely with those who have been unemployed for many many months, even years, and so largely with those who are growing old and, therefore, have little chance of getting back into the labour market. It shows a huge proportion of our fellow-citizens to be the victims of an economic system, and their being maintained in existence by elaborate and very costly machinery, a machine which through the operation of the means test spreads out over a far wider area than those who are out of work—the general level of persons under subsistence, or at a very low level of subsistence or of actual subsistence.
In this report we are dealing with only one section of our unemployed, that is, those who come under the Board. But they are only one portion of the enormous army of more than 1,800,000 unemployed; they form only one part of the army of the economically distressed, because in addition there are those who receive public assistance. When one reads this report it is quite clear that there is another huge army of the economically 1829 distressed, that is, those who work for very low wages. What we face in this report is a huge poverty problem at a time when we are supposed to be enjoying relative prosperity in the richest country in the world after seven years of a Government of all the talents. I think that the discussion this afternoon is really a continuance of that which we had on 24th June. In that Debate certain specitic points were raised on particular problems or in relation to particular areas, and those points will be raised again. The striking fact about that discussion was the tendency of the Committee to look at the general broad problem presented by the facts disclosed in the Unemployment Assistance Board's Report. Those facts are not new. They have been produced on Socialist platforms year after year and decade after decade.
The effect of widespread poverty results in widespread malnutrition. The only novelty was that this problem seemed to strike more vividly some hon. Members on the other side of the House. The particular features of that problem were not new. I do not think the Minister of Labour answered in the least the main issues that were raised in that Debate. He was content to deal with the matter as the administrator of a Department. He seemed rather to suggest that everything was all right because there had not been enough detailed criticism. It is not worth while always to go into a mass of detail in a Debate like this. Details are all right in their place. It would be a great mistake to think that it is only details that matter. The real thing that matters is the broad picture, and I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman did not try to deal with the problem.
It is interesting in this report to see the statement made by Lord Rushcliffe. The Unemployment Assistance Board is assisting the Ministry in a system of unemployment relief on the theoretical basis that what it gives is sufficient for the needs of the applicant. It has found by experience that the amount that it gives, even on its interpretation of needs, is in some cases in excess of the amount the applicants can earn in full work. A sample relating to more than half a million cases showed that the assessments approach closely to the level of wages over a wide range. Lord Rushcliffe says:These facts and considerations have far-reaching implications and obviously raise 1830 questions of very serious social consequence which go beyond the problems which the Board alone are in a position to solve.That is true. Lord Rushcliffe is administering a certain piece of machinery under certain definite regulations. The Minister of Labour may say that these problems go beyond what he has to deal with at the Ministry of Labour, but they do not go beyond what the Government of this country have to deal with. Let us look at some of these implications. The first one is that a very large section of wage earners do not receive when working an amount in excess of the amount required for bare subsistence. There is a rather illuminating passage in the report which deals with a subject that is much in the minds of many people, namely, holidays with pay. It deals, however, with holidays without pay. It says:In the great majority of cases it is within the power of employed persons to make provision for holidays of reasonable duration.That is a curious statement made by the same people who say that the great mass of people who come before them are on the low ranges of earnings. It is obvious from what they say that the earnings of these people when in work are not sufficient to provide fully for their families. Yet they are supposed to be able to save for holidays. The Board regards 40s. to 45s. as the normal wage of unskilled labour. Mr. Colin Clark, a statistician of great ability, has reckoned that 23 per cent. of the male workers of this country receive 45s. or less. It is abundantly clear from every Debate we have had that these amounts are not sufficient. I think it is very typical of the background of the people who have written this report that they think that people with these wages should be able to save for holidays. The amount of unemployment assistance does not profess to give enough for life—for real life—but only for existence. Exceptional needs have to be met in other ways. More than 23,000 lump sums have had to be awarded because life is not normal. It is difficult to make a statement of normal and exceptional needs. I have tried to do it and I have always found it difficult. I have made a calculation for a year of what my normal expenditure would be, but something always happens, such as illness or something exceptional, which impinges on normality. One has to remember that in the cases with which we are dealing there is nothing beyond the 1831 barest existence. It is a case of living without a margin all the time. One fact revealed by the report is that there are many families whose normal income is not sufficient even for existence on the Board's scale.
A second fact which emerges is that there must be very many people on unemployment benefit who, like those in work and on assistance, are unable to get enough for full subsistence. The third fact emerges from the means test, which extends the area of persons on this low level far beyond what was originally contemplated. If we add to these low wage earners the numbers of those in the cotton trade and the export coal trade who are on short time, we get an enormous mass of people who are below subsistence level. The general tendency, I think, in the report and in the Press is to suggest that somehow or other unemployment is not the urgent thing that it was, and that because you have this elaborate machinery you have somehow or other dealt with the unemployment problem.
You do not deal with a problem by analysing by splitting it up into groups and by saying that this group consists of people who are old, this group consists of people who are sick, this group consists of people who are unemployed. The number of people still remains and the problem still remains. That is really the prime problem that faces the Government. It comes up in almost every discussion. We had a Debate last week on agriculture. In an extremely able speech my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) stressed the point that what we need is a home market to take our home production, if we want a prosperous agriculture. Here we have an enormous part of our home market which cannot consume. Only the other day, we had a Debate on the Budget, and the hon. Member the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) stressed the point that for prosperity it was not enough to put in large sums for capital goods, but what was wanted was a demand for consumable goods—not just food, but other things. Here we have an enormous proportion of our population who cannot get enough food.
Is this House complacently to accept this report of the Unemployment Assistance Board? A particular point is raised 1832 in regard to the question of the ratio between unemployment assistance and wages. It is put by Lord Rushcliffe. Lord Rushcliffe's problem is, what are you to do when you are told that you must provide for the needs of people, and if you provide for those needs you inevitably provide more for the unemployed than is earned by the employed. He poses that problem, and it is a very old one. It has faced every Poor Law administrator since 1834. What is the principle? It is the old principle of less eligibility—the endeavour in regard to the person who has to be kept by the State to make his condition worse than that of the person who is employed. You cannot do it. It is impossible. That is why your Poor Law system broke down over and over again, because enlightened people could not work it.
We have often heard Poplarism sneered at in this House. What was Poplarism? It was simply that you had enlightened administrators with a social conscience, who knew something of the facts of malnutrition and the necessity and value of human lives, who were trying to administer a system which took no real account of human lives. South Wales and Durham local authorities are up against that same problem. Public assistance authorities are up against the same problem. The local authorities are up against it in an exaggerated degree because they have to draw their money from the same people who are right down in the trough of poverty. The fact that this is an old problem does not mean that the problem has been solved. This House has to face that problem. There is an important passage in the report, on page 26, which arises out of the Board's consideration of special requirements. It says:The difficulties of the ill-clad child are not solved by giving money for clothes when the child's condition is due to parental neglect. It will be seen, therefore, that often the grant under Regulation IV 3 does no more than give a pause in which the fundamental problem of maladjustment in the household can be tackled.Apply that to the nation. The difficulties of the unemployed men are not solved by giving them a sum of money just enough to keep them alive. Malnutrition is due to the neglect of the major problem, and sums of money distributed under unemployment regulations do no more than give a pause in which the 1833 fundamental problem of maladjustment of the national economy can be tackled. We ask what the Government are doing to tackle that problem. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) in a very interesting speech the other day suggested children's allowances. His proposal was looked at with some suspicion on this side, not because we did not think that many families ought to be given adequate assistance to support those families, but from a fear that it would spell an attack upon wages, and lest the burden of the large family would be relieved at the expense of other wage earners. That fear is abundantly justified. What is the means test but a device to make the workers keep the workers? In effect, what you do is not in any way to increase the purchasing power of the depressed classes but merely to spread the butter very thinly over one slice.
The real answer to Lord Rushcliffe's problem is not the reduction of unemployment assistance but the raising of wage standards. I shall be told that that cannot be done. I shall be told that the industries cannot possibly afford it. They cannot, if industries are regarded as so many separate undertakings, but we have long since given up looking on industries in that way in this House. This House has become a kind of assistance committee and most industries have come to ask for assistance, and have got it. Industry after industry has said: "We must be put in a position in which we can keep up our standard of life quite apart from what can come out of our particular industry." If that is true for employers, it is true for workers. I am suggesting that the approach to this problem by the Unemployment Assistance Board, which is the instrument of the Government, reflects a wrong approach to the problem by the Government itself. The real approach should be from the standard of nutrition and physical fitness, and what the country really needs.
There is a good deal of talk in this report about an inquiry as to whether some people are unemployed when they might be employed. The fact that a few people here and there—they are very few indeed—are alleged to have been morally injured by the receipt of assistance in excess of what they can earn is nothing compared to the fact that 1834 millions of people who are physically injured by lack of ability to purchase anything. We are gravely suspicious of this inquiry. It looks like an attempt to get back to the "not-genuinely seeking work." I want to press the point that the whole basis of the Board's activities, less eligibility and the means test, is utterly incompatible with the national physical fitness campaign, with the nutrition policy and, above, all incompatible with the prosperity of the country. After all, upon what are these principles based? They are based on the conception that wages must be kept at little or nothing above subsistence level. We are now coming to a period of slack water. Already the ebb is beginning to run pretty fast, and we have to consider what is likely to be the future of this unemployment problem.
During this period of relatively good trade the stagnant pools of labour have not been drained. There are stagnant pools of labour in the depressed areas; there are stagnant pools of labour in the older categories of workers. They have been reduced a little, it is true, by trading estates and by the Commissioners, but these stagnant pools were there before the great depression of 1929 to 1932. That great depression flowed over them and we could hardly see these pools, but since the ebb came we see them again, and I am asking what has been done to deal with these pools of unemployment during the years of relative prosperity? The Minister of Labour may say that he has done his best, but his best has not really tackled the problem. The fact is that this report deals with the unemployed, but it does not and cannot deal with the problem of unemployment. We have set up elaborate machinery for dealing with the unemployed, but we have not dealt with unemployment, and I want to ask what the Government are going to do, in face of the signs we have of what is now called a recession in trade, to deal with the unemployment problem, not merely with the unemployed. Lord Baldwin once said in this House that the unemployment question would bring down every Government which attempted to deal with it. The Government believe in the capitalist system, and they have to show how under the capitalist system they can deal with the problem of unemployment.
1835 I should like to ask how long we are to wait for the very belated report of the Commission on the Location of Industry. Two committees have gone into it since 1923, while industry has been mainly moving into the south-east corner of this island. There you have an example of a complete lack of planning. How long are we to wait for any constructive proposals to deal with the older men? It is all very well to say that they are too old for industry. You have to bear in mind that this is a problem which is going to be with us for some time. We are now at a time when there is a change in the age distribution of the population, due to people living longer and a fall in the birth rate. Somehow or other these men, many of whom have a number of years to work, ought to be able to find work within our economic machinery, and others who cannot find it ought to be on pension and not on unemployment. I decline entirely to accept the suggestion that these things cannot be dealt with in a far more fundamental fashion than that in which the Government have tackled them. We have a Committee of Imperial Defence. We are putting up enormous sums of money to protect us from one great danger. There seems to be no general staff in the Government to deal with economic questions; there is no concerted plan to protect workers from the great danger of unemployment. I am suggesting that we want something more from the Government than just administrative measures for the unemployed. I know some people will say that we are doing better than the Labour Government did in 1929–31. I decline to judge the possibilities of dealing with this problem by what the Labour Government did in 1929. I do not believe that you can settle this problem without very great changes in your economic system. The Labour Government could not deal with it because they were tied to that economic system.
We are getting this same problem coming before this House from different angles. There is the problem of agricultural production, and who is going to consume the products of agriculture? We have the problem of how are we to get markets when markets are being closed to us abroad. We have the problems of physical fitness, and the distressed areas. They are all part of one problem, and that is the problem of how this country can 1836 successfully deal with the problems of the present age. I am suggesting to-day that you will never deal with them properly on a means test basis, or on a less eligibility basis. The only basis for building up this country and preventing our slipping again into terrible unemployment and depression is not a standard of existence, but a standard of life, a standard of adequate nutrition, a standard of something more than mere food, and, above all, a standard of security.
§ 4.39 P.m.
§ Mr. Amery
We shall all agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition that we are entitled to ask the Government to take into consideration the very grave issues with which we are confronted by the report of the Unemployment Assistance Board. They are issues which primarily affect the Government as a whole, because they go, as the right hon. Gentleman truly said, beyond the purely administrative sphere with which the Minister of Labour is primarily concerned. It is a fact of tremendous gravity that after all these years we still have 1,800,000 persons in receipt either of unemployment benefit or of unemployment assistance, and are maintaining them on a standard which is avowedly a subsistence standard, which cannot be regarded as a remedy for me evil of unemployment. From that point of view I certainly agree with the right hon. Member the Leader of the Opposition in saying that what is needed is a more constructive, and—I hope I am not saying anything unfair about the Minister of Labour—a less complacent attitude towards this grave and continuing problem. How it is to be dealt with goes, I think, considerably beyond the scope of anything we can discuss to-day. It raises the whole question of the economic policy of the nation, our agricultural policy, our educational policy, and those questions which are raised by the Commission on the Location of Industry. All these questions have to be considered by the Government as a whole with a view to deciding whether we are or are not to acquiesce permanently in the position of having between 1,000,000 and 2,000,000 on the unemployment roll and something like 500,000 less of persons in more or less permanent unemployment.
A large part of our population, including a very appreciable percentage of the growing childhood of the nation, are 1837 maintained on a subsistence standard which was never intended to be more than transitory and ought not to be acquiesced in as part of the permanent standard of life of a large proportion of our population. I think we are all agreed upon that. The Unemployment Assistance Board are also agreed that not only is there an unduly large proportion of our population living on that standard because they are unemployed, but that there is another large proportion of our population who are also living at, or even below, that standard though they are in employment. Yet the whole basis of our system of unemployment assistance is the assumption that you must make a distinction between a subsistence standard, which you assume to be well below a reasonable wage standard, and the wage standard itself. That fact creates an immediate administrative difficulty for the Minister of Labour, the difficulty that there is a very appreciable proportion of those who are on the margin to whom it makes no essential difference whether they are employed or unemployed, and who even in many cases—I have come into direct contact with them in my own constituency—are worse off when they are employed than when they are unemployed. I think there can be no dispute in any part of the House as to the undesirability of a state of affairs which makes it a disadvantage to a man to work. I think we all assume, and rightly, that the ordinary honest working man is anxious to get a fair wage for a fair day's work and is prepared to give that fair day's work in order to get his wage. There is a grave problem which calls for some solution, and while it is beyond the scope of our Debate to-day to go into the specific methods of finding a solution which might involve legislation, clearly it is within the scope of the Debate to urge the Minister of Labour to give this matter his immediate attention, to give it immediate investigation, by whatever means he thinks appropriate, and then to come back to the House with a solution and with whatever legislative authority, if legislation is required, that may be needed.
The suggestion which I ventured to put before hon. Members the other day was not that we should stand pat on the general problem of wages. Far from it. By all means let us see to it that our economic policy is one that conduces to the raising 1838 of wages all round. On the other hand, we have to face the fact that these changes cannot take place in a moment, and that there are industries—the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition quoted the great coal exporting and agricultural industries—where they could not take place without a transformation of the whole economic condition which could be achieved only by degrees. We are faced with the fact that the worker with a family—and in agriculture, the worker with more than one child—is working under conditions which are unfair to himself, to his wife and to his children. What I ventured to suggest the other day was that that immediate hardship and injustice to a great proportion of the children of the country—something like 25 per cent. of the children, although only 10 per cent. of the families are affected—could be met most expeditiously and at least cost to the nation by allowances in respect of children—
§ Mr. Bevan
On a point of Order, Sir Dennis. On the previous occasion, the Debate was stolen away from the discussion of the Unemployment Assistance Board and the administration of the right hon. Gentleman by the point that is now being raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), and important though that point is, I submit, with every respect, that we ought not to be prevented from using our one opportunity of submitting the Minister to a cross-examination in regard to his administration by the raising of this matter, which involves legislation. I submit that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook ought not to be allowed to pursue the point.
§ Mr. Amery
Further to the point of Order. I did not intend to follow the matter up further than simply to answer what the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said, and I was not concerned with asking for legislation but for inquiry, and prompt inquiry, by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour.
§ The Chairman
It is always rather difficult to know how far hon. Members can go. The rule in this matter is quite well known, and I shall listen carefully to the Debate.
§ Mr. Amery
I do not wish to steal the time of hon. Members opposite, although I hope they will allow me to deal, how 1839 ever briefly, with a subject which has occupied my mind for a great many years past, and which I feel has now reached the stage—and indeed the Report of the Unemployment Assistance Board forces us to face it—at which it demands the immediate consideration of the Government.
§ Mr. Lawson
May I take it, Sir Dennis, that you intend to limit the discussion on the question of family allowance, which involves legislation, and which may be followed up by other hon. Members after the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) has finished, so that we shall be able to discuss what we are really here to discuss to-day, namely, the administration of the Board and of the Minister of Labour.
§ The Chairman
Obviously hon. Members may not go into details with regard to any sort of remedy or proposal which would definitely require legislation, but it is quite possible to criticise the administration and to make observations with regard to the present position in such a way as to bring to the mind of hon. Members certain solutions which would require legislation. I think hon. Members must leave it to the occupant of the Chair to do his best in the matter. As to the question which is raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), I do not think that there need be any fear that what he says cannot be referred to by hon. Members who speak subsequently, always bearing in mind that they must not go into the details of legislative proposals.
§ The Chairman
The Minister can set up an inquiry without legislation. It is difficult and unnecessary for me to answer hypothetical questions.
§ Mr. Amery
I was mainly concerned with urging my right hon. Friend to take administrative action within his own Department, and if the results of his inquiries led to legislation, obviously that would be brought before the House on an appropriate occasion. I may also say that this matter is one that could be dealt with apart from legislation. After all, in some countries, for instance in France, the matter was dealt with entirely in the 1840 early stages by funds provided by industry itself. It was only the admitted success of that system that encouraged the Socialist party in the French Chamber, with the support of the majority of the trade unions, to make it a matter for general legislation. However, that is not a point that I need pursue.
§ Mr. E. J. Williams
Does the right hon. Gentleman propose that the Regulations should be amended so that the Chairman of the Board may increase the amount allocated in regard to children now?
§ Mr. Amery
I am not making a proposal, and indeed I should not be in order in making a proposal now. I am drawing attention to a very serious problem which the Government ought to look into with a minimum of delay and produce in due time, and according to proper Parliamentary procedure, their own proposals. However, I wish to make one answer to what the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said in regard to the suggestion that this is, in some sense, a device for interfering with the raising of wages and for spreading a reduction in the wages of the wage-earning community. That objection, if it means anything, is an objection to every form of insurance which we have to-day, and indeed to every form of social legislation, for it might always be argued that social legislation involves expenditure, which expenditure falls on the taxpayer, including the working classes, and that therefore, there should be no social legislation, but that we should press all the time for a rise in the wages standard, and leave everything to the care of the individual. I think that is an impossible attitude to take up, and in all sincerity I appeal to hon. Members opposite not to regard this question in any other light than that in which they would regard any other social reform.
I believe this is the one reform that would deal with the greatest amount of distress and hardship to our growing generation most easily and at the least cost to whoever pays, whether it be the taxpayer, the employer, or anybody else. What I am asking is that these children, who to-day are inadequately fed over a large range of industry, should be adequately fed. My appeal to hon. Members opposite is to regard the matter in a spirit of sympathy and from the point of view 1841 of those who are affected, and not in an atmosphere of suspicion, in which they think that any proposal made from this side of the Committee, whether by the Government or by Private Members, is tinged with a desire to maintain the capitalist system or tinged with a desire to relieve distress at the expense of wages. It is not so. I hope hon. Members will give us the credit of believing that we care for our country and for our fellow-countrymen, and that we are gravely concerned with the state of affairs which is revealed to-day by the report and with the prospect for the children who are growing up. If we put forward our suggestions, we put them forward as a contribution to the common stock of suggestions for the well being of the country. I honestly hope that they will be received in that spirit.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Acland
The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spark-brook (Mr. Amery) seems to me to be worthy of consideration, and on behalf of my hon. Friends, who should be here—and many hon. Members from all parts of the Committee are busy elsewhere at the moment—I can say that it will receive that consideration. Apparently the speech was not acceptable to hon. Members above the Gangway, but the part which interested me most was the first part. It seemed to me to be a new example of something which I have noticed occurring in many departments of our political life. We have heard a great deal about developing this Chamber into a Council of State in which there would be a consensus of opinion on all issues of principle, and we would work out merely the details. During the last few weeks I have noticed in this Parliament a remarkable consensus of opinion on many issues. I would draw attention to the declarations by Lord Cecil and the Archbishop of York which indicate the growth of a considerable consensus of opinion, but it is contrary to the Government's foreign policy. In a Debate last week, there was revealed a most remarkable consensus of opinion on agriculture, but it is contrary to the Government's agricultural policy. It seemed to me that the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech suggested the development of a new consensus of opinion on the problem which we are now discussing, and although I would not say his object was contrary to, at any rate it 1842 was not in support of, the policy which the Government have pursued up to now.
As the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said, the report brings us face to face with a very serious situation, in which the Unemployment Assistance Board, charged with the duty of satisfying needs, tells us that they cannot satisfy needs because if they were to give enough to satisfy them, it would be more than the applicants would receive as wages when in work. Do not let us get that particular problem out of its proper proportion. The number of applicants who have to receive less than they should receive on account of low wages is said to be 6,500. That, of course, is not a very large number relative to the other averages, for it amounts to 1 per cent. for women and 3 per cent. for men. That, however, does not represent the magnitude of the problem, for the magnitude of it is to be gained not by the people who apply for relief and whose wages, if they were in work, would be below the needs standard, but by the number of people who are actually in work at wages which are below the needs standard. It seems to me that the time has come when the Committee should consider unemployment and low-wage employment not as separate problems, but as part of one problem. It is the duty of the House, and above all of the Government, if they desire to remain in power, to solve that problem.
This problem is not physically incapable of solution. One hundred years ago it might have been said that this country was physically incapable of applying a standard of living to all its inhabitants, but that is not true to-day. In "Lloyds Bank Monthly" of some months ago, it was stated that the total income of this country is £3,400,000,000, which is £80 for each member of the population or £240 for a family of three—which is below the average number in a family. That figure shows that it is not beyond our power to solve this problem. There is one thing which I suggest with reluctance and I leave it to the judgment of hon. Members to decide whether it is true or not. If it were, somehow, possible to pass a law that one boy should be selected from those who enter each of our 10 major public schools, and if it were, somehow, possible to insist that that boy should change lives with somebody else of the 1843 same age, say in South Wales, I have a horrible feeling that we, as a nation, as a result of that small change, affecting only those 10 boys, would be far more deeply conscious of this problem than we are now, and that we would in fact find a solution of it. It is a grave reflection upon us, if that is true, and I gravely fear that it is true.
I fear too that we are tackling this great problem of under-remuneration of people, whether they are in employment or out of employment, in a piecemeal fashion. We have, for example, the Unemployment Assistance Board which gives relief in certain circumstances. The local authorities give relief in certain circumstances. The charitable institutions give relief in certain circumstances. But nobody knows how the spheres of influence of these various agencies are to be demarcated or where their respective functions begin and end. I would like to make one remark on the suggestion made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook in respect of family allowances. I appreciate that his suggestion can be regarded as an attack on wages if it is to be applied as a normal thing to the normal family, so that the worker who has no family dependent on him, would be contributing, either to a national scheme or to a scheme attached to his own industry, a substantial sum of something like 1s. a week, in order to make an allowance of, perhaps, 1s. a week, in these cases to every child after the second child. That would be a thoroughgoing family allowance scheme, bringing in every worker, with a large contribution and with payments in respect of almost every child. I wonder whether hon. Members above the Gangway would look with equal suspicion upon a scheme directed to the abnormal.
§ Mr. Bevan
On a point of Order. Hon. Members above the Gangway would like to look at a great many schemes but we would not be in order in considering any of those schemes to-day. I submit that in following the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), we are in danger of having this Debate sidetracked from its legitimate purpose, which is to consider the administration of the Minister. I beg and implore you, Captain Bourne, not to permit this Debate to develop in such a way as to deprive us of our annual opportunity 1844 of considering the administration of the right hon. Gentleman opposite.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Captain Bourne)
It is not infrequently the case that the speech of one hon. Member may tend to lead a Debate into a wrong channel. Earlier in this Debate, when I was not present, my predecessor pointed out that some of the matters which were being brought into discussion were very close to the Rule which says that in Committee of Supply we must not consider anything which entails legislation, and certainly I think the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland) is going rather far in that direction.
§ Mr. Acland
I bow to your Ruling at once, Captain Bourne. I had a practical point to propose, but perhaps some other occasion will arise on which I can deal with it, and certainly I have no wish to divert this Debate from its proper object. Perhaps I would be in order in asking the Minister to consider whether he could not at this stage press on with the further application of trade boards to low-wage industries. I suspect, although I have no figures to confirm suspicion, that a large part of these wages which fall below the unemployment assistance scale, are being paid in industries where the workers are not protected either by trade boards or by trade unions. I have also a feeling that the Ministry's attitude to this problem is that the Minister is prepared to act if there is evidence that the employers or the workers desire a trade board. But should not the Minister take the initiative and see whether we cannot do something to press the trade board system rather further than it has gone up to now?
Then there is the question of relief in kind which savours a good deal of the Truck Act. None the less if we are to deal with this problem of poverty as one problem it seems to me that our measures must be directed to improving the standards of all people, whether employed or unemployed who are on the lowest levels of remuneration. Something I think can be done by the Minister, which ought not to offend all the instincts that are aroused by anything which approaches the Truck Act. I give one local example of what I mean. In my constituency there is an admirable unemployed men's club and in it the principle which I am advocating is brought into operation. Both unemployed 1845 men, and employed men with low wages, are equally eligible for its membership and benefits. They carry out bulk purchases of food and other requirements, but principally food. Among other articles dealt with in this way, I may mention herring, the sale of which was not perhaps completely without advantage to some parts of Scotland. That development has conferred considerable benefit on these men and it is greatly to the credit of the small traders in those parts that they have not objected to it but have welcomed it. I wonder whether it could not be carried further.
Then I would also ask whether the Minister is doing all that can be done in the realm of training. I was surprised by an answer which I had to a letter sent by me to the Ministry a little time ago. It may be that my ignorance was the fundamental cause of my surprise, but I would like to have a confirmation of the reply. It concerns the case of a man in my constituency who is as keen as mustard on getting out of one of those little pockets of unemployment which, unfortunately, exist outside the Special Areas. This man said to me "Cannot I get away from here and he trained for some other job? I do not want a wonderful standard of living. I am prepared to make a fight for it, if I can only get away and get the training." I asked what could be done for this man, and I was told that as my constituency is not a Special Area and has not been scheduled as one of those areas which are analogus to Special Areas nothing at all can be done for him. I hope that reply was wrong. Here is a little pocket of unemployment and here is a man who is keen to get out of it, who is ready to go anywhere and do anything, but, with all the talk about assistance and training, we are told that nothing can be done for him.
Lastly, I would put to the Minister a technical point, again in order to make sure whether an answer which I received recently is correct. It relates to share salmon fishermen. The practice is that four men go out in a boat and each receives a proportion of the catch. In this case two men went out in two different boats. One man had run out of his statutory benefit and the other had not. Both boats fished for a week and caught nothing, and both men in due course came to the employment exchange. The man who had gone out of benefit said "I have received nothing this week; assess 1846 me according to my need." They assessed him and paid him a sum—I do not know whether he regarded it as adequate or not. But they said to the other man, "You have been at work." He said, "I know, but I did not earn anything." They said, "That does not matter. You have been at work and we cannot give you anything as unemployment statutory benefit because you have been at work and we cannot give you anything under the Unemployment Assistance Board because you have not yet run out of benefit." I wonder whether the Minister would find it possible to look into that case again. I know the difficulty of dealing with a number of individual cases in the course of one speech, but perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would communicate with me and let me know whether the answer which I have already received is the right answer.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Lansbury
I wish to raise certain questions connected with the administration of the Unemployment Assistance Board and also some other matters concerning the general problem of employment and unemployment. At the outset I would say that nobody here likes doles of any kind. I do not think any of us advocates the mere giving of money or relief of any sort. I am not here to, depreciate the work of the hundred-and-one organisations which endeavour, in one way and another, to ameliorate the conditions of the unemployed, but I am here to say that now that we have, to a large extent, nationalised the administration of assistance to the unemployed, it seems to me that nationally we are coming up against exactly the same problem as that which boards of guardians and local councils were faced with for years. For instance, the Unemployment Assistance Board is now in certain cases giving relief in kind. I think that is a detestable method of assisting anybody. I know it is said that one cannot always trust the people to spend the money properly. I think the cases in which it is spent improperly are infinitesimal. Time will show, but I believe that if this method is allowed to continue we shall get back to the very vicious system of giving assistance, half in money and half in kind. That is the system which the Ministry of Health imposed upon boards of guardians and others in East London and it is 10 some extent imposed 1847 upon them to-day. I should have thought that experience would have taught any administration that it is not worth while dealing with any appreciable number of cases in that fashion.
I also wish to call attention to the hardships involved in the waiting period. Continually men and women come to me and say they find it very difficult to tide over this period. I understand the argument in favour of it because I had to submit to it for many years. The argument is that a man in work ought at least to be able to stand a week out of work now and then. There are many families which live from hand to mouth from one year's end to another, and they have nothing at all behind them. I know also that the Board is expected to adjudicate as to whether or not persons ought to have saved enough to carry them over. I speak as one who has had as much to do with trying to adjust that sort of thing, as any Member of this House, because it was imposed upon us by the Poor Law, and I want to say that it is an almost impossible task, because you have to know everything concerning the family in question.
I will give only one typical case, but I could give lots more. A man came to me on Friday, and the amount of sickness and other things that his family had gone through, coupled with the fact that his wages had been absolutely halved during the past few months, made a terrible story. When he went to the Unemployment Assistance Board he was told that he must get on from last Friday until next Thursday, when he would draw his statutory benefit. I am certain that there are many, many hundreds of cases like that in London, to say nothing of what there may be in the depressed areas. These men do not like having to go and work for this temporary assistance till they draw their statutory benefit; they hate it, and I want to ask that that rule should be amended.
I should also like to call attention once more to the family means test. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman really understands how it operates on families. A boy or a girl goes to work, and instantly the earnings are taken into account, and the assistance is cut down. A man of very nearly my age came to me about this the other day and said that 1848 when his children are not at work the Public Assistance Committee give him some assistance, but that directly the children go to work the amount of their earnings is taken into account. It just breaks the heart of the old man every time, and I think it is the meanest sort of administration. That applies to the Unemployment Assistance Board too, and I think the whole business ought to be swept away. Everybody knows the furore that was created when I said what I did say about the means test, and I am not going to take back anything that I said on that occasion. What I am arguing about is making children maintain their parents in this way, and also occasionally compelling able-bodied men to maintain able-bodied sons and their dependants if they happen to be living together. I think it is an outrage, and there is not one of us in this House who would want it applied to us under those conditions. If we have a big income, we can face our responsibilities to the best of our ability, but I am arguing now about people to whom a shilling means very much indeed, and I am not to be fobbed off by the argument about filial affection between members of a family. Of course, there is that affection, but there is plenty of room for it to be shown, apart from the absolute maintenance of these relatives.
When I hear these discussions I find myself living over again the old argument about eligibility which used to take place before the transference of unemployment administration to the State, and about the person receiving public assistance being less eligible than the worst paid independent labourer. That used to be the argument by which you took your stand, that you must never give more in assistance than a man under similar conditions was earning outside in an independent way. It is true that the Unemployment Assistance Board does in some cases give more than a certain number of people will be earning, and that is said to be a very great danger. To some extent it is, but I want to point out that there never was, among even the most reactionary boards of guardians in the country, any disagreement on this fundamental fact, that if the community, acting through a board of guardians, took the responsibility of maintaining a man and woman and their family, all the time they stood by that principle. They took the family into an 1849 institution, and they knew that it would cost them four or five times what a man was earning outside; and when it came to outdoor relief, everybody knows that the principle had to be broken down, because no public authority could stand the test of public opinion by starving the people to whom they were giving assistance in one form or another.
The right hon. Gentleman and his Department, and the Government generally, should change this; and this House as well, because we are now the people who are responsible, can change this if we carry a vote against the right hon. Gentleman. We can compel an entire revision of the scale. That ought to be done, and I wish we had the power to carry a Motion to that effect. It is no use thinking that in these days you can measure the amount of assistance by what people are earning. My son used always to say—he said it to Ministers of Health many a time—"You have not got to quarrel about the assistance that we are giving to these people; it is wages that you must raise, it is the spending power of the people that you must increase, and not cut it down to the level under which competitive capitalism forces the workers to live." I hope we are not going to be told what we were told in this House before 1931, and especially during 1929–31, that we cannot afford to give the proper assistance. We know now that we can spend a couple of thousand millions like water on armaments and call it madness; to maintain these people would not cost anything like that amount of money, and so I hope the right hon. Gentleman will deal with some of these questions.
On the question of winter relief, the other day, in answer to a question, the right hon. Gentleman said—and it will be stated again—that local authorities which gave winter relief rut it off during the summer. I will only say two things in regard to that. One is that their scale of relief, especially in the East End of London, where, of course, we were perfect villains in giving proper relief, was always much higher than the scale laid down by the right hon. Gentleman. I suggest that he should send out and get the Poplar scale and compare it with the scale of the Unemployment Assistance Board. I only ask him to do that and to take into account the fact that boots, shoes, clothes and all kinds of things were added on to the money, or let him 1850 come down and see the people in my division, and they will soon put him wise about that. What the Minister has to take into account is what he deducts the money from, and what is left afterwards, and then to consider whether it is enough for the people. I am certain that I could not live on it, and I am certain that no hon. or right hon. Member of this House could live on it. He would rather be dead, and probably would be.
The other problem that I want to speak about in this connection is that of the young people. I do not believe the country realises the harm that is being done to the young people of this country. I know that my hon. Friends above the Gangway probably have a larger volume to deal with than we have in the East End of London, but all the same we have in East London pockets of unemployment which are terrible. I do not want to keep dragging myself in, because that is all beside the point, but it just happens that I live where I do live, and I have a number of young people who come to me imploring me for a job, and a number of young people after their first offence, and perhaps after their second offence, come and tell me all about their condition and say, "For heaven's sake, George, try to get me a job." Well, I cannot get them jobs; that it impossible for me.
But why is it that the figures that were given by Sir Philip Game the other day have been so little noticed? People are not bothering much about them, but he puts his finger right on the spot so far as the Metropolis is concerned. I am not saying that every boy who goes wrong does so owing to unemployment, but I do say that the bulk of them do, and about that I have no doubt at all. They never have a proper job, and when they get a job that looks as though it might be permanent, it passes away; that is to say, they have to be shifted on. You may curse the employers about it if you will, but the fact is that that is the custom in industry to-day, and my contention is that it is no way out of it to take a boy or young man to court and send him to prison. We ought to deal with that side of the question by prevention, and I think the Minister has in in his power without any more legislation to deal with this matter, if the Treasury has the will. When I heard the Debate on agriculture last week, and when I have heard similar 1851 Debates in years past in this House, I always ask myself why it is, when we are told that agriculture is such an important branch of national industry, that we allow multitudes of young men to wander aimlessly about and get into all kinds of trouble, and we make no effort whatsoever to get them on to the land under ordinary, decent conditions.
When we debated here the question of making a Borstal institution of the old Hollesley Bay labour colony, I tried to point out what I want to point out to the right hon. Gentleman now—and it is in order to do it on this Vote—and it was this. Why should young men be taken to Hollesley Bay after they have committed an offence, and be taught agriculture? Why should they be taken to the Wash in Lincolnshire to do little bits and patches of land reclamation after they have committed some offence? Surely they should be organised to reclaim the Wash, and organised in the ordinary regular way of employment and not as unemployed men. They should be given a job to do with proper wages, and should be provided with hutments, with which any contractor would provide them if the work were given out to contract. That is something that every contractor has to do when he undertakes a job on the countryside. The Wash and flooding are being talked about year after year, and neither the right hon. Gentleman nor any of those who have to deal with these young people have yet thought it would be wise to set about this work in order to reclaim the land and to save it from flooding, and, at the same time, to save the character and the physique of these young men.
I am not asking that this should be done on any other lines than as ordinary employment at ordinary wages. I am certain that if it was decided to do this we could find the means for doing it just as we find the means for dealing with the soldiers whom we gather together to train for fighting. Hutments are put up in a few days. Why cannot that be done in order to find employment for these young men? I know that the overwhelming number of them would be glad to do it, the only condition being that they should be paid properly and that they should have decent living accommodation. I know of many people on big contracts 1852 who have to work in those conditions and there is no trouble about it. The Minister of Labour could carry out organised efforts of this kind as well as other work, that he helps to be carried through, is done by private effort in a small way.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition put before the Committee a proposition which the party put before the Government in the last Parliament. It is that we should set up a staff to deal with the economic life of the nation, and especially with questions concerning employment and unemployment. When that suggestion was put up some years ago, the late Mr. MacDonald said, "You want to militarise all our minds." He had no idea that what we wanted to do was to turn our minds away from the idea of using our intelligence merely for militarism. We wanted to use the brain power of the nation for constructive purposes and for preserving the life of the people. I want to support what my right hon. Friend said. This thing really ought to be done without delay. The Chancellor of the Exchequer uttered a grave warning on Friday about expenditure. Whether war comes or not, there will come a day of reckoning for all that expenditure, and no one is making any preparation, so far as we know, of fundamental plans for dealing with the situation that will arise. Now is the time when this committee should be set up to deal not only with questions of employment in this country, but our relationships with other countries, because this problem is the root problem for every country in the world, and it will be solved ultimately only through international efforts and co-operation.
I want to put in a plea for the old-young men. I sometimes feel very sick when I hear them being discussed, because of my own age, and I always have a feeling that those who are talking are saying to themselves, "Why doesn't that old devil get out and let somebody else do this, that or the other?" I am speaking on behalf of the men who are old at 40 but who have retained all their intelligence and most of their physique. It is a horrible thing to see in my part of the world a few hundred of them week by week wearily tramping sometimes to one authority and sometimes to another to get public assistance. It breaks their manhood, and it ought to break the heart of anybody who witnesses it. That problem is nothing new. It is a mistake 1853 to keep saying that it is. It has been in existence ever since I was born and years before, but it becomes accentuated with the development of economic life and competition. What do these men ask of us at the beginning? They ask the opportunity to earn the sort of miserable subsistence under which none of us would be satisfied to live. We would not be here if we had been satisfied with it. We have come away from it because we hated it. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us what he proposes to do with these men. There is a tiny effort being made by Peter Scott and others, but it ought not to be looked on as a permanent way of dealing with them. I believe that by proper organisation and effort the Government could find employment for these people. When we look round the country at the slumdom that still exists and the land that is crying out for cultivation, and see all the opportunities that there are for employment, it is one of the most horrible satires on what we call civilisation that men should be forced to live under conditions of this sort.
I hope we are not going to be told to-day of the failings of myself and others in the Labour Government. Let us take it for granted that we were a silly stupid lot, that we did nothing and did it thoroughly well. But are the present Government doing any better? That is the challenge. What they have to prove is that the system they are administering is grappling with the problem of unemployment. I say that they are not doing anything of the kind. They are dealing with the effects of unemployment and not with the root problem itself. When the day comes for the economic crash after the present huge expenditure, you will all be tearing your hair to find, a way out, because hungry people are very dangerous people. I appeal to the House of Commons over the head of the right hon. Gentleman that the proposal of my right hon. Friend shall be taken into consideration and that there shall be set up a committee whose primary business will be to find out the causes which bring about 2,000,000 and more unemployed in this country, which bring about the economic conditions of Europe and the world, and which bring about war. If we paid a tithe of the attention to economic conditions here and elsewhere that we give to warlike preparations, we should not 1854 have enough time to discuss how to destroy one another.
§ 5.40 p.m.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) when he says that the causes of unemployment are international and that we have to get international co-operation in order to deal with them, but before getting that we ought to get some domestic co-operation at home. A great deal more could be done if we not did make unemployment a party question. The Leader of the Opposition spoke of the mass of human misery and said that the only way of getting rid of it was to get rid of the capitalist system. I admit that there is nothing more heartbreaking than unemployment. But let us compare the people of this country with the people of any other country. The people of this country are far less miserable than those in any other country in Europe. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley spoke about the youths, I thought he was going to make the speech I once heard him make, in which he said he felt so strongly about it that he was willing to force them——
§ Mr. Lansbury
What I said was exactly what I have said to-day, that I would not give them relief, but would give them proper work under proper conditions. Anybody who would not accept work under these conditions should not get any relief.
I agree, but I wonder whether the Leader of the Opposition would do it. That is what we may have to come to.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
Would the Noble Lady apply that condition to the idle rich in Mayfair as well as to the idle pour in South Wales?
§ Mr. Buchanan
On a point of Order. This discussion seems to be getting on to general issues, and I want to ask whether we are discussing how to solve by legislation the problem of unemployment or discussing the right hon. Gentleman's administration?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I understood we were primarily discussing the administration of the Unemployment Assistance Board, and, so far as it might arise, the general question of the right hon. Gentleman's Department, but of course to refer to legislation is not in order. It would be better if hon. Members would confine themselves to questions of administration.
I was trying to answer some points put forward by the Leader of the Opposition. He started it.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I am only anxious that the Minister should not get off with having nothing to answer.
I am only anxious to answer the speeches made in the Committee. The choice is between the capitalist system and freedom, and the system in the totalitarian States, like Russia, Germany and Italy. Hon. Members opposite have been saying that they want to change the capitalist system. They know perfectly well that they would not do it if they were in office tomorrow. What they want is evolution, which we are getting, and not revolution. The right hon. Gentleman opposite said that when Labour were in they had not got a majority, but I want to remind him——
§ Mr. Attlee
I never said a word about the majority. If the Noble Lady would not misrepresent me and others, she would get on very much better.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I think we should really get on better if hon. Members were allowed to make their own speeches. There are a good many hon. Members who wish to speak in this Debate and each time any speaker is interrupted it means, probably, that there must be one speaker less.
Unless people can learn to rule themselves they are not going to solve the unemployment problem. In 1930 the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) got up in the House with "Labour and the Nation" in his hand and shook it at the Government of that day and said, "We will give you a five years majority if you 1856 will put this programme in hand." Why did they not put it in hand? Because most of the Labour Members had never read it, much less intended to put it into operation. So they cannot blame it all on to being a Government without power, as they say. The truth is that they had not a programme that would work. If they came into office to-day they would have to work under the capitalist system, as the Government are doing. They know perfectly well they do not want to change it. [Interruption.] If it is not to be the capitalist system, you may have to give up your freedom. You may have to do what they do in Russia, Germany and Italy. I say with Patrick Henry, "Give me liberty or give me death." I would rather be "on the dole" in a free country than with a paid job in a totalitarian country. Most people "on the dole" in this country are better off than the people who are in work in a totalitarian State. [An HON. MEMBER: "Do not talk nonsense."] But let us get down to facts, and stop this tub-thumping. You have to face the facts here. You do not like it when you have to face the House of Commons. You can get away with it in the country. You make wonderful speeches about the tragedy of the position. We all know it as well as you. We all want the Government to do more than they are doing, but this is one of the most difficult problems in the whole world.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
It would be better if hon. Members would remember that in this House, "You" means the Chair.
If I say anything that riles the Opposition they get up and shout like a lot of hyaenas. Let us "get down to brass tacks." Hon. Members opposite talk about first changing the capitalist system and then about international co-operation. We cannot wait until we have international co-operation or have changed our economic system. 1857 We have to see whether the Government cannot have a co-ordinated plan, especially for the young people. It is tragic enough for the older people to be unemployed, but it is a terrific waste to have the younger people unemployed. I ask the Government whether the Minister of Health, the Minister of Education and the Minister of Labour could not work together on this question of unemployment among younger people. If they would do so I am certain they would see the necessity for raising the school-leaving age and doing away with the loophole which at present exists in that legislation. Another thing, the agricultural policy must be linked up with the problem of dealing with malnutrition, because we have an appalling problem of malnutrition. The Minister of Health might propose labour camps. No, do not jump up and shout, because I have said that. I believe that the people of this country would rather see their boys and girls who cannot get jobs under the sort of system which the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) speaks about, than have them idle and doing nothing. [Interruption.] Do listen for a moment, and then you might learn something.
The right hon. Member himself says that we are living in a terrifically difficult time. There has been a lot of talk about the family means test. I know there are dreadful hardships, but there is nothing that breaks up a family more than for the young people to be without work, because their parents soon lose control of them. They are difficult enough to manage even when they have got a job. We must do something. We cannot afford to let our young people stand idle. [Interruption.] I know one of the reasons why they are getting so worked up on the other side. They know that there are a lot of people to deal with for whom it is difficult to find work. The Unemployment Assistance Board, so far from being a lot of hardhearted people, have been extremely patient and efficient. Of course, occasionally dreadful things happen, sometimes because one person has been tactless and stupid.
And you. We are all alike. I know my own faults, and knowing them makes me understand yours. Hon. Members talk as though we 1858 were divided up into classes. What we are up against is human nature, the most difficult thing in the world. Talk about a flat rate for the unemployed. We have this tragedy of the unemployable, and there is nothing in the world that this Government or any other Government can do which will do away with the unemployables. It is a different problem, but it is a tragic problem. As I have said, I hope that the Government will realise that many people feel there ought to be more co-ordination among the different Departments. I hope that the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley will push on with what he believes in, because he has got courage and he has given his life to this question of the unemployed. [Interruption.] They only talk about family allowances. They are frightened of the trade unions, who do not want them. The whole policy of Christian legislation and Socialism is that the strong should help the weak, and that is one of the features of family allowance. [Interruption.] Who are the people who support the country? The people who work. You could not live a week with only millionaires.
It is all a farce unless you face the facts. You are not going to change the system; none of you want to change it. We ought to be frank and fearless, and not frightened of whether people say we are Fascists or Communists. We ought to see whether we cannot do something drastic for these young people who cannot get work and some of whom will not take it. [Interruption.] Whether they are high or low, rich or poor, they ought to be made to work. I think many a well-to-do person would be relieved if there was a system under which all, rich or poor, would have to work and under which young people would get physical training for six months a year. Therefore, let us get away from all this humbug and get down to practical politics, and see what more we can do under this capitalist system, because we know that the only alternative to it is the totalitarian State, and the people who would come off worst in a totalitarian State are hon. Members opposite, who talk so bitterly.
I think that the Minister of Labour has done very well, extraordinarily well, and the Unemployment Assistance Board have done well. We are up against that appalling thing, human nature, one of the ugliest things in the world. If hon. Members 1859 would only co-operate instead of going round the country talking ridiculous nonsense, we should get on better. But I hope that the Government will remember that there are many people who are deeply concerned about the numbers in this country who are under-nourished. I will not go on to talk about nursery schools, because I know that many hon. Members want to speak, but I would once more ask hon. Members opposite to cooperate. They know perfectly well they have no plan, and have never had a plan, and if they had a plan I doubt whether they have ability enough to put it through.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I am not going to follow the Noble Lady or complain about her introducing into a serious Debate the spirit of comedy. It may or may not have been that, but that is what I believe, and I say so. I regard this as a very serious occasion. Another reason why I shall not follow the Noble Lady is because I do not think I should get quite the same toleration from the Chair as she has had. We are here to-day to discuss not what to do with the big mass of the unemployed but to discuss the Ministry of Labour and its administration. We are not discussing whether we can introduce big schemes of work and employ all the unemployed to-morrow, or raise the school-leaving age, or lower the age for pensions. Those are interesting subjects on a proper occasion, but they are not the subject of to-day's Debate, which is concerned with the administration of the Ministry of Labour and particularly the administration of the Unemployment Assistance Board. I do not want to follow the Noble Lady's point of whether the unemployed do not want to work or are unemployable, except to say this: I represent a part of Glasgow which has never known anything else than poverty—ever since I was born. It was an area of poverty long before we had the distressed areas. We did have 4½ years of prosperity during the War, and during that time I scarcely saw in my division an unemployable citizen. They were either away fighting or were working.
I said that one of the tragedies was that you had the unemployed, and that then you had the unemployable.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I know what the Noble Lady said, and I am saying that she said that we had the unemployable people. I am also saying that for 4½ years during the War we hardly had an unemployable and that every young man either worked or fought. Given the same conditions to-morrow in which everybody were offered an opportunity of some kind of useful occupation, no unemployable would be found to exist at all. I have heard this cry about the unemployable, but none of his circumstances or his background has been examined. That type of man has been held up as an awful example.
My comment on the unemployed is from another angle. I often think of the terrible circumstances in which these so-called unemployable people live, and I think that they are far too good, having regard to those conditions. I do not take the often-expressed view about their morality. I have seen men unemployed in my division for years. I represent men who have not worked for 12 or 14 years, and some who have done hardly a day's work since they came out of the Army. Nevertheless, they are often as good in regard to morality and decency as many hon. Members on the other side of the House. I know many of those men, and have worked with them, and the tribute should be how good they have remained under terrible provocation. It is easy for the Noble Lady to come here and deliver a speech and pick out someone or other, so that when the unemployed man reads it to-morrow he takes it that it is meant for him.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I want to raise questions associated with the means test and the Unemployment Assistance Board. I would ask the Minister who replies to say a word or two about the inquiry which he is pursuing at the moment on the subject of young men of 30 years of age and under. I shall not go into detail. The last time I spoke I questioned the wisdom of that inquiry. I pleaded for a sense of fairness. With some object an inquiry is being made into the conditions of the unemployed. It may be that the object is good, or that it is bad; or there may be a mixed object. It may be, as some of my colleagues above the Gangway think, and I am not inclined to differ from 1861 them, that the object of the inquiry is to establish something like the old "notgenuinely-seeking-work" formula; or, as some hon. Members opposite think, to deal more kindly with the unemployed.
Whatever the object may be, the right hon. Gentleman is making an inquiry into the lives of the unemployed, and the first thing should be to find out the basis on which you are inquiring. Secondly, he should see that the inquiry is made under conditions not less fevourable than would apply to any other section of the community. Surely, that is fair. That is why I challenge this Vote. I believe the right hon. Gentleman is making an inquiry under conditions that would not apply to any other section of the community. If I were setting up an inquiry I should see that terms of reference were laid down and some kind of guiding principle arranged for the committee. Thirdly, whatever inquiry is made, the people should be examined with the terms of reference before them and examined in public so that we should know who was examined, what they were examined about and who were the examiners.
The Unemployment Assistance Board have set up local advisory committees, no doubt composed of people with the best intentions in the world, but people about whom I often get annoyed because they are of the benevolent type, out to help the unemployed. They always want to do something for the unemployed rather than let the unemployed do something for themselves. Those advisory committees are given a roving commission. They have no terms of reference, other than the age 30, and they are entitled to inquire into the life of every person under the age of 30, coming within the operations of the Unemployment Assistance Board. They are to examine, draw conclusions and send them to the Board. Thereafter the Board is entitled to draw its own conclusion. What will be the value of that? Suppose they examine an unemployed man of 28 years of age who has not worked for 10 years. Let us take the worst possibility, the type of person whom the Noble Lady denounces as one who does not want to work.
I never said that, and I protest against that statement. I was talking about people who were aged and ill and the rest of it.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Let us take the worst picture that is drawn, the so-called work-dodger; even he is entitled to a trial and to some kind of decency in public affairs. When the need of war came, that type of man was often your soldier, and you have monuments put up in the country to that type of man as to the finest saviour of the world. That type of man comes before one of these advisory committees. What kind of decency does he get? He comes up before people who are comparatively comfortable. They examine him and cross-question him. None of us knows the questions that are put to him or under what conditions he is examined. He is practically without a soul to defend him, and he comes before the committee and gives a certain kind of evidence. On that, the committee will base its report and its recommendations to the Board. I understand that the Board will have power to make recommendations to us.
What kind of evidence is that? If you are going to examine the unemployed, why not do it as if you were examining anybody else? If you feel that there is a case, get terms of reference, appoint a commission, let the unemployed be properly examined and their evidence read, and let us know in public what is being done. For Heaven's sake do not treat the unemployed worse than you would treat the criminal population by holding an inquiry in secret, with no control over the individual who is conducting it, the manner of conducting it, or yet the approach which is made to the inquiry. There is a so-called need for this inquiry; if the Minister thinks the Board need it, let him see that the Board applies the same decent conditions to the unemployed as would be applied to any other section of the community.
As to the administration of the means test, I would also raise with the Minister the present holiday position. He quoted the decision that was given last Friday on the holiday claims of the employers, which was published in the OFFICIAL REPORT. That decision is, in the main, much better than I thought it would be, but even there I would ask him to consider publishing in the OFFICIAL REPORT the instructions that the Chief Insurance Officer had sent out to local insurance officers on the holiday issue. I understand that the Chief Insurance Officer has issued instructions for the guidance of 1863 trade unions and others who are charged with some responsibility. Perhaps we might have those instructions that have been issued, in order that the unemployed might know their rights at holiday times.
Another point is the difference in treatment which is given between fathers and sons under the means test. I am not going into the question of whether the means test is good or bad. Whatever record I have I think it is unchallengeable that I have opposed the means test. The Government are not likely to sweep away the means test. I now want to raise this question, because although a son is badly treated a father is treated infinitely worse. I plead with the Minister for better treatment in the case of a father. I will give a typical instance. It is a case of a father, mother and son. The father earns 45s. a week, which is not a very handsome wage. When I listen to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) who, I understand, is a railway director, I always wish he would try to get his colleagues to raise wages on the railways. Some of those wages are not far above the starvation level. I am taking a case now of a railway employé who has been 22 years employed in one steady employment. He has a boy of 21, who was also on the railway but was dismissed for health reasons as he did not come up to certain requirements. The boy goes to claim benefit, but finds that his father's 45s. has to provide for him. We were rather sarcastic when the Bill went through the House because of what I think we called the pocket-money allowance for the father. We called it by some fancy name, but it was a pocket-money allowance because the old man needed it. He could get 2s. or 3s.
§ Mr. Buchanan
That is right. We have it now. Dignity money it was, but that does not apply to the son. A son is not supposed to have any dignity at 21. The father's first 8s. is exempt. That leaves him 37s., which is hardly enough to keep the father, mother and son. The scale is 26s. 10d. for the son. If the son had been working and earning 45s., it would have been different. His first 16s. would have been exempt, and half of the difference between 16s. and 45s. would have been exempt. If the father had been 1864 unemployed, he would have been allowed 14s. or 15s. a week, but because the situation is reversed, the family income is deprived of at least 14s or 15s. a week. Is there anybody in his senses, dropping out the sort of stuff we heard a little while ago that had nothing to do with this administration, who would say that it matters to the father, mother and son whose work it is that brings in the family income? Yet because the father is working and the son is idle, the family income loses at least 14s. I would ask the Minister, in running his miserable means test, as he does, to turn his attention to this matter and see that such discrepancies are swept away.
Another question that I want to raise is one which has been touched upon by the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley, namely, the question of payment in kind. When the regulations were going through the House, I took strong objection to payment in kind, but I understood that it was definitely settled that it should be applied only in the case of certain people who could be proved to have been guilty of some kind of offence—about whom, in other words, there was some tinge that was bad. Although unemployed people could be given unemployment assistance in kind, it had to be proved against them that they were unfit in some way—that they did not treat their children rightly, that they drank their money, that they gambled away their resources, or in some other way were different from other people. But that is not what is happening. For every kind of almost trivial reason, payment in kind to unemployed people is being extended.
I will never accept the principle of payment in kind, even for what might be called bad people, because, once you have payment in kind for someone, once it can be defended for one man, it becomes easy to defend it for every person in the country, and I would beg the Minister to ask the Board to see that payment in kind is stopped. If people be bad, payment in kind lends them opportunities to become worse. If a man gets food tickets, and if he is bad, beyond the pale or almost beyond the pale, what happens? The moment he gets his food tickets he has an opportunity to re-sell them, so the only result is that, if he be bad the food ticket system makes him worse. From practical experience I earnestly ask the Minister to do away with this system.
1865 I do not know what is the experience of hon. Members above the Gangway, but in my view the appointments of chairmen of courts of referees ought to be reviewed in order to see whether they are the best that could possibly be made. I have in mind a whole range of cases in which I think the decisions of chairmen of courts of referees have frequently shown a harshness that ought not to be present. I came across a case the other day, that of a single woman who had been 14 years in one employment, and had never been a day late during the whole of that time. Two days before she left, her employers altered her work to other work which she could not do, and which she told her employers she could not do. I do not know whether she left or whether she was dismissed, but within five minutes of going out of the place she went and tried to get another job. She was summoned before the court of referees, and her benefit was disallowed. That is a shocking thing to happen. The Minister ought to see that the duties of these chairmen of courts of referees, who have a great deal of authority, are carried out in as humane a way as is possible.
With regard to children, when the Labour Government were asked to raise the children's allowances only one reason was given against doing so. Nobody ever defended the refusal on moral or humanitarian grounds, but only one answer—I read it to-day with some interest—was given by the right hon. Lady who was then the Member for Wallsend, Miss Bondfield. That was that they had no money to spare. It was backed by a Scottish phrase: "We have no money in the till." Nobody ever argued that the allowance was enough; that was the only defence that was put forward; and, looking back, I must confess that I would not like to have the consciences of those who used that argument, because, if ever an argument has been blown sky-high, it is that one. The "no money in the till" argument has gone. The question that now arises is, what is the standard that is necessary in the way of food, clothing and nourishment to enable a child to live?
I am sorry that the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) is not present, but do not let her come here and sneer about the unemployed. Let us look at the matter as a practical proposition. 1866 Let me put this case to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spark-brook. Suppose that a father who has been unemployed for 10 years has to rear a family of two on the income allowed him by the Board—26s., plus, at the very most, 7s. He is lucky if he gets that, but let us say that the total is 33s. That is above the average; 32s. is nearer. If, 10 years afterwards, people come here and say things about his children—that they are unemployable and so on—it is not they who should be indicted, but ourselves. We are responsible. The first thing that is necessary to make a decent citizen is food. I come from a place where slums abound, where the housing conditions beggar description, but even before housing, before education, comes food. I ask the Minister, with all his power, to go back to the Board and say that that shall be provided.
This country has wealth in abundance. That cannot be denied. Last week the Air Minister gloried in sending an order to Birmingham for thousands of great aeroplanes, and next day or the day after we were informed that he was sending an order to the United States, and was negotiating for one with Canada. The millions that that cost did not matter; they were never questioned; no one said that it was costing too much. Let the Minister go back to Lord Rushcliffe and tell him that it is not his job to see how he can haul down the amount of relief because somebody pays low wages. I know that low wages are paid. I am told that in the cotton trade the wages for a man may be as low as 3os. a week, while one of the mining Members of the House said the other day that he had seen a pay-slip with less than £2 on it, and the man in question had four children to keep. I could point out in my native city men working at wages that are indefensible and wrong. But do not let us gauge our standards by that. If we start to take that as our standard, we might as well say that every employer in the country who pays these miserable rates should determine, not merely the standards of the unemployed, but the standards of the people at work as well. Do not let us go out in search of miserable men who pay miserable wages. Do not let us take our standards from the coal employers. Have they such a record that we should model our affairs on them?
§ Major Braithwaite
As a coalowner, I must protest against the charges of the hon. Member, which are absolutely unfounded and unjustified.
§ Mr. Buchanan
The hon. and gallant Member can protest as much as he likes. He will get his opportunity. I could quote many instances in this country and in Scotland of wages which are a disgrace. A little while ago I remarked, when the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook was not here, that in some cases railway wages are not at all wages to be proud of. Must we say that the unemployed are to be dealt with in that fashion? That would be reversing our whole process of social legislation. The House of Commons ought to see, not how little, but how much, we can raise the standards of already depressed incomes. I trust that the Minister will give some consideration to the points which I have raised, and particularly to those in connection with the treatment of fathers and the question of holidays. A holiday for an unemployed man is, I hope, as essential as for the man at work. I think he is as entitled to take his children away as anybody else, but in many cases it is being made impossible. I trust that the Minister will give some consideration to these facts.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Cartland
I am sure the Committee will be extremely grateful for the speech of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). He has raised a number of points which I think every Member who sits for an industrial constituency in the United Kingdom can bear out from his own experience. The right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate said that this report, which must be the background of every speech made in the Debate, deals with the unemployed, and not with unemployment. I feel that all of us who have taken part in previous Debates on this subject, and particularly in the Debate last Friday week, are concerned that, while the reply of the Minister was principally devoted to dealing with such questions as the hon. Member has just raised, the major problem, that is to say, the problem of unemployment, is always deferred to another time. I hope that on this occasion at least my right hon. Friend will find the time and the opportunity to deal——[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend says that he always 1868 welcomes the opportunity, but it is the fact that for some reason or other he has never given us the answer to what I would call the fundamental problem. I think we are in very grave danger of coming to accept unemployment assistance as a permanent relief of the unemployment problem. Unemployment insurance is something about which there may be two views, but I cannot accept the view that this unemployment assistance scheme, with this Board, these reports and so on, can in any way solve unemployment.
I will go a little further, and say that the problems we hear so frequently raised in these Debates: the relation between wages and relief, the relation between wages and insurance, and so on, are all minor problems. The major problem which this House must face seems to be, is it possible for us to create in this country conditions under which unemployment ceases to be a curse and becomes a boon? That is what to me constitutes the difference in definition between leisure and unemployment. I cannot believe that there is anybody in this House who is going to say that permanent, ceaseless work must always be the cure for unemployment, in all circumstances and at all times. If that is the suggestion, then the entire policy of this country is wrong. If work is to be the only cure for unemployment, we must accept the totalitarian method and have great public works going on all the time—we must accept industrial conscription and so on. I remember the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) protesting against the suggestion that Germany had cured unemployment. Of course, you can always cure unemployment if you are going to rope everybody in in that way.
§ Mr. Cartland
I do not know if the Noble Lady means to indicate approval, but that is not the method for which we stand in this country.
§ Mr. Lawson
The International Labour Office stated quite clearly that that does not include the figures of those in the concentration and labour camps generally.
§ Mr. Cartland
I am much obliged to the hon. Member. I do not think there is any disagreement between us. The alternative policy is that you will let the 1869 normal course of trade absorb the unemployed, that you will bring about such industrial conditions that the unemployed will be absorbed. If you are going to rely entirely on your commercial policy to solve your unemployment problem, you have to couple with that a policy to increase all the time the industrial efficiency of this country; and you have to aim at the result that that policy of industrial efficiency, coupled with your economic policy, shall have the widest possible social effect on the greatest possible number of the people in the country. Most people will agree that there is a time in every man's life when it is not work which is wanted but leisure; but leisure implies saving and security.
If you read this report or take any interest in these things, and particularly if you read that remarkable report of the Pilgrims' Trust, what is the theme that runs through every single chapter? It is the theme of low wages. There are some astonishing examples which hon. Members will recall. If I remember rightly, they gave a case of a boy of 21 working 12 hours a day for 10s. a week, and another case of a girl of about 18 employed in a teashop at 6s. a week. Some people were surprised when she gave up her work because it was not worth while. Those were only two cases. We can all bring case after case of really low wages, on which it is impossible for a man if he is married and has children, if he has any form of home to provide for, to obtain what we in 1938 regard as the bare necessities of existence. All this talk of raising the unemployment assistance scale and increasing children's allowances is not the solution of the real problem. It only aggravates the problem, because more and more you come up against this hard wall of: Are you going to let your allowances and assistance go beyond your actual wage rates?
We have reached an extraordinary stage. We have reached a stage when there is universal acceptance of the view that people must not starve. What the standard is is a matter of opinion, but we are all agreed on the principle. But, we have also reached the stage when by your remedial measures, you are making it better for a man, particularly with a large family, to stay out of work than to go into work. The more you bring in patchwork measures the more you will aggravate the real problem. I cannot help 1870 feeling that the case is overwhelming that the longer you keep your wages at a low level the more permanent you are making your unemployment problem, and that you will never really begin to solve the problem until you go right back and tackle it from the wages end and not the assistance end. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton (Mr. Harold Macmillan), in a recent Debate, gave some figures about wages. He said that nearly 12,000,000 incomes in this country are under 48s. a week. I suppose there are roughly about 18,000,000 people in work. Then there is the phrase in the report that—Roughly half the male applicants declared normal wages of less than 50s.I am certain that if we can only look at it as a problem of employment, and not as a problem of unemployment, we are bound to tackle it from the aspect of wages; and once we begin to tackle it from that aspect, assistance will follow normally, and it will be much easier to deal with. I found the other day in the "Economist," which I do not think anyone will suggest has Left-wing views, this passage:Expediency and social justice require that the lowest-paid men and women in work should receive sufficient to meet the needs of themselves and their dependants.I would add, "and enable them at the same time to put something by as savings."
The problem of elderly men has hardly been mentioned in this Debate. That problem of elderly men does not concern just the Special Areas; it is met with all over the country. What especially concerns me is that the dividing line between elderliness and middle-agedness is coming lower. Some time ago it might have been put at 60; it became about 58; it is remarkably near 50 now. I find that a man who has been employed or some years and drops out of work at 50—I will not say his position is hopeless, but it is exceedingly difficult for him to get back. I find that one-third of the unemployed who are over 55 are actually in what is called the prosperous part of this country, the South and the Midlands. It is another national problem.
What can be done? I have no intention of suggesting legislation, as I remember the interruption of the hon. Gentleman on points of Order, but I would say that the fatal mistake is to 1871 think either that nothing can be done or that only one particular thing should be done. I believe everything should be done. The first thing surely is for everybody in the country to put himself into a frame of mind in which he will be prepared to accept any suggestion from whatever source it comes. The fatal frame of mind is to believe that something can or cannot be done by any one system, whether it is Capitalism or Socialism. I cannot understand why my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour should have refused the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) to have an inquiry into family allowances. Why should there not be an inquiry? What harm is it going to do, unless you have made up your mind what the report is going to be and are afraid of the consequences? But I do not believe that of my right hon. Friend, because the one thing he has shown since he became Minister of Labour is that he is a man of courage. So let us have an inquiry.
§ Mr. Lawson
What is it suggested that the inquiry should be about? Is it the question of who shall pay the allowances?
§ Mr. Cartland
I am going into that further in a minute. But my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook has said that a system of family allowances would do something to relieve the problem of the man in industry on a low wage with a large family. There is a suggestion also for a minimum wage in industry. The right hon. Gentleman will perhaps say that his Department is keeping a vague look-out on all these things, but we should pass from the idea that you can deal with these matters by keeping a vague look-out on all of them. The suggestion has also been made that there should be a system of retirement pensions. The figures show that at present only 815,000 manual workers are covered by any retirement pension schemes in this country. The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) wants an inquiry into the whole system of social services. Let us have a general inquiry into all these matters.
I support the suggestion put forward by the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate, and supported by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), that you must 1872 come down in the end to some form of economic general staff. What we do not want is just one man—it might be Sir Horace Wilson or somebody like that—who is put into a room to think out these things. We want a staff, who will see what is the effect of having a minimum wage and what will be the effect of having family allowances. Nobody knows what the effect will be. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook cannot actually know yet what scheme he would introduce and how it would work.
The question may be raised: what about the money; who is to pay? I invite the right hon. Gentleman to look at two figures for a series of years. They are, the rise in wage rates compared with the rise in profits, and the rise in dividends. I believe that, if he looked at these quite impartially, he would find more and more his mind drawn to the fact that it may be through some form of sharing of profits that he would be able to find the solution to a great many of these problems which we have been discussing this afternoon.
The question of the young men was raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorbals. In the report of the Pilgrim Trust there was this phrase:Democracy has failed to capture the imagination of the ounger men"—They are talking about the young men out of work—A phychological as well as a material appeal is needed.If one reads these reports and the extra-Parliamentary reports, what must strike one all the time in all of them is, that the position of the unemployed is not just a challenge to the capitalist system. If it was I do not think it would be of very great consequence. What is far more important is, that it is a challenge to the whole democratic system. You cannot go on talking to people about the defence of liberty and of freedom. It is absolute cant and humbug to talk about that as long as you have economic insecurity deadening the majority of our people. The hon. Gentleman said that we all now used nice words for unpleasant facts. We all talk about economic insecurity. What we mean is industrial slavery. We must be able to overcome that in the minds of the people. They know it every day. They go to draw their wages each Friday, and have not the slightest idea that, perhaps after 25 years' service, they will not 1873 be wanted back on the following Monday. What is the use of defending democracy until you are able to convince them that democracy can work and does work and provides them with the sort of livelihood they want and cannot get under any other system.
I cannot see why the Government cannot really come forward and give our people the psychological aims for which this report on unemployment asks. Why not? Our people want it. They believe in this democratic system. How much longer are they going to go on believing it, I sometimes wonder? I would ask my right hon. Friend not to neglect the psychological side of the problem. I cannot see anything to be said for modern methods of industry; there is nothing to be said for mass production unless the surplus energy which is released can find its outlet in other ways. Driven all the time into the background by this ghastly mcahinery is the real fundamental idea of work—that it gives man an opportunity to create things and to express his own individuality. I cannot believe that it passes our comprehension and out wit in 1938, with all our inventive power and with this tremendous production and outpouring of wealth, somehow to assure and give to our people a fairer and fuller life, which all deserve but which so few enjoy.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
Having sat here during the two previous Debates on this question, I welcome the opportunity of being able to make a few observations. I want to congratulate the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Cartland) on making a serious contribution to a Debate on a serious question. During his speech I was reminded of a man whom I met on Saturday morning. This man, one of the finest craftsmen I have ever known, was heartbroken. On Friday evening, after having served one of the largest firms in this country for many years, he was discharged. He asked, "What chance have I, being a man round about 60?" and went on to tell me how one trouble was following another. He told me that his wife had been in hospital for many weeks and had had to have a leg taken off below the knee. The tragedy behind that man's life is typical of the lives of the people for whom we speak.
I want to deal with and analyse the report for a short time. I welcome these 1874 reports for three specific reasons. They provide this country with a mirror of the social conditions under which thousands of our fellow-countrymen are living, and show the need for a more generous policy in regard to the question of unemployment. They represent centuries of steady development of the social consciousness of the people of this country which very largely has been developed by the trade union movement. They enable us to contrast the difference between the treatment in this country and the treatment in certain other countries which certain hon. Members of this House, judging by the people with whom they are associated, would like to introduce into this country. These reports enable us to contrast the treatment in this country, where we have been able to maintain our relative freedom, with the way in which people have been treated under the Goering plan in countries like Germany and such places. In Germany, according to the official figures and statements, they have dealt with the question of unemployment, but men and women under the Goering plan have been brutally treated in that country; thousands have been wiped out, and thousands of men of our kind have been driven into slave camps, and thousands of girls of our class have been driven to be the servants and the maids of the people in that particular country. These reports provide us with a clear mirror of the social conditions under which thousands of our fellow-countrymen are living.
I would like the Minister, first of all, to turn to page 20 in the report of the Unemployment Assistance Board, where, at the bottom of the page, it says:Wages are not determined primarily, if at all, by reference to the family responsibilities of the earner.Surely, the logic of that statement is that, within reason, wages should not prejudice the fixing of benefits. Family responsibility should determine the scales of benefit, and the scales of benefit should not be prejudiced by low wages. The logic of this statement in the report is that the State should set an example, which should be that it is not prepared to fix benefits and allowances in accordance with the low wages paid in certain areas. The time has arrived when the Government should be prepared to fix the scale higher than it is at the present time. The next page to which I want to ask 1875 the right hon. Gentleman to turn is page 24, where it points out that Coronation payments were made. I congratulate the Board and the Minister on making those increased payments and allowances during the Coronation celebrations. That was an example of good will, but surely, if it was right to apply that principle during that period, it is equally right to apply it in other circumstances. I would ask the Minister to consult the Board with a view to applying the same principle at Christmas time, in particular. During Christmas time there is an atmosphere of good will abroad. In working class districts, in particular, it is common for mothers and fathers to provide the children with a little extra and for people in families to have extras and to give presents. Therefore, I ask that in future the principle that was applied during the Coronation celebrations should be applied at Christmas. When the more favourably circumstanced in the country are enjoying themselves and are buying presents and having extras, surely, it is not asking too much that the unemployed of the country should also have an opportunity of participating in that atmosphere of good will that prevails at Christmas time.
On page 56 of the report I find that the Board welcome the volunteer welfare services, which have been developed in certain parts of the country. I do not welcome these voluntary services too much, for while it is good within very narrow limits, it becomes very dangerous to suggest that they should be encouraged to the extent that the Board is suggesting. Our people are too good for charity. They do not ask for charity, but for what they are entitled to—the right to live. Therefore, the scale which has been fixed by the Board and the Government is too low and ought to be increased, and the people ought not to have to depend upon charity for extra benefits. I now turn to pages 116 and 117 and deal with my own area in particular. The area with which these pages deal is more highly mechanised in the mining industry than is any other area in the country. I congratulate the officer, whoever he is, upon taking such an objective view of the conditions in this area. This is what he states:Unfortunately, however, there is, as yet, no evidence to show that in the mining areas 1876 the improvement has enabled a return to employment to be secured by the elderly class of applicants and it still appears very doubtful whether any large numbers of miners over the age of 45 years who have been unemployed for some time will be fortunate enough to be reabsorbed into that industry during its present stage of mechanisation and intensification of working conditions.There has been a shortage of labour in the collieries but comparatively few of the Board's applicants are fit to be reabsorbed in this industry.Here we have an officer of the Board taking an objective view of the conditions prevailing in this area, and having the courage to give an accurate picture of the conditions in his report. Seeing that the area has been highly mechanised and that the coal proprietors are making the profits that they are, that the nation as a whole is benefited as the result of mechanisation and the intensification in the coal industry, surely it is not asking too much to demand that men over 45 should not be left, as they are now, to become the victims of these conditions. On page 127 of the report the officer states:The close co-operation with the N.S.P.C.C. inspectors mentioned in my report for 1936 has been continued.I resent that passage very much. There ought to be no co-operation between the inspectors of an organisation of that kind and the officers responsible for looking after the dependants of men who come under the Unemployment Assistance Board. The unemployed love their children, and are as devoted to them as any people in this country. What happens is that the inspector comes down the street and immediately people are looking out behind the curtains wondering what he is coming for, and whose children he is coming to look after, and which parents he is going to interview to see whether they treat their children properly. I want the Minister to make an inquiry and to see that co-operation of that kind is not continued.
The next point to which I wish to allude is the attack that is going on on the social services. I see signs of its growing in the country, supported by hon. Members in certain parts of the House. I have here a quotation from the financial columns of the "Evening Standard" of 27th April, 1937, which says:The time has arrived when a reconsideration should be made of the extent of the social services in this country.
§ Mr. Smith
I do not forget, after what happened in 1931, that these are the papers which first give the lead, which is followed afterwards by people on the other side. This is another statement from the same paper, written by the Financial Editor:Very few have the courage to say that social services have to be cut down. Defence should come first. Social services, except for the halt and the blind and the small children, should be cut and cut.It is because I realise that there is a growing demand for the cutting of the social services that I am raising the issue in order that the Labour movement may bring this question into the open, so that our own people can see what many people are thinking.
Whatever financial people are saying about cutting the social services, the Prime Minister has stated time and time again that he does not want to cut them.
§ Mr. Smith
I remember that in 1931 similar statements were made, and it was the unemployed who suffered first and who suffered chiefly, and the unemployed are still suffering owing to the introduction of the means test in 1931. Then have here a letter from a man who says he has worked down the pit for nearly 40 years:I have been unemployed for nearly eight years and I put a change form in because of my change of circumstances for the holiday week, to tell them that my son and daughter had no wages that week, so I got a form in a book. Nine and sixpence for the first week and 13s for the second week. Without any wages and 9s. 6d. on the Friday. So I want you to say something about that 13s. in the House.Then I read about a coalowner leaving £1,400,000. I am sorry the Noble Lady has gone out, because I was going to read something from yesterday's "Observer." We see there how the people for whom she speaks enjoy life. Cruises to Egypt costing £75, £80 and £85. There is a sale on in London and this is what is being charged for coats at this sale—£130, £100, £170. Then I see certain people arriving at this House in Rolls Royces and see the way they dine and wine at different times. Do not misunderstand me; I am not a killjoy. I like to see people enjoying themselves. But when I come to 1878 contrast the life of these people with that of the people that we belong to, of the men who work in the mines and who have made this country what it is, I feel that I should not be doing my duty here if I did not call attention to that contrast. I want to join hon. Members in saying that this is a great country, and it has been made great by the people we belong to, by the miners who have toiled in the bowels of the earth during the past hundred years, by the craftsmen on the North-East coast, on the Clyde and elsewhere. The time has arrived when we ought to call on all progressive-minded people in this country to weld themselves together in order that these conditions should be abolished. They cannot be defended by any thinking man in this House. Hon. Members, like the Member for King's Norton, should have the courage to ignore the Whips and join with us in saying that there is no longer any excuse for men and women who are as good as any in the land existing on the small allowances and benefits which they now receive.
In conclusion, my two points are these. My hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) has told me that at different times he has had the privilege of meeting the Minister of Labour on a certain day in the week when this is what he hears: "Suffer little children to come unto me"; "I am my brother's keeper"; "Do unto others as you would that they should do unto you." I am not raising this in a personal sense, but what I do say is that people who believe such things as that ought not to be satisfied with preaching, but when they have the opportunity of translating those ideas into concrete reality it is their duty to use the whole of their influence with the Government to see that it is done. Therefore, I would ask the Minister to go to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet and say that the time has arrived when benefits should be increased. We cannot any longer ask people to exist on the pittances which they now receive. In the second place, while that is being done, let the Minister come to the House with some constructive proposals, such as the setting up of an economic council that will investigate the whole position in this country and make constructive suggestions, in order that as soon as possible there should be no longer any need for people to have to sign on at Unemployment Exchanges 1879 and to go before the Board. We ought to be able to organise life in this country in such a way that everybody can have an opportunity of playing his part in life.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Major Braithwaite
I think that every private Member in the House has reason to be grateful for the work of the Minister of Labour during the past year. I do not remember a time during my experience of this House when the Ministry of Labour has worked with the efficiency and the courtesy that we have known during the past year, and I am very grateful to the Minister for all that he has done in any matter that has arisen in my constituency, which has been handled very well indeed. Nobody in the country is satisfied with the position of employment. I take a very grave view of the future unless something substantial is done during the next few months. We are now carrying out a vast armament programme, yet we have a volume of unemployment which is quite frightening to every one of us. We have great industries, which to-day should be prosperous, rapidly declining. Some reference has been made to the coal trade. In Yorkshire the coal trade is worse than it has been for very many years. The textile industry is probably at its lowest ebb for the last five or six years. Therefore, we have a volume of unemployment being built up in times of apparent prosperity. When the problem of rearmament has been fully dealt with, I do not see what we are going to do, unless some bold steps are taken by the Government.
I am also gravely alarmed at the disappearance of labour from the land. Some 22,000 young men under the age of 21 have left the land this year for work in the towns, where there is already an unemployment problem which is in itself of a frightening nature. The problem of unemployment must be associated with the problem of agriculture. There is no wealth in the country, in my opinion, except the land. Industries come and go, individuals and businesses come and go, but the land remains as a stable thing for all time. I am convinced that we cannot support an industrial population in this country unless steps are taken to see that at least I,000,000 people are employed on the land. We cannot discuss that question 1880 this afternoon, but there was some reference in the report of the Commissioner for the Special Areas in which he said that he proposed to establish 1,000 families on the land by the autumn of 1938. I should like to know how far that proposal has got, if it has been advanced at all, and whether steps are being taken to deal with that problem. There is a vast opportunity, if the House will grapple with it, for putting back substantial numbers of people on the land, and I hope that the Minister of Labour will exercise some of the wide powers that he has for the resettlement on the land of people who may be unemployed.
There is another problem which is exercising the minds of everybody who thinks about unemployment, and that is the increasing mechanisation of practically every industry in the country, which is making inroads into the employment of our people, and the effect of which cannot be neglected. Where machines displace labour, surely there must be some sort of co-ordinating system for dealing with the unemployment that may be created. A man may work in industry, 20, 30 or 40 years when suddenly something comes along which takes his trade from him and he has no way of getting it back again. There ought to be some system for dealing with cases of that kind.
§ Major Braithwaite
I think the Minister of Labour ought seriously to consider what is to be done in those cases. It is not a question for individual suggestion but for Government examination to see what can be done to deal with a social system of that sort which creates anomalies. It does not apply merely to this country. I have been in the United States of America recently, where I saw a volume of unemployment that was staggering. There are 12,000,000 people there, without the social amenities that we have in this country, struggling in the labour market for jobs. Surely, when we can devise, as we have devised, the finest social conditions in the world, it is not outside our power to amplify that system and deal in this small island of ours with these problems that arise, having regard to our great scope as an industrial nation. I am beginning to wonder where are the real advantages of governing an Empire 1881 in connection with our Imperial trade, when we see so many people unemployed here. I am wondering whether the exchange of commodities between the various parts of the Empire is as advantageous to the people of this country as it is for the other people. A serious examination of the exchange of commodities will have to be undertaken before many years are past.
The Minister of Labour has been making an inquiry into the position of domestic servants, and I should like to know how far he has gone in reconstructing that service. I am very seriously concerned to find that thousands of Germans and Austrians have planted themselves right in the heart of our military camps at Aldershot, and in the naval bases at Portsmouth.
§ Major Braithwaite
Yes, thousands. I am gravely concerned about it. There may be no ulterior motive, but I think it needs the consideration of the Government.
§ Mr. Brown
I cannot allow that statement to go unchallenged. The admission of aliens under the Aliens Act is a matter for the Home Office. If it is a question of an alien desiring employment here, each case is dealt with on its merits, after the Minister of Labour has examined the precise facts. There can be no foundation for a statement of the kind made by the hon. and gallant Member.
§ Major Braithwaite
I shall have to ask the Minister of Labour for particulars, because my information shows that quite a number of people have collected in these districts. Perhaps some have gone first and then others have joined them. I view the situation there with alarm, and as a public representative I want the fullest possible inquiry. There is a wide field for service in domestic work, and I hope the Minister of Labour will develop it. I have always felt, however, that there should be some definite standards so that the employment could be made more congenial than it is in many cases. I hope this matter will be dealt with by the Minister in the very near future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has suggested that we who are associated with the coal-mining 1882 industry are not paying fair wages. I know that my hon. Friend has very precise knowledge on many matters in connection with unemployment, but I think he will appreciate that, so far as a regulated industry goes, both ourselves and the trade union leaders have organised the coal-mining industry on as steady a basis for wages as any other industry in the country. The fact that there is not enough business which sometimes reduces wages, is no fault of the industry. As far as we can, we have made it a practical possibility in the coal-mining industry to have a minimum reasonable rate of wages, with opportunities for very substantial wages to be paid. Therefore, I quarrel with the hon. Member when he says that the coal-owners and those conducting collieries have been in any way heartless towards their employés. In many cases we have taken the greatest care of those we employ, and we have tried to do the best we can to make the industry better for those engaged in it.
In conclusion, I would ask the Minister whether anything has been done in regard to the training of young people in agricultural pursuits.
§ Mr. E. Brown
I regret to say that although we made a very big effort, it was our one failure in the sphere of labour.
§ Major Braithwaite
I hope that a failure years ago will not deter my right hon. Friend in future. He has courage and persistence, and I hope that he will not be deterred from looking into that field, which has such prospects for the future. Full opportunities ought to be given for young people in the open air to be trained properly. I do not mean trained in a half-hearted way. They must be shown the use of the most modern methods of agriculture, the use of tractors, the internal combustion engine, the production of stock in the most scientific way. They must not be just put on to an allotment and allowed to grow cabbages. That is not proper training. Agricultural schools should be established where unemployed young people could learn fully the proper ways of agriculture. There are many jobs available, and there will be more in the future, because as surely as this great industrial age goes on, more and more people will be forced to rely for their permament employment on the 1883 land. I hope that whatever failures there may have been in the past, my right hon. Friend will persevere and that any new schemes he may try will be crowned with success. My right hon. Friend has been a very great friend to the unemployed of this country, and his administration of his great office will rank as one of the finest that we have seen for many years.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Richards
Several hon. Members on the Government side view with considerable dismay, as we do, the future of industry in this country and the administration of the unemployment problem. An attempt has been made this afternoon to distinguish between the unemployed and unemployment. We are not discussing the problem of unemployment to-day; we are discussing the treatment that is meted out by the Unemployment Assistance Board to the unfortunate people who happen to be unemployed. I have been very much struck in the various Debates we have had concerning unemployment by the fact that the Minister is always apparently full of complacency, and equal to the occasion. I am wondering whether when he replies to-night he will have altered his temperament or whether he will, as he has so often done, appear to be master of the situation. He reminds me of a character in fiction very cleverly outlined by the late G. K. Chesterton when he drew the character of Napoleon of Notting Hill. Whatever was adverse in Notting Hill, Napoleon was always able to get out of the difficulty extremely well.
When the right hon. Gentleman speaks we are almost driven to the conclusion that this is the first time that this problem has been handled, and that it is being dealt with by his supremely successful efforts. I suggest very humbly that the Unemployment Assistance Board is just the old Poor Law again, under another name. There is a strange likeness between the Poor Law in the old days and the Unemployment Assistance Board as it is administered to-day. It is a fine piece of organisation, looked at purely from the administrative point of view. But this problem is essentially a human problem. We must approach it from that point of view and not be put off our stride, so to speak, by the fact that administratively it is perhaps rather a successful experiment. 1884 We must consider the men, women and children who are the subjects of this fine piece of administration. We have simplified the problem of unemployment from the point of view of mere administration. We have cut off a large section of the unemployed and left the administration of their wants to the Unemployment Assistance Board, a central board.
The argument was this. Local authorities, it was said, were overwhelmed by the magnitude and difficulty of the problem. May I remind the Minister that the same argument was used 100 years ago, and even as far back as 300 years ago. The argument for the introduction of the Poor Law Board was that the magnitude of the problem of the unemployed in the sixteenth century was so great that local authorities could not deal with it. The Unemployment Assistance Board are taking too much credit to themselves when they say that never before has this problem been the subject of centralised control. It has been the subject of centralised control under much the same conditions right throughout. In the days of Queen Elizabeth it was the Privy Council; and 100 years ago it was the Poor Law Board. You have an exact analogy of that board in the Unemployment Assistance Board at the present time. In the case of the Privy Council it worked in those days through the local magistrates, with Quarter Sessions as a sort of intermediary. One hundred years ago you had the Poor Law Board in London, and elected boards of guardians who know something of the conditions of the poor in their area. Now, instead of elected boards of guardians dealing with the problem and assisting the local officers, you have advisory committees selected very largely by the Unemployment Assistance Board itself. Consequently, I say that this feature of centralised control does not represent anything which is really new.
Let me carry the matter a little further. Three Commissioners were appointed 100 years ago, and they were variously known as the Napoleons of Somerset House or the three Bashaws of Somerset House. All that we have done is to increase the number of Napoleons, and instead of having three, we have five or six. May I point out another curious coincidence? The Napoleon of the three, 100 years ago, was a Welshman who had been a Member of this House of the name of Thomas 1885 Lewis. It is significant that we have still a Welshman of the name of Thomas among the Commissioners who are administering the Board at the moment. That shows that the analogy is very nearly complete. The old Poor Law Board worked through the boards of guardians who were elected locally but whose policy was ultimately controlled from London. The Board sent out from time to time regulations controlling the activities of the local guardians. What does the report say about the attitude of the present Board:The Board have sought to meet the difficulty by means of general directions"—That is the old Poor Law regulations over again.issued from time to time, and by their organisation under which local officers immediately concerned with assessment, are kept in contact with headquarters through the medium of district and regional officers.Exactly the same point was emphasised 100 years ago. We heard from the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) that the principle upon which the Unemployment Assistance Board are working is the principle of less eligibility. Speaking of the able-bodied person the report says:His situation on the whole shall not be made really or apparently so eligible as the situation of the independent labourer of the lowest class. … It is obviously against good policy that an able-bodied person when out of work and dependent on public funds for support should be as well off as, or indeed better off than, he would he when in work. It would inevitably tend to weaken the incentive to secure work.One hundred years ago they were rather more frank and, I think, on the whole more interesting.
§ Mr. Richards
I agree with my hon. Friend. The same principle was applied 100 years ago, and an assistant commissioner was sent out and reported on the results of this principle. He said:New life, new energy is infused into the contribution of the pauper. He is aroused like one from sleep. His relation with his neighbours high and low is changed; he surveys his former employer with new eyes. He begs a job—he will not take a denial. He discovers that every one wants something to be done. He desires to make up this man's hedges, to clear out another man's ditches, to grub stumps out of a hedgerow for a third. Nothing can escape his eye. He is ready to turn his hand to anything.1886 I suggest that the same vicious principle is here; to give just as little as is possible. Every expert on nutrition knows that the amount given nowadays is thoroughly inadequate for the purposes of nutrition, let alone from the humanitarian point of view. The report emphasises the fact that in the course of the year there was a change over quite easily from the standstill order to the present conditions. I do not think there was any difficulty in doing so in a country with the Civil Service which we have got. There was no difficulty in effecting a transition of that kind, but, of course, the Board felt that there might be some difficulty, and, consequently, they appointed advisory committees in order, I suppose, to temper the wind to the shorn lamb. It is interesting again to watch the work of these advisory committees. We have heard that their activities have been employed chiefly in two directions—in easing the transition where a change is necessary, and in making special regulations for rural areas. This is what the report says with regard to the rural areas:In accordance with the regulation which provides for adjustments of the allowances of such applicants so as to have regard to the economy of life recognised in rural localities, the question of these adjustments was considered by the various advisory committees concerned. Generally their recommendations were to the effect that their allowances should be restricted by reference to the agricultural rates of wages fixed for the district.Anyone who has any knowledge of rural boards of guardians knows that throughout the last century this was the governing factor in giving relief to people in the countryside—he must not get as much as those engaged in agriculture; and that is the principle which is enshrined in this report.
Let me refer to one other question which, however, is a fundamental question. The Board admits that it has a duty to consider need, and to consider need only; consequently it finds itself up against this difficulty, that occasionally, having regard only to need, it has to pay in allowances or benefit more than the recipient would earn by working. That, of course, shows a great flaw in our present industrial system. After 100 years of industrial revolution this so-called capitalist system can only give people less than enough to keep them alive. That is a condemnation of the present system, and it points to the fact 1887 that poverty is the problem, and that unemployment is only a part of it. I suggest that we are not dealing adequately with the problem. We have removed it from the jurisdiction of local authorities and have established some kind of autocratic power in London to deal with it. To me they do not appear to be dealing with it any better than it has been dealt with in the course of the last 100 years.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
The hon. Member began his speech by describing the attitude of the Minister of Labour as one of complacency. That is a rather unfortunate word to use in regard to the right hon. Member in view of the tireless energy he has shown throughout his term of office as Minister of Labour. If the hon. Member had used the word "confidence" it would have been more suitable because the right hon. Gentleman always gives the impression that he is on top of his job, understands it and is going to make a success of it. My right hon. Friend should gain particular satisfaction from the remarks of the last speaker when he pointed out that this new Unemployment Assistance Board, which when it was introduced was described by hon. Members opposite as the most revolutionary thing ever heard of, is nevertheless based upon one of the oldest traditions of this country, which has been tried throughout the centuries and apparently proved successful. The right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) made an interesting assumption, a rather dangerous assumption, I thought. He said, let us suppose that the Labour party while they were in office were the worst Government ever; the question now was whether the present Government had made any better shape of the matter.
I suggest that an unprejudiced examination of the facts must indicate that, whatever may be the shortcomings of the present Government on unemployment and the treatment of the unemployed, they have done something immeasurably greater than any of their predecessors. The number of unemployed is much less than it was when hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite were in power. [An HON. MEMBER: "It will not be for long."] Hon. Members are better judges of the future than I am. I am replying to the right hon. Gentleman 1888 the Member for Bow and Bromley, and I say that, on the first test of numbers, the number of those employed is greater and the number of those unemployed is very much smaller than they were when hon. and right hon. Gentlemen were in office. The scale of allowances for unemployed persons is higher. That is a considerable achievement, and I do not think anybody will deny that——
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
The hon. Member says that the scale of unemployment allowances is higher. Will he please turn to page 154 of the report, in which the area officers for South Wales report that last year the Unemployment Assistance Board completed the enormous task of reducing the unemployed in South Wales from the higher public assistance standard to the Board's standard. How does the hon. Member square that with his statement that the allowances are higher?
I am satisfied that whatever may have been done by any of the hon. Member's friends operating the scheme in South Wales, as far as the Government's scales and contributions are concerned, they are much higher now than they were before. I want now to deal with a matter that was raised by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), He said he had great suspicion of the new inquiry about to be made by the Unemployment Assistance Board. The hon. Member made a number of charges which I think were very unfair. He said that in such an inquiry there ought to be clear terms of reference, but in this case there were none. He said that in such an inquiry the evidence ought to be taken in public, but that this was to be taken in secret, and so on. Altogether, he felt that the inquiry was something that ought not to be done, or to be countenanced by the House. I have the greatest admiration for the hon. Member's knowledge of this problem, and when he speaks on unemployment, I realise that I am in the presence of a master of the subject; but I feel that on this occasion, he has been less than just even to those whom he claims to represent. The Board make it plain in their report that:There is a growing recognition of the danger of discussing problems of unemployment on the assumption that the unemployed are a more or less homogeneous class.There is the obvious preliminary danger, that, in talking of the unemployed as 1889 numbering 1,800,000, the ordinary person who does not study figures assumes that this means a mass of people, poor, wretched men and women, week after week and year after year, standing in undiminished numbers in the unemployment queue. The briefest examination of the figures set out in the report shows that it is only a small percentage of the unemployed who are there week after week, month after month, year after year. On page 71 it is shown that, of the unemployed persons for whom the Board are responsible, 67 per cent., or nearly 7 out of every 10, have been unemployed for less than—and most of them much less than—one year. That is an example of the first misunderstanding that occurs. The Board go further, and say that:While as a matter of general observation most of the causes of unemployment are known, there is at present no satisfactory evidence to show, in respect of the Board's applicants, what is their relative importance;that is to say, the importance of the causes of unemployment. Surely, the Committee ought to address itself without humbug to the causes of unemployment among those people who are on the Board's lists! The report goes on to say:For example, it is known that apart from general economic causes some men are unemployed for reasons that are capable of immediate remedy"—Is it suggested that we should not find out what those causes are?—such as attention to eyesight or guidance as to the direction in which work should be sought; others because of apathy, wrong upbringing or general physical defects"—Those are not cases of "workshys"; they are all causes to which no suspicion can be attached—Others again because of disinclination to work.The Board are servants of the House and the country. They have the duty of finding out what is the importance of one cause as against another. Their report goes on:The Board suggested, therefore, that attention should be given in the first instance to applicants of 30 years of age or under.Why take the age of 30 years? They have to set some limit to the inquiry. They have 500,000 persons, or more, on their lists, and obviously they cannot look into all those cases at the same time. They have to begin somewhere, and very 1890 properly they do so among the younger men. They give not only the specific terms of reference, but they give good reasons for so doing. The hon. Member for Gorbals wanted the inquiry to sit in public, but I do not think the applicants would like that. With great respect to the hon. Member, the unemployed men with whom I have been in contact would strongly resent their affairs being discussed in public and reported in the local Press, with details of the condition of their homes, how much is contributed by the mother, the father, the brother, and so on. Those are things for the most private examination.
The report continues:With the willing assent of the Advisory Committees arrangements have been made for applicants to be seen individually by members of the committees with a view to ascertaining, if possible"—these are the terms of reference—the reason of the prolonged unemployment; to record the conclusions; and, if useful steps can at once be taken, to recommend them.Those are the terms of reference and the reasons for them; and there is the exact object of holding the inquiry, namely, to frame recommendations for the better treatment of these unfortunate young men. Reference has been made to "workshys." Hon. Members on this side have been taunted for having raised that matter. I will be frank to the Committee. I do not attach undue seriousness to that matter, and I admit that, when compared with the state of millions of people in his country, this problem is a small one. Nevertheless, it is important. The other day, at St. Andrews, at the annual conference of the public health officers of Scotland, I met some of those who are handling this problem—town councillors, provosts, many of them Labour party men—and we discussed with complete frankness the problem of these young men. There are not many of them, it may be that there are some thousands; but the number is large enough to disturb the Board and to disturb those skilled men. These young men have grown up to a life of idleness, many of them have never worked at all, and for one reason or another they now refuse to work. Hon. Members opposite, many of whom have responsibilities on 1891 these local committees, cannot say that that statement can be put aside as mere prejudice. As a Scotsman, I regard it as a most serious matter that fellowcountrymen of mine are being allowed to continue a life of idleness of that nature. Of course, hon. Members may say that the solution is to find work for them, and I agree; but some of these young men refuse to work, and the statements which were made to me by these experts in Scotland were to the effect that these young men not only refuse to work, but do great harm to themselves in their idleness. That is not something which can be treated lightly.
That is no answer. If they do not receive benefit from one source they get it from another.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
Hon. Members opposite talk about the "workshys." Have they never heard of the "workshys" in their own circles?
I would address exactly the same criticism to the rich "workshys" as I do to the poor "workshys." I want now to ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour a question on an entirely different matter. I think it is in order for me to refer to trading estates, since they come under the Ministry of Labour. I have seen all three trading estates. I have examined carefully the trading estates in Wales and Scotland, and I have seen in a slightly more hurried way that in the North-East of England. In Scotland, the trading estate has been a great success, and I wish to offer unqualified congratulations to the Government for the work they have done in that direction. I do not know what is the situation in regard to the trading estate in South Wales—no doubt hon. Members opposite will be able to give me some information on that—but I know that in Scotland the creation of a trading estate on the Clyde has had an unfortunate effect on the trade of other parts of Scotland. New enterprises have been attracted to Glasgow and the Clyde which might otherwise have gone to other parts of the country, and I feel that, now that the trading estate idea has proved so satisfactory, the Government ought, without delay, to extend the plan to other 1892 parts of the country as well. One hon. Member opposite complained that training facilities are not offered to unemployed men in Cornwall, and in places other than Special Areas or depressed areas. I make the same complaint with regard——
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The hon. Member is now getting outside the matters which may be discussed on this occasion. This question arises on a Vote that is not before the Committee on this occasion.
I am sorry if I have transgressed the Ruling, but I have made my point, which is that my right hon. Friend should consider the extension of these trading estates to other parts of the country. I conclude by saying that my right hon. Friend has had much and almost continual criticism during his career at the Ministry of Labour. He has had a stormy occupation of that office, and many a time I have felt sorry for him; but looking at him now—I hope he has entirely recovered his health—and seeing the success which has attended his efforts, I feel we need never have commiserated with him, for he obviously enjoys himself best of all when he is most fiercely attacked. I hope that he will long be spared to occupy his tempestuous but important office.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Pearson
The Debate has ranged over a wide area and interesting contributions have been made from all parts of the Committee. With regard to the longterm policy of the Government and the solution of the unemployment problem, various contributions have been made, which I do not intend to dwell upon now, because I feel that our main business today is to consider the report of the Unemployment Assistance Board for the past year. The report is a particularly interesting one, but I do not think it gives the whole picture. It is only natural that a report from any Department should give the best side of that Department's administration but this report really deals with the lives of men, women and children; it deals with the lot of those whom we may term the "submerged tenth" of our population, and I wish to say a few words in reference to some aspects of this problem, about which the people who come under the administration of the Unemployment Assistance Board feel very keenly.
1893 I direct the attention of hon. Members to the earnings rule. Nothing calls forth greater or more unanimous disapprobation from the unemployed and from the population generally, apart from political aspects altogether, than the operation of this earnings rule. I believe that something real could be done to ease this problem by making a more generous personal allowance. There is a rule which we in South Wales know as the Nash rule and of which I think the Minister has been made aware by various deputations whereby the only amount taken into consideration in respect of earning members of a family is a 25s. boarding allowance and only a certain proportion of that, not more than 5s. is the amount taken into consideration as "household resources."
In some of the areas which have suffered most severely from unemployment the past year has been a particularly black period. I know that the Minister will claim that many of those who come within the ambit of the Regulations have received increases. He has a right to that claim, but at the same time we know hundreds who during the past 12 months have had to suffer deductions of anything from 5s. to 26s. per week. There has been a severe cut which is causing a great deal of misgiving among all sections of the population in hard-hit areas like South Wales. Resolutions have been passed by ministers of religion a special conference of the Church of Wales has passed resolutions; local authorities have passed resolutions, all imploring the Government to do something in this matter, but up to the present these appeals, like our appeals, have fallen on deaf ears. I wish to-night to reinforce that plea very earnestly. I ask the Government to see that a smaller amount of the money which is brought in by the earning members of the household is taken into consideration as "resources" in connection with the household means test.
There is another method now being pursued which is in my opinion parsimonious in the extreme. Suppose that the wife of an unemployed man with a family of growing children seeks to make a little contribution to the family income by taking in a lodger. The lodger means at most an addition of is. 6d. or 2s. a week to the family income. As soon as she takes in the lodger, the Unemployment Assistance Board uses that as an excuse for reducing the allowance to her husband. 1894 I ask hon. Members to mark the fact that the effort of that wife is made solely in order to buy some clothes and boots and things like that for the kiddies. I think the Government might very well sweep overboard a rule of that kind. It shows a spirit of parsimony to treat in such a way people who are merely trying to do something to ease the family burden and make the lot of the children a little less severe. Again, the treatment of the single man under these Regulations calls for the serious attention of the Board. The allowances to single men have been reduced in many hundreds of cases from 17s. to 15s., and there are very few people prepared to take them into lodging for what they can afford to pay out of 15s. These men are very severely affected.
What are these unemployed people asking? They are asking to be treated in such a way that they can retain their dignity and their self-respect, but under present conditions the temptation to lose those important virtues is very severe, and some of the people affected are coming very near the precipice. I ask hon. Members to consider this instance. A young man of 23 whose family I know personally, to be solid, respectable people, came to Slough when his father fell out of employment and got work in one of the factories there. A slack period ensued and he was discharged. He could not afford to remain in London so he returned home and signed the register at Pontypridd. After a time employment was offered to him, but of what character? As an ice-cream seller. Far be it from me to say that ice-cream selling is a dishonourable occupation. I do not want to say that at all. But ice-cream selling is looked upon in our locality as the very last thing which one would take on, and this young lad, belonging to a respectable home, turned down the offer of this employment as not being suitable to him. His unemployment allowance was stopped and, on appeal, the referees confirmed the decision. Fifteen lads were offered that employment and one accepted.
I suggest that a better sense of discretion ought to be shown by the Unemployment Assistance Board in cases of that kind. One ought to put oneself in the position of that young man. If I were offered a job at ice-cream selling and told that I must take it or lose my unemployment allowance, my reply would be that I would sooner starve than take it. There 1895 is, as I say, a sense of dignity and self-respect about these families who are suffering from unemployment, and they do not want to see their sons forced into employment of that sort and offered the choice between taking it and being deprived of their allowance. In this particular case the family consists of the father who is unemployed, the wife, and one child in addition to this son, and the result is that there is 17s. a week less going into that home. But they would suffer that loss rather than that the son should take that employment. In my opinion a lad of this type ought not to be forced to take up such employment. The Employment Exchange might as well offer him newspaper-selling, and I suppose that will be done presently, in order to put these poor lads into the position of having to make an unfortunate choice of the kind I have described. I suggest that something can be done to deal with cases of this kind inside the existing legislation. We are dealing here with the Regulations and in administering the Regulations the Minister and the Department can do much to ease the burden which falls upon those whom I have described as the "submerged tenth" of our population.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Stokes
I venture to speak to-night because the only reason for which I sought election to this Assembly was that I might contribute my mite to the cure of unemployment and the poverty that goes with it. I am aware that my hon. Friends above the Gangway on this side have probably greater experience and speak with greater authority than I can claim, but I have at least one advantage in common with them, and that is that I have for years worked with thousands of workpeople. I have learned to realise the difficulties and indeed the horrors which they have to face when there is a shortage of work—which seems to be inevitable at intervals, under this ridiculous boom-slump system to which so many people, apparently, have reconciled themselves.
I begin by making a special appeal to the Minister in dealing with things as they are. We all realise that the hardest-hit people, even when times are good and especially when prices are rising, are the unemployed, the very people whose unhappy lot we are considering. For a long time the principle 1896 of relief for unemployment has been accepted. Presumably, the scales of relief have been fixed according to some yardstick in relation to the cost of living. Is it therefore unreasonable to ask the Minister, within his existing powers, to make some arrangements to enable the relief which is meted out to fluctuate with the cost of living? I put it this way. If you are fortunate enough to be the owner of a racehorse you do not put the animal on short rations when the cost of fodder rises, and you do not allow your dog to go without its dinner because offals become dearer. People who are in regular employment have the means of eventually—though far too slowly I regret to say—securing an adjustment of their wages to meet a rise in costs. The only people who are left out in the cold when times are good and prices rise, are those very people who have no opportunity to work and who are living in enforced idleness.
I submit that no seasonal increase in scales of relief is satisfactory. In proof of that I would point out the very sudden rise in the retail price of milk which has just occurred at a time when milk is most plentiful. I know that the Milk Marketing Board has nothing to do with the Department of the Minister of Labour, but it is interesting to note that while the cost of milk has gone up to the consuming public, including the unemployed, the cost to the factories remains the same, 6½d. a gallon, and the chairman of the Milk Marketing Board himself told me that the factories could not afford to pay more. What about the unemployed who are already on an absurdly low scale? The British Medical Association's minimum diet in 1933 for male adults cost 5s. 10½d. a week in my constituency, but to-day it is over 8s. a week, an increase of 30 per cent. Further, we have made a very careful investigation into the whole question of malnutrition and the scale of living, and we have examined 35 budgets, including 13 budgets where the breadwinner was unemployed. These budgets have shown that there is not more than 4s. 3d. per week left for food and clothes per head of the family, and there is much Iess in winter, because that investigation was made in the summer months. I, therefore, appeal to the Minister to see whether he cannot do something to help these people. I will quote one more example as evidence that something must be done. I would remind 1897 him of the remark of the First Lord of the Admiralty, when he was Secretary of State for War, that 35 per cent. of the unemployed people coming forward as recruits to the Army were not up to standard or in a fit state to enlist, but that when they had had two or three weeks of good and proper feeding, they were quite up to standard again.
I want now to make a reference to that section of the report which deals with the people who this afternoon have been referred to on one or two occasions as "workshys," but who are referred to in the report as in receipt of assistance "because of their disinclination to work." I am bound to admit that my own experience has been limited very much to the well-off rather than to the poor, but to whichever category they belong, they are both surely a relic of our unfair and decaying system. I have listened on two occasions now to my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) speaking on this subject, and I was very much impressed by his speech about a fortnight ago. With him, I often wonder how much hon. Members opposite realise the degrading effect of continuous and enforced unemployment and the inferiority complex which arises when a man realises that civilisation really does not want him at all. This again is not a complex of which you find much among the idle rich. My own experience has been that I have had men coming to me time and time again wanting jobs, men who have been out of employment for a very considerable time and who have not known where to begin at all. It is not that they will not begin but that they really do not know how to start, and I would pay this tribute to the British working man—this is the first opportunity that I have had of doing it in this House—that never have I experienced an occasion where I have offered a man work that he was fit and capable of doing which he has refused to do. All that these men want is the opportunity to work and not to be supported by the State.
I listened to the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Cartland), who went more into the philosophic side of the problem, pointing out that it is not natural for man to work. I agree with him entirely, but I do not propose to follow him very deeply into that issue, except to say that while it is, I suppose, what the Noble Lady the Member for the 1898 Sutton Division (Viscountess Astor) would call the baser side of human nature, to my mind it is the finer side that work, as an end in itself, is no pleasure at all, but that a man must needs work to live. What all men need and have a right to is the opportunity to apply their efforts within the limits of their intelligence and physical capacity. The only reason they cannot do it is because we have this absurd system of restriction of opportunity, which is really no fault of theirs at all. What we want is more jobs than workers, but what we have now is more workers than jobs. If we could have more jobs than workers, the Minister of Labour could disappear altogether, and the workers would be able to sell their labour to the highest bidder.
I will not follow the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) into his dissertation on the question of family allowances, except to point out to him—I wish he was here now—that wherever else family allowances may come from, they certainly must come from the earnings of the workmen and cannot come from anywhere else. You cannot whistle and have them fall out of the clouds. There was one remark which the right hon. Gentleman made which I really cannot let pass without comment, and that was when he said, speaking of increases in families, that a new baby "is itself a cause of the creation of poverty." How tragically true; but what awful blasphemy! How can you reconcile that with the instruction to increase and multiply and populate the earth's surface? Does anybody in his senses really think that it was the Creator's intention that the arrival of a new baby should be the signal for more poverty? It is blasphemy of the worst kind, and it will persist as long as this restriction of opportunity in the interests of the few to the disadvantage of the many is allowed to continue.
I agree with what my right hon. Friend who opened the Debate said, that the Government are not tackling this problem in the right way. My attitude to the whole thing is that I would like to do away with the Minister of Labour altogether, at least in so far as his functions are those of chief distributor of legalised State charity. What we want is the opportunity to work, much as we dislike it; but do the Government really believe that there is a cure for unemployment? 1899 To assist the Minister in his researches, I will quote what Lord Baldwin, speaking at Bramham Park on 29th June, 1935, said:Unemployment is the worst enemy we have to fight, the most difficult. I have never promised and never will promise that I or any Government of which I am a member has a cure for unemployment.What a doctrine of despair. If I thought that, I should be sorely tempted to go out of this House and walk on to Tower Bridge and drop over the top. Listen to the present Prime Minister, who pinned his faith to tariffs and who in this House on 14th February, 1935, said:It must be clear to the House that the pace at which employment is going to be increased cannot be so hot in this fourth phase as it was in the earlier time, when we had the full effect of the transfer to British manufacturers of a considerable amount of trade which previously had been done by foreigners. At the same time I see no reason why we should not yet make a very considerable reduction in the figure of 2,000,000 of unemployed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, I4Th February, 1935; Cols. 2212–3, Vol. 297.]That was in 1935, and here we are, threeand-a-half years later, with rearmament in full swing, with pearly 2,000,000 able-bodied unemployed, and with our exports shrunk, which is the worst of all, by an average of over £250,000,000 a year. It seems to me to be evident from those figures that the Government do not really believe that unemployment is curable. I am convinced that it can be cured, and I think the people who think it cannot be cured and go on in public life are a menace to civilisation, because so long as this system which involves poverty continues, so long shall we be having wars breaking out and international strife such as we had from 1914 to 1918. I suggest that we should have no more patched-up Measures, and I would put this simile to the Minister. Supposing he had a child which suffered from a perisistent skin disease, would he be content with a doctor who merely gave him a lotion to apply to it and allowed the disease to go on? Surely he would insist on consulting a doctor who would examine the blood stream and find out really what was wrong. That is just what is wrong with the body politic to-day. The circulation is blocked at the source.
I know I should be out of order in putting forward a cure, but at least I want to offer to the Minister a yardstick 1900 whereby he can measure the extent to which a cure could be effected in this country alone. On another occasion in this House I referred to the extent to which land could be used in this country and to the reputed estimate that site values should yield a revenue of £500,000,000 a year. I suggest to the Minister that if he was to ascertain the extent to which the land does not yield that amount, he would get very near to an estimate of the extent to which unemployment could be cured by putting the land to proper use.
In conclusion, I would say that to be undeservedly poor is no crime, but for a nation to permit undeserved poverty is a crime which will surely bring with it its own Nemesis. In my view unemployment can be abolished simply by making full use of the resources of nature that we happen to have. May I conclude by quoting a passage from Tolstoy with which he ended one of his philosophical researches into the temporal ills of mankind which he decided were due to land monopoly:I would like to think that we landlord parasites, reared by and having received leisure for mental work through the people's labour, will understand our sin and, independently of our personal advantage, in the name of the truth that condemns us, will endeavour to undo it.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Boulton
I am glad to have an opportunity of intervening in this Debate, because the period under review has been the real testing time of the revised Regulations, and we can now speak with some practical experience of their working and of their effect. I propose to confine my remarks to my experience of the working of the Regulations, on which we have had many Debates from time to time. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, if I am not mistaken, will be able to give the Committee an impressive record of the steady and even remarkable progress that has been made in the alleviation of our greatest human problem. Whatever our political faith may be, or however critical we may have been in the past, or may be in the future on specific points, those of us who represent industrial constituencies must feel a profound sense of satisfaction—and no one more so, I imagine, than my right hon. Friend—at the continuous improvement that has taken place since 1931 in the conditions of the unemployed under 1901 the Unemployment Assistance Board—an improvement which, I venture to think, no one on this side of the Committee or those who sit opposite could ever have anticipated could have been accomplished in such a short period or with such smoothness.
When we read the Third Annual Report of the Unemployment Assistance Board a characteristically clear, human but candid document, and one that gives us much food for thought, the Board deserves a considerable amount of credit. We see in it, I believe, the true picture revealed of our individual constituencies. I can only speak for my own area, but those of us who have been in contact with this difficult problem ever since 1931 and have experienced the conditions that then existed, know full well that this report does not exaggerate, but, if anything, gives a modest account of the present position and of the conditions which are now being enjoyed. To take, for example, the scales: in spite of the necessary reductions that have had to be made, the average weekly payment was 24s. 7d. in December, 1931, as compared with 19s. in November, 1931. What is more important to my mind is the way in which the discretionary powers are now working—the human touch which they reveal, the additional help that is being given in kind to necessitous cases, and the care with which each case is now being investigated. This method, I am certain, has proved of inestimable value to the unemployed and to the officers who are responsible for the administration. It has, I believe, brought about a better understanding, and is largely responsible for the smoothness with which the machinery is now working.
I know from experience that applicants on the whole are well satisfied and are now looking to the Board in the light in which Parliament intended that they should. They are now realising that the Board exists to help them and has great discretionary powers to use for their benefit. If we take the question of reductions, a very difficult problem, I am informed that in my area that they have worked out reasonably well. I think that is perhaps so owing to the comparatively few complaints and appeals that have been made, which is evidence of the fair way in which these reductions have been dealt with. A measure of credit should be given, too, to the officers in the various 1902 areas for the success with which this colossal organisation has been carried through. When we remember the almost insuperable difficulties that have had to be overcome and, at times, the harsh criticisms and heated Debates that we have had in this House in the past, I think that we who represent industrial areas should give our honest experience, whether it be good or bad, and as one who has not been slow to criticise in the past in the House and behind the scenes, I am glad to-day to be able to pay my tribute. I am satisfied that I speak for the large majority of the unemployed in my constituency when I pay my tribute to the Government and to those who have been responsible for establishing this great organisation with such a human understanding of the needs of the unemployed.
When we go about the world and see what other countries have done we may feel proud of our efforts. I well remember a visit I paid to New York early in 1930, during which I talked with some business men who were closely in touch with affairs. We were talking very candidly, and they turned to me and said: "What is the matter with you in the old country? You are down and out. We think you must be mad, for no country can live and pay people to do nothing." I replied, "You may take it from me that we are not down and out yet. We may sometimes do things that apepar to be mad to those who do not understand our methods, but there is usually method in our madness, and we do not allow our people to starve. So far we have dealt with one of the most difficult problems that could face any country with some small measure of success, but if you think we are down and out and have gone out of our senses, it is you here in America who are helping us to regain our senses by forcing us to become a protectionist country owing to the impossibly high duties you are imposing against us. It means you are cutting your own throat, which is a greater form of madness, and it will not be long before Britain comes to her senses."
I asked, "What is your position? What are you doing about it?" They said, "We keep no record of the unemployed: they look after themselves." I said, "I wonder how long you will be able to continue in that way?" What is America doing to-day? We are told that imitation is the highest form of flattery. 1903 To-day America has introduced a vast scheme of unemployment assistance, based upon our model, which is a tribute to us and may be some source of satisfaction to the Unemployment Assistance Board. We have not had long to wait before the prophecy which I made came true, and I think every hon. Member opposite will, at any rate in his heart, think with me that Britain came to her senses in 1931. I am not claiming that Protection has been entirely responsible for our recovery, but I at least claim that it has materially assisted in bringing work to our people, and no one ought to appreciate that more than we who represent the industrial areas, for work, and work alone, is the only cure for the problem we are discussing to-day and it is on finding work that we shall have to concentrate now and in the future.
The practical results that we have achieved under the Unemployment Assistance Board have gone far to meet the hardships and the anomalies which existed before the revised Regulations were introduced, but that does not mean that we have yet solved the whole problem. The report draws attention to certain serious aspects concerning one or two sections of the unemployed. To my mind the most important concerns the men under 30 years of age who, by reason of the depression, were unable to find jobs on leaving school and who, owing to the provision made for them, have never really felt the anxiety, which their parents had before them, of having to find a job. They have been content to marry "on the dole." We cannot blame them entirely for that, but, as the report points out, they have gradually lost all ambition and become industrial wrecks. I have always maintained that under the great Unemployment Assistance Scheme, the younger people would be the most difficult problem.
The report on training centres, particularly with regard to the county of Durham, is disquieting reading. It gives us all food for thought, and I cannot help thinking that there is not an hon. Member, wherever he may sit, who does not feel with me that something must be done to lift these younger men out of their torpor and help them to realise that they, too, must do their part towards gaining a new and healthier outlook, acquiring greater self-respect and ambition. 1904 It is tragic to think that many of these young people have become reconciled to and content with their lot, living on a miserable pittance and bringing up children under such demoralising circumstances. Surely prudence alone, in the interest of our race, if for no other reason, demands that something should be done to alter these conditions. The fact that a man has not been used to certain work ought not to be a bar to that man being given a trial or his refusing such work. In numerous cases I have helped such young men to get into work and the results have been most gratifying.
It is up to my right hon. Friend and to Parliament to consider this urgent problem, and with the good will and co-operation of all parties I am sure that some policy could be devised whereby these younger men could be kept employed and thus help them to become more useful citizens, making their contribution to the State and throwing off that despondency which haunts their lives. Even if such a policy involved spending more money it would not be money wasted. I would much prefer to see some of the money we are spending to-day on less important undertakings spent on such an object as I have drawn attention to. I understand that the advisory committees, who have done such excellent work in connection with these Regulations, are investigating this position, and I hope that my right hon. Friend and the Parliamentary Secretary will pay close attention to what I believe to be one of the most serious aspects of the unemployment problem.
There are other difficulties and disquieting problems to which attention has been drawn in the report, with which all of us who know industrial areas are familiar. The men of 45 years and over present a serious problem, and I have urged from time to time that something should be done. It is difficult to say just what should be done. There is also the question of the wages stop and allowances, a real problem which causes natural discontent. These are some of the matters to which we shall have to bend our minds. I know that they are difficult questions, but I believe that they are not beyond solution. I want to tell my right hon. Friend the Minister how much the step which he took in reference to the scale of winter allowances has been appreciated. I hope they will be made a permanent 1905 feature of the Regulations. They have been an enormous boon to many needy households. I think I am correct in saying that in my particular section of the area in which Sheffield is no less than 42 per cent. have benefited in one way or another. I did however regret the protests made in this House, I think in the last Debate, by some hon. Members opposite, on the withdrawal of these seasonal allowances.
§ Mr. Boulton
It may be that it was on this side, too. I think it is a mistake that protests should have been made against the withdrawal of these special seasonal allowances when we remember the object of them. We all know that it is difficult for any chronically unemployed family to put by money in the summer months for winter's needs, and these allowances are something to look forward to, and unless we are going to alter their whole character as seasonal allowances they must obviously be withdrawn in the summer. I am no less anxious than any hon. Member opposite to see needy cases provided for, but I think we can safely leave them to the discretionary powers which are now being so widely used, as they were intended to be used, in such cases—the specially needy cases which require additional assistance even in the summer months. We have in Sheffield a public assistance committee dominated by a Socialist majority who give winter allowances for coal, as is done, I believe, in some other areas, and they are greatly appreciated, but those seasonal allowances are withdrawn on 1st April each year. It is well understood by the people and, as far as I am aware, no blame or criticism has been levelled against those public assistance authorities because of the withdrawal of their allowances. Why then should the Unemployment Assistance Board be criticised for doing exactly the same thing?
Do not, in the interest of the unemployed, let us try to unbalance the whole scheme. It is always dangerous to try to run before we can walk. Let us build securely on the foundation that we have created. I am satisfied that these seasonal allowances are fully appreciated by those who receive them and are well understood, and I welcome the step that my right hon. Friend has taken in these Regulations. The satisfaction we must all feel 1906 at the great step forward that has been taken in such a comparatively short period of time does not mean that we must remain content. We can never hope to have a completely perfect or watertight scheme, but it should be our aim to make improvements as circumstances and experience dictate. I urge hon. and right hon. Members opposite to remember that this or any other Government must retain a sense of proportion when considering what improvements can properly and securely be made, with fairness to those who contribute, and with fairness and justice to the general body of workers and the unemployed themselves.
§ 8.47 P.m.
§ Mr. Daggar
It is not my intention to make any observation on the speech of the last hon. Gentleman other than to say this: He said that there was method in our madness. The tragedy to us is that there is also madness in our method, especially when it is a question of dealing out something in the nature of justice to our unemployed men and women. To-day we are afforded another opportunity of discussing the Vote for the Ministry of Labour and the activities for 1937 of the Unemployment Assistance Board. The Board has just issued its report for the year, and, however much we desire to hide the fact, the report constitutes an annual indictment of our existing economic system. The report deals with the provision made for helping to keep alive a large portion of the 1,800,000 unemployed of this country. The "Economist" says:The account"—that is, the report—reveals the extent to which the economic system still fails to employ the full capabilities of the population.On 24th of last month, when a similar subject to this was under discussion, the Minister of Labour quoted from a recently issued book to which reference has already been made this afternoon, entitled "Men without work; a report to the Pilgrim Trust." That book has since been reviewed by no less an authority than the Chairman of the Unemployment Statutory Committee, Sir W. H. Beveridge. The introduction to this work was written by the Archbishop of York, and was quoted by the Minister of Labour, as a testimonialto the spirit displayed and the methods followed by the Board and very many of its 1907 officers.''—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th June, 1938; col. 1494, Vol. 337.]Such a quotation suits the purpose of the Minister of Labour. I desire to direct his attention not to what the person responsible for the introduction says but to what is said by the authors of the book themselves. Perhaps he would like to know what Sir William Beveridge has to say of the book, and not of the introduction. Sir William Beveridge says:A vivid touch is the description of the Liverpool unemployed as living in an 'all-pervading atmosphere of football pools, greyhounds and horses'; the grim background is that in Liverpool of 1936 there was a compact body of rather more than 3,500 young men under 35 who had not had a job worth mentioning for a year. Yet another grim fact, illustrating the psychological strain of unemployment, is the number of men in the sample who were living apart from their wives.No ministerial mouthings and bombast will remove the cause of that grim and gruesome picture. Whether that is an exaggeration of the picture and the condition in every depressed area, each Member of this Committee must decide upon his own judgment, but it appears obviously to be true of some areas in this country, and no testimonial, either from the Minister of Labour to the Board or its officers, or from the Archbishop of York, will destroy the atmosphere and correctness of that picture.
Many persons, possibly supporters of the present Government and occupying the seats opposite, used to accuse Members of this party, being avowed Socialists, of believing in a theory, that, if accepted by this country, would eventually loosen the bonds of marriage, break up homes, destroy family life and end in the general demoralisation of our people. If ever it were true at any time of the existence of the party to which I belong it has been left too late, because those results are being achieved by our accusers, and in no small measure by the operation of the means test and the administration of the Regulations of the Unemployment Assistance Board. Some of us who represent these areas are occasionally, by implication, suspected of unduly emphasising the deplorable condition of our constituents. Well, let me again use the words of the Chairman of the Unemployment Statutory Committee, Sir W. H. Beveridge, who, in his review of another work: "The 1908 Report on Unemployment Assistance in Liverpool," says:In many cases (according to the standard adopted by the Pilgrim Trust inquirers—in three cases out of every 10) the income of a long-unemployed man is too low for the elementary needs of his household.I suggest to the hon. Member who last addressed the Committee——
§ Mr. Daggar
That he should read these observations of the chairman of the Statutory Committee who at least knows the position of the unemployed in this country. In spite of such evidence, the Minister of Labour, who knows the difficulty, so he has told us, of living on 30s. per week, defends, with almost complete Christian complacency and religious unction, the existing unemployment allowances involving a reduction in single men's allowances from 17s. to 10s. per week. That is a regulation considered as a suitable foundation upon which to erect a system that will deal out some measure of justice to our unemployed. It is common knowledge that, if these single men were inmates of our casual wards, it would cost the country 25s. 9d. a week to maintain each of them, but because they are unemployed, not from choice but by compulsion, they are forced to exist on a miserable ros. per week, which is defended, not only by the Minister, but by Members of the Conservative party.
Such treatment, in my opinion, is not only a discredit to this country, but a disgrace and a scandal. Let me give the Committee some information, which I should have liked to give to the hon. Member for Central Sheffield (Mr. Boulton) if he had remained in his place until I had had an opportunity of replying, not to his prediction, but to the inane and unreliable observation that he made before concluding his speech. The Minister of Labour said, in his speech on 24th June, that the Board were doing certain things, in pursuance of the Act of 1934, to provide for the well-being of those to whose needs they have to minister, and in support of that observation he quoted a statement by the Archbishop of York that every effort is made to render the activities of the Board not only humane, but human, and that this was true not of all the area officers under the Board, but of the majority. I want to 1909 give three instances of the treatment meted out to unemployed persons in my division. They relate to the office at Nantyglo. Recently I put a question to the Minister of Labour in which I asked whether the officer there was exercising his discretionary power—that power to which so much reference has been made in this Debate. The Minister, as is becoming customary with him, twisted the question by replying that the Board had no reason to suppose that the area officer at Nantyglo had not exercised his discretionary powers in a proper manner. I shall be pleased to know whether the right hon. Gentleman and the Board accept these cases as evidence that the officer in question is not exercising his discretionary powers in a proper manner. If necessary, I will produce the names.
One case is that of a young man who has been unemployed for 12 years. We hear a lot of talk, to which I want to make reference later, about our men being work-shy. This young man had notice from the employment exchange to start work on a distressed areas scheme, and made application to the area officer for a pair of boots and a pair of trousers to start work. These were refused. This was in the case of a man who had been unemployed for 12 years, and yet the Minister, in receipt of £96 a week, is authorised to tell me that the area officer is exercising his discretionary power. This young man went to one of our local councillors on Sunday, 19th June, and told him that he had to start work on the Monday and that the only clothes he had were what he was wearing, and the councillor had to gather up some secondhand clothing on the Sunday to enable him to start work the next day. Another case was that of an applicant for maternity clothes three weeks before the baby was due to be born. She was told, in the presence of a local councillor, to go and ask the Salvation Army officer if he could help her, and that the area officer was unable to give any assistance. Her husband had been idle for eight years, and had received the enormous sum per week of 29s., equal to what some people spend in the adjoining Dining Room of an evening.
The third case is one which is much more discreditable to that officer, showing that he is not big enough for his job, and that he could not maintain his job on merit, but would himself be in receipt 1910 of the dole if any measure of justice were meted out to him. It is the case of a young man who is a Bachelor of Science. He left home through unpleasantness with his stepfather, and is now living with his step-grandfather. Having made application to the Admiralty Research Department for a position, and having been successful in obtaining an interview in London, he, in company with a local councillor, approached the Nantyglo area officer for his train fare and clothing to make himself presentable to go to the interview. After an interview of an hour and a half, the area officer refused any assistance, and it was not until the area officer was approached by the headmaster of the secondary school at which the young man was trained that he was granted his return train fare and 10s. 9d. for a pair of boots. He came to London to the interview in a suit of clothes borrowed for the occasion, but failed to get the post.
He was then successful in getting an interview with the Army Research Department, and again proceeded to London on money borrowed from some friends without any approach to the area officer. This time he was successful in getting a post. He then made application to the area officer to equip him with clothes and train fare to take up his new duties, and also two pairs of overalls which the authorities in London asked him to take with him. The Nantyglo area officer refused to give any assistance at all. The lad, without money or the necessary clothing, fought his way through all these difficulties to get a position and was refused any assistance from the Board. We feel that the Board should have assisted him. This is part of the system which the hon. Gentleman opposite says constitutes the foundation on which we can build up a glorious system of assistance If the attitude in cases such as those I have mentioned is still to be described as humane and human, it is about time that the meaning of English words was changed.
In view of the facts I have mentioned, I say that the area officer in charge at Nantyglo is not exercising his powers of discretion, and that it is time his attention was directed to page 25 of the Board's report. What amazes me is that there should be an officer who does not know what his duties are. If he looks at page 25 of the report of the Unemploy 1911 ment Assistance Board, he will find this statement:The officers of the Board may grant lump sums under Regulation iv.3 to meet, in the words of the Regulations, 'needs of an exceptional character … whether arising from prolonged unemployment or otherwise.'I am convinced of the truth of this statement in the book to which I have already referred:But it does not make poverty any less unpleasant that the numbers are large, nor that one possible method of relieving it would create other perhaps worse in evils. Not until something of what this poverty means is realised, something, too, about the kind of people it affects and the kind of lives they lead, will there be any prospect of effective changes being made.It is still true, I submit, that intelligent people do not realise the sad condition of those who live in the Special Areas. It cannot be realised as the result of an occasional trip by a Minister or a Member of the House, which is largely actuated by curiosity and which does not entitle them to make observations in the House on our people in the Special Areas. This is corroborated by an observation made a few days ago by Mr. Justice Humphreys at the Sussex Assizes, Lewes. He asked, as reported in the "Evening Standard" of the 11th of this month:Do the Ministry of Labour think you can keep two children on 6s. a week?Here is an intelligent man, who is as ignorant of the conditions of our people as many Members of the House, and particularly the hon. Member who recently addressed this Committee——
§ Mr. Boulton
If the area officer to whom the hon. Member has been referring is not doing his duty, it is the duty of the Parliamentary representative to report him.
§ Mr. Duggan
I do not expect the hon. Member to appreciate the relevance of the observation I made as to the statement made by the judge. He said that it is a part of my duty to report. That is what I am already doing. You have an area officer at Nantyglo who is not big enough for his job, and who should be cleared out. If he were given a job on merit he would not hold it for three weeks. The passage that I have just read is an appropriate prelude to what I have to say about the report of the Unemployment Assistance Board. On page 5, this 1912 statement appears, under the name of the chairman of the Board:It has already become clear that there is a considerable number of men and women who have lost interest and are content to remain on unemployment allowances. There are those whose unemployment is due to wilful idleness, who avoid or refuse work when it is available or throw up jobs upon some flimsy pretext. The percentage of such cases is small, but it is sufficient to cause the Board much concern. It is clearly not right that allowances of the normal amount should be paid in such cases free of any condition.Those polite phrases emanate from a Board the members of which cost this country, in salaries and other expenses, £1,713,000 last year. The country has been called upon since 1935 to maintain the persons who make those observations to the extent of £4,616,000. If we reckon the total expenses involved in operating this Board since its inception in 1935, the country has paid £13,150,000—and it is a barren investment, particularly from the point of view of the unemployed. If those allegations are true the remedy is a simple one. It is to offer the unemployed work. If they refuse the offer they are refused benefit—and whatever the Minister might have said in conversation with the Parliamentary Secretary when this observation was made previously, it is a fact that anybody who refuses an offer of work has his benefit stopped. Until that test has been applied I question the right of anybody to make such statements. I want to say this, especially in view of the inquiries now being made into the cases of unemployed men under 30 years of age: that we shall oppose in any form an application of the principle which was embodied in the "not genuinely seeking work" condition. The phrases have been used about these men: "Disinclination to work," "apathy" and "wilful idleness." I know many people in the country—I hesitate to say they are in this House—who have always possessed those attributes and they are still getting a decent existence.
We on these benches have repeatedly pressed the Government to insist upon the establishment of new industries in the distressed areas. We claim that it is wrong to provide for the evacuation of places like London in the event of a war, but to ignore the importance of providing for the dispersal of industry in a time of peace. We are informed that in London there are centred at least one-third of the total activities of England. In the 10 years 1913 between 1921 and 1931 London has grown by 9 per cent. and it is still growing. We ought not to be called upon to delude the people around London into the belief that there is some measure of safety in the event of war while these conditions exist. There should be a dispersal of industry. There are men who talk about the mobility of labour. It is as easy to transfer certain industries to the distressed areas as it is to transfer the unemployed to industries around London.
On the last occasion when I addressed the House on this subject, I said that the Government could not expect assistance from the working classes to defend this country if they continued their present treatment of the unemployed members of that class. I feel compelled to repeat that observation, not in my own words but in the words of a man who served in the last War. This man wrote an open letter, as many people do, to the Prime Minister. It was published in the "Daily Herald" on the 18th of last month. There is no name attached to it, but it is stated that he was what is called "an old August 4th man." He said—and in my opinion it corroborates the observation I have just made:The cry goes out for volunteers for the Army. Do you expect us, maimed, gassed, pensionless outcasts, to tell our sons that it is a glorious privilege to join the Army, to be prepared to go out and fight for England? Alter all we have been through and what we are enduring now? Do you expect a son driven from home by the means test to be anxious to fight for a freedom he hasn't enjoyed? Ask yourself these questions, Sir, and be proud of England then if you can. Poverty does not breed patriots. Be up and doing, Sir. Let's have more fine citizens. Men fit in body, mind and soul, men whose families have a reasonable security of life and homes where happy children dwell, men who have real cause to be proud of their nation. These men will not hesitate to fight for a liberty they have enjoyed and hold precious.Your not very obedient servant, but nevertheless most sincerely,John Citizen.
§ 9.14 p.m.
Mr. W. Joseph Stewart
I wish to preface my remarks by saying that I was interested in one or two phrases used by the hon. Gentleman who spoke last from the opposite side. He said the House ought to be thankful to the Minister of Labour for a substantial reduction in the number of unemployed.
§ Mr. Boulton
If the hon. Member reads the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow he will see that I said nothing of the sort.
The hon. Member said that our thanks were due to the Minister of Labour for the way in which the Government have handled the unemployment question, and he also said afterwards that he hoped that we, representing industrial areas in this House, would put the position of those areas in their true aspect when dwelling upon unemployment in those areas.
We have been discussing a report which is very comprehensive and many-sided. It deals with the question of low wages and their relation to the scales paid by the Unemployment Assistance Board. It deals with the question of the unemployed adolescent. It deals with the question of the middle-aged unemployed, with the question of the setting up of trading estates, with the question of training centres, and also with the question of transference. The report say, among other things, that in all their dealings with the unemployed in the country they have been as generous as they could and in every instance have sought to meet the needs of the people. In one place, on page 6, they say:In their relations with applicants the Board are cocerned with 'need' and welfare.'I suggest that, although the Board in their report may suggest that they have sought on every occasion to deal with the need and with the welfare of the people, in many instances they have miserably failed.
The attitude of the Unemployment Assistance Board has not been satisfactory in one respect, among others, and that is, in regard to the extra nourishment needs as certified by certain medical men. Some members of the medical profession have been dissatisfied with the attitude of the Board when certificates have been handed in which suggested that extra nourishment was needed in certain homes in the country. I had a case sent on to me from my own constituency of Houghton-le-Spring pointing out that an unemployed miner during his unemployment should have drawn a weekly allowance of 45s. 6d. for himself, wife and five children. This amount was reduced to 1915 42s. on the ground that, in December, 1937, he had refused to accept a temporary job which would have lasted a few weeks, but which was offered below the recognised local rate of wages. The penalty cut was continued until 23rd June, 1938.
I wish to come to a part which, to me, is of very great importance. This man's wife was pregnant, and the doctor issued a number of certificates for special diet and extra nourishment, but the applications for an increase in allowances were ignored, and the official form necessary to make an appeal to the tribunal was not issued by the area office. The doctor's statement is as follows:It is extremely regrettable that an additional allowance was not paid in this case. This woman was suffering from a particularly dangerous ailment. It is very essential in such cases that a very strict dietary should be observed, and such dietary is quite unobtainable on the existing family income. For that reason her recommendation was marked 'Urgent,' and, as the local officer of the Unemployment Assistance Board is well aware, cases are not marked 'Urgent' without just cause.This lady gave birth on 17th June to a baby weighing under four pounds and the child, as the doctor had foreseen, survived only a few days. The mother was left in a very weak and lowered condition of health. During her pregnancy her diet had not been what it ought to have been, and the child died on 29th June. It was only after the child was born that the area officer restored the proper allowances and made a grant of 2s. for extra nourishment.
This was not obtained until strong recommendations had been made to the London office. I submit that, although the Unemployment Assistance Board may suggest in their report which we are discussing to-night that they are doing all they possibly can on behalf of the people who are not in a position to help themselves, on this particular occasion, if on no other, they failed in their duty, and did not do their job as it ought to have been done. What interests me is that we have had many Debates in this House lately to the effect that it is imperative in the national interest, if we wish to keep our place among the nations of the world, that we must look after the interests of the young and 1916 rising generation and the generation that is yet unborn. If we are determined to do that as a House of Commons and as a country, we cannot afford to neglect cases such as that which I have cited in the Committee to-night, because it is imperative that something should be done on behalf of those mothers, and of those children that have to be born into the world.
I would like to refer now to the position of the unemployed, especially as it applies to Durham County. In September last year and leading on the close of the year, we had 47,000 and some odd hundreds unemployed in the administrative county of Durham, equal to 18.6 per cent. of the insured population. On Tyneside we had 54,664, equal to 20.8 per cent. of the total insured population unemployed, making a total of 102,597 persons unemployed. Surely, we who are domiciled in Special Areas cannot by any stretch of the imagination suggest or think that the Government are doing what they can so far as the unemployment problem is concerned when we have such alarming figures cited in one of the largest industrial areas of the country.
I put a question to the Minister of Labour the other day and suggested that, so far as the unemployment figures are concerned, instead of Durham getting better, it is gradually getting worse. In June, 1937, the percentage of the insured unemployed in Durham was 18.4, and in June, 1938, it was 19.6, a rise of 1.4 during the year. When one thinks of the armaments programme in progress and the fillip it has given to the heavy industries of the country, one wonders what will happen when a recession takes place and when trade begins to slump. In Bishop Auckland to-day we have 31.8 per cent. of the uninsured population unemployed, or one in every three. Surely no one on either side of the Committee can suggest that if the Government have been doing their best in regard to unemployment they have met with any great measure of success. In the Shildon area the figure is 30.1 per cent.; in South Shields, a large industrial town where we have shipbuilding and other industries, it is 28.2 per cent., and in Sunderland, where we have a boom in shipbuilding, it is 24.4 per cent. Those figures are anything but satisfactory. In Durham County as a whole one in five of the 1917 industrial population is unemployed at a time of national prosperity, and in Sunderland one in four.
Mention is made in the preface of the report written by Lord Rushcliffe that one of the greatest problems the board have to face is the question of men aged 45 and upwards. We have asked the Minister to deal with that problem with a view to the lowering of the figures, which are very alarming and which suggest that there is no prospect of these people ever being employed again. I find in the report for 1937 that 58 per cent. of the increase in unemployment in Durham took place in the age group from 18 to 34, and 8.7 per cent. in Durha mand 6.5 per cent. in South Wales took place in the age group from 55 years upwards. I would ask the Minister in dealing with this question, if he is going to reply to-night, to suggest what his remedy is to meet this alarming situation among our middle-aged unemployed. I know that he has put great stress upon the question of transference, but even transference is not all that could be desired, especially from the point of view of the county affected.
I was a member of the Durham County Council for 15 years, and during that period we spent millions of pounds upon our children for education, health and other social services that are so necessary. We followed them through their school life, and at the age of 14 and over we found there was no work for them. The Ministry suggest that instead of bringing industries to Durham, those children should be transferred to other areas, ready to enter industry in counties that have never spent a penny on social services that were so necessary to bring up the children from five years of age to the age of 14 or 15. From 1932 to March, 1938, we have transferred 20,475 men from Durham, 8,106 women, 6,482 boys and 6,544 girls—a total in six years of 41,607 persons. That is unfair to the county, it is unfair to the children, and it is grossly unfair to the parents who see their children leaving the parental roof at an age when they ought to be under parental control.
As one from a Special Area I follow the advice tendered by the hon. Gentleman opposite, and I want if possible to put before the Committee the condition of the county of Durham as I see it—not as a 1918 party question, but because we see in Durham men deteriorating, homes being depleted of everything that is worth while and that tends to comfort; we have had to stand by helplessly and see over 41,000 of our best people transferred to other counties. In spite of all the palliatives introduced by the Government, and all the remedial measures taken, still Durham's condition gets gradually worse, and one wonders really what the final result is going to be. In Durham to-day, although we are supposed to have a boom in our heavy industry, we have 639 persons per 10,000 of the population on Poor Law relief against an average for England of 256 per 10,000. Does that suggest prosperity? If we have 659 per 10,000 existing on Poor Law relief, in spite of the millions being spent on armaments, what is going to be the position of that large industrial county when the armament boom is finished and we cease spending those millions on armaments?
In 1937 we spent on Poor Law relief in Durham£962,788 and on unemployment benefits under the Unemployment Assistance Board £3,613,233—a total spent in 1937 on Poor Law benefits and benefits through the Ministry of Labour of £4,576,021, equal to £10 10s. per head of the population in the administrative county of Durham. Does that suggest prosperity? If the same amount is paid in standard benefit and unemployment Assistance Board allowances in 1938, with the increased amounts that will have to be paid for poor relief, we shall spend £5,232,961. Can the Committee by any stretch of the imagination suggest that the Government's policy is bringing a measure of prosperity to this area which is depressed through no fault of its own? In Durham we do not ask for charity. When we have spent £5,232,961 the problem will still face you. You will still have your unemployment, you will still have your depressed condition of industry and what are you going to do to meet it? What is their policy? Surely, a Government, strong numerically, ought not to be bankrupt of ideas of a constructive nature. It is the Government's job to tell the House and the country what they propose to do to meet this long-felt want in the country, which has lasted not for a year but for over a decade. To me that is a very serious side. Young adolescents are wasting. Those who are leaving school will waste unless something 1919 is done. In my last words, I would say to the Minister, you may spend over £5,000,000 in palliatives, but the problem still faces you in Durham. What are you going to do to meet it?
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ Sir J. Smedley Crooke
The Committee have been very much impressed by the earnestness of my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. W. Joseph Stewart). I represent one of the industrial divisions of Birmingham, and I am very pleased to say that the unemployment figures are very much better than in Durham. The object of my intervention is to bring to the notice of my right hon. Friend a type of grievance which concerns men who work on the roads, those who are engaged in the construction of sewers, or in making trenches for cables, and the men who work out of doors at all times of the year. I would refer particularly to the winter time, when the weather prevents the men from working. Ever since I have been a Member of this House, since 1922, I have every Friday evening met those whom I represent, and I have been astonished at the number of fine, healthy, decent fellows who have complained to me of the unfairness and injustice under which they are suffering.
A man may, say, in winter, get up in the dark, have his breakfast and walk three or four miles to work. The weather turns out bad, and the foreman says: "You can clear off, because there will be no work to-day." The man goes back home. At the end of the week he may have lost two or three days, and instead of drawing six days wages he draws only three. That means that a man with a family has to apply for public assistance in order to make both ends meet. If that man worked in a factory and the factory was working only three days, he would be able to draw three days' wages and three days' unemployment pay, but because his outdoor work is precarious, and one never knows what the weather will be, the man can draw only two or three days' wages and no unemployment pay, and he has to seek public assistance.
I would plead with the Minister. I know how willingly he considers cases and does the best that he can, and I would express the hope that before winter comes there will be an alteration in the Regulations so that men of the type to whom 1920 I have referred, steady men who want to work but who at the end of a week may have lost two or three days through bad weather, will be able to draw unemployment pay for that time.
§ 9.39 P.m.
§ Mr. A. Hills
There seems to be a very grave anomaly in this country of ours, in that whilst we are living in the greatest armament age we have ever known in our history, and are spending so many hundreds of millions on armaments, our unemployment figures continue to grow week by week. I rise for the purpose of drawing attention to two paragraphs in the report of the Board. Those paragraphs are of major importance to the unemployed and are to be found on pages 5 and 6. One paragraph states:It has already become clear that there is a considerable number of men and women who have lost interest and are content to remain on unemployment allowances.That statement of the Board has caused a great amount of resentment in the division which I have the honour to represent. During last week-end I came in contact with dozens of unemployed people, many of them elderly men, many over 50, an age which is now considered to be old. I know the sacrifices that these men have made since the time they were unable to find employment. They have sold their furniture, practically everything that was of use in the house, walked miles to try and get employment, and have pleaded with me to do everything I could to get them work, and then they are to be met with the statement which I have quoted. It is a grave reflection upon respectable and honest people, and such a reflection ought not to be cast upon them. In my submission, and I am certain that I speak for a great majority of hon. Members on this side of the Committee, that statement is untrue. The report goes on to say:There are those whose unemployment is due to wilful idlenessFrom my experience among the unemployed, if the Board wished to cast a reflection upon any one in regard to the people who are out of work they ought to cast it upon the employers who in many cases are refusing to give employment to men over 45 years of age. The reflection ought to be cast upon the people who are very often responsible for men being out of work, rather than upon men who are the least able to come forward 1921 and state the circumstances. It is also stated in the report that there are those who avoid or refuse work when it is obtainable. Who are those people? Are there not conditions for dealing with people who refuse work when it is obtainable? Is it not often the reason that circumstances are such that the people are not able in the work that is offered to get that degree of comfort that every one has a right to expect? The Board goes on to say:The percentage of such cases to the total dealt with by the Board is small.Why go out of their way to make such a parade of the statement in the report, if the percentage to the total is so small? There is nothing that will cause more resentment than that statement which, in my opinion, is entirely uncalled for. On page 5 the Board says:The Board's applicants include a large proportion of persons whose normal employment is in the lower ranges of wage rates. Roughly half the male applicants declare normal wages of less than 50s. a week. In about 6 per cent., or over 30,000, of the cases the applicant is receiving an allowance from the Board which is within 4s. of his normal wages.In the industry with which I have been connected, the railway industry, the trade unions have recently made a claim for a minimum wage for the whole industry of 50s. per week, and they intend to prosecute their claim. What is 5os. per week worth to-day? The fact that a man who is blessed, I use the word advisedly, with a family of three, four or five children, receives an allowance from the Board which brings him within 4s. of the 50s per week, does not prove that the allowance from the Board is generous, but that his wages are emphatically low, and language such as this should not be used by a Board which is responsible for administering benefit to nearly 2,000,000 people. If the Board's generosity is to be judged by the fact that they are prepared to pay allowances which will bring an applicant to within 4s. of his ordinary wages, then Heaven help us. Even in those cases in which the Board exceed that figure the needs of the people are not being met to the degree to which we think they should be met, but the Board have had to give subsistence allowance in order to enable them to live. If that is the standard then I fail to see why we should compliment the Unemployment Assistance Board. An hon. Member on 1922 these benches has said that we are getting back to the old Poor Law days of 300 years ago. If we have to go back to 1600 or 1500 to get an idea of what we ought to do to-day, then it is time this House of Commons woke up and tried other methods.
I do not want to take up any more time of the Committee, but on the general question I want to say that I see nothing very magnanimous in the report of the Board so far as the unemployed are concerned. An hon. Member opposite has welcomed the introduction of officers with discretion. My experience has not been as happy as his. My experience is that the giving of discretion to officers results largely in the officer taking the basic scale and that he has to be persuaded that it is a very special case before he is prepared to give any increase. One would expect that. These men are public officers doing their duty, and they prefer to keep within the scale, rather than go outside it. I am sorry that I cannot join in the tribute which the hon. Member paid. Then there is the question of the special allowances. Much has been said complimentary to the Government on the introduction of the winter allowance. I hope they will make the winter allowance a permanent allowance. There is not very much difference between what an applicant requires in June and in December. He has to have clothes, if he can get them once in five years, and food. Probably he does not require so much coal, but that is the only difference between the requirements of a man in June and December, and, therefore, I hope the Minister will not only consider the question of introducing a winter allowance when the winter comes along, but also introducing a better standard of allowances for these people. That would be appreciated.
I should like to rid hon. Members opposite of the idea that the unemployed do not want work. I have interviewed all sections of the working classes who are unemployed in my constituency, which is a wide one embracing a large number of miners, transport workers, shipping people and agricultural labourers, and I do not doubt for a moment that if I went down with a couple of jobs they would accept them. Unfortunately many of them take jobs without considering the circumstances, and find afterwards that the circumstances 1923 are such that they are not able to live. I am glad to have had this opportunity of addressing the House on this major problem and out of courtesy to the Minister and to the speakers from my own bench who have to reply to the full Debate, I will conclude by thanking the Committee for having given me so patient a hearing.
§ 9.53 P.m.
§ Mr. F. Anderson
I am pleased to be the one to congratulate the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Hills) on his maiden speech. We are all delighted to know that he is well enough to take part in the discussions of this House, and although his illness was a long and serious one we are delighted that he has a large quantity of vitality left, as he has shown to-night. During the whole of the Debate there has not been one single Member on the Government side who has given whole-hearted support to the proposals of the Unemployment Assistance Board. Something has been said about the audaciousness of the Minister of Labour. In spite of his audaciousness hon. Members even on the Government side have shown their dissatisfaction with what the Board have failed to do. In spite of all the lauding which has been going on, hon. Members must realise that on this side of the Committee there is a very strong feeling against some parts of the administration of the Board. As I have read the report the Board seems to me to have been engaged for a long time in sifting and re-examining the various applicants who unfortunately have to come before them.
The Board was set up to meet the needs of applicants, and when the Bill was before this House we were told most distinctly that there was plenty of elasticity to enable all needs to be met. That being the case, who have so many complaints been made during this Debate that the needs have not been met? The significant fact is that not one hon. Member in any part of the Committee has said that the allowances which these men are receiving are sufficient, having regard to all their needs. Will the Minister of Labour, in his reply, justify the allowances that are made in general cases? Will he get up and say that those allowances are sufficient to meet the needs as understood in the 1934 Act? I feel sure 1924 that the right hon. Gentleman will not be able to justify a position in which, for instance, a single man is able to have only the paltry sum of 10s. a week.
The Board have been engaged in making a careful review of the various applicants. We find that of the 570,000 cases in which an examination was made, people without any resources numbered 314,000, and that the cases in which resources were disregarded—which means that the resources were not so great as to warrant their being taken into account—numbered over 91,000; that is to say, those who had no resources and those whose resources were disregarded numbered 405,000 out of a total of 570,000 cases examined. Where are the people who say to us that we must look after the interests of the spending persons? Who will say that to-day, having regard to the figures to which I have referred? That is a very important side of the matter which should be taken into account by the Minister. My hon. Friends opposed very strongly the application of the means test, and I submit now that, in view of that examination, there is no need for the application of the means test in any shape or form. But it is still going on. Having regard to the implications of the report, in which the Board talk about apathy, wrong upbringing, a disinclination to work, and people who have no desire to work, I think that the Board, considering their findings about people who have no resources, ought to say where are the people who are not prepared to work, if they get an opportunity to do so.
A great deal has been said in the Debate about men who are unwilling to work. Some time ago there was a discussion in the House about a number of engineers who were unemployed, and the Government's desire for assistance in carrying through the armaments programme. If the Government are sending work to foreign countries, why is it that, according to the report, there are nearly 33,000 people in the engineering trades who are unemployed? In the shipbuilding trade, for instance, over 21,800 people are unemployed. I submit that there is something seriously wrong on the administrative side of the Ministry of Labour when those people are unemployed and at the same time the Government are sending work to other countries; and I 1925 think the matter calls for very serious examination by the Minister.
Moreover, I put a question to the right hon. Gentleman a few days ago about a works near Chorley. The fact disclosed by his answer was that nearly 10,000 people are employed on the constructional side of that factory. How many of them have been recruited through the Employment Exchanges? Hardly 50 per cent. Why were not all those people recruited through the Employment Exchanges? Those being the circumstances, I repeat that there is something seriously wrong with the administrative side of the Ministry, considering that it is stated in the report that men are apathetic in finding work. That statement is disproved entirely by the fact that in that case 5,000 men could find work without the assistance of the Employment Exchanges. The truth is that the men are willing to work if only they can get it. I think the Minister ought to give us an answer to that question, and also to the question why work is being sent out of the country at a time when we have many thousands of men unemployed in the trades concerned.
There have been references to the various allowances and to needs. I submit that the Minister could do a very great service to the unemployed men if he would take out of consideration, for computation purposes, men who have disability and dependants' pensions. The remarkable disclosure has been made that £1,000,000 of resources have been taken into consideration in regard to men who have that type of pension. Such pensions are given because of certain disabilities, and no ordinary employer of labour would in ordinary circumstances take such men into employment unless he was very hard pressed. Therefore, to do as I suggest would be an act of justice towards these men. There is also the question of Service pensions and dependants' pensions. In these two cases alone, nearly £3,000,000 have been recorded in resources by the Board. In my opinion £3,000,000 has been taken wrongly from those men. Then, as regards Unemployment Insurance benefit and National Health Insurance benefit, what does the report disclose? Nearly £1,500,000 has been taken into account in respect of those payments. Surely in those three matters at any rate we ought to be in a position to give the benefit to those applicants 1926 who are unfortunate enough to come before the Unemployment Assistance Board. I make an appeal to the Minister that he should give very serious consideration to that aspect of the question. I think that is one respect in which we might do reasonable justice to the unemployed.
There is another aspect of the problem to which I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give his serious consideration. We find according to the report that there were about 25,000 appeals against determinations and that about 5,000 of these were successful. After the investigation officers had made their reports to the various area headquarters and elewhere, in spite of all those reports, nearly 5,000 appeals were successful. I think that is an indictment against part of the system which is in operation, namely, the inquiries which are made of those unfortunate people who have to come before the Board We have heard a great deal of talk about the honest working man, but I can assure the Minister that the ordinary working man does not like to have an investigation officer coming into his home. Yet that is done but, as I say, in spite of such methods 5,000 appeals were successful. I think that matter requires some examination. We ought to know something more about the nature of these cases.
It is certain that, on the administration side, some change requires to be made. We have been told that all this administrative machinery has been set up in order to protect the funds and prevent wrongful spending—that in effect it is to say to the working class "Thus far shalt thou go out no farther." But we find according to the report that the administration cost approximately £4,680,000, or one-eighth of the total of what was paid out in unemployment benefit during the year 1937. That is, 2S. 6d. of every pound has to be taken for the purpose of keeping the ordinary working man in order and preventing him from getting Is. or 2s. a week too much. That administration cost represents 12½ per cent. If this matter were looked at from a commercial standpoint and if the Minister were the manager of a commercial concern, he would be quickly discharged as a result of such figures. From any standpoint, the administration of this Board is very costly having regard to the results that are obtained.
1927 I call attention to another serious aspect of the report. Reference is made in it to visits to working-class dwelling-houses. We are told that some of these houses are poorly furnished, that some are well-kept and that some are, as the report terms it, "ill-kept." I do not know exactly what is meant by that term, but I wish to ask what useful purpose does this kind of investigation serve. What use has it been to the Board or to anybody else? If proper allowances were made and proper services rendered, such inquiries would be unnecessary. I have heard of investigation officers going into the bedrooms of people. I would like to know exactly what is mean by this term "ill-kept," and I would ask further whether some responsibility does not rest upon those who are paying the miserable allowances which some of these people receive. We have a right to ask how far these meagre allowances are responsible for people having to go to pawnbrokers and sell their chattels in order to keep body and soul together. That ought to be examined, never mind examining whether houses are well-kept or not.
I wish to call attention to the question of industrial transference. Has the Minister satisfied himself that the people who come under the Ministry's industrial transference schemes, and especially the young people, are being transferred to concerns which pay trade union rates of wages? Is that fact ascertained before the people are transferred to those concerns? We have a right to know, because if that is not the case it is a very serious matter. I think the Minister will find that the people who are being transferred, especially those from the Special Areas, have all been brought up under the trade union system and they will like to see the trade union law carried out wherever they are sent. With regard to domestic service, we heard some remarks on that subject from the Parliamentary Secretary a day or two ago, and we find in this report that of 13,000 persons who Were approached with a view to going into domestic service only 1,650 were willing to go. I am surprised that there were even 1,650, and I think that instead of inquiring into why these people do not go into this, that or the other occupation the Board ought to inquire into the general conditions prevailing in domestic service.
I suggest that as long as the present conditions 1928 exist for domestic service those people who employ domestic servants will be unable to get the number required. When all is said and done, the people who go into service of that kind are people who require good conditions.
My last word is this: In this report the word "workhouse" is still used, and I venture to submit that with the inquiries that have taken place and with the efforts that have been made in the sifting as to how working-class people are spending their lives—these people who have to work what we might call workhouse lives all the way through—it is about time that we got out of that state of mind and that these people, who are unfortunately unemployed, should at least be entitled to a square deal, wherever they are and wherever they go.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Brown
We have had a very full day's discussion, and the Debate has fallen mainly into three sections. One or two things have been said about the actual administration of the Ministry of Labour, and a good deal has been said about the Unemployment Assistance Board's administration, but the bulk of the Debate has taken place about entirely wider issues than I could possibly answer in the course of a speech under these conditions, as indeed hon. Members who have raised the questions have clearly understood. More than that, the issues that have been raised have been issues of fundamental importance, and the Committee would expect them to be raised on this occasion, because one of the advantages of the work of the Unemployment Assistance Board has been that it has served to focus the attention of the nation on questions which, while they are very old questions, are questions to which the public need from time to time to give most careful consideration; they are questions also which affect the whole range of our economic structure and the conditions under which wages are settled, questions of a most far-reaching character. I confess that I think the Committee, by first of all dealing with some points about the administration of the Board and then saying a few words about the wider issues, has shown itself keen not merely to see these matters debated, but to see action taken upon them.
I am able to point out that in the ordinary administrative work of the Ministry, 1929 especially in the matter of wages, something has been done, in the course of the last year or two, to make improvements, in certain very large areas of employment, in the reward of the worker for his work. It is clear that the effective criticism during the Debate has not been of the Board or its allowances—that has been incidental to the major Debate—but the effective criticism has mostly been directed to the relation of the relief level to the wage level, especially to a certain part of that wage level. Let me say about that at once that the Debate ought not to end without getting the facts in their proper perspective, and I will quote to the Committee what the Board have said on this question. They took in December, I937, a sample and came to the conclusion, as a result of that inquiry into this issue, that out of 528,000 male applicants there were receiving, in excess of or equal to wage rates, 1.3 per cent. of the aggregate, that is to say, about 4,000; and while that is causing concern, as the Board point out, it puts in perspective some of the more general remarks that have been made. I cannot discuss to-night the legislative ways of dealing with that subject, but I should like to point out that in the last year or two there have been considerable improvements in wages in this country. For instance, since the upswing began four years ago the figures over the whole field of wage rates returned to the Minister of Labour show that there have been net increases amounting to £1,800,000 per week.
That is a fact on the other side of this Debate which deserves to go into the records as a proof that the collective machinery which is so large and valuable a part of our industrial structure has been working with celerity over this large range—[Interruption.] All those who understand the meaning of trade unionism and organised labour know that with the occasional assistance of the impartial Ministry of Labour that machinery has become more and more effective to the good of the worker as the years have gone on. The Ministry of Labour have done, and will go on doing, all that they can to continue that process. [Interruption.] The hon. Member must grant the present Ministry some credit in the matter of wages in the coal industry. It has been for many years one of our most difficult industries in the realm of wages. There can 1930 be no question that the upturn in wages in the last two or three years in the mining industry has been due not merely to collective agreement but to the passing by this House and the working out in administration in the coalfields of the selling schemes which were originated by this Government and made effective in all the areas of the country. There is not a Member in any part of the House who represents a mining division who does not know that that Measure put a bottom to the coal industry which no other Government had put into it before.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Member's interruption is inaccurate. He is referring to the regulation of selling and not to selling price schemes, which is what I am talking about; and I claim, now that the issue of wages has been raised, that the legislation passed by this Government has helped to that result, and I have no doubt that as years go on it will lead to still further results.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
It is true that the recent legislation was passed by this Government, but may I remind the right hon. Gentleman of the circumstances in which the Government were compelled to introduce it? It was the only alternative to a national strike of the miners. It was only after we had taken a ballot which gave an overwhelming decision for a strike that the Government introduced legislation. If any action were taken it was due to the Miners' Federation.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Member, as he always does, tries to claim credit for the Miners' Federation, but I would not accept that as an impartial statement of the case. The fact is that hon. Members are faced with a Government which is active and which gets results, and they cannot understand it. It is all very well to say that this increase of £1,800,000 in wages was due to some threat or other. All I care to say about it is that although that may satisfy the historical sense of my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths)—for he is my hon. Friend—it will not satisfy the historian who writes the record of this period.
I am not dealing with things we cannot do, but with things that we can do. There are certain things which the Minister of Labour can do in terms of 1931 wages, and the Committee is entitled to ask whether we have been doing anything. My hon. Friend made very general statements about the wage structure and what ought to be done. Out of 15,000,000 insured persons in this country 2,000,000 are in the distributive trades. I have some responsibility there, and I have no doubt whatever that if case by case individuals who come under the Board's administration could be traced, it would be found that quite a number of the cases that come within this section of the Board's report would at one time or another have been either in or on the fringe of the distributive trades. Nearly two years ago I initiated conversations between the two sides of the distributive trades. There are hon. Members who know it and appreciate what I did; so much was it appreciated, indeed, that, as the Committee know, the Trades Union Congress actually did me the honour of passing a resolution of congratulation. This is an actual achievement in industrial agreement.
What has happened? The two sides, both those in England and Wales and those in Scotland, for the first time in history sat down together not merely to bargain with each other but to see whether they could agree upon a scheme for the betterment of the wages in the distributive trades. They have actually worked out a scheme which they have presented to the Minister for his consideration, making certain recommendations. This is not something which I can claim as applying to the wage structure as a whole; but in the course of those negotiations certain facts were brought to light, and there have been agreements which have been notified to me at the Ministry of Labour which have meant great improvements for many of those in the distributive trades.
We are hoping to go further, as Parliament has been made aware by questions and answers. We have made some inquiries into the conditions of the workers in the cinemas, and I have no doubt that in this great realm of industry, which has been outside the normal effective range of collective bargaining, there have been many instances of low wage employés coming in their unemployment under the care of the Unemployment Assistance Board. We shall pursue that subject further. Then we have begun preparations for making inquiries into the catering 1932 trade, another range of trades which was mentioned in at least one speech, in which one or two cases were quoted from teashops. That, I submit, is effective work and we shall pursue it at the Ministry of Labour. It is the effective way of approach to this problem and it shows that there is another side to the argument that nothing has been done.
Certain Members suggest that we should make large additions to the trade board system—I think my hon. Friend the Member for King's Norton (Mr. Cartland) was one of them. He will find if he goes into the matter that that has not been generally agreed in industry, particularly in certain individual industries. There are demands for that; for instance, I have had a demand for a Trade Board for the grocery trade; on the other hand I have had opposition to that suggestion. In the last four months I have laid upon the Table of the House an order making effective a Trade Board for the bakery trade. That in itself is a contribution to a trade which has presented baffling problems to more than two generations of statesmen, and all in the industry, and I am sure Members of the House, hope that the operations of the Trade Board will not merely help to lift the conditions of those employed in the baking industry, but will help to solve the problem, about which hon. Members feel strongly, of night baking also.
Since wages have bulked very large in our discussion this afternoon, I thought that the Committee would be interested to hear what has been done. I must add one other thing: It is, of course, impossible to deal with general questions of poverty, the total available for relief in the country or the large increase of wages over the whole field, merely in terms of our home conditions. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) rightly said that it is a world problem. That is true, for in the questions which we are discussing here, employment, unemployment and need arising from unemployment, the fact is that the world scene and the home scene cannot be divided. For the first time in the history of the world, and in a measure never before in the history of the world, it is true to say that there is not a single cottage whose window does not look out upon the whole world and which may not at any time be affected by things which are happening 1933 in this or that part of the world, or in half a dozen parts of the world.
It is very soothing to talk largely, as Members of the Opposition have hinted, about being able to change all these conditions by changing the system here, but if a solution can be found in that way in a phrase, in a Debate or in a book, it cannot be found that way in actual practice in the world in which we live. I will return to that aspect of the matter, but I would point out to the Committee some of the major changes that have been happening not only in the world as a whole, but in our own country, in the structure of industry affecting employment. Some of the speeches to-day have given the impression of taking a very short-sighted view of machines, but in the long or broad view, apart from a few very grim effects in some areas and some industries, the paradox is that, up to six months ago, side by side with the greatest number of machines that this land or the world has ever had, more powerful machines than this land or the world has ever had, we registered the largest number of workers in employment at any time since first we kept a register.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Member knows that I included that in the sentence in which I spoke about the grim effect in some areas; but there are certain markets which would not have been kept if some mines had remained on their old basis instead of having a new basis. I believe the export coal trade in Fife claims to have been among the pioneers of mechanisation. The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) said that his area was the most highly mechanised, but I rather think if he looks into it he will find that Fife will beat him there.
§ Mr. Brown
Fife will brag about it. They will tell you it is very likely that they would not have held their export trade had they not foreseen the need for this new development. It has had, of course, a particularly heavy effect in certain areas and especially the mining areas and others.
With regard to the question of the older men, with which the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley and others have 1934 been much concerned, as I myself have, there again there is a very grave problem. It is not true to generalise and say that the older men are not wanted. [Interruption.] One hon. Member did generalise in that way; if the OFFICIAL REPORT iS searched, the record will be found. It is not so; it is not true as a broad generalisation. What is true is that the opportunities and chances for elderly men differ in varying areas and in varying industries, and, indeed, there are some industries which welcome elderly men. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which."] There is more than one industry. For instance, if you go down to the docks, in certain places you will find that some of the very best dockers are elderly men; and, more than that—[Interruption.] I have made some investigations and have obtained a good deal of material, and I assure the House that what I say is true. There are areas where we have taken administrative steps to point out to employers that there might be a much more friendly attitude towards elderly men than there has been, and I think the facts show that the work we have done by way of pointing this out is having its effect.
Let the Committee look at this problem in perspective. Over the last five years let us look at the numbers of long-term unemployed—I mean those who have been unemployed for a year or more. In June, 1933, there were 481,000, or 22 per cent., who had been unemployed for one year or more. The figure is going down rapidly. In June, 1934, it was 405,000; in June, 1935, 386,000; in June, 1936, 344,000; and in June of last year it was 302,000. Since then it has gone down steadily, being, in May last, 279,000; and, although last month the total figures went the other way, still the number of longterm unemployed was 10,000 lower than the last figure, for in June, 1938, instead of 481,000, there were 269,000, so that from 22 per cent. the figure has decreased to 16 per cent.; and a very large proportion of the decrease is to be found in elderly men. I beg the Committee not to misunderstand me. I am not trying to belittle the gravity of the problem of 269,000 insured workers out of work for a year or more; but I am pointing out that there is a movement, and that that movement is in the right direction, because even in the last six months, when the movement of the total figures has 1935 been upward, the movement of the figures of long-term unemployed is still downwards; and, as the House knows, the great bulk of the increase which has taken place in the last six months has been in the number temporarily stopped.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Member knows that I cannot answer that question, but I can point out that the question to be asked is not that question. The House wants to know, not only the numbers who go out of the list, but what is the movement, and whether the pool is a stagnant one, whether it is getting less, or whether it is being refilled. That is the real issue: Is it being refilled? [HON. MEMBERS: "With elderly men."] We have made a very elaborate analysis. The Leader of the Opposition says that you do not solve a problem by analysing it. I would reply that you do not solve a problem by not analysing it. At least you get much nearer to a solution of the problem by analysing it and finding out what the exact facts are than by generalising in terms of a figure which may be misleading if used wrongly, such as talking about 1,800,000 unemployed in the sense of a mass figure.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Has the Minister observed that the survey made by the Pilgrim Trust has shown, from the samples that they have taken from various areas in this country, that the number of long-term unemployed among the older ages has been increasing?
§ Mr. Brown
I will deal with that. The fact is that older men are in some cases being engaged. This is a heartening fact, and I have no doubt that the administrative actions to call the attention of employers has had something to do with this. I will give an example. The hon. Member talked about coal. In South Wales, for example, 35 per cent. of the men engaged in one of the largest colliery companies during a recent period were men over 45. The same company has agreed to allocate 75 per cent. of its labouring vacancies to men attending a physical training class whose average age is over 52, and it is experimenting with older men for five or six weeks as labourers on conveyers preparatory to their undertaking 1936 heavier work. Another firm has taken on 86 men who have done no work for many years, including one who has done no work since 1920. In Durham one pit has taken on 20 men over 55 at standard rates of wages and their output is equal to that of younger men. In another colliery in Durham the management are reabsorbing elderly men for surface work, thereby releasing younger men for work underground. The building industry does not reject older men as such. Of course, for some forms of work older men are not suitable, but, on the other hand, the elderly skilled clerk stands just as good a chance as a younger man.
More than that, I have been given, in the course of my researches, many instances of engineering firms who have taken on elderly men with excellent results. I know one aircraft firm which has taken on 150 men from among older and less skilled fitters formerly employed in the cotton industry, and the firm is satisfied with the results. I know of another engineering firm which during six months last year engaged 381 men between 40 and 50 years of age, 483 between 50 and 65, and 33 over 65. They found some of the older men stiff and awkward at first, but they all made good and gave perfect satisfaction. I will be frank, and admit that in other industries the position is different. In public works and contracting, employers generally are reluctant to engage older men. There are, no doubt, good reasons for this. It is difficult for older men attached to the distributive trades to obtain re-entry into employment except during holiday and rush periods. What we have been doing is really to make this issue a live issue, not merely in the social sphere—I have always tried to keep it out of the political sphere—but it is beginning to be effective in the industrial sphere; and I have no doubt that as the months go by it will be increasingly effective.
The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) asked me why the scales should not be revised on the basis of a change in the cost of living. I will not argue about that, except to say that I think it will be found that there is not unanimous agreement on his own benches with regard to that The London Labour Party Conference in November, 1937, considered several motions asking the London 1937 County Council to increase relief on account of the rise in the cost of living. Some members of the conference shared the point of view of the hon. Member for Ipswich with regard to that. The Executive Committee moved and carried the following amendment:This conference is of opinion that it would be unsatisfactory for the London County Council to follow the policy of a sliding scale of public assistance in regard to the cost of living index, but it is confident that the London County Council will give sympathetic consideration to public assistance standards with a view to such adjustments being made as may be found to be necessary.That would strike the Committee as being singularly complimentary to the Unemployment Assistance Board.
§ Mr. Brown
Let hon. Members read the report and judge between the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) and the Ministerial Department. That was their conclusion, having in mind many speeches from the inside and still more from the outside in the last 20 years, about matters of that kind. I think that the hon. Member for Ipswich had better pursue his researches among his friends a little more closely before he recommends to the Committee his particular way of handling the situation.
There have been one or two points put be me by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). There has been a general request that chairmen of courts of referees should be changed. Of course there is an annual review, and more than that, there is a constant change going on in the normal flux of things. There is very rarely a week elapses before a new appointment has to be formally made, sometimes two or three in one week, but if the hon. Member has any particular point in mind and will let we know of it, I will look into it.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Will the Minister tell the Committee what test is applied to chairmen of courts of referees? Do you apply a test as to their knowledge, or any kind of test? I know that most of them are lawyers, which is not always a recommendation.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Member knows perfectly well that we have not many opportunities for visiting courts of referees, but we have many people who are able to judge how the work is carried 1938 on. There is an annual review. There are cases in all walks of life where perhaps a man, in this year or that year, has been very effective in a particular calling, when sometimes a change occurs in his mental attitude and he may be slower than he used to be. I am not saying this in regard to courts of referees, but it might happen. If the hon. Member has any particular case where a court of referees has not worked as it should work, I shall be very glad if he will let me know. The hon. Member raised another point. He focused attention upon the fact—it has been the attempt in more than one speech—as to whether the Board's Advisory Committees were entitled or not to make inquiries, especially about the younger, men. I think that if my hon. Friend will read to-morrow morning what my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) said, he will find that he made a very effective reply. The hon. Member for Gorbals from the beginning has been against the test of need, and he has been against the Board consistently—the House respects him for it, and will not expect him to change his view—but I would ask him to look back over the last three years and to take into account all the various methods. I would ask him to do the Board justice in this respect. He would admit that they have done a good many more things in favour of the unemployed than he expected they would do.
§ Mr. Brown
I think that that is a very great tribute, and I shall go home and sleep quite happily to-night. Having had that admission, let me go a little further. He asked that the Board's officers should not make inquiries in order to penalise unemployed applicants, but to make inquiries in order that we may help.
§ Mr. Buchanan
My case is that they are going to make changes. The changes may be good or bad, but when you are going to make changes this House of Commons is entitled to know the evidence and the nature of the investigations that they make.
§ Mr. Brown
I do not know on what ground the hon. Member says we are going to make changes. What the Board 1939 says in its report is that there are cases in which they might help if they knew what the particular difficulty is. It is very dangerous to suggest that you should have a court of inquiry with formal terms of reference, and so on. If I had stood at this Box any time in this last two years to suggest that, the first passionate speech I think would have come from the hon. Member for Gorbals. I cannot think that, on reflection, he will wish to stand by that. I put it as a thing in favour of the Board's administration as one that is humane and sympathetic that they are concerned not merely with the means of the applicants but with their needs. A reference has been made to what was said by the Archbishop of York, but I have here a tribute from the "Manchester Guardian," which says that the report deserves close study as an account of how the State supports nearly 2,000,000 people, and thatit shows pretty clearly that the Unemployment Assistance Board is growing rapidly in experience and in public confidence, and its development particularly on the side of individual welfare and constructive remedial efforts is well conceived.I am in hope that next year, if I am still here, I may read a similar tribute from the "Daily Herald," and perhaps in four years' time even the "Daily Worker" will write in the same strain.
§ Mr. Brown
If it came from the "News Letter" it would be an accurate and well written one. I think that that quotation from the "Manchester Guardian" shows in a few sentences what the Board are really doing. Indeed, there are quite a number of Members who, in the Debates we have had in this period of years, have welcomed the action of the Board, and no one can wonder at it, for at least a third of the speeches to-day have been focussed on the issue of the relation of relief to need, raised by the analysis made by the Board itself of the sample cases which it sets out in its most admirable report. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about relief in kind?"] The answer to that is that relief in kind is given in a very small number of cases. The total number of persons concerned in a week is less than one-fifth of I per cent.—about 800 in all, and those are very 1940 special cases of a very difficult and doubtful nature. Only in those cases is relief in kind given, or is likely to be given in the course of administration.
§ Mr. John
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in a number of cases relief in kind is given where the men are really honest, hard-working men, men who are living decent lives? If I can bring cases on these lines will the right hon. Gentleman instruct the chairmen of the tribunal to alter their practice?
§ Mr. Brown
I will not only myself consider any facts put to me by the hon. Member but I will put them before the Board. There is a range of very difficult cases, a small section, to be dealt with. Not merely have the Board dealt with over 600,000 cases, but since April last year the Board had to take from the public assistance authorities over 90,000 cases, some of whom came out of institutions. The right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley knows—nobody better—that there are a small number of very difficult cases in that section. The reports of the Board show that it is carrying out its very difficult task with great knowledge, with great humanity, and with its first desire to meet the needs of the unemployed.
On the wider issues, let me say that anyone who pretends that there is a single solution for the unemployment problem, either by some abstract change of doctrine, or by some central plan, does not face up to the facts which have taken place in the world and at home, either in the construction of industry, or in the level of prices, or in the political management of great nations. Anyone misleads the people who suggests that there is some easy way whereby, by the waving of a wand, you can bring about a solution and change the scene. I hope the Committee will understand that when this House passed Part II of the Act of 1934 1941 it conceived a means of an effective organisation well adapted for the humane and sympathetic treatment of the ablebodied unemployed.
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £29,484,900, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 133; Noes, 235.1943
|Division No. 306.]||AYES.||[11.0p.m.|
|Acland, R. T. D. (Barnstaple)||Griffiths, J. (Llanally)||Oliver, G. H.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Parker, J.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Parkinson, J. A.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Hardie, Agnes||Pearson, A.|
|Ammon, C. G.||Harris, Sir P. A.||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Hayday, A.||Price, M. P.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Pritt, D. N.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Quiboll, D. J. K.|
|Barnes, A. J.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.)|
|Barr, J.||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Richards, R. (Wrexham)|
|Batey, J.||Hopkin, D.||Ridley, G.|
|Bellenger, F. J.||Jagger, J.||Riley, B|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Ritson, J.|
|Bevan, A.||John, W.||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)|
|Broad, F. A.||Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.||Salter, Dr. A. (Bermondsey)|
|Brown, C. (Mansfield)||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Seely, Sir H. M.|
|Buchanan, G.||Janes, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Sexton, T. M.|
|Burke, W. A.||Kelly, W. T.||Silkin, L.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Silverman, S. S.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Kirby, B. V.||Simpson, F. B.|
|Cocks, F. S.||Kirkwood, D.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)|
|Cove, W. G.||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Lathan, G.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Daggar, G.||Lawson, J. J.||Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)|
|Dalton, H.||Leach, W.||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Davies, R. J, (Westhoughton)||Leonard, W.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Day, H.||Leslie, J. R.||Stephen, C.|
|Dobble, W||Logan, D. G.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Lunn, W.||Stokes, R. R.|
|Ede, J. C.||Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||McEntee, V. La T.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||McGhee, H. G.||Thurtle, E.|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||MacLaren, A.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Foot, D. M.||Maclean, N.||Tomlinson, G.|
|Frankel, D.||Mander, G. le M.||Viant, S. P.|
|Gallacher, W.||Marshall, F.||Walkdan, A. G.|
|Gardner, B. W.||Maxton, J.||Walker, J.|
|Garro Jones, G. M.||Messer, F.||Watkins, F. C.|
|George, Magan G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Montague, F.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Gibson, R. (Greenock)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Muff, G.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Nathan, Colonel H. L.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||Naylor, T. E.|
|Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Noel-Baker, P. J.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Mr. Groves and Mr. Mathers.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Broadbridge, Sir G. T.||Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham)||Crooke, Sir J. Smedley|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Lelth)||Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C|
|Alfaery, Sir Irving||Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Croom-Jahnson, R P.|
|Allen, Col. J. Sandeman (B'knhead)||Browne, A. C. (Belfast, W.)||Crossley, A. C.|
|Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.)||Bull, B. B.||Crowder, J. F. E.|
|Apsley, Lord||Burghley, Lord||Davidson, Viscountess|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Butcher, H. W.||Davies, C. (Montgomery)|
|Assheton, R.||Butler, R. A,||Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yoovil)|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Cartland, J. R. H.||De Chair, S. S.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Carver, Major W. H.||Denman, Hon. R. D.|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Cary, R. A.||Dodd, J. S.|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester)||Doland, G. F.|
|Balniel, Lord||Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n)||Dorman-Smith, Major Sir R. H.|
|Baxter, A. Beverley||Channon, H.||Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury)|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Dugdale, Captain T. L.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Christie, J. A.||Duggan, H. J.|
|Beechman, N. A.||Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.||Duncan, J. A. L.|
|Beit, Sir A. L.||Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead)||Eastwood, J. F.|
|Bernays, R. H.||Clarry, Sir Reginald||Edmondson, Major Sir J.|
|Birchall, Sir J. D.||Colman, N. C. D.||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Conant, Captain R. J. E.||Ellis, Sir G.|
|Boulton, W. W.||Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Elliston, Capt. G. S|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N.||Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)||Elmley, Viscount|
|Brass, Sir W.||Craven-Ellis, W.||Emery, J. F.|
|Emmotl, C. E. G. C.||Latham, Sir P.||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Leech, Sir J. W.||Remer, J. R.|
|Errington, E.||Less-Jones, J.||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)|
|Erskine-Hill, A. G.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Everard, W. L.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)|
|Findlay, Sir E.||Levy, T.||Rowlands, G.|
|Fleming, E. L.||Liddall, W. S.||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.|
|Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Lipson, D. L.||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.|
|Furness, S. N.||Llewellin, Colonel J. J.||Russell, Sir Alexander|
|Fyfe, D. P. M.||Locker-Lampson, Comdr.O. S.||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Loftus, P. C.||Salmon, Sir I.|
|Gledhill, G.||Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Salt, E. W.|
|Gluckstein, L. H.||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Ross)||Samuel, M. R. A.|
|Glyn, Major Sir R, G. C.||Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)||Sandys, E. D.|
|Goldie, N. H.||McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.||Scott, Lord William|
|Gower, Sir R. V.||McKie, J. H.||Selley, H. R.|
|Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)||Macmillan, H. (Stookton-on-Tees)||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U. B'lf'st)|
|Grant-Ferris, R.||Macnamara, Major J. R. J.||Smiles, Lieut-Colonel Sir W. D.|
|Granville, E. L.||Magnay, T.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)||Makins, Brigadier-General Sir Ernest||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)|
|Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald|
|Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake)||Marsden, Commander A.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Gunston, Capt. Sir D. W.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.|
|Hambro, A. V.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Spears, Brigadier-General E. L.|
|Hannah, I. C.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Spens, W. P.|
|Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Harbord, A.||Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. T. C.||Strauss, E. A. (Southwark. N.)|
|Harvey, Sir G.||Moreing, A. C.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.)||Morgan, R. H.||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)|
|Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.|
|Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||Tate, Mavis C.|
|Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.||Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Munro, P.||Thorneycroft, G. E. P.|
|Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan-||Nail, Sir J.||Titchfield, Marquess of|
|Herbert, A. P. (Oxford U.)||Nicholson, G. (Farnham)||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||O'Connor, Sir Terence J.||Turton, R. H.|
|Higgs, W. F.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Wakefield, W. W.|
|Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S||Patrick, C. M.||Walker-Smith, Sir J.|
|Holmes, J. S.||Peake, O.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Hopkinson, A.||Peters, Dr. S. J.||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||Petherick, M.||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Haek., N.)||Pickthorn. K. W. M.||Watt, Major G. S. Harvie|
|Hulbert, N. J.||Pilkington, R.||Wells, Sir Sydney|
|Hume, Sir G. H.||Porritt, R. W.||Wniteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)|
|Hunloke, H. P.||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton||Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Hunter, T.||Radford, E. A.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Hutchinson, G. C.||Raikes, H. V. A. M.||Wise, A. R.|
|Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir T. W. H.||Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|James, Wing-Commander A. W. H.||Ramsbotham, H.||Wragg, H.|
|Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)||Rankin, Sir R.||Wright, Wing-Commander J. A. C.|
|Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth)||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Keeling, E. H.||Rayner, Major R. H.|
|Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose)||Reed, A. C. (Exetar)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES,—|
|Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)||Reed, Sir H. S. (Aytosbury)||Captain Hope and Mr. Grimston.|
|Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Reid, J. S. C. (Hillhead)|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Barr rose——
§ It being after Eleven of the Clock and objection being taken to further Proceeding, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.