§ [6TH ALLOTTED DAY.]
§ Considered in Committee.
§ [Captain BOURNE in the Chair.]
§ CIVIL ESTIMATES, 1938 [Progress].
§ CLASS V.
§ MINISTRY OF LABOUR.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £14,837,000, 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 Ministry of Labour, including sums payable by the Exchequer to the Unemployment Fund, grants to local authorities, associations and other bodies in respect of unemployment insurance, Employment Exchange and other services; grant in aid of the National Council of Social Service; expenses of transfer and resettlement; expenses of training of unemployed persons and, on behalf of the Army Council and Air Council, of soldiers and airmen for employment; contribution towards the expenses of the International Labour Organisation (League of Nations); expenses of the Industrial Court; and sundry services'." — [Note.—£9,750,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Lawson
Before the Parliamentary Secretary opens his statement, may I put a question as to the conduct of the Debate? There are really two Votes on this Estimate—one for the Ministry of Labour and one for the Unemployment Assistance Board. In view of that, may I ask you, Captain Bourne, if you will allow a wide Debate?
I think it will probably be for the convenience of the Committee if we followed the practice of last year and permitted a wide Debate covering both these Votes. In that case it will be necessary for the hon. Gentleman not to move a reduction until the end of the Debate, for if he moves it earlier he will limit the Debate to the Vote to which he has moved the reduction.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Lennox-Boyd)
I am very glad that an opportunity has arisen for a discussion of this kind on the year's working of the Ministry of Labour. I appreciate that the Opposition are par- 248 ticularly desirous of raising one or two aspects of the work of the Ministry and of the Unemployment Assistance Board. During the course of my speech I will deal with some of the doubts and difficulties in their minds, but I should also like to take the opportunity to make references to other activities of the Ministry of Labour which, I think, ought not to go entirely without comment at this time of the Parliamentary year. May I say at the start how glad I am, coming as I do, new to the work as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry, that I am to be followed in this Debate by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), whose distinguished tenure of the post that it is now my privilege to fill is well known inside and outside the House, whose portrait looks down upon me behind the desk which I occupy at the Ministry of Labour to remind me every day of the possibility of the dangers and pitfalls into which I may stray, and whose books provide a liberal education in those human problems with which the Ministry is concerned to all who are wise enough to read them.
I was in Scotland last week on the work of the Ministry of Labour and in Lancashire the week before last, and I have been in the course of the last few months to a number of centres where the Ministry's work is carried out. I think that the hon. Member who is to follow me will agree with me when I say that wherever one goes, whoever the Parliamentary Secretary may be and to whichever party he may belong, one finds widespread approval of the work done by local officials of the Ministry and a respect for the human considerations which they recognise must operate in their day-to-day work. I found from representatives of employers and workers alike a deep appreciation of the services that are rendered with the minimum of criticism, showing the service which is rendered by the Ministry of Labour to be a very human service indeed. Everybody will agree that this work and the human side of it are facilitated by the large army of voluntary workers who give their services readily in making the smooth discharge of the Ministry's work possible.
There are, I believe, some 20,000 men and women who serve voluntarily on local employment committees, juvenile advisory committees, Unemployment 249 Assistance Board advisory committees, and as unpaid members of the courts of referees and appeal tribunals. I think it very desirable that on an occasion of this kind they should realise how grateful all parties of the House are for the public spirit they show. They provide an admirable liaison between the central administration and local conditions and opinions. Their knowledge of local industry is invaluable, not least in two aspects of the Ministry's work to which later I would like to make reference. When one considers that last year through Employment Exchanges alone over 2,500,000 men and women were placed in employment, one can realise how important it is that people with knowledge of local industry and conditions should be available to advise the officers of the Ministry. When one realises also, taking the juvenile work, that last year some 700,000 children left school and 600,000 at least immediately competed in the labour market, one can appreciate how important the work of the juvenile advisory committees is in seeing that young people starting on an industrial life choose the right career.
I shall hope a little later to deal with various aspects of the Ministry's work, but at the moment I should like to deal in particular with one or two problems which I know are disturbing the minds of hon. Members opposite. May I say with what gratification everybody will have noticed the latest unemployment figures for the Special Areas? Comparing April, 1938, with April, 1937, there has been a decrease of some 12,000 people unemployed. since the end of 1934, when the Special Areas legislation was first passed, the decline is roughly 150,000 in the number of people out of work in the Special Areas. Complacency would most certainly be out of place, and I would not suggest to the Committee, least of all to those Members who represent districts which are hard hit enough to be classified as Special Areas, that the improvement is so considerable that no further effort is required. Special attention should be drawn to that decline, however, because it is often passed over without comment and it is a significant illustration of the advantage of the practical help which has been brought to the needs of those areas by special legislation.
§ Mr. Aneurin Bevan
May I ask to what the decrease in the figures is due? Is it due to an increase of employment in the Special Areas or to transfers?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I shall deal later with the question of transference. Of course it has played some part, but the most substantial part of the improvement is due to a revival of industries in those areas, with which all hon. Members are fully conversant. In regard to the problem which is sometimes called the hard core of unemployment, the men and women who have been out of work for 12 months or more, there is also an advance and a significant advance to be recorded. Once more here I recognise that a very real problem remains, and this Debate will serve a useful purpose if attention is concentrated on the needs of people in that group for consideration. Taking April of this year, however, and comparing it with April of last year there has been a decline of some 42,000 people out of work in the category of men and women out of work for 12 months or more, and whereas last year their unemployment represented 25 per cent. of all the men and women on the total live register, at the present time it represents 17 per cent. I am not anxious so to analyse the unemployment figures as to give what would be the wrong impression that no problem remains, but none the less I think that that is a significant decrease and one to which attention should be drawn.
I understand that the hon. Member who is to follow me will pay particular attention to the question of the allowances given by the Unemployment Assistance Board and the question of the recent withdrawal of allowances that were given last October because of the combination of an increase in the cost of certain commodities and the coming of the winter months. I am sure the Committee will realise that the scales of the Unemployment Assistance Board should not be judged solely by the scales of the Regulations, but should be judged also in the light of the very wide discretion that is given to the officers of the Board. A sample, of which I imagine that most hon. Members have knowledge, was taken in December last of some 570,000 persons who were receiving allowances through the Board. It was found that 190,000 of them were in receipt of discretionary allowances exclusive of the 251 specific extra allowances for winter and the increased cost of living; that 46,000 of these also had a winter allowance; that 184,000 others, different people, had special winter and increased cost of living allowances. Those figures do not include the discretionary additions on account of rent above the standard in household cases, and, of course, that makes the picture even better from the point of view of the standard of living of the people receiving these discretionary allowances.
In regard to the winter allowances, which I imagine hon. Members on all sides of the Committee would like me to deal with, I would refer to a statement made first of all in this House by my right hon. Friend towards the end of October last year. He announced that because of changes in the price of certain commodities and the coming of winter the Board were about to issue a circular drawing the attention of local officers to these facts and authorising them to use discretion in granting extra allowances. At the time of this announcement to the House the cost of living figure was 158. The cost of food only was 143. As a result of the extra discretionary allowances that were given under this heading some 260,000 people out of 592,000 applicants for assistance were recently receiving this extra allowance.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
In one case the hon. Member spoke of "applicants," and in the other case of "people." Does he draw any distinction between the two words or are they synonymous?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I am applying these terms to precisely the same group of people. Now that the winter is happily over and at the same time the cost of living has shown a decline the Board has no longer got legal power to do what it has been doing. I should be glad to deal with that point when I give the very brief graph showing the rise and fall. The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) suggested that there has recently been a rise again in the cost of living, and of course he is right in drawing attention to it, for nothing is gained by shirking the facts. The cost of living when the Board's circular was first issued was 158. It rose in January of this year to 159, in February it was 157, in March 156, in April, 154, and this month unhappily it has risen again to 156. That, 252 of course, can be explained in some detail, but I shall not weary the House with explanations of the rise unless I am asked to do so. The cost of foodstuffs only, which was 45 above pre-war in January of this year, is now, in May, 39 above that level. The position is that the Board in the exercise of the discretionary powers given them by Parliament have no legal right to continue an allowance that was expressly given because of the combination of those two circumstances, the coming of winter and the rise in the cost of living.
The Minister has announced to the House that the Board have under consideration a new Regulation which will give them power to make an appropriate increase during winter months in future —specific power of such a nature that they will not be forced to ask Parliamentary authority if they find they wish to exercise the power. I believe that those people who rightly realise that the burden on unemployed homes is substantially higher in the winter than in the summer will be glad that the Board is to be equipped with this power. As for the actual increase, the average has been about 2s., and instructions have been issued that when these extra allowances are removed, they should be removed in two halves if 2s. or over was being given, and that if under 2s. was being given they should be withdrawn in one amount after a week's notice.
§ Mr. Graham White
Should not cases be reviewed on their merits? The Board has an over-riding duty to see that needs are met?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I shall come to that point. It cannot be stressed too often, as the hon. Member has reminded the Committee, that the Board has over-riding discretion, apart from the specific winter allowance, a discretion which, as I have shown in quoting the samples I have given, is very freely exercised. It is interesting to compare these winter allowances and the method of their withdrawal with the winter allowances that are given by a number of local authorities, all of which allowances, with one exception, are withdrawn by the end of April. The exception for some reason is the Burgh of Dunfermline, and their allowance is being withdrawn to-day, 17th May. Some 19 local authorities in the course of this last 253 winter have given these winter allowances, and I think that the allowances given by the Board for this combination of two circumstances compare very favourably indeed with the allowances given by those 19 local authorities. I would particularly draw attention to the fact that in the case of the London County Council, though it is true there has been an upward movement in certain specific cases, there has been no increase whatever because of the increased cost of living.
It may interest the Committee to compare the average weekly payments made by the Board in April, 1938, allowing for these various discretions, with the average weekly payments made over the corresponding period during the last two years. In April, 1938, some 555,000 people were receiving an average of 24s. 5d. a week. In May last year the average weekly payment was 23s. 11d.; and in May, 1936, 23s.7d., so that there is an appreciable increase in the average weekly allowance that is being paid. I hope that I have sufficiently opened up discussion on the two subjects on which I know hon. Members want to speak to provide a beginning to the Debate, even though there is little doubt that if I had ignored the subject altogether a debate would none the less have occurred.
I think it is very important to draw attention, as so infrequently can be done, to some of the really constructive work done by the Ministry in the course of the last 12 months. In order not to confuse the Committee too much I would deal with the subject under the two headings of placings of adults and the problem of juvenile unemployment. Nothing has impressed me more in the very brief time that I have held my present office, and on the journeys and visits I have been lucky enough to pay, than the discovery of what an important part the exchanges play in placing men in employment. Alike from the point of view of the State, which is naturally concerned that the right man should fill the right job, from the point of view of the man, the applicant for work, who does not want a fruitless and disheartening journey to the wrong factory or workshop, and from the point of view of the employer, who wants to fill a vacancy with the right person as quickly as possible, placing is of preeminent importance, and in this matter 254 the exchanges have played a very helpful part.
Moreover, because of the co-ordination between the different exchanges, they are in a position to place, as last year they did, some 500,000 people outside the areas where they are registered. Co-ordination between the different exchanges, and the knowledge of seasonal demands in different areas that each exchange possesses, render them able to fill vacancies not only in their own areas but outside. Last year some 3,140,000 vacancies were notified to the Employment Exchanges and some 2,625,000 vacancies were filled. I think that the attention of employers and employed alike should be drawn to the facilities that the exchanges give, in the hope that an ever-growing proportion of people who want work and of those who want people to work, may be assisted by the exchanges. Last year the exchanges did find difficulty in dealing with a number of applications for skilled engineers, hotel and restaurant workers and domestic servants. Attention cannot be directed to that fact too much.
If hon. Members are anxious to know what proportion of the vacancies filled are now filled by the exchanges, they may be interested to hear that of the total number of men and women registered last year as totally unemployed who found work, 29 per cent. found work through the Employment Exchanges. Certain employers patronise the exchanges more considerably than others. Indeed of the wholly unemployed who got jobs under local authorities last year, some 60 per cent. secured their jobs through the exchanges; and in the case of the hotel and catering industries nearly 40 per cent. secured their jobs in that way. In the course of last year the registered list of classified occupations has been brought up to date and amplified, and there is every hope that in the month ahead still more successful placings will be made. Of course, when I said just now that 500,000 people had been placed outside the areas where they were registered for unemployment, at once the question of transfer was raised, not necessarily but possibly. In the course of last year some 17,500 men were transferred from the scheduled depressed areas through the agency of the exchanges, and some 6,500 women. Some 14,000 juveniles were also transferred.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
A very good proportion were from the Special Areas. I hope I have said enough to impress on the Committee the work that is done through the exchanges in regard to placings. On the subject of juvenile unemployment there are very wide and striking variations, taking the United Kingdom as a whole, very largely due to geographical considerations. There were recently some 26,000 juveniles out of work still in the Special Areas. There are some 97,000 juveniles unemployed, taking the March returns for the country as a whole. Three-quarters of that too large army are to be found in the North East of England and the industrial parts of Wales and in those parts of Scotland where depression still persists. Taking London, the South Coast and the bulk of the Midland areas there is frequently an unsatisfied demand for juvenile labour.
I would not say the problem of juvenile unemployment is only a question of transference, but it is largely a question of transference, and I think nothing but harm is done to people who are out of work and who are anxious for work to have the suggestion made that transference can play no part in their economic and if necessary their physical recovery. After all, the changing face of England over the last 100 years is living evidence of the part that transference has played in the past. Taking 1934 as the year when a start was made in regard to juvenile transference, the figures of juveniles who have been transferred through the agencies of the Ministry show a considerable increase. Some 5,000 were transferred in 1934, the figure was doubled to 10,000 in 1935, and there was another increase to 15,000 in 1936. Last year showed a small decline to about 14,000, or a little over, and the reason for that is, I think, mainly the fact that there has been a recovery in certain of the districts whence juveniles were previously transferred which has encouraged them to seek work at home. The Ministry helps in travelling expenses and, if need be, in weekly grants, and through the various committees that are available every effort is made to see that what is naturally a wrench to nearly everybody is made as smooth as possible.
256 Every effort is also made to see that in the areas to which the juveniles are transferred adults already in employment there or anxious to get work are not displaced as a result of this transfer. There are certain conspicuous exceptions, but I think that some of those in more prosperous areas, not omitting altogether the local education authorities in more prosperous areas, could do more to help in this problem of the young unemployed. Some 3½ years ago a letter was sent to some 63 authorities asking them—they were all in prosperous districts—to help as much as they could, and a number have helped, but it is a significant fact that of all those transferred through the agency of local education authorities one quarter have gone to three areas alone—Birmingham, Rugby and Leicester—which have helped in a most splendid and commendable fashion. I do not propose to give the Committee information about the working of the various junior transfer centres or the vocational training schemes, except to say that in the last year they have shown an increase in the value they have rendered to the State, and the contribution made by the Ministry to such bodies as the Y.M.C.A., the Salvation Army or the Catholic Land Association has enabled much work to be achieved.
In regard to placing juveniles in work in general, I have already drawn attention to the help the Ministry have received from the juvenile advisory committees. Last year 694,000 vacancies for juveniles were notified, and through the help of the committees some 521,000 juveniles were placed in employment. This means that about 172,000 vacancies for juvenile workers were not filled by the exchanges, and this figure may well be read in the light of the fact that some 97,000 juveniles are still unemployed.
With regard to the junior instruction centres, attention has been drawn to the fact that while there are 97,000 juveniles out of work the average daily attendance last month at these centres was in the vicinity only of 22,000. I should not like the use of the word "only" to give the impression that that is a meagre achievement. I should like the opportunity to impress upon one side of the Committee, anyhow, that there is a proportion of whom obligatory attendance cannot be required. A very great number of juveniles registered as unemployed may have been out of work for only a few 257 days. No compulsion can be exercised upon them to go to these centres unless they have left school for four weeks, and, in addition, they must have been unemployed for six days during the course of the last three weeks. This may reduce very substantially the number of those whom the public—which does not trouble to make an over-critical analysis of the figures—think should be attending the junior instruction centres. I appreciate that only a few weeks ago we had a discussion upon unemployment insurance and—
§ Mr. Bevan
Before the hon. Member leaves the question of juvenile transference, has he nothing to say about how long these boys remain in the employment to which they were transferred? What is the after-transfer history? He knows that a very important private inquiry is being conducted in this matter, and that most alarming preliminary figures have been produced. We should like to know the nature of the employment to which they are transferred, the wages, how long they remain, what are the after-care arrangements, and the like? The hon. Member cannot skate over that aspect of the matter.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I have no desire to skate over it. The hon. Member will appreciate that the value of the training given in some of these centres cannot be measured only by whether or not the trainee has retained the first employment to which he goes. In every case in which training has been given it is reason able to assume that some permanent advantage has been conferred too, and where a number of them—and I do not dispute the facts, though I am not in a position to give exact figures—have left their employment and gone home—
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Yes, home—it is frequently found that they have gone home better fitted to find a job at home, and frequently with a job in mind, as a result of the training they have undergone at the training centres.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
Have the Department or the Advisory Committee any evidence to show that in the large centres to which these juveniles go there is a growing practice of keeping them in employment only until they are 18, and 258 then to dismiss them and replace them by other juveniles? When they are 18 years of age and entitled to a higher wage they are dismissed. There is growing evidence in the depressed areas of a return of boys and girls who have been dismissed from their employment in those circumstances, and of other juniors being sent to replace them.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I would not deny that in certain cases there may be evidence of juveniles being treated in that way, but I cannot accept the view that it is a growing practice. It is certainly an anti-social practice, and one to which it is advisable that attention should be drawn, in order that public opinion may be aroused and that, if necessary, other steps may be taken to prevent it. No harm can come from the suggestion being made, but I would deprecate the hon. Member giving the impression that it is such a growing practice—though he may not have done so himself other people might assume it to be the case. If I have left unsaid anything about any point with which the Committee is concerned my right hon. Friend, who will follow me, will deal with it at the close of the Debate.
Before I sit down I should like, in order that this brief survey may be relatively complete, to make some reference to the question of insurance. The House had an opportunity a few weeks ago of considering in some detail the Annual Report of the Statutory Committee, and hon. Members would not wish me to go over again ground that was adequately covered then, but I think that when giving a review of the year's work of the Ministry some attention should be drawn to the considerable increase in the number of people who are now enjoying the privileges of insurance as a result of the expansion of this scheme and to the material advantages which they now enjoy. Last year rather more than 100,000 gardeners were added to the agricultural scheme. In April of this year 50,000 private chauffeurs, and 170,000 institutional workers were included in the general scheme and 30,000 game-keepers, stablemen and others in kindred employments in the agricultural scheme.
Whereas five years ago a little over 12,500,000 people were enjoying the advantages of insurance against unemployment, the figure to-day is 15,000,000. That is a very notable increase, and one, 259 I think, upon which the country should be fully informed. There have at the same time been important modifications in the course of the last few months. The institution of the extra 1s. for adult dependants' benefit, and the increase in added days for good contributors mark the improvements in the industrial scheme. The reduction of the waiting period from six to three days, the drop of a halfpenny in the contribution of and in respect of persons 18 and upwards and the increase of 1s. 6d. to the weekly benefit of young persons between 18 and 21 mark the improvements in the agricultural scheme. I would not wish to give the House the impression that nothing more remains to be done, and, indeed, if nothing more did remain to be done I could not believe that my right hon. Friend would be satisfied to remain at his post.
In conclusion, I think a brief analysis should be applied to the unemployment figures, because they do give, particularly abroad, a rather one-sided picture of the state of employment in Great Britain. I do not analyse them in order to appear complacent. but to relate them to some of the methods of presenting figures adopted by other countries. It is unhappily true that on 4th April this year there were 1,748,000 people registered as unemployed, but of these 358,000 were temporarily stopped, and it is reasonable to assume that the vast proportion of those were expecting an early resumption of work. Then, 68,000 were casual workers, like dockers, who happened to be out of work on the day on which the count was taken. Also 93,000 were juveniles. Bearing in mind the still unsatisfied demands for juvenile labour in other parts of the country, their problem, apart from the problem of unemployment, is a problem of transfer. Of the 1,248,000 wholly unemployed adults, no less than 46 per cent. have been out of work for less than six weeks, and 73 per cent. for less than six months. There remains a formidable hard core. Quite apart from the existence of this hard core it must be a matter of concern to the country that so many good craftsmen anxious to resume work find a difficulty in getting a job. I am glad to have a chance to be associated with a Department the obligation of which is to join with other Government Departments and with private effort in trying to secure increased 260 employment for our people and to see that those who cannot, through no fault of their own, obtain work at the moment have their enforced idleness made more tolerable.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Lawson
It is usual for the Minister to open the Debate on these Estimates, but we understand that there are reasons why the right hon. Gentleman did not take that step to-day. However much we may differ from the right hon. Gentleman, nobody in the House will say that he does not stand up to his job when necessary. I should like to have followed the example of the hon. Gentleman who has opened this Debate in his very lucid statement on the handling of the Ministry's work during the year. I do not know whether he felt as cool as he looked, but I wish that I looked as cool as he looked when he was giving us those figures. I wish we could have had a Debate about the whole work of the Ministry, as we could have had had it not been for the pressure of other matters with which we wanted to deal. There is no one who knows the wide ramifications of the Ministry of Labour, with its innumerable sections and with its staff, which I venture to say has no equal in a similar Department anywhere in the world, but could wish that we could have begun to deal section by section with the various classes of work which they have to perform every year. Indeed, I myself —and I think I speak for my colleagues in this respect—can only wish that instead of having the Unemployment Assistance Board handling the unemployed, the staff of the Ministry of Labour had been doing it.
I want to remind the Committee that it is now four years since the Government took the step of separating unemployment insurance from what is now known as unemployment assistance. They removed the people responsible for the finance of Part I on the one side and for dealing with the great mass of largely long-term unemployed on the other—they removed the responsible administrative bodies from this House. I think that is the most fatal piece of legislation that has taken place in this country for many years. We argued at that time that in separating the two sections of the unemployed the Government were doing a great disservice, not only to the unemployed, but to the country, and that in removing the people 261 who were responsible from the direct purview and criticism of this House, they were in fact taking the unemployment problem out of the House of Commons. We can still ask the right hon. Gentleman questions, but he answers them in a mood as much as to say, "I have nothing to do with it; it is somebody else's job." We can still debate here, but there is no one who knows anything of the facts of the last two or three years but must agree that for all vital purposes we have no direct influence at all over affairs affecting the unemployed.
I must say—and I confess it not with any pleasure—that in all the years that I have been in the House of Commons I have never seen a Government or a House of Commons so little concerned about unemployment as has been the case during the past few years. There are 1,750,000 people unemployed, getting on towards 2,000,000. That is bad enough, and it is a thing that ought to disturb every serious thinking person, but I must say that I think there has been a spirit of complacency abroad which has reflected itself to some extent in the country. There was a time when this House of Commons could be really alarmed when there were 1,000,000 people unemployed, but to-day there are 1,750,000 and, what is worse, out of 1,500,000 applicants for insurance, no fewer than 1,000,000 of them are in the Northern areas and in Wales, in what are called the depressed areas; that is to say, the great burden falls upon comparatively limited areas of the country. It must be remembered too that that burden has been falling with increasing weight upon those areas for many years past.
I must say that I think the right hon. Gentleman should be congratulated on the fact that he has got out the Ministry of Labour Report a bit sooner this year than usual. I wish the Unemployment Assistance Board would take that as a model, because I think it is scandalous that we are now in the fifth month after the completion of the Unemployment Assistance Board's year, and we have not yet got their report. A great industrial revolution began in this country very shortly after the War, about 16 or 17 years ago. It really began round about 1922, but the report of the Ministry, on page 4 states:since 1923 the ' south ' group has grown between three and four times as fast as the 262 'north' group, with the result that the proportion of the country's workers aged 16–64 who are in the south has risen during this period from 45.7 per cent. to 51 per cent.I want to direct the notice of the Committee to this remarkable statement which follows:The most outstanding increase was in the south-eastern area, where the insured population rose by 54 per cent.; the smallest were in Wales, with only 1.8 per cent. and the northern division with 3.2 per cent.There has actually been a reduction of insured workers in Glamorgan and Monmouthshire since that time. What has happened has been that, with the growth of industry, round about 2,000,000 people have come into industry, as far as insured workers are concerned, since 1922, and nearly all of them have gone into the four areas—London, South-East, South-West, and the Midlands. The normal development has not taken place in Wales or in the Northern areas, and not only have normal increases not taken place—and that plays a part in the social economy of these areas—but side by side with that there has been an increasing burden of unemployment. That means that the old pre-eminence of those areas has diminished altogether. For instance, mining was the second industry in the country as far as numbers employed were concerned. I remember looking up the figures, I think it was some time last year, and I found that they were then sixth; I should not be surprised if they were now about seventh or eighth on the list. Cotton, where this business began, was one of the really big industries of the country, but it is dying to-day. Wool is being affected now, and shipbuilding, and in spite of apparent prosperity steel is diminishing, and heavy engineering.
There are about five industries that have been vitally affected by this process, and, what is worse, the effects of this kind of thing have not passed as the years have passed. These effects have left those areas loaded with debt and burdened with increasing rates. I want to draw attention to one thing in connection with these areas, which must be borne in mind, so that it can be understood. There is not much in the statement that there has been a slight reduction in the numbers of the unemployed in the Special Areas. That is nothing, in face of the calamity that has come upon those areas. These older areas were the first places set up under 263 the old industrial revolution, and until after the War their housing and sanitary conditions were shocking, and their social life was almost below par in some respects. It is a good thing that they had fairly high standards of communal relationship, which did redeem those social standards to some extent, but when the Minister of Health calls for the building of houses and for the abolition of slums, when he makes it appear to the country that there are to be great improvements, the greatest need is in those old areas which had such a bad start. There is there a great burden of housing and general social amelioration, as well as of the rates, and it gets worse. The burden of the rates in those areas, under the most economical administration, is becoming almost intolerable. But there is something worse than that. It has left a legacy of men, women, and children undermined physically, mentally, and to some extent spiritually.
When the right hon. Gentleman talks about the withdrawal of winter relief, we have to remember that there is longstanding deterioration and corrosion by unemployment in those areas. You only have to see the people, to talk to them, to understand what I mean. I was present a fortnight ago at the selection of scholars for the Miners' National Welfare Scholarship, and if one wants experience of the fineness of modern youth, one certainly gets it there. One fine little girl came in, and we had to ask about her home conditions and the whole lot of questions. She answered that her father was unemployed, and when she left that room every member sitting there, many from scholastic surroundings far removed from the ordinary industrial world, said almost simultaneously, "Half starved." The right hon. Gentleman has appointed an investigation committee himself, to investigate prices and certain conditions which affect the working classes. The right hon. Gentleman's own investigation is based upon a repudiation of the present system and a rise in the cost of living. I think the Unemployment Assistance Board have jumped too quickly in this business. They were too eager to show that they were saving a microscopic amount of money, in comparison with the amount it takes for their administration and the amount of the salaries that they 264 receive. There is not anything legally that can stop the Unemployment Assistance Board from continuing these grants. They have to meet the needs of the people. That is the overriding fact of law. We are stressing the fact that there is no legal barrier against the continuance of these grants.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
May I refresh the mind of the hon. Member as to what I said? I said that there was no legal power in the Board to continue allowances expressly given because of the coming of winter and the increased cost of living, and I added that the general discretion in the power of the Board to give such allowances as they think desirable is an overriding one.
§ Mr. Lawson
In the face of that statement I do not know why the statement should be made that there was no legal power, because one cancels out the other. What are the facts in regard to poor relief? I am not saying that this position affects only the Special Areas. There are parts of London where you get a high rate of unemployment. I have been looking up the abstract of labour statistics and trying to get the last figures for 1937. I gather from the abstract that in 1931 the number of people on the Poor Law was 276 per 10,000, and at the end of 1936 the number was 361 per 10,000, or nearly 100 more per 10,000. A great bulk of these figures comes from the Special Areas. You have also to add the effects of the Derating Act, with which I cannot deal. The Unemployment Assistance Board is responsible for the proper care of the long-term unemployed, amounting to 500,000 or 600,000. The Parliamentary Secretary said that there was a reduction last year of 42,000 in the number of people who have been out of work a year and more. That hardly keeps pace with the death rate. There are still nearly 300,000 who have been idle a year and more, and some of them have been unemployed for from five to 10 years.
By the Act of 1934 and by pledges given in speeches in this House the Unemployment Assistance Board is bound to take such steps as will enable men to get back, if possible, into the field of industry. Anyone who knows anything of what takes place in this House will remember the great hopes that were 265 placed by the Government, and by those who supported that special legislation, upon the part that the Board would play in getting men back into industry. The columns of such representative journals as the '' Times '' could be quoted in proof of the fact that they almost believed that the new Unemployment Assistance Board would be a method of solving the unemployment problem for the older men. Certainly that impression was given to the country. What have they done? They have done nothing. The body of long-term unemployment has been unmoved, and is apparently immovable. True, a small number have got back into industry, but many have died off, and in the main the body of this problem stands unmoved. This is at a time of industrial boom, and it is a position which ought to receive the Minister's very serious consideration.
I am sorry to say that there are very ominous signs for the future. I do not think that fact can be denied. Statistical journals, and experts who make it their business to consider these problems, business men and workmen also, tell the same story. We are in a time of industrial boom and yet there are 1,750,000 unemployed, 600,000 have been unemployed for six months and more, and 300,000 have been unemployed for a year or more. What is to become of the aims set forth in the Act? When the right hon. Gentleman answers to-day, he has to answer this fact, that the expressed reason for changing the whole unemployment insurance law and the whole method of dealing with it in the legislation of 1934 was that at last we were going to get to grips with this problem. The right hon. Gentleman ought to tell the House and the country what the Board have done.
It is sometimes asked: "What is the quality of the people who are unemployed?" Many people think that they are persons who in no case would come within the ambit of the ordinary industrial life of the nation. Failing the Unemployment Assistance Board's report for 1937 I can only fall back upon the report for 1936, and on page 5 of that report this is what the Board say:The generality of the Board's applicants are ordinary men and women, capable of managing their own lives and making use of their allowances to the best advantage; they are no different in character or aptitude from 266 the claimants to unemployment insurance benefit or the persons in employment. It is important that the Board's outlook should be firmly based upon a recognition of this fact, … A large proportion of them are, by present industrial requirements, relatively old. Forty-five per cent. of the Board's applicants between the ages of 18 and 64 are 45 years of age and over as compared with 27 per cent. of claimants to unemployment insurance benefit.…Industry will have to accustom itself to the fact that it cannot continuously find a supply of juvenile and young labour; it must be prepared to engage and retain older men.… The report for the region of Wales calls particular attention to the problems of isolated mining communities where the whole industrial life of the community has collapsed.Those communities are made up of people who are no different from those who claim unemployment insurance benefit. Reference is made in various parts of the report to Special Areas, and they pay a tribute to the calibre and character of the men. Take the question of the young. There is a good deal of talk about training. It is quite natural in the modern method of transport that you will have people moving about more easily than in pre-war times, and it is natural that we should have a certain number of boys and girls travelling, but to organise a system where you take wholesale, boys and girls and send them distances of 200 up to 400 miles in order to subsidise employers who have deliberately refused to go to those parts where the labour is to be found, is another matter. I notice that in the evidence given by the Welsh representatives before the Royal Commission on the Geographical Distribution of the Industrial Population it is said:Each juvenile worker transferred from the Special Area of South Wales has cost the local ratepayers an average of about £54 to educate during his nine years in a public elementary school. If 5,000 such juveniles are transferred in a year, this represents a subsidy to English districts, or employers, of approximately £270,000 from public funds, not to speak of tie cost to the parents.Therefore, the South Wales people are robbed of the benefit of the work of these children. The same fact was set forth in the evidence given from the Northern Area, which says:The losses to the area as a result of this migration are mainly of the younger people up to 35 years of age—those who are most capable of finding employment. It is obvious that difficulties must arise when an industrial region is denuded of its younger generation and left with its older insured population. The problems created are both social and economic. In Durham County especially the 267 result of this migration has been to leave the area with an undue percentage of the older generation, which complicates the provision of social facilities such as housing, schools, etc., and renders more difficult the work of local authorities which already are burdened more heavily than they can bear by reason of poor relief caused by unemployment. It is clear that this matter of migration and transference requires most careful investigation in order to ascertain what its ultimate effects may be upon the industrial future of the North-East.What does that mean? It means that those who have favoured juvenile transference are now becoming very doubtful about it. What of the effect upon boys and girls of taking them away? Individually it may be all right. It was all right as an expedient for a year or two; it was the least of the evils. Now it has been going on for some dozen years, and areas have been denuded of their most virile populations. I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Government have any policy to meet that problem. Training is a necessary part of the ordinary industrial organisation in the ordinary way, but only a miscroscopic part. Juveniles are trained in many ways. Is this scheme the last word upon what is to be done with the juveniles? It is significant to remember that the Government's juvenile training centres have become known among boys and girls as "the dole school."
§ Mr. Lawson
That is the common name given to them. Has any hon. Member noticed the difference between boys and girls who continue their education and those who go to what is called "the dole school"? I come from the county which started that scheme on a big scale and was among the first in the country. We did it enthusiastically. After close examination I must say I think that there is no other solution to this problem but to continue education at school for a year or two longer at least, and to keep the boys and girls at school under ordinary teachers until they can enter into industry. I protest against the assumption that Lancashire, Cumberland, Durham, Wales and Scotland are to continue indefinitely to send their most virile population to feed other areas and to subsidise employers. I particularly protest 268 against driving children from home because Ministers are mentally too lazy to face the problem of the boy in industry.
I want the Minister to answer another question. I gather that the Special Areas Act finishes at the end of March next year. There are very ominous rumours abroad about the Special Areas Act. It is said in well-informed circles that the Government do not intend to continue even that meagre instalment of legislation. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give us an answer on that point. If we cannot get anything else we want at least to keep the fraction of legislation that we managed, by force of public opinion, to wrest from the Government some years ago. What does it matter to the Special Areas that you have balanced your Insurance Fund. What does it matter to the 300,000 men who have been out of work for a year or more that your Insurance Fund is what you call balanced? It is no profit to those who have been out of work for years that you managed to save £8,500,000 last year on the Unemployment Assistance Board, or that you have managed to reduce or to withdraw a little in other ways.
I have pleaded in this House. I appreciate the generous words which the Parliamentary Secretary used during his speech. I have pleaded in the country for these people. In these days I ask myself what is to be the condition of this country if this state of things is allowed to go on. Here is a great cancer eating at the very vitals of the industrial and economic life of this nation. Very few men want to be idle. The other day I met a friend of mine of the old pit days. He had been idle for some time but he got work, and I noted that he was looking very well. He said he was feeling very well and he added: "I am working now." He said: "No so-and-so means test man for me." He is one of the fine type of workmen to whom the very visit of a person of less character and less ability than himself is an affront. We have built up a great organisation and duplicated it, and it costs millions, in order to chase men to get a few shillings out of them. As a matter of fact, this Unemployment Assistance Board organisation, with its overhead charges and upkeep, is costing this country millions of pounds compared with the few pounds that somebody might get away with.
269 I hope there will be an opportunity one day to examine this venture financially. They say that they have balanced the Unemployment Fund. When we were in office everything went into the debt, until the last six months. It has cost the Board £300,000,000 in the last few years for allowances and I am pleased that it has, but that is not balancing the Unemployment Fund. This is the greatest hoax that was ever put across the people of this country, and they know it. The idle men of this country would much sooner be working. That is understandable. We have a wonderful and virile population, of people who love their crafts and their labour. I sometimes think when I travel northwards on the railway what a wonderful thing it is that we can go along for hundreds of miles in safety, although if one rail were out of joint for half an inch it would mean disaster to everybody on the train. Everything is right because an ordinary workman does his job.
In industry after industry there are men who would sooner be working than idle, but are the Government troubled about the present situation? They are absolutely and serenely self-satisfied. They are blind to this problem and its effects upon decent men and women. They appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the distribution of population and to establish facts which were perfectly well known to every student before they began. Asked about this matter, the Prime Minister answers almost in a cynical tone. Not a tittle of evidence has been given to this new Commission that was not known to the Commission. I say to the Government: You have no plans. You have nothing but complete self-satisfaction in the face of this terrible menace to the nation. You have wasted the years. You have done nothing. If we raise the whole problem of the condition of the unemployed in discussion in this House it is not because of the right hon. Gentleman, who has made his contribution, I think, to the self-satisfaction in the matter, or because we hope that anything will be done here; but because we hope that in some way and at some time the nation will face the matter and that the people will themselves make the contribution that the Government have failed to make in connection with this terrible problem.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Crossley
On the subject of unemployment the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) always speaks with deep human sympathy for those among whom he has lived all his life. He wrote one of the most interesting books that it has ever been my experience to read on the subject of the north country. I hope he will forgive me if I found some pleasure during his speech in learning that he did appreciate the Special Areas legislation. I would make one criticism of his argument relating to the winter allowances of the Unemployment Assistance Board. Several of us fought for a long time, and were continually putting forward the view, that there should be winter allowances. It always struck me that the essential corollary would be that those allowances would be withdrawn in the summer, to be reintroduced in the following winter. That was done, and I cannot see any special reason why it should not have been done this year. There is no special remaining-up of the figure of the cost of living. In April it was down to 154 and this month it is up to 156.
§ Mr. Crossley
The cost of living has to be taken into account by the Unemployment Assistance Board, but it is highly improbable that they would at any time consider reducing the allowance in the winter. There is always a discretionary power. It is a very desirable power to have. If the cost of living rose in the summer or remained the same in the summer, hon. Gentlemen would have a case against the winter relief being withdrawn.
I wish to pass on to the general work of the Ministry of Labour, and to make a few observations and ask a few questions. It was rather amazing to me to find, in view of the fact that 2,500,000 people were placed through the Employment Exchanges, that only 29 per cent. of those engaged were in fact placed through those Exchanges, and that there 271 were 71 per cent. who were privately engaged otherwise than through the Exchanges. That shows the vast turnover of engagements each year. Undoubtedly, however, there has been in many districts a real shortage of labour of some kinds, in particular of engineering and building labour. It has always been— [Interruption] I can give the hon. Member an example from the Nottingham district. I can speak without the slightest hesitation, from personal experience there, of the difficulty of obtaining skilled engineering labour in the Nottingham district. With a Government gun factory in Nottingham itself, and the Rolls Royce works expanding in Derby, the difficulty of obtaining skilled engineering labour in that district is almost insuperable.
§ Mr. Crossley
If the hon. Member wants to interrupt me, I hope he will stand up. If he does, I will consider whether I will give way to him or not.
§ Mr. Bevan
The hon. Member says that there is a shortage of engineering labour in Nottingham. We have had these general statements made over and over again, all of which have been denied by responsible officials of the union concerned. If we are to have these statements made, we are entitled to have specific evidence, and not a mere statement from an hon. Member who in the whole of his speech has revealed a complete misunderstanding of the problem he is dealing with.
§ Mr. George Griffiths rose—
§ Mr. Crossley
Perhaps I may answer the one hon. Member first. I can give specific evidence of that, because I am a director of an engineering firm half-way between Nottingham and Derby, which is what we try to make model employment. We provide everything, including a pension scheme for our workpeople. We have been losing men on the Nottingham side, and we have been losing men on the Derby side. We cannot get them replaced by men with a sufficient degree of skill. We can get semi-skilled, but not completely skilled, labour.
§ Mr. Crossley
Yes, various skilled engineering workers—turners, fitters and so on. There is a real shortage at the present time. I wanted to ask the Minister of Labour very much the same sort of question which apparently was in the mind of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan). One often hears from the Amalgamated Engineering Union that there are 8,000 unemployed on their books. What is the average length of the time for which these men have been unemployed, and are they fully skilled? There is at the present time a real shortage of engineering labour, and I can speak of that real shortage in the district of my own constituency, where many of the works in Trafford Park are really short of skilled engineers at the present moment. At the time when there is a shortage in some districts, and undoubtedly a great surplus of labour supply, often semi-skilled labour supply, in other districts, transfer becomes the obvious remedy. I have been immensely impressed with the extent of the work of the Ministry of Labour. They have not only seized the possibility, but have anticipated the possibility of obtaining work for men, usually from depressed areas, in other parts of the country where men are needed. They have sent them in advance of the jobs actually being taken; they have paid them special allowances during the time that they have been waiting for the jobs in the towns to which they have gone; when they have got the jobs, they have paid them special allowances until theiar families could be brought and accommodation could be found; and they have paid the cost of the families' removal, not only of the people themselves, but of the furniture.
§ Mr. Crossley
It has been a fine human service, and it has brought men out of areas in which they have had little hope into areas where they have found work, and where they can keep work. It is done on a family basis, though the hon. Member who represents the Communist party may possibly take some objection to that.
§ Mr. Crossley
It is quite true that some local authorities have put forward that argument, but I do not believe they have 273 done any great service to the unemployed in putting it forward. It may be desirable or it may not be desirable to have national planning and compulsory location of industry, but no Member on the other side of the House can tell me that that will solve the actual problem of the unemployed in those areas for many years to come. If in the meantime you are to leave unemployed men, and not transfer them, because you are prepared to wait for some hypothetical time in the future when you have satisfactory location of industry, you are going to leave the unemployed in a very bad position, when you might have done a great deal for them by transferring them, especially when they are transferred with all the care that the Ministry of Labour is exercising at the present time. It is not an experimental service, as it was five years ago; it is now a service which supplies after-care and help in many ways, for adults as well as juveniles. I think that hon. Members opposite are doing no service to the unemployed in not encouraging the Ministry in that work.
I would like to say something about the transference of unemployed juveniles. That is a particularly human problem, because it means taking children, or little more than children, away from their parents, away from home, and placing them in another district. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street spoke with considerable feeling, with which I have every sympathy, on that point. I am not sure, however, that as a rule it does any harm to a young person to go out into the world and fend for himself. [An HON. MEMBER: "At 14? "] At 16. I am not sure that it ever has in our history. We have read about most of the great men of the past, that is what they did. I am satisfied that the Ministry of Labour are exercising the utmost care in the case of these children, except on one point, about which I want to ask a question. I am satisfied that they are in league with innumerable voluntary workers, who are exercising the utmost voluntary care when these juveniles have been found jobs in other parts of the country; and they are frequently paying allowances to the children when they are employed, in order to make up the wage, which at first may well be a low one, to a decent living wage with pocket money.
274 There is, however, just one point. I think that probably the Minister has no power to deal with it, but I am not absolutely satisfied that there is not some slight justification in the complaints of the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street, that there are factories which turn out these juveniles when they come to be grown up and to earn a larger wage. I could give my right hon. Friend, and I will do so in private, the names of two firms which I know are doing this. I do not think that these firms should ever have the approval of the Ministry of Labour as suitable firms to which to transfer juveniles. I think it may be true, also, that the juvenile employment committees in prosperous districts do not do their utmost to help the Ministry in finding what really is suitable work, with promise of progressive advances of wages in the future. Certainly I am not satisfied that the juvenile employment committees in prosperous areas show anything like enough enthusiasm in helping the Ministry of Labour to find jobs at all for juveniles from depressed districts. Yet in the last three years it is a remarkable fact that over 40,000 juveniles have been placed by the Ministry of Labour.
I want now to say a word, which has hardly been said in this Debate hitherto, about the various Government training schemes for unemployed of different ages. I think that the Government training centres have lost a lot of the criticism which was showered upon them two or three years ago, both from the employers' side and from the labour side. To-day they are meeting a real need. They are producing men who are semiskilled, and who, after a course of factory training, become skilled workers. They have made an appreciable advance in finding men for the engineering trades, in which they are so much needed. It is true that those men, when they come from the Government training centres, are often for a time a liability; but they have absorbed a great deal of the knowledge which it is necessary for them to acquire. The Government training centres are only applied to one class of men—the class of men who are promising, who are keen, but who are unlikely to get jobs of work in their own district at their own job, and are unlikely to get jobs of work in another district, without a special course 275 of training. I think they have fulfilled a very great service in the past year or two, and have proved to be an absolutely essential corollary to the Ministry's policy of transference.
I am also very glad to have found out recently from the Ministry of Labour that special efforts are being made to train men who are serving with the armed Forces, not in the period after they leave the Army but in their last six months in the Army. I think that that is a great advance, and I am glad to see that in the last year no fewer than 10,000 men have been so trained for civilian employment. I would like to ask the Minister whether that is not a system which could be extended to every recruit who joined the Army. I am sure it would have a considerable effect on recruiting, and that in itself is desirable; but I am equally certain it would be to the very great advantage of the men themselves who want to join the Army. To have to spend a period out of work after leaving the Army must be most disheartening.
The Minister has always taken a great interest in the welfare of domestic servants. He came into the open once, and made some remarks in public on the subject which brought upon his head a certain amount of ridicule; but I think he was justified in what he did then. I am satisfied, though, that there are quite a number of servant girls coming up to London who are not getting into the right sort of homes. I frequently find myself in the East End of London, where I have an opportunity of talking with young men in all sorts of work, and I get complaints that there are servant girls, especially from Wales, who are not getting into the right sort of homes. I wish the Minister would look into that a little more closely. I do not believe it is entirely, or even mainly, dislike of the idea of domestic service which causes the shortage of domestic servants. I cannot help thinking that it is partly due to anxiety on the part of parents as to what is going to happen to their daughters. It is most important that any possible justification for that fear should be allayed.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street criticised very harshly the Unemployment Act which was passed in the last Parliament. He criticised the separation of 276 the insured unemployed from those who have passed out of insurance and are now cared for by the Unemployment Assistance Board, and he also criticised very harshly the work of the Board itself. I cannot help feeling that in the last four years we have seen, both under the direct jurisidiction of the Minister of Labour and under the aegis of the Unemployment Assistance Board, an enormous improvement in the social work done for the unemployed: in the scales and assessment of their allowances, in the rates of their insurance, in their general welfare, in the finding of work for them, and in their transfer from depressed to more prosperous areas. I would say, with all sincerity, that when I look back on the last six years, and think of the various Measures the Government have passed, I believe that the Measure which has really done the most practical social service was the Unemployment Act, 1934. I believe it has been administered with the utmost wisdom and enthusiasm and discretion by the Minister of Labour, and I cannot associate myself with the criticism the hon. Member has made of the Board. The Ministry of Labour has broken the backs of most Ministers, but this particular Minister has broken the back of his job. [Interruption.] Well, there is an advantage sometimes in being able to shout your opponents down. The work which has been done in the last four years by the Minister of Labour, although it does not call for complacency, certainly calls for pride.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Mr. White
I would like first to refer to the observations of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Crossley) with regard to the practice of employing juveniles and then discharging them when the time comes at which they require to be paid a higher remuneration. That practice should be branded as anti-social, and I think that the fact is becoming more widely recognised. It was certainly the case that juvenile labour used to be discharged as soon as it was necessary to provide Unemployment Insurance stamps. Although I know that the practice to which the hon. Member referred is going on still, it is less prevalent.
§ Mr. White
I do not want to be drawn into a discussion on that point. That is 277 my experience. Other Members may have a different impression. In spite of all that has been said with regard to the legal position of the special winter allowances that have been paid, I still find myself in a state of some confusion, because if it is necessary to have legal confirmation of the payment of these things it seems to me that there must have been illegal action. In any case, there is always the over-riding discretion, though it is true that that is limited.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Brown)
The point is that the general discretion of the Board, as the House knows, referred to special circumstances, but we cannot call winter special circumstances. When you get a very sudden and sharp rise in the cost of living, that is a special circumstance; but when we want to make these payments in the ordinary course legal powers are necessary.
§ Mr. White
That is now quite clear. But if there were to be automatic reductions by, say, 2s. a head for all, that would be a serious matter. I assume, however, that there will be no automatic reduction. In every case where a reduction is made, the client will have the right of appeal, and every case will be dealt with on its merits. The standards of the Unemployment Assistance Board are not maximum standards. It is not our method, unfortunately, in this country to work on maximum standards. I hope some Government some day will devote itself to finding out what are the proper standards of consumption and work to them. That will enable us to help not only the consumer but also the producer, which is very necessary.
Whenever unemployment assistance has been under discussion I have always sympathised with the Minister in having to answer for a body for which he has no responsibility, and in regard to which the House of Commons is in an anomalous position whenever it has to consider the operations of the Board. The time has come when the situation ought to be reviewed again. We do many strange things in this country, but to set down this autocratic body in the midst of a democratic Constitution is really an outrage on common sense. It is quite clear that it will not continue to work. Here we have this great unclassified, 278 amorphous body, squatted down amidst the social services of this country and possessing concurrent powers with other services. I am glad to see that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education is here, because the time has come when he and the Minister of Health and the Minister of Labour should constitute themselves a triumvirate, and inquire into this Board and find out whether it is not usurping their functions. Is the Parliamentary Secretary satisfied, from the point of view of the Board of Education, that his Department is not being subsidised by the Board, and that it would be better for services which are in part controlled by the Board of Education, such as the supply of school meals, to be administered solely by his Department? The Board is rigid at the centre but elastic in its scope and uncertain in its intentions, and the time has come for something to be done before we get into greater difficulties, and before some of the backward local authorities find that this Board is doing work which ought to be their responsibility.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) referred to the expenditure of the Board. I must again draw attention to the very great increase in the expenditure of the Board, not upon the relief which it gives to the clients, but in connection with administration. In the financial years during which the Board was not responsible for these payments, but the Ministry of Labour and the local authorities combined, there were far more cases to be dealt with, and less was spent on administration. In 1933 there were 988,000 cases to be dealt with on a transitional basis, and the cost of administration was £3,385,000. In 1934, with 951,000 cases, the cost again was something over £3,000,000. In March, 1937, the number of cases had fallen to 600,000, and the services of the Board, together with payments to the right hon. Gentleman's Department, had gone up to £4,413,000. Now, I gather that the expenditure has advanced to something like £5,000,000, and the average weekly number of cases for the current year is 591,000.
I do not complain of the right hon. Gentleman, for I know that he is not responsible in any way, but I trust that he can give some explanation of what seems to be a very remarkable circum- 279 stance. I should imagine that the increase far outweighs any saving which might be brought about by the abolition of the winter allowance. I should like to know the views of the advisory committees on that particular point; whether they have in fact been consulted. The conduct of the Unemployment Assistance Board with regard to its advisory committees is rather unusual. It was part of their duty under the Act to establish these committees and they neglected to do it for 18 months or two years at a time when their services would have been of very great value. Now that they have been set up, it would be interesting to know whether, on a matter of this kind, they were consulted or whether they were not. If the Unemployment Assistance Board would consult with the regional committee which is helping the Minister of Health with regard to the National Health and Fitness Campaign, they might get some useful information and probably some very sound advice from them as well.
I wish to draw the attention of the Committee and that of my right hon. Friend to two matters which seem to be of importance as to general policy and specific difficulties in one or two industries. I refer to the development of security schemes which are under consideration in connection with those who are seeking a solution of the difficulties with respect to decasualisation of dock labour, and the preparation of schemes for giving greater security to shipping workers in connection with laying-up schemes and the like. For example, there is the scheme adopted by the soap manufacturing industry, and, in particular, the scheme which has been set up after careful consideration by the Joint Industrial Council for the milling industry. This is a matter of interest to many hon. Members of the Committee, including the hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Law), the the hon. Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Oliver) and hon. Members representing milling districts. It is a matter of notable importance and wide application, and I would like to give the details in dealing with this matter. The scheme for security was developed as a result of the co-operation of the Joint Industrial Council of the milling industry. In considering and devising a scheme of that kind it had the 280 assistance of the flour milling Employers' Federation, the Co-operative Wholesale milling department and the corresponding Scottish society, and, on the workers' side, of the Transport and General Workers' Union, the Distributive and Allied Trades Union and the General and Municipal Workers. In the course of their normal business the question of remuneration of the flour milling operatives was under consideration, and it appeared that, although the weekly rate of pay was high, the actual amount received by the workers did not always agree with the actual rate of wages, owing to short time and reasons of that kind.
It was agreed that the workers were entitled to proper remuneration and wages and that that rate should be the weekly rate. They therefore devised a scheme, which is now in operation, in which the governing principle was that of continuity of employment or the payment of such an amount as would secure a full weekly income when stoppages occurred through slackness or short time or for other stoppages of the mills, with one or two exceptions—e.g. where a man was ill or absent from work of his own accord, or some other reason of that kind. That agreement was made on the understanding that the workman was entitled to his weekly rate of wage in all circumstances, and, in order that it should be done, he was to be paid for the week in which he was not fully employed such a sum, including his unemployment benefit, as to ensure the full amount of the weekly rate. While the arrangement was under consideration an attempt was made to obtain assurances as to what the effect would be under the Unemployment Acts. Inevitably inquiries could not be answered with any authority. The answer was that they could bring the scheme into operation, and that it would be possible under the machinery of law to say whether it was in fact within the operation and the scope of the Act. In April, 1937, the Court of Referees decided that the scheme could not operate, and in June the Umpire confirmed the disallowance, and there the matter stood.
The position now is that the scheme is in operation. The Employers' Federation, anxious that their workpeople should have the benefit of regular remuneration, have secured this on a sure foundation. 281 They have taken a forward and progressive view and the Joint Industrial Council are completely agreed on the matter. But all they have achieved by the scheme is that as long as a man is employed by a signatory to the agreement he shall not receive, in any circumstances, the benefits for which he and his employers have paid contributions week after week and year after year. I will not trouble the Committee with any further details. The right hon. Gentleman knows the position. Is it the case that these people and other people following on the same line, are to be penalised for adopting a policy which is in accord with public policy and for the benefit of the workers as a whole? That is the whole point. We know that it was the intention of legislation that matters of this kind should be inaugurated and put into operation. The Unemployment Act deliberately sets out the intention of Parliament, in language which could not be made more clear, that special schemes to be submitted to the right hon. Gentleman, are to be supplemental schemes, in which money may be paid to a man who is still unemployed to supplement his unemployment benefit. The right hon. Gentleman knows the circumstances and the importance of this matter and the wideness of its application in other schemes which are coming up, and we ask him to give it early consideration with a view to formulating the policy of the Ministry. He may have in his mind some way by which the matter can be dealt with and further consideration given to it and action taken. Those for whom I am speaking feel that they have a grievance and that an injustice is being done to them, and they hope that it may be redressed.
Another matter to which I wish to call the attention of the Committee is that of benefits in relation to customary holidays. It is a matter with which hon. Members who represent districts where there is much casual labour have been familiar for months past. It is a source of great irritation in all districts of that kind. The Parliamentary Secretary paid a tribute to the tact, ability and the general services rendered by insurance officers and employés in the Ministry up and down the country, and I associate myself with that expression of thanks. There is no matter which brings up more complaints and inquiries than 282 the trouble which arises after every public holiday, such as at Christmas and Easter, when one man has received benefit and his neighbour has not. There is a state of confusion and irritation which makes things very difficult. I appeal to the Minister to add to the catalogue of his achievements while in office the solution of this difficulty. The matter is difficult because it is not expressly provided for in any Statute. It has been held, however, that persons might not be regarded as unemployed during holidays, either statutory or customary, which fall during a period of employment, whether they are paid or not. That fact, whether it be right or wrong, is well understood.
The difficulty arises where the same principle is applied to the payment or non-payment of benefit in the case of holidays which fall in the midst of a short period of unemployment or suspension from labour. It is also necessary to bear in mind, in this connection, that a series of definitions or decisions, by the Umpire have laid it down that a recognised holiday is an incident of employment which constitutes one of its terms and can only be varied to express a tacit agreement. The real difficulty and confusion arise from the fact that these rules do not apply in the case of an industry where one who leaves his work on the eve of a holiday is held to be discharged. It therefore follows that the court has to decide whether a man is discharged or suspended or temporarily suspended. I think I can best explain the matter to those who may not be familiar with it if they will imagine, for example, that the right hon. Gentleman and myself are members of the Shipwrights' Union accustomed to work in a shipyard in the district with which I am familiar.
§ Mr. White
It arises in every port. We will confine ourselves to Birkenhead, where, in the hope of being employed at Messrs. Cammell Laird's works, more or less casually, on the Thursday before Good Friday, we present ourselves in the queue. We are the first to be offered the work and we assist in the shoring of a ship, which is naturally completed during the day. On the eve of Good Friday we cease. On the Tuesday after the Easter Monday we again look about for employment. The right hon. Gentleman goes back to the work he left, but I, having 283 met a friend who tells me that there is work going somewhere else, go there and get employment. My right hon. Friend is, of course, taken on at once for another day at Cammell Laird's, but because he has been taken on at the same works he is held not to have been discharged and does not get benefit for the customary holiday. I, by going somewhere else, am held to have been discharged and in consequence get my three days benefit. The result is that my right hon. Friend considers he has been ill treated. That case is multiplied in every seaport where there is a mass of casual labour, and it is high time an end was put to it.
Many advisory committees have given time and consideration to this matter. I can speak only for my own district, but on the Merseyside there is complete agreement between employers and employed as to what ought to be done. There was a time when hon. Members representing these districts were constantly having to deal with these complaints, but that is not the case to-day, not because the grievance is any less but because the situation is recognised and it is felt to be quite useless to pursue the matter any further. I know that the insurance officer who used to give an evening to these cases had a queue of people. I asked him why they came no longer, and he said it is because they understand now that it is hopeless, although they always ask whether their Member of Parliament knows what is going on. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider this question. There is plenty of evidence available and we know what his resources are. I hope he will tell us that in regard to the two points I have mentioned, the security scheme as a whole, and the question of customary holidays, he will give us some assurance that at long last these matters will be considered and settled.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Trevor Cox
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) accused hon. Members on this side of the Committee of being complacent about the unemployment situation. That is hardly the case. We have always taken the greatest interest in the welfare of the unemployed; indeed, quite apart from politics, everyone in the House is anxious to see the unemployed man back again in industry, receiving as high wages as industry can 284 pay and with an assured future for himself and his family. But I want to consider one or two factors which cause unemployment. We are discussing this Estimate and devoting large sums of money for unemployment. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street said that recent trade figures have given us cause for concern. The "Daily Telegraph" yesterday had an interesting leading article on this subject, in which it said:It still remains undeniable that our export trade, during the past three months, has been running at about six per cent. below the level of a year ago.Then there was a reference to the difficult position in which the cotton industry is to-day, and the leading article went on to say:During the first four months exports of cotton yarn and manufactures at £18,250,000 were actually £1,200,000 below the corresponding period of the worst slump year, whilst woollens make the worst showing since I933.I hope I shall be allowed to make a few short remarks on various factors which play a part in causing unemployment. After the War there was an able report on the subject of commercial and industrial organisation in this country, the Balfour Report of 1918, in which it was said that Germany and America were ahead of us in industrial and commercial organisation. The report spoke of the comparatively little progress that was being made in the United Kingdom and the serious lack of progress in the iron and steel industry, which was overshadowed by German and American competition. It made it quite clear that part of the plant in industry at that time, and the general organisation of the country, were out of date, and were certainly having an effect indirectly on the unemployment figures. Some interesting observations were made by a distinguished French publicist some years ago, about the time when the National Government came into office, on the subject of the high industrial costs which existed at that time in British industry.
§ Mr. Bevan
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member, but at the same time I do not know whether this has anything to do with the administration of the Minister of Labour, and I should like to ask, Sir Dennis, what the Minister of Labour has to do with industrial costs in this country, and how he can administratively affect these costs?
§ The Chairman
Costs may affect industry and employment, and I cannot see that anything in the hon. Member's speech so far seems to be irrelevant.
§ Mr. Cox
As we are discussing questions concerning unemployment I think it is necessary for me to mention a few factors which have an effect on unemployment. This distinguished French publicist, M. Andre Siegfried, analysed various causes which brought about the industrial depression in 1931, and Lord Runciman who was then at the Board of Trade took considerable pains to answer his statements. M. Siegfried said:The purely British causes of the economic depression are complex, but they can be summed up in a single sentence; English manufacturing costs are among the highest in the world. If this situation continues any economic structure based on exports is faced with inevitable ruin.These words attracted considerable attention when the National Government first came into office. It seems to me that high industrial costs in this country to-day influence the unemployment figures. There is also the problem of industrial equipment and organisation. Many responsible observers believe that out-of-date equipment and inefficient organisation in industry as a whole are having a serious effect on British industry and especially on the export industry. M. Siegfried said:The heavy industries, especially coal, iron and steel, continue to use equipment which is frankly out of date. The coal industry works many pits which technically must be classed amongst the most antiquated in Europe. There is comparatively little mechanical extraction, wooden pit-props are still used, and the utilisation of by-products, so important to-day, has progressed very slowly.
§ Mr. Cox
1931. Then he makes a reference to the organisation in the iron and steel industry and says:Apart from certain ultra-modern works constructed during the War, the majority of the blast furnaces are still of very mediocre capacity in comparison with up-to-date practice; while the steel mills require decided remodelling if they are to be run on modem lines. One receives a general impression of worn-out equipment, in spite of certain remarkable exceptions. In the nineteenth century the engineers of the world came to England to learn the latest technical methods, but to-day they go to America or Germany.I do not say that that is the case to-day, but it was believed by responsible 286 persons at that time that there was a measure of truth in that general statement. In fact, that is why Lord Runciman replied to M. Siegfried's observations on several occasions. The question of the costs of production is a very vital matter for industry to-day. The Balfour Report of 1928 made a very detailed analysis of the costs of production in about 50 important undertakings, and compared the costs of production in the year 1913 with the costs in the years 1924 and 1925. The report said:The average rise in industrial costs in the great exporting trades between 1913 and 1925 has been from 80 to 90 per cent.That is a very substantial rise in the cost of production and must have had considerable effect on British industry. It must have prevented industry from capturing markets abroad and from reabsorbing large numbers of unemployed persons.
§ The Chairman
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member unnecessarily, but I thought he was going to relate his remarks to matters which come under the Minister of Labour, and I am afraid he is taking rather a long time to do that.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member must realise that things which have nothing whatever to do with the administration of the Labour Department are not matters which can be discussed on this Vote.
§ Mr. Cox
I will conclude by pointing out that there has been a tremendous improvement in British industry during the last few years; that unemployment has been considerably reduced, that industrial production has increased by one-half, and that unemployment in the Special Areas has been reduced by nearly one-half. I could give various other instances to show that the general improvement in industry has been very substantial.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Kirby
I am sure that the Committee heard with considerable interest the statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, but like my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), I cannot help thinking that the Parliamentary Secretary treated the problem of the unemployed 287 with a degree of self-satisfaction and complacency which is hardly justified in present conditions. Although the hon. Gentleman has every reason to be satisfied with the administration of his Department, he has no reason to be satisfied with regard to the hard core of unemployment to which my hon. Friend referred. It is on that matter that I wish to address a few remarks to the Committee. I am afraid that in Debates in the House we are too much inclined to forget that we seem to have permanently with us 1,750,ooo unemployed people, at a time when the rearmament programme is in progress and when we are supposed to be having a general boom in trade. I would like the Minister and the Committee to note one or two outstanding facts which I think cannot be challenged.
In the first place, I believe it is true to say that most of us have come to look upon the position as being more or less static and unalterable. In my opinion, that is a wrong attitude to take up. Secondly, I would remind the Committee that, in spite of the apparent satisfaction of the Minister of Labour and the Government as a whole, in all the districts where unemployment is rife, in the Special Areas and the distressed areas, such as Lancashire and the Merseyside, the local authorities are persisting in their demands that greater and prolonged attention should be given to the problem of unemployment and that there should be Amendments to the 1934 Act. Another factor which has to be kept in mind is that the unemployed themselves are not satisfied in regard to the threatened reduction of winter allowances, particularly at a time when there is an increase of two points in the cost of living. It is no good the Minister of Labour telling us that, although it is true that the cost of living has risen two points during the last month, it is down as compared with 12 months ago or two years ago, or some other time. That may give some satisfaction to the Minister and to his accountants, but it gives no satisfaction to the housewife in the home of an unemployed man. Nothing that I can say, and nothing that can be said by hon. Members in any part of the Committee, will convince the wife of an unemployed man that an increase has not really taken place.
288 Thus the position is that the local authorities are dissatisfied with the terrible burden of unemployment, and there is dissatisfaction among the unemployed at the way in which they are being treated. The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) said that he has had very many cases of people who came to him and complained about not being properly assessed, and I think it is true to say that every other Member of the Committee has received similar complaints and has been asked for assistance by unemployed men. The unfortunate thing is that, with this very efficient machinery which the Ministry of Labour and the Unemployment Assistance Board claim to have at the present time, there should be so many cases where reductions are made, apparently for no reason, and where, at a later stage, when the attention of the Minister or of the Board is called to them by some hon. Member, the reduction is restored and the matter put right.
As to the question of finding employment, a great deal has been said at different times, not only by the Minister of Labour, but by other Ministers, about the rearmament programme giving work to the unemployed in the distressed areas. A great deal of credit has been claimed by Ministers for having placed some of the aeroplane factories and other factories in the distressed or Special Areas; but it is very strange to note that in places where shadow factories and other factories have been built, the local authorities and various public people have complained, in nearly all cases, that the work of construction, at any rate, if not the work done in the factories after they were built, has been carried out very largely by labour brought in from places outside the areas which it was supposed to benefit. It would be very helpful if the Minister would tell us, when he replies, why it is that these things take place— why it is that when a Department of State decides to build a factory because of the State's necessity for rearmament and, because of the terrible state of unemployment in a given area, places the factory in that area, it brings in labour from other parts of the country, or even from outside the country, to carry out the job of building. I claim that it is right and proper that the Committee should demand from the Minister an answer as to why these things happen.
289 Another thing which we must not forget, in regard to the fundamental facts of the situation as it is to-day, is the policy of the Government in connection with tariffs, quotas, preferences, and so on. The party to which I belong is supposed to be a Free Trade party, but we have always stood by the principle that we were ready at all times to protect the British worker from unfair and sweated competition from abroad. To-day we find that unemployed workers in the pottery districts of this country are using china imported from Czechoslovakia. If that be true, something must be wrong with the policy of the Government in relation to tariffs, quotas and preferences, and in relation to unemployment, for it cannot be a good policy to impose tariffs in order to protect British industry and provide employment for British workers if, having put on those tariffs and caused an increase in the price of goods, one finds that the people who make the goods are thrown out of work and have to purchase out of their unemployment allowances similar goods made in foreign countries. The same thing can be said in regard to the glass workers at St. Helens, who buy glass goods from Czechoslovakia, Belgium and other countries. From the newspapers this morning, I see that it is now becoming quite common for cotton operatives in Lancashire, who have been going through a most terrible time, to wear, as part of the clothing which they buy out of their unemployment allowances, cotton goods produced in Japan.
I think those facts cannot be disputed, and we should have some enlightenment on them to-day. The Minister of Labour cannot get away with a comfortable, easy, lulling, soothing speech. In Merthyr Tydfil, the public assistance rate is over 15s. in the £. It is no good trying to "put across" Merthyr Tydfil the platitudes which we hear from this side and from the other side of the Committee from time to time about how well we are getting on in the solution of the unemployment problem. Another question which we have to consider is the maintenance of the able-bodied unemployed. The distressed areas conference has made certain representations to the Minister during recent months, and it will make further representations to him and to other Members of the Government during the next few days or weeks. I wish to 290 stress the fact that the claim made by the Minister of Labour that the 1934 Act took from the back of the local authorities the main financial burden of maintaining the able-bodied unemployed is not correct. After this Act has been in operation for two years, we find that in Liverpool we still have between 5,000 and 6,000 cases of able-bodied unemployed which, in the opinion of the City Council and its Public Assistance officials, who are experts in the matter, should be properly a liability of the National Exchequer. Those cases cost Liverpool nearly £7,000 a week, or £300,000 a year, and represent a rate in respect to them alone of 1s. 4d. in the £. In addition to that, there are from 50,000 to 70,000 persons in receipt of ordinary Poor Law relief.
It seems to me that if they are to tackle the problem of unemployment, the Government must not merely have a very good and efficient machine for the assessment and payment of relief, but must find a policy which will do away with the heavy burden of unemployment which we have and also ensure that places such as Liverpool, Durham and Merthyr Tydfil, shall have a fair deal in respect of the able-bodied unemployed. There is talk nowadays of the possibility of war, and it is true to say that if war broke out, Liverpool would become one of the most important and vital ports in this country, particularly in regard to food supplies. During a period when we have this great mass of unemployment which we now have, and which we have had for 10 or 12 years, the Mersey Docks and Harbours Board is expected to keep its docks and harbours up to date. The Liverpool City Council is expected to maintain its old standard of progressive activity in the sphere of municipal work. During the last 10 or 15 years, it has undertaken to construct the Mersey tunnel, which cost £8,000,000, and the main financial burden of which Liverpool bears. It is expected, between now and the next war, if it should come, to increase the efficiency of the port by the provision of new roads and approaches, and in every way to make improvements in the existing traffic ways.
While Liverpool is doing this, the Government are doing nothing to help. What can be said of Liverpool can be said of many other places throughout the country. The Government are 291 allowing Liverpool and other places to rot in this present period of unemployment, but should war break out, they will expect Liverpool to be up to date and fit and ready to carry on the work of prosecuting that war, as though there had been no unemployment problem. I often read with great interest the speeches made by the eight Liverpool Conservative Members of Parliament at dinners in Liverpool and district, boasting of Liverpool's greatness and wealth and prosperity. I am here humbly to call attention to its abject poverty. In a few days I understand the hon. Member for Walton (Mr. Purbrick) will be presenting at the Bar of this House a petition signed by 100,000 ratepayers protesting against the heavy burden of rates in Liverpool. Those rate burdens are due almost entirely to the heavy unemployment in Liverpool and other places.
The Parliamentary Secretary did not say anything to-day about the Special Areas Reconstruction Act, 1936, or the Special Areas (Amendment) Act, 1937, dealing with site companies. I expected to hear a great deal about those Acts and the wonderful progress which had been made as a result of them. No doubt it can be proved that certain progress has been made under those Acts, but they have made only the slightest difference to the amount of unemployment in any of the districts to which they have been applied. I feel it is the duty of this Committee to demand that the Minister in his reply to-night shall not deal merely with the ordinary mechanical operations of his Department and the administrative side of his work but that he shall tell the Committee what is the policy of his Department and of the Government to meet the difficulties arising from the fact that we have now, as we have had for many years, that great mass of unemployment which is referred to as the "hard core." Such questions as that of how to deal with the transferees and other difficult administrative problems are very important in their way, but what we want to know is how we are going to remove these 1,750,000 people from the ranks of the unemployed.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Hamilton Kerr
The hon. Member for Everton (Mr. Kirby) referred to site companies, and, in the few minutes which 292 I intend to occupy the Committee I would like to relate the question of site companies to the human problem of unemployment. But may I first congratulate my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on the admirable way in which he opened this Debate? It was once said of a successful American salesman that his eloquent persuasiveness was so effective that he could sell "a glass of ice water at the North Pole. Having heard my hon. Friend open this Debate to-day, I feel certain that that salesman has a serious rival. In fact I could not help thinking of the lines from "The Two Gentlemen of Verona":His years but young, but his experience old;His head unmellowed, but his judgment ripe.He related the question of unemployment to the human problem and, as I have said, I would like to discuss the question of site companies in relation to the vital human question of unemployment. I believe that two factors have aroused public opinion recently on the question of the location of industry. The first is the social problem. In the years since the War, light industries, catering mainly for the home market, have centred more and more round London. The great export industries have suffered a certain decline. I refer in particular to coal and cotton. The workers in those great industries cannot, in many cases, find alternative employment once those great industries are adversely affected. To my mind the great tragedy of these areas is the tragedy of the older workers, of the older men and women who have grown up in the industry, who have suffered unemployment in the trade recession since the War, and who have not been affected by the recent partial recovery. I think the "Times" leader of 4th November, 1937. best sums up the matter:Many a woman in those areas knows that her husband, although he is able to return to full working employment, yet fears he may be a liability on his family for the rest of his days, because it would need an act of faith on the part of an employer to employ him again.It is in particular with those men that I wish to deal; but before I come to that problem I wish to deal with the second factor which has governed the location of industry. I refer to the Defence factor. Over the great industrial cities to-day, with their crowded populations, their busy 293 wharves and railway yards and arterial roadways, hovers the threatening shadow of the bombing plane. Once those great cities are attacked, once the arteries leading to them are intercepted by bombardment, it becomes a great problem to feed their populations and supply them with the necessaries of life. It therefore becomes a question of supreme strategical importance to try to disperse industry as much as possible.
I think the Government have had this problem in mind and have advanced two solutions. First, they have attempted, by giving orders in the distressed areas in connection with the arms expansion programme, to redress in some degree the industrial equilibrium of the country. Secondly, they have attempted by a policy of inducement to attract industries back to those areas which most need a variety of industrial output. To my mind, one of the most beneficial results of this policy of inducement is the idea of site companies. Those areas in the North and other parts of England which have suffered for many years from unemployment do not, at first sight, produce the atmosphere to tempt industrialists. Great derelict mills with broken window-panes, deserted mine shafts, do not create an atmosphere such as modern industrialists need—that of the up-to-date well-lighted, well-aired factory often of only one storey. So, I hope this idea of the site company, once it has proved successful, will be actively developed.
I speak only for Lancashire because I know that part of the world best. Lancashire is a wide field for the site company. In the first place it has a great population which finds occupation mainly, if not entirely, in one great industry, and has therefore suffered extremely from the trade depression. It has a density of population twice as big, I believe, as London and the South-Eastern counties. It has available a great proportion of skilled labour, both male and female, which could readily find work in site companies. I close my remarks by making a special appeal to the Minister that, when these new industries come to the distressed areas, he should give the first preference in employment to those older men and women who have suffered most in the industrial depression. Lord Baldwin in one of the great speeches with which he closed his career made the following observation:
294Use men as ends not as means.I believe that my right hon. Friend the Minister who has travelled the length and breadth of the country studying social problems is far too humanitarian a person not to realise the truth of that principle, a principle which, I believe, should be the first objective of the social policy of our great, free, and enlightened people.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Hayday
I wish to speak particularly of the administrative side of the Department's work. Let me say at once how much I appreciated the details given to us by the Parliamentary Secretary and the very clear manner in which he presented the position. While he spoke of the placing of young persons, however, there was no mention of the placing of workers of middle age and over it. That, to my mind, is perhaps the most tragic side of the problem with which the country through the Ministry is called upon to deal and I would like the Minister in his reply to give us some percentage figures showing the number above the age of 50 who have been unemployed for a year or more, and who at present either remain on the unemployment benefit roll, or are receiving sustenance payments from the assistance committee. That is one thing which troubles the minds of a large number of people both inside and outside the House of Commons. While one may speak of the big number of juveniles who can be placed, I sometimes wonder whether they are not being placed at the expense of older men who are being kept out of employment. We should direct our energies to dealing with those unemployed persons who have, in the past, proved themselves to be among the best that this country has ever produced. They ought not to be allowed to become the flotsam and jetsam of our industrial system.
The Parliamentary Secretary also mentioned the growing extent to which the Employment Exchanges are used by both employers and workmen, as shown by the increased number of placings made through that machinery. I would like to see even that volume increased, provided we could always be sure that it was done in complete co-operation with those trade unions which have their "vacant" books. I have received occasional complaints that some employers go to the exchanges rather than to the trade unions 295 for the class of men who are represented in many of our skilled organisations. It is often found that friction is occasioned in that way. I would like the Minister to tell us that the arrangements with the trade unions are such that that cause of possible complaint is diminishing. I see no reason why, by complete co-operation between employers and trade unions, there should not be a gradual increase, until the machinery of the exchanges is being utilised to the fullest extent.
When we come to that part of the administration represented by the Unemployment Assistance Board there is, I think, serious ground for complaint. The Minister will recall that some time ago when we were discussing this matter I mentioned a case in which the Unemployment Assistance Board said, to an applicant: "Yes, on our own ascertainment, you would be entitled to supplementation of your benefit to the extent of 1s. 1d. per week, but the amount is so small that we cannot make arrangements to pay it." I then said that there must be thousands of such cases. While in the view of the Unemployment Assistance Board the amount may be small, serious hardship may be involved to the individual concerned because 1s. 1d. means so much in the working-class family budget. That case can be multiplied by many thousands of cases, and I would like to know, therefore, the extent to which the Unemployment Assistance Board is responsible for the increase in the amount shown in the Estimates. We are told that part of the increase relates to unemployment assistance and part to the Ministry of Labour itself. If there is to be an increased expenditure by the Board through imposing extra scrutiny on those who claim its help, and if they are to be denied the small amounts to which they are entitled because they are too small to pay, the increased expenditure cannot be justified.
When I last raised this point the Minister made a brief reference to it and said he did not think my complaints were correct, but that he would look further into the matter. At that time I had in my possession a letter from his Department which said that what I had stated was perfectly correct. How did it happen that the Minister said in the House that he felt I was wrong, and, at the same 296 time, sent me a letter stating that my information that allowances were refused because they were such a trifling sum was correct? The letter went on to give me information as to the Regulations which enabled the Board to use their discretion to say that 1s. 1d. was too small an amount for which to arrange payment. The Minister said he would look into it. That was in March, but I have heard nothing from him and I suppose the whole incident has been forgotten.
Let us take the other side of the question. I have the case of an individual who made application to the Assistance Board because he had exhausted his stamp benefit. This man had a wife and six children, and, taking into account his rent and so on, the allowance was put at 47s. 6d. The Board, however, said that they had used their discretion and had deducted 1s. 6d. from the estimate. That amount is not too small for a Board to take away in one case, but 1s. 1d. is too small an amount to pay in another case. I do not think that even the Parliamentary Secretary can justify poor people being made subject to such varying discretionary powers of the Unemployment Assistance Board. It is a shocking shame to tell a man in one case that he should have 1s. 1d. more, but that is was too small for the Board to arrange to pay, and in another to tell a man that he is entitled to 47s. 6d., but that the Board in their discretion will deduct 1s. 6d. No one can justify such a topsy-turvy kind of discretion.
There is another point I should like to mention, about which I know my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) also feels keenly. A man and his wife receive under the Act 27s. Recently there was an increase of 1s. The man and wife under unemployment assistance receives 24s. Is there any reason why, if the shilling extra in benefit was justified and if originally the benefits were arranged so that they should be related to the allowances, that extra shilling should not be given to those under unemployment assistance when a man has exhausted his benefit? When the Ministry take money off because it is a winter allowance, they speak as though it would only debase the recipients to allow it to remain. It is the idea of some people that we cannot afford to keep it on because it will intensify the agitation for an increase of benefit under the Act. 297 I agree with the Trades Union Congress and Labor party decision that there should be no payment of less than £1 for a man, 35s. for a man and wife, and 5s. for each child. Some people would say that if we paid those amounts it would bring the rates over and above the rates of pay of a man when he is fully at work for some sweating type of employer. It is not for the nation, however, always to keep down to the lowest struggling standard.
The hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. H. Kerr) said that there comes a time when, during a long period of unemployment, with the skimming of expenditure and the sacrificing of this or that little nourishment, people reach the standard set by unemployment benefit or the Assistance Board. If you see a man who has been out of work for five years you can see him daily deteriorating. You can see the effect on his home and his children and that they are not getting a reasonable opportunity of building themselves up as citizens who are virile, intellectually as well as physically. When scientists and others tell us that we want a physically and mentally alert nation, we are going about it the wrong way, especially when the Unemployment Assistance Board say, "We will use our discretion and, although you ought to have another 1s. 1d. we cannot set machinery going to pay it because it is so small." I knew a time in my life when 1s. 1d. meant a good sound meal for eight or nine of us. It means so much in the circumstances in which many of our people find themselves.
I hope that the Minister will not only look into that aspect of this question, but will intensify his interests in the middle-aged. Is the percentage of the middle-aged who have been unemployed from one to four years increasing? Many of these people have large family responsibilities. We talk of the population problem, but what can we expect in a home where the man and his wife are already handicapped in bringing up a small family owing to their inadequate income? How can we expect the boys and girls when they reach manhood and womanhood to bring into the world offspring who may be called upon to suffer the unnecessary, cruel and inhuman handicap such as they have had to meet?
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Dingle Foot
There is one point on which I can cordially agree with hon. Members who have spoken from the other side of the Committee, and that is in congratulating my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary upon the speech with which he initiated this Debate. I have listened to more speeches from my hon. Friend than any Member of the House. There were a good many speeches which he made in another debating assembly some years ago, and also I listened to a large number in the United States when, strangely enough, he was upholding the Covenant of the League of Nations. I do not think I have ever heard him make a more effective contribution to a discussion than that which he made in opening this Debate today.
We have made it clear already that we in this part of the Committee support what was said by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) about the constitution of the Unemployment Assistance. Board. There is no doubt in our mind that in a democratic state a board which is not responsible to any Minister and which, therefore, does not come under the day-to-day supervision of this House, is an indefensible anomaly. I remember clearly the Debate that took place in the House when the Board was set up by the Act of 1934. We were told that there would be certain Parliamentary checks upon the actions of the Board. We were told that by Sir Henry Better ton, now Lord Rushcliffe. One of the checks was that the Board would be under a statutory obligation to produce an annual report which would be made available to Parliament. It is true that we have had the report, but the report which is now before the House in May, 1938, is for the period up to 31st December, 1936. This report was not made available until the end of July, only two or three days before the House rose for the Summer Recess. It was made available at a time when all the Supply Days were exhausted and it was impossible to call for a Supply Day on which we could discuss it. The only way in which it could have been raised was in the Debate for the Summer Adjournment, but even then we should only have had two or three days in which to study the report before the Debate.
That is an impossible way of dealing with this matter. This report was pro- 299 duced so late last year that it could not be subjected to Parliamentary criticism and debate. It is true that it might have been referred to on some other occasion such as the Debate on the Address, but every hon. Member knows the difference between raising a subject among a host of other subjects and raising it when it is the subject of specific debate. I think we ought to be told by the Minister why it was that last year it took seven months to produce the report for 1936 and why, although we are now in May, apparently it is going to be June or July before we receive the report for 1937.
I want to refer to the legal position regarding winter relief. The extra relief has been granted following upon the circular that the Board issued to its area officers in October, 1937. That circular mentioned two circumstances as the reasons for giving higher relief in a certain category of cases. The circumstances were, firstly, the rise in the price level and, secondly, the oncoming of the winter months. On those grounds it was intimated to the officers of the Board that in cases where the allowance from the Board represented 50 per cent. or more of the total household income, the officers should use their discretion to raise the assessment by an amount of 2s. or 3s. a week. It has always seemed to me that this circular was a very doubtful step on the part of the Board, because it purported to be done under the Unemployment Regulations. May I remind hon. Members of the scheme of those regulations? Firstly, paragraph 4 says that the amount of the applicant's scale allowance shall be calculated in the manner provided by the First Schedule to the Regulations. That is a mandatory direction. An exception is made later on, because sub-paragraph 2 says that, if in any case special circumstances exist, the amount calculated may be adjusted by way of increase or decrease, and then in sub-paragraph 3, if in any case needs of an exceptional character exist the allowance may be increased. The material words are "if in any case."
I understood the Minister, when he intervened a little while ago, to admit that this discretion can operate only in individual cases. In other words, the officers are directed to give the relief according to a certain scale, and they can make an alteration only where there are 300 special circumstances or needs of an exceptional character in a particular case. But under this circular they were not dealing with particular individual cases at all, because no one could conceivably maintain that the rise in the cost of living which had taken place at the beginning of last autumn was a circumstance peculiar to one or two households. No one could possibly say that the oncoming of the winter months was a special circumstance. It must be obvious that those two circumstances on which the increased relief was justified were circumstances common to every household coming under the jurisdiction of the Unemployment Assistance Board. That is to say that what the Board were doing was using these limited powers of discretion in individual cases in order to make a general increase covering many thousands of households. So it appears to me that it is exceedingly doubtful whether what was done by the Board is within the powers conferred by the Regulations, that is to say, sanctioned by the House.
No one will complain that the increases were made. We are all very glad that they should have taken place, but it was entirely the wrong way of doing it. Not now, but last autumn, if it was thought necessary to have these increases because of the oncoming of the winter months and the rise in the price of commodities, the right course would have been to introduce fresh Regulations and bring them forward for the assent of Parliament. It seems to me not merely a Ministry of Labor matter. On constitutional grounds it is a very serious matter when this Board, which already escapes most forms of Parliamentary control, arrogates to itself powers that it clearly does not possess.
§ Whereupon, the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod being come with a Message, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair.
§ Mr. SPEAKER resumed the Chair.