§ Again considered in Committee.
§ [Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]
§ MINISTRY OF LABOUR.
Question again 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 Labor Organization (League of Nations); expenses of the Industrial Court; and sundry services.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Foot
Before we were summoned to the other place I was drawing attention to the fact that the Board, in issuing those instructions last October, had stretched the discretionary powers of its officers further than they could ever have been intended to go. It is rather interesting to inquire why the Board should have done that. Why did they not take the obvious course, if they thought, as they evidently did, that in a great many cases the scales of relief were inadequate, of bringing fresh Regulations to this House? They are empowered under the Act to bring forward fresh Regulations at any time they think fit. I have referred to the Board's annual report being produced so 302 late in the Session that this House has no chance of examining it, and to their misuse of their discretionary powers in doing things which ought to have been the subject of fresh Regulations, and would point out that there is one feature which is common to both complaints: This Board, which already is not subject to sufficient democratic and Parliamentary control, is always trying to further evade Parliamentary supervision.
There is one other feature of the Circular which was issued in October of last year which I do not think has been raised in this House. The increase due to the cost of living in the winter months was, of course, only to be given in certain cases. I am not sure, but I think the proportion of cases in which there has been an increase under the Circular is somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 per cent; and it was laid down that officers were advised to give this increase only where the allowance or allowances represented 50 per cent. or more of the total household income. But it is obvious that the rise in the cost of living and the increased cost of subsistence in the winter months affected just as much the other households which came under the Board, so that the Circular in effect meant that in those particular cases which were singled out the additional burden was to be borne by the funds of the Board but in the other cases, numbering some 70 or 75 per cent. the burden was not to be borne by the Board but out of the other resources of the household, that is to say, in the vast majority of cases it would come out of the earnings of other members of the household. Therefore this did mean in a great many cases an intensification of the existing household means test.
I have only one other point to submit, and it arises not out of the action of the Board but of the appeal tribunals. I suppose that every month there must be thousands of appeals whenever there are new determinations. I am told that what happens in a large number of cases is this: The applicants are assessed at a certain sum by the Board's officers and when they go before the appeal tribunals the tribunals increase the assessments, but that the increased payments run only from the date of the appeal tribunals decision. I do not say that is so in every case, but I am told that it is so in a 303 large number of cases That is something which I find it rather difficult to understand. If the appeal tribunal alters the decision of the Board's officer and gives a higher assessment it means that they are saying that in their opinion the original assessment was a wrong assessment, and that for the week or two intervening between the assessment by the officer and the determination of the appeal the applicant has been receiving less than in their view he ought to have received. Surely in those circumstances it is only fair and right that in every case where an increase is granted it should be made retrospective from the date of the original assessment. These are just a few matters which I think are of considerable importance to the constituents of those Members who represent industrial constituencies and I hope that we may have an answer from the Minister of Labor in due course.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Mrs. Tate
It is very natural when the Ministry of Labour Vote is before us that we should hear a great deal about the hard core of unemployment, and no one would wish to under-estimate the seriousness and the tragedy of that problem, but I think it is regrettable that we have not had one reference from hon. Members opposite to the fact that there are also a very large number of vacancies in the labor market which at the present time it is quite impossible to fill.
§ Mrs. Tate
The hon. Member will hardly deny that there are a very large number of vacancies in various parts of the country in the agricultural industry, in the highest grades of the engineering trades, I think in some parts of the printing trade, and most certainly, and all over the country, in domestic service.
§ Mr. T. Smith
Surely the hon. Lady knows that there are a large number of agricultural workers out of employment?
§ Mrs. Tate
But no one can deny that in many parts of the country farmers cannot find the requisite number of workers for their farms. If the hon. Member turns to page 10 of the Ministry of Labour Report he will see a reference to there being vacancies which they have not been able to fill, including skilled building 304 trade operatives, engineering trade workers, hotel employés and domestic servants. One hon. Member opposite said it was no use the Minister coming to the House to try to make a lulling and soothing speech. I do not know whether he was referring to the Parliamentary Secretary. I found his speech encouraging and heartening and exceedingly able, and certainly I did not regard it as lulling. If he was referring to the anticipated speech from the Minister in winding up the Debate though many adjectives can be used about his speeches, and he is always able, I have never heard the noise which he makes called either "lulling" or "soothing." I do not think that what he says to hon. Members opposite can be considered soothing.
The hon. Member for Stratford (Mr. Crossley) referred to the young workers who are brought from other parts of the country to London and who get into very undesirable situations. I think no one will deny that there are a certain number of young people from the distressed areas who do, unfortunately, get into undesirable situations, but I am certain from the personal experience which I have had, and from inquiries which I have made, that they are not the young people brought, down by the Ministry of Labor.
§ Mr. Crossley
I did not say they were brought down by the Ministry of Labor. I said they came down and took employment. I do not know how they got down.
§ Mrs. Tate
I am sorry if I misrepresented what the hon. Member said. There is no doubt that what he has called attention to is a problem, because some of them do get undesirable situations, but if they would come down under the care of the Ministry of Labour that could not occur. It is a great pity that the work which the Ministry of Labour does in filling domestic vacancies for young people first taking up domestic service is not better known. The young people are often extremely well trained, and careful inquiries are made before they are placed, and the after-care is really beyond all praise. I pay that tribute to the Minister's work after having had personal experience of it.
I should like to ask what the Minister considers is the size of the gap between the numbers of those who are wanted by industry and yet cannot be found as 305 against the numbers of those who are unemployed but cannot find work, and what steps are being taken to train people for the vacancies apart from what is done by the juvenile training centers. What percentage of the gap does he consider he will be able to fill in one year? One point which needs the serious consideration of the Ministry is the unlimited overtime which is being worked by the Unemployment Assistance Board area officers, both in London and the provinces. In one London area office approximately 40 clerks are employed, and since the second appointed day, that is 1st April, 1937, at least 30 of them have been working continuous overtime three hours a night from Mondays to Thursdays, and more on Fridays. That amounts to 500 hours of overtime a week in one office. On Fridays the staff must not leave until they get orders from the divisional officer, as all applicants have to be dealt with. No one can say that anyone who is working so much overtime continuously will be able to give as effective work as one who has proper leisure after working for proper hours. Overtime should be resorted to only in an emergency; it should never be taken as a usual proceeding. Looking at it from another point of view, the applicant cannot get the same attention, however willing those men are to give it.
We must also look at the question of cost. I think I am right in saying that permanent civil servants received from 2S. 3d. to 9s. 11d. an hour overtime. If you took temporary clerks employed at £ 3 a week, it would mean a considerable saving to the Board in wages, and it would also save insurance money to the clerks. At the office where they have been working continuously 500 hours a week overtime, if you said that that work averaged 3s. an hour, it was costing £35 a week, and had they engaged 11 temporary clerks at £3 a week, it would have cost only £33. Therefore, looking at it merely from the point of view of expense, I think it would be well worth while, and certainly, from the point of view of desirability, there can be no question about it. I am not pretending that taking on a few extra clerks will do anything appreciably to diminish unemployment, but I do say that you could employ there men of over 40, who are a class for whom it is far more difficult to find work.
306 I would also like to ask the Minister whether any steps are being taken in this direction? There is a type of woman, a clerk, say, who finds it almost impossible to obtain employment— the deserted wife, for instance, with young children. In a large town such as this there are considerable numbers of such women, and it seems to me that if we could set up some really efficient creche and nursery home, where the women could receive training for skilled domestic labor and could then be allowed to take daily work, you would not separate them from their young children, and you would rehabitate them and make; them able to earn a useful and appreciably comfortable living, whereas at present they are living in acute anxiety, very often with real suffering and misery, and finding it almost impossible to get any kind of work. They are obliged to apply for relief, with occasional applications to the courts for their maintenance allowance, which, as hon. Members who work in courts know, it is often almost impossible to collect. I wish to draw those few matters to the attention of the Minister.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie
I followed with considerable interest the somewhat rapid review of the work of the Ministry given by the Parliamentary Secretary. One part of his statement in particular interested me, and that was his reference to juvenile unemployment. We were told that last year 700,000 children left school and that some 600,000 of them entered the labour market. One wondered how many of those 600,000 children secured continuous employment. It is nothing short of a tragedy that thousands of children are thrown on to the labour market each year at the age of 14, without any prospect of continued employment. That means that thousands drift into blind-alley jobs. Then they drift out again, the future to them seems hopeless, they feel that they are not wanted, and thousands of them drift into a life of crime. We see how juvenile crime is increasing at a very rapid rate, and anyone who has anything to do with juvenile courts knows that that is only too true. The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned that a large number of juveniles were being placed in the Midlands and Birmingham. Why do they want them there? It is because they are cheap child labor.
307 Might I remind the Minister of the report of the Chief Inspector of Factories for last year, in which he showed the excessive amount of overtime that is being worked by these juveniles? I am very glad that the hon. Lady the Member for From (Mrs. Tate) mentioned this question of overtime, because systematic overtime is one of the greatest curses of the present commercial system. What does it mean? It means that, on the one hand, men and women and, according to the Chief Inspector's report, boys and girls also are working almost all the hours that God sends, while, on the other hand, men, women, boys, and girls are walking the streets vainly searching for work. Another thing that the Chief Inspector shows is that one result of that excessive overtime is a large increase in the number of accidents, and I think that this is something that the Minister of Labor should look into in order to see that the inspectors are carrying out their duties. Unfortunately, there are far too few inspectors—only one inspector for 2,000 factories and workshops.
Young people are constantly being sent from the distressed areas, from home and home influence, instead of work being provided nearer home, and here is where the Government have neglected the question of the location of industry. They have allowed foreign firms to come into this country and to start factories and workshops. It is true that they have to employ "British labor, but why, when these foreign firms have to receive permits from the Government, do not the Government lay down as a condition where these factories and workshops shall be set up? The proper place for them to be is in the distressed areas. In the past six years over 40,000 people have been transferred from the county of Durham alone, torn away from home and friends, and today there are approximately 48,000 unemployed in that one county. The result is that public assistance in the County of Durham is now costing 10s. 5d. in the £. Therefore, I ask why should rich communities escape while poverty-stricken areas have to bear this huge burden of the unemployed? It is no wonder that the late Commissioner for the Special Areas condemned the dumping of factories in the South to the detriment of the North, which has meant congestion and 308 housing scarcity in the London area and congestion in traveling facilities, as everyone knows who has traveled on the tubes and buses in the London area.
In my own division there is a place called Port Clarence, where at one time blast furnaces and coke ovens employed between 5,000 and 6,000 men, but today all those blast furnaces and coke ovens have been scrapped, and the village is lying derelict. It is the same at Stilling-ton, another village, where blast furnaces have been scrapped and where at one time over 600 men were employed. The people there feel that there is no hope for them. Nothing has been done to assist them, and yet, in both those places, there are excellent sites for factories, and transport facilities, both by road and rail, second to none; and if the factories want to do an export trade, a seaport is available. We hear a lot about the Team Valley Estate. It is good in its way, but it does not meet the needs of the County of Durham, because the distances are too far from where the need for work is greatest. You cannot expect workers to travel 20 or 30 miles every day in order to go and find a job on the Team Valley Estate.
A good deal has been said about the cost of living. The Parliamentary Secretary told us that there had been an appreciable increase in the allowances. I took careful note of his figures. He said that in 1938 the allowances averaged 24s. 5d., in 1937 23s. 11d., and in 1936 23s. yd. If we take last year's figure of 23s. 11d. as against this year's figure of 24s. 5d., how can he say that that is an appreciable increase when it means an increase of only 6d.? We know very well that the cost of living has been increasing, and I want to quote in this connection what appeared In an important Tory organ on Sunday last. This important Tory organ stated that the announcement made by the Minister of Labor had created a considerable amount of feeling.Housewives have been surprised by the Minister's statement. They have found no evidence of cheaper food.A ' Sunday Chronicle ' woman investigator yesterday made a shopping tour.She found that in almost every staple food prices have risen in the last 12 months. This time last year, according to official figures, tea averaged 2s. 1¾d. a 1b., fresh butter 1s. 3d. a lb., bacon 1s. 2d. a lb.Today housewives are paying 2s. 2½d. a lb. for tea, 1s. 4¼ d. and 1s. 6d. a lb. for 309 fresh butter, and 1s. 5d. a lb. for bacon.… Meat, vegetables, flour, sugar, cheese, eggs, and margarine have all gone up.This table shows the comparative prices in staple foods during the past year:
|This table shows the comparative prices in staple foods during the past year:|
|Per lb.||Per lb.|
|s. d.||s. d.|
|Beef (British)||1 1½||1 2½|
|Beef (frozen)||0 8¾||0 9¾|
|Mutton (frozen)||0 9¾||0 10|
|Flour (7 lb.)||1 3¾||1 5|
|Bread (quartern)||0 9¼||0 9½|
|Sugar (granulated)||0 2½||0 2¾|
|Cheese (New Zealand)||0 9¾||0 11|
§ This investigator who was sent by the "Sunday Chronicle" found that the statement made by the Minister of Labor could not be borne out. She found that prices had all increased. The Nutrition Committee, an official Government committee, recommended that every child should have i½ pints of milk a day. That would cost, at today's prices, 3s. 4¾d. a week, which is 4¾d. more than the Unemployment Assistance Board allows for the total maintenance of a child. That is why we claim that the allowance is far too low. The Parliamentary Secretary gave us a number of figures with respect to the unemployed, but we still have over 1,500,000 unemployed, and the Government turn a blind eye to the overtime that is being worked while 1,500,000 are walking the streets vainly seeking work. The Government also still oppose a reduction of the working hours. In conclusion, I would like to know from the Minister, when he replies, what are the intentions of the Government when their representative goes to Geneva in June to deal with the 40-hour week question.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Buchanan
It may sound somewhat cynical to say so, but when we have a bit of scandal going on in the House, such as a member of the Royal Family in trouble or some Cabinet Minister being indicted, the House is packed, but when a human problem, about the welfare of decent men, women, and children comes up, the House is very badly attended. Worse even than that, the interest of Members is very lukewarm. I suppose hon. Members think that this subject has lost in excitement, that it is no longer an exciting subject. The ordinary Member of Parliament, like 310 everybody else, is constantly on the hunt for change and excitement.
I am not demanding or pleading that we should have trading estates or schemes of work. I would remind hon. Members above the Gangway that the country is today spending hundreds of millions of pounds on armaments. I do not know the exact sun:, but when we make allowances for employers' profits and fictitious values, we find that we are spending a colossal sum on armaments. To that extent we are providing work, but with all that vast expenditure we have still 1,750,000 unemployed. When hon. Members go about hunting for little schemes of work here and there, they are hunting for what is very trivial compared with the enormous expenditure upon armaments; they are hunting for something which is little or nothing in the way of a solution of the unemployment problem. We have in our time denounced tariffs. Do not let us start a bastard system of tariffs ourselves. I see questions on the Order Paper suggesting that work should be confined to this or that locality, and it almost seems a crime that men should move from district to district. I trust that while we may have strong and sympathetic feelings for the unemployed we shall not be driven to any desperate point of view which will prevent the ordinary worker from getting his living where he can from day to day.
I hope that some day I shall be fortunate enough to be called when the Minister is in his place and that I shall have a chance of addressing the House while he is present. I do not blame him for his absence at the present time because I know he must have food. I should like to call attention to a matter relating to shipbuilding localities, particularly Glasgow. In the shipbuilding areas particularly, and it happens sometimes in mining and other districts, the workpeople have a set holiday. A man— it also applies to women, but I address myself particularly now to the men— may start work just before the holiday period, and when the holiday comes he may be dismissed. During that holiday period he is not eligible for any standard benefit, because it is held that he is not unemployed, as the holiday is a normal holiday period. That argument may have had force previously, but I submit to the Minister that it has ceased to have the force that it used to have.
311 It used to be accepted that a holiday period was a period when a man earned nothing, but now employers have come to agreements to recognise payment for holidays, in principle. In the engineering and ship-building trades they now recognise the holiday period as a time for payment: but here we have an unemployed workman, who is more in need of money than those who are being paid for the holiday, and he is deprived of any benefit. That man may have been taken on two days before the holiday was due to begin and he may have been unemployed three weeks. His job lasts only two days and then he is dismissed. The normal holiday may be four, five or six days. He gets no payment for those days from the Employment Exchange, because the holiday is held to be a normal holiday period, while the worker in the shipbuilding yard, who has never been unemployed during the whole year, will receive payment for the holidays. The payment for holidays has certainly altered the whole complexion of the matter, and I hope that the Minister will look into it before July, when in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee holidays of 10 days duration start. I have never said in the past that they were holidays, because I hold that a man who has 10 days off without payment is unemployed. It is unfair that men and women should be deprived of benefit for the whole 10 days of a holiday or for a shorter period, and I hope that the Minister will have the question examined.
There is another question which I should like to raise in regard to a practice which is creeping into unemployment insurance. We are getting what is called in the law courts case law. What is happening is that the Umpire now, for good or ill, is really making the law. I should like the Minister to review the whole question of dependants' benefits in the light of what is happening. A case came to my notice the other day of a young woman, who earned 35s. a week. She lives with her mother, who has a widow's pension. She has to travel to her work and it costs her 3s. a week. She pays for unemployment and health insurance and gives her mother 29s. a week. The girl was dismissed from the bonded warehouse where she was employed, and she applied for dependant's 312 benefit for her mother, on the ground that she had given her mother 29s. a week.
A most amazing thing happened. They added the 29s. which the girl paid to her mother to the 10s. widow's allowance which her mother received, making a total of 39s. Then they divided the 39s. by half, which represented 19s. 6d., and as 19s. 6d. was not double 10s., which is the amount of the pension, the girl could not get anything in the way of dependant's allowance for her mother. If I had seen the girl beforehand I should have told her not to be a mug and to pay 29s. to her mother, but to pay her 30s. and then she would have got the dependant's allowance. Here is a girl contributing 29s. out of the total family income of 39s. and it is held that she has not been supporting her mother. That is the law now. The Act says that she has to prove that she has been the main support of the mother, that the mother has been mainly dependent upon her. I should say that a girl who contributes regularly 29s. out of the total income of 39s. is the main contributor to that household, and yet they refuse her mother the dependant's allowance.
I would ask the Minister to look into this matter. Nobody can understand these mathematical calculations. I think I know unemployment insurance very well, but when you start multiplying, then subtracting and dividing I defy any man to explain it in regard to dependants' allowances, especially children's allowance. Benefit for an unemployed person ought to be simple and easy to understand, and injustices ought not to be involved. Hitherto we have always discussed dependants' benefit as if we had no means test for standard benefit, but there is growing up a practice which used not to be so common. For instance, if a man is earning £ 3 to £4 a week and he has adult sons or daughters and one or two young children, there is growing up a practice of having a means test for standard benefit. They put the total income together, and then by the process of dividing it is made out that not the father but the sons mainly maintain the household. Technically, by another umpire's decision, the son may claim allowance for the children, but nobody seems to know about it, the son does not claim and so there is no benefit when it comes to the children. It is practically held that nobody maintains them. I hope the Minister 313 will go into this question of dependants' benefit as it is now administered.
I will not go into the question of what the Board have done. There is no doubt that what they have done was illegal. I am afraid of what may happen some day, when illegal procedure is to be allowed to the Board. The Board, headed by Lord Rushcliffe, have no right to break the law, yet they break the law with impunity, but if a poor fellow says that his boy was not working last week, when he was, and he draws 5s. benefit, he may have to go to prison. Yet Lord Rushcliffe and his colleagues actually break the law. I am afraid that some day, when trade takes a turn for the worse, he may break the law in regard to the regulations and reduce unemployment benefit.
With regard to the question of the so-called reduction of 2s. in the cost of living, when I told my wife about it she said: '' You represent a working class district. When is it winter and when is it summer to your constituents? The fire has to burn all the year round. They are not like those people who have gas fires and electric fires." In working class homes, whether in Bridgeton, Gorals, Camlachie, Durham, in a Welsh Valley or in Shore ditch, the working class conditions and the working class people are much the same. They have to burn coal all the time, and there is little if any decrease in expenditure in that respect. The fact is that the summer allowance is far too low.
There is one further question to which I would allude, which particularly affects trade unions, and it is, I am afraid, a danger to trade unions. I refer to the wage stop administration. I take it that it is now an accepted fact. What is happening is that this wage stop has been extended even out with the Act. Take the case of a young man serving his time. He is 20 years of age, and his time will be finished when he is 21. Just before his time is out, he gets married. That is no crime; at least I hope that he is still allowed to get married and that the Parliamentary Secretary agrees that that is so. When the young man was serving his time he was receiving 30s. per week, but on the day his time was out he was sacked and he did not earn a journeyman's wage. By the time he goes to claim his benefit a child has been born, 314 but they say to him: "You are on the wage stop; you never earned the wage," and no allowance is made for the fact that if the man had not been married he would never have worked for the wage he had been getting. No allowance is made, as is done by the pensions people. Let us not forget that the Minister of Pensions made some allowance for the potential earnings of such a man, who would no longer be an apprentice. Trade being bad, he might not always be able to get into a job. The officials admit now that it is a terrible criticism of the wage system that he should not be able to live on the wage he receives.
What they are now doing in Scotland is a shocking thing, as I see it. They say: "We will grant you 15s. in money and 10s. in kind." When that kind business was begun it was meant only for the fellow who battered his wife or spent his money improperly. It is not denied by the officers of the Board that it is being used as a means of dealing with the wage question. They say: "We cannot give you £2, as you were earning only about £2. What we will do is to give you 30s. in money and 10s. in kind." They have no right to do that, in my view, and I warn the Minister in regard to this matter. I warn also my trade union friends that they should oppose payment in kind even to the bad man, because once you agree to it for one man the practice is extended to other men. We had payment in kind in the Scottish Poor Law, but it was applied only on rare occasions when the character of the man was in question. Now it is done when there is nothing against the character of the recipient except that he unfortunately had a low wage before he was unemployed. I say to the Minister that there is no right to extend payments in that way.
I now wish to refer to something which has cropped up in regard to investigations. I understand that there is a form B (6) upon which an investigator writes particulars about an unfortunate applicant. They used to ask about nationality, the kind of house, and questions like that, and the answers were simply "Yes" or "No," as upon an Income Tax form; but that is now altered and the old form is scrapped. I have not seen form B (6) but I have been told by at least two unemployed men that they have seen copies of the form. One of them got possession of a copy, in what I think was 315 not a strictly legal way, and I think he could be prosecuted for his method of getting it. He told me what he had done, and I answered that if that was the only thing he ever took from a Government Department, he would do very well indeed. Nowadays they draw a picture. Investigators go much beyond the particulars about the family income, and I will describe what I am told happens. It is a serious matter and I would like a denial from the Minister.
The investigator actually describes the political belief of the man concerned. I am told that in one case a certain applicant was said to be a man holding seditious views, and that because he did so a period of work would do him some good. Another man was described as holding certain religious beliefs. He was said to be a man of first-class character and clean habits who spent over-much time upon his religious devotions instead of making efforts to get work. I know all the members of the Board, including the chairman. They are very human people. People often sneer in newspaper articles and elsewhere as though Members of Parliament were not as good as other people, but I always take the view that nobody need be ashamed to serve his constituency here. I never put myself on a pedestal for doing so. I would not mind investigators writing down a man's habits if the man himself were supplied with a copy of what is written; that would be justice, but no, the document is said to be highly confidential. Form B (6) contains information about men's houses and habits. Why should not the men be given an opportunity of answering those comments? Some of the people who describe men as dirty depend upon the sons and daughters of the working class for their cleanliness.
During the War we used to hear a good deal about inquisitions and inquiry forms. I would ask the Minister whether he would produce to this Committee, either to-night or upon some future occasion, a copy of form B (6) from each of six different parts of the country and filled up in, say, Liverpool, Glasgow, Wales and London, a week or two ago, so that we might know what is in them. They should be typical forms.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I do not rightly know. I am up against the fact that I have never seen one of the forms. I went to ask about it, and I was told that I had no right to it because it was a highly confidential document. The unemployed man never sees the document but, as I have said, I received information from two men, one of whom is certainly a creditable witness and who did see it, by some underhand method. He says that on it was a description of private matters with which the Board have nothing to do at all.
§ Mr. Ede
I was informed of a case in which one of these forms was left lying on the table while the investigator's head was turned, and the applicant saw written on it words to this effect: "This man holds extremist views and ought not to be encouraged." He reported the matter to me and I communicated with the Minister of Labour. The Minister held an investigation and informed me that he had said that such an entry ought not to have been made, and that the officer who made it had been reprimanded. That is as near as I got actually to seeing the form. It was an admission on the part of the right hon. Gentleman that the form had been used with regard to something about which it should not have been used.
§ Mr. Buchanan
The hon. Gentleman backs me up, and the Minister will now have to put the matter right. If that man had not been cute enough to look across the counter—
§ Mr. Buchanan
I think the man in the case I have mentioned came from the district of Maryhill. He was alleged to hold seditious views and to be a man who ought to be chased out to look for work. These things may be true or untrue, but men are surely entitled to know that they are being said and that there is a private investigation into the lives of people concerning most intimate matters. If such an investigation were to take place in reference to Income Tax there would be hell to pay in this House of Commons. Suppose a secret document were to go in saying: "This man ought to pay. He is a well-known tax dodger." Or: "This man is alleged to have held views at one time, along with other Conservatives, and he took part in the gun- 317 running in Northern Ireland." Suppose this kind of thing went out: "This man made a speech down in Mid-Bucks backing up the rebels in Spain." I am practically certain that if the Labour party were in power they would not discriminate against supporters of Sir Oswald Mosley. They would not say that a poor devil who followed Mosley should be punished because of it. We may have our prejudices, but such a form with its secret information, will, I trust be put an end to.
I have one last remark to make about the amount of benefit paid to unmarried women and to single men, and I ask the Minister whether he will examine the position. Certain voluntary organisations conducted an inquiry in Glasgow to find out how single people lived. I understand that the allowance for single people is now to be 10s. If you take 5s. off for rent, 1s. for light and heat, another 1s. for ordinary traveling and 6d. for boot repairs and clothing it leaves 7s. 6d. to live upon. I interviewed a typical woman of 45 years of age in my division. She had been in one job steadily for 21 years and has been idle for two years. She is living on 15s. Her family budget leaves 7s. 6d. for food—1s. 1d. per day, or 3½d. or so for a meal. Do hon. Members understand the position of that woman year in and year out, permanently poor? Again, take the single man living in lodgings on 15s. a week; take the girls who go and work at Southport or Black pool on 15s. a week, of which the greater portion goes for their lodgings.
I must confess I was angered in my native city, where there is now a huge exhibition. I have nothing to say against it; people want a certain amount of fun and variety in life, and I would not do anything to stop it; but on one Saturday in that city there were tens of thousands of people at the Exhibition who could not get through. They got no sympathy from me; I must confess I gave them very little thought; but I turned to the same city, the place where I was born, and saw, not on one day of a £ 10,000,000 Exhibition, but every day, these decent women starving for 365 days in the year, and, although the newspapers are full of what happens on one day at an exhibition, they say not one word about those decent people who are in this position day in and day out.
318 It is a shocking, outrageous thing that today you have decent young men who can hardly live, but tomorrow, if you go to war, you will be feeding them, and clothing them, and giving them everything so that they may fight, while if they remain at home in peace-time you cannot do it. I do not ask wonders from the Minister. I do not ask him to go out in the first few days and solve a great economic problem. But this is a wealthy country, and to-morrow, if war came, it would provide three, four and five times what is now being provided. All that I ask is that this country, which can raise the money for war, should at least raise enough, not to solve the unemployment problem, because I am not too optimistic about that, but enough at least to wipe away this most beastly evil of poverty and under-feeding.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Higgs
This Debate has centred chiefly on the depressed industries, and particularly on the depressed areas. I am glad that it has, because I feel that, if we can do enough to improve the condition of those industries, and particularly if those districts which are more prosperous can contribute, the Debate will have done an enormous amount of good. I take exception, however, to the remark of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) about subsidising employers who deliberately refuse to go where the labour is. A lot of people seem to think that factories come down from heaven in the rain. They go up a road one year, and next year they find a number of factories there and think they just came there, without any forethought whatever. I can assure the Committee that that does not happen. It would be very nice if we could locate these new industries in the depressed areas, and I am sure that most employers would be willing to do it. It is said that they will not do it for their own selfish reasons, but that is not so. The origin of some of our greatest factories has been a garret shop. A fellow who thought he knew something about it found that he did. He started, and was one of the humble people for the first few years. His industry ultimately grew larger, he had to move to larger premises, and obviously he would select a locality as near to his original surroundings as he could.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Colonel Clifton Brown)
I hope the hon. Member will relate his remarks to the subject that is before the Committee. At present he is rather far from it.
§ Mr. Higgs
I accept your Ruling. I consider that the unemployed in this country are catered for as well as in any country in the world. I do not say that they are catered for as well as they might be; there are defects in the law, and it is our duty to correct them as much as possible. But we cannot go to the ex tent of saddling industry with consider ably more expense than it has to bear at the present moment. This country at the present moment is as good as any country in the world for the production of goods, and we have to keep it in that position if we are to maintain our over seas trade. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street said that the Minister was too mentally lazy to face the solution. With all due respect to hon. Members opposite, and to the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street in particular, I did not hear during his speech one constructive suggestion with reference to the problems he was discussing. He spoke for some half or three-quarters of an hour, and I listened intently for some constructive suggestion that might contribute to a solution of our present difficulties—
§ Mr. Lawson
From time to time we have put before the House a very full programmed for dealing with these problems, but I was limited in dealing with them today because it would have involved legislation.
§ Mr. Higgs
Then what is the use of condemning the action that the Government have taken during the last 12 months, or are proceeding with under this Vote? Employment Exchanges have been referred to. I think the Government are doing exceedingly good work by transferring people from areas where work is slack to areas where work is brisk. I consider that, if the Employment Exchanges were used more for that purpose than for finding employment for people in their own locality, the money would be far better spent. The transference of the people is the solution of this problem, and the exchanges have done an enormous amount of good in that direction. Recently I asked a question in the House as to the cost of filling 320 each vacancy by the Employment Exchanges. Unfortunately, I could not have a reply, but I believe that these vacancies would be filled far more cheaply by advertisement in the local Press for the local purpose, and that the exchanges should concentrate more upon transferring labor to considerable distances where the individual is not capable of doing it himself.
§ Mr. Silverman
Would the hon. Member inform the Committee where he would propose to transfer the 1,750,000 unemployed?
§ Mr. Higgs
I am not suggesting that 1,750,000 could be transferred; I am suggesting that the problem could be somewhat eased, and I believe I am right in saying that we in Birmingham will be very pleased to see more labor of the right character in our district than we have at the present moment. We should be very pleased to see people transferred from semi-depressed areas like Glasgow or South Wales if the right labor is there.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
Does the hon. Member know that in Birmingham tonight there are 30,012 people unemployed? That is the Ministry of Labor's own figure.
§ Mr. Higgs
Oh, yes; I qualified what I said. I said that we wanted skilled labor, that particular labor of which we are so short at the present time. I do not dispute that there are 30,000 unemployed. I do not know what proportion the 30,000 is of our working population, but I think it is lower than the proportion of unemployed throughout the country; and it does not consist of skilled men.
I do not know whether I shall be called to order again, but I want to refer to the King's Roll. That has been in existence for 20 years, and over the whole of that period the employer who wished to qualify must have had the necessary quota of ex-service men among his employs. But obviously the number of ex-service men available has been considerably reduced in later years; and I think the time has come when some other form of labor should be accepted, to enable an employer to qualify, such as men who are permitted to have two weeks' service with the Colors, with the employer making up their salaries to the full amount during that time, plus a 321 week's holiday with pay. That would encourage recruiting considerably, and would ease the situation created by the shortage of ex-service men. We might also allow employers to qualify by employing men discharged from the Colors. Something of this sort will have to be done if the employer is to be enabled to maintain his 5 per cent. quota. The hon. Member for Sedge field (Mr. Leslie) referred to children of 14 going into factories. He said that the reason for the employer wanting them was so that he might have cheap labor. I do not believe that that is true. Children of 14 are of little use in factory work. As long as parents are prepared to keep their children at school the children should stay there, but when the parents want them to leave they should be in a position to say whether they should leave or not at the age of 14. To the employer, children of 14 are of very little service.
The same hon. Member referred to the question of increased factory inspectors. I consider that the solution of that matter is to make the law known to the employer and the employé the employé in particular. I understand that literature is to be distributed in the factories in order that the employé can be his own inspector. I will just refer to overtime. It is exceedingly difficult to arrange for different men to take on different jobs for two or three hours extra overtime. Overtime is not a paying proposition for the employer.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Daggar
The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has made a nice, but rather nervous defense of a rotten case. He made a statement that, in his opinion, the unemployed were well catered for in this country. If he will do me the honor of remaining here until I have completed my speech, I will endeavor to disabuse his mind. He took exception to my hon. Friend who opened this Debate referring to the Minister of Labour as being mentally lazy. I do not know whether that will be accepted by every Member of this Committee but I will draw the hon. Member's attention to a passage in a 322 newspaper which does not exist to propagate the views we hold on these benches. I am not a regular reader of that periodical. It is the "Daily Mirror." In that paper I read something with regard to the capacity of the Minister of Labor. The writer of the article stated that he was the "Minister of no Labor," "the man with the loudest voice in the House, and the least to say." The article went on to observe:The shattering roar that results when Mr. Brown speaks is not a recent development. When he was 13 and was watching the Torque lifeboat being launched, he could shout ' Ship ahoy ' louder than any member of the crew. He still shouts ' Ship ahoy,' but he never goes to the rescue. He is too. Satisfied, this man. He finds it necessary to stand back and say: 'I can see for months ahead the rising tide of employment and a diminishing of unemployment.'That is not an extract from a Socialist newspaper. I intend to deal with the recent decision of the Unemployment Assistance Board which was referred to by the Parliamentary Secretary in a much more coherent speech than the recent statement by the Minister, which reminded me of the old song, "The Patchwork Quilt." The hon. Gentleman did not defend the decision of the Unemployment Assistance Board in deciding to discontinue the allowances which were instituted last year. I want to speak for the unemployed in my division; and I think I have authority to speak not only for all the unemployed in South Wales but for the unemployed miners throughout Great Britain. They do not want doles or allowances from the Board, but employment. If evidence of that is wanted, I need only say that in the last seven years in my division, over 10,000 people left in order to secure employment elsewhere.
We contend that it is much cheaper— much more economical, to use the language of the capitalist— to erect new factories in the distressed areas than to transfer the unemployed from these areas to parts of England where, in the event of war, it would cost the country millions of pounds to give those people a measure of security. The hon. Member talked about factories not dropping from heaven. Most of us know that, but I would draw his attention to a publication issued under the auspices of the Board of Trade, in which he will find that the reasons given by owners of factories in 25 instances in the last two years as to why they erected 323 factories in London instead of the distressed areas, was that the factories were in close proximity to their own residences.
I would like to know when the Government propose to deal decently with the unemployed men and women, and I would direct the attention of the Committee to the following Resolution, a copy of which has been sent not only to the Prime Minister, but also to the Minister of Labor himself, submitted by the Executive Council of the South Wales Miners' Federation.This Council, representing 120,000 members and their families, protests most emphatically against the assumption of the Unemployment Assistance Board and the Minister of Labor, as announced in the House of Commons, that the cost of living has so materially decreased as to justify a reduction in the already inadequate allowances received by the unemployed. It calls attention to the fact that in April, 1935, the Ministry of Labor cost of living figure was 139, whereas in 1938 the figure was 154—an increase of 15 points.These variations in the index figure of the cost of living are published in the Ministry of Labour Gazette, while the Minister of Labor himself on 12th May stated, in reply to a question, that the figure had dropped from 146 in November to 137 in April. I find that the figure was 160 in November last, and in April of this year it was 154. He gave the correct figure for some reason or other on 9th May.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I think that one figure refers to the cost of living in general and the other to food only.
§ Mr. Daggar
I think that the Minister had that in mind, but whether he had it in mind or not, there is no statement in the Parliamentary Debates which justifies the assumption that he had in mind food and not all the items included in the general cost of living. He gave that figure in order to justify the recent decision of the Unemployment Assistance Board to discontinue the winter allowance. After listening to that statement of the Minister of Labour on that day, I was reminded of another which he had previously made from this side of the Chamber. On that occasion he was referring to an article contributed to the "Daily Mail" by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), and he criticised the article on the ground that the writer did not 324 define what he meant by "proved primary needs." Then the Minister of Labour asked:What are they? The main benefit is 17s. per week. I think it would be a good thing for all Members of this House to visit the homes of the unemployed and talk to them about that benefit. I speak with some feeling, because I happen to know how difficult it was to live on 30s. per week in 1913, and it is much harder now.That observation was made by the Minister of Labor on 22nd June, 1931, when the cost of living figure was 145. The figure in March of this year was 156 and in April 154, or an advance of nine points since 1931. The right hon. Gentleman proceeded:Sentiment is irrelevant here, because unless in this House any hon. Member is prepared honestly to get up and say here what he will say anywhere else, that he means to save money out of the fund by cutting down the benefit, that is a kind of argument that is founded on dishonesty, and cannot stand." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd June, 1931; col. 98, Vol. 254.]I am reminded of the time many years ago when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Car Narvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) held very high office in this country, and when, as a member of a deputation we were authorized to state the case on behalf of the people as miners' representatives. The right hon. Gentleman replied to all members of the deputation except one, to which gentleman he said: "I do not propose to reply to the observations which you have made this afternoon because you replied to your own speech in another which you made three weeks ago." That is true of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labor. He answered himself in 1938. Out of the mouth of an ex-Liberal an ex-Liberal is answered; a political renegade destroys himself. The attitude of the right hon. Gentleman on the question of allowances to the unemployed is not only, in my opinion, dishonest, but is one of sheer hyprocrisy. There is no wonder that in my area the observation was made to me last Sunday, at the close of a meeting, that he was earnest on Sundays, and Brown on every other day in the week. A tax of 2d. per lb. has been imposed upon tea, and incidentally, I deny the belief expressed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that such an imposition will be borne "with a willingness and even a pride in the humblest homes" of the unemployed in this country.
325 I cannot really understand the Government's treatment of the unemployed, Have not the unemployed been persecuted sufficiently already by the Government? I would ask the hon. Gentleman, who talks about the unemployed being catered for, whether he knows that from November, 1931, to January, 1935, as a result of the imposition of the means test, the unemployed in this country have been robbed— there is no other word for it—of £ 45,000,000, which is at the rate of £ 15,000,000 a year. The robbery having been £ 45,000,000 to 1935, it means that there have been two years since in respect of which must be added another £ 30,000,000, so that by the means test alone the unemployed in this country have been robbed by the present Government and the previous Government of no less than £ 75,000,000. If the cuts in standard benefit and the increase in contributions of the unemployed are taken into consideration, we have to add another £ 50,000,000 saved by the legislation of the Government, which gives the incredible total of the robbery of the unemployed of £ 125,000,000.
I will give the Committee an instance of what I will describe, for there is no other substitute in the English language, as Tory meanness, and that also is defended by the Liberal renegade who is paid £ 96 per week to undertake a task which a Tory Minister refused. A friend came to my house the other night and told me that he was in receipt of standard benefit. As the result of having a son who required special nourishment he had to go to the local officer of the Unemployment Assistance Board, and on production of a medical certificate he was given 4s. extra. As hon. Members know, a Bill was introduced to increase dependants' allowances, under which the allowance to the wife was increased from 9s. to 10s. a week if the husband was in receipt of standard benefit, as this man was. Hon. Members will be surprised to know that when he went to the Board for the 4s. they reduced it, because his wife had received an extra 1s. a week as dependant's allowance—a special nourishment allowance to 3s. instead of 4s. He produced another medical certificate on the 10th of this month and he received the following note from the office of the Unemployment Assistance Board:Your weekly allowance has included an amount of 2s. 6d. which was added specially 326 to meet the increased expenses of living in your case during the winter months. Now that the winter is over it has been found necessary to review your allowance and withdraw the special addition.The result is that the whole of the 3s. has been denied to the man. I ask the Minister, what connection is there between refusing to continue payment of the winter allowance and the discontinuance of an allowance given in virtue of the applicant having a sick child? That is not an isolated case. Here is another case out of many. A person who lives in my division made an application to the Board for an allowance. It was necessary for the local officer to make two assessments, one for the son and another for the father, and although a medical certificate was produced in order to obtain an additional allowance for the wife, who is practically an invalid, the 2s. 6d. per week nourishment for the wife has been withdrawn. There is another case of a man who was in receipt of 26s. per week. For some reason or other he was notified that the officer had decided to reduce that amount to 24s., and before I came to the House at the beginning of this week he had another message to say that the 24s. was to be further reduced to 22s.
It is useless for the Parliamentary Secretary or the Minister to justify such a reduction on the ground that circumstances have changed. No circumstances can change in a period of three weeks to justify a reduction first to 24s. and then to 22s. We have at the local offices a new officer who is probably responsible for these variations and changes, due to the fact perhaps that he is overflowing with zeal for the sympathetic administration of the rules of the Board. He has scant regard for medical certificates produced by applicants from their own medical advisers. He wants to create a name for himself and to establish himself in that area. I want to assure him that if I can be of any assistance—I have asked for particulars of his attitude towards applicants —I shall be glad to do what I can by publicity in this House to assist in his establishment at Abertillery.
The Board and the Minister of Labor justify the action of withdrawing the winter allowance because of an alleged reduction in the cost of living, and the Minister does so upon figures which he does not consider reliable and which he says are not accurate. It is a very 327 strange feature of this action of the Board that when the Board decided to increase some of the allowances in October last year the index figure of the cost of living was 158, or seven points above the lowest figure of 151 reached in that year. In April of this year the figure was 154. That means that because of the increase in the cost of living by seven points the winter allowance was given, but when that figure was reduced by four points the allowance is withdrawn. Let me apply another test. For the moment I ignore the figure 100 which represents the index figure for 1914. I find that the average index figure for the nine months preceding October of last year was 52.5, but the average figure for the seven months, including October and subsequent to that year, was 578.5 Yet in face of those facts the Unemployment Assistance Board decided to withdraw the winter allowance.
When discussing this issue we are told either that the rise in the cost of living is small or that the cost has been considerably reduced. We have already been informed of the reduction which has taken place since last November. While we are expected to accept these figures supplied by the Minister of Labour I much prefer to accept the costs as disclosed in the budget of a housewife, and that does not show such a considerable reduction. Further, here is a statement contained in the "News Chronicle" of yesterday, which supports my contention. It is under the heading, "The Club to cost more."The Constitutional Club, famous centre of Tory activity, is threatening its member with a two-guinea increase in subscriptions. One reason, writes a ' News Chronicle ' reporter, is the rise in prices which the Government was denying a short time ago. Another reason is the recent inclusion of club servants in the unemployment insurance scheme. This will cost the Constitutional Club £450 a year. Members have been given these reasons in a circular issued by the Chairman, Sir Patrick Hannon, M.P.In this connection I prefer to accept the statement of the Tory Club, as it is more in accordance with those made to me by the wives of unemployed men than the statements made either by the Minister of Labour or the Unemployment Assistance Board. There is another phase of this question which deserves some notice. The dependants' benefit to those 328 men in receipt of standard benefit has been increased from 9s. to 10s. per week, but to those individuals who need most, because of long periods of unemployment, the small allowance has been reduced. "From him that hath shall be taken away," might be an appropriate text for the Minister of Labour's next sermon.
Let me make, in connection with this point, an observation that may appeal to the Minister. In a part of my division a Sunday School demonstration is held every Whit Monday and the children, as one might imagine, look forward to this event. Proud parents endeavour to make their children presentable by the purchase of suitable clothes, and as many of them are unemployed they have to make preparations some months before that date. That pleasure, to my own personal knowledge, will now be denied to many children because of the action of the Unemployment Assistance Board in withdrawing the winter allowance or refusing to continue it. I hope that such treatment will give the Minister of Labour the satisfaction he deserves. No wonder we read this comment in a newspaper, not a Socialist paper:The first necessity to its performance is that the Labour Minister should be given a change of air … Mr. Brown has not even a sense of the fitness of things. It was only the other day that he preached a sermon on the doorstep of a derelict area from the text ' Feed my sheep '.I feel convinced that the attitude of the Government towards the unemployed does not meet with the approval of the people of this country. The Labour Government was criticised for borrowing £85,000,000 to maintain the unemployed. This Government can borrow £400,000,000 to provide the means for destroying life. It can also lose £100,000,000 in a deal with Ireland, and it can also provide £70,000,000 to distribute among 3,789 royalty owners who have been permitted to rob the mining industry in the last 20 years of no less a sum than £120,000,000. It now deprives the unemployed man or woman of 2s. or 3s. a week on the ground that the winter months are passed, and that it is now May and not November.
Finally, I consider it a scandal that the Government should continue the administration of the means test, which reduces the admittedly insufficient allowance of 17s. a week in the case of an 329 unemployed single man to 15s., 12s. and, in many cases within my knowledge, to a miserable 10s. a week, and that they should withdraw the winter allowance because of an alleged reduction in the cost of living. I have little time for an index figure which is based upon calculations made 33 years ago. If the allowances had been adequate at any time, I could have understood the action of the Unemployment Assistance Board, but such allowances were never considered adequate by hon. Members, irrespective of party, or by any decent person in the country.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he spoke with feeling in June, 1931. So do we in May, 1938. I want to say, in connection with the administration of the Unemployment Assistance Board's Regulations, that the Minister, in defence of them, is performing a duty that no self-respecting Tory would undertake. All the Government's work, such as the imposition of the tax on tea, and the increase in the Income Tax, has been undertaken by renegade members of the Liberal Party. The Ministers responsible for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force are desirous of securing assistance to achieve superiority in those Forces. Some of those individuals who are now unemployed and who have experienced this mean treatment from the Government are beginning to say, "You cannot expect our assistance to defend your property unless you show a desire to defend the unemployed men and women." That can be done only by abolishing the means test. Until that is achieved, cease the "cuts" and continue the winter allowance.
§ Mr. Lawson
On a point of Order, Colonel Clifton Brown. Is it not the Government's business on a Supply Day to keep hon. Members present so that Supply can be considered? I draw your attention to the fact that there are only three Members on the Government Benches.
The Temporary Chaiman
That is not a point of Order. What the Government does is not a matter for the Chair.
§ Mr. Lawson
I would draw the attention of the Minister of Labour to the fact that there are only three Members present on the Government Benches. Will he not get some Members in?
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Silverman
I wish to draw attention to two points, one of them of minor importance and the other of greater importance. The minor point has reference to training centres, which are, of course, miniature workshops. There are in these centres all the ordinary risks of accidents, but by reason of the fact that no wages are paid and that the relationship of master and servant does not exist, the Workmen's Compensation Act does not apply. There are throughout the country cases of serious and permanent injury where the trainee has no access to the courts and, as far as one can gather, no legal rights or remedies. I ask the Minister of Labour to give attention to this matter. I know of one case where an accident to a man in such a workshop resulted in the loss of an eye. It is true that the Minister ex gratia offers to make payments, but where there is a difference of opinion, as very frequently there must be, about the proposed payment, there is no external authority to which an appeal can be made. The Minister is judge in his own case. He is entitled to say, if a person does not like the offer, "You may take it or leave it; you have no remedy; we will not submit to arbitration of any kind." Unless the person concerned accepts the offer, he has to go through his working life suffering from an incapacity for which, if he had incurred it in ordinary life, would have resulted in his receiving some compensation. I hope that the Minister will find some means of placing that matter on a proper footing, so that he will not be judge in his own case, and so that the case will be submitted to the arbitration of an impartial authority. The second point which I wish to raise is of wider importance, and is one on which the Minister has frequently expressed sympathy. The right hon. Gentleman expresses sympathy on a good many things. I am one of those who believe that it is genuine sympathy.
§ Mr. Silverman
Whether it be or not, I do not see why the hon. Member for Bolton (Sir J. Haslam) should be amused. I should have thought that, with his usual generosity and charitable spirit, he would have supported me in that statement, but if he doubts it, hon. Members on these benches may be forgiven for doubting it. 331 However, I think the sympathy which the right hon. Gentleman expresses is genuine, but whether it be genuine or not, sympathy is a very poor thing for a person to live on. The problem to which I want to draw attention is that of weavers in Lancashire who are underemployed and who are not entitled to any unemployment benefit or public assistance. I will explain how that position arises. The method of employment in the cotton industry has come to be based upon a system of piece rates by which the wages of a weaver depend upon the earnings of the looms of which he is in charge. The standard number of looms per weaver recognised in the industry is four, and if a weaver is employed for 48 hours a week on four looms, and if the looms are working full time, his wages amount, on the average, to between 30s. and 33s. a week. Those weavers are the lucky ones, the highly skilled cotton operatives working full time on the full standard of four looms. But it happens throughout the Lancashire weaving industry at the present time that, although a weaver is employed in a factory for 48 hours a week, for a considerable portion of that time some, or even all, of the four looms of which he is in charge are idle. It may be that only one is idle, it may be that two are idle, and frequently three are idle, and then if he is dependent upon what he can earn by the working of his one loom, his earnings per week will be, on an average, something like 8s. or 8s. 6d. a week.
The other day I heard of the case of a man of 50 years of age who had spent no less than 36 years working in a mill. Last week two of his four looms were idle. On the remaining two he earned 7s. 8d. and 7s. 7d. respectively. I want the Committee to appreciate the fact that, at the end of a full 48-hour week, all he had to draw was 15s. 3d., but even this amount was subject to certain deductions. He had to pay 1s. 8d. for insurance; 6d. as his contribution towards the cleaning of the mill and a hospital contribution of 1d. So, this worker of 50 years of age, who has been working in the mill for 36 years, brings home at the end of a 48-hour week earnings to the amount of 13s.—and he has to maintain a wife. To complete the story, I may mention that his rent is 8s. 6d. It 332 is not a high rent, but it is a large part of 13s.
I have not quoted this case because I allege that it is typical of everybody in the industry. Nor is it an exceptional case in itself. The Minister knows that it could be multiplied by hundreds, and indeed by thousands in Lancashire. I would like to give some further figures, not from my own constituency but from small neighbouring towns. In a little place called Church there are 1,200 weavers. The standard number of looms is four, but only 20 per cent. of them have four looms fully working; 60 per cent. have only three looms working and the remaining 20 per cent. have only two or one working. The average wage, with four looms working, is between 30s. and 33s. per week. [HON. MEMBERS: "Adult rate?"] Yes, that is the adult rate. At another place, Rishton, there are 600 weavers, and last week only 15 per cent. of them had all four looms working, while 55 per cent. had three looms working, and 30 per cent. had only two looms or one loom working. That meant that they were earning 16s. or less, subject to deductions, for a 48-hour week.
Remember Lancashire is not a Special Area. It has none of those much-vaunted advantages which are supposed to be enjoyed by South Wales and Durham and parts of Scotland. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who wants them?"] I have not observed that anybody is very grateful for them, or that they appear to have benefited those areas very much, but I am not qualified to judge on that question. All I am pointing out is that Lancashire, where the conditions are as I have described, is not regarded by the Government as one of the areas entitled to such advantages as there may be in this legislation. I ask the Minister, is it not time some arrangement was made by which these people, the most highly-skilled operatives of their type in the world, upon whom for generations the prosperity of the country depended, and who, even to-day, are responsible for production in what is still the chief exporting industry, should no longer be allowed to-go home at the end of a 48-hour week with substantially less than they would get from the Unemployment Assistance Board or from the public assistance committee? I say it is a public scandal that the present state of things should have 333 gone on so long and that no remedy for it should yet have been found.
As I say, I do not question the genuineness of the Minister's sympathy. I know he has received deputations upon this matter, and he will not accuse me of any breach of confidence if I reveal that he has expressed the opinion that, of all the delegations which have presented special grievances to him, in connection with the administration of this Act, no delegation has impressed him more than that which called his attention to the tragic state of affairs which I have described. But the Minister has been sympathetic for a long time. I know the problem is difficult. It is not easy to find a remedy, but I refuse to believe that it passes the wit of man to find some method of securing for these people, and for all workers in industry, some modest measure of justice. Much eloquence has been used to call attention to the tragic conditions of, say, the miners. I do not complain of that fact. Those who represent the miners have done an enormously valuable piece of social work in the last 10 or 15 years, and accomplished much good for their people. But, leaving aside the exceptional danger, the risk to life and limb involved in the mining industry which, of course, is greater than in any other industry, and certainly greater than in the textile industry, I say that the condition of the weavers is much worse than the condition of the miners has ever been, and certainly much worse than the condition of the miners to-day.
However difficult the problem may be, it should not be beyond the wit and ingenuity of man to devise some method of raising the minimum wage or, where the minimum wage falls substantially below what would be paid to these people if they were not working at all, of making up the balance. I rejoice to see that supporters of the Government, having satisfied their own needs, have now come back into the Chamber and are prepared to listen to some account of the unsatisfied needs of other people. The problem of poverty is the only thing that matters in politics. It is the only thing that keeps me interested in politics, and it is the only reason why the party to which I have the honour to belong came into existence. If you can solve that problem otherwise than in the way we advise, do so by all means, and you will hear no more from us. The House is filled to overflowing when other 334 questions are discussed. All those questions, including international problems, will disappear if the problem of poverty is solved. I appeal to the Minister again to go into the question of under-employment in Lancashire and to see whether he cannot do something to make life more tolerable for these people, who are the salt of the earth.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Sexton
I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) upon making out such a strong case on behalf of the underpaid and underworked men in the cotton industry. I want to draw attention to the Unemployment Assistance Board and its scales, and to-inquire who are the people who are unfortunate enough to have to submit to the regulations of the Unemployment Assistance Board. These people, as has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), in quoting from the latest report of the Board, are decent people like ourselves. The generality of the applicants are ordinary men; they are neither high nor low, but ordinary, average, decent citizens of no mean country. They have worked a lifetime, although there are many who have been refused the possibility of work—young men who have not yet tasted the discipline of labour. They are the Ishmaels of modern industry, cast out or normal society and citizenship. They are suffering from poverty through no fault of their own. There are not just a few, but 600,000 of them, and over 30,000 are in my own county of Durham.
Under the present system it may be-the lot of any employed person shortly to be thrown up with the flotsam and jetsam of humanity. During the War these people were hailed as bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh; hailed as heroes who were going to defend the nation in time of danger. Now they are counted as pariahs of poverty. While it is true that they are passing through great tribulation, we cannot say of them that they shall hunger no more, because they are hungering now every day, not only bodily, but, what is more important, mentally as well. What crime have these people committed that they deserve such rigid punishment? If they had broken the laws of the land they would have received greater attention from the State than they are receiv- 335 ing now as unemployed, for if they had gone to prison it would have cost the State more to keep them than the State is prepared to give them when they have broken no law. The State, however, has broken the greatest law of all—the law of humanity—by the scurvy treatment it meets out to them. The only thing that can be said of them is that they are superfluous to modern economic society. They should never have been born. They are in poverty because they live. But poverty unearned and undeserved is no crime. It is the system which condemns people to poverty. It is a criminal system.
What is the qualification of people to receive unemployment assistance? The only qualification is that they must be extremely poor. They may be supremely honest, but they have to be extremely poor and not only that, but they have to declare their destitution to the world. They have to parade their poverty in the public eye. I was alarmed as I listened to the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) when he referred to that secret form, which is called Form 6 (B), and I hope we shall hear more about it from the Minister. What is the amount of assistance which these people receive? Remember their respectability. They are no different in character, says the report, from the ordinary person, but they are different in the treatment they receive. Scrutinise from the regulations the valuation that is placed on the lives of these people. I am not great at figures. I used to be a teacher and considered myself a mathematician, but I have friends on this side and there are hon. Members on the other side who could beat me to a frazzle so far as handling figures is concerned. There are, however, one or two figures to which I propose to refer.
A man who is a householder receives under the Regulations 16s. a week, and by various adjustments, some of which are beyond my comprehension, it is whittled down, after rent is allowed, to 12s. a week. On that he has to live and obtain food, clothing, power and light and, if there is anything left, enjoyment. I have in my division an ex-service man who lives alone, and who served four years at the front. He has 15s. a week under this scheme and he has something deducted because his rent is below one-quarter of the standard rate. There was 336 a man in my division not many weeks ago who, rather than face the exposure before a tribunal under the Unemployment Assistance Board, committed suicide. That man is a martyr to the system of society under which we are living. I had a case of a woman who received 15s. a week and whose rent adjustment left her with 11s. She received 4s. for her child. A pint of milk alone for the child would cost 1s. 9d. and bread 1s. 7d., which left only 9d. for all the other things to keep the child in decency and comfort. One hon. Member said something about the King's Roll. All that concerns these people is a good beef roll or a sausage roll.
I often wonder how long the worker is going to stand this low valuation which is placed on human life. I am amazed at the docility of the British worker. In the face of the enemy he is a warrior bold, in the face of industrial danger, as in the recent mine explosion, he is a veritable giant, yet when he is faced by poverty in a land of plenty which he has created, he is as docile as a dove. Yet material wealth is the result of the work of his hands and brains. When I was a boy we used to talk about the "five alls"—The king rules over all.The parson prays for all.The lawyer pleads for all.The soldier fights for all.But the worker pays for all.Problems have been solved by his skill and intelligence and invention in the heavens above, in the earth beneath and in the waters under the earth. In the heavens above there has been the conquest of the problems of the air; in the earth beneath, the conquest of transport, both rail and motor; in the waters under the earth, conquest by the submarine. There is no need for the worker to suffer under the miserable means test and the ridiculous regulations of the Assistance Board. He has the power and the ability to construct a wiser order of society.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
On a point of Order. I understand that even in this optimistic world you cannot construct a new social order without legislation. I suggest that on a Supply Day that might be just on the edge of being out of order.
§ Mr. Sexton
The deadening effect of unemployment, especially of long spells, is to make men indifferent and to make them used to wretched conditions. I 337 could refer to some of the wretched conditions contained in the first report of the Unemployment Assistance Board. There are some most appalling stories told there, but I will not harrow the feelings of the Committee by quoting any, though I had intended to refer to one case in England, one in Wales and one in Scotland. I want to refer to the long period, because it is the greatest tragedy of all, this so-called hard core of unemployment which has lasted a long time. People who are brought to penury and have become reconciled to redundancy become accustomed to their agony. Lord Byron gave an excellent illustration of the apathy resulting from the oppression in "The Prisoner of Chillon," who had been fastened up with chains for years. He says:At last men came to set me free.I asked not why, I recked not where.It was at length the same to meFettered or fetterless to be.I learnt to love despair.In the Special Areas men have learnt to love despair. It is no use saying they do not care about work. It is because despair has got hold of them. In the same poem:My very chains and I grew friends.So much a long communion tendsTo make us what we are, even IRegained my freedom with a sigh.So in the Special Areas—the bitter irony of it!—men have grown to be friends even with their chains. The latest humiliation of the unemployed by the Unemployment Assistance Board is the reduction of the winter allowance, which itself was far too low. I suppose that applicants for assistance will now be expected to believe that the winter of their discontent has beenMade glorious summer by this sun of York.It is a funny way of the winter of discontent becoming glorious summer when they are receiving a reduction. What is the remedy for all this? What the Government can do is only a palliative. They could increase the assistance, but it is only ambulance work after all—picking up the wounded and distressed of the industrial world. Sir Malcolm Stewart in his first report could solve the problem because he pointed to certain fundamentals. I hope the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) will not call me to order if I suggest that for 338 a final solution this Government must go. In its place we want a Government which will increase production and employ more people. We want a Government which will reduce the working life of juveniles, take the old people out, and absorb more of the unemployed, for all else is merely tinkering with the question and putting a treacle plaster on a cancer. Having said what I have said, it is the inadequacy of the whole system of unemployment assistance and the whole present system of society which has compelled me to speak to-night.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
On a point of Order. Days of this kind are the only opportunity for Members to raise administrative problems which affect their constituents. By an unfortunate circumstance the Ministry of Labour day is of particular interest to us. May I ask what assistance you can give us to prevent Members absenting themselves from the House from a quarter to 4 until 9 o'clock and robbing others of the opportunity of raising matters of supreme importance to their constituents?
I can offer the hon. Member no assistance. I do my best to call on Members in all quarters of the Committee so as to get expressions of opinion from every part of it. If hon. Members would curtail their speeches it would make my task very much easier.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
We all agree that curtailment of speeches would be far more helpful, but surely some contribution can be made to the good spirit and well-being of the House if the insolence of some who walk into the House—
§ Mr. Leonard
I think that Mr. Speaker on one occasion, in dealing with a matter similar to this, indicated that it would be proper to conduct debate on a cut-and-thrust basis.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
I do not often seek to intervene in a Debate when I have not been present for a substantial period. It is true that I have not been in the Chamber for very long since—
§ Mr. Williams
In the dining room, having a meal, the same as a good many others. I came in and listened to part of one speech. When it was concluded I think seven Members opposite rose to speak and no one on this side. I listened to a speech containing a number of statements on which I wish to comment. It did not seem to me entirely inappropriate that I should follow the example of Members of all parties, more particularly right hon. Members, who blow in, blow off, and blow out.
§ Mr. Williams
It is only people of the Red variety who blow up, because they are internally self-explosive. We have had this amusing interlude of attempting to suppress all discussion except that which comes from the other side, some of which was on the verge of being disorderly, because you cannot reconstruct the universe on a Supply Day, however desirable or undesirable it may be, and there is nothing very improper in drawing attention to that fact. I am glad that the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Sexton) was called, because he had taken great care in the preparation of his speech, even though I am satisfied from some of the phrases that it was not entirely original, that his constituents have often heard it before and will frequently hear it in future, and not only his constituents but the constituents of nearly all hon. Members opposite, because the real trouble is that they have only one speech which they present with variations on a great many occasions. It is one of the sad things in this life that you do not solve a problem by inventing a phrase. [HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear.] I rejoice that hon. Members opposite cheer that, because the chief contribution they have made to invention has been the invention of phrases.
The hon. Member referred to the scurvy treatment meted out to those in receipt of unemployment assistance. There is no basis of comparison between unemployment assistance under this Government and any previous Government, because unemployment assistance only came into being under the provisions of the Unemployment Act, and there is no past test. The past test, of course, must be in respect of forms of assistance, which 340 passed under many titles—uncovenanted benefit was one of them—given to people who have lost all their insurance rights I am going to suggest without the faintest hesitation that my right hon. Friend the Minister, though I do not agree with all his views, is at this moment treating the man or woman who has exhausted his or her insurance rights with a degree of generosity which would have amazed the House of Commons of 1924 and amazed the House of Commons between June, 1929, and August, 1931.
§ Mr. T. Smith
Surely the hon. Member must recall that when we had transitional payments some of the bigger authorities gave more than is being given under unemployment assistance.
§ Mr. Williams
Let us take the Debates which took place in 1924—I was not then a Member of the House—on what was called, I think, the Unemployment Insurance (No. 2) Bill, introduced by a right hon. Gentleman for whom I have great affection, though we differ, Mr. Tom Shaw. Mr. Shaw presented a Bill proposing certain scales of benefit. We can discuss scales of benefit in a Debate of this kind, because under the present system they are a matter of administration and not of legislation, and I think I am in order. Mr. Shaw resisted, as he was right to resist in the existing circumstances, a Motion that the benefit in respect of a child should be 3s. instead of 2s. I just mention that. There are hon. Members opposite who differed from the Government which they ordinarily supported and went into the Lobby against it. The Government of that time said, "We cannot afford this," an unpleasant thing to say; but they did it, and the Socialist Ministers then sitting on the Treasury Bench, asked their followers to support them in the Lobby upon that issue.
All I say is, examine the present scales of benefit—there are a whole lot of new features introduced, I agree—and compare them with those which a Socialist Government proposed in 1924, taking into account that between 1924 and to-day the price of commodities as a whole has fallen substantially. There have been fluctuations, but there is no question that the cost of living to-day, however you test it, is substantially below that of 1924. Hon. Members who in 1924 made passionate 341 speeches, full of resounding phrases, about how they would look after the poor derelicts of the capitalist system were at that time proposing terms far less generous than are now being accorded under administrative methods. Therefore I say their attitude to-day is not very generous. I have not the slightest doubt that when the hon. Member for Barnard Castle speaks in his constituency all those resounding phrases will draw cheers, but they do not solve a problem.
§ Mr. Williams
If the hon. Member asks me what is the solution of every problem, to be quite honest, and not being a Labour Member, I say that I do not know. If I am a Labour Member I produce a magnificent phrase which means nothing, and the people go home gratefully comforted in a spiritual sense, but I have not put any butter on their bread. When opportunities arise to support Measures which will in fact provide employment I have not observed any startling rush of hon. Members opposite to support them. I cannot think of any proposal brought forward by hon. or right hon. Members opposite in recent times which would have put anybody in a job.
§ Mr. Williams
As the hon. Lady is not unaware, the county which I happen to represent has not been too unsympathetic towards the constituency which she represents. [Interruption.] I am not going to run away from the point, but I will approach it in my own way. I think she has had rather a rough deal, but whether it be fortunate or unfortunate the steel industry has not yet been nationalised, and as far as I can make out the default has not been a default which has lain primarily with His Majesty's Ministers. Whether a particular firm should or should not open a steel works in Jarrow, though it may be a subject for questions in this House, cannot, so far as I can see, be a question of legislation, and I was dealing with proposals which we might have supported. I have been very much disappointed that there have been so few of them. Having addressed those remarks to hon. and right hon. Members opposite—
§ Mr. Williams
The hon. Member for Surrey and South Shields (Mr. Ede), if I may so describe him, will no doubt make an eloquent speech later, and I always like listening to him, but in the meantime, perhaps, he will allow me to say something which I am certain he will applaud. Having tried to say a few words in support of the right hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown), may I say a few words in kindly criticism? His Majesty's Government must not be complacent at this moment. I think that this country, and not alone this country but what I will call the white world—it is not the most convenient phrase, but it is still true that the countries substantially inhabited by white people dominate the world in the economic sense—is facing a new crisis. We have to recognise that position.
I must be careful in commenting upon the economic policy of another country, but I am not too much impressed with the economic policy of the United States at this moment. It is true that mankind has no economic memory. We seem to forget entirely what happened 10 years ago. We all make mistakes, irrespective of our politics, but it is folly not to try to learn from the mistakes which we have made in the past. The United States passed through a grave crisis. They sought to solve that crisis by the method of public works; though that does not describe all their activities, it is a phrase which covers nearly all of them. They attained a measure of success, but they are in a new slump, and I do not think they are going to solve the problem —they did not really solve it before—by the same methods. I do not think profligacy in public expenditure ever solves an unemployment problem. It is a palliative. It may transfer employment from one area to another.
I am not one of those who claim that rearmament, which I think is an unpleasant necessity, is of any use in the solution of our unemployment problem, and I hope that supporters of His Majesty's Government will not claim rearmament as helping the unemployment problem. All it has done is to redistribute the unemployment problem, with, possibly, the fortunate effect that has helped distressed areas at the expense of areas which were not previously distressed. The idea that the vast expenditure of public money which imposes new 343 burdens of rates and taxes ever solves an unemployment problem is, I am certain, a delusion, though I think that for the moment the revival of naval shipbuilding and certain other consequences have helped certain distressed areas.
Here we have the whole world, not only this country, facing a new economic crisis. I do not think it will be as bad as the last one, for this reason, that what I will call the general banking situation is much better. Throughout the world we are still in an era of what the bankers call cheap money, and I think that is a most important factor in preserving the stability of trade. All these currency and banking problems are difficult and complex. We sometimes think we know all about them, and then, later on, we find out that we do not, but I think everyone will agree that as a general proposition a low Bank rate is more likely to be stimulating to trade than a high Bank rate. We still have a low Bank rate, and I rejoice to see that in France, where they have been passing through a period of great difficulty, they have been able to reduce their Bank rate substantially. There is not now in the United States the kind of crisis that faced President Roosevelt when he first took office, namely, the bulk of the banks in the United States closed and money, so far as you could borrow it, at almost astronomical rates of interest.
These are factors which are encouraging. Nevertheless, the human mind has gone through that cyclical change. There is a period when no shock has any adverse effect upon industry— it takes about eight years to go through it—and the human mind then reaches a condition in which it is unduly responsive to any kind of economic shock, and in that term I include political shocks which have economic reactions. The occupation of Austria by Germany was probably a bad thing for world trade; the war which is now taking place between China and Japan is probably bad for world trade; the strain in Europe arising out of the civil war in Spain is probably a bad thing for European trade; but two years ago those things would not have mattered. We were in a period of optimism. Now, unfortunately, the mind of man in a general sense is in a period of pessimism. It may be that 344 nothing that Governments can do, nothing even that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite can do, can prevent a period of reaction, not as bad as that of 1931, but sufficiently grave to cause concern to all of us. What is the most dreadful thing that any of us can contemplate?
§ Mr. Leonard
On a point of Order. Without any desire to interrupt the hon. Member, I would like to ask whether this is sufficiently close to the problem which we are discussing to allow it to be introduced at this time of night, after we have been sitting all day?
It appears to me that we have been taking a very broad view of the problems of the Ministry of Labour and the Unemployment Assistance Board. Anything that bears on the subject of either more or less employment is in order and has been discussed on many previous occasions, and I have heard hon. Members from all quarters of the House urge that the Minister ought to take steps to increase employment. I think that any hon. Member is entitled to point out that any steps which the Minister might take would not necessarily be successful.
§ Mr. Williams
The hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) says I asked for it, but I do not know what I got. I am very glad that the point of Order was raised. My own view is that it has always been wrong that this House should ever have discussed, on the Ministry of Labour Vote, the problem of diminishing unemployment. The Minister of Labour is concerned primarily with the relief of unemployment and with industrial problems of a certain special kind. The right occasion to discuss the problem of unemployment from the economic point of view should be the Board of Trade Vote, but for many years past, to my profound regret, the party opposite have always selected the Ministry of Labour 345 Vote as the opportunity for discussing means of relieving unemployment or diminishing it, in other words, of stimulating trade. Accordingly, if in the course of a not very long speech, the first speech that I have made on a Supply Day for many years past, I give utterance to certain views which I hold with considerable sincerity, and speak of the methods which might be adopted for the purpose of diminishing unemployment in this country, I think it ill becomes hon. Members opposite, who have always seized this occasion for the purpose of discussing causes of unemployment, should object to anybody on this side for once in a way seeking to intervene on this subject.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
We have sat here for six hours, and for some two hours of that time the number of Members on the benches opposite was three, and those of us who have urgent questions to raise do not feel it right that Members opposite should come in at this time of the evening to steal time which we thought would be ours.
§ Mr. Williams
This is a new doctrine. It is a new form of Fascism, or Nazism, or Stalinism, that when unemployment is under discussion, only hon. Members opposite are entitled to talk.
§ Mr. Griffiths
We do not claim that at all. At any rate, we have been the only people sufficiently interested to have been here at all for a great deal of the time.
§ Mr. Williams
since I started to talk, there have been more Members present than when hon. Members opposite were talking, and the hon. Member for Llanelly cannot blame me for that. Now may I say something which I hope no one will think is sob stuff? It represents a point of view which I have often expressed in public and which I hope the Minister will take into account. He is not in a position—at least, I do not think he is—to take those administrative acts which can deal with this problem. I have indicated that the right occasion for suggesting solutions within the administrative competence of the Government is on the Board of Trade Vote or a Debate on an occasion when the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be replying, because they are the Ministers primarily concerned with economic policy. None of us must be complacent. Because from time to time we conduct our Debates in this House with 346 good humour and laugh even when we are discussing tragedies, it must not cause people outside to think that any of us are not very deeply in earnest when we consider the horrible problem of unemployment.
May I use this phrase? I have used it frequently outside, but never before, I think, in this House. There are at this moment about 1,750,000 people seeking employment who have not got a job. It is a horrible thing for any of us to contemplate the fact that to-morrow morning 1,750,000 people will wake up with this thought in their minds, that nobody wants them. That is the real tragedy of unemployment. We are not really concerned so much as we think with the precise scale which my right hon. Friend brings before us, because we all know in our hearts that with our system of unemployment assistance, together with the additional help that people may claim, if the need arises, from the Unemployment Assistance Board, not primarily in respect of unemployment, but for other things, nobody in this country really suffers grave hardship to-day. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Not grave hardship.
§ Mr. Williams
I am very glad that the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Gallacher) has a full stomach.
§ Mr. Williams
I am not using language. I am speaking the truth. The average man to-day who is out of work and in receipt of unemployment assistance is, in fact, economically better off than his grandfather was when he was in full work, so great has been our economic progress. Therefore, when people ask me to weep tears of blood because people are suffering great hardships in the economic sense, because they are unemployed, I refuse to do it, but I weep tears of blood when I realise that people will wake up tomorrow morning feeling that they have no purpose in life because they are unemployed. The spiritual evil is infinitely greater than the financial evil, and I would ask hon. Members opposite to bear that in mind. The really pathetic thing which fills the letters that we get from our unemployed constituents is not 347 so much the economic hardship but the fact that they feel they can fulfil no purpose in this beautiful world of ours.
§ 9.57 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Hall
I hardly know whether I ought to follow the argument which the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) has just advanced, because I, like my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee, feel that the Committee has been treated very discourteously by hon. Members opposite during the whole of this Debate. It is an indication of the interest of Conservative Members in what is the major domestic problem with which the country is confronted at the present time. From seven o'clock until just about the time when the hon. Member for South Croydon came into the Chamber there were not more than three hon. Members sitting on the Government Benches. I can understand the attitude of my hon. Friends on this side, some of whom have been sitting here since quarter to four, representing as they do not such a constituency as that of the hon. Member for South Croydon, where the percentage of unemployment is about 3 or 5 per cent., but representing constituencies where 30 to 40 per cent. of the insured persons are unemployed. We have a real interest in this question, and I think that this serious matter ought not to be treated in the flippant way that the hon. Member for Souh Croydon treated it in his opening remarks. He referred to the unemployment allowances which are paid at the present time, but he did not attempt to justify them. There is no single Member sitting opposite who can justify the attitude of the Unemployment Assistance Board.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
May I ask a question? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I gave way at least three times to hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Hall
The hon. Member referred to the Labour Government of 1924 and suggested that they opposed an increase of children's allowances from 2s. to 3s. a week. One would imagine that was the whole story. The hon. Member on occasion is very capable of putting one side of a story and forgetting the other. Let me give the other side of the story. It is true that in 1924 there was a Labour Government, a minority Government, 348 operating the insurance scheme. Notwithstanding the fact that we were operating the insurance scheme, there has been no occasion from 1920 until the present time when such increases were given to the unemployed as were given during that short period of the Labour Government.
§ Mr. Hall
In 1924 the Minister of Labour resisted an increase in children's allowance from 2s. to 3s. a week, but at the same time he granted an aggregate increase in the allowances for husband, wife and three children of no less than 6s. a week. He granted an increase in the allowance for the husband from 15s. to 18s. a week and for the woman from 12s. to 15s. At no time since the Labour Government left office in 1924 has the allowance for the male been as high as it was when Mr. Tom Shaw granted that increase. Not only that, but prior to 1924 there was a gap of six weeks which the unemployed persons had to provide for out of their unemployment allowance. That gap was removed. The total cost of the increases granted by the Labour Government in 1924 in unemployment benefit, not that it was sufficient, by any means, amounted to not less than £10,000,000 a year.
§ Mr. Williams
I should like to ask the hon. Member a question. It was not only in 1924 that the Government of which he was a Member resisted the increase to 3s. for a child, but they did the same between 1929 and 1931. Is it not also the case that the aggregate benefits at the present time when the cost of living is lower, are substantially greater than the benefits which were resisted by the Labour Government in 1924 and 1929?
§ Mr. Hall
I can, however, tell the hon. Member that it was his Government in 349 1931 which robbed the unemployed of £15,000,000 a year, that it was his Government in 1934 which divided the unemployed into two parts, and it is his Government at the present time who think that 10s. a week is sufficient for a man over 21 years of age living at home. That is what the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) supports, what the Minister supports, and what everybody else supports who supports the Minister in his attitude at the present time.
I want to deal briefly with the opening speech of the Parliamentary Secretary. I agree with him that this is no time for complacency. As the hon. Member for South Croydon rightly said, notwithstanding the fact that this Government has been in power from 1931 up till now, and although hon. Members suggest that we are passing through a boom period, no fewer than 1,750,000 people are unemployed. Yet we have seen the lack of interest which has been displayed by hon. Members on the Government side in the proceedings to-day. I come from an area which is still a Special Area. The so-called prosperity has rushed by without leaving anything in its trail in most of the Special Areas. In Wales we have almost as high a percentage of unemployment as we had two or three years ago. In Anglesey, represented by the hon. Lady (Miss Lloyd George), the average percentage of unemployment is 37, in Glamorgan it is 29, and in one area in my own division, according to the Unemployment Index—I do not know where they get the 9 per cent.—it is suggested that they have 109 per cent. of unemployment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Very funny."] It may be peculiar, but there it is, recorded in the Unemployment Index. I do not know where they get the 9 per cent., but they state that 109 per cent. of the male insured population is unemployed. There must be a mistake. It nevertheless indicates what the Minister of Labour thinks about some of the Special Areas. It is true that in a very large mining centre there are no fewer than 75 per cent. of the insured persons unemployed, and that at the present time in Blaina there are 55 per cent., but whatever reduction has taken place in the Special Areas, and particularly in South Wales, during the past two years, it may be attributed very largely to the transfer of persons from those areas.
350 I am not suggesting that there are not a few persons in work, but if hon. Members want to see the type of man that has been transferred, I suggest they should go into some of the aeroplane works, the new Government factories, or the new factories which have been established to deal with armaments. I have been in half-a-dozen of them during the past two years, and in almost every case 90 per cent. of the persons employed in them were under the age of 30 and a very large proportion of them had been transferred from the Special Areas, leaving in those areas elderly men who, unfortunately, cannot get any employment. That is the problem with which the Special Areas are confronted.
Now let me deal briefly with the winter allowance. The argument or the excuse put up by the right hon. Gentleman is really too thin. He suggested that one of the causes for the withdrawal of the 2s. a week extra allowance given to a number of persons who came under the Unemployment Assistance Board in October last year was that a new Regulation was to be introduced to legalise, or to make it possible in future, for the Unemployment Assistance Board to grant this extra allowance. The argument that there has been a reduction in the cost of living was mentioned also, but let me put it to the right hon. Gentleman—I regret very much that the hon. Member for South Croydon is leaving the Committee—upon the basis of figures given by the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon, who suggested that the average amount of the allowance, including all the discretionary payments given by the area officer, given to the applicant receiving assistance under the Unemployment Assistance Board, was 24s. a week. One can imagine why there is such a protest in the Special Areas at the withdrawal of 2s. 6d. or 3s. per week.
I am afraid that hon. Members opposite cannot fully realise what a difference 2s. or 3s. a week makes in the homes of so many people. To a person getting £4 or £5 a week, or a salary equal to that of a Member of Parliament, that amount will not be felt, but if hon. Members were living, as so many people have done for from two to seven years, upon an average income of from 22s. to 24s., and had received an increase of 2s. per week, what would their feelings be if the extra 2s. were suddenly withdrawn, as it has been? 351 No wonder there is such a feeling, as has been described by my hon. Friend, of disgust at the meanness of the Government and the Unemployment Assistance Board.
Reference was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) to the fact that we had had four years of the Unemployment Assistance Board, during which time regulations have been made regulating the lives of all the men who have passed out from standard benefit and who have come under the Board. The total population of those men and their families is from 1,800,000 to 2,000,000 persons. That is the family controlled by the Regulations which were passed by this House, recommended by the Board and accepted by the Minister. It can be argued that the Minister cannot hold himself responsible for the doings of the Board, but I do not know that he can dissociate himself from the actions of the Board. His predecessor did not hesitate to do so, and when he applied Regulations and discovered that he had inflicted injustice upon unemployed people he withdrew them without hesitation and overthrew the Assistance Board. He came to this House, which supported him. Let the right hon. Gentleman remember that these Regulations are, in the main, little better than those which the anger of the people compelled the Government at that time to withdraw. There is very little difference. They do not differ in the allowance for husband and wife or for children up to 14 years of age. There is no difference in the amount allowed for a single man living at home or in the amount allowed for lodgers. The only difference is a slight variation in the amount of household expenses allowed under the operation of the means test to persons who are earning.
Who, on the Government side of the Committee, is prepared to come down into a Special Area in which there is such a large percentage of men under the Unemployment Assistance Board, and to defend those allowances? Let us see what they are: Husband and wife without any resources, 26s. a week, out of which at least a quarter has to be paid in rent; that is 6s. 6d., leaving 19s. 6d. for the husband and wife to maintain themselves. Husband and wife with resources—if 352 there is just one child it is a resource— are reduced to 24s. a week. Husband and wife with two children, one under five years and one between five and eight years, 30s. 6d. a week, out of which 7s. 6d. per week has to be paid in rent. This is not an income which continues for only a week or a fortnight; it has been going on for the last four or five or six years in many homes. The result is that these people are not living upon their resources—they are not living at all.
In the Special Areas the feeling against these Regulations is such that they cannot be defended. I can quite understand hon. Members opposite being indifferent, because they really do not know. Let us see where the districts are which suffer most from these Regulations. London, with all the southern counties—Kent, Surrey, Buckingham, Essex, Middlesex, Bedfordshire, Sussex, and parts of others —has, in the whole of that area, just 39,000 persons under the control of the Unemployment Assistance Board, out of an insured population of some 3,000,000. In my own district of Cardiff, which covers one-half of Glamorgan, we have no fewer than 45,000 persons under the control of the Unemployment Assistance Board. Birmingham, which includes the whole of the Midland area, has 15,000 persons under the Board; Swansea has 25,000; Bristol, covering Gloucestershire, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, has 19,000; while Newport, represented by the hon. Member opposite, has 25,000 persons under the Board. All of these are subjected to the means test; and the fact that they come under the Board indicates that they have been unemployed for a long period.
I do not want to be too sentimental, but it is as well that I should read the statement of someone who visited some of these homes in one of our worst areas. She says that she called upon one family who were subjected to these Regulations. She saw one child who was well under four feet tall, and tiny in proportion. It appeared that the child's mother was dead, and her father was unemployed; and their state of poverty was so great that she had not even a bed to sleep on, but only a sack of straw. Her midget size is the result of sheer starvation. She was just leaving school, and was a prize, scholar, but there is no future of any kind 353 before her; there is no one to help her get employment, and there she is. The same lady records the case of another young woman who was expecting her first baby, and whom they tried to persuade to attend the clinic owing to a suspected abnormality. She allowed several weeks to pass before going, and it was found afterwards that the reason why she had not gone was because she had never been able to save enough to pay the return bus fare of 6d. to the clinic, and was not well enough to walk. Is it any wonder that we feel as strongly on this matter as we do? The lady who conducted that investigation was the lady who fought Pontypridd as the National Government candidate at a by-election quite recently, and it is no wonder that she was defeated by an overwhelming majority.
My hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) referred to a resolution passed by the South Wales Miners' Federation, representing 120,000 miners, protesting against these cuts. Not only has that resolution been passed by the South Wales Miners' Federation, but the clergy of South Wales have been conducting a crusade in certain industrial parts of the Rhondda. Even the Church has to realise that people cannot worship on an empty stomach. Such a large proportion of people are so concerned about the mere getting of bread that they have very little time for spiritual matters. These clergy passed last week a very strong resolution protesting against the action of the right hon. Gentleman, and not only that, but an advisory committee set up under the Act of 1934, the Pontypridd Advisory Committee, which was brought in to ease down these cuts, and to which applicants could apply, itself passed a resolution protesting against the cuts imposed by the Unemployment Assistance Board. I have before me resolutions passed by seven Conservative clubs in the Rhondda Valley, each suggesting the sending of hundreds of postcards to the right hon. Gentleman protesting against the Regulations of the Unemployment Assistance Board. That is why we feel that if the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) and other hon. Members opposite would only take the trouble to go down and investigate some of these cases on the spot they would not require to be told the conditions by us, but would be absolutely converted to the withdrawal of these Regulations.
354 The work of the right hon. Gentleman and the Unemployment Assistance Board and the Government may be regarded by some people, their own supporters, as being clever. It has saved money, but to hundreds of thousands of people who come under the operation of these Regulations it is known to be cruel, and, indeed, cowardly. The Chancellor of the Exchequer reports a saving of £8,500,000. There is no doubt that some of it has been saved as the result of a reduction in the number of persons coming under the Unemployment Assistance Board, but a substantial proportion has been saved —not saved, but robbed from people who could ill afford that it should be taken from them. I dare say the Minister will remember these verses, which must be well known to him—Wealth won by others' poverty,Not such be mine. Let me be blestOnly in what they share with me,And what I share with all the rest.That is the motto we would like the right hon. Gentleman and the Board to take up. In my division, at the present time, it is not only the cut of 2s. 6d. a week that has been made, but over the last nine months there has been a gradual scaling down, a liquidation of the standstill, as a result of the cleverness with which the right hon. Gentleman and the Unemployment Assistance Board have applied those cuts. They have not divided the unemployed up into two sections, as in the 1934 Act, but from November, 1936, they have divided them into four sections. They knew the cuts could not be imposed as in 1935, when there was such an outburst throughout the country that they had to withdraw them, but they employed a strategy which would make one think that they were not dealing with their own fellow-countrymen but with the enemies of the State. First, they said that all who were entitled to the increase should get it. Then they applied cuts to single men, and after the single men the married men. Then, in October of last year, they decided to increase the winter allowance by 2s. or 2s. 6d. a week. In my division we have seen cuts of: October, 2s. 6d. a month; November, 2s. 6d. a month—with the result that yesterday everyone in my district was down on the Regulations.
If the Regulations were as good as the Minister of Labour suggested they were 355 when he introduced them in 1935, when he got the House to pass them, why was it that he did not apply them at once? It has taken him two years to bring them into operation. If they were worth anything, they would have been brought into operation at that time. In the main, the persons who are suffering as the result of these Regulations are men over 45 years of age and single men. Let it be said, in fairness to the Regulations, that, for the married man between 25 and 35 or 40, with a young family, without any person working, and without any resources, there is very little difference between the Regulations and unemployment benefit.
Let the Committee imagine that I am an unemployed worker, and have a son earning £2 10s. a week. Although he may at some time have given £2 10s. a week into the family pool, the Unemployment Assistance Board imagine that, because he is earning that amount, it goes into the family pool. It does not. He may give his mother 25s. out of his £2 10s., and he may be saving money or have to meet other expenses, but because my son earns £2 10s. a week the allowance for myself and my wife is reduced from 24s. to 7s. a week. Does the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Croydon support that? If I have two sons working, one earning £2 10s. a week and the other £2, I receive no allowance at all. If I was working and had a son of 21 unemployed, and I earned £2 5s. a week, not only would the Board and the Minister regulate my son's scale but they would also regulate my wages. The Minister would tell me that I could have 8s. a week pocket money out of my £2 5s. and that my wife and I must live on 24s. a week, plus the 8s. a week, making 32s., and that anything in excess of 24s. must go towards maintaining my unemployed son of 21 years of age.
It is the men whose sons are living at home who are suffering. Who are these men? They have contributed more in their lifetime to the wealth and the domestic comfort of the nation than any other section of the community. They are the men who delve in the mines, face all dangers and are not afraid to face a "Gresford" or a "Markham." They are the men who do the work and fight the battles of this nation. They are the men who ought to be able to look to this nation for support, when the nation can- 356 not find them sufficient work to enable them to maintain themselves. I cannot find words adequately to express my condemnation of the treatment of these men.
The right hon. Gentleman in September last conducted an inquiry with regard to the condition of men over 45. In my district there were 2,000 such men without any prospect of employment. Had they been policemen and had served 25 years, or had they been civil servants or school teachers, they would have received a pension, and have been treated quite differently. The Unemployment Assistance Board, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) rightly said, is not serving a useful purpose at all. A Board which continues to work for the purpose of harassing and depressing the standard of life of the unemployed of this country ought not to be allowed to exist. I am not placing the whole of the responsibility on the Board. The right hon. Gentleman and the Government have their responsibility, and the right hon. Gentleman should face up to the position. It is no use his excusing himself. The suffering which undoubtedly exists at the present time is caused by the Government, who should be ashamed to allow it to continue.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Brown
The hon. Member for Abrader (Mr. G. Hall), who always speaks with great sincerity and feeling on these matters, began his eloquent speech by suggesting to the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) that he should listen to the other side of the story. Before I sit down I hope to show to the Committee that there is another side to this story, and to show that so far from the Unemployment Assistance Board's policy being a policy of meanness it is a policy under which the able-bodied unemployed in this country have never as a whole been as well treated as they are being treated now under the Unemployment Assistance Board and as a result of the Regulations of certain features of which the liquidation was completed on Saturday after a period of 18 months. The Debate has had more than one remarkable feature, but the most remarkable feature of all has been that from 10 minutes to four this afternoon until 23 minutes past 10 o'clock, although we have had a score 357 of speeches on this very important matter, no mention whatever has been made of the liquidation so successfully accomplished last Saturday, until the hon. Member for Aberdare mentioned it. That is a very remarkable fact, because if there had been the intense feeling throughout the country which hon. Members have suggested, it would not have been possible for a single hon. Member to have spoken to-night without referring to it.
The hon. Member has put one side of the story and I propose to put the other. The fact is that the Unemployment Assistance Board, as a result of the successful liquidation during the last 18 months, will now have to deal with one set of Regulations, applied to the circumstances and needs of individual cases, and not two. The Government, not with any sinister motive, as the hon. Member suggests, but with a sincere motive, realising that there were certain authorities in this country which under the old system of transitional payment had never attempted to carry out the law, never attempted to determine need, but had gone to the maximum in every case allowed by law, while the great majority of others had done their duty, and realising also that there would be hardship in altering the scales, determined that the transition from two sets of scales to one set should take 18 months. That was done for one purpose only, to avoid hardship, and to give local advisory committees in every area the right and the opportunity to give advice as to how this could be done in order to avoid hardship in area after area.
What has been the effect? Some advisory committees recommended a transition to one scale in six months, some in nine months, some in a year, and some wanted the whole period to run, but, whatever advice was given by an individual advisory committee, it was accepted by the Board. The hon. Member for Aberdare must not attack this Government as though we were the first Government to deal with this subject. For hundreds of years this has been one of the most difficult subjects in a country which has desired to do its best for unemployed people. I could prove that that was so from the time of Queen Elizabeth onwards.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Member and I will have to make a sermon about that. I understand that the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) does not like my sermons, but I believe that his constituents do, for they have done me the honour of asking me to come down more than once. This is a subject which is bound to arouse feeling, but any hon. Member who surveys the whole case, and considers what happened to hundreds of thousands of able-bodied unemployed applicants, and compares the treatment which they received when they were not the responsibility of the central Government or a central Board, but of over 200 local authorities, having 200 different systems of treatment, with the treatment which they are now receiving from the new Board, will agree with me that the Board has handled this problem with great sympathy and that on the whole the scales have worked out in a very remarkable way. I remember that two years ago the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) stood at that Box, in a very different atmosphere, and made a firm prophecy that the new Regulations would mean 400,000 cuts. When I dissented, he was very vehement. What happened was that the new Regulations, in the early days, gave increases, to nearly 250,000 of the Board's applicants, and reductions were made in the case of between 60,000 and 90,000.
That is the other side of the story. The explanation is a very simple one. It is not true to say, as the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) said recently in a speech in the House, that the Government have been saving at the expense of the unemployed. Before I close my remarks, I will prove by figures that the average rate paid per applicant is higher now than at any time during the last six years. It is now 24s. 5d. per applicant, whereas when the Board took over, with 800,000 clients, over 700,000 of whom were being paid, it was 22s. 11d. The saving has not been at the expense of the unemployed. Owing to the fact that the hard core of unemployment, about which much has been said in the Debate, has gone down steadily during the last three years, it now being smaller than at any time except in January and February of this year, there are nearly 200,000 fewer 359 applicants, and the total sum paid is less than we had estimated before the beginning of the last financial year.
The saving has not been at the expense of the individual applicants of the Board, but has been due to the improvement in the total unemployment position; and, the most gratifying feature of all, to the fact that the hard core of long-term unemployment—those who have, unfortunately, been out of work for more than 12 months —is now down to 279,000. The Board's applicants have gone down steadily from 700,000 to 600,000, and, in the latest figure, to 555,000. It is on that account that less money is being spent and it is not accurate to say that there is a saving at the expense of the unemployed.
I wish to reply to some of the individual questions which have been put in the course of this Debate, before I turn to major issues on the work of the Board itself and the question of the hard core of unemployment. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) and the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. D. Foot) asked about the Board's report. I expect to receive the report in the early days of June and to have it published well before the middle of June, so that there will be plenty of time this year, if Members in the two Opposition parties desire to raise the issue after the report has been published, of having a major discussion on the whole problem of the Board and of this legislation.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street said that junior instruction centres in Durham were called "dole schools." I am sorry to hear that, but I do not think that those who know most about the work of the junior instruction centres share that view. When I was in Durham during the autumn, I had the advantage of a long talk with those responsible— members of the hon. Gentleman's own party, in the local education authorities and in the county council committees in Durham—for the admirable centres which are being run there. What was their suggestion to me, made for publication and published in the local Press? So far from calling them "dole schools," so far from desiring to cut down the service, they suggested that it would be of advantage to increase the age from 18 upwards, instead of retaining it at 16 to 18. I listen always with the most pro- 360 found respect to the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street when he speaks of Durham, but I am bound to call attention to the fact that while what he said on this matter represents his own views, and while other Members of his party may agree with him, those who are concerned with the local administration of this great service, do not share those views. No man who has seen two things about those centres will mind what label they have. The first is the actual work done, and the second is the fact, which I am able to reveal after an analysis of the results, that the proportion of those who leave the centres to go into posts and who return again to unemployment is a very small fraction of the total. That is a remarkable piece of work done for the youth of the country.
As regards the elderly men, I have heard to-day the word "complacency" used several times. I can assure hon. Members that there has never been any complacency in my mind and there is none now. It is very easy to bandy about a word like "complacency," but I do not think that any action, legislative or administrative, of mine, can be cited to prove the general loose charge of complacency which has been made. But I say this: It is not enough to seek, as we are seeking, to deal with the problem of what we shall do for the men who are now middle-aged. We have to consider also what we can do to direct administration so as to prevent the people who are now young, from growing to middle age without having acquired that skill which is the best assurance that they will not fall into the long-term section of able-bodied unemployed when they do reach middle age—as has happened to so many of those who had the unfortunate experience of the post-War depression.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street asked me a specific question about the future of the Special Areas Act. At the moment it is too early to give an answer to that question. As the hon. Member knows, the Act will come to an end in March, 1939, and well before that time the Government will have to announce their policy with regard to it. It is notable that in all quarters of the Committee the very people whose voices were previously raised in disparagement of the Special Areas legislation and in denunciation of all we are doing, are now rather 361 troubled as to whether or not this disparaged legislation is to be continued. The House as a whole will note that and will put it into the scales against a good deal of general denunciation.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street put the issue as between Part I and Part II of the Act very squarely, and I desire to meet the issue squarely. To me the most remarkable thing in the last four years is this. The Radicals of the Left, whether below the Gangway or above— [HON. MEMBERS: "Or there."]—or here —the Radicals inside and outside the House of every shade of so-called Left opinion for 30 years have been demanding one thing for the able-bodied unemployed. It is that they should be taken out of the grip of the public assistance authorities and be put in charge of the central Government. Now the Radicals here having done it, the Radicals over there do not like it. It is no use for Members to say, "We meant the Government to take them over; we did not mean a Board of four."
I have read many documents about this, and I will say this: It is all very well to demand this, but in what form are you going to determine need? That is the problem we were set to solve. I venture on a prophecy, and I think my prophecy will very likely be much more accurate than the prophecy of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street about the cuts that will take place. Whatever hon. Members say about the Board and about the test of need, I think it very likely that I shall never live to see them either abolish the Board or do away with the test of need. Part II of the Act, about the policy of which hon. Members opposite complain, is the policy advocated by parties of the Left inside and outside the House for 30 years, and now it is an established fact.
Watching it very closely during the last three years, seeing it centrally and locally, and having to answer for the Board, for whose actual day-to-day actions I have no direct responsibility, although I answer for them in the House and I do not desire to shirk the Government's responsibility for policy, I will say this: There are 615 Members of this House, and if we sent each Member a questionnaire and asked what his experience and that of his constituents was of the treatment of the able-bodied unemployed by the Board and its officers, there 362 is not a Member who would deny that they have done their very utmost to administer what is a great improvement on previous practice, with a most intense and sympathetic regard to the well-being of the unfortunate able-bodied unemployed. There is another way of testing it. Every Minister concerned with social problems has a quick way of testing these matters. He knows within a week if there is any deep feeling about a particular subject. His post-bag will tell him. Our correspondence from Members of the House on this matter is a mere trickle. That is a silent proof that, so far from being heartless and cruel, we did in 1934 and 1936 apply our minds to this hardest of social problems with a considerable amount of success.
The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Crossley) and one or two others raised the question of dismissals at 18. There are two sides to that problem. First of all, we do everything we can to ensure that young people do not go to what we call blind-alley employment. Secondly, when it is a question of transferring them, we never send them into blind-alley employment. Before we consent to subsidising their transfer we insist upon having a guarantee of progressive employment. There is also an industrial side to it. There are plenty of industries which provide only a certain number of openings for adults. The Co-operative Societies show a very admirable practice in this matter. They recognise fully that in the structure of their business there will be a lot of young people coming in who will have to go at 18. They do a very wise thing. I wish all industries did it. When they take them on—
§ Mr. Jagger
The right hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that the Co-operative movement do that? It is only some people in it.
§ Mr. Brown
There are cases which have been brought to the notice of the House, and are on record in the OFFICIAL REPORT, where certain Co-operative organisations have done it. In such cases they have also given young people's parents notice before they took them on that there 363 would not be a job after 18, so they knew when they took them on that it was a short term job.
The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) and one or two others raised important questions about customary holidays and special schemes. I have put all these problems to the Unemployment Insurance Statutory Committee for their advice and they have sent out a questionnaire asking for evidence. No doubt they will be able to have the evidence of the hon. Member and of course they will get it from the representative council of the flour milling industry. These are difficult and complicated problems. The terms of reference are such that the problems incidental to this complicated business will be brought out in the course of examination by the Statutory Committee.
The hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Hayday) asked me for the figure of those over 50 years of age who have been unemployed for 12 months or more. The answer is that on 4th April 279,000 persons altogether were registered as having been unemployed for 12 months or more. According to the last figure I have, which was ascertained in a special examination in November and February, there were 114,689 who were over 50. I have had some correspondence with the hon. Member about the 1s. 1d. There is rather a difference between the 1s. 6d. and the 1s.1d., because the one is supplementation and the other is part of a total scale. If he is not satisfied with the answer which I gave him I shall be glad to take the matter up again, but the question of supplementation to benefit is not an easy one.
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) asked, I understand, about payments in kind. I am afraid that I have no time to go into that in detail now, but I will pursue it on another occasion. In reply to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) regarding under-employment in Lancashire and the difficult circumstances existing there, I do not care to raise any false hopes, but, as he knows, I have given a lot of thought to this matter, and there is a Lancashire problem in connection with it as well as a Ministry problem. I am having another look at it from the benefit angle, and I will pursue my inquiries further because I do agree that it is one of the cases for the giving of aid if we can find a way of 364 doing it in the circumstances of the industry.
Let me say two things now about the major problem. The hon. Member for Aberdare asked me whether I could defend an allowance of 10s. for a young man at home. Sitting by his side is the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison).
§ Mr. Brown
It is the simplest form of political argument to say, "This is a figure, can you defend it?" The answer is that we have to consider these figures in regard to three things: First, the whole problem of the individual and the household of the individual; second, the question not only of the man who is out of work but the man in work; third, we have to do what we think, after surveying the whole of the circumstances, is the fairest thing for all concerned, and that is what we have done. Anybody who will compare the scales of the Board with other scales will find that they can be justified, and justified anywhere. As to the winter allowance, nobody who has protested against the withdrawal of the winter allowance in the month of May would have thought in the month of October that, for the first time, nearly half the able-bodied unemployed in this country coming under the Unemployment Assistance Board would receive a winter allowance, an addition of some 2s. or so. What are the facts in two sentences? There are only 19 principal public authorities in Great Britain which give an extra winter allowance, and in no case is the winter allowance bigger than we have given, with the exception of one case in which it is fractionally larger. The last fact is that in every case, except in the town of Dunfermline, the period of the winter allowance is shorter than that adoptd by the Board. It will be my duty to bring in later a new Regulation, and then we shall debate the whole subject again.
§ Question put, "That a sum not exceeding £14,836,900 be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 130; Noes, 197.367
|Division No. 211.]||AYES||[10.59 p.m.|
|Acland, R. T. D. (Barnstaple)||Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Oliver, G. H.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Owen, Major G.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Groves, T. E.||Paling, W.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Guest, Dr. L. H. (Islington, N.)||Parkinson, J. A.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Pearson, A.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.|
|Barnes, A. J.||Hardie, Agnes||Price, M. P.|
|Barr, J.||Harris, Sir P. A.||Pritt, D. N.|
|Batey, J.||Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.)||Richards, R. (Wrexham)|
|Bellenger, F. J.||Hayday, A.||Ridley, G.|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Riley, B.|
|Benson, G.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Ritson, J.|
|Bromfield, W.||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Seely, Sir H. M.|
|Brown, C. (Mansfield)||Hopkin, D.||Sexton, T. M.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (S. Ayrshire)||Jagger, J.||Shinwell, E.|
|Buchanan, G.||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Silkin, L.|
|Cape, T.||Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.||Silverman, S. S.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Cocks, F. S.||Kelly, W. T.||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Cove, W. G.||Kirby, B. V.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Kirkwood, D.||Stephen, C.|
|Daggar, G.||Lawson, J. J.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Dalton, H.||Leach, W.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Leonard, W.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Leslie, J. R.||Tomlinson, G.|
|Day, H.||Logan, D. G.||Viant, S. P.|
|Dobbie, W.||Lunn, W.||Walkden, A. G.|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||McEntee, V. La T.||Walker, J.|
|Ede, J. C.||McGhee, H. G.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||McGovern, J.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||MacLaren, A.||Welsh, J. C.|
|Foot, D. M.||Maclean, N.||Westwood, J.|
|Frankel, D.||MacNeill Weir, L.||White, H. Graham|
|Gallacher, W.||Marklew, E.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|Gardner, B. W.||Marshall, F.||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Garro Jones, G. M,||Maxton, J.||Williams, D. (Swansea, E.)|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Messer, F.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Montague, F.||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Gibson, R. (Greenock)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)|
|Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Muff, G.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Nathan, Colonel H. L.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Naylor, T. E.|
|Grenfell, D. R.||Noel-Baker, P. J.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Mr. John and Mr. Anderson.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J.||Gluckstein, L. H.|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Cook, Sir T. R. A. M. (Norfolk, N.)||Gower, Sir R. V|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Grant-Ferris, R.|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Cooper, Rt. Hn. A. Duff (W'st'r S. G'gs)||Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.|
|Alexander, Brig.-Gen. Sir W.||Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)||Grimston, R. V.|
|Allen, Col. J. Sandeman (B'knhead)||Cox, H. B. Trevor||Gritten, W. G. Howard|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Craven-Ellis, W.||Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake)|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Crooke, Sir J. S.||Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor)|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thane[...]||Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.||Guinness, T. L. E. B.|
|Barclay-Harvey, Sir C. M.||Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Hacking, Rt. Hon. D. H.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Crossley, A. C.||Hambro, A. V.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm h)||Crowder, J. F. E.||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.|
|Bernays, R. H.||Cruddas, Col. B.||Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)|
|Birchall, Sir J. D.||Davidson, Viscountess||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Davies, C. (Montgomery)||Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.|
|Boulton, W. W.||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Denville, Alfred||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan-|
|Brass, Sir W.||Doland, G. F.||Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Dugdale, Captain T. L.||Higgs, W. F.|
|Broadbridge, Sir G. T.||Duncan, J. A. L.||Holmes, J. S.|
|Brocklebank, Sir Edmund||Dunglass, Lord||Hopkinson, A.|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham)||Eastwood, J. F.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Hume, Sir G. H.|
|Bull, B. B.||Ellis, Sir G.||Hunter, T.|
|Burghley, Lord||Elliston, Capt. G. S.||Hutchinson, G. C.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||James, Wing-Commander A. W. H.|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Errington, E.||Jarvis, Sir J. J.|
|Cartland, J. R. H.||Erskine-Hill, A. G.||Jones, L. (Swansea W.)|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Everard, W. L.||Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose)|
|Cazalet, Capt, V. A. (Chippenham)||Fildes, Sir H.||Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)|
|Channon, H.||Fleming, E. L.||Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)|
|Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Furness, S. N.||Kimball, L.|
|Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead)||Fyfe, D. P. M.||Lamb, Sir J. Q.|
|Clarry Sir Reginald||Gibson, Sir C. G. (Pudsey and Otley)||Latham, Sir P.|
|Law, Sir A. J. (High Peak)||O'Connor, Sir Terence J,||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)|
|Law, R. K. (Hull, S.W.)||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Spans. W. P.|
|Leech, Sir J. W.||Palmer, G. E. H.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Peake, O.||Storey, S.|
|Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.||Peat, C. U.||Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)|
|Liddall, W. S.||Perkins, W. R. O.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Lindsay, K. M.||Peters, Dr. S. J.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Lipson, D. L.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Llewellin, Colonel J. J.||Pilkington, R.||Thomas, J. P. L.|
|Locker-Lampion, Comdr. O. S.||Procter, Major H. A.||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.|
|Loftus, P. C.||Raikes, H. V. A. M.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Rankin, Sir R.||Turton, R. H.|
|MacDonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)||Walker-Smith, Sir J.|
|Macdonald, Capt. T. (Isle of Wight)||Road, A. C. (Ex[...]r)||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan|
|McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.||Reid, Sir D. O. (Down)||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|McKie, J. H.||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsand)|
|Macnamara, Major J. R. J.||Renter, J. R.||Warrender, Sir V.|
|Magnay, T.||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)||Watt, Major G. S. Harvie|
|Makina, Brig.-Gen. E.||Ropner, Colonel L.||Wells, S. R.|
|Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)||Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)|
|Markham, S. F.||Rowlanda, G.||Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M.||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Maxwell, Han. S. A.||Russell, Sir Alexander||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Salmon, Sir I.||Wise, A. R.|
|Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Salt, E. W.||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Mitchell, H. (Brentford and Chiswick)||Sandys, E. D.||Wright, Wing-Commander J. A. C.|
|Moreing, A. C.||Scott, Lord William||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||Selley, H. R.|
|Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Nail, Sir J.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)||Captain Hope and Mr. Munro.|
|Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.||Smith, L. W. (Hallam)|
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ It being after Eleven of the Clock and objection being taken to further Proceeding, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.