§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Bevin)
I beg to move,That the Draft Unemployment Assistance (Determination of Need and Assessment of Needs) (Amendment) Regulation, 1941, dated 8th April, 1941, made by the Minister of Labour and National Service under the Unemployment Assistance Act, 1934, a copy of which was presented to this House on 10th April, be approvedWe have now arrived at the last stage in carrying out the undertaking given by the Prime Minister on 6th November. The approval by the House of these draft Regulations means that the household means test, as it used to be known, will be swept away and substituted by a test of personal need based on the circumstances in which the applicant is living. Owing to the procedure adopted on the Bill, namely, the submission of the Board's intentions in the form of a White Paper and the full discussions which followed, there is little need for me take the time of the House for very long now. The Explanatory Memoranda which have been presented set out clearly the interpretation which will be placed on these regulations, so in the handling of this problem we have taken every precaution we could in order that hon. Members may clearly understand our intentions and the administrative attitude which will be adopted towards these changes. There are two sets of Regulations. The first relates to unemployment assistance, made by the Minister of Labour and National Service, and the second to supplementary pensions made by the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland jointly, it will be convenient if both sets of Regulations are discussed together. They are so alike in their application and so bound up with each other that we hope that the whole range will be taken into consideration in order to avoid a separate discussion.
The first important Regulation substitutes, in the case of householder applicants, the fixed contribution from non-dependent members in place of the old rule of aggregating the resources. There was great difficulty in finding a method to assess personal needs as against the old household means test, and I am glad that 368 this method has been adopted because this part of the Regulations at least removes what was a great grievance because of the difference in treatment of the family remaining at home and the son and daughter who left home. By placing them on exactly the same basis the old grievance of breaking up the home in order to get assistance or proper treatment will be removed. It will be noted that the maximum that can be deducted or taken into account on a wage of 553. is 7s.; it is 5s. where the wages are between 30s. and 55s., and 2s. 6d. if between 20s. and 30s. The Explanatory Memorandum in Clauses 7 and 8 sets out the position clearly and I need not elaborate them. One of the greatest values of this new arrangement is that it minimises investigation and inquiry. Even investigation into wages will not be normally necessary, but I would urge the following point.
In dealing with this problem we have tried to devise a scheme that will remove the temptation to people to be cunning in order to get assistance. Experience in bringing in the supplementary pensions scheme proves up to the hilt that in 90 per cent, of the cases the returns of the applicants were absolutely honest. That speaks well for the people on this standard of life throughout the country. The desire in the administration of this scheme is to convince people that if they make their returns honestly, they will not be put at a disadvanage. In other words, we do not want to encourage a resort to cunning, by leading people to believe that if they withhold information, they may be better off as a consequence. Therefore, all that the non-dependent wage earner has to do if he comes under the category of contributing 7s. or 5s., is to make an honest declaration, not of what his wages are, but whether his wages are 55s. or over. That is a simple request to make to enable an adjudication to be made of what the applicant is entitled to. We have clearly set out our intentions in paragraph 10 of the Explanatory Memoranda.
In the case of non-householder applicants a different system applies. No part of the resources of non-dependent members will be taken into account and the applicants, save in exceptional circumstances, get an addition to the scale rate representing his or her fair share of the rent. This addition will be up to 5s., or 7s. if the applicant has dependants. There is the special case where the applicant has 369 no dependants of his own and is living with his father, mother, son or daughter. We have given effect in the Regulations to the pledge that in such a case the income of the householder must exceed £ before the special unemployment assistance rate of 5s. applies or before the pensioner is regarded as not in need of a supplementary pension. We have given effect to the undertaking and the principle of the Bill that if there are dependent children there must be added to the income limit an additional 15s. for each dependant and if more than one applicant an additional 25s. Pensioners will not be regarded as in need of supplementation if they are not required to make any substantial contribution to the cost of board and lodging. Paragraph 17 of the Memorandum on the Supplementary Pensions Regulations sets out how this problem is to be dealt with.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
Is there any intention of having any grading in relation to the household income? For instance, in one house there may be a son with no dependants other than his wife, earning £6 a week, who has his father, an old age pensioner, living with him; next door is a man in the same circumstances earning £5 15s. In the second case is the old age pensioner to be entitled to the 9s. 6d., or will there be any grading?
§ Mr. Bevin
Answers to questions about details will be given in the reply. It is better now to keep to the general outline of the Regulations, and in cases like this to give accurate replies so that no one may be misled. It was explained when the Bill was introduced that the Board will take into account certain border-line points so that: the arbitrary sum of £6 will not determine everything. The circumstances associated with it will be taken into consideration.
I want now to deal with the question of the standard rent. This change in the rent rule applies in the case of householder applicants where there are non-dependent members. These non-dependent members will in future be excluded from the calculation of the standard rent, because their contribution to the expenses of the household is deemed to include a contribution to the rent. This means that the presence of non-dependent members will in future not affect the amount by which an allowance or pension may need to be adjusted 370 to meet the rent actually paid by the householder applicant. When I examined paragraph 18 of the White Paper it seemed to me that it did not quite deal with the problem as fully as it might, and on the problem of standard rent I thought a little further explanation than the White Paper conveys might be well. It will be remembered that under the old rule a non-dependent member of the household was expected to contribute to the household, under the earnings rule and make a contribution to the rent according to the standard of the rent. The way it was calculated was that you took the scale rates applicable to the household, and you took a quarter as representing the standard rent. Thus if a household consisted of a man and wife, two children and a son in employment, and the total under the scale rates was, say 46s., that would give a standard rent of us. 6d., and if the actual rent paid was, say, 14s. then 2s. 6d. would be added to the allowance. Under the new rule provided by the Regulations the standard rent will be one quarter of the scale rates not of every one in the household but only of the applicant, his wife and other dependants. Thus in the case already mentioned the standard rent would be 9s., and if the rent were 14s., 5s. would be added instead of the 2s. 6d.
The general effect of the change in the rent rule, therefore, is that where there is an earning son in the household the applicant's allowance will be 2s. 6d. more than it would have been if the old rent rule had been retained. This advantage to the applicant is, of course, over and above any advantage he derives from the abolition of the requirement to aggregate the son's resources with his own. It is proposed to ask the Advisory Committees for advice as to the level of rents in their own areas which would be regarded as normal and as such would be met by the Board. I thought the information in the Explanatory Memorandum on how the rent rule was changed was not quite full enough, but that addition will, I think, make it much clearer. In the Regulations we have made provision in connection with war savings, but there are so many financial experts In the House who quite understand the war savings section of the Act that I do not think there is any need for me to elaborate that matter.
Another point arises in connection with 371 the "fall-back," which I think was not discussed in the previous Debate, or, if it was, I do not remember it. When the new scheme came in two courses were open to us. We could make another proviso to deal with the "fall-back," or we could abolish it. After examining the matter we felt that the easiest, best and cleanest way was to abolish it and have no more provisos. At least there will be a saving of paper having regard to the number of regulations and circulars which have been issued in the past. The net result is that those who are already enjoying the 2s. will retain it, and those not in receipt of it will get it. I think that is a cleaner way of dealing with the whole thing and preferable to making any further amendments.
The Unemployment Assistance Regulations will come into force on June 2, and the Supplementary Pensions Regulations on the appropriate pension pay day in that week, and. I think, having regard to the changes that have to be carried out, that that is as speedily as it can be done. With regard to the procedure to make it known, it is intended that forms of application for supplementary pensions and a leaflet shall be available as soon as the Regulations are made. Steps will be taken through the B.B.C. and the press to direct further attention to these changes and the methods and times of making application. The forms will be available in all post offices. There is one point I should like to emphasise, in order to save, particularly, old age pensioners a lot of difficulty in making application. Existing cases will be reviewed during the period prescribed in the Act, and existing applicants will not need to re-apply. The Board feel that instead of having a re-investigation on a fresh application, with all the multitude of forms that would involve, it will be simpler to proceed on the evidence they have got about the original application and check up.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
But a person who has already applied and been refused altogether will need to make a new application?
§ Mr. Bevin
I understand that in such cases they will have to make fresh application. Another pledge we gave in the Debate was that in the event of the changes that will be made involving a 372 reduction—and having examined the position I do not think that will be so in many cases—no reduction will be applied, so that if there are any hard cases they will be protected. A point was put to us as to the possibility of examining the working of these Regulations at an earlier date than usual and the Board have decided to submit an interim report on the working early in 1942. That is the most reasonable time within which it can be done. It will take the matter up to the end of the year. It will be appreciated that it will take some little time before all the cases are reviewed and straightened out and an earlier date would, I think, be ineffective.
Finally, this subject has been one of very bitter controversy, and I am sure the House will be glad that we have arrived at what we, at least, believe to be the solution of a vexed problem. Somebody said the other day that only thing now left of Queen Elizabeth was one toe sticking out of the ground and that, for the rest, the Poor Law was now buried. In any case this has been, as I say, a long and bitter controversy, and it is gratifying to find that the whole public has now arrived, as I believe they have, at the conclusion that there are two questions affecting two sections of our community which ought no longer to be subjects of bitter political strife. One of these is the care, the training, the education and the development of the young people; the other is the reward of the old people who have done their duty to their country. [HON. MEMBERS: "And the war pensioners."] I quite agree. It applies to the war pensioners too, but at the moment I am confining myself to the two classes I have mentioned.
I think it is a good thing that we have arrived at the stage of lifting above the realm of party controversy the needs of those sections of our community. Those needs ought not to be subjects of strife. They ought to be subjects of a common endeavour by this House, as the great national housekeeper, to provide a solution of the problem of caring for our people in the proper way. I hope, therefore, that these Regulations will be unanimously adopted to-day and that, as speedily as possible, we shall get on with the administrative side of the work. I think I can say for the Board that they are conscious of the new spirit that has been brought into these Debates and 373 that is being shown in the attempts to settle the problem. I can assure the House, as regards the instructions that will be sent out and the administration of these Regulations, that the atmosphere and the attitude which have been manifest in the solution of the controversy in this House, will be continued in the application of the Regulations to those who are affected.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
If I may begin on the note on which the Minister concluded, I would say that I, like all my hon. Friends here, have vivid memories of the many heated Debates and bitter controversies which we have had on this subject. Before I came to this House, when the first Regulations were issued, and when the household means test was applied to the unemployed, I took part in a widespread campaign in which was expressed the resentment not only of those generally termed trade unionist and Labour people but, certainly in my own part of the country, of the whole of the people, at the effect of the household means test upon those who had been unfortunate enought to be thrown on the industrial scrap-heap. I welcomed the present Measure, not because it went as far as I hoped or wanted, but because I recognised it as a big step in advance and a big modification of the household means test. When the Measure was introduced it fell to my lot, as President of the South Wales Miners' Federation, as I then was, to collect all available information about the operation of the original household means test and I applied this test to the new proposals. If the unemployed in South Wales in 1935 had been treated in accordance with these Regulations and on these scales, there would scarcely have been a case in South Wales at that time. I, therefore, judged by that simple test— and simple tests are the best—that this was a Measure to be accepted as a step in advance. Speaking not only for myself, but I believe for the whole of my party, I would say that we recognise it as such a. step and we hope that the time will come when even the last remnants of the household means test will have been swept away completely.
In examining the Regulations, I have sought to find out whether the provisions of the Measure as originally introduced, together with the Amendments made in Committee, and the promises made in 374 Committee, are embodied in these Regulations. I have gone through both sets of Regulations carefully and I am bound to say that, as far as I can see, they carry out the provisions of the Act and the pledges given, fully, in the letter and the spirit and that all that was promised is embodied in them. The Minister in his winding-up speech in the Second Reading; Debate used a sentence which I wish to repeat as the text for a few observations upon what I think is the kernel of this matter. When we pass these Regulations, the job will be handed over to be administered outside this House by a body over which we have not as much control as we ought to have. (HON. MEMBERS: "No control."] I would not say we have no control at all. I think that would be carrying it too far. The Minister has to accept responsibility for the Board and we have some measure of control but not enough. What the Minister said in the Second Reading Debate touches the essence of the problem. His words were:You can make your rules as nice as you like, but it is the person who administers them who counts, and the spirit of administration is, after all, the governing factor."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, February 13, 1941; col. 1606, Vol. 368.]I agree entirely, and I wish to approach first the problem of the administration of these Regulations. What I say is said not with the intention of reviving the bitter controversy of the past but with a desire to see that controversy buried not only in this House but outside. It is however most unfortunate that these Regulations are to be administered by a body—and speaking for myself I am anxious to help them—which was established in the circumstances in which the Unemployment Assistance Board was established. It is highly important that in the administration of these Regulations, not only shall fair play be done but that the people shall believe that fair play is being done. We have to win a new name and a new place in the estimation of the public for the Unemployment Assistance Board. The Board was created to cut the unemployed. When it was established it had no other purpose. I took the view from the beginning that the creation of the Board was the creation of a new piece of machinery which was entirely unwarranted. Were it not for the fact that provisions in this Measure dealing with old age pensioners and certain matters arising 375 out of the war have been brought in, the Assistance Board itself would have found itself unemployed. Originally it was created to deal with that section of the unemployed who had been unemployed so long that they had lost all benefit and if its original work were all that it had to do, it would by now have lost its own benefit rights and would be called upon to adjudicate in its own case. There has grown up in the country an intense dislike of the Assistance Board. In the depressed areas a bitter significance attaches to the phrase "the means test man". If we are to get wise and generous administration one of the things we have to do is to get away from that atmosphere.
Let me say one thing about the Board, arising out of recent events. The Board is given a very important task in the blitzed towns. I wish to pay my tribute to the way in which that work has been done and to the officers. When I attack the Board I do not attack those poor fellows, as they very often are, who have "to carry out the instructions. I have nothing but praise and commendation in respect of their courage, generosity and kindliness, and I wish the Board in London as well as elsewhere could embody more of that spirit in its own work and could forget the spirit in which it approached its task in 1935. It should adopt a spirit of wise and generous administration, and, if there is a doubt, give the benefit of the doubt. It is better to be generous than to be mean about these.things.
I share the Minister's hope that inquiries will be cut down as much as possible. I often think that Members of this House completely misunderstand the psychology of working-class people. I shall never forget the wording "not genuinely seeking work" which this House put into one of the Unemployment Acts. That phrase made more liars than has ever been done by legislation before; it was a deliberate incitement to lying. This House did the wrong thing in putting forward words of that kind. Any Regulations which create that kind of cunning are no good and we want to get away from them. We can only do so by introducing an entirely new spirit, and I plead not only with the Minister, but with the Assistance Board, that they will live up to the pledges given by the Minister and by other responsible 376 people in this House in connection with this matter.
Now I would make a few observations upon the Regulations generally and ask a few questions which I hope will receive replies afterwards. I begin with the term "household," which is still in this business. My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) explained on the Second Reading that it related to the scales of need which vary with whether a man is a householder or not. I plead for the most generous interpretation of what constitutes a householder. This generosity is particularly desirable because of the exigencies of the war, which are creating all kinds of different households. The Minister of Labour has recently conducted a survey of household expenditure in order to arrive at a new cost-of-living figure. I think the survey shows how wide is the variation in the household circumstances of this country, because the war is driving people to live together as best they may. When a town has been blitzed, families move over a very wide area, perhaps 50 miles, and come to live together. It is therefore essential that there shall be the widest interpretation of the term "household."
I believe my hon. Friend the Member for East Rhondda (Mr. Mainwaring) cited in the Second Reading Debate a case in which two different decisions were given as to whether people living in apartments in a certain house were householders. For one purpose it was decided that they were, whilst for old age pensions it was decided that they were not. Let us cut out of the administration of this matter the spirit which asks all kinds of intimate and detailed questions. Let us begin by cutting away some of these definitions of "householder." I hope that, in the instructions that are sent out—we have heard that there are secret instructions—the desire of the Minister, the Government and of this House will be conveyed that there shall be the narrowest possible interpretation of the term.
Now I come to the question of the wage levels prescribed in the Regulations, and I will ask one or two questions about the two kinds of scale. As far as I can see, the Minister has carried out reasonably the promise he gave as to the scaling below 55, and I think it meets with the approval of the House. I am glad that he has not made a meticulous scale. I 377 would ask what is meant by "the normal wage" and how overtime is to be defined? Reading the Regulations, it looks as though they are framed in such a way that ordinary overtime will be excluded. It is essential to get this matter clear. A good deal of overtime might be difficult to ascribe entirely to the war, and 1 would ask whether it is to be excluded or included. I am not proposing to argue the matter just now, but I want to get the point made clear. Several of my hon. Friends have told me their views on the matter, and I believe that some who are interested in the railway industry will give specific examples. I am only pleading that there shall be an explanation whether normal overtime is or is not included in arriving at the figure of £6 and the other figures mentioned.
The recent Budget has placed upon people who come within the prescribed limits, within the figure of £6, for example, a very big burden. The £6 a week man will, if he is unmarried, have to pay about £42 a year in Income Tax. In arriving at the £6 will the gross wage at the place where he works be considered, or, in discovering whether his earnings are £6 or not, will the tax be deducted?
§ Mr. Griffiths
Yes. I know that normally that has not been done, but we ought to regard the payment of £42 a year in Income Tax as very heavy. I would press the Minister to consider the point. If a man is receiving £6 a week, he will have only £5 after he has met the tax of £42 a year. Obviously, the man will not wait until he gets the bill for £42, and he will have it deducted from his wages. On the question of rent, I am very glad that the Minister has cleared up a doubtful point. Many hon. Members were under the impression that the rent rule was going to work adversely in some cases to the interests of applicants. The statement made by the Minister and the examples he gave have cleared that matter up very well.
With regard to savings, I confine myself to asking one or two questions about which people are very vitally concerned. I am very sorry the opportunity has not been taken of changing what I regard as one of the most onerous conditions in the old Regulations, the treatment of workers' savings as capital assets. Frankly, that 378 is extortionate. The rule is that the first £25 is excluded, and for each £25 above the first is. per week is deducted. That process is based on the assumption that the worker gets 12 per cent, interest on his savings, but, of course, he gets nothing of the kind. Most of the savings of the workers are tied up in houses, or invested in Post Office Savings Banks or in War Savings Certificates. I wish that the opportunity had been taken of changing the old notional income of is. per week. Think of the position of the poor man who has £50 or £75 savings. He ought to be treated more generously, and the figure of £375 ought to have been made to cover all savings. The fact that it does not is unjust and creates a great deal of resentment, particularly among old people, whose savings, I think, should be excluded from consideration.
There is another point on which I would like to have an explanation from the Minister, and it is one on which I have had disputes with some of the officers of the Assistance Board. Unfortunately, most of the people with whom I have had dealings in my constituency have had lump sums, not because they had saved them, but because they had been injured at work and their weekly compensation had been commuted to a lump sum. I have always contended that it is absolutely wrong to treat such a lump sum as a capital asset. It is not a capital asset. If I correctly understand the term capital asset, it means money a person has saved and which is available for investment, but a commuted sum for a weekly compensation is not that at all. A man who is receiving compensation because of an injury carries a handicap for life. So far there is no obligation in law—it may come some time—upon the employer to find him a job. There is only compensation for loss of earningsx2014;not even for loss of earning capacity. He receives compensation on the basis that he meets 50 per cent, of the loss of earnings and the employer meets the other 50 per cent. I do not think, therefore, that such capital sums should be treated as assets, but that they ought to be excluded.
As a matter of fact, there are cases in which a man becomes worse off when he gets a lump sum. When a man receiving 15s. a week compensation applies for unemployment assistance or for an old age pension, half of that sum—7s. 6d.—is dis- 379 regarded, and the other 7s. 6d. is taken into account to reduce his allowance after it has been calculated by scale. But suppose that man settled up for £500. In that case the Board applies the same kind of rule of thumb, treating half of it, namely, £250, as a capital asset and applying to that the is. in £25 rule, with the result that the man who only lost 7s. 6d. when he was receiving a weekly payment now loses 8s. when he has taken the lump sum. I would like to make a special plea on behalf of people in such a position.
During the Committee stage several hon. Members put questions to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury on a subject on which I would like a further explanation by the Minister, because this is the last chance to discuss it that we shall have for some time. The question is this: if a man commutes his weekly payment into a lump sum within the dates prescribed in the Actx2014;that is, after 4th August, 1940x2014;and invests the proceeds in War Savings, does he get the advantage of the £375 rule? In other words, is it-new money? The Financial Secretary to the Treasury said "Yes." I want to carry that a stage further. There is provision in the Regulation that a man and wife can have £375 each. But it is of some importance to know whether, if a man commutes for a lump-sum settlement of, say, £600, it will be permissible for that man and his wife each to have £300 worth of War Savings Certificates and thus get the benefit of the rule After all, it is not only the man who suffers because he has been injured; the wife also has to carry the burden, and I am not asking much in pleading that it should be construed in this way.
We accept this Act, and the Regulations which, I think, carry out quite fully the pledges which have been given, as a step in the right direction. In this country we have built up bit by bit, piece by piece, often in unco-ordinated fashion, a system of social services of which I think we have every reason to be proud. To-day at Question-time someone mentioned the Ministry of Information. I wish the world could be made aware of the fact that a democracy, while fighting for its life, can give some of its time, energy and treasure to building up social services. As one who has spent a great deal of time in active 380 social service work, I realise that there are grave deficiencies—and one of them lies in the direction of National Health Insurance—and now that we have a Ministry of Reconstruction one of the tasks to be faced when reconstruction begins will be to weave all these bits and pieces of social service—workmen's compensation, unemployment insurance, health insurance, old age pensions, etc., —all together into a real security pact. I hope that one day the Government will give a real declaration on this subject, and perhaps, if I may make a suggestion, the Prime Minister, in one of his Sunday night broadcasts, will repeat something the Minister of Labour said, which I know meant so much to the working-class people, that at the end of this war there must be social security. I hope that we shall not only have such a pledge, but that definite steps will be taken now to weld these different pieces of social service together into a comprehensive whole, so that when the workers have slain the dragon of Hitler we shall help them to build up services in this country which will slay the dragon of insecurity as well.
§ Mr. Graham White (Birkenhead, East)
May I associate myself at once with what the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) has said about the great importance of making up our minds to reduce to order, at the earliest possible moment, the system of our social insurances and social services, which have grown up not as part of a plan, but in response to a variety of political agitations and of special circumstances atone time and another? It is a remarkable thing that the social services of this country work at all, having regard to the fact there there is no single individual and no body of men charged with the continuous duty of surveying them as a whole or of examining their relationships with one another or with the rest of the social and economic fabric, of the Nation. I shall make a very brief contribution to this debate, the chief reason being the substance of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. It is true that this subject has been the greatest consumer of Parliamentary time and the greatest exacerbater of Parliamentary feeling in my experience, and, with my right hon. Friend, I am glad to recognise that it is now being discussed on a different plane. Another reason why my contribution will be short is that the pro- 381 cedure adopted for the Debate on the Bill enabled us to have a very wide discussion on the subject. That procedure represented a tacit admission by the Government of the disability under which the House of Commons labours in discussing this constitutional curiosity, the Unemployment Assistance Board. I hope that so long as that constitutional anomaly exists, the Government will follow the procedure of giving the House the Regulations of the Board in dummy along with the Measure which is to be discussed.
At the same time, I must emphasise the objection which is held by Members of the House of Commons, including all my hon. Friends here, to Regulations emanating from a Board which is not responsible to Parliament. However, I do not propose to pursue that topic to-day. I have already spoken so much on that subject that I have almost exhausted the right to speak on it even when I am in Order; and I doubt whether I should be in Order in doing so now. But this I might allow myself to say in passing. I am sure that no Minister of the Crown, in the full possession of his faculties, would have invented the Unemployment Assistance Board for the express purpose of administering the payment of supplementary pensions to old age pensioners. If he had done so, the House of Commons would have given him no encouragement, and no support. I very much doubt, in fact, whether any Minister of the Crown or any Government would have set up such a Board for the purpose of administering any of those new special, and very important, war-time duties which have been created. I shall be very much surprised if any Minister will rise in his place and say that for such a purpose he would have invented a Board which is not under the direct control of Parliament. I would like to associate myself with everything that has been said about the way the Assistance Board and its officers are carrying out their urgent duties under very great stress. My hon. Friend has spoken about that from his experience. I would say, speaking of what comes' within my range of observation in my own part of the country, that they are carrying out their duties with energy, tact and sympathy, and with a success which excites the admiration and gratitude of all concerned. But that fact, which my hon. Friend mentioned as 382 strengthening the position of the Board, seems to me to point rather in another direction.
A third point about the Board is that the objects for which it was originally set up no longer exist. The best indication of that is the Regulations which have been introduced to-day. My right hon. Friend spoke with sympathy and warmed my heart when he referred to the necessity for the inquisition being reduced to a minimum. In introducing these Regulations, my right hon. Friend is taking away the Board's work. There is nothing left but the shadow. It will no longer be necessary, for example, for officers of the Board to drive hundreds of miles on motor-cycles, at the risk of their lives and at the expense of the State, into the wildest recesses of Wales or remote recesses of rural England in order to find out whether some individual, living a secluded and sequestered life, has so changed his conduct that he is no longer entitled to an allowance, or whether his circumstances have so changed that his grants should be reduced. I know that I need not argue this matter any further, for the simple reason that no one who considers the matter dispassionately fails to realise that it is only a matter of time before the functions of the Assistance Board are integrated into the social service system of the State, where they will be the direct responsibility of a Minister responsible to Parliament. I shall be very surprised if anyone gets up to contradict the statement I have made.
I listened with sympathy to all that was said about the contents of these Regulations. They are a great improvement on anything we have had before. They are a substantial simplification of our means test system. I believe I should still be accurate in saying of our means tests that they are seven. It is possible for one household to have no fewer than five of them at the present time. These new Regulations will, at all events, simplify that. I have been thinking of the very large number of applicants for allowances who will receive more generous treatment, of the increased number of allowances which will be granted, and of the large number of old age pensioners whose supplements will be increased. But let us not forget that these Regulations mean nothing to the man who has been working all his life on his own or to 383 the man who has been blitzed out of his house and has been working as a self-employer. He has the old test of the Poor Law to deal with. But, as my hon. Friend said, we proceed in this matter by fits and starts. The field is not mapped out in advance so that we can go forward over the whole field at the same time. While we are taking a great step forward for certain classes, others remain outside; and their difficulties and disabilities will to some extent appear to be aggravated.
There is another matter, which I cannot refrain from mentioning, and that is, that no estimate is made as to the cost of the Regulations to the State, nor is any estimate made of the saving which will be brought about by the operation of this test. It is characteristic of everything which has happened, and of all Regulations connected with the means test, that we have never had a single estimate of the amount of money which it has saved to the State. We have in the Civil Services in this country actuaries of the highest possible qualities and statisticians who can produce statistics about things which would surprise one to a great extent, but we have never, from first to last, had the slightest inkling whether it has been worth while setting up the Unemployment Assistance Board and have a means test at all. Suggestions have been made that the State has been saved very large sums of money, but we do not know what they are, and when the final words come to be said and the epitath of the Assistance Board comes to be written, no one will be able to say what, if anything, it saved the State. But I will let that pass.
I welcome the Regulations. If they had been the first which had been brought before this House, our industrial history would have been very different in the last few years. I welcome the simplifying of our procedure, because it is another step along that road which we have been travelling since, on the basis of trade-union experience, the first social fabric was laid between 1906 and 1912 in this country. It is the long road upon which we have been travelling, haltingly and slowly, "towards a goal, which, I hope, will mean that eventually we shall have no need for all these meticulous means tests. On the strength of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, 10 per cent, of the population have been driven to cunning—or shall I say dishonesty?—in order to obtain 384 greater benefits or allowances. Some of us would not put the figure so high. When we set ourselves to simplifying our social services, we shall advance to a day, when in a democratic State it shall be the right of democracy that a citizen who has done nothing contrary to the proper standards of citizenship and nothing to disqualify himself, shall be able to look forward as a right to a minimum standard of existence.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) has apologised to some extent because he said he had in the past taken part in most of the bitter controversies attached to this subject. I was glad to hear him make such a statement, because I have always taken part in them myself, and I was glad to hear that somebody else had taken his share.
This subject was a great controversy at a time when the Labour Opposition in this House was a comparatively small one. I do not intend to praise Ministers for what has been done. They receive fairly decent salaries for the job: In fact, I think they are well remunerated, and too much praise does neither them nor anyone else any good. I do not quite take the view of the hon. Member for East Birkenhead concerning the Board. I admit that if there had been no widows or old age pensions, the need for the work of the Board would have long since gone. I do not take the orthodox view of the war as does the House of Commons, but a" "completely opposite view. Apart from that, I fear that, at the close of this war, there will be terrible consequences and that masses of men and women may be again unemployed. As long as we retain the Board, there will be the serious menace that, at any time, just as we may attempt to move Regulations to improve conditions and make things better, the House of Commons, providing that this machinery is at its disposal, can quite easily bring back the old conditions. As a compromise, this is a considerable improvement for the recipients, but, at the same time, I frankly state that, as long as I am in public life, I shall not be satisfied until the Regulation which makes this possible is completely swept away.
While I genuinely accept this proposal as an improvement, I would appeal to the Minister of Labour for a re-examination of other aspects of the problem. We are discussing the problem of easing the posi- 385 tion of persons in receipt of means test benefit of supplementary allowances under the old age pensions scheme. May I appeal to the Minister and to the Minister of Health to re-examine the whole basis upon which this structure is built? You are engaged in improving the position of the man and his family with, say, £6 a week coming in, or with an income of £2 15s. or more. The position of numbers of people has been improved, and I would wish this to continue. But look at the other end of the scale, to the man and woman who have not a penny of reserve, and with the cost of living as it is to-day. Nothing irritates me more than the published figures of the cost of living stating that it has gone up, say, 1.5 per cent. Such a figure leaves me cold, but these poor people know that the cost of living has meant a stiff increase in their household expenses. What is the position of old age pensioners to-day? They live upon an income of about 32s. 6d. a week, and often it is not as high as that. Take the case of two persons of 65 years of age. If they pay a rent of 7s. 6d., that leaves them with 25s., from which ordinary death insurance has to be paid. If there is one thing I have found among the working people, whether in the Welsh Valleys, Glasgow slums or London, it is that they want to assure themselves of a decent burial. Be that good or bad, I take the facts as they are. If is. death insurance is paid, this leaves 24s. on which to maintain body and soul, to buy clothes, pay for repairs and provide tobacco.
What I would like the Minister to do is to re-examine the basic scales. It may be said that they could live somewhat cheaper if they lived together, but that does not take into account the cut down to £1 each if they are living apart. I hope the Minister will look at the position of a mother and father living together, with, possibly, a son or daughter incapable of work. You have the basic scale of 10s. or 8s., and when we are making an attempt to improve the standard, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to look again into the question of the family resources of those who may not, through misfortune, be able to work at all. There are, for good or ill, large numbers of people who are still chargeable to the Poor Law authorities. I can never understand our widows' and old age pensions' scheme. We count stamps and this, that and the other, and then we go along to the widow and 386 say, "You cannot get a pension because your husband had not enough stamps," as if she had committed a crime. Frequently the man might have done this or that, but the woman has committed no crime. Yet on her shoulders falls the punishment; she receives no pension. Often a man has gone to America to relieve this country of one who is out of work, and he has sent back each week enough money to keep his wife and family. Then, outside insurance, he dies, although the very act that he took was an act to benefit this country. In that case his widow receives nothing. There is a whole range of cases that one could go over every day. These people have only one course open to them, and that is to go on to public assistance.
I see that in Glasgow the authorities have altered the name from Poor Law and public assistance to what they call the welfare department. I say nothing about this; all I am concerned about is not an alteration in the name, but results. A large number of people are controlled by the local authorities, and I would ask the Minister, the Scottish Under-Secretaries, and the Minister of Health to take steps to see that the local government authorities bring their machinery up to the standard we desire. When we are talking about meanness I find that the worst offender to-day, far from being the Assistance Board, is the War Office. I feel a terribly bitter resentment against the way in which the War Office calculates a soldier's allowance for pension. I received a letter, not a bad letter, from the Board of Admiralty, but if any ordinary person can follow how they cut up the percentages of a man's allowance, he ought not to be among the working class but should occupy an important post in the Government. The way they cut up and make percentages is just too bad for words. May I say to the Lord President of the Council that if there is one thing causing bitter resentment it is this treatment of soldiers for the purposes of dependants' allowances and pension cases?
I have here a case of a railwayman who earns £2 15s. a week and who had one son on the railway. The son died, and his parents did not receive a penny in pension. During the last war we said that every parent who lost a son lost something, and that the State ought to make recognition of that, however small 387 the amount might be. The sum of 4s. 2d. was paid, which was ultimately increased by the Labour Government of 1924 to 5s. a week. That ought to be paid again. I interviewed the parent, and I learned that the railwayman had been told that he should have looked for a better job. It is nonsense to tell a man who has been 30 years on the railway that he should shift at his time of life. You might just as well tell me to shift from the House of Commons. Now that an attempt is being made to humanise the machinery, what steps are being taken to make a new approach with regard to the basic scale on which an old couple is placed? The increase in the cost of living in these cases ought to be taken into account. In Glasgow, a bag of ordinary coal costs 2s. 8d. Deduct from the allowance the rent and the cost of a bag of coal, and what is left? I submit that the basic scale, the question of the Poor Law, and the question of soldiers' allowances ought to be looked into again. I ask the Lord President of the Council, who has influence in these matters, to ask his colleagues to look into these matters again.
I am glad that the Minister announced the abolition of the fall-back, not so much for its own sake, although in a great many cases it will mean an increase of 2s., but because it was so complicated that few people could understand it. I welcome the change. I ask the Minister also to consider again the question of workmen's compensation where a lump sum is payable. I know that in the case of young women the court does not usually pay the sum to the women, but pays it in weekly instalments which may be increased, if the court thinks fit, on the request of the solicitor or the trade union acting for the women. In the case of older people, however, this practice is not so common. I would like the matter to be looked at not so much from the point of view of £300 or £500 being divided by two, but rather from the point of view of the weekly payments they would have got if a lump sum payment had not been arranged. In that case they would at least have had the advantage resulting from the exemption of the basic limit.
I regard as the main blemish the provision concerning war savings. Why should a man who saved £375, it may be in much more difficult circumstances, 388 before the war not receive the benefit equally? We used to talk about the 1918 Coalition Government rewarding the war profiteers by giving them titles. Now we are going to reward the war savers by giving them an exemption, and not give similar treatment to those who saved previously. Frankly, I believe that after the war, when this provision comes to be worked, it will raise bedlam. Let me give a typical example. A family living in a Glasgow tenement has saved £375 during the war, and next door is a family which has saved £375, not during the war, but before the war. The first family is to have the money increased by 10s., 12s., 15s. or, possibly, £1 a week. The other family will not have this advantage. Who can defend such a provision? Both families have £375 and both families have put the £375 to what they thought was a social use. Yet there is to be this difference of treatment. Nobody in his senses can defend it. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health has the platform capacity to dodge most issues, but not even he could get on a platform and dodge this. One of the most difficult things is to get Government Departments, when they are going to do a thing, to do it decently, and get all the credit for doing it. Here they are doing a thing for which they might have got a good deal of credit, but they have attached this miserable blemish to the Regulations. It is the height of nonsense and tomfoolery. Let anybody go to the Board's offices and he will be told that at the end of the war this sort of thing will be impossible to administer properly and decently.
The Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) both dealt with the spirit that animates the Boards. I remember the controversy which there was some years ago as to whether or not public assistance authorities should have certain rights. I remember that the Glasgow Town Council, which had a Labour majority, very much wanted the public assistance authorities to retain certain powers of administration. I took a different view, and felt that it was better that the Unemployment Assistance Board should retain the powers. I say frankly that I have not found the Boards mean and grasping bodies. I have found them capable of adjustment. However, let me say in fairness that in other areas, and in Wales in particular, I have sometimes found a different type of official. When 389 my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly and I sat in the small committee on these matters, one of the things we discovered was the difference in the Board's approach in his district and in my district. In my district the Board was tolerant, and in his district it was much more narrow and mean in its approach. In my district I have found the officials not unfair in their everyday administration. For instance, recently I have had many negotiations with them in connection with the tools of trade union members. Unfortunately, many of our Members in London, Swansea, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield have had their tools destroyed. In the case of a patternmaker's tools, for which before the war,£20 was the figure, the Board now put the sum at £35—not an unreasonable settlement. I wish that the same increase could be applied in judging the human standards of those on the 32s. 6d. scale. I wish it could be said that the cost of living has moved up to that extent, and a corresponding increase be made. In the main, I have found the officials of the Board not unreasonable.
In this matter a great deal depends upon the method of approach. Improvements are now being made in certain aspects. These improvements will not stop my colleagues and me from continuing our efforts. We shall not be content until the unemployed are treated without all this investigation into family resources. We shall carry on until the unemployed are treated better and more decently. One thing I would like to see before long is the total abolition of the Boards and the means test. I say that the community, if it cannot solve the problem of unemployment, should not penalise the unemployed and their families, but should bear the full brunt of the cost of maintaining the unemployed.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)
I regret very much that I was not in the Chamber when the Minister opened the Debate and explained these Regulations. I may, therefore, be raising some points with which he has already dealt, and I hope the House will excuse me if that is the case. It would be churlish on one's part not to admit that these draft Regulations, which are before the House, will confer substantial advantages on many applicants, both for supplementary pensions and for unemployment assistance. As one who criticised the shortcomings of 390 the Act when it was before the House, I feel bound to say that the promises given during the Debate by the Ministers have not only been amply redeemed, but, in general, have exceeded any legitimate expectations. I think that credit is due to them. However, I do not retract some of the criticism in which I indulged on Second Reading, namely, that the Prime Minister's original pledge has not been redeemed either in the Act or in the Regulations which give effect to the Act—in fact, these Regulations perpetuate the grounds of criticism which animated my hon. Friends and myself during the Second Reading Debate.
I should like to raise a number of technical points in connection with these Regulations. First of all, it must be a matter of regret that this legislation proceeds by cross-reference. It appears, whenever we have to deal with the needs of the poor of this country, that legislation is made as difficult as possible to understand. In this connection these Regulations, which are before the House, have to be considered in relation to the 1941 Act, which amends the 1940 Act and the 1940 Regulations, and the 1940 Act is an amendment and extension of the 1934 Assistance Act. What chance has the poor old age pensioner to establish his rights to a few shillings a week before an unsympathetic tribunal when he has to refer to this mass of cross-references? To use a phrase common in the mining industry, we would say that he would be "blinded by science," and would not get a chance at all. I am hoping that the Ministers will jointly try to issue a handbook putting all these Regulations together, with their legitimate cross-references, in seriated order so that those engaged in trying to obtain what this House intends the old age pensioners should get, and those who appear before the tribunals, have the assistance of some explanatory compendium, setting out all the information they require.
I assume that it has been stated before that these Regulations, like those before them, still depend almost completely upon interpretation. In that connection, it must be noted that the interpretations placed upon these Regulations are not interpretations stated in this House by a responsible Minister. These interpretations are conveyed in secret instructions to area officers by a body which is outside this House. I think it is iniquitous that 391 Members of this House are unable to see these secret instructions for the purpose of the administration of supplementary pensions and unemployment assistance. We have the case of a petty clerk being in a far better position, so far as interpretation is concerned, than a Member of this House. Another complaint in connection with the administration has been due to the fact that the Unemployment or, as it is now, the Assistance Board has been able to interpret these injustices behind the backs of this House. Members do not know what is happening. We are kept in the dark. The instructions are marked "Secret and confidential," and we cannot see them. When we are up against this problem, and we go to see an area officer, we are told, "I have my instructions. I am doing what I am told, and I cannot show you the instructions." We are placed in a very invidious position.
In this connection it is interesting to remember that the area officers, acting upon the secret interpretations put upon these Regulations by the Assistance Board, have been alleged from time to time in this House to have substantial discretionary powers which they must use to meet unusual cases or special circumstances. We know, however, that the Assistance Board officers in the various areas are haunted by Treasury auditors, who weigh up their payments in the light of secret instructions, and, let the assistance officer or area officer exercise any discretion not justified by the literal wording of these instructions, he gets a red star beside his name, which is always remembered when promotion is considered and when his turn comes along. In my view the intentions of Parliament, and the interpretation of these Regulations, should be stated by the responsible Minister in this House, so that Members should be in at least as privileged a position as the clerks in various area offices. If I may say so, my hon. Friends and I want to use interpretations stated in this House by Ministers as a shield against some of the practices of the Assistance Board in the areas. These are the only interpretations and the only guide which we can use against some of these practices.
These are all points upon which we should like to have a reply from the Minister. We want his interpretation of certain of these provisions. I am quite 392 sure that the question of commuting workmen's compensation has been raised. May I put this point? The workman who has commuted his workmen's compensation can invest one half of that lump sum in War Savings, and that is ignored, and then he can go "on the binge" with the other half, and when he comes back that is ignored.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Tomlinson)
In that case it will not be there.
§ Mr. Edwards
Of course it will not be there, and because that man has behaved in such a way as not to put it there, it cannot be taken into account. What this House has to consider is whether or not the workman is to be encouraged to go on the binge, or whether he shall invest the whole of that lump sum in War Savings. So far we have not had a reply to that; we did not have one during the Second Reading Debate. Suppose the Assistance Board say, according to the provisions of the principal Regulation, that half will be taken into account. If a workman decides that he will invest the whole of it in War Savings, half is taken into account, but if he dies and leaves it all to his wife, the whole of it is ignored. So that we shall have a silly anomaly which will not be of encouragement to these men to invest their money in War Savings.
I want to raise another important point which we shall come up against in administration. That is the question of the treatment of the earnings, or the income, of a son who lives in the household. Take a son who lives with his widowed mother. They are the only occupants. The rent is 8s. a week, the widow is an applicant for supplementary pension, and the son's earnings are 80s. What supplementary pension will the widow get if the household is in her name, and what, if any, will she get if it is in the son's name? I think it will be disclosed, when we have the replies, that our old friend the means test pokes his head up again. If the widow has the house in her name, it is obvious that 7s. of the earnings will be taken into account in assessing her resources, but if it is in the son's name, how are you going to treat those earnings? Then, supposing the son goes on to workmen's compensation and gets 35s., the maximum that he can have as a single 393 man, how is that 35s. to be regarded? There is a statutory disregard with regard to workmen's compensation. Is that to be treated as available resources of 355. or 17s. 6d.? If it is to be treated as 35s., 5s. will be disregarded as available resources for the widowed mother. If the statutory disregard applies, nothing will be taken into consideration. This is a point which will apply to all amounts coming under the rule of statutory disregard.
I come to another point, about which there has been considerable controversy and some heat. The problem is concentrated in paragraph 9, page 5, of the Explanatory Memorandum:Thus, if there are two married couples living in a house the rent of which is 12s. a week and the householder applies for a supplementary pension, the amount of the contribution from the other people will be usually taken as 6s.There are the old age pensioners, man and wife, living in the household and their son and daughter-in-law—two couples. If the house is in the son's name and the old people are not the householders, how is it proposed to scale them? Are they to be scaled as joint non-householders at 19s. or as householders at 24s.? If the house is in the pensioners' name, we know that they will be scaled as householders. If they are not to be scaled as householders, we shall have this special situation, that only to old age pensioners will that interpretation apply, because if the son becomes unemployed, whether the house is in his name or not he will be treated and scaled as the householder. That is the invariable practice, and nothing in these new Regulations interferes with it. But it is only with old age pensioners in the past that there has been this rigorous application of a literal interpretation of the Regulations in order to cheat the old people of 5s. a week. The Assistance Board in that paragraph agrees that the rent liability of the old people is 6s. a week. It will be interesting to see if, by their usual subterfuges, the Assistance Board will be able to say that the person paying 6s. a week rent is not the householder. We shall await the Minister's reply with a certain amount of curiosity and apprehension. I appeal to both Ministers to see to it that old age pensioners are not singled out for this injustice which can be perpetrated under 394 the Regulation. These are matters of great moment, and the replies of the Ministers will be helpful to us in understanding and assisting our own people to get what the House intends.
I should like to raise the position which we have in South Wales with regard to many widows who maintain their own domestic entity in either a bed-sitting room or in two rooms under the same roof as relatives; that is to say, that they maintain their own household in a house the main rent of which is paid for by a married relative. This has been the cause of much complaint against the prying Pauls, against the investigations of those who are chasing around to see if the old lady happens to go into her daughter's rooms to have a cup of tea, this demanding of special bills, coal bills, for instance, this presumption that the old people are always liars when they contend that they have a separate household. So long as there is a difference of between 12s. 6d. and 18s. 6d., the scale to the non-householder as against the householder, so long will you have this prying into the private domestic affairs of our old people. In my experience it is this phase of investigation which has caused most sense of grievance in my own area. I suggest to the Minister of Health—and I challenge contradiction on this point—that the Assistance Board have sent out one of their secret instructions informing area officers that, ho matter what the claim of the old age pensioner is, if she is a widow living under the same roof as a relative, they are to presume that she is not a householder and has not a separate household. In other words, the old people, to start off with, arc presumed to be not only poor but liars as well. Such a presumption in instructions is setting a bad tone to unemployment assistance and supplementary pensions.
I come to the question of rural discrimination. I am amazed that such a discrimination should be preserved in the fourth Regulation. We have heard from the other side of the Table of the revolution that has been achieved in the domain of agriculture and in the conditions of the people who work in the countryside. In spite of the fact that there has been a wonderful increase in their status and wages, the rural discrimination is maintained in the Regulations, which lay down that the farm- labourer shall get 10 per 395 cent. less than the urban worker when he gets the supplementary pension. I know that this is a matter on which the advisory committees in the areas make recommendations, but I challenge the Minister to deny that there are committees in rural areas which have insisted that a 10 per cent, cut is necessary in order to establish the necessary discrimination against the rural people. What was the ostensible and original reason for this difference? It was that rent and food were cheaper in the countryside than in the urban areas. The rent factor, however, is already provided for in the new Regulations, and any arguments which may have existed about rent under the old Regulations do not now apply. With regard to the point about food being cheaper in the countryside, in these days, when prices are controlled and food is rationed, there cannot be such a difference in the cost of living of rural people as compared with that of people in the urban areas. I would ask the Minister, therefore, to reconsider this question. My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Jackson) has had an extensive experience of this matter in the very agricultural constituency which he represents. He has on previous occasions submitted examples showing how viciously some of the advisory committees have exercised their power in relation to discrimination.
I appreciate that the points I have raised are points of interpretation. I ask the Minister to give us such replies as will enable us, when we meet our old age pensioners, to tell them that the Board's new methods under the new Regulations will be more just and humane. Like other Members, I welcome these Regulations, but I do so with mixed feelings. I welcome them for the good things that are in them, but I have regrets for some of the things that ought to have been included and which would have made the Regulations a better picture than they are. I thought that the old policy of "too little too late" had departed for ever from our national life. I am sorry that there is still a tinge and a hangover of it in these Regulations. To tinker with the problem of poverty is a poor way of helping the national morale, and it is not setting the example which we should set if we want to win to our cause the hundred million slaves on the Continent to help us in the conflict in which we are engaged.
§ Mr. McLean Watson (Dunfermline)
My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) said that the points he raised were points of interpretation, and it will be interesting to have the Minister of Health's interpretation of them. My hon. Friend will not be surprised at my interpreting one thing in a different way from that in which he interpreted it. He has referred before to the pledge which was given by the Prime Minister, and it seems that different interpretations can be placed on the words c f that pledge. My hon. Friend has raised the same point to-day and has said that the Regulations and the Bill do not carry out the Prime Minister's pledge. On a previous occasion I interpreted the words as I understood them, but my hon. Friend interprets them in a different way because he still maintains that the Regulations and the Bill do not carry them out. When the Prime Minister said that in the case of an applicant, not being a householder, regard will be had to the constitution and the circumstances of the household, it conveyed to my mind that we were not getting completely rid of the means test. I was not surprised, therefore, to find when the Bill was issued that the remnant was still there. It is only a small remnant, as the Minister has shown, but it is still there, and it has been so hedged about that, in my view, it will have very little effect in the operation of supplementary pensions on hundreds of thousands of people who were denied them under the previous Act.
I listened with great interest to the speech of the Minister of Labour to-day, and I could not help my mind going back to a previous occasion in the House when we were discussing the question of an increase in old age pensions. The chief spokesman for the Government then had in his hand a certain pamphlet to which he drew attention. It had an attractive cover, and the amount that would be required to dress the individuals depicted on the cover was estimated. The pamphlet contained the Labour party's scheme for old age pensions of £1 a week to an individual and 35s. to a married couple. We were told on that occasion that it could not be done, and at that time we were not in sight of the war. I wonder whether the day will come when we shall get a complete balance sheet of what has happened under the supplementary pensions scheme 397 which is to be completed by the Regulations which, I hope, we shall approve to-day. I wonder whether we shall ever get a statement showing separately the total amount that has been spent on supplementary pensions and on administrative expenses. I have stated before on public platforms that I am certain that if the Government of the day had accepted the Labour party's pamphlet, which was so despised then, it would have cost less than the scheme that we are approving to-day. It would have got rid of all this means test inquiry. There would have been none of the inquisition, none of the expense caused to the Assistance Board in investigating the circumstances of the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of old age pensioners. However, that has gone.
We have had from the Minister of Labour a very sympathetic and interesting speech. We thank him for the additional, I will not say concessions, but explanations which he has given about rent and other things. In supporting the plea put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) in his very able and interesting speech, I want to appeal to the Minister to reconsider the question of the is. for every additional £25. That is one of the biggest blemishes in the present Measure. To say that working-class savings bring in anything like 10 per cent, or 12 per cent, is absolutely ridiculous. In addition to that, there is the important question of workmen's compensation money. If the money received under workmen's compensation can be invested and regarded as War Savings, and so be disregarded in the investigation of the circumstances of the applicant, that will be a very good concession indeed. I hope the Government have not closed their minds entirely to this question of new money. On a previous occasion we had an interesting discussion on the question of new money, and by now the Government ought to have had time to make up their minds whether this money can be regarded as new money.
I am pleased to see the Minister of Health here, because there is one other matter I want to raise which is not in the Measure. The Measure applies to unemployed, old age pensioners and widows over 60. What about the widows under 60? Is it not time the Government considered what they will do for them? There 398 are many widows under 60 who cannot earn wages and cannot engage in our industrial system. Those widows call for our sympathetic consideration. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) that what is provided under the Supplementary Pensions Act or under this Act, the sum of 19s. 6d., or 32s. in the case of a married couple, is not enough. The old age pensioners' organisation has said that it is not enough and is demanding £1 a week for each pensioner, with a cost-of-living bonus on top of that.
But while it is all right to make further claims for old age pensioners, I should like the Minister of Health to give his attention to the position of widows under 60 who will not be in a position to apply for a supplementary pension. I hope that before long the Government will have the position examined and place widows under 60 who are not in a position to earn wages in a different position from that in which they are at present. There are many widows who have nothing to depend on but their 10s. pension. If anything more is given, it is by the good graces of the public assistance committees. I should like to see all pensioners independent of public assistance committees. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly made a plea for changing the nature of the Assistance Board, for changing the feeling that has always been associated with the Assistance Board. The public assistance authorities have also incurred a considerable amount of public odium. We do not want any of our pensioners to have to go to public assistance authorities, and I hope that before long something will be done to improve the position of widows under 60. Just as I welcomed the Measure on its Second Reading in the House, so I now give a hearty welcome to the Regulations, and I am pleased to know that by the beginning of June there will be a change in the position of hundreds of thousands of old age pensioners and unemployed in this country.
§ Mr. Mainwaring (Rhondda, East)
My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) wondered when we should be presented with a clear and complete statement of expenditure incurred by the Assistance Board and, separately, with an account of its administrative expenditure. That suggests to my mind another interesting comparison. I should like a 399 statement of the comparative expenses of the Ministry of Labour and of the area offices of the Assistance Board in each area, because unless the position in South Wales differs entirely from that in the country in general, I feel it would be safe to prophesy that the expenses of the Assistance Board have greatly exceeded those of the Ministry of Labour in any area. Because of that I wonder what there really is in the promise in the Explanatory Memorandum that the future will witness a considerable decrease in investigations into household circumstances and so forth. I would attach considerably more value to that promise were it not for the activities now being carried on by the Assistance Board. It is an amazing thing that while the Board are promising a widow or a widower, or it may be an old couple, that in four weeks' time their position will be improved they should over this week-end be taking steps to make their position worse. I wonder why this is being done. This is the only piece of administration in which we are being promised a better future. If the old folk were permitted to remain where they are now for the next four or five weeks, I should have more faith in the promise that the Paul-prying would be dropped at the end of that time, but this sort of thing is going on every day. Numberless assistants are being employed to go round the country to find out where they can filch 6d. or is. from the old people.
Mention has been made of our difficulties. We are presented with Regulations which we are not deemed to be capable of interpreting Indeed, it would be very dangerous for us to interpret them. The right to interpret is a special prerogative and preserve of the Assistance Board, the Ministry of Health, and, I presume, of a section of the War Office. It would be exceedingly dangerous for a Member of Parliament to venture to express an opinion unless he were supplied with the private interpretation and the secret instructions that are sent forth. I have for some time been endeavouring to present to the responsible Department the position of certain unemployed men who, under a special category, appear before an appeal tribunal. The tribunal consists solely of the chairman, who, nine times out of 10, would be regarded as a learned gentleman; but the learned gentleman does not pro- 400 ceed in accordance with the ordinary practice of this country touching the interpretation of an Act of Parliament or a Regulation. He proceeds purely upon the private instruction which he gets from the Assistance Board. Anybody might be expected to give a commonsense interpretation of an expression in an Act of Parliament or a Regulation, but none can know what special interpretation, advice and instruction are issued by the Assistance Board. To my knowledge, men who are capable of and anxious to work are deprived of the opportunities of working because of the private instructions sent out to the chairmen of those tribunals. That is another reason why we should be supplied with copies of those instructions.
We are up against another point. We are discussing three sets of Regulations, one for the unemployed, one for pensions and one for dependants attached to the Armed Forces. I see the need for a co-ordinated system, because one household may be affected by all three Regulations. I came across one case this weekend of a household affected by all three Regulations at once. All sorts of contradictions and anomalies may arise in the application of these Regulations, and we may be faced very soon with a consolidated and co-ordinated system again, which will abolish much of the anomaly and contradiction involved. I ask the Minister to enlighten me upon one point, and that is the category of "dependant" in these Regulations. The Regulations define, somewhat more narrowly than in the past, that persons under 16 and over 65 are dependants. That is to be the normal category. All sorts of things will happen between those two ages. The person who can make a claim in his own right will not be a dependant. In the existing Regulations, as applied, we find that if a son or daughter within a household commences work at any time, for however short a period, and thereafter due to some ailment, fails to work, he or she cannot normally be a dependant. Is that position to continue? Is that to be the interpretation for that son or daughter?
Again, a son or daughter may have failed to find employment at any time because of some physical or mental distress and have remained as a dependant within the family. Is that son or daughter to be regarded as a dependant or as a person who can make a claim? These 401 definitions will affect quite a large number of people. Take the case of a widower who finds it necessary to retain his daughter as housekeeper. It may be that the daughter has never been in employment, while in some cases she has been. What will be her position in regard to the pension? In the case of unemployment assistance, the trouble will not arise. Allowances for this daughter as housekeeper will be provided, but what will be the position of the daughter acting as housekeeper after the widowed father has become a pensioner? I do not think the Minister of Labour is justified in introducing any sneering smiles into this discussion. Many of us can claim to have far wider and longer experience of this matter than he has. We are seeking to understand exactly where we are being led, and we have a genuine interest in the men and women affected. These matters are not being raised out of any personal regard for the Minister himself or anybody else in this House. I therefore ask the Minister of Health to define exactly how dependants are to be affected under these Regulations.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Ernest Brown)
It is dear that I could not be expected to give on the spur of the moment and without consideration and consultation an interpretation of many of the detailed points which have been put in this Debate. Such points of that kind as I do not deal with I will cover in another way. I will try now to deal with the broad points which have been put to me by way of question, but, in addition to that, I will see that the record is completely searched and we will send to Members considered answers on the matters they have raised. This will particularly affect the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) and the hon. Member for East Rhondda (Mr. Mainwaring). Let me deal with some of the questions which have been put in order to make the broad issues clear. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) asked about the £6 rule and the effect it would have upon the payment of Income Tax. The answer is that, in applying the £6 rule, the amount which is liable to be paid in Income Tax will not be excluded. Hon. Members will remember that it was with this and other questions of a cognate nature in mind that the 402 amount was fixed at £6. The House will remember that the first intention was £5. With regard to payment for workmen's compensation, my hon. Friend asked a question which other hon. Members have also put in various ways. The answer is that the Board disregards half the capital sum, but hon. Members who have detailed knowledge of these things know that they do this by the exercise of discretion. They are not obliged to do it by the Act, but it is done under the terms of their discretionary powers under the Act. My information is that a man who commutes is put, by the exercise of those powers, in substantially the same position as the man who does not.
§ Mr. Brown
I would not put it that way, because on the whole I do not think he would do that. My hon. Friend is in a very happy position; he can always dress up his case with his own background and expect a representative answer to be given to him in terms of that background, but no wise Minister would ever make a general answer on those terms. I am not at all sure that his phrase will be happily received in South Wales.
§ Mr. Brown
There are some who do, but there are also many in South Wales who equally enjoy saving, which is the other side of my answer.
With regard to overtime, my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly put a precise point which I want to answer as clearly as I can. The fact is that overtime will be considered in relation to what were the hours normally worked before the war. If before the war it was normal to work overtime, the overtime which is left out of account will be that which is attributable to the war situation and the war effort. With regard to War Savings, the relevant provisions of the Act deliberately provide for the savings of each member of the household to be considered separately, and there is nothing to prevent the husband who receives £600 from the commutation of his compensation from giving £300 to his wife. If therefore they each invest £300 in War Savings, the whole amount will be disregarded. The 403 hon. Member for Caerphilly did not expect that, but I think he had better leave the answer as I have given it. He will not complain about the precision of that particular answer. With regard to rural differentiation, I am able to say that the Board, in conjunction with the advisory committee, is now engaged in consideration of that question.
With regard to the particular cases raised by the hon. Member for Caerphilly, there is one which I have worked out, so that I can give him my answer. He asked what would be the position of an old age pensioner having a son earning 80s. a week, with rent of 8s. in each of two cases£first, if the mother was the householder, and second, if the son was the householder. This is how it will work out. If the mother is the householder, the scale rate will be 18s. 6d. and the rent addition will be 4s., making 22s. 6d. The son's contribution will be 7s., which reduces the figure to 15s. 6d., so that the supplementary pension would be 5s. 6d. If, on the other hand, the son is the householder, the scale rate is 12s. 6d., rent allowance 4s., total 16s. 6d., which would make the supplementary pension 6s. 6d. So that there is. difference between the two cases. I think that my hon. Friend will find that that is how it will work out. As he was kind enough in one part of his speech to say that I knew how to answer or not to answer, I have tried to do both, and I hope he is pleased.
With regard to the questions put by the hon. Member for East Rhondda about dependants, an unemployed son or daughter over 16 can apply on his or her own account. An invalid son or daughter will be treated as a dependant if he or she has usually been supported by the applicant. That is the answer to the question put. It is an important question and that is why the word "normally" is used in the definition.
§ Mr. Mainwaring
Can the right hon. Gentleman deal with the other question, that of the child who has been in employment but subsequently becomes a permanent invalid?
§ Mr. Brown
I had that in mind when I said that I would not care to give an off-hand answer. I will have it looked 404 into and see that the hon. Member gets a precise answer. The question of instructions has also been raised, and I can do no more than say that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour dealt with that in his last speech, and I think it had better be left there for the moment. There has also been a number of broad and general questions raised, and the first I would like to deal with is this. A number of Members, including the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) have pleaded for a unified social service system. The hon. Member for East Birkenhead has done so many times; other hon. Members have not got so far as that but have desired, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) desired, a reconsideration of certain things. First of all there were the maintenance scales and the revision of the administration of the poor law in relation to these new Regulations, which are, of course, bound to have indirect if not direct effects, and also the question of Service men. I would only say that it is quite clear, since the Board have promised to make an early review, that we shall have to review the whole situation in the light of what happens.
For my own part—I speak now for my own Departmental responsibility—I am at the moment looking at the possibilities about health insurance. I have been twitted for being rather slow about the sick, but I can only say that there are, of course, two problems. It is a very difficult matter and one which raises the questions how much you can do for a given contribution, and what contribution you must add to get a certain result, and we have to consider not only the immediate effect of anything we may do in the light of such contribution as we may or may not make to get the desired benefit, but what effect that temporary act would have upon the broad general review such as was wanted by my hon. Friend the Member for East Birkenhead. At the moment I am myself looking into the matter in my own Ministry, and I can say to my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I are busily engaged considering the matter.
Of the broader issues, there are three. The first is that I detect a very great difference of mood in the minds of hon. 405 Members about the actions of the Board in their old capacity and in their new capacity. 1 do not say I share their view, because on the whole, over the whole period of years, I think that hon. Members who have watched very closely would agree that this difficult job has been done with increasing understanding and sympathy for those who are the clients of the Board. I am, however, glad to add my tribute to the Board's officers in this particular case, because having seen in a number of bombed areas the courageous and outstanding work done by them, and the broad interpretations given to the needs of our bombed fellow citizens, I am very glad to find that my own feeling is shared in so many parts of the House.
With regard to the other major points, there is only one thing I need say. If there is a general review of the whole of the services, those points raised by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) and other hon. Members—such as the position of old age pensioners, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Dunfermline—would be included. It is a very happy thing for me, in winding up this Debate, to find the atmosphere so quiet and tranquil—[Interruption] —my hon. Friends know perfectly well that I have always managed to quieten the atmosphere down—the atmosphere has been quiet and tranquil, yet, in the true sense of the word, critical. By "critical" I do not mean disparaging, but justly appraising the merits. When my hon. Friend said that there was only one reason for the introduction of the original Act, he was stating only one side of the case. There was for 20 years in this country a tremendous demand from all the parties of the Left for a national system and a national standard for the unemployed. I will not go further than that to-day.
§ Mr. Leslie (Sedgefield)
Has the Minister considered the inclusion of non-manual workers on the same basis as in regard to unemployment?
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That the Draft Unemployment Assistance (Determination of Need and Assessment of Needs) (Amendment) Regulations, 1941, dated 8th April, 1941, made by the Minister of Labour and National Service under the Unemployment Assistance Act, 1934, a copy of which was presented to this House on 10th April, be approved.