§ Brought from the Commons; read 1a, and to be printed.1328
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name.
§ Moved, That Standing Orders Nos. XXI and XXXIX be suspended for this day's sitting for the purpose of giving precedence over other Notices and Orders of the Day to the Transitional Payments (Determination of Need) Bill and passing it through all its stages.— (Viscount Hailsham.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE PAYMASTER-GENERAL (LORD ROCHESTER)
My Lords, in submitting this Bill to your Lordships' House for Second Reading I do so with the greater confidence in view of the unanswerable case that has been made out for it in another place. This Bill does not profess to be a comprehensive Bill dealing in all aspects with what is commonly known as the means test. For two years a Royal Commission has been examining the whole problem of unemployment insurance and relief to unemployed persons, and a comprehensive measure will have to be introduced after their Report has been considered. The present Bill seeks to remedy certain hardships which experience has shown to exist in the present administration and which are capable of treatment without the necessity for a drastic reconstruction of the whole scheme. The four points relate to the treatment of persons in receipt of disability pensions; of persons in receipt of workmen's compensation; of persons in possession of money and investments; and of persons who own the houses in which they reside.
By the Order-in-Council which was made under the National Economy Act, public assistance authorities, in estimating the need of an applicant for transitional payments, are required to deal with the case as though they were estimating the need of an able-bodied person who had applied for public assistance, but as if such assistance could only be given in money. The Bill does not disturb this basic principle. In the administration of public assistance for able-bodied persons it is a recognised principle that income and means from every source available to the household must 1329 be taken into account, subject to the statutory exceptions. The statutory exceptions are that 7s. 6d. of health insurance benefit and 5s. of friendly society sick pay shall be disregarded altogether. The terms "disregarded" and "taken into account" are important and need some explanation. An authority takes into account all income and resources available by ascertaining through investigation what income and resources are in existence belonging to members of the family living in the same house as the applicant. Similarly it takes into account the needs of that household. Then it sets off the amount of relief which on examination of the needs it considers required against the amount of the resources. With the exception of the two statutory exceptions an authority cannot at present lawfully treat as non-existent resources which are in fact available. In other words it cannot disregard anything except health insurance and sick benefit.
After the Bill becomes law an authority will still have as its primary duty to consider needs as before, but when it is setting off those needs against the resources, the set-off will be against only half the pension and half the weekly compensation. Whatever the needs half the pension and half the weekly compensation must be disregarded. That does not mean that an authority cannot do more in proper cases. If the special needs of a disabled man, for example, for special medical requirements, justify it, a higher allowance can be made when the need is taken into account against the resources. Thus while the Bill confers a statutory minimum protection for all disabled and compensation cases, irrespective of need, it permits an authority to continue to exercise its existing discretion to give more than the statutory minimum where the special needs of the case require it. There is no question that public assistance authorities have been treating the cases of disabled men and of men injured in industry with sympathy, but the protection for such men has been administrative. When the Bill is passed the protection will be statutory. This is the first statutory recognition of a protection for part of disability pensions and part of workmen's compensation, and there is no doubt of the real value of the Bill on these points to men injured in the war or in industry.
1330 As regards savings, applicants for transitional payments are in effect claiming relief from State funds instead of local funds. It is obviously paradoxical to admit such a claim when the applicant or the household of which he is a member has appreciable resources available to it. On the other hand there is a general feeling that the strict application of that doctrine would result in hardship to a very good type of workman who, by dint of careful economy and self-denial, has saved some money. Money can be more quickly spent than saved. In an attempt to give recognition to both considerations —namely, the encouragement of this type of workman and the prevention of unreasonable claims upon other workmen and other persons who form part of the general body of taxpayers—the Bill provides that the first £25 of money and investments which an authority, under its existing practice, takes into account, shall be entirely disregarded, and sums in excess up to £300 shall be treated as having an income value of 1s. per week for every complete £25. This led in another place to a suggestion that 10 per cent. interest could be earned by such applicants. It is not of course suggested that applicants for transitional payments can obtain that interest by prudent investment. The present law, if it were strictly interpreted, would call upon them to use up practically all their savings before they had a proper claim for relief from the community. What the Bill does is to ask them to spread their resources over a long period by treating the capital assets as liquid only to the extent of 1s. a week for every £25. I may be asked how long that would last. I hesitate to answer that hypothetical question, because I understand that even actuaries have been quarrelling about the answer, but certainly it would be safe to say for ten years, because as you come each time and get into the first £25, that £25 goes free. Lump sum payments received as workmen's compensation are treated as investments, and will have applied to them the investment rule in this Bill.
As regards dwelling houses, special treatment is given to the case of an applicant who owns the house in which he resides. Strictly speaking such a house is an investment more or less realisable, and under the strict law an applicant 1331 might be required to realise such an investment and live upon the proceeds. But the statutory duty upon a public assistance authority is to give such relief as is necessary. Shelter is one of the prime necessities. It has therefore been the practice of authorities not to require a man in all cases to dispose of the house in which he resides. The Bill will give such a man statutory protection; it prohibits an authority in effect from refusing transitional payments or reducing their amount merely on the ground that the applicant has an asset in the shape of a house which he could realise. But of course any income that such an applicant receives from sub-letting part of his house will be taken fully into account in considering what resources he has available for his other needs. Further, it will be taken into consideration that while he has shelter in his own house he is not paying rent for it, and therefore does not have to meet out of his other resources this primary requirement.
I do not want to delay your Lordships unnecessarily, but I feel that subsection (2) of Clause 1 is one that will probably cause more discussion than subsection (1) of Clause 1, and I want therefore, with your Lordships' permission, to deal with it in a little greater detail. Subsection (2) of Clause 1 is permissive but not mandatory. It does not require a Poor Law authority, in dealing with applicants for Poor Law relief, to apply the modifications of existing practice which are provided for definitely by subsection (1) where the same authority is assessing the need of an applicant for transitional payment. Apart from any question of the merits or demerits of the modifications made in the four paragraphs of subsection (1), the issue is whether a concession given to the recipients of transitional payments should or should not be available to the recipients of Poor Law relief.
When the system of transitional payments was set up, the Order-in-Council provided that the question whether the circumstances of an applicant for transitional payment were such that, whilst unemployed, he was in need of assistance by way of transitional payments, should be determined by the public assistance authority as if they were estimating the need of an able-bodied unemployed person who had applied for public assist- 1332 ance. In other words, Poor Law authorities were required by such Order to apply their own standards of out-door relief for able-bodied unemployed to applicants for transitional payments, but without any of the conditions sometimes attached to out-door relief. This provision was deliberately made on the ground that distinction could properly be drawn between persons receiving benefits under the unemployed insurance scheme as a matter of contractual right, and persons who received, either from the rates or from the Exchequer, money in the nature of a discretionary allowance, necessary for the avoidance of acute hardship.
There can be little doubt that the public assistance authorities in administering transitional payments at the cost of the Exchequer, have been inclined to adopt a rather more liberal basis of determination than they were in the habit of applying to applicants for public assistance. One reason for this very natural discrimination is, no doubt, the fact that the body of applicants for transitional payment includes a very appreciable section of persons who would not ordinarily come before a public assistance committee for relief at all, either because of the stigma of Poor Law relief or because public assistance authorities would not spend money at the cost of the ratepayers to benefit people who were not really in need. A man possessing capital would ordinarily expect to expend on his maintenance, and that of his dependants, a substantial portion of that capital before going to a Poor Law authority at all. The same authority has to decide cases of transitional payments and of out-door relief. Because of the circumstances mentioned, and because the Exchequer pays the cost of transitional payments, authorities have tended to be more liberal in transitional payments than in their administration of out-door relief. In some areas this liberality has spread to out-door relief as well.
The Bill will legalise, and indeed make mandatory, a more liberal treatment in the case of certain classes of transitional payments, but such practice, in some respect at least, would be illegal if applied to out-door relief. Either we must see illegal practices gradually creeping into out-door relief, or if we 1333 believe them to be justified we must legalise them. If they are right they should also be lawful. If they are wrong why should they be permitted by the Bill to any class of applicant?
Behind almost all objections to this permissive clause, I think your Lordships will agree, lies the question of cost. It is said that by enacting this subsection Parliament will be placing heavy burdens on local rates without providing any additional money from the Exchequer as an offset. With the latter part of that objection I do not think I need deal at length. I believe it is common knowledge that some variation in the distribution of the block grant under the Local Government Act, 1929, may result in an alleviation of the cost of relief in the more depressed areas; but whether this is so or not, there is no reason to suppose that any really serious increase in the cost in any county or county borough need be involved. The subsection is permissive in its terms, and although its advantages ought not to be withheld from applicants for relief who are in comparable case to those receiving transitional payments, there is no reason why they should be extended to all and sundry. The second objection is to the fact that the subsection extends to all persons who may receive out-door relief, and that objection takes concrete form in the proposal that the operation of the subsection should be restricted to able-bodied persons, who, it is suggested, include all those persons who might be regarded as occupying a position parallel to those who are qualified to receive transitional payments.
"Able-bodied" has not, I think, been legally defined, but probably most people can tell when a man is not able-bodied. It is certain that among the recipients of transitional payments there are many who cannot be described as able-bodied. Not a few of them are ex-Service men with 100 per cent. disability pension who, to their honour, have so far conquered their fate as to be able to hold their own in insurable occupations. Now, if the clause be restricted to the able-bodied, what is to be the position of such men as these if, through illness or accident, or through a decision of a court of referees, they cease to be qualified for transitional payment? Up to the date of that happening they would be entitled to all the ad- 1334 vantages specified in Clause 1 (1). After that date, if they found it necessary to apply for outdoor relief, were subsection (2) restricted to the able-bodied, it would be unlawful to give them any of these advantages.
I anticipate that discussion will probably concern itself more about this permissive subsection than about the mandatory subsection, and I only want to say in that connection—for I hope to have an opportunity later to answer about actual cases brought before your Lordships—that one of the reasons against making it mandatory surely must be that it would then be quite open to the local authorities to claim—nay, it would be almost expected that the local authorities would claim as of right—an Exchequer grant. They might quite reasonably say that if the Government compelled them to incur this extra expense they were entitled to come to the Government for the cost of such outlay. So that I think your Lordships will see that if that aspect of the case were pressed it would be an additional charge upon the Exchequer which, I need hardly tell your Lordships, is not likely to be conceded by His Majesty's Government in existing circumstances. I can see that this is a point that I shall have to refer to later, and therefore I will not weary your Lordships further in moving the Second Reading, but I will try to answer any objections that are raised during the debate. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Rochester.)
§ Loan MARLEY
My Lords, I think the detached dissection of the body of the wretched unemployed man which we have heard in the speech which has just been delivered must surely have filled with disgust some of your Lordships who have taken the trouble to come here this afternoon. The brief given to the noble Lord is an office brief, and appears to have no glint of humanity within its context. I hope that a number of noble Lords who support this measure this afternoon will do so with an inner feeling of shame at the further degradation they are putting on the unemployed men of this country. I am not going to detain the House in dealing with this matter; I am only going to make clear the point of view of the Party I represent.
1335 In the first place we claim that, the whole unemployment insurance system has never been an insurance scheme. From the very beginning the insurance principle was violated, and when it was clear that the Fund could not meet the needs of the unemployed we had the extension to uncovenanted benefit, and that was subsequently modified to what was called extended benefit, then to transitional benefit, then to what was called transitional payment; and now by the means test, which is dealt with in the Bill before the House, the unemployed are again put into a progressively worse position. There was never any justification for the twenty-six weeks' limit of unemployment insurance benefit, except the justification that the unemployed were no longer to be kept out of the so-called unemployment scheme but must be dealt with in some other way. We have always claimed that that twenty-six weeks' limit of unemployment insurance benefit was quite unjustifiable. We claimed all the way through that the rates of payment were too low, and we know that those rates were reduced under the Economy Act, and now by the means test they are reduced still further.
Examine the Bill and we see that the first meanness is the rule that wound or disability pensions shall be treated as if reduced by half; in other words, the very disability which increases the chance of a man being unemployed is then used to diminish his chance of getting a payment on which he can live. If the man had no disability pension he would get transitional payment: because he has a pension half of it is to be used to deprive that man of part of his transitional payment. I hope that no noble Lord will have any doubt as to what he is voting for when he supports this Bill. He is voting for using disability pensions, payable to a man because of wounds or disability incurred in the War, as a reason for reducing the transitional payment which he would otherwise have received. That, then, is the first provision which the House is asked to support.
Paragraph (b) deals in the same way with workmen's compensation, and is again a decreasing of payment to a man by reason of his receiving an award consequent upon a disability which reduces his chance of obtaining employment. I hope there will be no mistake about that. 1336 It is quite clear that that is putting another disability upon a man who has sustained a material physical disability—a wound—in what might be called industrial action. I might point out that many Conservative candidates at the last Election, believing that the National Government had stated that disability pensions would not be taken into account in the calculation of transitional payments, deliberately stated to their constituents that in point of fact such disability pensions would not be taken into account. That statement was made by many Conservative Members of Parliament who, partly at least, owe their seats to that statement, and they complained in the House of Commons of being let down by the Government, and receiving no support. And this Bill is the result.
It is the same with regard to money and investments. It amounts to a penalty on saving. I, personally, think that saving is a waste on the part of those who are low paid in industry. I am against people being asked to save by the sacrifice of their health and the health of their wives and families. I consider that in our industrial system the workers are the definite responsibility of the community as a whole, but, I understand, the Government believe in saving, and, believing in saving, they then put a penalty on the man who has been guilty of the crime of saving enough money either to have an investment or his house. The noble Lord said that 10 per cent. was not really obtainable, but that amounted to a sort of mixture of a low percentage plus a slow punishment for, I think he said, ten years, so that at the end of ten years the man might be expected to have exhausted his savings. What is the difference between punishing a man now and giving him a slow punishment for ten years?
I cannot help thinking that the whole idea of this particularly mean and hypocritical measure is based on factors which cannot have been really understood, because so many people are not in touch with the difficulties and the hardships surrounding the daily lives of the ordinary people in our country. We know that the means test, when originally imposed, saved the Exchequer £8,000,000 a year. We are now told that the cost of this Bill is not likely to exceed £1,000,000 a year. If noble Lords will 1337 look at the Memorandum on the proposed Financial Resolution, on page 3 they will see that:The amount of the increase will depend on a number of factors on which little information is available and therefore no close estimate is possible; but the cost seems unlikely to exceed £1,000,000 pet annum.Calculations of the Ministry have been so unreliable and so inaccurate that many people believe that this will result in more suffering on the part of the unemployed.
The statistics are inaccurate, and we know that they are based on no reliable data. We know that in many cases the unemployed will actually be worse off as a result of this Bill. In many places that is quite definitely and clearly so. For example, the evidence given before the Royal Commission on Unemployment Insurance shows that there are a number of places in which disability pensions are not taken into account at all, and now they will have to be to the extent of 50 per cent. Every man, therefore, in those areas as a result of this Bill will be worse off. In a number of areas this matter is dealt with on its merits, and considerably more than 50 per cent. is, in many cases, disallowed. Again, in such areas, the unemployed man will be penalised as a result of this measure. In the West Riding of Yorkshire that is the case; in Lanark, Somerset, Lancashire, Derbyshire, Leeds, Birmingham, and Glasgow it is so. This money is being taken away from men who, even on the full payment, are below the ordinary subsistence level. We had a report the other day by a very well-known enquirer, Mr. Seebohm Rowntree, who pointed out that to-day, to keep a man and his wife and three children in physical health, would cost 31s. 6d. a week without rent, and he went on to say that if one makes very economical provision to cover the difference between mere physical subsistence and a very moderate standard of living, one arrives at the figure of 43s. 8d. per week for a family of five, again without provision for rent or rates. Yet this Bill is demanding that these payments shall be decreased to the extent of half the various items enumerated in the Bill.
Some of your Lordships will have received appeals in the last few days from certain charitable organisations. I hold in my hand an appeal from an organisation known as the Personal 1338 Service League in which it is pointed out that there are a number of cases of families living on the verge of starvation. They say that at Lowestoft, where gratitude is expressed for some clothing sent, many people there are not living but only existing. At Doncaster—a poor mining town—they state that they have a district nurse who says that nearly all the mothers are without clothes for their babies. In Staffordshire, they say, if only people understood they would realise that if people were unemployed they did not starve but they had no money to replace clothes; the distress just now is terrible. Surely the meanness of this type of Bill must be apparent to noble Lords who realise that these are the people who are going to be hit by the proposals in it. The proposals in the Bill are worse even than the recommendations of the Royal Commission which has just sat.
We, on these Benches, consider that unemployment is a national problem. It results from a wrong industrial system, the system we call private capitalism, and we believe that unemployment is only preventible by the adoption of Socialism. We are convinced of that, and we know that the workers who suffer under this Bill are not the authors but the victims of the system, and the community should be responsible for providing work or maintenance, irrespective of wages, salaries, or other income. We are entirely against any means test whatsoever for any unemployed man. We equally prefer a non-contributory insurance scheme, and we shall take steps, when we are able to form a Government, to introduce that measure and increase the scales of benefit. In any case, we are entirely opposed to the means test and entirely opposed to these cuts in benefit. We realise that we are powerless in the face of the present Parliament; but I would remind your Lordships that workers outside have publicly indicated their dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs, and that is the only means open to them at the present moment to indicate their dissatisfaction with what has been done. In accordance with the decision of our Party, we shall not in this House vote against this measure, but I desire to place it on record that we are unalterably opposed to the proposals contained in the Bill.
§ EARL BUXTON
My Lords, if this were intended to be a Bill dealing with the problem of unemployment in principle and in detail, it would be a very meagre Bill, and one for which one could hardly justify oneself in voting. I understand, however, from the noble Lord who introduced the Bill, and from the debates in the other House, that this is intended to be a merely temporary measure, in an endeavour to mitigate some of the grievances which have arisen in regard to the administration of the means test in various parts of the country; and to that extent I dissent from what has been said by my noble friend behind me, with whose speech I will deal in a moment or two. I believe that in some ways, and in three particular points with which the Bill deals, far from aggravating the present position of those who are coming under the Unemployment Insurance Act in regard to these transitional payments, it will improve their position on the whole and will mitigate a good many of the anomalies, even if it cannot entirely destroy them.
The Bill professedly excludes from its purview three great questions which undoubtedly will have to be dealt with when this matter is considered next year. The first is the question of how far the administration shall continue to be purely local or how far it can be centralised; the second is the relation of the whole unemployment question to the Poor Law, to which the noble Lord in his opening speech referred at considerable length; and the third—and this is the most important part—is to what extent, if at all, family income should be taken into account in considering the position, the needs and the means of the particular person who is applying for relief. I think that on the whole the question of family income has been the point which has aggravated the grievances and given rise to much of the resentment which is felt against the administration of the means test, and I hope that when we consider that next year, we shall be able to come to some conclusion which will mitigate the present difficulties and the present injustices which very often occur.
I think the Government are entitled to say that with the Report of the Royal Commission only just come to hand after two or three years of laborious work, 1340 it is impossible for them to consider it, very voluminous document as it is, in such a way as to enable them to deal with the matter at the present moment in another permanent Bill. For that, I think, they have sufficient excuse, but I do hope that this at all events will be the last of the temporary measures dealing with unemployment that we are going to have. As my noble friends behind me know, we have had of late years at least twenty Bills, most of them so-called permanent, but some of them temporary, dealing with the unemployment question, and every one of them has been falsified and has had to be followed by an Amending Bill at a very early date. I hope that at all events we have come to the end of that.
Now, my Lords, to whom does this Bill apply? It does not, of course, apply to those who are under the insurance part of the Insurance Act; it applies only to those who have been insured, have ceased their contributions and have exhausted their benefits, so that they have ceased to be under the insurance part of the Act. The question to which we have to apply ourselves is how far those persons should be allowed absolutely the same rights as though they had continued their contributions and not drawn adequate benefits—how far they should be enabled to receive the weekly benefit without some test as to whether they really need it. The real reason for the Bill now before us was really not mentioned by the noble Lord who moved the introduction of the Bill: the whole point is that in the administration of the Act of last November, considerable anomalies have arisen, and considerable differences in judgment have arisen, between area and area, with the result that there is considerable feeling that equality is not maintained and justice is not always meted out in various districts. The public assistance committees have had a very difficult and delicate task before them; they have had to consider in all these cases how far the needs of the applicant are sufficient to entitle him to full benefit, or to partial benefit, or to no benefit at all. That has been, in my opinion, a very difficult problem, and it was one which was bound to create anomalies in various parts of the country.
My noble friend behind me has referred to some decisions in various counties in regard especially, I think, to the ques- 1341 tion of the disability pension. On looking at the Report of the Royal Commission we find that in various towns there are great discrepancies in the treatment both of disability pension and of the question of savings and in other matters coming before them; but I do think that on the whole the public assistance committees have done their duty under very difficult circumstances, have done it well, have done it sympathetically, and have done it courageously. Far from their having failed in their general purpose and the general action which they have taken, I think that they have not only done great public service but have been on the whole successful in dealing with a very difficult problem. There are bound, of course, to be difficulties and anomalies arising in regard to various points, and this Bill attempts, as I understand, to deal—not to deal thoroughly but to deal more or less temporarily—with three of the important difficulties which have arisen in regard to the matter. One, of course, has been excluded—one to which I have already referred—namely, the household income. The most difficult of all, the one which I say has created the greatest grievance and the greatest ill-feeling, is one with which they do not attempt to deal at the present moment; but my noble friend behind me referred to the other questions with which an attempt is made to deal in the Bill.
One is the question of disability pensions, and, simultaneously, compensation for accidents. As I understand the position, it is not at all as my noble friend behind me seemed to think. As I understand the position it is this: that in regard to the disability pension question, there has been no instruction to the various committees that they are or are not to take it into account. They have certainly in many cases taken it partly into account; in some they have taken it wholly into account, but very seldom; and in many others, they have not taken it into account at all. The object of this particular proposal affecting compensation, too, is not in any way to diminish the power of public assistance committees to take it into acount, but to see that those bodies which have not already taken it into account to the extent of one-half shall raise it to one-half instead of not taking it into account at all. 1342 My noble friend behind me is therefore wrong when he speaks as if the proposals of the Bill would reduce by 50 per cent. the amount of disability pension which can be taken into account. I look upon it myself as working exactly the other way. Every committee in the future will be bound to disregard at least 50 per cent. of the disability pension, and, as I understand from the debates in the other House, that is really a minimum. If any public assistance committee think that in any individual case a larger amount than 50 per cent. ought to be disregarded they are perfectly competent in the future to disregard it as well as the 50 per cent. Therefore, far from adding to the amount of the disability pension taken into account, in my opinion it would very greatly reduce it, and I am glad that that is so.
The same thing applies with regard to taking into account what we may call "capital" in considering the needs of a particular person. My noble friend behind me said that if this was taken into account it would be very adverse to any saving and any thrift, and I understand that he himself is against saving and thrift. I should have thought myself that it would act the other way. At the present moment any of these public assistance committees can take into account any part of the amount which has been saved by the applicant up to £300 after which the whole amount must be taken into account. These committees have been able in the past to take into account even the smallest sums, and many of them have done that. Under the present proposal there will be savings of £50 before any question arises as to whether they shall be taken into account. I am afraid that not many of the unemployed have saved £50. Therefore the argument is in favour of thrift and not against it. But I would emphasise the point that I made just now that all these are minimum sums. Any public assistance committees who have been generous in the past, so long as they have not exceeded the general regulations can be equally liberal now. Those who have been perhaps too severe will be brought up to the level of the others. That is why I personally support this Bill.
There is no doubt—one must freely admit it—that this question of the means test presents a very difficult problem. It 1343 means inquiry into the resources of the applicant and into the family income. That is an invidious thing to do and it must necessarily lead to a considerable number of anomalies of various sorts. Experience has shown that it has raised many difficulties, and no doubt in many cases it has worked considerable injustice and considerable hardship. He said that he and his Party, as we know from what has happened in another place, have now come to the conclusion that they are totally opposed to any means test at all. By that I presume they mean that any able-bodied man who has once been insured, whatever may be his position now, however long he may have exhausted his insurance benefit, will be entitled to benefit at full rates for an indefinite period if he is out of employment, and under no circumstances is any inquiry to take place as to whether such a man is in need of help or is entitled to draw money from the taxpayers' pockets for his needs. That is what I understand the noble Lord agrees with.
I do not propose to quote from past speeches, but looking back on the records of the Labour Party in the last few years they have now in this matter completely changed their minds. It seems to me that it has been a capitulation by the centre and right to those who may be called the Glasgow group, who have always agitated for the abolition of the means test. Looking at it from that point of view, I think it may be interesting to quote a few words spoken by Mr. Buchanan who is one of the Glasgow group. This is what he said:Let me…congratulate the official Opposition on their decision to abolish the means test. If a member on this side [the Labour Benches] had voted or spoken that way a month ago, he would have broken the standing orders of his Party and would not have been allowed within the Party. Now a member is allowed to oppose the means test without breaking the Party's standing orders. It is a very revolutionary decision.I should like to ask my noble friend what has caused this tremendous surrender, this volte face in regard to the means test, and how far he supports the abolition of the means test.
I would like to put to him and his friends one or two questions as to how this matter is to be carried through. At the present moment if a man is out of 1344 employment and has exhausted his insurance rights, he is not entitled to claim the full benefit which is given to others who have paid their contributions and are in insurance, unless he can show that his needs are such that it is necessary for him to obtain public relief. That is the point of the means test. Speaking the other day in the House of Commons the Minister of Labour gave some cases of those who had applied for this benefit, and I would like to ask my noble friend what he thinks of them. One was a case in which a single man was applying for relief, and it appeared from the information obtained that he had savings of about £1,200 invested. There were other cases of the same sort. Those, of course, are very exceptional cases, but I would like to ask my noble friend what he would say was the position that ought to be taken up in regard to such a man—a man who has already saved £1,200 and owns his own house and so on.
§ LORD MARLEY
It is impossible, of course, for me to deal with these points because I cannot speak again and therefore I think it not very reasonable of the noble Earl to put these questions to me.
§ EARL BUXTON
I quite agree, and I will not put it to him but I put it to his Party, if there is a member of it who speaks, or to the general sense of the community: Are you going to allow this particular man who has £1,200 in the savings bank, money in the Birmingham Corporation and a house, to be maintained, if out of work, at the expense of the taxpayers? I admit that his and some other cases are exceptional; but if you say that that man ought not to receive unemployment benefit, where are you going to draw the line?
§ LORD MARLEY
Whether he is a millionaire or a pauper he ought to receive it if he is an unemployed insured worker.
§ EARL BUXTON
Well, that answers my question and goes further than I expected, and not being a millionaire myself I object to millionaires receiving 1345 "doles" from the taxpayer. It has been said that these are hard cases and my noble friend who sits behind me did not think there was sufficient sympathy with them. I am not now speaking of millionaires, but those who have perhaps less bread and less butter. It was said in another place by Mr. Greenwood, who was formerly the Labour Minister:It has been proved beyond doubt within the last twelve months that, in order to catch the odd cases to which the right hon. gentleman refers, an enormous number of people have been sacrificed. So far as I am concerned, I would rather let the few through than that the majority should be sacrificed.If that were true there would be great force in the argument, but the Report of the Royal Commission suggests a rather different state of affairs when you analyse the cases in the big towns. In Leeds, for instance, in a year there were in round figures 27,500 cases. Full benefit was granted in 10,400 cases; in 9,500 cases part of the amount previously granted was continued, and in 7,600 cases it was considered that the applicant was not in need of the taxpayers' money. These figures mean that far from the cases being accurately described as "odds and ends," about half make their cases clear, about one-third are given a certain amount, but not the full amount, and nearly one-third are not in need of the taxpayers' money. I could give other figures relating to other towns, showing about 40 per cent. of cases granted, about 35 per cent. reduced and the balance not allowed, but I do not wish to trouble the House at any length. If you were to abolish the test it would be a tremendous revolution in the present system of unemployment relief and add enormously to the taxation of this country. I should have thought that any trade union itself, when dealing with its own funds, would see to it that if one of its members had ceased to contribute for some time that fact was taken into account; and if the unions would do that where their own funds are concerned I do not see why we should not with public funds.
I was sorry to hear my noble friend say that if he and his Party came into office they would abolish the contributory system of insurance. In my opinion it is a great thing that this country should have had this great system of contributory insurance. It is a great thing for the self-respect of all classes. It has 1346 worked on the whole with success and I should be very sorry if this proposal of the Labour Party to abolish the means test means that they would bring to an end the insurance system of this country. I feel that this Bill is really a small step in advance and abolishes a certain number of anomalies. We shall have to consider the whole question next year in the light of the Report of the Royal Commission, and I hope that when we come to deal with it then we may be able to come together rather more than we have done in the past, and that most of the difficulties that have arisen may find a solution in the proposals of the Royal Commission. At all events, for the moment, I support this Bill because I think it will undoubtedly improve the position of the unemployed. It has been said that we do not express sympathy with the unemployed. We do not express sympathy with them because we all feel it. I support this Bill because, while it does not get rid of some difficulties and anomalies, and perhaps some injustices, it is a very material step towards an improvement of the position of the unemployed.
My Lords, I would like to make a few remarks as to how Scotland will be affected by this Bill. I see no representative from Scotland on the Front Bench, but the representative of the Government may have been informed, or he may not, that the whole of the societies who represent local government have objected in almost the same words to the application of this Bill to Scotland—the Association of the Cities, the Association of the whole of the Royal Burghs and the Association of the County Councils. I think it my duty as Chairman of one of the associations to put our case. I am entirely in sympathy with the general trend of the Bill, but I do feel that it has all the faults that hurried, and what I might call panic, legislation usually has. We in Scotland especially object to it because it is one of those Bills known as legislation by reference. When you have a Bill which is based on one law, and you have an entirely different law and an entirely different set of circumstances in another place, it is obvious that if you apply that Bill to both places you will have unfairness, harshness and unsatisfactory 1347 work generally, and also, in this case, considerable expenditure.
In the second place I wish to make my protest against this Bill because of the fact that the local authorities have not only not been consulted, but that where they have expressed opinions their advice has been entirely rejected. May I say, with reference to applying English legislation to Scotland—I am decidedly not a Scottish Home Ruler—that this sort of legislation will drive many people into the Home-Rule camp? Our Scottish Poor Law is based on the Act of 1579, which was not repealed until 1906. In 1845 a Poor Law Act was brought in which was based on the Act of 1579, and which is entirely different in principle from the English Act. May I just mention one or two facts which make this Bill particularly inapplicable to Scotland? In the first place, the whole of the principle of Scottish Poor Law is based on outdoor relief. It used to be administered by 866 different parishes, and every single case was taken upon its merits.
In England the principle is that you have what are called orders from the central Department. In Scotland that is not the case. If the individual is not satisfied as to his right to relief he is entitled to apply to the Sheriff, who decides his case. As to the question of amount, he has then got an appeal to the Department, who give a ruling, and if necessary there is a further appeal to the Court of Session. Therefore the individual is safeguarded in a way in which he is not safeguarded in England. There is a second point, which is also very important, and it is this. In the case of England you may set— I think the term is still used— the "able-bodied" vagrant to work. We have no such power in Scotland. We have no power to make any man work. If a man chooses not to work, if he is destitute he may get the assistance required, including, of course, dwelling, to get him out of the destitute class. That is not the case in England. In England it has been in the main institutional administration of the Poor Law, and there is a right to set a man to work if he is considered able to work.
This question affects the whole of the administration of the Poor Law, and what the Scottish county councils, burgh coun- 1348 cils and city councils say is that it is not right to try and graft on a principle entirely alien to the Poor Law principles of Scotland, by means of a Bill suddenly brought in, upon which they have not been consulted, because there was not time to do so, and out of which such opinions as they have expressed have been entirely left. These Scottish associations submit that hasty legislation and temporary legislation should not be attempted for Scotland at the present time. I am sure that these associations are altogether with the Government in believing that this great question has got to be faced. They also believe that the able-bodied poor should no longer be a charge on the local authorities. They further believe that the principle governing Poor Law up to date, that is to say, the question of investigating the individual case and giving relief based on local knowledge, is better than the principle of wide, sweeping regulations, such as you have in England, which are entirely alien to the principle of administering Poor Law in Scotland.
I am certainly not going to move the rejection of the Bill, and having seen the Bill for the first time only this morning I am not going to move any particular Amendment in Committee, but I do consider that the Government should give a very definite promise that the points I have raised will be gone into without delay. I may say that probably greater offence has been given to local authorities in England as well as in Scotland, by His Majesty's Government by this Bill than by any other Act of Parliament that I have known. From time to time reference has been made to the admirable work done by these public assistance committees. I have some knowledge of this, because only two days ago I was sitting on a committee appointed by the Government, and nothing astonished me more, in the course of our inquiries, than the amount of work which had to be gone through. A mere word of praise is given to these committees, but when their views are brought forward not the least attention is paid to them. You cannot expect to get good service from local authorities if you are not going to pay the least attention to their wishes or advice.
1349 I think the Government should be very careful as to the way in which they handle local authorities, because I can assure your Lordships that to carry out, to-day, local government work in any part of the country is a most thankless and hard task. Scotland is especially affected by the question of finance. We in Scotland are going to be considerably harder hit by this Bill than you in England, and I think that the Government should give some assurance that in 1933, the basic year for the next fixation of grants, they will give special attention to the fact that very large expenditure will fall upon the ratepayers of Scotland. I am afraid one is gradually coming to the conclusion that this Government is not in any sense more concerned with local taxation than previous Governments have been. I must remind your Lordships of the statement made in the May Report in which they said that local rates are in their incidence far more unfair, and often much more onerous, than taxation is to the average citizen.
THE EARL OF KINNOULL
; My Lords, this Bill will do nothing to allay the grave discontent which exists amongst all sections of the public as regards the administration of transitional payment. For what does it do? As far as I can see, the Bill only deals with four points, and all of them, in my submission, are relatively small points. It deals (1) with the pensions paid in compensation of disability to ex-Service men; (2) with compensation to workmen; (3) with people with small savings; and (4) with owners of houses. It does not touch the bulk of the question, it does nothing to deal with the normal case, and it does not help in any way the family income. The noble Earl, Lord Buxton, appeared to think that the 50 per cent. of paragraph (a) was the minimum that would be allowed; I personally think that it is a maximum. Where there have been enlightened public assistance committees who have dealt with this subject very reasonably, under this Bill they will be forced, whether they like it or not, to take a pension into account and reduce it by one half.
§ EARL BUXTON
It was made perfectly clear in the other House by Ministers responsible that this change 1350 which forced on all the committees the necessity of deducting 50 per cent. is a minimum, and they are at liberty to extend the half to any reasonable figure they like.
THE EARL OF KINNOULL
Yes, but it may very well be disallowed. I personally, and I think I may say this on behalf of those sitting on these Benches, have a rooted objection to the Poor Law system as a means of dealing with the case of the unemployed. I think it is a monstrous injustice. The old Poor Law was conceived to deal with paupers, and treated them as though they were rogues and vagabonds, and punished them as such. But I want to ask your Lordships whether you think that the men who came back from France, and whom we welcomed at the end of 1918 as heroes are now to be treated as criminals? That is what you are doing by this Bill. They are out of work through no fault of their own. It is not their fault if there has been an economic blizzard, as Mr. Churchill calls it. Because they have been out of work for twenty-six weeks why should they be treated as if they were a type of criminal? I will agree to no means test.
Under the Act dealing with derating— I think it is called the Local Government Act, 1929—passed by the Conservative Government, any large factory was allowed 75 per cent. off its rates without any means test whatsoever. There was never a question whether they were making a profit or not. In the last year or so some of these large factories have been making profits, and have still been entitled to the 75 per cent, off their rates. Take the Austin Motor Company. Their profit last year was £1,087,000. Morris Motors, Limited, had profits of £1,023,000. The Imperial Tobacco Company of Great Britain and Ireland made profits for the year ending October 31, 1931, of £9,876,064. Messrs. Hoare & Co., Ltd., Brewers, made profits for the year to the end of March, 1932, of £448,551. None of these firms are subject to any means test as to whether they ought to pay the full amount of rates. The amount saved to the country by the imposition of the means test has been estimated at £9,500,000 but the cost of the Act which introduced derating is approximately £33,000,000 a year.
1351 Unemployment insurance is a comparatively new thing, and up to the autumn of last year was entirely unconnected with the Poor Law. The Poor Law was only designed to deal with destitute persons, but the present Government brought in the means test under the Economy Act. They deliberately brought the pernicious machinery of the Poor Law to bear upon the unemployed. For this reason I object to this Bill, but not only to this Bill; I, and I think the Party to which I belong, object to the principles that lie behind it. We believe that the workers of this country have the right to demand work, and if there is not any work available they have the right to demand that they be kept by the State in a decent standard of living, and not be subjected to the indignities of the means test and the degradation of the Poor Law system.
§ VISCOUNT NOVAR
My Lords, I think a Motion for the exclusion of Scotland from this Bill would have been well justified. The Bill will undoubtedly add to the rates, and in view of the fact that the industries of Scotland, like those of the North of England, are exceedingly depressed—even more so, perhaps, than those of the North of England—the question of rates is one which interests local authorities even more in Scotland than in England. I agree with what was said by my noble friend Lord Lovat about this panic legislation which was carried at the time of the General Strike six years ago, when the whole system of relief in Scotland, which had been in existence for centuries, was upset and was assimilated to the Elizabethan system which had existed for hundreds of years in England. Then, as now, some careful attention ought to have been given to the custom and practice in Scotland. That is what we are asking for now.
I agree that if it is not done it does increase the strength of those who are working for a separate Parliament in Scotland. As it happens, my noble friend and I are associated with a movement to prevent anything of that kind happening. That does not make us less anxious that this sort of legislation should be passed in this haphazard way; indeed, speaking for myself, I am inclined to think that Scotland would be better off if the Scottish Office were abolished and if the Departments again, as they did 1352 formerly, administered great branches of the public service for Scotland as for England. We need not be suspected, therefore, of any ulterior motives in pressing the points which have been made by my noble friend.
As I said, seven years ago the whole system of Poor Law in Scotland was broken up by the Government when it directed that relief should be extended to the able-bodied upon strike. The law of Scotland was broken, and a whitewashing Bill was brought in afterwards to which I moved some Amendments, some of which were sympathetically received. Under that Bill the able-bodied became entitled to relief. This was done without the views of any local authorities being asked or considered, all representations were disregarded and no Amendment was accepted. I agree with the views of the Convention of Royal Burghs, of which I was a member for many years. Their first view is that anything in the nature of public assistance for the unemployed able-bodied should be exclusively a State charge, and should not be contributed to by the ratepayers as such. Many of my former colleagues on county and burgh authorities have told me that the whole of their normal work nowadays is disorganised by having to administer forms of relief unconnected with the ordinary Poor Law administration, forced upon them by the Government. It is high time the Government did its own work and bore the cost of its own legislation.
Another paragraph says that the proposal to apply principles applicable to transitional benefit to the existing Poor Law system is strongly deprecated and opposed. The unanimous desire is that the principles of the Scottish Poor Law should not be disturbed or in any way vitiated. Under the Poor Law every form of income is taken into account, and all that the applicant is entitled to is sufficient to provide for the needful sustenance of the applicant and his dependants. Under this condition, all income coming into the household is assumed to be a contribution towards the needful sustenance of an applicant who has relations who are ordinarily liable for the applicant's maintenance. In other words, the absolute discretion of the Poor Law authorities should not be limited by rule and regulation. It is high time that local 1353 authorities should have that free hand restored to them which, during the War and after it, has been refused to them by the Government, which imposes duties on local authorities that they are really not suited to undertake, and the wish of the local authorities is that any legislation of an amending kind should conserve the principles applicable to Poor Law in Scotland as they have been practised for the past 300 years.
That is the view of the Convention which represents by far the greater part of the population of Scotland. I think the least we can do is to ask the Government to give full consideration to the representations that are made to-day, and I hope when we come to deal with the Bill next year we shall not have it pushed through for Scotland irrespective of the views of the local authorities in that country.
§ LORD HUTCHISON OF MONTROSE
My Lords, I am extremely obliged to the noble Lords, Lord Lovat and Lord Novar, for having raised this question of the application of this Bill to Scotland. I intended to do so, and I am very glad indeed that they have voiced the real grievance that exists in Scotland with regard to this Bill. According to its title, this is an Unemployment Insurance Bill with a short title added on to it, and I regret that the Government have thought fit to add on the Poor Law to this particular emergency Bill. In the next Session the Government intend to consolidate the Unemployment Insurance Acts—that is to say the Acts from 1920 to 1932, including, I presume, this emergency Bill—and I hope that the arguments put forward now with regard to tacking on the Poor Law will be considered in reference to Scotland. Our procedure there is different from that in England. It is undoubtedly true that this Bill will cause additional expense, additional worry, and additional difficulties in the administration of the Poor Law in Scotland.
I do not want to repeat arguments that have already been so well put by the two noble Lords who have spoken upon the application of this Bill to Scotland, but I should like to add this in relation to the burghs in Scotland which I know so well, having represented them in another place. Legislation in Parliament, when 1354 applied to Scotland, does not affect the national expenditure but affects the local expenditure, and that is really the hardship that we complain about. Undoubtedly the movement that is going on in Scotland to-day for a modified form of Home Rule has been accelerated by the application to Scotland of Bills which are largely English Bills. You have large Bills of 100 pages in length and at the end they are applied to Scotland. Although a few clauses are put in at the end of the Bill to show which clauses affect Scotland, you find the authorities busily searching through these long Bills, and sometimes grievances are generated because of the better treatment that is given by the Act to England than to Scotland. Therefore I think the time has come for action to be taken (and the Government would be well advised to consider it) to counteract that movement in Scotland which I, personally, believe is a wrong movement. I think we are far too small a country as it is. But to counteract that movement we ought to have separate Bills as long as the procedure in Scotland is different from th[...] in England. It means extra work, I know, but it is well worth while in order to remove our grievances to that extent.
I will say no more as regards the application of this Bill to Scotland, but there is one matter to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention, and that is in paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of Clause 1. There it says:any wounds or disability pension taken into account shall be treated as if it were reduced by one half.I well remember, when in the other House, cross-examining the present Minister of Labour, when I pointed out that various authorities—and, I am sorry to say, authorities in Scotland—were taking into account disability and wounds pensions in assessing the amount of relief to be given; and he got up in his place again and again and assured me, and assured others who asked the same question, that it was not the intention of the Government that that consideration should be taken into account. He said: "I have no power to order, but I have by letter instructed the various authorities in England and Scotland that it is not the wish of my Department that this consideration should be taken into account when assessing the relief to be 1355 given." Yet you have it in this Bill that 50 per cent. should be taken into account of a pension given to a man for wounds in the War. That is a pension given to him to bring him back to what an ordinary individual would be without wounds, and yet you take away 50 per cent. from that pension in assessing relief. I do not like to use hard terms about it, but I think it is a mean action on the part of the Government, and it is going back on what they said before.
There is much in this Bill with which I agree. I agree that a means test is absolutely necessary, notwithstanding what has been said on the other side. I think that it is absolutely necessary, to protect the national Exchequer, that those who do not need should not receive; but when you come to deal with a wounded man who has earned his pension in the War, and who has simply been, by means of a money award, brought up to what he would have been if he had not been wounded, then I think you have no right to take away half of his pension when you are assessing him under the means test. I protest most strongly against that action of the Government.
§ VISCOUNT BERTIE OF THAME
My Lords, there are two small points of criticism which I wish to make upon this Bill. They both relate to rather sketchy drafting. It is quite understandable that the drafting should be sketchy, because the unfortunate draftsmen have all sorts of necessary and unnecessary legislation flung at their heads, they are understaffed, and therefore they have not the time to go into things properly. If your Lordships will look at page 2, lines 3 and 4, you will see the words:all money and investments treated as capital assets and taken into account.It does not say by whom the money is to be treated as capital. The man himself may say: "I have this £100 on current account. I do not consider that it is capital." Perhaps the noble Lord in charge of the Bill will give a somewhat similar answer to that which was given by Mr. Hudson in the House of Commons last night, in answer to a question—not quite the same question as mine—put by Mr. Foot. Mr. Hudson said:The position, as I understand it, is that where a man has assets of £100 the 1356 local authorities are bound to deal with the £100 in accordance with this rule.What rule, my Lords? Mr. Hudson said: "As I understand it," but Mr. Hudson cannot give a legal and binding decision. That is the sort of small point which comes up here for decision, and I am sure that my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack would have great pleasure in construing what is the proper meaning of the clause.
The second point is this, and I am sorry not to have been able to give private notice to the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, on this point: My noble friend Lord Askwith has pointed out to me what is really rather a Gilbertian position. On page 1 of the Bill beginning at line 17 it is provided:any weekly payment by way of compensation under the enactments relating to workmen's compensation taken into account shall be treated as if it were reduced by one-half.Then, at line 30 on page 2, it is provided:'Enactments relating to workmen's compensation' means the Workmen's Compensation Acts, 1925 to 1931, and the corresponding enactments in force in Northern Ireland.Then on page 3, at line 5, it is provided:This Act shall not extend to Northern Ireland.It seems to me rather a peculiar thing to say that certain enactments shall have force, and then to say that that part of the Kingdom to which those enactments extend shall not be included in the Bill. I shall be much obliged if the noble Lord will give me answers to these two questions.
§ LORD ROCHESTER
My Lords, perhaps it will be for the convenience of your Lordships if I deal separately with each speaker who has criticised the Bill. I was going to start with my noble friend opposite, Lord Marley, but as the points raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Bertie, are so recent in our minds, perhaps it would be convenient to the House if I dealt first with his two points. As regards the second, I need hardly say that I do it with some diffidence in the presence of the Lord Chancellor, because my interpretation of the law may be quite erroneous; but as regards the first point I think there is no difficulty. As I understand my noble friend's question, it arises on the words "treated as capital assets," in lines 3 and 4 on page 2, and the point 1357 is: by whom so treated? I should say that this means treated as capital assets by the public assistance committee when considering the case. It is the general practice to treat all existing capital assets belonging to the applicant, or the direct members of his family, as available in the fullest sense for the maintenance of the applicant and his family. Where less direct relatives are living in the same household, it is the practice of many authorities to treat capital assets belonging to such relatives as producing only their income value, for the maintenance of the household. In other words, the capital assets of a son might be held to be fully available for the maintenance of himself and his father, but the capital assets of a brother-in-law might be treated as producing only their income value, for the maintenance of the relatives by marriage with whom he is living. The practice of authorities in these cases is based upon an examination of the individual facts of each case and the Bill does not attempt to stereotype any one practice.
As regards the other point raised by my noble friend Lord Bertie, may I point out to him that in Clause 1, subsection (3), beginning at line 30, on page 2, the whole paragraph reads:'Enactments relating to workmen's compensation' means the Workmen's Compensation Acts, 1925 to 1931, and the corresponding enactments in force in Northern Ireland.I understand from my noble friend that it is those concluding words about which he is not happy because of subsection (2) of Clause 2. May I suggest to the noble Lord that what is covered there is payments made in this country as distinct from Northern Ireland under an award in Northern Ireland under an Act applicable to Northern Ireland. I suggest that that is the explanation; but I am not a lawyer, and I can only hope that that is correct.
Now may I refer to my noble friend Lord Marley? In answering him I should like, if he will forgive my saying so, just to make this point: that noble Lords in every part of the House share his sympathy with the unemployed. There is no difference of opinion between any of us there. But he emphasised that in his view this Bill was causing disability rather than advantage to those whom it affects. The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, 1358 also referred to it and the noble Lord, Lord Hutchison, in his concluding remarks, if he will forgive my saying so, seemed to misunderstand the merits of the clause. I would only like to say in that connection that at the present time the law is that a public assistance committee must take into account the whole of the disability pension.
§ LORD ROCHESTER
Forgive me. As the law is at present a public assistance committee must take into account the whole of the disability pension. On the other hand they may set the disabled man's needs against the pension right up to the whole amount according to the needs in each case. That is the law at present. What this Bill does is to make it mandatory that 50 per cent. must be ignored. With regard to the remaining 50 per cent. all discretion in individual cases remains unaltered. How it can be suggested, in the face of that, that this Bill is penalising instead of helping, I for the life of me cannot understand.
§ LORD MARLEY
Perhaps the noble Lord will explain how then he proposes to save any money. He tells us the Government are going to save £1,000,000.
§ VISCOUNT NOVAR
Those who spoke on this side of the House thoroughly understand the administration of Scottish Poor Law, which I do not think the Government do.
§ LORD ROCHESTER
I am not suggesting that I do, but I do say that the Government do, and I will come to that point. At the moment I was answering the noble Lord, Lord Marley, whose point is a different one. He was not dealing with the Scottish case. I was making a statement which I think he accepts.
§ LORD ROCHESTER
I think the noble Earl, Lord Buxton, has relieved me of the necessity of making a detailed reply to the noble Lord, Lord Marley, although I had Made copious notes with the intention of replying to his speech. With reference to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Buxton, I should like to say that the present Bill is purely a temporary expedient. It is only to run until the end of June and before then the Government intend to bring in a comprehensive Bill to deal with the whole question. I should like, if I may, to associate myself with the well-merited tribute which my noble friend Earl Buxton paid to the public assistance committees.
Now may I come to the objections raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, and the noble Viscount, Lord Novar, and incidentally by the noble Lord, Lord Hutchison? In the first place I may say that this interference with the Poor Law as regards Scotland as well as England is optional only. In the second place I may say this is not the first time that Parliament has legislated with regard to the Scottish Poor Law under an Act other than a Poor Law Act. In this matter the Government feel that it is impossible and unjustifiable to adopt in Scotland measures and provisions other than those which are adopted in the South. They feel that it is not right that there should be any possibility of different treatment in the case of an ex-Service man with a disability pension just because he happens to be a Scotsman and to live north of the Tweed. I do not think that even for the purpose of maintaining the historic distinctions and characteristics of Scottish law we should have been right or justified in adopting the view that a disability pensioner north of the Tweed should run the risk of treatment less favourable than that accorded to his comrade south of the Tweed.
I would also remind the three noble Lords who spoke for Scotland that, after all, we are not dealing with pre-War conditions. In the times of which they spoke there was no great mass of disability pensions, and I think it is fair to make the point that that is to be accounted unto us for righteousness. We are dealing with a totally different problem. The noble Lord, Lord Lovat, would not, I think, want a Scottish ex-Service 1360 pensioner to receive less favourable treatment than that which a similar pensioner would receive in this country.
No, certainly not, but that was not my point. My point was that you have an entirely different set of laws to administer. In Scotland the individual has different rights of appeal from those in England. I need not go over the whole argument again. I thought I had made it perfectly clear that I was in entire sympathy with the general aim, and that where an ex-soldier has not got fair treatment he ought to get it. But you have two entirely different sets of circumstances and you cannot bracket the two things together. You ought to get your results without smashing the whole of the Poor Law by a temporary measure.
§ LORD ROCHESTER
As to that I would only repeat that this is a temporary measure. I can assure the noble Lord that I will bring his remarks to the attention of my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, and I have no doubt that they will be given the attention to which he would feel they are entitled. As regards the point that my noble friend made of the expense to local authorities in Scotland consequent upon this Bill, I would like to remind bins that there has been already an undertaking by the Government to reconsider the basis of the block grant to local authorities in distressed areas with a view to its revision in the second period, and as this block grant extends to Scotland it may well be that our Scottish friends will be successful in persuading the Government to give them their fair share of this revised block grant.
As regards the question of the Government's persistence in imposing a means test, I only want to say that the broad principle observed in applying the means test is clear. Anyone who requires assistance from the State while unemployed beyond what he can claim as a right under the insurance scheme, must show that he has need of it. If the insurance scheme is to have any meaning at all it is obviously impossible to allow contributors whose insurance rights have run out to obtain benefit on the same terms and of the same amount as the insured contributors who are still within their contracts. I should have thought 1361 that the means test had been conceded by such a large volume of public opinion that it was scarcely necessary to re-argue it in this House. Of course I know that the Labour Party have gone back upon their previous view in this matter, but, after all, the means test has been applied for years in this country and there is not a single form of public assistance, whether it be meals for children, scholarships, outdoor relief, or old age pensions, which is not subject to a means test in some way or other.
I hesitate to instance another case that occurs to me, but even in the report of the Conservative unofficial committee in relation to the reform of your Lordships' House it is suggested that there should be a means test up to £600. Therefore I think it is rather late in the day to debate the wisdom or otherwise of having a means test when dealing with public money.
§ LORD MARLEY
The noble Lord must realise that it was his own Government that introduced the means test for un-employed persons.
§ LORD ROCHESTER
I agree, and I think it has met with a consensus of approval throughout the country. The noble Lord must think of the man who provides the money as well as the man who gets it. You may have men living side by side in the same street; one receives the money, but it has to come from the pocket of his neighbour; and we have to think of the one as well as the other.
§ LOED MARLEY
If it is received with such satisfaction why introduce this measure which it is claimed is going to ameliorate the conditions?
§ LORD ROCHESTER
Well, if the noble Lord will allow me I think that, speaking generally, the consensus of opinion is in favour of the means test. Anyhow, this is the unalterable conviction of the Government. The Labour Party have altered their opinion, but the Government have not and have no intention of doing so. I only want to add that as this is a temporary Bill to deal with a temporary expedient. I shall be glad to bring before the Secretary of State for Scotland the other points raised. When the Bill that must be introduced in the coming Session is under consideration, I am sure the 1362 views expressed by your Lordships will receive the consideration they so richly deserve.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and (Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended) committed to a Committee of the Whole House forthwith.
§ House in Committee accordingly: the EARL OF ONSLOW in the Chair.
§ Bill reported without amendment.
§ Bill read 3a, and passed.