HL Deb 20 December 1934 vol 95 cc653-78

THE PAYMASTER-GENERAL (LORD ROCHESTER) moved, That the Draft Regulations, as reported from the Special Orders Committee on Thursday last, be approved. The noble Lord said: I appreciate the pressure upon your Lordships' time, and although I have been given a somewhat voluminous brief from the Ministry of Labour, I shall compress my remarks into the fewest possible words, not because I think the Regulations I submit to your Lordships for approval are not all important, but because I realise that we have got to the last day before the adjournment for the Christmas Recess. If there are any points that I omit I shall be glad to deal with them upon their being raised during the debate. The Draft Regulations now before your Lordships have been prepared by the Unemployment Assistance Board in pursuance of Sections 38 and 52 of the Unemployment Assistance Act, 1934. That Act provides that applicants for allowances under the unemployment assistance scheme shall have their need determined and their needs assessed in accordance with Regulations. The Draft Regulations have been made by the Minister of Labour and require the approval of both Houses of Parliament before they can finally be made. The Act does not permit of Amendments being made.

The Special Orders Committee of your Lordships' House has reported that these Draft Regulations raise important questions of policy and principle, and cannot be passed without special attention being drawn to them. It is that special attention to which I direct your Lordships' consideration now. Your Lordships will understand that these Regulations represent the culminating step of a large scheme of social reform introduced by the Government in 1933 and incorporated in the Unemployment Assistance Act of 1934. Part I of that Act had for its object the placing of the unemployment insurance scheme on a sound and permanent basis. Part II, under which these Regulations are made, dealt with the problem of those persons who, either because of long-continued unemployment, or because their employment does not bring them within the scope of the Unemployment Insurance Acts, are not entitled as of right to payment of unemployment benefit and are therefore forced to rely, when unemployed, upon assistance from public funds for their maintenance. Any measure designed to help such persons will, I know, command the sympathy of all Parties in this House. The debate in another place, that concluded last night, showed the desire of all parties, without exception, that these people, in the time of their misfortune, should be assisted to the fullest possible extent. There may be a difference of opinion as to the precise figures which should go into the scales of allowances, but there is no disagreement that the guiding scales shall be adequate. The Scales embodied in the Regulations have been prepared after long and careful inquiry. The Reports and conclusions of various Committees and social surveys have been considered, and the views of various organisations specially interested in this problem have been very fully taken into account.

One of the most striking features is the provision that is made in the Scales for the children of the unemployed and that is one to which I desire to draw your Lordships' special attention. Whereas the unemployment insurance scheme allows a flat rate of 2s. per child, the Regulations which I am now submitting provide for allowances varying according to age from 3s. in the case of children under five years of age to 6s. in the case of older children. These rates, I venture to suggest, far exceed the most sanguine expectations of all interested parties, and there will, I am sure, be general agreement that in thus making provision for the health and maintenance of the future generation, the Board and the Minister of Labour have rightly interpreted the feeling of the country as a whole in this matter.

The Regulations are complicated, but obviously, in order to meet the infinite variety of circumstances that may exist in the lives of the hundreds of thousands of persons who will fall to be dealt with by the Board, this cannot be avoided. I would stress the point, however, that they make provision for a wide measure of discretion in their application to individual cases. The Regulations are designed to provide the officers of the Board and the Appeal Tribunals which will deal with the applications, with a guiding scale which the Board think is appropriate to meet the needs of the normal applicant or household, and further with various rules and provisions to enable the exceptional case or special circumstance to be dealt with. An important feature of the Regulations is their flexibility. Power to vary the allowances in any particular case is clearly necessary in the application of a test of needs.

I should like to direct your Lordships' attention specially to the rent rule, which is to be found in Regulation IV (2 (1)). Rent is the most important variable factor in the household economy of the unemployed man. No scale would be complete which did not make adequate provision for it. Accordingly the allowances in Part I of the Scale relating to households assume a basic rent varying according to the size of the household. Part II contains the allowances for persons living alone. Normally an adjustment is to be made where the actual rent differs from the "basic" rent. If the actual rent is higher, an addition will be made provided it is reasonable in all the circumstances. If the actual rent is lower, the allowances will be correspondingly reduced, but in special circumstances this reduction may be less than the actual difference between the two figures. This rent rule will enable the allowances to be brought into relationship with the level or standard prevailing in particular areas, although in rural and agricultural areas some further adjustment may be necessary in individual cases. The general economy in those areas admittedly differs somewhat from that in the cities or big industrial districts. Applicants may in many cases have resources to which a precise monetary value cannot be attached, but such resources may represent a real advantage to the applicant which cannot be overlooked in a service based on need.

Let me now draw your Lordships' attention to that part of the Regulations which deals with the treatment of resources and capital assets. The Statute has already provided that assets shall be protected up to a certain point, but the Regulations have gone further in order to provide additional protection to the savings of the persons in an applicant's household other than the wife, husband, father or mother of the applicant. The point is one which was stressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Leverhulme, when I was conducting the Unemployment Bill through your Lordships' House earlier this year. This will provide an encouragement to thrift on the part of the young people which, I am sure, will command the unqualified approval of your Lordships. As regards earnings, a distinction has been drawn between the responsibility of members of the household according to relationship. The amount allowed for the personal requirements is greatest when the wage earner is not closely related to the applicant for assistance, and a son will be called upon to contribute less liberally to the support of his father than a father to the support of his son. A person in receipt of an allowance, moreover, is to be left with a definite inducement to avail himself of such opportunities for work as occur. No longer will he be under the temptation of considering whether, by taking an odd job at harvesting time, for example, he will simply be working to reduce the amount payable to him from the State, without any monetary advantage to himself; in future, every applicant is to be allowed to retain half his earnings up to 5s. a week. Another point of general interest is the provision that in future the first £1 of disability pensions will be disregarded instead of only half, as heretofore.

The Government claim that these Regulations provide a set of rules and scales which will enable the needs of all unemployed households to be met, free from any stigma of the Poor Law, and in a manner both equitable and just. The unemployed man will be assured of uniform treatment in whatever part of the country he happens to live and with the right to have his case heard by an independent Tribunal if the allowances issued to him are not in accordance with these Regulations. Agricultural labourers and other persons who have hitherto been debarred from the benefits of our great unemployment insurance scheme will no longer be forced to apply to the Poor Law if they want assistance; the children of the unemployed will receive the benefit of greatly increased allowances; and the unemployed as a whole will receive payments amounting to some millions in excess of the present yearly total.

In conclusion, in commending these Regulations for your Lordships' approval, I would like to remind your Lordships that the administration of these Scale allowances is not the only duty that has been entrusted to the Unemployment Assistance Board, and I want with your Lordships' permission to stress this point. The Board will also be charged with the care and welfare of the unemployed man. The evil of unemployment lies not only in the withdrawal from the household of its means of livelihood, but in the demoralisation which inevitably results from enforced idleness, and it will be the task of the Board to counteract these influences. I hope that I have sufficiently explained in brief the purport of these Regulations. If there is any point upon which I can throw further light, I shall be only too glad to do so, but in deference to your Lordships' convenience I leave the matter at this point and content myself with moving that the approval of your Lordships' House be given to these Regulations.

Moved, That the Draft Unemployment Assistance (Determination of Need and Assessment of Needs) Regulations, 1934, as reported from the Special Orders Committee on Thursday last, be approved.—(Lord Rochester.)


My Lords, we of course cannot expect any large attendance in your Lordships' House at this late period of the Session and when we are discussing only the matter of the unemployed, with about 4,000,000 people involved. In particular the complete absence of any Bishops from your Lordships' House is worth drawing attention to in view of their recent attendance in large numbers over a subject quite unconnected with their cure of souls in this country.

The Minister who moved the adoption of these Regulations was commendably brief, and I will do my best to follow his example. The Regulations introduce one completely new aspect of the method of dealing with the unemployed and that is that the unemployed, apart from those under insurance, come under a national relief scheme. That is a good thing. That is in accordance with what the Socialist Party have stood for for a long time, that is to say, the right of all workers to work or maintenance, such work to be provided by the ordinary means and the maintenance to be placed on a national basis and provided from national resources. To that extent, then, I think that we are grateful for this change in the attitude of the country to the unemployed and we welcome this aspect of the measure. Moreover, it will make it much simpler for a Socialist Government, when we come in, by the simple method of altering the Scales about which we have heard and raising them to the level recommended by the Trade Union Congress to the Unemployment Committee of Inquiry and by abolishing unemployment insurance altogether, to achieve what the Socialist Party stands for, the complete provision of work or maintenance from national resources. So these Regulations will simplify the task of the Socialist Government.

There are three main objections to which I would very briefly draw attention this afternoon. In the first place, I cannot see the justification for bringing these Regulations before both Houses in a form in which we cannot make Amendments but have either to accept the Regulations as a whole or reject them as a whole. That of course is not the fault of the Minister who introduced them; it is because of a provision in the Unemployment Assistance Act itself, from which these Regulations are derived. I complain about it, although, in a way, of course, it is our fault, for not having observed the actual meaning of subsection (4) in the Unemployment Act, not having perhaps defined it to ourselves and so seen that this was differing from a considerable number of other Acts, Regulations under which can he altered.


Will the noble Lord forgive me for asking whether he is referring to subsection (4) of Section 52?


Yes. Shall I read it? If each House resolves that draft regulations made by the Minister under this section be approved, the Minister shall make regulations in the terms of the draft to take effect on such date as may be specified in the regulations. Of course the interpretation of that is that we cannot alter the Regulations. My point is that under the Emergency Powers Act, 1920, Section 2, Regulations may be added to or altered by Resolution of both Houses of Parliament, and similarly in the case of the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1919, subsection (7) of Section 26. On the other hand in the case of Church Measures, you cannot alter them, and in the case of Regulations under this Act you cannot alter them. The result is that you tend to make Parliamentary consideration of these Regulations a sheer farce. We saw that exemplified in the other House, when they found a misprint in these Regulations and had to adjourn the House and go home—and no doubt they were very glad to do it—while they considered what they were going to do. That was because there was a misprint in the Regulations, in which "than" was printed as "that." It is really making Parliament a farce, and that is a very great mistake in these days of attack on democracy. The form in which the Regulations are put before both Houses I would describe as a Parliamentary Fascism—a negation of the old type of democracy which we supported.

My second objection is that the Scales under these Regulations are taken completely out of the control of local authorities. No public assistance committee has any voice in these Scales in the future, and because of that I think they do need very careful scrutiny. It is our duty to draw attention to the faults in the Regulations, so that when the time comes we may alter the Regulations and, as I believe, improve them. The criticism was voiced in a paper very much read by workers, in which it was said: A new powerful bureaucratic Board, completely divorced from the suffering of the men, women and children in the industrial areas and impervious to the demands of the workers or their organisations, is to have supreme control of the standard of starvation to be imposed on thousands of homes … the Board … can reduce (the scales) if it considers the situation so warrants it. For a Board, completely separated from any working-class influence or control, to hold such power is a terrible menace to the whole working class. That feeling is very widely felt, and I cannot help thinking there is considerable justification for it. The broad policy comes to this, that the Government are dividing the unemployed into two sections, what I may call the short-term unemployed, those who come under unemployment insurance, and the long-term unemployed, those who come under the Unemployment Assistance Regulations, and I think there would be greater difficulty in getting these long-term unemployed back into the short-term section. I think that under these Regulations men are going to find it much more difficult to get back, and under these Regulations they are going to be treated as paupers.

Moreover, in those areas in which the workers have succeeded, by joint mass action, in raising their scales, those scales are going to be lowered under these Regulations, and they are going to suffer. That is going to cause great dissatisfaction. When men and women by working together have secured a better standard of life, they are not going to see it filched from them by a national body over which they have no control at all. There have been a great many complaints about this. I notice that the Glasgow public assistance committee decided to send telegrams and letters to the Prime Minister and all the Glasgow Members of Parliament, complaining about these Scales and demanding that they should be opposed. A similar delegation from local authorities in Monmouthshire made similar demands. These people are speaking about what they know. They have got to do the suffering, and therefore I think it is only just that we should bring forward this second objection that there is taken out of the power of the local authorities any chance of modification or improvement of these Scales.

My third objection is to the Scales themselves. The Minister said that there may be differences of opinion about the Scales. I can assure him that there are. I want for a moment to examine the Scales, so that there may be no misunderstanding on the part of those who are here this afternoon, as to what exactly they are doing when they vote for, and carry, these Regulations. First of all, under these Regulations, when in force, no individual obtaining relief under them can get any additional assistance from the Poor Law in the future. In the past, when you got any statutory relief, even unemployment insurance benefit, there were cases in which additional benefit could be given from the Poor Law, when the money received was inadequate. That stops. Therefore if the Scales are inadequate we may be condemning certain groups to semi-starvation, from which there is no possibility of emergence.

Just take an example. Under these Scales a man and wife with two children will get 31s. 3d. I agree with the Minister that they are complicated, but I make it out that a man and wife with two children, aged four and nine, will get 31s. 3d., out of which he will pay 7s. 9d. as his basic rent. Taking that basic rent, the actual amount left to him for all his living is 23s. 6d. Of course that is a very small amount. So small is it, that when the British Medical Association appointed a committee to go into the minimum scale of food allowance and a Merseyside Inquiry went into the necessary minimum for clothing, light and cleaning purposes, the minimum given came to 26s. 8d., which is 3s. 2d. more than the grant under these Regulations. That is why I say that for certain cases the Scale—it gets worse if the family gets larger—is below the minimum recommended by the British Medical Association.

I note that the British Medical Association came into conflict with the Ministry of Health on this matter, and they eventually had a joint meeting. The Minister was good enough to supply me with a paper dealing with the matter, and I found that the agreement to which they came was virtually that the British Medical Association was right, and that the amount of calories necessary for a man in heavy work was 3,400 to 4,000, and for a man in moderate work from 3,000 to 3,400. The British Medical Association scale was brought out in July, 1933, and since then the food cost has risen, according to the Ministry of Labour index, from 118.5 to 127—that is, an increase of just under 7½ per cent. in the food cost. Therefore we ought to add that addition to the Scales in order to get at the extent of the difficulties that are being imposed on the people under them. I may say that there is nothing in these Scales which provides a single penny for fares, clubs, subscriptions, hospital or sundries, and every penny taken for fares means so much less food for the parents and the children. We may as well understand these things because when a man lives some distance from his work he has to pay his fares. Say he lives in Barking and is working in London, that means he has to pay 10d. a day for fares, so that such a man who works six days a week has 5s. taken off his allowance. You can calculate how many pints of milk that means for the children.

The Minister drew special attention to the rent question. I would like to remind your Lordships that while the basic rent in these Acts is 7s. 6d., it is almost impossible to find a house for 7s. 6d. for such a family. In the London County Council area in block houses the rents for two rooms vary between 6s. 4d. and 17s. 3d. and for three rooms between 8s. 6d. and 22s. 6d. How much is going to be left if such a family has to pay 22s. 6d. a week? It is true a small increase may be made for the rent, but it is never to be more than one-third of the basic rent. I want to know why under the Regulations the average rent throughout the country is not taken as the basic rent instead of 7s. 6d. The average rent throughout the country, according to the Ministry of Health's Report, is 9s. 3½d. Why then take 7s. 6d. as the average? In the London area the average rent for non-parlour assisted houses is 11s. 10½d. and for parlour houses it is 13s. 5d. And, personally, I do not see why an unemployed man should not be entitled to a parlour house; he is not a criminal. It means a good deal less food for those people if they have to pay the average rent.

I see that Councillor Jackson, the Chairman of the public assistance committee in Manchester, says: For the whole of our relief cases the rent averages between 10s. 3d. and 10s. 6d. in Manchester. The Deputy-Chairman of the Manchester public assistance committee and the Chairman of the special cases sub-committee point out that the rent in Manchester is an average for the relief cases of between 15s. and 18s. But of course we know why rent is the first charge on these people's incomes. We know perfectly well the amount of money invested in house property in this country and the necessity for securing that rents are paid, in order that those who own this property may have their rents. For years now it has been pointed out that these high rents are a definite menace to the health of the people, and medical officers of health all over the country have reported that there is malnutrition, due actually to the high proportion of the money available for these people which is being taken to pay their rents. I feel it is desirable most emphatically to protest against this perpetuation of the high rent proportion of the allowances to these people.

The Minister congratulated himself on the rise in the children's allowances but do not let us forget that these allowances, compared with the British Medical Association and the Merseyside scales, show a deficiency varying from 1s. 3d. to 2s. per week per child. The Minister in another place said something about school meals. He said that for a certain number of school meals there would be no deduction, but that if the school meals reached more than twelve per week—I think I am right in this—there would be a penny deducted for each meal after that. Now, that is a shameful thing. School meals virtually are only given if the children are not getting enough to eat otherwise; and yet we have the Minister congratulating himself that he is only going to deduct a penny per meal from these allowances after twelve meals. Well, twelve meals will not go very far for a family of five children. You may say a man has no right to have five children. Well, I agree. But if he does have them, they are human beings, and they have got to be fed. If, in fact, under the Regulations twelve school meals are allowed free, then I think it becomes the duty of the Government to see that in all areas school meals and milk are provided. At the present moment there are many areas where school meals are not being provided, and yet we know that under the Regulations twelve meals have been taken into account in the amount involved in the Scale. Some areas are giving the school meals, some areas are not. Let us see to it that we press upon the Government, in the interests of common justice and humanity, that school meals and milk are given to all children, now that these allowances have taken into account this factor of the life of the people.

I believe that the Scales are likely seriously to affect the health of the million or so families which come under them. I believe that they are inadequate for building up healthy, strong and capable future citizens of this country. I believe it is imposing an intolerable burden on the wives and mothers who have to expend this money. It is shillings a week below the B.M.A. scale, and the B.M.A. scale was founded upon a price level which, I venture to say, very few of us would be capable of putting into effect if we had the spending of this money. I do not think it would be possible, for instance, to get foreign meat at 6d. a 1b.; and yet 6d. a 1b. was the money allowance for meat in the B.M.A. scale. I think you can get fish, which was included, for 6d. a 1b. I even think the B.M.A. scale was a little generous in allowing 1s. 1d. a 1b. for tea. But 6d. a 1b. for meat seems to me to be quite inadequate. Therefore the B.M.A. scale ought to be increased as to some of the prices allowed for food. Well, these Scales are far below the B.M.A. scale. Therefore I believe a very serious effect will be produced on health, and the result will be a deterioration in the health of the people, a deterioration in their strength, in their physical ability, in the power of children to profit from school teaching, and eventually, I hope, a realisation by the people themselves that they will never get justice until they appoint a Government to look after their interests, and not the interests of the possessing class.


My Lords, I feel compelled to make one or two brief comments on the noble Lord's speech. In the first place, he commenced with a gibe which, even in my short membership of your Lordships' House, I have heard before, as to the thinness of the attendance to-day at a discussion of what is, of course, a social problem of tremendous importance. I do not think it is fair to draw the conclusion which he drew, that those members of your Lordships' House who are not here are not sensible of realities or of the tremendous character of this problem. It is obvious that the nature and circumstances of the introduction of this Motion make it more or less a formality. We are approaching the blessings of that unicameral form of government which the noble Lord's colleagues wish to force upon us a, short time hence, find consequently there is a certain formality about these proceedings. But I cannot help feeling that many noble Lords who are not here, and in particular the right reverend Prelates to whom the noble Lord made special reference—those of them who reside in the depressed areas especially—are doing more good at this time by their presence and their labours there than they would do even by sitting on these Benches and listening to the words of the noble Lord.

During the debate on another tremendous issue, the Indian problem, the other day, when for the purpose of noble Lords opposite the discussion was, in a sense, a formality, for they were not going to vote, I could not help noticing that the percentage of the total possible attendance on their Benches was smaller than the percentage of the whole membership of your Lordships' House, including those noble Lords who have never taken their seats, present on that occasion. Therefore I do hope that noble Lords opposite will not always treat us to that particular criticism, which I admit at first sight and at face value is a criticism which might spring to one's mind.

It would have been impossible, I think, to gather from the noble Lord's other remarks that this was a measure which increased very substantially—according to the calculations of the Minister of Labour, by no less than £8,000,000—the amount of money to be spent on the maintenance of the unemployed. It would have been very difficult indeed to gather from the noble Lord's speech either that the unemployed were not all now in a condition of starvation or that this was not a measure expressly designed by hard-faced business men to press them still further down into the mire. The noble Lord referred to various scales. Of course, statistics are a very difficult thing to deal with, but I would remind him that for a man, wife, and three children what will be given to the unemployed under the new Regulations which we are discussing will actually be higher than what would have been provided under the Merseyside scale. Therefore that comparison is not perhaps so damning as the noble Lord assumed. With regard to the British Medical Association's scale, the noble Lord did not point out that one reason for the high level of price at which it arrived was that it contained a very large element of milk. That scale was drawn up before the Government, wisely and properly, introduced the provision of cheap milk into the schools, and it is necessary very radically to reconsider that scale when you take into consideration the fact that cheap milk is now provided in this way.


May I point out that milk has gone up in price since the operations of the Milk Marketing Board? I did take that into consideration. The noble Lord does not realise that the price has gone up. The former price was 2¾d., the present price is 3½d.


I do not think that affects my point that the cheap milk which is being provided, not all over the country but over such large areas, does drastically affect the situation. It is true that the price outside has slightly risen, but the fact that this milk is being given in the schools and that milk plays such a very substantial part in the British Medical Association's scale does make it necessary for detached students of these statistics to modify the results arrived at before this change in the economic circumstances took place. The noble Lord's point of departure was that malnutrition, as reported by medical officers of health all over the country, is spreading and therefore this was an even worse measure than it would otherwise have been. He ought not to overlook the fact that, as your Lordships are all aware, the Chief Medical Officer's Report for this year contains the words: There can he no question that the nutrition of the English people is better to-day than at any past period of which we have record. It is, of course, open to the noble Lord to say that anyone who quotes such an authoritative statement as that is hardhearted and is ignoring suffering. I can only ask him to believe that those of us on this side of the House are just as conscious of human suffering as he is, but at the same time we are not prepared to shut our eyes to the finding of an impartial observer, not a member of the Conservative Party or even of the National Labour Group, but a Government official who is simply collating statistics. I quite admit that statistics are very cold, but the noble Lord also quoted statistics, and if he quotes statistics he ought to quote the provider of these statistics which are necessarily an impartial appreciation of the situation. That is why I do not think his point of departure is entirely fair.

I claim that what will be provided for the unemployed under these Regulations will very considerably exceed in generosity what was provided under either the Labour Government of 1924 or the Labour Government of 1929 which both the noble Lord and I supported. As far as I know, the noble Lord was not active in making such criticisms of the treatment of the unemployed at that time. What the noble Lord is apt to forget, when he makes some of his criticisms, is that in the concluding line or two of the Regulations there is authority for the Board to use discretion. I have it on the authority of one or two of those best qualified to give an opinion on such matters that in their opinion the number of those families with whom the Board will find itself dealing under its discretionary powers will actually exceed the number of those dealt with under the rigid form of the actual Regulations. If that, or anything like it, is true, what matters is the spirit in which the Board will approach its task. Is it going to work in mere terms of cold figures, or is it going to follow the best of the old Poor Law practice and treat those who come before it as human problems? I believe it is from the point of view of human problems that the Board is going to work. I believe therefore that this discretionary authority is extremely important, and I believe that in a year or two in this Imperial Parliament we shall not be haggling over sixpences here and there, because we shall find that a great social service has been built up which is being worked, as a social service should be, as a great human institution.

If the noble Lord really thinks this is merely a measure to lower the standard of living of the working-class, he must ask himself how it is that, in the first place, we are going to spend, according to the calculations of the Minister of Labour, approximately £8,000,000 more. He must ask himself further how it is that bodies of detached and potentially hostile critics like the Children's Minimum Committee have admitted that for the small family the Board's Regulations represent a very considerable advance. It must be remembered that the small family represents an immense proportion of those who will come under these Regulations. The largest number of families are the families represented by the group of father, mother, and one child, and the next most numerous is the group of father, mother, and two children. I believe the average is father, mother, and one-and-a-half children. Therefore, if it is true, and impartial critics admit it is true, that for the small family this represents an undoubted advance, then it is important to recognise that the small family is in an enormous preponderance, according to the Ministry of Labour statistics, among the families which will come under this Board.

Therefore I would ask noble Lords opposite not to be too hard upon these Regulations, and to realise that they are not fathered solely by people whose object is to increase the miseries of the working class, and that the state of the working class even now, at the end of three years of extreme economic depression, is not so black as the noble Lord would have us believe, and that it can reasonably be claimed that despite the great suffering Which we must continue to try to abolish, despite numerous disastrous exceptions which we could all quote by the hour, it does remain true, broadly-speaking, that the standard of life of our people to-day is higher than that of the working class in any other country in the world. I am not suggesting to your Lordships that it does not want raising, but merely suggesting that this is a thing of which, while not discontinuing our efforts, we might well be proud.


My Lords, before the noble Lord, the Paymaster-General replies, may I trouble your Lordships with one or two observations? May I begin by an observation which I am sure will carry universal consent and that is that no member of your Lordships' House, spiritual or temporal, would desire to inflict any unnecessary suffering on any person unemployed through his or her fault, and still less upon any child of an unemployed family? None of your Lordships, if it was in your power, I am certain, would allow any suffering of that kind amongst the children of the poor. Why then should we adopt a different approach in the way the nation looks after that large section of its citizens who, through no fault of their own, through causes quite beyond their concern and quite beyond their control, are unemployed? The noble Marquess, the Secretary of State for Air, has a great and long connection with the County of Durham. He knows much better than I do that the unemployed miners in the County of Durham are a remarkably fine type of men, and are idle, not through any wish or desire of their own, but through certain economic changes that have taken place for which they had not the least responsibility. If we can approach it from that point of view I think the problem will be seen in its proper perspective.

One other observation. There is at the present time in this country an embarrassing amount of foodstuffs—an embarrassing amount of milk and eggs and meat and poultry and pig products—and there is an even more embarrassing amount of cereals and sugar and tea and coffee all over the world which we are at great pains to keep from being sent into this country. Why, under those circumstances, should we be so extraordinarily niggardly? because we are niggardly, as I propose to show in a moment to your Lordships. Let us take the actual Scales, ignoring rent (which was dealt with by my noble friend Lord Marley). The Government's approach to the rent problem was explained by my noble friend, and I entirely agree with what he said. They have ignored the very high rents in far too many of the great cities, especially in the North of England and in the outer suburbs of London. I know certain allowances can be made, but I will show in a moment that they are inadequate. If we can ignore rent altogether, let me make the comparison that was referred to by my noble friend who opened the debate on this side. The British Medical Association scale for food in 1932 was what my noble friend stated it to be. I will take that scale and the scale of prices of the Merseyside Survey, which has been accepted as very authoritative and very exhaustive, and dealt with fuel, clothing, cleaning and light. If we take the latter items and food together, and ignore rent—that is the ordinary needs of a family leaving out travelling, newspapers, subscriptions to death benefit societies, clubs and so on—if we take the actual needs of a family outside rent, which are food, clothing, fuel and light, the scale of the present rules for a man and wife is 16s. 6d. (leaving out rent), but if we take the British Medical Association and the Merseyside Survey total it is 17s. 3d., so that 9d. a week less is given under the proposed rules.

In the case of a man and wife and one child the differences are: British Medical Association and Merseyside. Survey, 21s. 10d.; the proposed Scale which your Lordships are asked to approve, 20s. 6d. For a man, wife and three young children the amount is 32s. 1d.—and here, as my noble friend Lord Marley pointed out, is the great gap between the bare necessities of such a family and what is supposed to be paid them. The figures are 32s. 1d. as compared with 25s. 6d. With four children, under the British Medical Association and the Merseyside Survey scale (ignoring rent) the amount is 35s. 2d.—that is for a man and wife and four young children—while the Scale that we are now discussing is 29s. 6d. There is a very wide gap, your Lordships will observe, between those two scales, and it means that in effect a man and wife with a family of young children will literally be kept on short commons if not semi-starvation.

It is perfectly true that certain classes of unemployed workers will be slightly better off. We on this side of the House admit that the Government have made to some extent, in regard to the first and second child, an increase of the children's allowances, but there are other large sections of workers, particularly with large families and young children, who will continue to go short of the bare minimum needed to keep them in health and physical fitness, and, more important still, to bring up the children as healthy, able-bodied citizens who will make soldiers for the Army of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, or airmen for the noble Marquess the Minister of Air, and so help to guard British liberties and hold together our great Empire. On the first two days of this week we had that great debate on India. Wonderful and glowing sentiments of Imperialism were expressed with matchless oratory from your Lordships' Benches. Now we are discussing the foundation of this great Empire, the people of England, of Scotland and Wales, who happen to be out of work after a long period through no fault of their own.

One other consideration, my Lords. The man who has been out of work for a long time is in a far worse position than a man who is seasonally unemployed, or who is simply in a period of transition from one job to the next. The man who has been a long time unemployed has used up his resources, his savings; he has had to dispose, no doubt, of some of his household furniture; his clothes and boots are worn out; his house is dilapidated; and he needs help much more than the man who has just fallen out of work. Surely these Scales are really onerous in his case. May I ask the Paymaster-General one or two other questions? If noble Lords will look at the Interpretation Regulation with regard to "earnings," they will see that it says: 'Earnings' includes net profits derived from the carrying on of any trade or calling … less the employee's share of contributions payable under the National Health Insurance Acts, the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Acts, and the Unemployment Insurance Acts, and any other sums the deduction of which is authorised by Statute. There is no provision for payments that are customary and of very long standing in many parts of the country, particularly in mining districts, such as contributions to checkweighmen, to local hospitals and so on, which workmen are practically bound to pay. These are not taken into account in computing "earnings" where, for example, a son is em- ployed, or alternatively where a father is employed and a son unemployed.

Would your Lordships also be so good as to observe that according to my reading of paragraph (e) on page 4 of the White Paper: Where in any household there are more than five members, the total for that household shall be reduced by 1s. in respect of each member in excess of five: each child over the third child will not get any benefit. May I ask the noble Lord, the Paymaster-General, if my reading of that paragraph is correct? If so, I can now see why a man with a family of young children is actually a loser under these new Regulations. With regard to rent, I think I am right in saying—I would ask for correction from the noble Lord if I am not—that the maximum that can be allowed under the Regulations is 10s. My noble friend the Earl of Kinnoull is a member of a very important public assistance committee in London, and I believe I am right in saying that he will confirm the statement that in London it is customary to allow 12s. for a three-roomed house, and 15s. for a four-roomed house, and that in certain cases more can be allowed. If that is so, are all the Londoners who come under these Regulations to suffer in future? Is 10s. only to be allowed in future in the expensively rented London area? I submit that those are points of substance and I am sure that the noble Lord the Paymaster-General will be prepared to answer them.

Now I would draw your Lordships' attention to an extraordinary provision in these Regulations, a very extraordinary provision. Unemployed families who have savings are assessed on those savings—money in the Post Office Savings Bank, or whatever it may be—for all sums over £25, and the interest that is taken under these Rules is 1s. per week for every complete £25. That means that if a family has £125 in the bank, 4s. a week is taken in respect of £100 of that. That works out at 10 per cent. per annum. I do not know where investments are to be found that pay 10 per cent. to-day. We are on a 3 per cent. or a 3½ per cent. basis. India 3 per cent. stock stands at 98. It would have been far fairer to have taken the Post Office rate of interest and made the calculation on that. I do not think it is quite fair, when we have been encouraging thrift for many years and a family has money put by, to pretend that that money is earning 10 per cent. when everybody who has anything to do with investments knows quite well that the rate is about 3 per cent. or 3½ per cent. for trustee stocks.

There are a good many other anomalies in the Rules, but I do not wish to detain your Lordships. I think I have shown that if I am correct in my interpretation these Rules are really niggardly in the amount allowed to these unfortunate people. When we have a surplus of all kinds of goods, and can produce far more than we need under present conditions, this is not the time to impose what really is semi-starvation on many families, not on all families that are unemployed but on many, numbering, as my noble friend has said, several million persons in all. This is not the time to do it. There will be punishment coining on us if we continue this policy on the one hand of artificially restricting the products of the field, encouraging people not to produce, destroying foodstuffs deliberately as part of a policy not only here but in other countries in the world, while on the other hand, children are being brought up in families short of the necessities of life. We cannot go on like that without some nemesis overtaking us. To use an old country expression, we are flying in the face of nature. Any nation or family or individual that flies in the face of nature pays in the end, and we shall have to pay. We are being mean, niggardly, indeed, stingy to the unemployed, who are unemployed through no fault of their own, and we shall all have to pay in the future, including the great masses who were so ill-advised at the last Election as to return the present Government.


My Lords, I make no complaint of the contributions to this debate of noble Lords opposite. We expect them to be critical, and so far as their criticism has been constructive I welcome it. I will if I can deal seriatim with the points raised. My noble friend Lord Marley made a number of points concerning the Regulations and I feel that criticism coming from him demands and deserves a considered reply. He himself held Ministerial rank in a previous Government and I am sure he has no other object than to do the very best under the existing cir- cumstances. I would point out to him that in his opening remarks he commended the Regulations because they were a national relief scheme—if I understood him aright—but a little later he went on to say that the scales of relief were now being taken out of the hands of the public assistance committees of local authorities. I suggest that he cannot have it both ways. If it is a national scheme it must be taken out of the hands of local authorities. Further, may I with great deference remind him that no less than ninety-five per cent. of the money comes out of State funds and not out of local funds. Surely, therefore, control must be central. The local authorities would have no financial responsibility if they proposed increases in the scales of allowances, assuming that such discretion was left in the hands of the local authorities. I do ask him, therefore, to appreciate that we cannot meet his views both ways. I think his first observation was the more correct.

As regards his point that we must take the Regulations as a whole and that we cannot amend them, I would like to remind him that that is in consequence of passing Clause 52 of the Unemployment Insurance Act. When that clause was being considered—I was in charge of the Bill at the time—I accepted an Amendment from my noble friend Viscount Bertie of Thame, but no noble Lord opposite raised any question at all. While it is true that there are some statutory powers in other enactments allowing Parliament to intervene it is also true, as he himself pointed out, that with regard to Church Measures the same point arises. Therefore it is not the responsibility of the Government as distinct from Parliament that that discretion is no longer available in this matter, and I am sure he will be the first to realise that taking the de facto position, we cannot help ourselves now. He wants the Regulations to go through although he would like to see them improved. Some of us on this side of the House may share his desire for variation, but we have got to take them or leave them, and I am sure the noble Lord would be one of the first to agree that we do not want to leave them, and that they are indeed a great improvement upon the past.

Then my noble friend referred to the question of the Scales, and also very definitely drew attention to the diver- gence of opinion between the Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Health and the Nutrition Committee of the British Medical Association. While I readily concede that a great deal has been made of these differences in the country, I suggest that they are really not differences of substance, because, as the noble Lord pointed out, as the result of those differences a joint committee has met consisting of three members of the Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Health and three members of the Nutrition Committee of the British Medical Association, and in the course of their Joint Report they say this: It is indeed a fact that, while certain limited classes of men need well above 3,400 calories per day,"— the number to which the noble Lord referred— others need less than 3,000. Later in the same Joint Report they add: The conference also agrees that the all-round average requirements of the entire population or of large mixed groups of people at the present time is about 3,000 calories per day and not 4,000. Finally—and it is to this that I want to draw the noble Lord's special attention—their penultimate paragraph reads as follows: The members of the conference deplore the exaggerated importance which has been attached to the alleged disagreement between the two committees, and wish to avail themselves of this opportunity of stating that there did not exist, nor does there exist now, any fundamental disagreement on matters of scientific fact between the two bodies. I suggest to the noble Lord that that really is unanswerable as to any disagreement between those two Committees.

The noble Lord went on to deal with exceptional cases of need. My noble friend behind me, Lord Elton, replied to him to some extent, but I would like to add that exceptional cases will be dealt with by the Appeal Tribunal as exceptional cases, subject to the overriding duty of the Board to meet need, and I feel therefore that his contention has to that extent been met. Another point to which the noble Lord, Lord Marley, referred was the question of school meals. Upon that I would only say that the allowances are regarded as adequate, but the Board will not take free school meals into account until they can be regarded as substantially related to the needs which the Scale sets out to meet.

As regards the further point to which both he and the noble Lord behind him, Lord Strabolgi, referred, of the rent being fixed at the arbitrary figure at which it has been fixed, may I point out to the noble Lords that in a sense that is in their favour rather than otherwise, because if the rent is over 7s. 6d., which is the basic rent, the allowance will be adjusted under the rent rule, and this is an advantage to the applicant. Supposing for the sake of argument that the rent is appreciably higher than the basic rent, that will be taken into consideration and allowance made. Therefore I suggest to the noble Lords that so far from that being a grievance, it is a matter which the Government have no difficulty in defending.


Only up to a maximum of one third.


I agree. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, referred to the social surveys which have been held and compared them one with another. I do not know whether it is quite fair for me to say so, but I do rather deprecate his picking out the plums in those different surveys instead of taking the resultant findings and comparing the different findings of the different surveys. The differences in the results which have been arrived at by those different social surveys must be considered as a whole, and I submit that in deciding whether the Board have succeeded in their task, it is not fair to pick out the best bits from each of those scales and to put them all together into one scale with which to compare the Board's Scale, to the great disadvantage of the latter. I submit that the Board's Scale taken as a whole compares not only favourably, but very favourably, with the average of those scales to which reference has been made.

My noble friend also referred to the fact that none of these poor people can, with any sense of security, secure 10 per cent. on their savings. The Government never suggested that they could. All that the Government say is that if the joint resources are over the maximum, then it is not unreasonable to ask that some small trespass should be made upon the accumulated assets before those people ask their neighbours—for that is what it comes to—to contribute to their upkeep. And while we should be the very first to agree that 10 per cent. would carry with it a very serious element of risk, we do suggest that even if they get 3 per cent., it is not unreasonable to ask them to trespass to the additional extent upon their reserved and accumulated savings.

Another point raised by my noble friend was as regards the children's allowances. My noble friend Lord Elton did to some extent answer that. I do not want to be provocative in any sense, and I have tried very hard not to be, but after all is said and done I think that we on this side of the House are fully entitled to remind noble Lords opposite that in the 1924 Labour Government and again in the 1929 Labour Government they did not then argue for an increase in the children's allowances. I notice that on July 9, 1924, on the Report stage of the Labour Government's Unemployment Insurance Bill, an Amendment was moved to increase the children's allowances from 2s. to 3s. This Amendment was resisted by Mr. Tom Shaw, then Minister of Labour, on the ground that it would increase expenditure, and 102 members of the Labour Party voted against the increase. Then again on December 3, 1929, an Amendment was moved to the Unemployment Insurance Bill of that year to increase the children's allowance from 3s. to 5s. Miss Margaret Bondfield, who was then Minister of Labour, opposed the Amendment, and in the Division which followed no fewer than 204 Members of the Labour Party opposed the increase. I could mention certain names, but I will abstain from doing so.


About that I may say that of course this is a very good point always, but we hand over to you the Prime Minister who led us in those days—


And the Lord Chancellor.


And the Lord Chancellor, and we dissociate ourselves from that policy now. We know better: we have learnt better. You have not learnt enough yet.


I concede that to the noble Lord. I accept my meed of responsibility as one of those who have some sympathy with his position, and I would point out—and I think I am entitled to make this point for the Government—that while that was a suggestion of an increase from 2s. to 3s., under these Regulations we are giving from 3s. to 6s. I feel that without delaying the House further on individual items, I am entitled to ask the House to agree to these Regulations because they are at least a distinct advance upon anything that has been enacted before.

On Question, Motion agreed to.