I beg to move,
That the Draft Unemployment Assistance (Determination of Need and Assessment of Needs) Regulations, 1936, dated the eighth day of July, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, made by the Minister of Labour under the Unemployment Assistance Act, 1934, a copy of which was presented to this House on the said eighth day of July, be approved.
We are to-day entering upon a discussion of matters affecting one of the biggest social problems of our time, namely, the provisions that are to be made for the able-bodied unemployed who have exhausted their contractual benefits under the contributory Unemployment Insurance Scheme. While it is true that this is a matter which is within the Departmental province of the Minister of Labour, I, for one, have never regarded it as being merely a Departmental matter; it is a question of the widest social and political importance. It is, perhaps, just because of its complex repercussions upon the whole of our social structure that its solution has presented to successive Governments so many difficulties. Nevertheless, I hope to be able to show the House this afternoon that the proposals which I am now going to put forward for consideration and approval form a sound and just foundation for the solution of this social problem, grave though it is.
It is my formal duty to propose two Motions which stand in my name upon the Order Paper—the first dealing with draft Regulations which I made on 8th July relating to Unemployment Assistance, and the second with an Order bringing what is known as the standstill to an end when the new Regulations come into effect on 16th November. Both these steps have been taken under powers conferred by Parliament upon the Minister of Labour, but neither can take effect until Parliament has shown its approval. The draft Regulations which I have made and which are now before the House are in the form of a draft submitted to me. Let me draw attention to the documents before us. The new draft Regulations themselves are set out in House of Commons Command Paper 145. The text of the Order bringing the standstill to an end will be found in Command Paper 5239. Hon. Members have also been provided with three other Command Papers. The first is a Memorandum by the Minister of Labour (Command Paper 5228) which makes some general comments on the draft Regulations and contains in an Appendix certain information of a historical and statistical nature. The second is an explanatory Memorandum by the Unemployment Assistance Board, which has, for convenience, prefixed to it a copy of the draft Regulations, Command Paper 5229. The third is Command Paper 5240 which gives particulars by Employment Exchange areas of the number of payments made by way of unemployment benefit and under the existing Regulations and the Temporary Provisions Act, for a week at the end of June. I need hardly remind hon. Members of the mass of information contained in the Board's Annual Report (Command Paper 5177) nor of the large number of questions which the Parliamentary Secretary and I have answered in this House. I think I may say without fear of contradiction that whenever we have been asked for statistical information we have, so far as it was available, given it freely and fully.
May I now ask hon. Members to think for a minute or two of some general considerations? It would be useful, perhaps, if I were to remind the House briefly of some general considerations and a little past history. Nowhere in the world has the case of the able-bodied unemployed received so much practical attention as it has in this country. Informed observers from other countries speak in terms of the highest praise of our Unemployment Insurance scheme, which is now serving as a model for similar schemes in other great industrial countries of the world. But excellent though it is, that scheme, being built up on a contributory basis, is by its very nature unable to carry the full load of relieving the distress due to unemployment as we have known it in the years since the War. The Unemployment Insurance scheme has from the beginning rested upon two financial principles; the payment of a flat rate of contribution according to age and sex, and the receipt of benefit without regard to resources. Except that benefit is not paid in respect of any day of the week in which a man works, the scheme has not paid any attention to the question whether the unemployed claimant has resources or not; it is an insurance contract and the benefits payable are dependent upon the conditions being fulfilled. That is not the issue we have to face to-day. The issue we have to face is when an unemployed man conies to the end of his contract, or, if he has never qualified for benefit, what is to happen.
I will not delay the House by recounting the stages which led up to the recognition of the principle that the care of the able-bodied unemployed, who are without work through no fault of their own, is a matter which should be, to use that great Quaker word, the "concern" of the nation as a whole. But it is interesting to remember that on 12th April, 1933, this House adopted, without a Division, a Resolution in these terms:
That this House resolves that responsibility for assistance to all able-bodied unemployed not over 65 years of age should be accepted by the Government with such re-adjustment in financial relations between Exchequer and local authorities as is reasonable, having regard to the necessities of distressed areas.
The recognition of this principle was embodied in the Unemployment Act, 1934, under Part II of which the Unemployment Assistance scheme was set up. That scheme is based upon certain principles for the recognition of which hon. Members on the other side of the House had been clamouring for years—national responsibility for the able-bodied unemployed, and uniformity in the treatment of individual cases, that is, the abolition of what we call rank busybodies. Those are two of the underlying principles of Part II of the Act of 1934, and let me say at once that nothing that has happened since the passing of that Act has shaken the firm conviction of the Government that the framework of the scheme as set out in the Act is sound and should be maintained.
Another principle embodied in the Unemployment Assistance scheme is that assistance outside the contractual benefits of the Unemployment Insurance scheme should be subject to the proof of need. I shall return to this question when I come to discuss the new Regulations in detail. I should like to know how those who so glibly advocate the abolition of a test of need would justify to the ordinary citizen, who has every sympathy with the unemployed and every desire to see that they do not suffer hardship, the payment of money which is not needed. It is easy enough to excite the prejudice of those who are subject to the worry and anxiety of unemployment by such phrases as the "cruel means test" and to offer them false encouragement by specious promises of its abolition. It will be interesting to hear what the right hon. Gentleman who is to follow me has to say about it, because he knows that he and I sat together on a committee in 1930 on this matter.
On a point of Order. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that he sat on a Committee. What was the purpose of telling us that he sat on a Committee unless there was something agreed to at the Committee? Will he now as a man say why he mentioned the Committee?
My object was a very simple one. I said that I should be very interested to hear what the right hon. Gentleman opposite had to say about the abolition of the test of need. Upon what principle would an unemployed worker who has no contractual rights to benefit, and is in need of help, receive it? Would he receive it on the same terms, and of the same amounts, as those entitled to benefit? If so, how long would the contributory scheme survive? Why should a man pay for something that his neighbour gets for nothing? If the contributory scheme disappeared, it would surely be replaced by a general needs test and a general means test. There would be no alternative, and everybody knows it. [Interruption.]
On a point of Order. The right hon. Gentleman is now addressing himself to the principles that underlie Part II of the Act of 1934, in pursuance of which these Regulations have been brought before the House. Would it be competent during the Debate to traverse the whole of that principle?
When interrupted I was saying that if assistance is not to be given at flat rates, on the same terms as contractual benefit, what principle other than need is there upon which a scheme of assistance can be based?
Those who use that expression "common decency" differ greatly, as is shown by Amendments which have been put on the Paper by hon. Members above and below the Gangway. They differ very greatly indeed. Hon. Members opposite have been very silent in the past year about the many cases of which they know, where the present flexible scheme of assistance according to need has been able to meet needs in a way not within the power of a necessarily limited rate of insurance benefit. It may be said that there is no objection to a needs test and that what is objectionable is a means test. But how can we find out what an unemployed man and his dependants need without first finding out what means he has towards meeting those needs? Some hon. Members on the one hand have said that we should content ourselves with finding out what the applicant himself has and not be concerned with the wages of the sons and daughters who are living with him. But that is what I venture to call an easy evasion, and in the Debate on 22nd June I put some questions to hon. Members who hold that view. I had put them before. They were not rhetorical questions; they went to the root of the practical issues; and so far I have received no coherent answer.
The truth is that social justice is the need of all citizens and not only of those who are unemployed. If the relief of the unemployed is to be a charge upon the National Exchequer, it is only common justice to all who pay their taxes, including the ordinary working man, to see to it that the proceeds of their industry are not wantonly and needlessly frittered away. [Interruption.] That the nation is aware of this was made quite clear in the elections of 1931 and 1935. [Interruption.]
Just now I was asked a question by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) on a point of Order. He asked whether all sorts of questions could be debated on this occasion. When I said that they could I meant that those who were expressing their views must be allowed to express them without interruption.
I have heard it said that the Board which was set up by Parliament to administer the Unemployment Assistance scheme is a bureaucratic machine upon whose actions Parliament can make no effective comment and exercise no effective control. That is obviously not the case. Not only has Parliament decided that the general standard of assistance shall be embodied in Regulations such as are being discussed to-day, which must have the specific approval of both Houses before they come into operation, but the Board's estimates have to be presented to Parliament by the Minister of Labour, and the occasion offers an opportunity for at least an annual review of the Board's general administration, the discussion of difficulties and the removal of misunderstandings. We know by experience, the Parliamentary Secretary and I, that there are many other opportunities, of which full advantage has been taken in the past and will, I am sure, be taken in the future, for bringing the Board's doings under review.
The fact is that we are experimenting in many regions of government with a new technique—that of the statutory authority or board. The late Mr. William Graham used to be very eloquent on the subject of the new technique when he stood at this Box some years ago. I will say only this about it. Technique has its own special difficulties and problems, both for the statutory body on the one hand and for the Minister who has to answer in the House on the other hand. But our history shows that with good will we have a genius for solving such problems. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who is he?"] The nation has a genius for solving such problems, and in any case the problem of relieving the able-bodied unemployed who have run out of contractual benefit will not be solved merely by adopting the slogan, "Away with the Board!"
Hon. Members will remember that the first draft Regulations came into effect on 7th January, 1935, which was the first appointed day under the Act. On that day the Board began the task of taking over rather more than 700,000 persons who were at the time in the class of persons entitled to receive transitional payments. The transfer took place at the rate of about 100,000 cases a week. That was a formidable undertaking. At the end of the third week it became obvious that the scheme was not working out as had been anticipated, and on 15th February what is known as the standstill arrangement was brought into operation by the passage into law of the Act of 1935. That Act also cancelled the second appointed day which had been fixed as 1st March, 1935, when the Board were due to take over the rest of the persons who were eligible for assistance. These persons, in so far as they needed relief, remained chargeable to the public assistance authorities, who were compensated by subsequent legislation for the delay in relieving them of this burden.
Let me remind the House of the purpose and the nature of the standstill arrangement. Its purpose was to give the Board and Minister an opportunity of discovering the reasons why the Regulations were in fact not producing the results which had been anticipated. In a large number of cases the Regulations were found to be causing reductions in the payments which had previously been made by way of transitional payments—in some cases substantial reductions—although there were also many cases in which the allowances paid under the Regulations exceeded those which had been paid before. In bringing forward the standstill proposals the Government accordingly decided that those who were benefiting by higher payments under the Regulations should continue to receive that advantage so long, of course, as their circumstances remained unchanged, and that the rest should receive not less than they would have received by way of transitional payments if that scheme had continued in operation. All who have gone and received payments under the administration of the Board since have received a form showing both what they were entitled to receive under the Regulations and under the transitional payments scheme, and they have received the sum which was the greater of the two in each particular case.
In cases of change of circumstances there was naturally a review, as hon. Members would expect. This was effected by adding, where necessary, a supplementary allowance to bring the total payment up to what would have been paid by way of transitional payments. It is important to note that the Regulations were not withdrawn and that at the present time 41 per cent. of the applicants for assistance are being paid under the original Regulations. That is a very remarkable fact, and seeing that this has been done with little outward complaint—[Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite have done their best to get up an agitation in the country, but they have failed because the view taken by the Board's applicants is not the same view as is expressed by hon. Members for party purposes in this House or outside.
As the House knows, since I became Minister of Labour I have been engaged in collaboration with the Unemployment Assistance Board in a close examination of the whole position resulting from the original Regulations and the standstill arrangement. I am quite aware that by some people we may seem to have been over-long in reaching our conclusions, but I am quite sure that many hon. Members will agree that it is not a question upon which one could or should take a hasty decision. It is a sound military maxim that time spent in accurate reconnaissance is seldom wasted. [Interruption]. Since hon. Members do not seem to agree with the military simile or do not remember Field Service Regulations, they may realise that the same remark applies with equal truth to such difficult undertakings as the ascent of Mount Everest, and I suggest that the maxim may be applied with equal truth to big social and political questions.
Our first task was to make an analysis of all the factors in the situation. The Board had been and were daily acquiring a mass of detailed information about the constitution of households with which they were dealing, the rents those households were paying, the resources of the members and many other matters. All this information had to be collated, analysed and its essence extracted. When this stage had been completed we had to study what would be the effects of various proposals for the solution of the problems before us, and one of the first questions upon which I had to make up my mind was, whether it was possible for a centralised administration, such as that of the Board, to meet the endless variety of human circumstances by the exercise of a flexible discretion through local machinery. My examination led me quite early to the conclusion that this was a practical possibility, that the general framework of the Act of 1934 was sound.
We were able, in the examination of the problem, to reach certain broad preliminary conclusions. These conclusions were made quite plain in November last in the manifesto on which this issue was faced at the General Election, and was decided in our favour by the country as a whole. Briefly, those conclusions were that the existing structure of the Act should be maintained, that the authority of the Board should be upheld, that certain gross abuses should be removed, that this should be done gradually to avoid hardship, that we should maintain the unity of family life, and that we should make improved arrangements for the able-bodied unemployed. I propose in a few moments to show that the draft Regulations which are before the House are in complete harmony with the principles laid down in this statement of policy.
After the Election was over and the Government returned to office, I continued my examination of the problem in close association with the Board. I was not content with a mere paper examination of the problems that had to be solved in London but I took the trouble, as hon. Members know, to visit a large number of areas where the Board was operating, to see the way in which they were dealing with the cases which came before them from day to day. There are some hon. Members of the House who have never been to their local offices—[Interruption].
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) is rather edgy to-day. We know his ways and that he uses the strongest possible terms to say what he thinks about hon. Members on every possible occasion, and the House listens in silence to him—
Let me tell the House what I saw in some of the areas which convinced me that the Board's local officers were doing their work, as hon. Members opposite know, with great skill and great care for the able-bodied unemployed. Indeed the arrangements in many areas were a great improvement on anything that has happened before in the history of those who have exhausted their unemployment benefit. I go further. I doubt whether there are many hon. Members who would make a serious complaint about the cases they have brought to the notice of the Board's local officers and the way in which they have dealt with those cases. I visited various offices to see how the examinations took place. Complaints have been made about the examinations. Let me tell the House exactly how they take place. The Board's cycle is one of two months. In the bulk of the cases visitation is made once a month by the investigation officer. [An HON. MEMBER: "They go upstairs."] The officers do not go upstairs unless they are invited by the applicant concerned. There are people who have made a mass request for attention in terms of the "special circumstance" arrangements under the Board, but I repeat that the Board's officers do not go upstairs unless they are invited by the applicant concerned.
I do not pretend that every applicant has had all that he thinks he ought to have, but I do say that the atmosphere which has been produced in Debates in this House and outside is not reproduced in the homes of the unemployed. [Interruption.] I am giving the House my own personal experience of hundreds of cases and I am entitled to tell the House and the country the facts. It is a fact, and no amount of objection on the part of hon. Members opposite can do away with it, that the reason why the efforts of hon. Members opposite to promote a mass agitation against these Regulations fail is because the Board's officers have been at work in the districts for 18 months, and are known personally to the applicants, and, what is more, they think that they have been fairly treated under the law.
As a result of these examinations both in London and in the country, including every distressed area—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"]—we came to the conclusion that there were some defects in the attempt to bring the principal Act into operation through the existing Regulations. Hon. Members will find them set out in page 14 of the Board's annual report. They explain there that the rate of expenditure on allowances during the early weeks of the Board's work fell short of the estimates made when the Regulations were approved by Parliament. They may be summed up, I think, by saying that they were due to the sudden impact of a uniform system upon standards of treatment which under the transitional payments system varied widely from one area to another. Let me remind the House that under the transitional payments scheme while there were 201 public assistance authorities responsible for determining need, the money was found by the Exchequer. It is a sound principle of administration that the responsibility for the expenditure of money should not be divorced from the responsibility for raising the necessary funds.
The Government gratefully acknowledge that in spite of this difficulty the great majority of authorities carried through their onerous task in an efficient manner. But I should be lacking in candour if I did not say that there were some to whom the opportunity proved too great a temptation. The fact is that where the State's money was involved there were some authorities who were more lavish with State money than they were with their own funds. [HON. MEMBEES: "Who?"] In such districts little or no regard was paid to the underlying principles, the chief of which was that in assessing need under the scheme the authority was required to deal with each applicant as if it were an application for outdoor relief. It is perfectly clear that these authorities saw in the transitional payments scheme what they thought was too good an opportunity to be missed.
The Act of 1931, which imposed upon public assistance committees the obligation to treat applicants for assistance in the same manner as applicants for Poor Law relief, imposed a certain legal obligation on the public assistance authority. [HON. MEMBERS: "Speech!"] Let me finish my point of Order. The statement is now made by the Minister of Labour that for three or four years the Government have failed to carry out a duty imposed upon them by Statute, and we should like to know the local authorities in respect of which the Minister failed in his duty.
My point of Order is this: Is it not the duty of the Government to carry out the law which has been passed by this House, and if they fail to do so, does not a question of privilege arise?
The hon. Member's interruption is quite irrelevant. If hon. Members will take the trouble to read the reports of the Board in the 28 districts they will discover that there are vast differences in districts as to the way in which transitional payments are administered by the local authorities concerned. I was pointing out to the House that there are some local authorities which use the transitional payments scheme to treat those who came under it in a way they would not treat their own local unemployed.
And I discovered a number of things, including this: I went to a household in the constituency of the hon. Member. It consisted of three per sons, a young man and his father and mother, who were on Poor Law relief under the Glasgow Poor Law authority. The son was an applicant for Unemployment Assistance, and the investigating officer put his questions to him. "How much do you get?" "Seventeen shillings." "Have you had any work since I was here last?" "No." "Have you any other income?" "No." "Are there any other resources in the household?" "Yes, my father and mother are on public assistance." "What do they get?" "Nineteen shillings." At this I pricked up my ears, and turning to the father I said—
I will tell the hon. Member, but let me complete the story. I said, "Surely the Glasgow public assistance scale is 17s. for a man and 9s. for the wife, that is 26s.?" "Oh, yes," he said, "we used to get that. The scale was 17s., 9s. and 10s., but when the Board gave John 17s. the public assistance authority cut me 7s." Having made inquiries I found that this was not an uncommon occurrence and that the Glasgow Socialist public assistance authority, who have been sending up resolutions complaining that the relief proposed in the Regulations is inadequate, do not treat applicants so generously when they are dealing with their own money. I made inquiries and I found that this was not an uncommon practice.
Let me give one or two other cases, as hon. Members have been asking for them. Here is the case of the Monmouthshire County Council, where a single man aged 22 years of age was receiving an allowance of 17s. following the local authority's transitional payments practice. His father, mother, and their three small children received 27s. 6d. in all by way of out-relief, although the father had to pay 7s. 6d. in rent. He was also in receipt of 9s. National Health Insurance. That is another case which proves the truth of what I am saying, that they do not take the same view of the needs of unemployed men when they are paying out-relief as they do when they are using the State's money by way of transitional benefits.
That is another question. There are to be three days of Debate, and I propose to do my best to set out the whole case. I could give the House several more cases. There is the case of the Glamorganshire County Council. An applicant aged 23 years was receiving 17s. in accordance with the local authority's transitional payments practice, but the authority paid by way of out-relief 32s. 6d. to the father, mother and seven young children, the father being in receipt of 7s. 6d. National Health Insurance. The comparison between 17s. for the son of 23 years of age and 32s. 6d. for the father, mother, and three young children does not need any underlining from me. [Interruption.] I think the House will agree that I have been very tolerant. I think that in this case I am entitled to make my own statement in my own way.
The right hon. Gentleman has made a charge. He has suggested that the Glamorganshire Public Assistance Committee and the Monmouthshire Public Assistance Committee have given what, in his opinion, are inadequate allowances to a number of people. Will the right hon. Gentleman give the districts and the addresses of those persons, and say from where he had the information he has given the House?
The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) has had long experience in dealing with me in the House, and he knows perfectly well that I shall be quite prepared to do that. I have never made a statement in this House or outside which I was not prepared to back with evidence.
I would not have raised these cases if hon. Members themselves had not provoked me to do so. [Interruption.] I was studiously unprovocative in making a statement of fundamental facts about this problem. Hon. Members opposite asked for the names of the districts, and I have named them. [Interruption.]
It is quite impossible to carry on the Debate in this way. If hon. Members wish to contradict statements, they will be able to do so in the course of the Debate.
On a point of Order. We cannot contradict the statements. The right hon. Gentleman is laying before the House what he considers to be fundamental evidence of a practice followed by public assistance authorities. He is not furnishing the House with an opportunity of checking his statements, and in the circumstances the Minister will not be permitted to proceed.
We cannot carry on the Debate in this manner. Hon. Members will be able to make their speeches afterwards, but unless the Debate is conducted in an orderly manner they must not be surprised if they are interrupted.
Let me repeat that it was the impact of a uniform system—[Interruption.] No, I do not propose to allow hon. Members to forget. I have been interrupted for the last 20 minutes, but I have not forgotten what I was saying. The impact—[Interruption]—
Hon. Members will have their opportunity, as I have mine, for there are to be three days of debate. It was the sudden impact of this uniform system upon the tremendously varied practices of 201 public assistance authorities which was one of the major causes, we discovered, of difficulty in the application of the original Regulations. I do not for one moment wish to suggest that the original Regulations were without fault. Experience has shown that there were a number of defects in them which required amendment. The scale rates, though they were as a whole and remain, in our judgment, a reasonable and proper basis for the assessment of allowances, were found in one or two particulars to require adjustment if hardship was to be avoided in certain cases, particularly where there were no other resources. The provisions for the treatment of rent were found to be too rigid and inelastic to take full account of the very wide variety of circumstances affecting the rents paid by applicants for assistance. This inelasticity of the rent rule, coupled with what has been called the super-cut for large families, was found to be responsible for a large number of reductions which had not been anticipated. The rules for the treatment of earnings coming into the household were also found to require alteration. They involved the payment of relatively substantial amounts by too wide a circle of persons in the household.
These, in broad outline, were the chief defects in the existing Regulations, and I shall hope now to show the House, by a detailed exposition of the new draft Regulations, how these and other smaller defects have been remedied. First, I would ask the House to note that every single change which has been made in the new Regulations is in favour of the applicant for assistance and those who form the household in which he lives. I would also ask hon. Members, in discussing this issue, to bear in mind that the Regulations are not a mere list of scales of payment which can be treated as individual items in isolation from each other. The scale rates must be judged not only in relation to each other, but also in relation to the other provisions in the Regulations, not the least important of which are those which involve the use of discretion.
For practical purposes the substance of the Regulations is contained in the two Schedules. The first Schedule provides the scale for a normal case, with the necessary adjustment for rent, covering the needs of the applicant and of all members of the household whose needs are included with those of the applicant. The second Schedule contains the rules for the computation of resources which are regarded as available to the household, after making due allowance for personal requirements. By the first paragraph of Regulation IV, the resources calculated in accordance with the second Schedule are deducted from the scale allowance calculated by the first Schedule, and in the normal case this provides the standard allowance for that household.
If hon. Members will turn to pages 15 and 16 of the Board's explanatory Memo randum—[An HON MEMBER: "Why should we?"]—They need not, if they do not want to do so. If hon. Members will turn to pages 15 and 16 of the Board's explanatory Memorandum, they will find a table giving a comparison between the scale rates in the existing Regulations and in the new draft Regulations. From this comparison they will see that the scale rates have been improved in a number of respects, and these I will summarise. In doing so, I would point out that the effect of these changes is cumulative. They do not stand alone. The rate for a female householder is 15s. instead of 14s.; the reduction in the existing Regulations for susequent members of the household, which is 2s. in the case of a male over 21, and 1s. in the case of a female over 21, has been abolished. The rate for a member of the household who is a man over 21 years of age is now 10s., and for a woman 9s., an increase of 1s. The differentiation between the rates for males and females in the household between the ages of 18 and 21 has been abolished and the higher rate of 8s. applies to both sexes. The age group of 14–18 which appears in the existing Regulations has been divided into two, and a rate of 8s. has been fixed for the adolescents between 16 and 18. The super-cut for large families has also been abolished. These changes have not only improved but also simplified the scale, and as I have said they are all in favour of the applicant.
The House will observe that the basic rate of 24s. for a man and wife has been retained, but it has been supplemented by an important provision about which I observe there has been a certain amount of public misunderstanding. The provision in question is set out in the first proviso to Regulation IV, which hon. Members will find reproduced on page 6 of the Board's explanatory Memorandum. This provision is intended to help those who need it most. It applies to persons who are householders with one or more dependants without available resources, including, of course, the ordinary case of man and wife. Broadly, its effect is that in the normal case the industrial worker who is head of a household with one or more dependants and no available resources will receive not less than his present benefit rate. Exceptions to this will arise only where reductions are due on account of rent, or where he lives in a rural area, or where there are special circumstances in his case.
The present industrial benefit rate is 26s. for man and wife and 3s. for each dependent child. The scale rates in the draft Regulations are 24s. for man and wife and from 3s. to 4s. 6d. for dependent children according to age. Further, an allowance under the draft Regulations may cover the needs of members of the household not covered by unemployment benefit. Consequently, an applicant with a number of children or with adult dependants besides his wife will, by the ordinary working of the Regulations, receive more than his benefit rate. In such cases, of course, this new provision will not be operative. But for the case of man and wife alone, or where there are one or two small children, it may be that the Regulations without this provision would produce an allowance which might in certain cases cause hardship.
Hon. Members opposite have talked much about households with means; this is a provision, to help those without means. The provision would apply even where there are resources, provided such resources are not available within the meaning of the Regulations. By that I mean that the Regulations would still apply if the applicant were in receipt of a disability pension of 20s. per week, or if he had an adult son earning up to 20s. a week, which is laid aside for him as his personal requirements minimum under the earnings rule. As the application of the provision depends upon there being no available resources within the meaning of the Regulations, it is obviously impossible to give any reliable estimate of its total effects. But taking the ordinary case of man and wife alone, with no children and no available resources, the number of such applicants whose scale rates will be increased to 26s. under the provision must be not less than about 75,000. The total number of "no resources" cases affected by this arrangement cannot be less than 150,000. This provision is governed by the present benefit rates in the case of the industrial worker and the benefit rates payable on 5th November in the case of the agricultural worker. The agricultural worker is guaranteed his full "whack" of the agricultural rate, as the industrial worker is guaranteed his share of the industrial rate.
Let me turn to the subject of rent. As the Board point out in their Memorandum, the charges for rent in cases of households of the same size and composition vary so widely, not only from one area to another but between houses within the same area, that no system of allowances would be satisfactory or indeed equitable if it did not take into account the variations in this primary factor. Hon. Members will remember that the rule for the treatment of rent in the original Regulations fixed a basic rent which was related to the size and composition of the household and broadly provided for an increase in the total scale rates if the rent actually paid exceeded this basic figure or a reduction in the total scale rates if the actual rent fell below the basic rate. Thus, the arrangement in the original Regulations was in fact a uniform allowance for the items of household expenditure which do not vary very much from area to area, together with an allowance for the rent actually paid. This is an important principle and hon. Members will see that it is preserved in the draft Regulations with one important and far-reaching alteration in its practical application. That alteration is the replacement of the rigid formula of the former rent rule by a more flexible arrangement which permits discretionary adjustments in the allowances to be made on account of the actual rent paid, by way of increase or reduction, in relation to a basic rent fixed as a quarter of the total scale rates for the whole household. So, instead of the complicated system in the original Regulations we begin with the application to the total scale rates of the household of a simple fraction of one-quarter. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is the difference?"] There will be a great difference in application, as I hope to show.
The provision itself is set out in sub-paragraph 2 of paragraph 1 of the First Schedule, and I draw the attention of the House to one or two important features of this new Regulation. In the first place, the local advisory committees which the Board are establishing under the provisions of the Act of 1934 are to play a very important part in the application of the rule. It will be for each advisory committee to consider the facts relating to the rents actually paid in its area and to make a recommendation as to how the rent rule should be applied in the light of those facts either in the whole area or to any class or classes of cases that arise in the area or any portion of the area. [HON. MEMBERS: "What kind of cases?"] If hon. Members have patience I will try to make the explanation as clear as possible. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not so fast."] It is a complicated matter and I am doing my best to make it clear so that when hon. Members are able to read the statement quietly to-morrow they may see exactly what is meant by these new provisions. I am obliged to the hon. Member for reminding me of my natural gift or natural fault, whichever it is, and I had already taken the precaution of marking in red pencil on my notes the word "slow."
Let me show how these recommendations will work out. The local advisory committee's recommendation must be taken into account, not only by the officer of the Board who has the duty of making the necessary discretionary adjustments, but also by the appeal tribunals who may have to adjudicate in the matter. The powers, of the committee with regard to recommendations are not in any way limited but their attention is particularly called by the terms of the Regulations to the problem of reductions for low rents.
The hon. Member will find that they will not act as a smokescreen and I think that Members on the whole, whatever their views may be, will welcome, in the end, the setting up of these committees. An indication is given to the committees of three methods which they may adopt, but those methods do not necessarily exhaust the adjustments which may be made. They may recommend, if the net rent is less than a quarter of the basic scale, that the whole of the difference or any portion of the difference between the quarter and the net rent should be disregarded. Hon. Members will find in the Board's Memorandum a note as to what they would regard as reasonable. In many areas, particularly in England and Wales, this will probably prove to be the most practicable method which committees, will adopt, but there are areas, notably in Scotland and also in the North of England, where the general level of rents is low and where on that account the fraction of one-quarter may not appear to be appropriate. In such an area, the local advisory committee may recommend to the Board that a fraction of one-fifth or one-sixth should be substituted for one-fourth and that reduction should be made only where the net rent is less than that substituted fraction. In addition, they may desire to recommend in certain cases not only that a lower fraction than a quarter should be substituted but that a certain part of the difference between the net rent and the substituted fraction should also be disregarded. This again will help certain cases of low scales below 32s.
The hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. S. O. Davies) asked for illustrations. I give first the case of a typical household consisting of a man, wife and children whose scale rates are 40s. for which the basic rent at one-fourth would be 10s. In London that household may be found to be paying 15s. Unless such a rent is, in all the circumstances, unreasonable the scale allowance in that case will be 45s., an increase of 5s. because of the higher rent. In a town in the Midlands the rent may be 9s. Nominally a reduction of 1s. from 40s. would be due, but the committee might well in that case recommend that reductions of that amount on account of rent differences should not be made. In that case they would maintain the appropriateness of the normal rent of a quarter, but disregard the difference between the net rent and that quarter.
I now come to a typical case in Scotland where the net rent is 4s. 6d. That rent is to be found in Scotland in many cases. The committee in Scotland, where they found a level of rent of 4s. 6d. in a large number of houses, might come to the conclusion that in the area concerned the proportion of one-sixth might be substituted for one-fourth. The basic rent would, therefore, become one-sixth of 40s. or 6s. 8d. instead of 10s. The actual rent is 4s. 6d. The committee might recommend that 2s. only in such cases should be deducted from the normal scale allowance of 40s. As I said earlier in special classes of cases, for example a small family on a small scale of 24s., 30s. or 32s., they might recommend that in addition to substituting one-sixth for one-fourth, some part of any difference, say 1s., should be disregarded. The recommendations of the advisory committee must be made with regard to local conditions and I cannot conceive that the Board's officers or the Board itself would not take a reasonable view of such recommendations. These provisions have been drawn with a view to meeting the infinite variety of rent cases to be found up and down the country and I believe will be found in practice to give a real solution of the most difficult of all our problems, namely, the problem of rent.
Is not the officer of the Board the authority to decide how much will be given in these cases of rent? Is it not the case that all the advisory committees can do is to give advice and make recommendations? If the Minister does not make clear where the authority rests, he is going to raise difficulties for his own committees.
I made it clear in the earlier part of the statement and my statement has been drafted in a very careful manner, because it is not easy to make an explanation of this kind unless we get the details fitted properly into the general framework of the scheme. The last authority here is the officer of the Board and the duty of the advisory committees is to advise, but I repeat that I cannot conceive a case in which a reasonable recommendation by an advisory committee would be neglected by the officer of the Board. I now turn to paragraph (2) of the First Schedule. This refers to the allowance for persons living alone, either in lodgings or as boarders. The existing Regulations distinguish in the basic allowance for these applicants, between men and women and between persons over 18 and persons under 18. It was found in practice that the attempt to be as specific as that about the allowance for persons of this kind was not satisfactory. Unemployed people living alone in lodgings or as boarders with strangers are not all of one class. There are elderly men, perhaps widowers living with their own furniture in rooms for which they pay rent; there are women engaged in clerical and other employment in cities who have to pay relatively high rent or high rates for board and lodging for the sake of decent accommodation; there are men who have come away from home in search of work and have had to make the best bargain they could for board and lodging. On the other hand, there are persons living in common lodging-houses and even in caravans and tents.
What the Board propose is that the Regulations should contain, merely as a guide, a basic figure of 15s., which is subject to adjustment to meet the circumstances of particular cases. That means a discretionary allowance round a basic figure of 15s., and, being a discretionary allowance, it will be open to an applicant to go to the appeal tribunal if he feels that the adjustment has not met the circumstances of his case. There are numbers of cases of these classes now on the Board receiving more than 15s. and even more than 17s., and I think the general effect of the new provision will be to introduce a wider range of discretion for payments to these classes and that is all to the good.
I turn now to the Second Schedule. This Schedule is in two parts. The first provides the rules for the computation of available resources and the second the amounts to be allowed for personal requirements both terms being those of the Act. Let me first deal with the point which perhaps interests hon. Members more than anything else in the whole of these Regulations, namely, the treatment of earnings. As to that, great alterations have been made in two ways: first of all, in the treatment of the household circle itself by way of regard for personal requirements and secondly in the actual allowances for personal requirements made to other members of the household. Let me now see how these matters have been dealt with. For the purpose of applying the rules for the treatment of earnings, members of a household are divided into four categories—first, the applicant himself or herself; second, the applicant's wife, husband, father, or mother; third, the applicant's son, daughter, brother, or sister who have no dependants in the household; and, fourth, all other members of the household. I think it will be for the convenience of the House if I take each of these categories separately and show by one or two examples how the rules which apply to them work out in practice.
First, let us take the applicant himself. He will get a personal allowance of the first 3s. of his casual earnings or, subject to a maximum of 8s., one-half of the earnings, whichever is the greater. The effect of this rule will be that small earnings up to 3s. will be entirely ignored, and the applicant may obtain progressive advantage from any earnings up to 16s. in amount.
I will deal with that point in a moment. Let us take the earnings of an applicant's wife, husband, father or mother. The allowance for personal requirements is the same as for the applicant, but in addition the wage-earner will retain the amount of the scale rate for himself and his dependants. Let us take as an illustration the case of an applicant whose father is in work and has a wife and two children aged 14 and 12 dependent upon him. The total of the scale rates for these four people would be 34s. 6d. In such a case the father would retain for his own personal requirements and for his dependants the whole of any net earnings not exceeding 42s. 6d., that is to say, 34s. 6d. scale rate, plus 8s. It is only if his earnings exceed that amount that anything would be set off against the needs of the son. Now let us take the earnings of the applicant's son, daughter, brother or sister, with no dependants. This group is divided into what I may call four subgroups, and I hope the House will give some attention to this, because it is very difficult and complicated, and I have done my best to set it out as clearly as possible.
There are four sub-groups in this group, and the first is—[Interruption.] I am not accustomed to give up until I have done the job I have, set out to do, and I do not intend to be put off my job by interruptions. Many of the people who talk so loudly have never applied their minds to the real issues concerned. The first sub-group is where the person concerned is under the age of 18. In such a case the allowance for personal requirements, including maintenance, is the whole of any earnings up to 12s. and one-half the excess over 12s. Thus, for earnings of 15s. the amount allowed for personal requirements would be 13s. 6d., for earnings of 20s. the allowance would be 16s., and so on.
The next sub-group deals with persons aged 18 and over, and in their case the allowance for personal requirements and maintenance is the whole of any earnings up to 20s. or the first 16s. and one-half of any earnings in excess of 16s., whichever is the greater. Thus, where the earnings are 24s. the amount allowed for personal requirements is 20s., for earnings of 26s. the allowance is 21s., for earnings of 40s. the allowance is 28s., for earnings of 50s. the allowance is 33s., and so on, the remainder in each instance being reckoned as a contribution to the household.
The next sub-group, which is in practice an, extension of the second sub-group to which I have just referred, deals with the case where the earner is the householder, and provides that in such a case an additional 5s. is to be allowed for personal requirements. The reason for this is that the basic allowances of 12s., 16s., or 20s. which I have mentioned already are intended to include the earner's scale rate for maintenance. The householder's scale rate is higher than the scale rates for other members of the household, and it is in view of this that an additional allowance of 5s. has been made.
Now let me take the last sub-group, where the earner is dependent on or ordinarily supported by the applicant and is included in the scale allowance. In that case the amount allowed for personal requirements is one-third of the earnings. The rule is intended to cater for the young wage-earner who is ordinarily supported by his father, for example, a boy of 15 whose net earnings may be 5s. a week. In such a case the father's scale allowance is increased by 6s. in respect of the boy, that is to say, by the amount of the appropriate scale rate for the boy, and the boy is allowed one-third of his earnings for his personal requirements, the remaining two-thirds of his earnings being brought into account against the additional scale allowance of 6s.
Let me come now to the last main category. In this group are included all those persons who are more distantly related than the wife, husband, father, mother, son, daughter, brother, or sister of the applicant, as well as those members of the household who are sons, daughters, brothers, or sisters, and have other persons in the household dependent on or ordinarily supported by them, for example, married sons and daughters. No specified proportion of the earnings is laid down for personal requirements, but the Regulations make it clear that the allowance must be higher than the amount that will be allowed under the rules applied to the group with which I have just been dealing, namely, the circle of direct relationship who have no one in the household dependent upon them. It is in the treatment of this last group of earners that one of the most important departures from the existing Regulations has been made. Generally speaking, the result of the new rule will be that those other members of the household, unless their earnings are high in relation to their own direct responsibilities, will be regarded as contributing no more to the household than they could reasonably be expected to pay if they were boarders, and the Board point out that this would, for example, be the position in the case of a married son with a wife and one child earning up to 80s. a week, and in, the case of a single man earning up to 40s. or 50s., according to circumstances.
I think the House will find that there are two other points of interest. The first is that these earnings are not like the wages of some public authorities, gross earnings, but net earnings, earnings after deductions have been made. It is a small point but, I think hon. Members will agree, not unimportant. Further, this provision departs in form from the existing Regulations in that any reasonable expenses necessarily incurred by the wage-earner in connection with his employment are also deducted before the net earnings are arrived at. The married son and daughter in the household are to be treated reasonably, as if they were boarders. [An HON. MEMBER: "What does that mean?"] The hon. Member asks what it means, but he knows that the choice, if you are going to have a uniform system, is this: You may attempt to meet a whole series of varied circumstances by putting a specific figure into your Regulations, and you may fail to meet the variety of circumstances. The only other alternative is to do what we have done, namely, to give the Board discretion, and in applying that discretion they state in their own Memorandum what they would regard as reasonable, and they say that what is the custom in the particular locality will be the standard of reasonableness in the normal case.
With all due respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I wanted to ask a question bearing on what he has been dealing with. I wanted him to explain something, and it was nothing irrelevant. May I ask my question now, and will the right hon. Gentleman answer?
I want to ask this particular point, the Minister having dealt with the various stages, in regard to a question which I put during the week. I want to know, in regard to the question of father and mother, where the income to the father will be 46s. because he works and two adult sons are not working, one 30 and the other 35, I want to know if 3s. each for the sons is the scale that will be allowed to them?
The hon. Member knows quite well that he has no need to put that question to me, for he addressed me a letter, and I sent him a courteous and full explanation on the point. He knows the answer, and, therefore, there was no need whatever for him to persist in interrupting me. As I was saying, there are two little points which are not important with regard to the finance of the scheme, but which are important with regard to the working of it. The first is with regard to the arrangement for personal requirements of the wage-earning members of the household and an adjustment in special circumstances. Hon. Members will find it described in paragraph 39 of the Board's explanatory Memorandum. I call it "dignity money." I call it that because it was so put to me by an unemployed man in one of my visitations. It is a question of dealing with cases of continuous and complete dependence of an elderly man upon the earnings of his children. It is not possible to lay down precise rules which will cover every case, but I am satisfied that under the provisions to which I have referred the Board can and will deal sympathetically with cases of that kind. Members opposite have often put the point to me about how an old man has to ask his children for 6d. for a packet of cigarettes. It is that kind of thing that was in the mind of the unemployed man whom I quoted. The other small point is that in future no deduction for school meals will be made in reckoning allowances.
I will leave subsequent speakers to deal with the question of adjustment for rural areas in order to say a word or two about the transitional period. It is intended to adjust the old system to the new gradually over 18 months, and this power will be exercised in the light of the advice given by the advisory committees in such a manner as progressively to bring the assessments of the applicants' needs into conformity with the assessments under the general standard of the Regulations. In this process it is the intention that applicants in similar circumstances in the same area shall be treated broadly on equal terms. It is useless to minimise the difficulties presented by the situation under the stand-still arrangement.
In my judgment, the differences between the standstill allowances and the new Regulation allowances can be placed in three broad classes. Firstly, there are the differences which are very small in amount. I do not think I can do better than refer to the words of the Board's Memorandum, that no reduction from a standstill allowance in the case of an applicant for an allowance will be made for a considerabe time so long as the household circumstances remain unchanged if the excess of the standstill rate is small. The second class of excess is excess which cannot be described as small but is not grossly excessive. This class will have to be looked at by the Advisory Committees and their advice will be sought. The third class of case consists of a number of grossly excessive allowances. For instance, if an applicant is receiving a sum obviously in excess of his needs to the extent of 10s. or more we do not intend the practice to continue. As has already been stated, action is to be taken, to begin with, to tackle these grossly excessive allowances and the cases of single persons under 25.
May I say a word about the cost of the new proposals? The results of the draft Regulations fall into two broad categories, namely, those about which it is possible to give something approaching an accurate forecast, and those about which there is an element of discretion, in the application of which the local advisory committees are to play such an important part. Because of that and the time factor introduced by the transitional period of 18 months, it is impossible to say anything precise about the latter class. It is clear from what I have said about the improvements which have been embodied in the draft Regulations that they will produce increases in the payments made in a large number of cases. Those increases will be made as rapidly as the current determinations can be reviewed in the four or five weeks immediately after 16th November. Our experience of the changes which take place in the Board's register over short periods of time enables us to predict with some accuracy, upon the basis of cases now on the Board's books, that the increases are not likely to be less than 200,000, that is to say, about one-third of the total number of applicants now being paid. This will mean, of course, that many thousands will come straight on to the scales of the new Regulations, because the increases will make the Board's allowances higher than transitional payments.
There is another class of case in the first category about which it is not possible to be so precise. The Board make it clear that they propose to ask the advisory committees to deal in the first four or five months with the cases of grossly excessive payments and those cases of young single applicants under 25 where reductions are required. At the present time the number of these cases is under 60,000.
The guiding figure for those in lodgings or as boarders is 15s., and the issue will be as to how much above that they are now getting, and whether, subject to special circumstances, action should be taken at once. There are cases of single persons living at home where the former figure was 10s. and where, under transitional payments, 17s. is being paid. In some cases there are four or five such persons in a household. In order to avoid hardship there is to be a transitional period of 18 months. It is difficult to say precisely what changes will take place in the numbers and circumstances of the Board's applicants and their households in so long a period. For instance who can say how many of them will have got steady work during that time? [Laughter.] I would remind the House that since the Board took over 18 months ago they are paying 100,000 fewer applications than when they started.
No, these are persons who have gone into steady work, and I have every reason to point out to the House that, judging from the figures received month by month, we may confidently expect that process to continue. Moreover, the element of discretion and flexibility enters so much into the calculations that it is impossible to form any accurate judgment of how that element will operate over a long period of time and a continually changing series of circumstances.
For these reasons it is not practicable to make a forecast with any accuracy of what will be the position at the end of the transitional period. One may frame a provisional and approximate estimate, and the Board has done that and set it out on the last page of their explanatory memorandum. It is that, having made the assumptions I have mentioned, the annual expenditure under the new Regulations, exclusive of the cost of administration, will exceed the amount now being paid, including the supplementary allowances paid under the standstill, by about £750,000. [Interruption.] Let me point out that the present expenditure of £38,000,000 relates to about 620,000 weekly payments. On page 11 of my Memorandum the House will find some figures at the bottom of the page showing how the average weekly payment has steadily increased since the end of 1931. It is instructive to apply those figures to the total of 620,000 weekly payments and work out the corresponding annual rate of expenditure. Between 12th November, 1931, and 31st March, 1932, that expenditure would have been at the rate of over £30,500,000 a year. The figure rises steadily until on 30th June, 1934, it would have been at the rate of nearly £32,000,000. Then came the restoration of the benefit cuts and the figure rises to over £34,500,000. Since that date it has been steadily growing until we come to the present figure of £38,000,000.
These are illuminating figures, and my purpose in bringing them before the House is to show that we are proposing to add something like £750,000 a year to an annual expenditure which for the same number of weekly payments has risen by no less than £7,500,000 in about 4½ years. That fact is a complete refutation of the charge, should anyone be tempted to make it, that we are cheese-paring at the expense of the unemployed. So far as the additional cost after the second appointed day on 1st April, 1937, is concerned, it is not possible to give any estimate, but that it will be substantial there can be no doubt. Whatever it may be, it will be paid willingly as the price of taking all the able-bodied who normally work for wages from public assistance. If anyone had prophesied this great change five years ago, he would have been ridiculed. [Interruption.] Whatever demonstration hon. Members may make here or elsewhere, if, as we hope, this is successful, there is no body of Members in the House who will be more glad to see this matter settled on a sound foundation than hon. Members opposite. I am well founded in that statement because of the terms of the Amendment which they have put down. As far as we are concerned, in all our labours we have specially had regard to the needs of elderly persons, married persons with families, the young earners, and the householders without means.
After my series of visits to the homes of the unemployed I have been reminded of the saying of the old countryman—"There is nothing so queer as folks, except other folks." When I looked at the Amendment on the Order Paper, I thought—"There is nothing so queer as politicians, except other politicians." [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am glad that hon. Members agree, because the terms of their Amendment must have puzzled many supporters of the party opposite outside the House. We were promised a hurricane; there is hardly a fresh sailing breeze in the Amendment. It is restrained and vague. There is no basis for a grand agitation in the terms of the Amendment. There is no sound of a trumpet. We are not even told that the Labour party will abolish the means test. Their newspapers say so, the back-benchers are strident on the topic—
The Front Bench did not say so at the last General Election. The Front Bench drafted the Labour Manifesto at the last Election, which promised to abolish the humiliating means test imposed by the National Government, which is a very different thing. [HON. MEMBERS: "Quibble."] If they do they will then have to answer the question as to what rules they themselves propose [HON. MEMBERS: "Work."] We heard about work before, but we did not see it when they were sitting on these benches On the contrary, we saw an enormous increase in the unemployed. To talk about work is an evasion of the issue. The real issue is whether they will or will not abolish the test of need, and, if not, where they propose to draw the line. Will they draw the line when the resources of the household amount to £4 a week, or £6, or £8, or £10, or £12, or, as in cases on record £14 a week? [HON. MEMBERS: "Or £15?"] No, Sir, they have not made themselves clear upon it, and I think the House will come to the conclusion that while they have temporarily abolished the means test from their political vocabulary they have left themselves a loophole in the Amendment on the Paper Many hard things have been said about me in the last few months, and I have no doubt that many more hard things will be said in the subsequent Debate, but nevertheless I have had one great advantage over right hon. and other Members opposite in the last 12 months, and I have it now.
I have two advantages instead of one. After all, the voice is the most personal thing about any man. [Interruption.] We have got on quite happily as far as I am concerned. One advantage I have had is that at any time in the last 12 months I could have sat down and written out at length a list of the adjectives which hon. Members opposite are going to apply to me. It would not have mattered what Regulations I had brought, the adjectives would have been exactly the same, [Interruption.] Hon. Members have been very good to me, and I will conclude in two or three sentences. I want to say a personal thing. I want to pay a tribute to the secretary and officials of the Board, and to that wise counsellor the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, Sir Thomas Phillips, and the staff there—[Interruption]—because the consideration of this problem, in addition to the enormous number of other problems which the Ministry have to face has put a strain upon them.
The other two things I intend to say are these. The firmness of the Regulations is in the scales and their accompanying arrangements. The flexibility is in the wide discretion given to the Board and its officers. Since in these Regulations the House of Commons has been asked to give the Unemployment Assistance Board these powers of discretion—the greater the flexibility the greater the discretion—the House is entitled to give the Board its support. I know that it is the intention of the Board to use that discretion to the full. The other thing is this, that since Parliament has put upon the shoulders of the Unemployment Assistance Board this great task under Part II of the Act, then, when Parliament votes, as I am sure Parliament will, to pass these Regulations and this Draft Order, the Board is entitled to ask for Parliament's loyal support and to know that, having put our hands to the plough, we shall not look back.
I beg to move, in line 5, to leave out "be approved," and to add instead thereof:
will, besides reducing in many cases the present insufficient allowances, be altogether inadequate to ensure the maintenance of unemployed persons and their dependants in health and physical efficiency, and will unjustly penalise other persons who happen to reside with them.
Apart from the last few minutes of the right hon. Gentleman's speech I have heard the Minister of Agriculture introduce a pig marketing scheme with far more human feeling. I remember the right hon. Gentleman's passion for the downcast unemployed when he sat on this side of the House, but, alas, the weight of responsibility seems to have dried up those wells of human sympathy which bubbled up in this House time and time again when he sat on this side. He takes exception to the terms of the Amendment. What a trivial contribution to a Debate of this kind. He knows perfectly well that under the Rules of the House
we could not express there what we mean to say in speech. It is perfectly absurd for him to pretend that we can even mention the means test in the Amendment. Had we done so we should never have got it past the Clerk at the Table. The right hon. Gentleman tries to bolster up his scheme by saying there is no real opposition to his new Regulations on these benches, because, like good constitutionalists, we have conformed to the Rules of the House in framing the Amendment. I say that by way of preface. There is one further thing I should like to say. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman should have made reference to large districts in this country, accusing them, in effect, of misusing public money for their own advantage, citing individual cases, but not saying precisely from what places those cases came. This is a matter of some importance. It may prove to be of some importance to hon. Members opposite. We may find that those cases come from Tory-ridden areas. Members from Durham know well that the practice there, under the Commissioner, has been that if a shilling more went into the home out of one pocket a shilling less went in through the Poor Law. The right hon. Gentleman has made his charges against local authorities where they are helpless victims of a system which they are having to administer.
The right hon. Gentleman devoted a good deal of his speech to putting certain questions to me. It is not for me to answer impertinent questions of that kind. It is an old dodge. It has always been the dodge of a Government finding themselves in difficulties to say to their opponents, "What would you do?" I have heard that question ever since I came into the House. All those questions are purely rhetorical, and intended by the right hon. Gentleman to cover up the bankruptcy of his own case. He felt it necessary to say something about the history of this problem. I propose to tell the House a little more about its history. Apart from the pre-war unemployment legislation our present legislation rests on the Act of 1920. That Act never worked. No Unemployment Insurance Act ever put on the Statute Book of this country has worked. We have never been able to apply the principle of insurance to unemployment since the scheme was established.
When the depression of 1921 increased unemployment substantially, Government after Government, of all parties, had to make provision for extended periods of payment to people who had forfeited the right to standard benefit. We called it by different names—uncovenanted benefit, extended benefit, transitional payment—but whatever it was called it was a realisation of a very important fact, the fact of long periods of unemployment which an insurance scheme could not cover. No distinction in principle was made between the recipients of standard benefit and the recipients of added payments. There was no attempt to push the unemployed on to the Poor Law. Government after Government declared that they desired to keep the unemployed away from the Poor Law, and that was why they erected the bridge between Unemployment Insurance and the Poor Law system which was called uncovenanted benefit, extended benefit and the rest. People on all sides of the House wanted to avoid that contact between the unemployed and the Poor Law, because of the principles upon which the Poor Law is based.
In 1931, when the first National Government took office, they made a fundamental change in the treatment of a section of the unemployed. We got what the Labour movement of this country had always fought against, differentiation of treatment based on the mere accident of length of unemployment. What was worse than that, infinitely worse, was that, for the first time since we had had a national scheme for dealing with unemployed persons, those people were forced into contact with the Poor Law authorities. That was done in 1931, with the knowledge that the Poor Law system was punitive, repressive and deterrent in its character. That is the root of our objection to the policy of 1931 and to the Acts from 1931 to 1934, and also of our objection to the Regulations which are being made.
It will be within the recollection of many hon. Members that in 1934 we opposed the Unemployment Bill which was introduced by the Government. I want to remind hon. Members, because this has some bearing on the Regulations to-day, of the grounds on which we opposed that Measure. We opposed Part I because it reverted to the principle of insurance, which had never worked. The Government attempted to put the maintenance of the unemployed within the scheme on an insurance basis. They were concerned with one thing, and one thing only; not with the lot of the unemployed, but with the solvency of the fund. The solvency of the fund was put in front of any consideration; the needs of the unemployed were disregarded. The fund had to be made to balance at whatever cost. We objected to that. We see how this fund is being used. When last year there proved to be a balance, did that balance go to the advantage of the unemployed? It was frittered away in halfpenny reductions of contributions. We objected to Part II of the Measure because it sought to make permanent the Poor Law inquisition which was established for the first time in 1931. We objected to it because it sought to render permanent the differentiation between various sections of the unemployed, irrespective of their needs, but based upon something which is quite foreign to any kind of reasonable treatment, on the principle that the longer you are out of work the worse you have to be treated. We objected to it, and so did hon. Members below the Gangway, because it removed the power of effective constructive effort from the Floor of this House to the Unemployment Assistance Board. The Government had the fantastic notion that they could take unemployment out of politics. You might as well ask hon. Members on this side to take poverty out of politics.
The Government established the Unemployment Assistance Board to provide a whipping-boy for themselves, a buffer State to protect them from the strength of feeling among the unemployed. They produced their Regulations. There never was anything more humiliating in this House than what happened at the end of 1934 and the beginning of 1935. It was not that the Government had not been warned. They had been warned from all sides of the House, but they did not listen. Those Regulations were destroyed, not by a vote in this House but by a storm which broke over the Government, and against which the Government could not stand. It was a storm which was not created by us. In his speech the right hon. Gentleman spoke of our trying to get up an agitation in this country. The notion is fantastic. That storm was a spontaneous protest, which came from those benches as well as from these, which came also from Ministers of religion, from social workers and from people outside politics, who felt that the Regulations were shameful.
The Government had to come to the House in sackcloth and ashes and say that they were very sorry, and that they would try again. It broke one Minister of Labour. The present Minister has survived a long time because he has kept inside his cubby-hole. This is his first real public appearance. The Government have been trying again for 18 months to make minor concessions which anybody could have made in 18 days, or indeed in 18 minutes. Eighteen months is a long enough period for a revolution; three times as long as it took Signor Mussolini to found a new Roman Empire. We got a concession. The Regulations were promised in the spring. We get them after midsummer.
What has been happening all this time? The right hon. Gentleman used a phrase twice about being engaged in close collaboration with the Unemployment Assistance Board. Who gave him that power? Now that the right hon. Gentleman's lips are unsealed, he might tell us what has been happening in the last 18 months. The intention of Parliament was perfectly clear; it was, to arrange a great, supreme, almost heavenly Board, far removed from the turmoil of politics; which was to sit and consider, without let or hindrance, Regulations to be submitted to the right hon. Gentleman, who was expected to transmit them to the House with his observations upon them. I suspect, in fact I am certain now, from what the right hon. Gentleman has said, that there have been comings and goings between the Unemployment Assistance Board and the Ministry of Labour, with the somewhat sinister figure of the Chancellor of the Exchequer looming in the background. I would like to know, and I think the House would like to know, what this illicit intercourse with the Unemployment Assistance Board has been. Has the Minister of Labour been gingering up the Board or has the Board been gingering up the Minister of Labour; or has the Chancellor of the Exchequer been restraining any atoms of generosity that either the right hon. Gentleman or the Board might have shown? We want to know.
What is clear now is that this independent Unemployment Assistance Board is a figment of the imagination. It is now a sub-department of the Ministry of Labour, housed in a separate building, it is true, but in effect under the influence—the baleful influence—of the Minister of Labour. I am not blaming the Unemployment Assistance Board. They were given an impossible job to do. They tried to cut their coat according to the cloth they had, but other people determined the amount of cloth. I am blaming the Government, who have tried to use the Board for their own purposes, after having set it up as an independent organ. The Board has issued its first annual Report as a Command Paper. I do not ever remember reading a paper of that kind which contained more special pleading than does that annual Report, which was the prelude to the Regulations, and was intended to be so. How much of that Report was inspired by the right hon. Gentleman I do not know. I am sure that the close collaboration about which we have heard did, at least, make some kind of impact on the minds of the Unemployment Assistance Board, and led them in the direction which the Regulations have taken. It is astonishing how it has been proved by this special pleading that the family means test does not break up family life. The last time I read the Report I almost came to the conclusion that the real way to maintain family life was to increase the severity of the family means test.
I come to the Regulations themselves. We have been anxious on this side of the House to know what they were going to be. We realised that a large number of people would be affected by them in one way or another. The Home Secretary tried to make a debating point by saying that we had pressed for the publication of them and yet did not want to debate the Regulations. That was a piece of pure legal jugglery with words. Our position is perfectly clear. The House, after this long interval of time, was entitled to know what the Regulations were going to be. What we wanted was a discussion, as early as you liked and as long as you liked. What we asked for was discussion without an immediate decision. With the machinery of the Unemployment Assistance Board in existence and in operation, was it necessary for the Government to take a decision now? These Regulations are not to operate until 16th November. They could have been debated here, and a final decision could have been postponed until the autumn, without in any way imperilling their smooth working.
One is bound to try to find an explanation, and the only explanation that I can find which seems to be reasonable is that the Government want this House to accept the Regulations before their implications are understood in the country. The trade unions of this country should have had time to consider the effects upon their members of the Regulations, and local authorities should have had full time for consideration in order, if they wished, to make representations to the Government. They have been told that the second appointed day was to be 1st April next year, but so far as I know there has been no kind of consideration or discussion with the people who are likely to be directly or indirectly affected by the Regulations. I hope that the Minister of Health, who seems to be rather in the dock in this matter, will have something to tell us about the operation of the second appointed day. He might tell us at the same time why, in common decency, the Government did not fully consult the local authorities before they rushed these Regulations through and gave them statutory force.
I do not want to enter into details on the Regulations themselves. We have been told that there are to be increases, and we have been told how much those increases are likely to cost. I am profoundly suspicious of those figures. I remember the figures which were quoted when the first Regulations were brought forward. The unemployed were going to be so well off, because £3,000,000 more was going to be spent, and had been spent, on them, that they would be so content that there would not be a storm. We discovered that these figures were not right. There is no indication in the Report of the Minister or the Report of the Unemployment Assistance Board as to how these figures were arrived at, and, in view of this discussion, I am all the more inclined to be suspicious as to the number. In any event the increase of £750,000 per year, on an expenditure of £38,000,000, is paltry; it can do nothing to give justice to the unemployed; the sum is much too small. When I was in the Northumberland coalfield last Sunday, a group of miners reminded me, though I already had the fact in mind, that they learned about this miserable little increase of £750,000 at the same time and in the same newspaper as they heard of a further £19,000,000 of Supplementary Estimates for armaments. Can you imagine what those miners felt? Cannot hon. Members opposite realise the conclusions which those miners drew—an addition of £750,000, or 4½d. in the pound; scales which now are no higher than certain Poor Law authorities pay.
The London County Council pays scales which, I calculate, are very much on the same level as the proposals of the Unemployment Assistance Board. That is a local authority, which has to find every penny of the cost out of its own resources. It is not a State scheme, but a local authority's scheme, paid for out of the rates, with all the restriction that there is upon Poor Law authorities; and a national scheme is produced, which we are asked to recommend with a complacency on the part of the right hon. Gentleman which ill befits him in his present situation, where the scale is no higher than that paid by some of our local authorities. A number of people I suppose, will find that there is no alteration whatever in their scale. There is to be a number who will find their payments reduced. Single men with no dependants, people getting—I loathe the phrase—grossly excessive payments, people who are living, presumably, in luxury, are to have their payments reduced. No figures are given to us. The Minister and the Board are bold enough to give figures with regard to the people who might receive something more, but they shrink from the test of making even the wildest kind of estimate of the number of people who are likely to suffer. Why? Is it because they do not know, or is it because they do not like to say? I hope that, before this Debate is over, we shall have some sort of estimate of the number of people who are going to suffer.
These reductions, as everybody knows, are going to affect most the poorest areas, where unemployment has been a scurge for the longest period. These reductions ignore the persistence of unemployment
over a period of years now, in certain areas. Even if the present scales could be regarded as reasonable—which would not be admitted on these benches—there certainly can be no case whatever for reducing them, and, indeed, that is admitted by the cowardly procedure that is suggested by the Government in dealing with them. I say that, if grossly excessive payments are being made, the Government ought to protect the taxpayer and stop it now. Why do they not do that? Why do they condone this sin for 18 months? Because they fear the consequences; because they know what might happen if these reductions were to take place in a given week. It does not become a Government which has boasted of returning prosperity, which claims to have done so much to help to restore prosperity, to offer this small sop of £750,000 with one hand and to penalise the hardest hit areas in the country with the other. A short time ago we had a Debate in the House on malnutrition, when evidence was adduced as to the existence of malnutrition. I see now—I quote from the "Manchester Guardian"—that the "Lancet," which is not yet a Labour paper, dealing with the Unemployment Assistance Board's regulations, says that:
In any case the concessions are likely to be patchy in their application, and in the less fortunate areas the children who are dependent on the scale ration alone will be inadequately nourished.
It goes on in a critical tone to show that the new scales, improved though they may be in the aggregate to the extent of £750,000, are not sufficient to meet the present situation where over a period of years there has been severe poverty, where malnutrition has made a beginning, where you have a process now which will be cumulative in its results; and, in view of the returning prosperity, we are entitled to ask that these scales should bear some relation to a reasonable standard of physical needs.
The right hon. Gentleman stressed his advisory committees—another series of buffers between the State and the unemployed. They are to be purely advisory; they are to be there to ward off, if it is possible, the blows that might have fallen on the head of the Minister and on the Unemployment Assistance Board. But the officers are given powers resembling, I think, those of the most powerful commissar. The officers in the area are more important than Parliament. They have advisory committees whose advice they need not accept; they are given the elasticity to which the right hon. Gentleman referred—elasticity which has robbed this House of effective public control over the standard of life of the unemployed. We do not like parting with it. They are merely intended as a measure of self-protection, and are not there to serve the unemployed. The whole of this vast machinery which has been constructed ought to exist primarily in the interests of the unemployed.
We have another objection. I stated a little earlier our objections to Part I and Part II of the Act of 1934. Those two Parts of the Act have nothing whatever in common; they are governed by entirely different principles. The first has nothing to do with the standard of life; it is not there to deal with the needs of the unemployed. Part I is there to give out so much benefit for so much in contributions; that is all. Part II of the Act lays it down specifically that it is the duty of the Unemployment Assistance Board to have regard to the needs of applicants. Those two principles are quite dissimilar. In the new Regulations we have an attempt, which some Members on these benches feared before, to marry Part I to Part II—to establish the principle that the unemployment scale of benefit is a proper standard of life, that it is a standard of life which is adequate for the satisfaction of need as defined in Part II.
Is that the position to which the Government and the Unemployment Assistance Board are driving this country—that need may be determined now in pounds, shillings and pence under an insurance scheme whose benefits are dependent on fluctuating and imponderable factors? Suppose that there were another and worse trade depression; suppose that unemployment increased; suppose that the Unemployment Insurance Fund was going bankrupt. What would happen? One of two things, or both. The Statutory Committee would have either to increase contributions or to reduce benefits. It would probably reduce benefits, because no Government dare, in a time of bad trade, to increase contributions. What is going to be the position then of these wretched people under Part II of the Act? Is their standard of need to be scaled down to the lower rates of benefit? I suggest that this principle of trying to link unemployment insurance benefit reckoned on one principle with needs estimated on another principle is wrong, is bad, and I think it ought to be opposed.
Our primary objection, as I said at the beginning, is to the means test. It is true that the Regulations ease hardships in certain directions. The Government, out of very shame, have had to retrace their steps. These Regulations are another ignominious retreat, something like the retreat of last year, though on a smaller scale. But even if the Government were to issue more generous Regulations, they would not satisfy us. I want to make it as clear as I can to the House, because what I am saying now I am saying, not on behalf of my friends alone, but on behalf of the organised Labour movement of this country, that we can never agree to any Regulations, however generous they may appear on the surface, so long as the means test stands as part of the law of the land.
We shall always oppose this forcible association of the unemployed with Bumbledom and the Poor Law. These unemployed people are the wounded soldiers of the industrial army. In a war the most severely wounded soldiers are not treated the worst. They are treated the best. The Poor Law system goes back to the days when poverty was regarded as a crime and as being due to personal shortcomings. To-day poverty is a crime of society and not of individuals. It was a crime that was punished by a deterrent Poor Law. To-day the people who permit it ought to be punished. It is reasonably possible to sweep away the poverty that we have to-day. In the overwhelming majority of cases the poor are poor, not because they have committed any crime, not because of any personal defects or shortcomings, but because they have been swept up into a system which does not need them, and which just casts them aside.
The Government claim that they have made great progress in restoring financial stability, but there is no economic stability for the workers. Yet financial stability and profits depend, after all, upon the labour of the workers. They are dependent partly on the process of rationalisation, which, instead of inuring to the advantage of society as a whole, is working out in increased figures of unemployment. The situation is not what it was 15 years ago after the 1920 Act first came into operation. Unemployment is admitted by the Government to be more or less a permanent feature of our society. In those 15 years the resources of the unemployed have vanished completely. They are down to the bone now. It is not less generosity that they need. It is more. They are afflicted with a growing sense of hopelessness. The world seems to hold nothing for the people in the shipyards and the coal mines, to mention but two industries. Yet, in spite of the fact of the permanence of this social disease, the only contribution that is being made is through the inexorable machinery of the Act of 1934 to grind these people to powder. A distinction is drawn between them and the people who are lucky enough not to be out of work for so long. That kind of system cannot permanently continue. The section of the Act dealing with the means test must be torn from the Statute Book before we on these benches feel that we can make a beginning in dealing honourably and decently with unemployment.
I do not think hon. Members realise how deeply people in the worst afflicted areas feel. There is no need for us to try to organise an agitation. Hardly were the Regulations put before us when every leader in the movement was approached for immediate action and protest, because this strikes very deeply into the hearts of the people in those homes where this test is applied. It is most humiliating to a father who has brought up a family to feel that he is now living on compulsory charity from them. It is a method which reduces very substantially the wages of the people who are working in the homes. It is a method that tends to break up family life. It is idle for the investigating officers to report that they have never heard of any such thing. Members on this side of the House, and I dare say hon. Members opposite, could bring hundreds of cases where the operation of the means test has really meant the break up of the family at a time when it is most easily possible to break it up. You cannot break up a family of father, mother and dependent children. When you have young men and women growing up, with their own lives before them, their own interests and their own desires, anxious though they may be to help the family, when you apply a means test like this you are doing something to dissolve the unity of family life and not to maintain it. The Government may get its Resolution through. It may think it is going to succeed in healing the gaping wounds of the unemployed with another £750,000, but I warn them—this is not a threat; I should deplore any evil consequences flowing from it—that they cannot continue injustice and try to pay for it with money. As long as there is a sense of injustice in the hearts of our people, so long there are all the elements of revolt. Desperate circumstances may lead people to foolish but to desperate actions.
I hope the Government realise the state, of feeling in the coal fields. They will learn much about it from my hon. Friends before the Debate is over. I think I can say that the South Wales people hate this inquisition more than they have hated anything in their national history. It is in their very bones, and an attempt to drive them lower down the abyss of hopeless poverty is likely to lead to results which I should deplore myself, but which are understandable having regard to their agonies. The House may get its way, but this fight does not end on Thursday night. It begins again. We shall do our best to bring home to the country the injustice that is being heaped on people who are the victims of economic circumstances, against whom no crime can be brought except their worthlessness. We shall try to bring home to the people the injustice of a system of that kind. We shall try to bring home the complacency of the Government, which thinks that all these sores in the body politic can be cured by another small cheque for £750,000. The unemployed are not merely begging for money. They are asking for justice. They are asking for the kind of honourable treatment which would be given to any fallen soldier in a war, for they indeed are the victims of war. I hope the House will reflect long before it gives a large vote in favour of the Regulations. The Amendment expresses as emphatically as is possible under the rules of the House our objections to the Regulations. Those objections will be carried to the country long after a decision has been made in this House, and the day will come when this elementary act of justice will be done to these unfortunate people who are to-day made the outlaws of what ought to be a civilised society.
It seems some little time now since my right hon. Friend launched into his long and adventurous speech, but I can still remember that he opened it with a sentence, the only one perhaps that was non-contentious—at any rate, it was one of the few. He said that the problem that we were discussing was one of the gravest social and political problems of our time. With very little interval he went on to say he felt that these regulations were a foundation for a solution. I wish he had developed that a little more in detail, because many of us are anxious to know what developments we are to expect from the position that the Government have taken up with regard to these matters. Are we to gather that the Government have in mind some scheme for co-ordinating the public services which they are not yet ready to disclose, or do they merely mean that they are going on as they are and that we are to have a series of experiments of the same kind, hit or miss, carried out in the homes and on the persons of the poor? We have had three such experiments in the last 18 months and we shall be glad to know whether the Government have anything in mind other than a series of experiments of this kind. It is not in that way that a solution of the problem can be found.
Earlier in his speech my right hon. Friend said that the Government had decided that the policy of having a centralised independent board Controlling a section of the poverty of the country was a practical proposition and that they intended to adhere to it. He did not, however, give any reason at all why they had come to that conclusion. Was it because of the success of the Unemployment Assistance Board as a business instrument? Hardly, I should think. It has taken them 18 months to recover from the initial shock of the first scales. There was a statutory committee set up under the Unemployment Assistance Act, 1934, which, whether one agrees with its conclusions or not, has been an example of businesslike handling of these things. When a matter is referred to it by the Government it is considered, it comes back to the House with recommendations which are clear, backed by reasons amply given and, where necessary, supported by statistics, and it is an example of how business of this kind should be done. When one considers the Unemployment Assistance Board, it has surely not had success in handling the question of the difficulties of the able-bodied unemployed. Its whole history proves that it is incapable of transacting that business. It is not their success in that regard which leads the Government to think that they will be considered. One of the reasons why the Board was set up and commended itself to hon. Members on the opposite side of the House was the belief that it would take the dole out of politics; that these questions of scales of relief should be taken out of politics. That belief no longer exists. We know that it was shattered by the force of public opinion in February, 1935. It is true that it took the dole out of politics for a very short time and for a very short distance. It only removed it for a fleeting period from Whitehall to Trafalgar Square, and then public opinion spoke and made it clear that the condition of the people must remain, as in the past, the urgent concern of Parliament. There is no reason on that ground for preserving the Unemployment Assistance Board. That reason has disappeared.
The Unemployment Assistance Board, as its latest report shows, was called upon to do a job for which it was ill-equipped. It had not the equipment or the machinery for dealing with the able-bodied unemployed. There was a fundamental misconception in the mind of the Government when they said that there was a class of poverty solely related to unemployment. The Unemployment Assistance Board is an independent or quasi-independent body, and as long as it remains, it will be an element of disorder in any well-thought-out system of helping the needs of the poor of this country. I should like to know why the Unemployment Assistance Board is to be preserved at all events in its present form. It is proposed that the second appointed day shall be 3rd April, 1937. I profoundly regret it.
The Government are making a great mistake. Members of the Unemployment Assistance Board, as we have seen by their experience, are not ready to take over that task, and they know it. I suggest that the Minister must know it, too. My right hon. Friend, speaking from above the Gangway a short time ago, gave the reason why the Unemployment Assistance Board was constituted. He referred—in a not very genial phrase, I admit—to the sinister figure of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. After all, it is the fact, and everybody must know it, that it is the cold, capacious, methodical and meticulous mind of the Chancellor of the Exchequer which has devised this scheme—this rigid independent body being thrust in among the other services, which are competent by great experience to do this work. It is his decision, I imagine, which has forced the second appointed day to be in April, 1937, and when that day comes, the Unemployment Assistance Board will be utterly incapable of dealing with these people. May I remind the House that there are 200,000 unfortunate people to be taken over. They are the very poor. They have suffered from ill health, and from all the hardships which befall those who have fallen in the industrial life of this country.
The Unemployment Assistance Board has a much more difficult task. It is now feeling its way with the help of some local opinion. Urged on by public opinion, it is feeling its way in dealing with the task it has already to perform. It will have a very much more difficult task to face when it takes over these 200,000. I should not wish to occupy the seat of the right hon. Gentleman when that day comes. It will be found that the inevitable result of this experiment of an independent Unemployment Assistance Board will be that the Government will be driven, whether they wish it or not, to centralise and take over all the poverty services. As soon as they reach the second Appointed Day, the third Appointed Day will be upon the calendar on the wall, and they will have to advance to that date. It is a misfortune for the Government that they are obliged to adopt this Treasury method of dealing with this matter. I do not know what there is to commend in this method of trying to bring relief to these unfortunate people. There is divided responsibility. We do not even know who is the author of these scales. We do not know where the responsibility lies. The right hon. Gentleman kept saying, "We" as he went through his speech this afternoon. Was he referring to the Ministry of Labour, or to himself and the Board? I am not even sure that the terms of the Act of Parliament have been complied with. The House of Commons is quite unable to make up its mind whether a new Unemployment Assistance Board or a new Minister of Labour is required as the situation is so confused. I sincerely hope that the Government will do a little hard thinking. I do not like to pose as a prophet, but I have prophesied with regard to these matters, and, to my lasting regret, I have proved to be right. I and my hon. Friends on these benches could see very clearly some of these matters which have now had to be learned by the public by hard experience.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, at one period in his speech, referred to the Government proposals before the Election, and in paticular he referred to the importance which was attached to maintaining the unity of family life. There were considerable interruptions which may have prevented him from dealing, as he no doubt intended, with that particular aspect of the Government Manifesto. There has been an immense amount of discussion on the subject of the means test and its influence on family life, but in spite of all the discussions which have taken place, I am by no means convinced that in general the seriousness of that problem, or in fact the real nature of it, is fully understood by Parliament even to-day. We all know that families are broken up in the ordinary way. I regret to say that my own family has reached breaking point. One's sons and daughters disappear, some marry and others go out to work, and we regret it, or we rejoice at it, and we are glad to see them when they come back. But it is a totally different thing when people are driven out of the house because of the tension and friction which have arisen owing to economic causes.
I warned the Government when we were discussing the Report of the Unemployment Assistance Board not to make the mistake of thinking that the measure or the disruption of family life was in any way indicated by the number of people who have been driven from home. It is not so. I do not remember the actual figures of those quoted as having left home in those interesting reports of the various district officers of the Board which were put together in the first annual report of the Unemployment Assistance Board, but my impression—perhaps it is not very reliable, as it is only guided by what comes within the range of my own knowledge—is that the number was a considerable under-estimate, though I do not wish to press that point at all. This is the real point. By the operation of the means test the normal relationships between father and son and brothers and sisters have been destroyed, the devotion and affection has gone, and have been replaced by a cash nexus. It would be far better that they should not be under the same roof.
I have no wish to attempt to inflict upon the House this evening an emotional speech. I do not think that I could do it if I tried. It is not quite in my line, but I would like to illustrate what I have said by one example. A man I have known for many years—he has been unemployed for some years, and has a grown family and one or two of them are still at school—came to tell me his troubles. He told me how the means test had operated and how the amount had been taken from one and the other, how it had worked out, and how he had got nothing. He said, in the course of conversation, that he and his family were living under the same roof. He said that they were all around him, that he was worthless, a drudge in the home, and had not a penny piece. He said, "They are all around me within four walls." He went on telling me something more, and that phrase cropped up again and again almost involuntarily—"They are all around me within four walls."
When I think of that experience and of other experiences, I say to the House of Commons that you have not to cross the Rhine or the Maritime Alps before you see the consequences of a dreadful tyranny. If there is anything upon which this House is agreed in connection with these matters, it is that the charge for the maintenance of the able-bodied unemployed should be a national one. If we were agreed upon that, I would invite hon. Members in all quarters of the House to agree also that it is not a right or a just thing to place a special and a heavy unemployment tax in those very houses where unemployment is present, because that is what, in effect, the means test does. It is a special and a heavy tax in those families and households where there is already suffering through unemployment.
I would not like it to be thought that I do not recognise that there are improvements in these scales. It is quite right that every alteration in the scales be an improvement. I might make some criticism of some of the items, but I have no doubt that these matters will be ventilated very fully in the course of the next three days. If they are not, I do not know to what the House will devote itself. If the House was free to make Amendments and constructive suggestions, six days would not be too long, but seeing that we are hampered by this constitution and the Act, I cannot see how three days are to be usefully spent by the House. These arrangements have now been put forward, and for what they are worth they are improvements. Some may be likely to have consequences which are not foreseen at the moment. I do not know whether the matter of the fall back upon the unemployment benefit rate, may have repercussions in the future if the statutory committee should want to raise the standard rates, as it may do, if the cheerful anticipation of the right hon. Gentleman opposite is realised and unemployment gradually disappears. Does it mean, if the standard rates are raised, that the public assistance will be raised?
The arrangements with regard to the amount of personal earnings allowed to be retained are an easing of the situation, but they do not alter in any degree the principle of the means test, nor can any one say that they will cause the terrible effects really to be changed or mitigated. I cannot agree with the claim that the Government have justified their election pledge in regard to maintaining the unity of family life and that it has been carried out. It is clear from the terms of the manifesto that they did not know what the unity of family life meant. They were concentrating on the number of people driven from home, which is only a fraction of the whole problem. The changes, the improvements in the Regulations, I welcome for what they are worth, but it is not by tinkering with any previous scales that a solution of this very great problem will be found.
There is one matter before I leave the question of the means test in regard to which I would call in aid hon. Members in all quarters of the House, in the hope that they may bring some light to bear upon it. I have tried by question several times to ascertain what is the procedure of the Unemployment Assistance Board in cases where an assessment is made and that assessment is not carried out. I mean cases where an assessment is made that Harry, say, must pay so much, and Dick and Jane should pay so much, but Jane is to be married and she does not make any contribution, and other members of the family do not contribute. What is the remedy of the Board? That situation arises in many cases. There are many people who take the greatest pride in saying: "We believe in keeping our own; we believe in helping our own." It is a strong family feeling, but when somebody else comes along and says: "You must pay so much," they say: "Who says that? Who lays that down? We shall do no such thing." And they do something different. There are many cases where the assessments of the Board are not carried out, sometimes for reasons of malice. There is a considerable problem here. There are people leaving their homes now and going into lodgings who eventually come back home as lodgers, on condition that they pay so much for their room and provide their own food. It is clear that this state of things if it is allowed to continue will do away with the household means test without legislation; it is beginning to do it and there is no need for legislation. There are certain people who depend upon these assessments and they are suffering hardship. I hope that hon. Members will bring their own experience to bear on this matter. It is a question of importance and the House ought not to part with these Regulations until we have had some explanation of it.
It is not by tinkering and patching that this problem can be solved. It is not to be solved by leaving this quasi-independent body, the Unemployment Assistance Board, acting as a disorderly element in our social services. We were given a picture of its agents acting as a sort of unauthorised runners to the medical officers of health and the housing authorities. Now they are bringing in the advisory committees who are to be additional agencies. The Board has thrown things into confusion and it remains as an element of disorder in the system. I do not entirely agree with the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) in some of the things he said about the advisory committees. I do not know why they were not set up before. I suppose the Board had too high an opinion of its own powers and an insufficient appreciation of the difficult task with which it had to deal. It wanted to do the job on its own. The Treasury idea was there and they thought they could carry it through, but as a result of bitter experience they are now willing to take a certain amount of local opinion, and these bodies, if they are willing to do it, will have to perform some disagreeable work under the Act.
I think my right hon. Friend in his criticism of the advisory committee's functions criticised them in so far as they were at the very outset of their duties to be associated with reductions in great parts of the country.
I accept that, and I think the Government have been wise in bringing in some means of helping themselves in their difficulties. If you are introducing hardships on the instalment principle you may as well have an agent to carry it out as well as yourselves. If the dentist tells you that you must have all your teeth out it is, of course, a hardship, but it is no less a hardship if he says that he will extract one tooth a month until they are all out. The Board have been well advised to get in a sort of buffer or agent to do some of the work for them. The advisory committees will have hard work to do.
I should like to ask the Minister why Sections 40 and 41 of the Act of 1934 have not been operated by the Unemployment Assistance Board. These sections have been a dead letter. When the second appointed day arrives and the 200,000 people have to be taken over, the question of scope will be all-important. [An HON. MEMBER: "Are they all ablebodied?"] Able-bodied they are called, but there are many now under the Unemployment Assistance Board who will never get work again. It is a mistake that a man who is suffering, say, from tuberculosis should be kept under the Board. He had better be put under an authority which is well able to take care of him and to deal with cases of that kind. I would ask whoever replies for the Government to say something on the question of scope. When the second appointed day comes there will arise a difficult question for the Government, because the fact that people are to get benefit equal to the unemployment benefit scale and in some cases higher, will immediately call into question the existence of the whole contributory system. Employers will wonder why they should pay 9d. a week when they will see other people's employés getting the same benefits without any contribution being made in respect of them. This view is already spreading. I had it put to me at a meeting in my constituency. It was said to me: "Do you mean to say that other people will get the same benefits that I get when I have to pay contributions and none is paid in respect of them?"
The Government will have to face the situation that will be created by all these uncertainties, and the sooner they set to work and think out a definite scheme that will restore some order into the matter, the better it will be. Why is it that they have not acceded to the joint recommendations of the Statutory Committee and the Unemployment Assistance Board that there should be an inquiry into the rates of benefit, the anomalies of the unemployment assistance scales and the rates of wages? The tragedy of the situation is that if we go back not merely for 18 months but even to 1920 we find that after unending Parliamentary discussion, and after a multitude of Acts have been passed, we are little nearer being within sight of a final solution of how to bring to those who need it help which will be acceptable to them and which will still be within the capacity of the nation to pay.
We have listened with great interest to the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White), for he is one who has paid close attention to these matters, but after listening to him to-day it has been plain to me that if he had been, in the position of the Minister of Labour he would have presented something of the same sort, perhaps with minor variations. There is an essential similarity on this problem of dealing with unemployment between the views held by those who sit on the Opposition Liberal benches and those who sit on the Government side of the House.
I do not know whether the hon. Member was in the House during 1934. Our party opposed the Act of 1934 from start to finish, and we were told at the end of it that we could go to our constituents and explain our action to those we had deserted. We were right. It is the Government who have had to make an explanation and who have run away from their own schemes. I did not make any reference to our attitude in regard to the means test, because I thought that everybody knew it. We hold that if public money is to be distributed, then if anybody asks for it inquiries must be made as to whether or not they need it. I have never met anyone who denied that principle.
I was not attempting to attack the hon. Member. I was doing my best to interpret what I believed to be his point of view. I take it that he does not object to the needs test, and he does not, I understand, take the point of view that the rates of benefit in general ought to be very much higher than they are. That is very different from the point of view of the right hon. Member for Wakefield. I listened very carefully to his speech to discover what was the charge he made. He said that his primary objection was to the means test, and that he wanted to get rid of it. That is an issue on which the position of those who support the Government and the Opposition should be clearly defined. We do not differ from the Opposition because we desire the unemployed to obtain less than they would give. We adopt the point of view which we adopt because we believe that as a result of our action the unemployed will get more and get what they get with more certainty of continuity than if right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite were in power. It is all very well for right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite to get up and say that they would establish the rates at this or that figure; they have got to prove that they could provide the means by which those rates could be maintained.
The hon. Gentleman has put a sound point. Let me deal with it. There are two aspects of this problem which are equally important. The first is whether particular people should get more or less than they are doing, but the other equally important aspect is precisely what social philosophy are we pursuing in adopting these Regulations and in our attitude to the unemployed. The purpose of human society is to provide all its members with a sufficiency of what they want, a sufficiency of material things. It has been the purpose of human society down the ages so to organise itself that this is achieved. Let us recognise that at no period of time has human society succeeded in achieving perfection in that direction, and that here in England conditions are by no means what any reasonable man would wish them to be. Last week we had a Debate. References were made to poverty in the midst of plenty. It does exist. In this country to-day there are those who have a vast command of material resources and those who have very little, and our purpose is to do our best to alter these conditions as rapidly as we can in the most efficient manner. But it is easy in attempting to alter these conditions to fall into courses which are attractive but eventually result in our last condition being worse than our first.
Let us be clear what we are doing when we discuss these matters. Are we to adopt the Socialist or the individualist approach to this problem? There may be hon. Gentlemen opposite who are Socialists and will urge that every human unit in society ought to be treated as a social asset, and that it is the duty of society to secure that that particular unit is provided with everything to equip him mentally and physically as a social asset. If we are to adopt that attitude, and to say that the full human needs of every individual human unit of society should be satisfied, then I should be surprised to find anyone in any part of the House who would argue that these Regulations or any other conceivable Regulations could be considered to fulfil every human need of every individual. Is that the test which we are applying? I suggest that it is not. We are applying something quite different. If we did attempt to apply that test, the full logic of it would appal the Opposition, and they would run away from it. For if we are to apply that test something else flows from it which is recognised in every society where a Socialist system has been attempted; that is, that if the State is to provide for full human needs the State must make sure that that provision is not wasted, that the asset is not damaged. That implies regimentation of the population.
The Communist Member objects to that, but he must know that the Russians make no bones about it. The Russians face up to the problem which they themselves have created and recognise full well that they must do it.
If the hon. Gentleman objects because arguments are brought against his point of view, I think that he is a very poor representative of that point of view. The people of this country do not desire such a regimented life. We have to rule this country by consent, and those who adopt the individualist approach to this problem believe that we are far more likely to get the consent of the people to any proposals of this character if we treat them not merely as social assets, not as a group of people who are to be regimented, but as something far more—free and individual souls.
Who prefer to live a life that is free, carrying with it greater risks and prospects of greater rewards than a life which is regimented, carrying with it smaller risks and the prospects of smaller rewards. I take this approach to the problem. We must apply as our test the balance of advantage. I suggest that this is the test which the House should apply in this Debate. Let us judge the Regulations by this standard. Are the rates proposed as high as are consistent with these three things: the continued improvement in the national income, the continued improvement in the employment position, and the possibility that the payments provided in the Regulations may be continuously made. I think that it is fair to ask whether the Board has satisfied these conditions. If it has, the Board has done a good job of work.
I believe that the policy we have adopted results in the Board being able to satisfy these conditions, and at the same time produce scales which are better than any before. What we want to do is to save the unemployed from such a disaster as befell them in 1931.
I suggest that the Regulations have been decided by a great variety of circumstances, of which the financial situation is one. These rates must be related to the financial and economic structure on which they are ultimately based.
No, I cannot. I am advancing my own argument. I say that we want to save the unemployed from a repetition of the disaster of 1931. Those who now sit on the Opposition Benches, and were then in office, with the most admirable intentions endeavoured to be most generous to the unemployed, but was the result in the end good for the unemployed? In my view it was not. [Interruption.] You may blame it on the vices of human society—[Interruption].
If our Debates are not to become totally unreal we have to regard society as it is. It is no use relating our Debates to an ideal society which does not exist at all. I believe that the country appreciates the changed methods since 1931. I believe that there is a far greater sense of responsibility now in this matter and that that developing sense of responsibility makes it possible to look forward to a far greater development in the scope of this and all our social legislation. If the Board has produced, for the approval of this House regulations in which the rates are as high as they may be consistent with the three conditions I have named, the Board has not done badly. It is for us to judge in these three days whether the Board has performed its task in that way, and my own conviction is that if the Board has not exactly achieved that object it is not very far off. Anyone who reads the report of the Board and the Regulations must agree that they show that the most painstaking care has been employed in the compilation of the Regulations. There are criticisms to be made, and even though our criticisms cannot now have practical effect, nevertheless those criticisms should be made. Perhaps the care has been so great that the Regulations have become too complicated, so complicated that Members of the House find it difficult to discover exactly what would be the benefit in any particular case, and as I look forward I wonder whether the complications of these Regulations are not going to be one of the principal difficulties in practice.
I agree with the substance of what was said by the hon. Member for East Birkenhead on another point. I think that the House was probably wrong in passing the Unemployment Act in such a form that Regulations have to come before us to be debated without Amendment. But if the Regulations were introduced in the form of an Act, most Amendments would be Amendments to increase the charge and would, therefore, be out of order, and would not be capable of being debated.
The Government could draft the Financial Resolution in such terms that it would be competent for Members to move Amendments, or in such terms that it would not be competent. For my part, I would not put Mr. Speaker in such a humiliating position as to be inferior to this Government.
The hon. Member knows that if the Financial Resolution were drafted as widely as he suggests no Amendments of the detailed character he would desire could be moved. I agree with the hon. Member for East Birkenhead when he suggests that it has always been foolish to say that this matter should be taken out of politics. We are here to do our job and should do our job according to our lights though the heavens fall.
We are entitled surely to learn by experience. I want to mention three particular points the rent rule, the earnings rule and the manner in which capital resources are calculated. To take one-quarter as rent is too high a fraction, and I hope that the discretion allowed to the Board and its officers in that respect will be used very freely, because I think that one-fifth or one-sixth is neared the normal rental. In regard to the earnings rule, I should prefer to see the first 60 shillings of earnings remain in the hands of the earner, and all over that amount taken into account. With regard to the manner in which capital resources are calculated, I think it is extremely foolish to suggest that those in possession of capital resources should be supposed to obtain a rate of interest of 10.8 per cent. on their capital. If 6d. and not 1s. for every £25 were taken it would be nearer the truth.
We must wait for the Regulations to be worked out in practice. They are to be gradually applied, and I hope that they are not to be regarded as the last word, but will be capable of amendment from time to time. We must get this matter in a proper perspective. Hon. Members opposite would have us believe that the country is not progressing and that conditions are getting worse. We should take a view over a reasonably long period. Let me give an illustration. Before the War there was no sort of provision of any kind to deal with this particular problem. In the case of anyone in want a destitution test was applied. In 1920 and 1921 the cost of living was high, but the allowances then were not as high as they are under these Regulations. In 1929, if you take the cost of living into account, the provision made then was not as high as it is under these Regulations, and in 1931 the provision was less than it is now.
There is another way of presenting a picture of what the Regulations really mean. I have examined the recorded wage rates for 1914 in the Statistical Abstract, and I have corrected them for the increase in the cost of living. I find that under these Regulations a man with a wife and four dependent children between the ages of five and 16, receives more than the full weekly wage paid in a great variety of occupations in 1914, not all of them unskilled—boot and shoe operatives, bakers, bookbinding machinists, practically all railway workers and all municipal tramdrivers and conductors, and all unskilled labourers. That is a remarkable fact. The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) spoke of the unemployed being thrown into the abyss of hopeless poverty. If we look to the past how can he justify that? There is evidence of progress in the fact that these Regulations provide a weekly rate considerably higher than the average rate of wages in many trades in 1914. Let me give one more illustration which will show how we have altered our outlook on these matters. Before the War a man who owned a house for which he had paid £500 and had £300 in the bank would have been regarded as having a tidy fortune. It would have seemed fantastic or revolutionary to suggest that he was entitled to come to the State for assistance. What is the position to-day? Such a man with a wife and four dependent children would receive assistance of 22s. per week. That illustrates the degree to which we have progressed in these matters.
Anyone who looks at this problem impartially must come to the conclusion that progress has been steady and continuous and that there is every prospect of progress being maintained unless we have a reversion to the methods which were employed by the Opposition when they were in office. In my opinion this expenditure should be maintained in consonance with the financial and economic structure on which it ultimately rests, and should not be guided by a pseudo-Socialism which desires to keep the capitalist always close at hand to pay for the damage and to restore the position when the experiments fail. I hold that the House will be wise in adopting the Regulations and giving the Minister of Labour his Vote, not only because these Regulations are an improvement on the past, but because they will provide for the unemployed far better than would be the case if hon. Members opposite were returned to power.
The circumstances in which these Regulations were issued are not without some interest and their operation must be considered in relation to the conditions of the areas and persons for whom they have been designed. These Regulations were issued on the day following a discussion in this House on the subject of malnutrition. On that occasion we were told with more heat than argument by the Minister of Agriculture that the subject of malnutrition was not one that represented the dividing-line between hon. Members of the Government and hon. Members of this side of the House. Perhaps if the Minister of Agriculture was present he would agree that these Regulations do represent the dividing-line. They were also issued in the same week as the Supplementary Estimates providing for extra expenditure on the armed forces of the country, amounting approximately to £20,000,000. With some measure of boasting it is claimed that these Regulations will involve an increased expenditure of a miserable £750,000. Such a contrast in my opinion surely represents the dividing-line between the Government and their supporters and hon. Members on these benches, and I submit that they should be so considered.
I am not entitled at this stage to deliver a lecture on the question of the equality of income, but I cannot resist making the observation that the Regulations were drafted by a gentleman who maintains that it is possible to keep a wife and applicant on a miserable 26s. per week and who himself is in receipt of £96 per week. They are also defended by the Minister of Labour who is in receipt of the small allowance of £38 per week. These salaries have to be provided by the unemployed, or, at any rate, subscribed to by those who are affected by Part I of the Insurance Act, 1934. After that observation I shall be told that to some degree it applies to hon. Members in the House. I agree; but it does not apply to hon. Members who sit on these benches. These Regulations will affect South Wales, from which area, during the period from 1933 to January and February of this year, no fewer than 18,315 persons left to find employment elsewhere, and they will detrimentally affect the conditions of 64,883 who are now in receipt of transitional payment. The comparison is not between these Regulations and the old ones but between these new Regulations and the payments now received by the unemployed in South Wales. They will further reduce the purchasing power of persons who have already suffered from the Government's policy of inaction or the Government's policy of action. By the former I mean the existing trade agreements, and by the latter, the "Times" newspaper can produce the evidence. On the 8th July last year in one of its leaders these words appeared:
Something like two-thirds of the sugar subsidy and a large share also of the wheat, which altogether exceeds £11,000,000 a year, falls to four eastern counties, Norfolk, Suffolk, Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire.
These Regulations further impoverish the South Wales area, in which there are districts, similar to my own division, where the percentage of unemployed is 45.8. In Blaina the percentage is 60.4 and in another part of the same division it is 30.3, out of an insured population of
18,770, and where the number of applicants for unemployment allowances covered by three Exchanges is 4,598; of whom 1,328 come under the Board and 3,198 are in receipt of transitional payment. Last Wednesday on the Board of Trade Vote the Secretary for Mines said:
The problems of South Wales are continually and continuously in the consideration of the Government …. No one in the House, whether on that bench or on this, can be satisfied with the deplorable position in which South Wales finds itself."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th July, 1936: col. 2135 Vol. 314.]
The Minister of Labour has given us a demonstration by these Regulations of what the Government mean by "consideration." They have worsened the conditions of the unemployed in South Wales by reducing the assistance in the case of a young man at home from 17s. to 10s. per week, and in some homes by reducing the assistance now given by over £1 10s. per week. Similar reductions will also be effected in 55,000 cases in South Wales. That is the method by which the Government propose to deal with the deplorable conditions in South Wales. I submit that political hypocrisy has never reached a lower level. "The Times" defends the Regulations, but with some difficulty. In its leader of Wednesday last it pointed out that the allowance for a man and wife of 24s. per week appeared low, and that if no more than 6s. was paid for rent it leaves 18s. for food and clothing, and the renewal of household things. We have since been told that the 24s. should be 26s., but there is no provision for coal. Let us assume that 6s. is the amount payable for rent.
I want to ask, as does the writer of that article, whether any hon. Member considers that £1 a week is adequate for the maintenance of a man and his wife. What does £1 a week mean? If one deducts 3s. 6d. a week for coal, which is not an enormous amount, 2s. 6d. for clothes, and 1s. 6d. for other items, that leaves no more than 12s. 6d. a week for food, which means that if each of them eats four meals a day, the meals have to be provided at a cost of 2¾d. a meal. These scale rates are now proposed for persons who have been unemployed for one, two, three, four and five years, and according to the annual report of the Board, there are 345,147 of these individuals. In introducing the Regulations,
the Minister of Labour gave a number of what he called military maxims. I always thought the right hon. Gentleman had a weakness for Biblical texts, and in view of the treatment it is now proposed to mete out to the unemployed, I would like to suggest one Biblical text to him on which it might be possible for him to deliver a very appropriate sermon next Sunday. It is:
The spoil of the poor is in your houses.
What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces and grind the faces of the poor?
These regulations embody the opinions held by the Board. In a recently published report, its chairman made the statement that the Board
recognises that the members of the household who have resources, particularly wages, which form by far the largest part of the resources in the households of applicants, are entitled to some part of their earnings for the purpose of living their own lives.
What a human observation—for the purpose of living their own lives! What is the proposal? It is that a son or daughter, brother or sister, if in employment and under 18 years of age, shall be permitted to retain all earnings up to 12s. a week and one-half of any earnings in excess of 12s. If any of such members of the household is 18 years or over, he or she will be allowed to retain for personal requirements 16s., plus one-half of the difference between that amount and the total wages received, which means that out of a wage of £2 a week, the recipient, under these Regulations, would be permitted to retain the handsome sum of £1 8s. a week. He or she will have the satisfaction, under these Regulations, of possessing £1 8s. after working six days a week—and that for the purpose of living their own lives! What a life. They will not be able to live anybody else's life upon that amount. The Board says that an allowance must not approximate the wage, but these Regulations provide for a wage approximating the allowance to be paid by the Board. Inhuman, unsocial and cynical ingenuity could go no further. If such a member, or two members of the household earn £3 5s. a week, the applicant, if a father, and his wife, would receive no allowance from the Board under these Regulations, but would be maintained by either one or two of their own children, neither of whom could be held responsible for the
conditions which caused the unemployment of the father.
What a remarkable production are the Regulations now before the House when contrasted with the condition of the mothers in the derelict areas, as described, not by a contributor to a Socialist or Labour newspaper, but by the area officer for the Newport district. He makes the following statement in the Board's annual report:
The person requiring extra nourishment is usually the applicant's wife, and it is a fact that the person who is most hardly hit by present circumstances in the district is the wife and mother. It is she who has the greater part of the worry as to how to make ends meet and keep her family properly fed and clothed and her household in as good a state as possible. In spite of the number of applications for household necessities our own inquiries have in fact revealed numbers of cases where parents have preferred to make personal sacrifices and to go short of food or clothing to provide for their children rather than ask for extra help.
The same gentleman makes another contrast regarding the treatment proposed in these Regulations. He says:
The effect of living amongst derelict collieries and decaying buildings and a general atmosphere of poverty and depression is proving harmful both psychologically and physically.
Such a description by one of the officers of the Board is not confined to one part of the country. If hon. Members will look at the "News Chronicle" newspaper for to-day, they will find a description of the conditions that exist not only in South Wales, but in Newcastle, where a conference of the Methodist religious organisation was held yesterday. The speaker, the Reverend P. S. Carden, who stated he was speaking after 20 years of experience in mining circuits—not an occasional trip to the distressed areas, as in the case of the Minister of Labour, but 20 years residence in those areas—said:
I have known many cases where little children have been kept from Sunday school because they have not had nice clothes. I know thousands of miners who are receiving less than 30s. a week, and have to supplement their earnings by seeking relief.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane) made an indictment of this system as strong as any indictment that has been made by hon. Members who occupy these benches when he stated that the amount of allowance paid in some cases was in excess of the wages earned by the men who are in employment. The hon. Member comes here and discourses
learnedly upon so-called social philosophy. I have as much respect for his social philosophy as I have for his under standing of what is known as the philosophy of Socialism.
It is useless for Members of the House to presume that they know anything about the conditions of those who are unemployed and who are obliged to live in the distressed areas. I am sick and tired of reading descriptions of the Minister's occasional trips and excursions to the distressed areas in order to ascertain the real conditions of our people. Let him go and live there for a week or two if he wishes to understand and appreciate the conditions in which people live there. I will ask hon. Members to read an article which appears in the "Evening Standard" this evening, written by Lady Rhys Williams. It is entitled "How They Live in the Distressed Areas," and in the course of it she writes:
Those who live in prosperous London and the South-East of England can have no real idea of the extent of the suffering which is going on in those districts of South Wales and Durham which have endured widespread unemployment now for many years. … Theoretically the Regulations regarding unemployment relief may sound fair, even generous. But in practice their working leaves room for numerous cases of acute poverty equal to any of the horrors of the last century.
That is written by a woman who lives in a distressed area and knows what she is writing about, whereas I question whether the Minister of Labour can give any accurate description of the actual conditions in the Special Areas. What contribution is made by these Regulations to repair the damage caused by unemployment? They contain nothing of an effective character. What provision do they contain for rendering it unnecessary for mothers and wives to continue to make personal sacrifices of the nature I have described? In my opinion, none—absolutely none. What consolation is it, I ask, for those who will get a reduction in their allowances under these Regulations to be told that others will receive an increase in their allowances? The Board, according to its Chairman, is upon these matters "a trustee for the public conscience." In view of these Regulations, I deny the Chairman of the Board the right to make such a claim. If this is the best the public
conscience can do for the mothers and wives of the unemployed, its existence is not worth such an advertisement.
For some reason or other, reference to religion, as ordinarily understood, appears out of place in this House after the recitation of the Lord's Prayer. Why, I cannot say. I understand that the Minister is coming to preach in my division, and I would like, in view of this Debate, to select a text for him. It is:
Take heed therefore how ye hear; for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have.
Or, if the Minister prefers, I will undertake to organise a meeting near the church, in which he proposes to preach, at which he will have an invitation and an opportunity to defend these Regulations for which he is paid £38 a week. These Regulations, and also the accompanying Memorandum, are replete with the words "discretion," "advice," "recommendations," and "flexibility." There is no Government publication known to me in which those four words appear so often as in the documents to which I have referred, and the use of those words, in the opinion of the Minister, constitutes a part of his case for the defence of the Regulations. But they no more deserve commendation than they do condemnation, and they are as much a vice as he claimed they are a virtue.
During the Debate on the annual report of the Unemployment Assistance Board, I gave two instances of pensioners who had had their allowances taken into account when assessing the needs, and those cases could not have arisen, in my opinion, were it not for the difficulty experienced by the officer in interpreting the words to which I have referred. Such confusion could not exist if unemployed persons were treated decently, regardless of whether they came under Part I or Part II of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1934. We contend that varying periods of unemployment should not determine the difference in the treatment of unemployed, persons. We assert that the operation of these Regulations will seriously affect the conditions of our unemployed. They also constitute an indirect attack upon the wages of those persons who are in employment. We oppose them in this House, and whatever may be said, I do not apologise for saying that I shall assist outside this House in organising opposition to their operation on 16th November.
Listening to the hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House one would imagine that hon. Members opposite were the only people who had any right to speak for the distressed areas. Having twice won the right to represent a distressed area, I should like to give my opinion of these Regulations. I congratulate the Minister of Labour and the Unemployment Assistance Board on a very difficult job very well done. The Minister as he listened to the Debate this afternoon must have been glad to note the poverty of the arguments put forward by the Opposition. What have those arguments been? Nothing but attempts to stir up indignation against the means test. The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) said last week that prosperity and the means test were incompatible. I hope that every worker in the country will ponder on that statement. It simply means that everyone who is at work and is enjoying some measure of prosperity, is to be made to contribute to the upkeep of those who are not at work whether those persons need the assistance or not. [HON. MEMBERS: "They are doing it now."] There is no reason why they should do it, if the people who are taking the assistance do not need it. If the position were brought home directly to hon. Members opposite I wonder how they would appreciate it. They look fairly prosperous—
That does not seem to be a point of Order. I would like to hear what hon. Gentlemen opposite would say, if the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), or the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt), for instance, after a few briefless months came to them for assistance rather than live on resources gained during several years of lucrative practice. I think if a full appreciation of the position were brought home to hon. Members, they would take a very different view of the matter.
Instead of pointing to hon. Members on these benches would the hon. Gentleman apply himself to the subject under discussion? How would he like to have to make provision for himself and his wife out of 24s. a week and also pay rent? That is what we are discussing.
I appreciate the fact that the rates provided under the Regulations are not as large as we would like to see them, but as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane), the rates must be in accordance with the economic condition of the country and it is only because the National Government have placed the country, economically, on a sound basis, that these rates can be paid at all. Personally, I, like the hon. Member for Huddersfield, would prefer a sound basis of relief to promises which could not be fulfilled and which would bring us back to the conditions of 1931. I believe it to be a libel on the great body of the workless in this country to say that they object to a means test. I think they realise that it is only fair, if they are to take assistance from others little better off than themselves, that they should show their need. I think, too, that when they realise what these Regulations do, they will not lend themselves to an agitation such as hon. Members opposite threaten to raise in the country, and that any attempt to raise such an agitation will fall very flat.
What were the main objections to the old Regulations? My personal experience in examining many hundreds of cases shows that they fell under four heads—the operation of the rent rule, the cut for large families, the too wide definition of "household," and the fact that the head of the household was often left wholly dependent on the other members of the household. These draft Regulations remove all those objections. The family cut has gone. Some provision, perhaps not so big as we would like, is made for the head of a family who has no resources. The rent rule has been made more flexible, and with the aid of the local committees can be made more flexible still. Objection has been taken to these local advisory committees. Personally, I welcome them because I believe that through them it will be possible to adapt the administration of the Regulations to local needs. Then the definition of "household" has been drawn in such a way as to guard against any tendency to break up family life, a tendency which has obviously been grossly exaggerated by hon. Members opposite. No reasonable person can quibble at the obligation placed upon near relatives to help each other. The provisions that are now to be made for the personal requirements of more distant relatives forming part of a household, or of those near relatives who form part of a household and who have their own dependants, will go a long way to free the household means test from any charge of unfairness.
I welcome, too, the provision by which a man and his wife with no resources and with dependants will get the equivalent of the insurance benefit rate. It is often said that the rate is too low, and we would like, if it were financially possible, to see it increased. But it is remarkable how few complaints one receives from those who are in receipt of insurance benefit. The beneficiaries appreciate that the rate is a fair one when everything is taken into consideration, and I am glad to know that those with no resources and with dependants will, at any rate, get the equivalent of the benefit rate.
The rule, too, which allows assistance to be reduced to less than normal earnings is, I think, a wise one. No one wants to place a premium on assistance as against earnings. I have one misgiving about the application of this rule. In some industries wages are far too low at present. In the coal-mining industry it was generally recognised throughout the country that wages were too low and public opinion clearly expressed itself in favour of an increase of those wages. I hope the Minister and the Board, in the application of the rule, will give sympathetic consideration to that point and will instruct their officers that in industries where wages are low, the basis of comparison should be not with the normal wages earned but with what would be a fair wage if the industry could afford to pay it.
I have only one regret, and it is that the amounts to be disregarded in assessing need are not more generous. Take, for instance, a superannuation allowance to which a man has contributed. A man of 65 entitled to the old age pension may also be entitled to draw, say, 17s. 6d. a week superannuation from his union, to which he has contributed. A man in that position, living with an unemployed son, will think twice about retiring if he knows that part of his superannuation will be taken into account in assessing the need of his son. I think the Board ought to give generous exemptions in regard to any allowances in the form of superannuation so as to make it easier for elderly workers to retire and to make way for those who are younger and more in need of work. There are still some unions which pay out-of-work benefit. That is a form of provision against unemployment which we ought to encourage and it would be a great pity if under these Regulations such benefit was not disregarded. I believe that under the transitional payments system the first 5s. of any such payment was disregarded. I should have liked a provision in these Regulations under which a man who had contributed to his union for out-of-work benefit would in times of unemployment be better off than those who had made no such provision.
Though I am satisfied with the Regulations as now drawn, I hope the Government will not think that we are satisfied with their whole treatment of unemployment. These Regulations represent only a palliative and not a remedy. They do nothing to deal with the real problem, which is the provision of work rather than of assistance. It would be idle to say that we are satisfied with the Government's efforts, so far, in dealing with unemployment. The Prime Minister at Dundee told us that when the Government had made it possible for industry to do better, industry was under a moral obligation to put new works in the Special Areas. What has been done in that direction? What has been done on the North-East coast? Only last week there was the instance of Jarrow where we had the chance of putting down a new plant on a suitable site. In that case, was not an industry which had benefited by protection allowed to torpedo the scheme? Therefore although I am satisfied with these Regulations, and accept them as a means to enable us to carry on, I say we expect a real effort from the Government when this is out of the way, to deal with the real problem of unemployment and the location of new industries in the Special Areas.
I hope that the thousands of unemployed in the hon. Member's constituency will read carefully the speech which he has just delivered and especially his suggestion that they ought to have saved, while they were employed, enough to maintain themselves when they became unemployed. At least I understood that to be the hon. Member's suggestion when he referred to the earnings of the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) and the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt). Anyone who knows the conditions of the working-men in the hon. Member's constituency will realise how ridiculous it is to suggest that their wage-earning capacity would be sufficient to enable them to maintain themselves through a long period of unemployment. We on this side are not concerned with any philosophic aspect of the problem of unemployment but with the actual human needs of the millions of men, women and children who are suffering the effects of unemployment. The issue between the Government and the Opposition is a simple one. It is whether the wealthiest country in the world, by the method of the means test, should economise to the extent of £15,000,000 a year or so, at the expense of a section of the community who are, through no fault of their own, existing on a bare margin of subsistence.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane) rather sneered at the Labour party and expressed fears at their prodigality if and when they are returned as the Government of this country. I should have thought that that criticism ill became a supporter of the present Government, a Government which has provided tens of millions a year in subsidising the creaking capitalist economic machine and which is providing the best part of £200,000,000 a year in building up great armaments in this country. All that we on this side are urging is that there is no case made out, whatever may have been the position in September, 1931, for continuing to economise to the extent of this £15,000,000 a year. Hon. Members opposite cannot have it both ways. They argued during the last Parliament that it was necessary to impose this among other measures of economy in order to restore the prosperity of our country, and at the last election they claimed that they had restored this country to prosperity. If that be so, there cannot be any case for continuing a policy which admittedly was put forward in 1931 as a measure of economy. We on this side are opposed to these Regulations lock, stock, and barrel. We do not believe that it is possible to evolve any kind of regulations which will work equitably and fairly so far as the unemployed are concerned. We want to restore the position to that which existed on the 12th November, 1931, when the Regulations applying this needs test first came into operation.
I want to go back to the position as it existed on 12th November, 1931, when this statutory Order came into operation applying, for the first time in the history of this country, provisions whereby the circumstances of the unemployed in need of assistance by way of transitional payment should be subject to a needs test.
The hon. Member is suffering from a misapprehension of the position. I want to have the position as it existed in 1931 so far as the household needs test is concerned. As we said in our manifesto at the Election, we want to abolish the household means test, which was first imposed by the National Government in November, 1931. We do not want any reduction of rates. If we are to have any alteration, it may be necessary to have an increase, but I am dealing for the moment with the needs test, and I suggest that if the position of this country is not at any rate comparable with the position in September, 1931, whatever that may have been, the case for the Government has gone. Therefore, as I say, we are opposed to these Regulations lock, stock, and barrel.
Hon. Members opposite may not be aware of the depth of suspicion and dislike on the part of the working classes of this country so far as the application of the old Poor Law is concerned. Prior to 1911, in the days that followed the industrial revolution, the old system of the Poor Law, which was first introduced in 1601 in the Statute of Elizabeth, was applied to meet the needs which arose as a result of the surplus of unemployed which began to accumulate during the 20th century. The Poor Law as evolved in the time of Queen Elizabeth was never intended to apply to a person who was able and willing to work. The Act of 1601 was intended to apply to the old and the infirm and to a person who was not for some reason or another in the habit of following any particular employment, and it was not until the last century that that law was applied to deal with the man who was able and willing to work but was unable to do so because of the economic situation.
In 1911 the first Insurance Act was applied, when 2,750,000 workers were brought under this system of contributory unemployment insurance, and that was extended in 1920 so as to bring the number within the system to just under 12,000,000. It was then thought that this country had turned its back once and for all upon this method of dealing with the unemployed, namely, sending them to the Poor Law. They were called upon to contribute while they were in employment, the condition being that when they were unemployed they would be entitled to draw their benefit out of the Unemployment Insurance Fund. That is an entirely different state of affairs from that which existed prior to 1911, when they either had to live on their relatives and friends or to go to the local boards of guardians and apply for out-relief. That was the position prior to 1911. They had those alternatives, and anyone who knows anything about how the working classes of this country lived in those days, knows very well that the average working man would resist the pressure to go to the boards of guardians until he was driven to the point of desperation. That is not the psychology which applies to a man going to draw his unemployment insurance benefit, and that is why hon. Members on this side are fundamentally opposed to this alteration which came into operation in 1931, whereby the best part of 1,000,000 unemployed men and women, who at any rate we believe are unemployed through no fault of their own, were driven to what is more or less outdoor relief. That is why we can have no part or lot in the policy of the Government in seeking to apply this needs test.
May I cite two examples which have come to my own knowledge and which I should like to bring to the notice of the House? I realise that, even though the Government have thought fit to re-introduce these Regulations, even though they appear to be determined to retain this method of the needs test, there are many ways in which these Regulations can be improved. Hon. Members opposite are much more concerned with recruiting than are some of us on this side, but I have a letter here in my possession from an old soldier with 22 years' service in the Army, who retired on a Service pension of 10s. a week. If this man had been wounded and had become disabled, he would no doubt have been entitled to a disability pension, and the whole of it would not have been taken into consideration when assessing the amount of unemployment assistance to which he would be entitled, but because he went through the Boer War and the Great War, with 22 years' service in the British Army to his credit, he only qualifies for a Service pension, and the whole of that 10s. a week is taken into consideration and his unemployment assistance is reduced by that amount.
Let me take another example. I have a letter here from the father of two sons living in the Black Country, stating that both his sons have left him. The younger one, aged 19, has apparently joined the Army, and the other one is tramping in some other part of the country. Apparently they have left him because of the friction that has arisen in the family, the earnings of the two boys being taken into consideration in assessing the amount of unemployment assistance to be paid to the father and mother. Their earnings were apparently sufficiently high to justify a nil determination, and as a result of the dissatisfaction and friction that have been engendered in that family, the father now writes to tell me that both his sons have left him. That may not appeal to hon. Members opposite as being a very sad state of affairs. It is a common state of affairs at any rate, and to those who are concerned in the immediate family, the parents, it is a very distressing state of affairs, and it is one of the direct results of the policy of the Government in maintaining this method of economising at the expense of a deserving section of the community.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield discussed in a rather philosophic way the question of ascertaining the full human needs of people. I do not think that is very relevant to the actual concrete problem with which we are faced, but the ordinary working man and woman, whether in employment or unemployed, have human needs which are just as great as those in any other section of the community, and it is because we take that view, because we are opposed to these hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children being driven down to the very margin of subsistence, and living in conditions of misery and poverty, as they are at the present time, that we say that the few extra shillings that would go into these families if this means test were removed, the greater measure of happiness that would result, even on a purely material basis, if the Government's policy were reversed, justifies us in opposing, as we have opposed since 1931, the imposition of a means test and in continuing to oppose a means test. The hon. Member shakes his head. Does he suggest that the Labour party has ever approved the means test?
The hon. Member knows perfectly well that the Labour party has no responsibility for the application of the means test to the millions of men and women who are now subject to it. Under the 1924 Unemployment Insurance (No. 2) Act provision was made for giving extended benefit to those unemployed men and women who had used up their right to standard benefit. In 1927 the Tory Government made provision for the payment of transitional benefit to those unemployed who had used up their right to standard benefit. That was the position in October, 1931, and it was the position until 12th November, 1931. The whole of the unemployed, whether that section which was still entitled to draw standard benefit or the section which was entitled to draw transitional benefit, were entitled to draw benefit as a right under the law, and the individual unemployed worker drew his benefit, whether standard or transitional, without any application of a means test whatsoever. I challenge anyone on the other side of the House to deny that statement. That position continued until 12th November, 1931, when, after the Labour Government had left office, and as a result of the Economy Act and of an Order in Council, for both of which the National Government were responsible, the means test was imposed. Therefore, so far as the means test as it has been applied to the unemployed is concerned, the Labour party have no responsibility whatever. We are thus entitled to continue our opposition, as I hope we will, both inside and outside the House, and never to cease our opposition until the nation has returned us to the other side of the House and given us the opportunity to remedy the present situation and to give the unemployed a square deal.
The hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) gave us a review of the Poor Law since the days of Queen Elizabeth, and we on this side of the House will find no quarrel with the various steps which he set out. When he came to 1931, however, and made the point which has frequently been made of the difference between the means test as imposed by the National Government and the means test that was operative until this Government came into power—
I hope that, if the hon. Gentleman is going to make statements, he will prove them. I never denied the fact that under the old Poor Law which originated in 1601 out-relief was applied subject to a means test, but we are not now dealing with the non-insured person, but with the insured person who is unemployed. My statement was that the means test was first applied to the insured unemployed person in November, 1931.
I accept at once what the hon. Gentleman says. In fact, I was going on to make that clear, but from that there follow certain arguments which I should like to make. Before doing so, however, I wish to make a remark about a point, which has been made before, that this Government has subsidised the capitalist machine to the extent of tens of millions of pounds. We accept that. We find nothing wrong with subsidies on this side, and why should we when in every case they have given a larger amount of employment? It is all very well for hon. Members to abuse us on this side for giving these subsidies, but the effect is seen in a great number of cases in increased employment in the industries which received them.
I should also like to say a word about the speech of the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar). I do not think that he was fair when he attacked my right hon. Friend for the various visits he has made in the past 18 months. It is obvious that when a man lives in an area he knows it far better than anybody who pays it a visit from time to time. The hon. Member was also unfair when he suggested that my right hon. Friend should not have paid these visits. The more visits Ministers can pay to the distressed areas, the industrial areas, the agricultural areas, or to any other areas, the better, because that is surely the best possible way in which they can grasp the difficulties of the situation in those areas. He also made a point, which I did not think would be made in this Debate, with regard to the salaries received by my right hon. Friend and by Lord Rushcliffe. It is a very poor argument because, when hon. Gentlemen opposite were in office, they introduced a Measure which is universally supported, and is running extraordinarily well, to set up the London Passenger Transport Board; and they appointed to the management of the Board a business man and gave him a very large sum of money. We find no fault with that, but the right hon. Gentleman who brought in that Measure justified the large salary by saying that if we are to have the best men we must be prepared to pay for them. Therefore, the salary which is paid to Lord Rushcliffe, for what everybody will agree is a most thankless task, is not very large when it is compared with the salaries that are paid to big business people.
I am in the recollection of the House when I say that he referred to the salaries of both the Minister and of Lord Rushcliffe. He also rather made fun of the fact that in the Regulations the words "flexibility," "discretion," "advice" and "assistance" occur so frequently, and he said that no Government publication within his knowledge had even contained words of this character so many times. No Government publication, however, has had to deal with such a vital social problem in which flexibility, discretion, advice and assistance were so necessary. When you are dealing with human beings, this is exactly what we want. One of the troubles with the last Regulations and the reason they broke down was that they embodied a cast-iron, rigid, universal system. One of the reasons why many hon. Members on this side, who were apprehensive about those Regulations, find themselves able to give support to my right hon. Friend is that the new Regulations are now introduced with a great measure of flexibility, discretion, advice and assistance.
I should like to say a word about the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), because it seems to have been ignored since it was made. His first charge, and a very natural one, was that my right hon. Friend had taken a long time to introduce these Regulations, and he rather complained that the interval was longer than was necessary. Then he made a complete roundabout. He said that the Minister had taken 18 months to decide facts which could have been decided in 18 days. In almost the next sentence he said that we should have had a great deal of time to consider these Regulations. He said the Government had no right to bring forward the Regulations without allowing a great deal of time for their consideration, but he also said that immediately on the publication of the Regulations an agitation had burst out. No time was necessary for examination before the agitation. The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. The "Daily Herald" were so quick in their examination of them that on the day after publication they came out with great headlines quoting facts and figures which were wrong.
That just shows that a little caution and a little consideration were necessary; but if the right hon. Gentleman says, "We ought to have had more time to consider these Regulations" he cannot turn round and make it a point that immediately on publication a great agitation burst out. I should have thought the right hon. Gentleman would have been very pleased at the delay. I have turned up, as no doubt many other hon. Members have, the Debates in 1934. The right hon. Gentleman then said:
I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman"—
that was the present President of the Board of Education—
for a definite statement that he will undertake a revision of these Regulations after they have had a very short run.
Again, in the same speech, he said:
I ask for a pledge from the right hon. Gentleman that within three months of the Regulations coming into operation there shall be a reconsideration of the position, and the introduction of the necessary Amendments."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December, 1934; col. 869, Vol. 296.]
He was given his chance for reconsideration, because for 18 months these Regulations have been at a standstill. In ending his speech to-day the right hon. Member for Wakefield referred to "the increasing figures of unemployment." That was something which I entirely fail to understand. Although there are certain trades in which unemployment has shown no appreciable fall, I do not think there is a trade in the country which shows an increasing figure of unemployment.
I have come over to this side because there are so few Members sitting on this side of the House. May I draw the attention of the hon. Member to one of the main industries of the country, that of shipping? The City of Liverpool is desolate from the shipping point of view.
I am perfectly ready to receive a broadside from any angle, but I still say, and I can justify it, although naturally I have not the figure for every trade in the country, that there is no trade which shows, an increasing figure of unemployment. Then the right hon. Member for Wakefield said that the unemployed wanted not money but justice, and I think we are entitled to ask how else can justice as expressed by the right hon. Gentleman be shown except in terms of money, unless—and here he would have every Member on this side with him—it is to be expressed in work. One of the complaints which we on this side put forward against the way in which these Regulations are being discussed—
I was saying that one of the reasons why Members on this side complain of the way in which these Debates have been conducted is that we
feel that these Regulations are being discussed as though they were a permanent cure for unemployment, but surely they are only put forward as something which will fit into the whole social structure of the country. The right hon. Member for Wakefield said that generous Regulations would not suit us, but the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) said some time ago something with which I am certain we should all agree.
We would much rather see people properly and decently cared for than make party capital out of the matter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th December, 1934; col. 1091, Vol. 296.]
I quite agree, and we are entitled to ask how hon. Members opposite would deal with this matter. [Interruption.] On this side of the House we are always ready to receive any explanation from any quarter, and at least we know where the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Gallacher) stands on this matter, and we also know where hon. Members below the Gangway on the opposite side stand, but we have not the slightest idea where the Labour party stand. The hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) said, and rightly, that the means test as brought into operation by the National Government and operating with transitional payments differs from the means test which was operated under Poor Law auspices when his side were in office, but that is only a difference of degree and not a difference of principle. In 1931 the right hon. Member for Wakefield said in this House:
I was prepared, and I am prepared to agree to-day, to a national scheme which involves the investigation …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th September, 1931; col. 534, Vol. 256.]
of the means of the applicant. That is a means test. You cannot get away from that. Then, in 1935, he said:
When I was Minister of Health I did my utmost to humanise Poor Law administration.
How did he do it? He did it by sending out a circular saying:
It is proper that the earnings of widows and children should be taken into account.
Is that really humanising the Poor Law? If the right hon. Gentleman had wanted to humanise the Poor Law there is no reason why he should not have abolished the means test under Poor Law auspices.
In view of that statement neither the right hon. Gentleman nor any other Member on that side, with the exception of the four hon. Members below the Gangway, has any right to turn round and attack us on this particular point. Suppose that hon. Members opposite—[Interruption.]
Every word that the hon. Gentleman has said is true, but that does not in the slightest way alter my argument. The question that we are entitled to ask is: If hon. Members opposite abolished the means test, as they suggest, wiping it away altogether, what would they put in its place? [An HON. MEMBER: "Money."] That is not the view held by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition.
Fortunately for political scholars, if I may use the word, or political inquirers—[An HON. MEMBER: "Students."] I am grateful to the hon. Member. I should have said "political students." Fortunately for them, the right hon. Gentleman has already made his statement, and what did he say?
The means test must be abolished. The only real test possible, in order to find out the tiny percentage of shirkers from the vast majority of willing workers, is the offer of work under fair conditions.
That is the genuinely-seeking-work Clause. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman cannot deny that that is the very principle of the genuinely-seeking-work Clause, with which hon. Gentlemen opposite had so much to do when they were in office. [An HON. MEMBER: "An offer of work."] How are you to judge
whether that offer is accepted or not? You can only judge on the very basis with which hon. Members had all the trouble when they were in office.
If I may turn now to the Regulations, I would say that every Member of the House, irrespective of the side upon which he sits, will agree that we all owe a great debt of gratitude to the Minister for his introductory speech this afternoon. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman opposite has probably had the good fortune to confer with his hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), but we are not all able to bring to bear upon this problem the knowledge possessed by the hon. Member for Gorbals, and we are therefore indebted to the Minister of Labour. The Regulations should be viewed in the proper light, first of all as they fit in with respect to employment and, secondly, as they fit into social service. I think it has been suggested by Members of the Liberal party, that Unemployment Assistance should have no relation to Unemployment Insurance, but if you build up a social system in which wages, Unemployment Insurance and Unemployment Assistance form, as it were, three parts, they must be relative to each other. It is no good trying to pretend that you can divorce Unemployment Insurance from wages or Unemployment Assistance from Unemployment Insurance.
It has been said that if Unemployment Assistance were carried out to a very high degree, or put upon a basis where it had no relation to Unemployment Insurance, you would be knocking the bottom out of the insurance system. I would reinforce the plea made by the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) that what was suggested by the Unemployment Insurance Committee and the Unemployment Insurance Board, namely, that a full inquiry should be carried out into wages, Insurance and Assistance, should be put into operation as soon as my right hon. Friend has put his Regulations through. There is a great dearth of statistics and of proper inquiry into how wages, Insurance and Assistance relate to each other. I have a certain amount of sympathy with the question of how Public Assistance will fit into this scheme. It is a little early to say. One gathers from the Report that the Unemployment Assistance Board is encroaching slightly upon what has previously been the domain of the public assistance committee. [Interruption.] Perhaps I have read the Report differently from other hon. Members.
As one surveys the structure of society, it seems that public assistance committees must be radically altered in the future. The Assistance Board may expand suddenly and the public assistance committee disappear, and the people whom the public assistance committee took over, come within the ambit of the Assistance Board. That raises the question as to whether you are to take employability as the standard. At the moment, as I understand it, employ-ability is the standard which is taken by the Unemployment Assistance Board. I am not sure whether employability is the correct and proper system, but my right hon. Friend and the Unemployment Assistance Board have had a most difficult and thankless task in trying to link up local administration with a balanced central system. It is very difficult so to base your system that it does not become rigid in the extreme, as it did under the previous Regulations, or so loose that you cannot have any control or this House cannot make any suggestion before the carrying out of the local administration.
I must apologise for keeping the House for so long. I am certain that hon. Members on this side of the House would not accept the Regulations as a permanent solution of the industrial difficulties of the moment. I have very great sympathy with the speech which was made by the hon. Member for Abertillery and the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey), who expressed very great doubts as to the Government's policy for the distressed areas.
No, that is something which we will not accept. If you view these Regulations only as to how they will affect distressed areas or the unemployment areas, particular sections of the unemployed, you are looking at only one angle of the problem and not at the problem as a whole. I speak for a few hon. Members on this side, a very few, who are certain that the right hon. Gentleman will not be content with the present policy. It is because we believe that work is the only solution, and that this is only a palliative, that we are able to give our support to these Regulations, as they are brought forward.
I would like to say a word about the flexibility which has been so much laughed at by hon. Members opposite. The Unemployment Assistance Board bring forward very strong figures to bear out the point that flexibility does work and is working—148,000 special-circumstances cases, a very high figure, and 10,000 exceptional-needs cases, have been dealt with. As against the suggestion that flexibility would not work, the total figure of 158,000 cases is very high, and shows that flexibility can and does work.
The hon. Gentleman will no doubt have read the Report of the Unemployment Assistance Board, and he surely does not expect me to give him full details of that Report. I can only quote from it. As hon. Members know, it is always possible to bring forward a certain number of hard cases. One of the difficulties in the constituencies is that when hard cases are brought forward you have always to remember that they are a very small percentage of the total number of people who are receiving assistance. There is the question of rent; there is the question of the position of the boarder, or of the married son or the married daughter. These are the sort of questions on which anyone trying to consider the Regulations impartially would require to be satisfied. I think that, if hon. Members take a survey of the whole problem, they cannot do other than accept these Regulations, not as a permanent solution, but as an instalment, which is the purpose for which they are brought forward. The hon. Member for Abertillery rather jeered because the Unemployment Assistance Board said that they were a trustee for the public conscience. The public have a very acute conscience on this problem, and they have an acute conscience, not only for the unemployed, but also for the employed. I am convinced that, as these Regulations operate, and as people get to know more about them and see what the officers of the Unemployment Assistance Board are doing, they will realise that there is indeed truth behind that statement that the Board is a trustee for the public conscience of the nation.
I have not much fault to find with the speech of the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Cartland). As he was speaking, one of my hon. Friends said: "He means well, but he has never experienced what it is to be unemployed." I think that that remark would apply to the great majority of hon. Members opposite. While they want to do something for the unemployed, they cannot be as fully alive as we are to what unemployment means. It is no use trying to argue about the means test, or trying to lessen the blow by saying that a shilling will be given here or there. That does not meet the situation. I should like to reply to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane), who asked what is our fundamental objection to the present position. Our fundamental objection is that we are opposed to the means test, and we cannot accept anything short of its removal.
I admit at once that the new Regulations are an improvement on the old Regulations, especially in my area. Parts of Lancashire will benefit from them, but that is not dealing fairly with the rest of the country. Anyone who heard the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) will realise the position in which his part of the country will be placed, and other districts will be in a similar position. It is useless for hon. Members opposite to expect that agitation will stop at the end of these three days; a volume of feeling will spread throughout the country, because, although there may be improvement in some parts, we shall realise what it means to others, and shall agitate with them, as we did in January, 1935, to get the Government to realise the further mistake which they are now making. I can visualise the Government again recognising their mistake, and they will never be able to stop short until the means test is removed.
The hon. Member opposite said, and I do not disagree with him, that no country in the world is doing so well for its able-bodied unemployed as we are. But has it not always been recognised as the proud boast of this country that we are ahead of all other countries in our recognition of social services and of the claims of the unemployed? It is hardly fair, therefore, for the hon. Member to bring that forward as an argument. We have always been ahead of all other countries, and the reason why we keep our present proud position in the world is because of the treatment we have meted out to our people. We want hon. Members opposite to realise that fact, and not to turn well-meaning citizens into another channel because of the treatment they receive. It used to be said on the other side of the House, when unemployment was talked about, that many of our people did not want work. That, however, has been dropped, and it is recognised that work cannot be found for nearly 2,000,000 of our people who are unemployed. When once that is recognised, there ought to be no question about the removal of the means test. The means test means that the genuinely unemployed man or woman, after having received a certain amount of benefit, has to depend on the other members of the household.
I do not know about a work test, but what I am talking about is subjecting a man to an examination as to what is going into the household before he can get any relief. With regard to the breaking up of family life, I look at this question in a slightly different way from some other Members. If I myself had had to help other members of my family, that would not have caused me to leave home, but what might have happened would have been that, had I been the person whose standard benefit had run out, or had I been told that I could not get any benefit because other members of the family were getting something, it would have caused me to leave home rather than live on other members of the family. That is what I find to be happening now. An unemployed man feels a sense of moral degradation in having to live on other members of the household, and, although the other members of the family do not say anything to him—in a loyal household they very seldom do—the man himself feels it so acutely that eventually it drives him away from home, and in many cases causes him to commit suicide. I have known such cases. A man likes to think that at least he can keep himself; he does not like to think that he is driven to other members of the household for relief. That is what I mean by the breaking up of family life, and Members of the Government who said in the country that their intention was not to break up family life ought to realise what they are doing at the present time, because they are not removing that stigma which will be placed on a great many people.
It has been said that there is no agitation in the country against what is called the means test. My locality is not so hard hit as others, but a month ago we had a well attended meeting, not altogether of unemployed people, and a resolution was carried against the application of the means test. It was sent to the Minister of Labour, to the Prime Minister, and to myself, and I have in my possession other resolutions which have been carried in various parts of the locality asking me to do all I can to break down the application of the means test. I have had one letter which I should like to read to the Minister of Labour, because it bears upon his position. My correspondent is a woman, and her letter is very well written. It says of the means test:
Ernest Brown is going to introduce it with his recommendations, and says it is going to alleviate the lot of the unemployed. Do you know, I am sorely tempted to write and tell him he talks like a blasted fool when he says things like that.
She goes on to say:
He would probably lift his hands in pious horror, but he would be far more horrified had he had to endure the conditions that my family and I have had to endure for the last six years.
Right throughout the working-class movement there is a bitter feeling against what is happening now. It has been put off for a time in the belief that when the Government realised what was happening under the standstill arrangement, when they introduced the new Regulations it would mean that they had found out their mistake and would remove the means test altogether. Hon. Members opposite have in the past said that while we are against the full means test, we do not believe that there ought to be anyone getting public money without some investigation, but the party as a
whole has stood firmly by No means test at all. There has been no going away from that. The money that is spent in making investigation to find out what the means are is not worth what it saves. It would be far better to give the money to the unemployed without resorting to an examination of what is coming into the home. Unless the present position is changed, I honestly believe that, when we go to the country again, so strong will be the feeling against the means test that we shall be returned on that one issue alone. I trust that the other side will recognise the position they are in and will try to bring about a change. I understood the Minister to say that this is not the final word.
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that the working of these Regulations would be closely watched and that, if mistakes were found which wanted remedying, it would not be beyond the powers of the House to deal with them.
I thought I heard him say that as time goes on there will be a further examination of what is happening and certain alterations might be made. If such an examination takes place and it is found that they are unworkable, rather than keep stretching another little bit, a shilling here and a shilling there, I hope the means test will be removed altogether.
I have sat here quietly listening to Debates day after day since this new Parliament assembled and I have only once ventured to address the House. On that solitary occasion I was followed by the hon. Member who has just spoken. This time the position is reversed. He has left the House in no doubt as to where he stands on the question of the means test, whether he is right or wrong in committing his party so fully as he commits himself. It is perhaps, a little venturesome for me to choose the second occasion on which to address the House on a subject so very thorny and difficult as this, and I realise that what I say may draw off from me some of the support that I enjoyed in my constituency at the last election, but I left no elector in any doubt as to where I stood on the question of unemployment assistance or the means test. I stand by the declaration that I then made, namely, that in my view a means test was essential although, as it was at the time being applied, it certainly needed modification to make it more human, and that the terms should be made a little more just and rather more generous. I think that what the Government promised at the General Election is being carried out in the revised Regulations that we have before us.
Those who have studied the first annual report of the Board cannot fail to have been impressed with the humanity which officers, new to a difficult task, have brought to their administration. They have had to tackle a problem bristling with numerous difficulties. They have been brought into contact with many circumstances, domestic and financial, and others due to illness and other causes, and they started work 18 months ago in an atmosphere full of hostility and suspicion, which I think may have been to some extent fanned by those who, from the beginning, were against this system of assistance. But time and experience have very largely changed all that, and those who need assistance have found that the officers charged with the responsibility for helping them have not confined their help within the narrow limits of financial assistance, but have helped those who have learned to trust them in a hundred ways. I think they have proved that very often a little sympathy is just as much appreciated as are shillings. I think, too, that the way they have co-operated with the voluntary local organisations has been invaluable. The individual study which their work has necessitated and the numerous cases of so varied a nature have taught all of us that greater elasticity was necessary under the old Regulations and a wider discretion most advisable in the application of the new.
I believe that there is a genuine desire in all quarters of the House to be as fair and as generous as is practicable to those hard hit by the lack of opportunities for jobs at their accustomed occupations. Here, knowing as I do and coming into contact, as I have done, with many in poor districts, I would like to pay a simple and honest tribute to the wives of so many thousands in our poor households, who in times of great difficulty and with slender means do magnificent work and lay out their resources in the most credible way, and are an example to those who are frequently much better off than themselves. But, speaking generally, I hold the view, which may not be agreed with by many hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the less fortunate are cared for here in a far greater degree than they are in any other country I could mention. Who would have thought 20 years ago that to-day we should be spending on an additional social service £40,000,000 a year for no productive work, or that to-day the total expenditure on all our social services would have reached the gigantic figure of £480,000,000 a year, ten times the figure it was 25 years ago? These are arresting facts of which all of us should remind ourselves and of which I would ask hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, when they go to their constituencies, to remind their own supporters.
I propose to shorten what I had intended to say and to come at once to the most hotly opposed Regulation of all, namely, the means test, and to say that, however much many may like to see it avoided, its retention is absolutely essential. I would rather see the allowances more generously dealt with than the means test itself abolished. It has long been the basis of relief, and it is essential, as I see it, for these two reasons. First, anomalies and abuses must be swept away. They only create a sense of unfairness and discontent, of which we have many examples in the report of the Unemployment Assistance Board. Secondly, it is indefensible that well-to-do households should call upon other households and upon the community to maintain them. Logically, I do not think that any reasoning mind could contest the truth of those two statements, and it is only party bias and prejudice which does so.
I wonder if we who sit in this House were not dependent upon votes for reaching this place, how many would dare to advocate the abolition of a means test. A home presupposes a family, family life, family affection and mutual assistance, and a home means as much to poor people as it does to those who are better off. It is being unfair to those homes that you seek to represent if you try to argue that members of working-class families are not prepared to render mutual support in times of trouble. There was a time not so long ago when I was responsible for the livelihood of some thousands of working men engaged in the engineering industry and their families. What did I find? I found that in the sick and mutual benefit societies, which were run by the workpeople and managed by themselves, they took very good care that when any of the members were away ill, there was no malingering or abuse allowed.
I agree, and they saw that there was no abuse and no unfairness, and if it is right for funds in that case to be safeguarded against abuse, it is quite as necessary, right and proper that national funds should be safeguarded.
That was not the point. The point that I was trying to make was that where those funds were being provided by the workpeople and administered by them, they took the greatest care to see that there should be no abuse and no malingering. I want finally to commend these new Regulations to the House as a real and combined effort, both of heart and of mind, to institute on sounder lines a new and valuable addition to our social services. As far as the increases are concerned, I am glad to think that they are to be granted as speedily as possible, and that as far as decreases are to be applied, they are to be spread over the long period of 18 months. We have heard in the past from hon. and right hon. Members opposite something about the inevitability of gradualness. We see, so far as these reductions are concerned, the theory of the inevitability of gradualness translated into practice.
The House must admit that it owes a great debt of gratitude to the Board and its officers, the Minister of Labour and his staff, for the hours of toil and hard work which they have performed in gathering up the experiences of the last 18 months throughout the country. Some amusement was caused earlier when the Minister referred to the creation of a service with a new technique. That, I think, is a description of a new service which has had a very short life but will be found in time capable of improvement. There is no question that public opinion demands that these new Regulations should be adopted, although no one claims them to be perfect. The Board itself said:
It is strongly of opinion that the whole problem should be examined on the widest basis in the near future.
The House will be well advised to adopt the new Regulations in that spirit of gratitude which is a lively expectation of favours to come.
The Regulations played a very large part in the events of the General Election, and we naturally want to discuss them from the point of view of the pledges we then made. I gave pledges in regard to the abolition of the household means test, and therefore I can give no support to these Regulations. That is the sole solution and one that we shall have to come to in the long run. There has been a very long and inexplicable delay in bringing forward these Regulations. When the outburst took place 18 months ago it was generally thought that two or three months would bring fresh Regulations, but the Government were in the difficulty that they were facing a General Election and they did not know how to get over the Election safely, with the means test question. Then came the God-sent League of Nations stunt, since abandoned, and that got them over the General Election.
The Regulations as put forward now are apparently, as far as one can judge, an improvement in many respects on the disastrous ones put forward 18 months ago, but it is impossible for us now to judge what is going to be the effect of the Regulations. Just the same story was told 18 months ago as has been told to-night. The Minister said then that he was making improvements and giving increases in many cases, that they were going to be just and fair, and that the Regulations had been very carefully thought out. It was the same sort of statement that we have had from the Minister to-day. He may be nearer the truth on this occasion, but it is impossible to judge until we get to 16th November and a few weeks afterwards, when people will be receiving their pay and may be receiving increases or reductions. We know that last time there were drastic reductions, and it may well be so again. When the Minister spoke about the events of January, 1935, he used a euphemistic phrase. He said that the Regulations did not work out as anticipated. What happened was a tremendous and spontaneous agitation all over the country which nearly led to the resignation of the Government and caused them hastily to abandon the Regulations.
There are one or two points which I should like to raise. The first point is in regard to the advisory committees. A great deal will depend upon the advisory committees. They are a sort of smokescreen, and no doubt to a large extent that is their object, but they may have useful functions. The Minister might give us more information. How are the committees to be composed? How are they to be selected? Who will go on them? Will they be people of experience in these matters? Are the manual workers to be well represented, or will the employing class and the professional class be in a great majority? They naturally look at things from a rather different point of view. The way that rents are to be dealt with will depend on the work of the advisory committees. We cannot tell how the rents are to be dealt with. I have cases in my own constituency. There are the Portobello and Moseley districts. In those two villages there are houses at very low rents and the people there will be watching with the greatest interest to see what the effect of the recommendations of the advisory committees will be. For that we shall have to wait.
I am opposed to the whole principle of the household means test as worked at the present time, for reasons which are perfectly well known to all of us. I object to the unfairness of sons in a household where there is one unemployed, being taxed, while in homes where there are no unemployed no penalisation of that kind takes place, and they go free. There are relatives living in houses who are penalised because there are unemployed in the house, while next door there are people going free. The loyal son who stays at home is penalised, whereas the son who goes away gets off scot free. That is having a very bad effect. It is putting a premium on leaving home and is tending to break up families, as many hon. Members know. It places the heads of families in a wrong and painful position. It makes the father who is dependent on his children despondent and gloomy, and makes him wonder what the others are thinking of him. It is creating a new family psychology. Often the blame for all the troubles of the family is placed upon the unemployed member of the family, and if it is the head of the family who is unemployed the effects are very serious. It has the effect also that under the Unemployment Assistance Board Regulations the sons pay more than they do under the Poor Law. Under the Poor Law if a man gets public relief the sons pay a small sum of a few shillings, whereas they pay four or five times as much if it is under the means test.
I want to deal with another point, about the cuts that are to take place. We have heard a good deal about certain places, in South Wales in particular, where they have paid high rates and, it is said, have been extravagant, and where there is to be a gradual reduction. I want to call attention to a town in the centre of England where there is a Conservative majority on the town council well known for its moderation in all matters of administration, and that is Wolverhampton. I would remind the Minister that some years ago the Council of Wolverhampton revolted against the rates that they were being asked to pay by the Minister of Labour at that time, and that it was only under the pressure of being taken over by the Ministry that they were finally persuaded, as a compromise, to moderate to some extent the rates which they thought were fair and reasonable, whereas they thought the Government rates were indefensible and they were not prepared to pay them.
That is a town where obviously there are going to be cuts. I will give only one example. The scale is 16s. 3d. per lodger, and in the ordinary way there will be a reduction of 1s. 3d. a week. We are told that the advisory committee can alter it, but the basic rate will be down from 16s. 3d. to 15s. It would be entirely wrong and unjustifiable in circumstances of this kind to make any reduction. I should also like to know why the age of 55 is taken, above which there is to be no reduction. Why not 54, or 53, or even 50? It is difficult to see why a high arbitrary age should be taken. Let me call attention, to a figure showing the inadequacy of the scales being paid, in spite of the improvement that has been made. I refer to the grants for children. For families with two or more children the proposed scale will not be sufficient to meet the standards laid down for food by the British Medical Association, and for nutrition and clothing and other needs by the Merseyside and other sociological services.
The scale for a child of two is 3s., and there is a deficiency, according to the British Medical Association scale for food (plus 1s. 2½d. for clothing and light) of 1s. 3½d. For a child of four there is a deficiency of 1s. 7½d; for a child of six, 1s. 3½d.; for a child of eight, 1s. 4½d.; for a child of ten, 1s. 11½d.; and for a child of 12 there is a deficiency of 2s. 0½d. That shows what a long way we are still from providing families and children with the nutrition that they need.
On the question of the wages standard, it all depends what rate of wages you take. It would be unfair to say that a man must not receive more than he might normally earn if he went out to his job in the neighbourhood. In certain cases, some in my constituency, the trade union position is not strong, standard wages are not paid, and employers, owing to local conditions, are able to get men a long way below the proper rate. The standard that should be taken should be the proper trade union rate for the job. It would be unfair to take some figure which a man would actually earn under the local conditions, and I hope we shall have some reassurance that the wages taken will be the standard rates, irrespective of what a man might have to take in the local circumstances.
Further, the scale of the allowance affects wages. A man receiving 15s. a week is easily tempted to attempt a job at 25s. I hope the Minister will give some undertaking that after a period of three months he will review the situation and make a report to the House. If the Regulations work in the way that the old scale worked he will not need to be reminded that a review should take place. The review will take place on the Floor of this House very quickly. I hope that, apart from any demonstration that may arise under the pressure of the new cuts, the Minister will review the situation within a period of three months. I cannot vote for these Regulations because, at a time when all other cuts have been restored, this supercut, which bears no relation to the 10 per cent. cuts made—it is enormous in comparison—is still allowed to go on, while vast sums of money can be found for other purposes. For these reasons I shall give my vote against the Regulations.
After the speeches that we have heard from the Opposition, and particularly the speech of the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), it seems to me necessary that in approaching this subject we should realise that it is one of the most complicated and delicate problems with which any Government Department could have to deal. This is a great human problem that affects not only one section of the community, but three: the unemployed, those that are in work and the community as a whole—if you like, the taxpayer. I would remind hon. Members opposite that the solution of this problem calls for justice combined with courage, sympathetic imagination and a clear understanding, in arriving at that happy medium of giving as adequate provision as possible to those in need, tempered with justice and fairness to those more fortunate who are in work and those who have to find the wherewithal.
The speeches of hon. Members opposite seemed to me to ignore these conditions. It is easy to wax eloquent on such a subject as this and to raise cheers and the feelings of those directly concerned, but we have to face realities, and disagreeable though it is, I feel it to be the responsibility and the duty of every hon. Member that we should explain to the unemployed the practical facts of what is and what is not possible. To raise false hopes that cannot be carried out without bringing greater despair and misery in the end to the unemployed, and undermining the whole financial structure, to my mind is both irresponsible and cruel. I am sure that there are hon. Members even on the benches opposite who if they were prepared to give us their true opinion would not deny that these Regulations are an honest attempt to remedy the difficulties which have shown themselves, and that they fulfil the undertaking given in the Government's manifesto at the General Election.
I, for one, wish to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having been able to produce a set of Regulations which when, thoroughly understood and administered with sympathetic discretion, which, I think, is the essence of the whole scheme, will be welcomed by the general body of the unemployed. I believe they will remove to a great extent some of the chief grievances and criticisms with which we have been faced. After the existing Regulations were put into operation and we had had a little experience of them I ventured to hand to the late Minister of Labour, a memorandum which, I believe the right hon. Gentleman has also seen, pointing out the defects which I thought were showing themselves, how the Regulations were working too harshly, particularly in connection with the household; the want of greater local co-operation and knowledge, and the necessity for a wider discretion in applying the Regulation to local areas. I also pointed out that greater simplification was wanted. Of course it is impossible for the Minister or anyone else to say with any certainty before they are put into operation that Regulations covering such a vast field will work exactly as intended, but as far as I am able to judge, speaking for my own area and from inquiries I have made, I believe that these improved Regulations—and they undoubtedly have been improved—will go far to meet the criticisms which I made in my memorandum, and in other directions will go still further to meet the criticisms which, I think, have been common in all areas.
I have always held that no scheme will work successfully unless it is divided into definite areas. The conditions vary so much, and wide discretion in applying the Regulations to local circumstances and conditions I believe we have now got. One of the most important things, if we are to make a success of these Regulations, is the personnel of the administration and the advisory committee. I can only speak for the Sheffield area, but if the past administration is any criterion then we have nothing to fear, for the officers there have carried out their most difficult duties with efficiency, sympathy and courage, and I honestly believe have won the confidence of the unemployed themselves.
Much has been said about family life. I am a great believer in family life, but you cannot maintain family life unless families are prepared to pull together. How can it be said that parents and children should not assist one another when it is necessary? If I am out of work and my sons are in work, why should they not be called upon to assist me rather than call upon someone else's sons? The arguments which have been put forward by hon. Members opposite on this matter will really not bear examination. Anyone who has any self-respect—and I am glad to think that the overwhelming majority of the unemployed have self-respect—know and feel just as acutely as any hon. Member in this House on this question. The household under the Regulations has been narrowed down, with few exceptions, to parents and unmarried children. That is as it should be. A more generous allowance for personal needs, particularly in connection with an unemployed parent, removes a real hardship with which I have always had great sympathy. When we come to compare the present Regulations with the draft Regulations, speaking for my own area, we see in almost all cases a marked effect of the change in favour of the unemployed in a way which I cannot help thinking the party opposite never anticipated. When the existing Regulations came into force in 1934 the "Daily Herald" said:
A distinct advance in the standard of life on the average of the 1,000,000 unemployed who will receive relief from the Unemployed Insurance Board is promised by the new scales issued last night. That
is something to be thankful for. It is more than we hoped and better than we feared.
I wonder how long we are to wait before we get another announcement from the "Daily Herald" on the present Regulations. I am not suggesting that they are perfect—[Interruption.] I am a practical man and I am not suggesting that these Regulations do more than provide for the bare necessities of life. We should all like to be more generous if circumstances and conditions would permit. It is true that reductions will unfortunately occur in certain cases if anomalies are to be avoided, but the powers of discretion and the time limit to a great extent mitigate these cases. I have always thought it was a vicious and dangerous principle when parties or local authorities of whatever colour begin to vie with each other in the distribution of public money. I, for one, deplore the fact that this question has been drawn into the arena of party politics, but I am glad to think that we on this side of the House are not guilty of having done so.
That has nothing to do with this subject. We must take each question on its merits. Let me say here that we on this side of the House are no less determined than hon. Members opposite in our ardent desire to do our duty, but with a sense of responsibility, to the unemployed. The draft Regulations, with their improved scales and with wider discretion and elasticity to provide for all cases according to circumstances and conditions, and which give far more generous allowances for children than the party opposite were prepared to vote for when they were in office. I am reminded that they even voted against an increase from two to three shillings when they were in office. Surely this takes a good deal of the substance out of some of the arguments that have been presented by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
As the "Daily Herald" indicated the other day, and as I have gathered from the speeches to which I have listened during this Debate, the conflict, if such there really be, surrounds the question as to whether there shall be a means test. We now know from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield that the policy of the party opposite is that there should be no means test. If that be the issue, I for one, am prepared to meet it at any time. I have the honour of representing a constituency which, with the exception of a small section of voters, is composed entirely of the working classes. In Sheffield we have had no fewer than 60,000 unemployed, a number which, I am thankful to say, has fallen to some 26,000 to-day. My election was fought almost entirely, if not entirely, on the means test, and I have good reason to know something about it, and about the feelings of the people, with whom one is bound to sympathise, but I have always had a profound belief in the common sense and fairness of the British working man when he is told the whole of the facts. I have not been disappointed, in spite of much misrepresentation, and irresponsible promises such as to abolish the means test, which people have been led to believe is the policy of the party opposite.
That being so, I would ask hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite whether they have sufficiently weighed up the consequences of what they are now proposing? Have they forgotten 1929 and 1930, when transitional benefits were paid without any inquiry as to need, and when the Insurance Fund became practically bankrupt? Have they forgotten the Royal Commission of 1930, which led to the Anomalies Act, followed by the Socialist Government of that day being forced to agree to the limitation of benefits and increased contributions, and—do not forget—a means test? It is true that these things were afterwards incorporated in the National Government's Economy Act. Surely hon. Members opposite do not wish that history should repeat itself; surely they cannot wish that; but that is what would happen if their policy were put into force.
Again, has the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield forgotten his own Circular 1069? I think hon. Members ought to study that Circular again. Is it considered just that one class of the community which requires assistance should be subjected to a means test, whereas another class is not? [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Then you will have to abolish the means test for public assistance. Is that intended? No. Payments for allowances must have relation to wages and local circumstances. It must not be more advantageous to be unemployed than to work. No fair-minded person would ever suggest that people in a well-to-do household should have the right of calling upon other households than their own for assistance, and to be wholly maintained by others. Hon. Gentlemen opposite know well that this can only be regularised by a fair means test. Every thinking wage-earning man and woman knows it; they are under no delusion. I have never yet met a working man who, when I have been talking with him individually in his home or, perhaps, after a stormy meeting—and I have talked to scores of them—has not admitted and agreed that some form of test is necessary.
Hon. Members opposite are doing the workers of this country a great disservice by trying to detract from their common sense and their sense of fairness. We on this side of the House represent wage-earners in no lesser degree than hon. Members opposite, and our desire to do what is just and fair is as acute as is theirs. One day—I was going to say by some stroke of misfortune—the party opposite may be called to power, and I would suggest to them that they should reflect again, and reflect deeply, before burning their boats on the slippery slope that leads to disaster. The workers of this country are sick to death of political verbiage. They are far more interested in employment which holds out a brighter future than the drab question of a means test which, after all, is at the most only a temporary but necessary expedient with which to overcome a temporary state of distress. An improvement in employment and a brighter outlook is the real cure for the problem that we are discussing to-day, and I trust, as must every hon. Member, that before long this problem will be banished from the minds of those who have been forced into bearing the depression and despair of prolonged idleness. But in the meantime, I am confident that, at any rate in most parts of the country, although there may be some parts in which it may not be the case, these Regulations will bring a good deal of relief to many homes, and to which we are indebted to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and the Board.
The hon. Member for Central Sheffield (Mr. Boulton) used with very considerable effect all the arguments and the clichés, if I may be allowed to use the term, that were used in the Debate when the previous disastrous Regulations were instituted. Indeed, that has characterised every contribution that has come from the Government side of the House. Hon. Members opposite might quite well have looked up the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Debate when the original Regulations were introduced and read over again the speeches they made on that occasion. The Regulations on that day were perfect Regulations, or if not perfect, at least the very best that the Government could be expected to produce in the circumstances that were ruling and it was said that there was more money being expended under those Regulations than had been spent under the previous ones.
I do not mean to suggest that I have any right to regard the hon. Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley) or the hon. Member for Central Sheffield as much older than myself, but if I may say so to them without rudeness, they expressed the point of view of an ageing generation. The hon. Member for Stockport talked about the progress made in 25 years. It is to be hoped that there has been progress in many directions in that time but there has been no progress in the hon. Member's mind in this respect—that his attitude towards this problem to-day is exactly the same as the attitude of a past generation. He is horrified to-day, as the representative of the law in an earlier time was horrified when Oliver Twist put forward his bowl and asked for more. A pauper asking for more—horrifying. I say that that is the attitude of a past generation, the state of mind which Dickens tried to destroy.
But when I listen to three younger Members, the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Cartland), the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane) and the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey)—young men with undoubted gifts and with undoubted opportunities, young men who by their very presence here display the fact that they have had much service from society—when I hear them using their personal skill and the assets that have been supplied to them by the community to try to talk some other fellow out of an extra shilling a week, I just feel a wee bit sad. They may not have experienced unemployment in their personal lives. Fortunately for me, it has not touched me very closely or for very long periods but my education, such as it was has enabled me when I meet an unemployed man or talk to an unemployed man or see an unemployed man to have sufficient imagination and common sense to say to myself, "There, but for the grace of God and the accident of fortune, goes James Maxton." But I am here, the hon. Member for King's Norton is here, the hon. Member for Huddersfield is here, as a result of a lot of accidental things—one's own personal qualities being the least considerable of the lot—and it is only fair, only decent, only sporting, if a man has got here and has abilities to use here, that he should use them to make the position of his less fortunate fellows a little bit better, and not a little bit worse than it is. Hon. Members here have it in their power to-day to demand that these Regulations should be withdrawn.
Many jeers and jibes have been thrown at my hon. and right hon. Friends above the Gangway and I should say this—that some of those jeers and jibes were deserved. But if hon. and right hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway have one regret, as a result of their experience of 1929–31 it is that they did what those on the Government benches are doing to-day. They accepted too slavishly the domination of their leaders. They were loyal—and that is one of the things which enable men in this House to leave their consciences outside the door. Do not let us go back to what was done in 1929–31. Let us face what we are doing to-night and its human consequences. Let us recognise that each one of us speaking here to-night has, at least, a minimum wage of £400 a year which we are all getting, without a means test, without any investigation into our personal resources, aye, without any investigation into our personal characters. Let us remember that we are deciding to-night that something like 1,000,000 of our fellows are to live on an income that has been worked out by the Unemployment Assistance Board as an average of 21s. a week.
Hon. Members opposite say that prudence compels us to limit it to that amount. Does the last speaker really believe that the economic difficulties in which this country was in 1931 were due to the amount paid to the unemployed? Only bad political partisanship and stupid thinking would allow anyone to say anything so foolish. The difficult circumstances obtaining generally in this country and throughout the world from 1929 to 1931 had a great variety of causes but among them is not to be counted any over-generous treatment of the unemployed. Hon. Members opposite congratulate themselves very often on two things, first, the way in which this nation has weathered the economic storm as compared with other countries, and, second, that the amount spent on social services in this country is greater than that spent by any other country. They do not seem to realise, however, that there is a close connection between those facts. This country has been able to get out of some of its difficulties easier than other countries, largely because some kind of an income has been going into the homes of the people.
The suggestion made from the other side of the House to-day is that profligate and extremist proposals are being made on this side. The most extravagant proposal that has been put forward by any section of the Labour party, by any section of the Communist party, or by my hon. Friends and myself for the relief of the unemployed is represented by the figures in our Amendment on the Order Paper—£1 a week for a male adult, 10s. a week for his wife; and 5s. each for his dependent children. That is profligacy and extravagance. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is to find unlimited money in the next few years for armaments. He has been granted a blank cheque by those who lecture us about prudence. Are they going to tell me, if they believe that the Chancellor can do the financial operations necessary to meet his armaments commitments, his cattle commitments, his shipping commitments, and a dozen others that hon. Members can recollect, that the Chancellor who can meet all these commitments is going to run the country into financial difficulties and dangers over the miserable addition that is the most extreme thing demanded by anybody in the Opposition? It is rubbish and nonsense. Do not blame it on the financial position. If you are not ready to-night to vote these additional moneys for these unemployed people, if you are not prepared to ask your Chancellor, out of his resources, to put aside a few more millions for these people, it is not because you cannot do it; it is because you do not want to do it.
I want to say one or two words on the question of the means test. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are afraid that there are, throughout the working classes of this country, large numbers of people with hidden hoards of gold, and an expensive staff must be employed, millions of forms must be filled up, and investigators must penetrate into every home to find these hidden sources of wealth that the working classes of this country are keeping up their sleeves, and in their stockings, and under their beds, and so on. The Unemployment Assistance Board have operated for something like 18 months, and they give in their report a statement of the resources of these people. When one hears about resources, one begins to think of bullion, of estates, of mansion houses, of motor cars, and all these things, of shares and stocks and so on, of all the things that form the resources of hon. and right hon. Gentleman opposite. But one finds an appendix to the report giving the resources of the 600,000 people which were investigated by the officers of the Board, and it makes pathetic and sad reading.
What are the resources of the working classes? Unemployment Insurance pensions, National Health Insurance pensions, old age pensions, widows' and orphans' pensions, disability and dependants' pensions, Army Reserve pay, outdoor relief, sub-letting. Resources, from letting off a bit of your small house to somebody else. Superannuation—the old man, after he has served his day and generation with a benevolent employer, or public authority, or trade union, has some little superannuation for his old age. Resources! Workmen's compensation—he has been out in the industrial field, and he has got broken and maimed, and one of his assets has got to be searched out. Friendly Society aid, savings, capital and property saved on weekly income as defined by the Board's Regulations—a total, among 600,000 human beings, of £175,000, or 5s. per head per annum. You appoint an expensive staff of investigators, and you talk in this House about the necessity of obtaining some method of discovering what anybody and everybody knew, that if the working classes of this country had 5s. per head of savings they were lucky.
When I talked about those who, but for the grace of God, might be in the ranks of the unemployed, I might have included the right hon. Gentleman. I have been in the House as his contemporary and his colleague for many years, and I know the accidents of fortune. I am not denying his personal abilities and qualities, but I know the accident that decided that he should be transferred from, a Back Bench on to the Treasury Bench, I know the accidents that might land him outside in the street. Remember this, that in 1931, which has been referred to frequently in this Debate, there were three men sitting together on that Front Bench, dominating the situation as the Prime Minister, the Minister of Labour, and the Secretary of State for Scotland are dominating it to-night. Cast your mind on to the position of those three men to-day. Do not imagine there is any security of tenure in high political office in this land, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman just to have some regard to the general vicissitudes of fortune and to consider that he also might quite well be one of the people whom he to-night is asking to subsist on an income of 21s. 6d. per week, on an average of all the people who come under the purview of the Board's operations. Just think of it. Just think what you and I do with 21s. in the course of our ordinary daily life, what we expect to get from it, how much of life in its material aspect it will purchase; and consider whether you are playing a fair game in asking other men, good men, decent men, straight men, to maintain their whole existence on an amount that you would regard as contemptible even from the point of view of pocket-money.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) has brought back this Debate to a plane of reality which many of us have appreciated during his very eloquent and effective speech. Many of my hon. Friends on these benches come to this House from constituencies where there is far more than a fair proportion of the victims of the Government's means test and unemployment Regulations. Indeed, one of the most tragic aspects of this subject is that in some parts of our country the victims of these Regulations are a multitude, and in other parts they are stray ones and twos. Those who dwell in the prosperous South and the relatively prosperous Midlands do not know the conditions under which large numbers of their fellow-countrymen not only live to-day, but have lived gallantly for long years, the victims of undeserved adversity. That is the problem of the Special Areas which have often in other aspects been debated.
My hon. Friends have persistently maintained, equally through long years, that for the unemployed there should be either work or maintenance, and that work is the better of the two. The Government have given, at any rate so far as over 1,750,000 of our fellow-citizens and their dependants are concerned, neither work nor maintenance. They have under the present Regulations, and they will have under these new Regulations, a bare subsistence. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour has said that one of the most revolutionary departures in the new Regulations is the introduction of a few halfpence for what he calls "dignity money," to enable the old man to go and buy a packet of "fags" without having to ask his sons for the coppers with which to buy them. That is a great contribution on which I congratulate the Government. I hold here a report made in the South-West Durham area, and if the right hon. Gentleman would care to see it afterwards I shall be very happy to give it to him, because it is a vivid picture of conditions as they exist among the unemployed people in the constieuency I have the honour to represent, and in the neighbouring areas.
There was a little study group formed in connection with an adult school in the Spennymoor Settlement, which is an educational settlement. This group worked on the actual facts of budgets of unemployed people in that area. They worked upon the basis of a family of five persons—a father, mother, and three children still at school, aged five, nine and 12—endeavouring to subsist upon 37s. 6d. per week, which is the Unemployment Assistance Board scale. They studied how in representative cases that money was laid out. The figure for food amounts, according to their investigation, to 15s. a week for the family of five, that is to say, an average of 3s. per head per week. This is in conditions, not of emergency, not where some special and exceptional trouble has come upon the family, but in the daily conditions of unemployment without illness, prolonged, as it has been for so many of these families, for long years. I need not elaborate the kind of diet which these people have; I will deal with that point in a moment, because nutrition is in a sense at the bottom of this problem and the most important aspect of it.
I need hardly elaborate that on an expenditure of 15s. per week for a family of five persons fruit and fresh vegetables are out of reach, and that fresh milk in adequate quantities is out of reach, except so far as it may be supplied through the schools. I am going to quote, because it is very well put, one or two paragraphs from this report summarising the psychological and physical conditions under which such families live:
The curve of food consumption is one that shoots quickly up to its maximum on pay day and thereafter declines sharply until the day before pay day, when it is at its minimum. This means there are certain days when food is scarce. Some saving on food expenditure is effected by having more scarce days.
The group goes on to say:
In such circumstances the strain on the mind of the woman is terrific.
Let us not forget the woman in these discussions. They give a very simple little illustration which yet seems to me to be full of meaning:
The minor events of ordinary life are magnified beyond all recognition by those who have no understanding of the circumstances of the unemployed. The breaking of crockery, which is almost a matter of routine under normal circumstances, becomes in the unemployed household a real tragedy.
That is the position when you screw people that far down. Here is my final quotation:
It is often assumed that unemployment means a monotonous routine. The women would wish that this were true. If it were so, every week would be the same, but it is the break in the routine"—
through illness, accident and other such causes—
that they fear, because such a break involves more work and worry for them. The only certainty is that there is no end to unemployment.
It is difficult to paint in colours which shall not be overdrawn and which shall yet be true and accurate this continuing tragedy in many hundreds of thousands of homes, and I ask the Minister of Health, who is to follow me, to say something as to his view, as Minister of Health charged with the health of the nation, on the possibility of health and physical well-being being maintained on such scales as the Government are putting before the House. I have quoted the figure from this little group in the Spennymoor settlement and have brought out—and I believe it to be an accurate and common figure—an average expenditure of only 3s. per head per week on food.
Sir John Orr's figures have been referred to before, and I wish to quote one or two of them in this context, because they show how high above this level, which is typical of the conditions of the unemployed in the Special Areas, are even the minimum requirements set out by Sir John Orr. In his poorest group, which is Group 1, there are 4,500,000 people with an average expenditure of 4s. on food, which 1s already 1s. a week per head above that of the family I have mentioned. Although this poorest group contains only 10 per cent. of the population of the country—and I invite the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to this, because it is one of his special responsibilities to maintain the health of the child population—Sir John Orr estimates that it includes between 20 and 25 per cent. of all the children in the country, for the obvious reason that the largest families are the hardest hit by these conditions of extreme poverty.
If I were to carry that percentage into the distressed areas—Sir John Orr gives no such estimate—I should be very well within the mark, and making a most conservative estimate, when I said that in the distressed areas something between 50 per cent. and 75 per cent. of the children in those areas fall within this group who are living on the scale of a family expenditure of 4s. per week per head on food. Sir John Orr has argued that with a diet based on average skill and average knowledge—and the great majority of the people whom we are considering have had to learn by the difficulties of their lives to have far more than the average skill and knowledge—it is desirable for the maintenance of health, that the expenditure on food should be 10s. per week, as against 4s. per head which is shown in this group. Again I ask the Minister—and there is something ironical in the fact that he is replying—to tell the House whether he, as Minister of Health, recommended to the Government that the scales which they are putting before us in these new Regulations are sufficient to maintain the families, and most of all the young children of the unemployed in a proper condition of physical well-being. I ask him to tell the House in his official capacity whether he has recommended that full health can be maintained on these scales. We should like to know.
There has been some challenge upon the subject of the means test. I was elected a Member of this House pledged to work and vote against the means test; for the unemployed; quite simply, not with qualifications regarding this kind of means test or that kind of means test. If in our Debates there has been additional emphasis laid upon the household means test, that is because that is one of the creations of the Government in the Statute under which these Regulations are issued. If the Government would tell us that, as a first step, they would repeal the household means test, we should not, I think, oppose that instalment of justice to the unemployed. Let there be no misunderstanding as to our position: we are against the imposition of a means test upon persons who, through no fault of their own, have been long out of work.
I wish to ask another question. A question has been put to us across this Table "Can you justify a payment, for an indefinite period of time, to an unemployed man and his dependants on some fixed scale?" I ask the Government, in turn, this question: "Are you prepared to justify the continuance in the life of any individual, for an indefinite period of time, of the condition of unemployment?" Only if the Government are prepared to say "Yes" to that, does their question to us become a practical one at all. Surely we are not prepared to accept the view that, year after year, there are to be hundreds of thousands of people who are to continue without the offer of a job or the opportunity of work. Surely the Minister of Labour himself is not so far resigned to the inevitability of unemployment on a large scale as to admit that. Is he, or not? If he is, so much the worse for the future of this country under the National Government.
Unemployment is not going down appreciably in any of the areas where it has been most severe and prolonged. Show me what new works and new developments you have started on any considerable scale in any of the Special Areas. I do not want to diverge on to matters that properly belong to another Debate, but the question I am putting to the Government is a legitimate one: "Do they or do they not accept as one of the experiences that are to continue under the National Government, that a large number of people are to continue for an indefinite period of time without the possibility of a job of work?" Only if they accept that position does their question to us about the means test have any relevance, and if they do accept that position, they are not fit to govern this country.
It may be said that the second Labour Government, who were intermittently supported by the Minister himself, did not solve the unemployment problem in the short period and under the difficult conditions in which they operated, but at least they tried. At least, during that period, there was, against the increasing unemployment caused by external conditions, some offset in the form of public works carried out in this country. But I leave that question. I invite the Government to say whether an indefinite continuance of unemployment on a large scale is the real basis of their defence of these Regulations. Our case against these Regulations is that they make hardly any, if any, improvement on the Regulations under which we are now working. We have been assured that there will be an increase in some parts of the scale, but we have also been told, and my hon. Friends from South Wales are particularly and properly insistent upon this, that in many areas there are going to be harsh and emphatic reductions in the miserable payments that are now being made.
The Minister tells us that on balance an additional £750,000 a year is going to be distributed. I share the scepticism of others who have spoken as to whether these figures can be checked or will come true. It may well be that, when the Regulations get into their stride, there will be a net reduction rather than a net increase. In any case the increase is likely to be trivial as compared with the considerable total which is involved. Therefore, we oppose these Regulations because we believe that they will produce hardly any, if any, improvement in the present situation, and that any promised improvement is speculative. They remove none of the deep-seated objections which we have to the Act under which the Regulations are promulgated. Even while we debate these Regulations, and during the months which will elapse after we have debated them and before they begin to operate, hundreds of thousands of the best and most gallant people in this country are still going to be driven deeper and deeper down into that poverty and despair which, even if the money that is paid to them week by week is kept constant, represents, as the period of unemployment and poverty lengthens, increasing destitution and difficulty for them.
Therefore, we say that the Government are doing nothing to remove from those who are unemployed through no fault of their own, particularly in the Special Areas, the burdens which he upon them, largely through the acts of commission and omission of the National Government. For these reasons we shall not only vote against the Regulations here, but we shall carry on against them, and against the ideas behind them and the policy inspiring them, an unceasing agitation throughout the country until such time as we can sweep them away and settle this problem on a wholly different footing.
I hope the House will not think it inappropriate that I should join in this Debate, and I may say that, of course, I fully share the responsibility of the Government in presenting these Regulations, coming, as they do, from the Unemployment Assistance Board, to the House. I would first like to answer the question which was put to me by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood)—a question of considerable importance to the local authorities—as regards the fixing of the second appointed day, which is to be the first day of April next year. The House will remember that, in addition to the amount expended by the Unemployment Assistance Board directly as assistance to applicants, the Exchequer, since 1st March, 1935, has been bearing the net cost of out-relief to those persons who would have been taken over by the Board but for the postponement of the second appointed day, after allowing for the statutory contribution of the local authorities; and I may say that, in the period of 13 months to 31st March last, the net amount of grants paid has amounted to £4,320,000.
I want to say, in answer to the right hon. Gentleman, that arrangements will be made after the Recess to provide for the payment of further grants to the local authorities until 31st March, 1937, those grants being intended, as hitherto, to put the local authorities as nearly as may be in the financial position which they would have occupied had the second appointed day not been postponed. As regards the position of local authorities from 1st April, 1937, the Unemployment Assistance Board will on that date take over the responsibility for the assistance of the class of persons who are now being assisted by the local authorities. The necessity for the payment of grants will, accordingly, cease as the contributions to the Board will become payable. Under the present law these contributions are, as respects the period from 1st April, 1937, to be calculated in such manner as Parliament may determine. As the right hon. Gentleman may anticipate, we have been discussing this matter with the local authorities, and consideration is now being given to a proposal to dispense with the provision for the payment of contributions as such by the local authorities and to take account of this in the fixing of the block grants payable to local authorities. That is a matter still under discussion and I cannot say whether that will be done or not, but, in any event, I think local authorities will be satisfied with the manner in which the Government will deal with the matter, as they have been, hitherto.
I come to that part of the Motion which deals with the health and physical efficiency of the people affected by these Regulations. It is, of course, an important matter to me, as Minister of Health, whether there is any truth in the many statements that have been made on this matter. There is an absolute duty upon the Unemployment Assistance Board to meet the needs of those who are entitled to look to them for assistance, and in the exercise of this duty the Board are limited by no scale but have complete discretion to give whatever assistance is necessary to ensure an adequate supply of food as well as other necessities of life. Each case must be determined according to its own circumstances. That, I think, is the only sound principle. The scale laid down in the Regulations is not to be applied rigidly. The Regulations provide, in fact, that all special circumstances, including for example prolonged unemployment, are to be taken into consideration and the amount of assistance varied as necessary. In fact, no other method is possible.
Numerous estimates have been made of the cost of an adequate diet, and there is much difference of opinion on the subject, as the hon. Gentleman knows. I do not mind saying that undoubtedly the diet of the people of this country can be improved, particularly by increasing the consumption of those articles of food which modern science has shown to be of special value to health. This problem was debated only last week. I hope I shall not be misunderstood when I say that merely to increase the scale of allowances under the Regulations would not solve this problem. It is not so easy as that. Sir John Orr has been quoted. If hon. Members will look at his book, they will see that he shows that, as the income per head of the family increases, only a small part of the increase is spent on food. To me the only effective way of ensuring that the recipients of Unemployment Assistance always obtain the dietary best suited to their needs would be to insist that a substantial proportion of the allowance should be given in kind. Such a remedy, with the large measure of interference with the freedom of individual which it implies, is not likely to be looked upon with favour in any part of the House. In the Government's view the right policy for the improvement of nutrition is that declared in last week's Debate, and in particular they attach great value to the schemes now in existence for the provision of milk for school children, the provision of school meals and the provision of free or cheap milk for mothers and young children.
These schemes, some of which I very sincerely hope we shall be able to expand, are all available to the unemployed, and are an important addition to the assistance given by the Board. Thus the policy adopted by the Government and in the Regulations is to frame a general scale which sets a reasonable standard; to consider each case on its merits and so ensure that the needs of every applicant and his dependants are met; and to do all that is possible, particularly by increasing the consumption of milk, which the doctors tell us is the best of all foodstuffs, to improve the quality of the people's diet. I would remind the House of this fact, because it has not been mentioned to-day and is often overlooked, that as far as this scale is concerned, it has to be borne in mind that, through the education and child welfare services, a large proportion of the children in the families concerned are receiving free milk, or milk at a reduced rate, and some, of course, free meals also, and, as I have also said, under the Regulations, in cases where exceptional needs exist arising from prolonged unemployment or otherwise, the allowances may be increased by such an amount as is necessary to meet the exceptional needs.
The final point I would like to make in this connection is that there is also available in every area a wide range of institutions and specialised services for the treatment of physical and mental disabilities and the training of the young, which, I suppose, is unequalled anywhere else in the world. The hon. Gentleman—and I can understand his speaking very strongly as I have no doubt he so felt—made the statement that the Government were doing nothing. I would remind him of this fact, because I know that the House realises that an answer has to be made to these statements. I hope that the House realises that since the Unemployment Insurance Board took over this matter, the average payment per head has risen from 21s. 10d. to 23s. 7d., and I must also remind hon. Gentlemen opposite when they make these charges that, in July, 1931, when Miss Bondfield was Minister of Labour, and when the hon. Gentleman was associated with her and the Labour Government, they were paying 20s. 7d. per head, or 3s. less than the proposed scale which is now being put before the House. [An HON. MEMBER: "There was no means test."] That makes no difference whatever to the argument which I am putting to the House. The question I put to the House, as I am entitled to do when charges of this kind are made, is, why is the provision a crime now when it is proposed in these Regulations to pay 3s. more per week if it was not a crime then?
There is another case, upon which I would invite the House to look, because I think that it is the most important of all with regard to these Regulations. The House will remember that it is the duty of local authorities to relieve applicants in accordance with their needs in exactly the same way as it is the Board's duty to relieve their applicants. It is possible for a test to be made by any Member of the House, upon which I think much more reliance can be placed than upon the differing opinions of medical men, and that test is the scales and conditions of relief now in force under the public assistance authorities in this country. The scales and conditions of public assistance authorities are guiding scales to their relief committees. In practice some may be less generous while others may be more generous.
The most interesting comparison of all is London. The scales of relief in London are set out in a memorandum issued by the London County Council in June, 1935. I do not think that anyone will assert that the London County Council are not humanitarian and are not doing their very best to look after the interests of the people under their care. If hon. Members will look at the publication entitled: "Administration of Relief (P.A.5)" they will see that the authorities in London have issued a valuable book for the guidance of those administering relief. Two passages from the Minister of Health's circular letter issued some time ago are quoted as the main principles upon which the County Council administer their relief. I am sure that everybody in the House will be in agreement with them on those two principles. They quote these excerpts:
It is obviously not in accordance with the interests of the community that the amount or description of the relief granted should be such as either to discourage the recipient from striving to regain his independence, or to induce others who are still independent to relax their efforts to maintain their present position.
The second principle, which they say is of equal importance, is this:
When outdoor relief is given it should be carefully adapted to the needs of the case and adequate in amount. The Board regret that it is sometimes the practice to get rid of an applicant by giving him a small amount of relief, which on the face of it is insufficient for his support, on the assumption that he has other resources available which have not been declared. The injustice of such a method is evident, for if the applicant is honest "the relief given is not enough for this proper support, while if he can successfully conceal his means of subsistence he may get more than he actually needs.
That is a fair statement of a difficult and important matter of administration. If hon. Members will look at the scales of relief given on page 19, there is an observation that can fairly be made in any comparison between these scales of relief and those now put forward by the Board for the approval of the House, and that is that there is in both cases, quite properly, discretion in the application of the scales. In some cases the London County Council scales are the more generous and in other cases the Board's are the more generous. It can be said without contradiction—and a number of people in London who are engaged in this work will no doubt read my words—that, taken as a whole, the relief to be afforded by the new Regulations is as sufficient and as generous to the unemployed as that to-day given by the London County Council. It is true, for instance, that the council's winter fuel allowance given during the winter months has no counterpart in the Board's Regulations, but on the other hand in the treatment of household resources in nearly every case, as reference to the Memorandum will show, the Board's provisions are the more generous. What is the result of that? If you look at the booklet issued a week ago by the London County Council, a report on public health by the school medical officer, you will see what is the result of the London County Council scale. There may be fewer unemployed in London, but their lot is just as difficult and their need just as much as those of people in other areas. The medical officer says:
Unremitting attention has been given to the state of nutrition of the children. Acute anxiety lest the children should suffer has been the keynote of the past four years. 'The fear of underfeeding its
children is haunting the conscience of the nation.'
The Report goes on:
On a careful clinical assessment of the state of children's nutrition, 76.9 per cent. of children fall into class 2 (nutrition normal), a further 17.4 per cent. are classed 1 (nutrition exceedingly good), making 94.3 per cent. whose nutrition is satisfactory.
This is another extract:
It is important therefore that the position should be considered carefully with a view to determining whether the possible serious effect on some children of prolonged poverty of their parents due to continued unemployment, which was referred to in the annual report for 1933, is beginning to show in the results of school medical inspection.
What is the answer given? Remember that this is the same scale, in general effect, as that proposed by the Board and before the House to-day. The answer given is:
Representative school doctors who have been interrogated with regard to the returns are of opinion that there has been no deterioration in the children's general condition of nutrition.
I am not aware that there has been any working-class organisation that has summoned conferences to condemn and agitate against the London County Council scale. If that is the case, why is it that exception should be, taken to those now being put forward by the Board? Other comparisons can be made in all of which there can be no question, especially by hon. Gentlemen opposite, concerning humanity, or starvation, or matters of that kind. Take Burnley. There is no question there of any unfairness, but the scales are consistently below those put forward by the Board. There is no difference between the scales of East Ham and the new Regulations. The scale for adults at Lincoln is slightly above the Board's scale, and for juveniles below the Board's scale. It may be surprising that the same is true of the scales of Merthyr Tydvil. At St. Helens the scales do not vary substantially from those of the Board, the earnings rule is possibly a little less favourable than the Board's rule, and much the same can be said of Sheffield and West Ham.
I am not aware that it has ever been said that the provision made by these authorities will increase the incidence of malnutrition. I am not aware that the right hon. Gentleman has ever led a procession from the Memorial Hall to the House of Commons to protest against these scales. They have been in operation for some considerable time and we know the results. The right hon. Gentleman made another complaint. He said that the Government were attempting to marry Part I and Part II of the Unemployment Insurance Act, and complaints have also been made by hon. Members opposite that the Board's scales are too closely assimilated to unemployment benefit. Let me tell the House that with very slight variations Barnsley, Birkenhead, Lincoln, Bootle, Merthyr Tydfil, Rotherham, Durham and Monmouth, and many other places have adopted unemployment insurance benefit rates as the scale of outdoor relief for able-bodied persons, and I have not heard it suggested that these local authorities are hard-faced, or that the scales remain too low for physical well-being.
All sorts of things have been said about the means test. I would remind hon. Members opposite when they are protesting against the means test, that it has been applied by local authorities to many other services. If the principle is good for other services, then it is good in relation to the matter we are discussing this evening. Do hon. Members know that in many parts of the country under various Housing Acts, in particular the Act of 1930, there is a system of rent rebates, which are, of course, of considerable value to many persons affected by unemployment, and there are many instances where household resources are taken into account and where a means test is actually in operation at this moment by authorities of a political complexion which does not commend itself to me? This is happening at Derby, Hull, Lincoln, Norwich and many other places. It will not be said by hon. Gentlemen opposite that these local authorities are grinding the faces of the poor. I am surprised that hon. Members opposite have said this, because when they were in a position of responsibility they proposed a means test in connection with the Education Bills of 1929 and 1930. This is what Sir Charles Trevelyan said with regard to maintenance grants:
I am prepared to accept the suggestion that a local authority should not be hampered in any inquiry it thinks fit to make with respect to income.
If that was the attitude taken up by hon. Members opposite when they were in a position of responsibility and authority why should they throw these things away when they are in opposition? In conclusion—and I must apologise to the House for the haste of my remarks—the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) when he returned from America said that unemployment was not only worse there than in this country, but that there was no organised provision for its amelioration. They had no relief fund and the whole problem was indefinite. Certainly Great Britain makes more provision for the unemployed than any other country in the world. We have an Unemployment Insurance Fund which is solvent, safe and strong. What is better still, and what to my mind is the best solution of all these unemployment insurance problems, is that we have 1,454,000 more workers in employment. Finally, I would say that these Regulations are presented as yet another considerable contribution for the benefit and better health of those who suffer from unemployment.