Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment to Question [21st July]:
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:"—[Mr. Ernest Brown.]
Which Amendment was: 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,".—[Mr. Greenwood.]
The Minister of Labour, in putting forward his explanation of these Regulations, made many statements and issued many challenges, and the Minister of Health, who closed the Debate last night, was equally provocative as to the position of the Opposition in regard to them. The existing Regulations were withdrawn, and they were withdrawn because of the feeling in the country against the distress that was being caused by the assessments of the Board's officers. The statement made by the then Minister of Labour was that the standstill arrangement, which was agreed to by the House, would mean a continuation of the higher scales to those who had been paid on the higher scales, and that those who had been paid lower scales would have increased allowances. The natural assumption of everyone who then heard the Minister of Labour was that if the Government's promise was translated into effect a large number of people were likely to benefit materially by the withdrawal of the old Regulations. As a matter of fact such a result was not reached. From the very time when the standstill arrangement was put into operation Members of this House who paid live attention to their constituents found that many cases of distress were occurring even under the standstill arrangement.
The Minister of Labour when he introduced the old draft Regulations tried to placate the House and those who had been opposing the idea of a means test by saying that there would be an increased payment, amounting to £3,000,000, made to those who were being assisted by the public assistance committees. The very fact that the stand-still arrangement was made, and that there was that provision of an increased sum of several millions was an acknowledgment of the criticism of hon. Members on this side of the House, who had held that instead of £3,000,000 more being given to the unemployed there would be an actual decrease in allowances throughout the country. That happened, and there has been little or no amelioration of the condition of the people concerned.
The Minister of Labour took great pains yesterday to convince the House that these new draft Regulations were to be a great advance upon the old Regulations. He said that there was likely to be greater elasticity in the operation of the Regulations, and that because of the new scales and that greater elasticity in administration which he emphasised, there would not be distress amongst those who had to get public assistance. If we examine the statement that has been issued by the Unemployment Assistance Board and the statement made by the Minister the net increase which is provided under the new Regulations is something like £750,000. In the explanatory Memorandum the Board and the Minister of Labour say that increases are likely to be given in a total of 200,000 cases, and that there are bound to be some reductions but that it is yet too early for the Minister to say how many will suffer reductions. If the net increase is to be £750,000 and that is to be spread over the 200,000 applicants mentioned by the Minister, that will work out at an average of less than 4½d. per applicant. As a matter of fact one might say that it is approximately 6d., nothing more. That is a Woolworth increase, "Nothing more than 6d.," from a Woolworth Government, and the unemployed of the country are expected to be enthusiastic because 200,000 amongst them are likely to receive an average increase of 6d. per week.
I think the Minister was rather too long yesterday when he took an hour and 45 minutes in trying to make the country believe that there was going to be peace throughout the distressed areas because an increase of that amount was to be given to them. I want to ask the Minister of Labour why it is that he and those who advise the Board believe that they can bring peace into the industrial world by fobbing off in this way those who have been for years unemployed. Roughly about five-sevenths of those who will be drawing allowances under these Regulations have been unemployed for more than six months and only two-sevenths, on the Board's own figures, who have been less than six months unemployed. Those people, some of whom will not receive any increase and some of whom are likely to receive reductions according to the Board's own statement, are expected to remain pacific and to accept what the Board will give them without any complaint whatever. I think that without any agitation on the part of any Member of this House the very application of these scales and the withdrawal of the standstill arrangement of to-day will mean a renewal of the agitation which we had 18 months ago. I hope that the Minister and those associated with him in the administration of these draft Regulations will be prepared to yield to the storm and withdraw these Regulations also when he finds that they are not meeting with the reception and have not the result in application which he evidently desires that they should have. The Minister said yesterday that he did not desire to be provocative—
The Government are now promoted to Marks and Spencer. After the Debate I am prepared to show my calculation to the hon. and gallant Member. I am not prepared to accept his figure across the Floor of the House in this way. The Minister of Labour when speaking yesterday went deliberately out of his way, I thought, to be needlessly insulting to local authorities. He stated that some of the local authorities carrying out the administration under the standstill arrangement had been deliberately lavish with the funds because they were not themselves responsible for those funds. The right hon. Gentleman was challenged upon that statement. In reply to the challenge he named certain places, one of which was the public assistance committee of Glasgow, and he cited a particular case from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). I leave my hon. Friend to deal with the details of that case. The right hon. Gentleman endeavoured to make a point that the public assistance committee of Glasgow had taken into consideration the sum of 17s. paid to a son, and I asked him whether he wished the House to believe that it was 17s. paid through the Unemployment Assistance Board or standard benefit?
Then if the Minister considered that the public assistance committee were doing something they ought not to have done, his duty, when he discovered that case, was immediately to draw the attention of the public assistance committee to the matter and to have it put right. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. He did not draw attention to the case but he used it yesterday in this House; he had stored it up. To use his own phrase, when he discovered the case he "pricked up his ears." I do not know where his ears were at the time. He stored the information away in his memory to be thrown across the Floor of the House when the opportunity arose, and he tried to make out that the Glasgow public assistance committee are unduly generous when their own rates are not to be affected, and that they are prepared to take everything they can get from the Government and spend more than is right if the Government will only allow them to do so.
Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that Glasgow pays considerably more to the Unemployment Assistance Fund than any other city in the United Kingdom? Is he aware that Glasgow, with its population of a million, is asked to contribute £406,000 to the fund? London, Birmingham and Manchester, three cities with approximately 7,000,000 inhabitants, pay only £378,000. That is to say that, with a much larger rateable value those three cities are paying less than Glasgow to the Unemployment Assistance Fund. What right has the Minister to say that Glasgow is not generous? He is trading upon the proverbial generosity of the Scottish people.
I get support even from Plymouth in that respect. The Glasgow public assistance committee has received the commendation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the manner in which it has operated the fund. After investigation, the Chancellor of the Exchequer agreed that the money paid out by Glasgow in the operation of the scales was the correct sum and passed that sum for payment. There has never been any challenge made against the operation by the Glasgow public assistance committee of these scales or of the payments until the right hon. Gentleman made it in the House yesterday. I would ask him whether he meant that the public assistance committee should disregard that sum. If he makes the plea that it was wrong in assessing the sum of 17s. in its determination, then he infers that he is in favour of the Glasgow public assistance committee disregarding that sum. Is that so? The Minister does not answer, but that is the obvious conclusion to be drawn from his statement yesterday.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman, in the presence of the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Health, whether he is prepared to advise the Prime Minister that in future, when assessing for public assistance needs any applicant who comes before it, the Glasgow public assistance committee shall disregard Unemployment Assistance payments in the same manner that the law at present makes it disregard disability pensions and National Health Insurance? Is he prepared to make that recommendation? If he is not, what was his purpose yesterday in making that statement slandering a town when he is not prepared to back up his statement with a proper recommendation? And the right hon. Gentleman said he did not wish to be provocative. Is he aware that every man, woman and child in Glasgow, including the unemployed and those who will receive this payment from the Unemployment Assistance Fund, will pay 7s. 9d. each to the Unemployment Assistance Fund, whereas in Birmingham they will pay 6½d. per head? Is he aware that the average number of persons in an unemployed family in Glasgow is calculated as being husband, wife, and 2.5 children, and that on the above figures the family will pay 33s. 6d. to the unemployment fund, a sum equal to one week's benefit to that family? The family will pay one week's benefit back to the fund out of which it is paid.
The Minister tries to justify that sort of treatment and talks about being generous, but I would ask him and his colleagues on the Front Bench, who I understand are equally responsible with him for these Regulations, whether he and they are prepared to pay over one week's salary to the Unemployment Assistance Board to help the unemployed, in the same way that they are asking the unemployed families to pay one week's benefit to the fund out of which they receive payment? It is absurd for any Minister of Labour to try to make the House believe that the Government are unduly generous, and that we ought to go down on our knees and thank them as though they were bringing to us blessings from Heaven. The Government are continuing to fleece the poor, the very poorest of the poor. Moreover, let it be borne in mind that the families whose rents are to be assessed under these draft Regulations are required to pay their rates along with their rents, and that they are paying in rates the sum which the cities have to pay into the Unemployment Assistance Fund. Being under the Unemployment Assistance Board and in receipt of payments from the Board, they can get no relief from the public assistance committees with regard to rents unless they are actually out on the street. The Minister of Labour comes forward with a scheme of this kind and expects the House to be very enthusiastic about it and very appreciative of the Government which have brought it before the House.
Let me give other figures. The right hon. Gentleman said that when Glasgow was paying out other people's money it was generous, but was not so generous with its own money. If most of the scales in these draft Regulations are compared with the scales of the Glasgow public assistance committee, it will be found that Glasgow is more generous than the Board. The scales in Glasgow are from 1s. to 5s. per family more than those of the Board, and in only one case that I have had submitted to me is the difference in favour of the Unemployment Assistance Board's figures. In the Regulations three cases are cited for the purpose of giving comparisons which illustrate the effect of the changes between the old and the new Regulations. In the old Regulations the determination is 21s. 8d. and in the new Regulations it is 28s. The Glasgow scale for that particular set of circumstances and for such a family is at present 30s.—2s. more. In the second case, the sum is 15s. 11d. under the old Regulations and 20s. 6d. under the new Regulations, whereas the Glasgow scale is 22s. 6d. Only in the third case, where under the new Regulations there was a determination of 37s. 2d. and under the new Regulations 51s., does the Board give a larger determination than that of the Glasgow authority, and then it is only a question of 1s., since Glasgow pays 50s. in similar circumstances.
If the hon. Member wishes to give a larger sum, he will support the Glasgow scales, instead of those of the Board. I apologise to the House for citing Glasgow cases, but, after all, it is better to criticise these Regulations by dealing with cases and scales with which one is familiar than by dealing with the Regulations in an abstract manner. With regard to rents, assuming that the household means, according to the scale, are 40s., the basic rent allowance is calculated at 10s. If, in fact, the rent actually paid is only 5s., there will be a corresponding reduction in the household allowance. When it is borne in mind that in Glasgow at least one-half of the working class population lives in houses with rents of less than 7s. 6d. per week, and consequently will in most cases suffer a reduction in the scale allowance by the Board, in addition to the cut in the scale itself, it can readily be understood that this feature of the Regulations will be resented. In Glasgow 24 per cent. of able-bodied cases are paying rents of 10s. a week and over. The rent scales will not deal very beneficially with the people in Glasgow. Take the scales: father, mother and son, the father earning 40s. a week and the son idle; the reduction to be made, Unemployment Assistance Board, 30s.; public assistance, 5s.; the net amount payable by the Unemployment Assistance Board under these Regulations, 4s.; public assistance committee, 5s. I have worked out all the scales and the differences between them, and, as I have stated already, the differences range from 1s. to 5s. in favour of the Glasgow Corporation's public assistance committee. That is the case throughout these scales.
If the hon. Member had followed the questions I have put in the House from time to time, I think he would agree that I am not satisfied with that condition. The reason I am quoting these cases against the Minister is that yesterday he was gibing and sneering at Glasgow and the manner in which it conducted its affairs. He endeavoured to make the House believe that the scales he is proposing in his draft Regulations are better than those being operated in Glasgow, and I am proving that that is not so. What is more, I am proving that in Glasgow we are paying to the Unemployment Assistance Board more than three large English cities together, although they have six or seven times the population of Glasgow. I think that is a case of tyrannising over Glasgow and extracting from Glasgow more than it ought to pay. We have been fighting this question for 18 months and can get no relief even from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We can get no abatement or no satisfaction. That amount must be paid.
When it is considered that there are in Glasgow close upon 150,000 people in receipt either of unemployment benefit or public assistance relief, I think it will be agreed that Glasgow is being asked to pay far too much in comparison with London, with a population of over 4,000,000, Birmingham with a population approximating to that of Glasgow and Manchester also with an equal population. They are being asked to pay 6½d. per head as against 7s. 6d. per head in Glasgow. It is preposterous that we should be robbed of this money, because it is nothing else but sheer robbery on the part of the Board. Edinburgh protests against it. Even the town represented by the Secretary of State for Scotland sends a telegram of protest against these scales. But the right hon. Gentleman will stand up and defend the Government's scales against the constituency which sent him here. That will be his duty as a Member of the Cabinet. We shall have a united front on the other side as far as robbing the poor is concerned.
The Minister of Health yesterday tried to prove that everything was delightful or was likely to become delightful in connection with these scales. He was very good at quoting averages, and he told us that the Labour Government had paid only 21s. whereas the present Government were now paying 23s. He forgot to tell the House, however, that when the Labour Government were in office he used to sit in that corner seat and jibe at the Labour Government and accuse them of extravagance because they were paying 21s. He was supported then by the present Minister of Agriculture who assisted him in jibing at the Labour Government. We received very little assistance from the right hon. Gentleman the present Minister of Labour. His support was very uncertain—both his own and that of his colleagues who then sat below the Gangway. When the Minister of Health tries to make us believe that the present Government are doing much better than the Labour Government did, he should bear in mind that he is partly responsible for having prevented the Labour Government from being more generous. We cannot forget that he offered severe opposition to the Labour Government on that matter, nor can we forget the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour at that time.
These Regulations, in my opinion, ought never to have been presented. When the standstill arrangement was introduced one would have been led to believe, if one were sufficiently credulous, that the country was about to solve its unemployment difficulties by the standstill arrangement and the new Regulations which, it was said, would be on a more generous scale than the old Regulations. At that time we had just concluded the prolonged debates on the Government of India Act. India had been exercising the attention of the House for weeks and it had occupied the attention of a Royal Commission for a long time before the Bill was even drafted. I said at that time that India was not the question which would cause the greatest trouble to the Government of the day. I said that the dominating question for that Government would be unemployment. Unemployment is going to be the dominating question for this Government also if they administer these Regulations, as now submitted, in the manner in which they have administered similar Regulations in the past.
Let me give a final instance. The Minister's statement yesterday suggested that the officials of the Board, in making determinations, would not fall into such errors as those of the Glasgow public assistance committee. We were told that they would make correct assessments, that they would have sufficient instructions and regulations and circulars and advice to enable them to make their determinations in the fairest possible manner to the people concerned. A week or two ago a man came to see me in my constituency. He was in receipt of unemployment assistance under the Board. He had two lads, both at work, each earning 12s. a week. One of these lads who had been employed as a vanboy was dismissed and received 14s. unemployment benefit. That was an advance of 2s. on the income of that household. When the father next applied to the unemployment assistance committee he stated that his circumstances had changed to the ex- tent that one of his sons was now receiving 2s. more in standard benefit than he had previously received. What did the right hon. Gentleman's officials do? They deducted 2s. 6d. from the man. They were mean enough to take off 6d. more than the extra amount which was going into the household. In a family of that nature whose expenditure has been cut to the bone by these Regulations, 6d. means a considerable reduction. It may mean nothing to Members of this House but it is a considerable amount to a family whose total income may be 40s. a week or even as low as 26s. a week. In face of a case like that, the Minister asks us to believe that Glasgow is the only city where that kind of thing is done.
Unemployment is occupying three days of our time this week. I am not threatening when I say to those Members, in whatever part of the House they sit, who represent industrial areas that so soon as these Regulations begin to operate they will be inundated with requests to interview the Minister and have changes made in this and that respect. Of course, the Minister of Labour says that the question ought to be taken out of politics altogether. What a cowardly way of getting out of it. "Do not," he says, "let us make party capital out of this question." Who made party capital out of it at the General Election, when the manifesto issued on behalf of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite told the unemployed what they intended to do for them, and the generous provision which they were going to make? Was that not making party capital? We had the Prime Minister's splendid face gazing down at us from every hoarding in our constituencies, smiling at us, with the inscription "Trust me." The people trusted the right hon. Gentleman, and their trust has been betrayed by the issue of these Regulations. It is all very well for hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to assume that things are going to be pacific in this connection. They are not going to be pacific. They cannot be. You can only give an increase of £750,000 a year to close upon 1,000,000 unemployed, five-sevenths of whom have been unemployed for more than six months, and some for more than five years. But you can spend scores of millions of pounds on increasing armaments. More money for armaments, less for the unemployed. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, there are millions for the armaments which we are told we need to defend our country.
Tell the unemployed in the distressed areas that they have to defend their homes, out of which, perhaps, the furniture has been removed to the pawn shop. Tell them that to defend those homes you will provide them with glorious new battleships, well-drilled troops, and splendid aeroplanes. The aeroplanes will be flying over our cities while down below in homes in working-class areas there will be people calling out for food. The Minister of Health told us of all the things that could be obtained in spite of malnutrition which exists in this country. Lectures are given to us in this House about the unemployed man's wife and the working man's wife, who cannot spend their money as they ought to spend it and therefore cannot live within the means provided by this or that scale. I would like to see wives of some Members of this House trying to keep a household going for a fortnight on 26s. Then you would have a real revolution, more particularly if hon. Members felt that they were going to be kept under those conditions for any considerable length of time and it would only be right that they should feel rebellious in such circumstances. But I often wonder why it is that while they would be rebellious in those circumstances, they expect other people to exist under those conditions and not to be rebellious. I hope that before the Debate closes tomorrow night the Minister of Labour will have gained such an indication of the feeling in the House that he will withdraw these Regulations. We are definitely opposed to a means test. The Glasgow public assistance committee has passed a resolution against the means test and all over the country people in growing numbers are rallying to the belief that this country can be maintained and that even those in distress can be maintained, without the application of a means test.
I submit that the Government ought to take their courage in their hands and abolish the means test. Let them go forward with a strightforward scale, so that each family will know what it is going to receive and that it will receive that amount, until such time as the country is in a better position with regard to employment. We claim that this should be a national charge, and the Government in part admit that it is a national charge. These transitional payments do not come out of any fund; they come from taxation, and if you can take a certain proportion from taxation, what is to prevent your taking the whole from taxation? You take the whole of the amount which you are paying for armaments out of taxation; why cannot you take the whole of the amount which you require to maintain the unemployed out of taxation? Armaments cannot produce anything; they can only destroy. The unemployed, given access to work, can produce and enrich the country. We believe, therefore, that the policy of the Government should be work or maintenance and no means test. Let them take that as their slogan, scrap the Regulations, and bring forward in this House a Bill that will give justice to the unemployed and, as well, heart and encouragement to go about and look for employment.
The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) made great play with the amount of money which the Government are spending on armaments. Not only will that money enable this country to get her defence forces in proper order, but it is today finding much work, more especially for those in the distressed areas, and I am sure hon. Members opposite will bear that in mind when they come to consider that particular problem. The hon. Member, in his opening sentences, referred to this as being a Woolworth Government and a Marks and Spencer Government. So far as I know, both those stores are growing in numbers and in popularity.
The hon. Member says they are cheap, but they serve the interests of the public, and that is the one desire of the Government—to serve the interests of the public in various ways. The hon. Member then went on to give certain figures about the cost of able-bodied relief in Glasgow. They were no doubt accurate, but he omitted to give the full picture. I do not charge him with any inconsistency, but in reply to an hon. Member opposite, when I was challenged on this point on a former occasion, I brought out—and I must repeat it to-day—what advantage the financial Sections of the Unemployment Act of 1934 have brought to Glasgow. The hon. Member spoke of the burden, but he omitted to state the very considerable advantage that that Act was to my native land. Let me explain it again to the House. The average sum given in relief to the local authorities in England and Wales was 1s. 11½d. per head of the population, and in Scotland it was 6s. 4d.—that is, from the National Exchequer, from money collected by this Government—but the sum for Glasgow was, not 1s. 11½d., nor even 6s. 4d., but 16s. 11½d.
It is true that under the provisions of that Act Glasgow are paying £406,000, but they are being relieved to the extent of £990,000, and I think that on balance my countrymen will think they have not done badly. No doubt they would like to see the total sum paid by the local authorities abolished, but when they come to strike a balance as to the situation which has arisen as a result of the financial proposals of that Act, I think they will see that Glasgow in particular should be the very last town to complain, for Glasgow has received more towards the cost of able-bodied relief than any other city in Great Britain.
Is it not the case that when it was first proposed by the Government to take over the unemployed, the full burden was to be taken over by the Government, and is it not the case that in the 1929–31 Labour Government, that is, in the Act of 1930, all those who were out of unemployment benefit were brought back on to unemployment benefit without anything being charged upon the town itself?
I can only answer for the Government's policy, but the Government at no time ever promised to take over the total cost of able-bodied relief. The statement made at this Box two or three years ago, clearly stated that it was subject to adjustment of finance between the central Government and local authorities, and at no time has this Government ever promised to take over the complete cost of able-bodied relief. The hon. Member went on to refer to the present practice of the public assistance authorities in Greenock, and there was some good-natured interruption from the back. Well, we will take our troubles when we have to face them. I am anxious to submit these scales, not only to the House of Commons, but to the people of Scotland, and even to the ratepayers. The House of Commons is always anxious to do the very best it can for the people for whom it is responsible. The ideal naturally is a fully employed nation, but until that day arrives, provision must be made for those who are unable to work for themselves. The issue before us to-day will not be solved ultimately by Government supporters or even by the Opposition. It will be solved by public opinion in Great Britain, and by public opinion I mean, not the opinion of the unemployed person—
Oh, yes, they do. It will be solved, not by the opinion of the unemployed person or the keen party man on either side, but it will be solved, as all questions are solved, by the British instinct for fair play. The British people in some inscrutable way have an unerring instinct to do the right thing, and they will be the ultimate judges of the scales which we are submitting to-day. We shall confidently appeal to them when the time comes. The problem to-day is a human problem. The House of Commons is concerned, not only with the scales, but with how they will be operated, and I suggest, first of all, that it is not fair to judge the Board solely by the scales laid down in the Regulations, but by the way in which they are applied. Let the House of Commons picture to itself an unemployed person. He has long wished for work, he has searched for work, he has seen shipyards closed and factories shut down. Is it unnatural that sometimes bitterness enters his soul? I often wonder, I often marvel, at the patience of these people. If he also feels that he is being unfairly treated in comparison with his neighbour, a keen sense of injustice is created.
If, for instance, one woman feels that her husband is not being treated like her neighbours in the same town or street, a keen sense of injustice quickly arises, and I think it would be the wish of the House of Commons, as much as the wish of the Board, to see that even-handed justice is done between these people in the different towns and villages of our country. Having come in contact with the officials of the Board, both at the centre and at the circumference, I am confident that we have an organisation which is capable of accomplishing that desirable result, and personally I do not regret the stand-still arrangement. It has allowed an interval for the officials to get in touch with their public, it has allowed the public to get in touch with the officials, and a spirit of contact has resulted. If I am not much mistaken, up and down our land the applicants and the Board's officials have come in contact with each other, and I am glad, therefore, that there has been this stand-still arrangement, to allow that spirit of contact to arise before the national scale is put into operation. When speaking on this point of the relation of the Board to the applicants, I am reminded that the "Manchester Guardian," which will appeal to hon. Members below the Gangway opposite and which is always economical in its praise of the National Government, spoke two days ago of the "experience of the Board's work having been by no means unfavourable." It may have been faint praise, but it is praise that seldom comes from that quarter.
Let me now turn, not to the scales of the Board, but to the rates of transitional payments. Prior to the coming into operation of the Board, the rates of transitional payments were fixed by as many as 55 local authorities in Scotland and a much greater number in England, and I desire to pay my tribute to the public work done by men and women on these authorities. These authorities did not all fix the same scales; some fixed scales higher than others. That is only natural, having regard to the different composition of these different local authorities, but the total amount so fixed by these local authorities was met by the Treasury. These amounts were paid by the Treasury from the national taxes, and not by the ratepayers. The local authorities, therefore, were granting sums to the inhabitants of their areas and did not have the responsibility of raising the necessary revenue. The local authorities, to use the old phrase, called the tune, but the State paid the piper.
The system of varying rates has been continued under the standstill arrangement, and in Scotland 80 per cent. of the Board's applicants are being paid in accordance with the old transitional payment scheme. I should be surprised, however, if any one would defend the system which I have described; and the present trouble which the Government are anxious to remove has largely arisen through the causes I have indicated. I suggest that the Board in fixing the scales have had regard to what is just and reasonable. The only way to avoid making any cuts whatever was to choose not only the scale of the highest paying authority in Great Britain, but the highest item in the scale of any authority. That was the only way the Board could have avoided any cuts had they so desired. That, however, was naturally out of the question.
I shall submit my full reasons in the course of my speech. The Board had to fix a scale in keeping with the needs of the people, having in mind the cost of living, the rates of wages and the general level and nature of the local scales which had been fixed by the numerous local authorities composed of public men in different parts of Scotland and England. In politics nothing is easier than to out-bid your political opponents. One offers 20s., and another comes along and offers 25s. The Government and the Board have been anxious to fix a reasonable standard of assistance. Nothing makes a greater appeal than the appeal of a skilled man who has taken a long time to learn his trade and who is unable to find work.
I do not want to spend time discussing the advisory committees at length, but yesterday in the Debate it was suggested that these committees would be a smokescreen and nothing more. I know something of the type of public men who have agreed to serve on these committees, and they are not the men who are content merely to be a smoke-screen. It is true that they will have no statutory responsibility for decisions, but they will have a statutory power, through the Regulations, to influence the decisions on important points.
Cannot the right hon. Gentleman be frank and straightforward with the House? [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] Certainly, after the deliberately prevaricating speech of the Minister of Labour yesterday, it is time we protested. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House that the only power the advisory committees have is merely to recommend, and none whatever to adjudicate?
I was very clear when I said that they have no statutory responsibility for decisions, but they have statutory power, through the Regulations, to influence the decisions on important points. Moreover, some hon. Members seem to forget that there are the appeal tribunals, which are the final authority between the Board and the applicant.
May we get it absolutely clear that the advisory committee has only the function of advising and that the inspector or officer of the Board reserves to himself complete right to reject the advice?
That is perfectly accurate, and nothing that I said is contrary to it. Appeal tribunals have been in existence for a long time, and I have not heard, and I do not know whether other hon. Members have heard, that these bodies, which consist of an independent chairman, a local man of public standing appointed by the Board, and a representative of the workpeople, do not and cannot do justice to their cases. Moreover, it is the intention of the Board to summon, as occasion requires, a regional conference of the chairmen of advisory committees for the discussion of matters of more than purely local interest. This will apply in Scotland and elsewhere. I regard this introduction of the local informed element through the advisory committees as a big step for- ward in the attempt to combine the efficiency of a Government Department with the knowledge and understanding of local problems which can come only from those at the circumference. I am sure that Scottish Members in all parts of the House will value that policy.
Now I come to the means test. I suggest that it is often misunderstood. It has been described as a factor in breaking up family life. The officers of the Board in their Report show that there has been little evidence to support that view. I have been making inquiries myself in two directions. During visits to different parts of Scotland I asked at many centres whether members of families had left their homes because of the means test. When I asked how many cases there were, I have been met with vague statements. Not content with that, I asked my own officers during the last two months to make inquiries from 250 single unemployed men in different parts of Scotland to find out why they were living by themselves. They were chosen from the cities in Scotland. The result was that in 85 per cent. of the cases the men were living by themselves independently of anything to do with the means test. The remaining 15 per cent. had left their homes because of all sorts of family quarrels. [HON. MEMBERS: "Through the means test!"] Sometimes it was associated with the means test—[Interruption.]
I am giving the House the benefit of my own experience through my officials. I put it to hon. Members opposite that the principle of the means test can remain permanently on the Statute Book only if it is accepted with a fair measure of support, for it is a truism to say in this case as in others that the will of the people must ultimately prevail. Let me turn to the size and nature of the means test. From a test made in April, 1935, the results of which were published in the Board's Report, it was estimated that of the 725,000 applicants to whom they were then paying allowances some 324,000, or 46 per cent. had resources coming into their homes amounting to about £24,500,000.
I am coming to that. I assure hon. Members opposite that I will not shirk it. To-day there are not 725,000 applicants but 620,000. On the basis of the 1935 test, there are actually to-day 285,000 persons to whom the means test will apply, and into their homes there is coming a sum of £20,000,000 a year. [HON. MEMBERS: "Analyse it!"] I am trying to tell the House quite clearly the size and nature of the means test. There are 285,000 persons coming under it who possess earnings from all sources of about £20,000,000 a year. It is wrong, of course, to take the whole of the resources into account. The Regulations do not propose it and the Act does not allow it. For example, the first 5s. of sick pay, the first 7s. 6d. of Health Insurance, and other points are completely disregarded, but the Regulations also provide for the making of ample allowances for the income of earning members of the household to meet the personal requirements of the members. The point I put to the House is whether it is unreasonable—
—unreasonable for the State to pay regard to sums amounting to £20,000,000 going into the households of the people who come to the State and say they are in need. It is not unreasonable and public opinion will support that view.
That £20,000,000, I understand, includes wages, and, therefore, the correct position is that the wage going into the households of these people is less than 25s. a week.
I had intended to state the whole sums of sick pay, maternity benefit and so on, which were completely disregarded, but, in deference to hon. Members opposite, I refrain from doing it. The further point I am anxious to put to the House is, Is it not a human privilege and a deep-rooted instinct in life for relatives to assist their kith and kin?
Order! I would point out that there are a good many Members who wish to take part in the Debate and interruptions only lengthen speeches and make it more difficult for more hon. Members to take part.
In stating this question I well recognise that the marked tendency of modern life is for every member of the household to have complete liberty. Such freedom is now demanded as a right. But there is no inconsistency between liberty and freedom on the one hand and the due discharge of family obligations which underlie the principle of the means test. Let us see how these Regulations compare with the present practice of local authorities when dealing with the ablebodied poor. I choose for comparison the two largest cities in Great Britain, London and Glasgow, both under Labour rule. Moreover the Glasgow scale is higher than any other scale in Scotland except in Greenock. Before coming to the exact scales in these two areas I would remind the House that the fixing of local scales of relief and the local means test was, subject to the general law of public assistance, within the discretion of the councils concerned, and that in each case these councils had a Labour majority.
It was as a result of the exercise of their discretion by these predominantly Labour bodies that the scales and the means test now in operation in Glasgow and London were framed. Let me turn to an objective analysis of these scales, to see whether I cannot show, as I am confident I can, that the scales in these two areas under Labour rule do not compare unfavourably with the scales of the Board.
On a point of Order. I understand that there is a Standing Order against repetition in this House. In the Debate last night we got the London scale, and the Minister yesterday dealt to some extent with the case of Glasgow. Again, in the concluding speech, the Minister of Health went very fully into the scale in London. In view of the fact that a lot of Members wish to take part in the Debate I wish to ask whether the rule against repetition is not to be enforced?
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) is perfectly right in saying that there is a rule, Standing Order No. 18, against repetition, but I am afraid that it is one which is more honoured in the breach than in the observance. Furthermore, I did not myself hear either of the speakers referred to last night, and, therefore, I am not in a position to judge as to repetition.
Let me give some figures to illustrate the amounts payable to typical families without resources under the Glasgow and London scales of benefit for the able-bodied poor, and the amount which will be payable to them under the Board's Regulations. In giving the figures under the Regulations I am assuming that no rent adjustment has been made. Take the case of a man and wife. The allowance in Glasgow is 26s., in London 18s. plus the rent actually paid, and under the Board it will be 26s. including rent up to 6s. 6d. [HON. MEMBERS: "24s.!"] I am taking the case of a family without resources. Then take the case of a man and wife with three children, whose ages, for the sake of my argument, I put at three, six and nine years of age. They receive in Glasgow 35s., in London 28s. plus the rent paid, and will receive 35s. under the Board.
Comparative figures are being used. The figure was 35s. in Glasgow and then there was another figure given for London. Is that exclusive of the rent? What were the amounts payable to those persons?
Would it not be fairer if the right hon. Gentleman would take some basic rent, say 7s. 6d., in London? I have in my possession comparative figures for London taking 7s. 6d. as the basic rent, and according to them the claim which the right hon. Gentleman makes is utterly unjustified.
If hon. Members will bear with me while I make my speech they will be able to see whether the conclusions I draw from these figures agree with theirs. I am not giving the basic rent or a particular rent. Hon. Members opposite will know that the practice varies, and under the new rent rule it is so adjusted as to meet the needs of each locality.
In the case of a man and wife and a child of three, the allowance is 29s. in Glasgow, 22s. plus rent in London, and 29s. under the Board. In the case of a single man living in lodgings the allowance in Glasgow is 17s., in London 10s. plus the rent, and 15s. under the Board. This 15s. allowance is subject to adjustments to meet the circumstances of the particular case and the allowance is also subject to the right of appeal to the Appeal Tribunal.
This is important. The Minister has made definite statements, and has repeated what the Minister of Health said last night. I have furnished myself with the official publication that is presented to members of committees when they are administering Poor Law relief in the London district. It is true, as far as the Minister has gone, but they also have the right, under this administration, to take into consideration the granting of coal in the winter, paying doctors' bills, and paying the whole of the rent.
I do not wish to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman. [Laughter.] Well, the Minister of Labour is accustomed to it, but I am not trying to interrupt the Secretary of State for Scotland. I am asking him to tell the House, if he wishes to be reasonable, whether the statement that he made in regard to the London district is not incorrect, and that the amount which is allowed in that district is greater than the amount which he has stated. The Minister of Labour need not grin about it.
Do I understand from you that at the conclusion of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, without any further reference to these disputed figures, you would accept such a Motion?
On the point of Order. Is it not a fact that many hon. Members are anxious to hear the figures given by my right hon. Friend but cannot do so on account of the persistent interruption by hon. Members?
I shall also show what, in each case, the total family income is, including the amount of unemployment assistance. As before, I am assuming that, in the cases under the Regulations, no adjustment is made on account of rent.
Take a man and wife, with three children over 18, earning respectively 30s., 25s. and 20s., a total of 75s. In Glasgow the amount of the contribution which they are regarded as making to their parents' keep is 20s., in London 22s. 6d., and under the Board only 11s. 6d. The second case is that of a man and wife who have a son and daughter over 18 years of age, earning 30s. and 20s. respectively, a total of 50s. In Glasgow, their contribution to their parents is taken as 10s., in London 11s., and, under the Board, only 7s.
Lastly, take the case of an unemployed man and wife with a son over 18 earning 30s. In Glasgow the contribution to his parents is taken only as 5s., in London 8s., and, under the Board, 7s. In that case, the Board's figure is not so favourable as that of Glasgow but is better than that of London.
No. The figures I have given are calculated on the basis of the full family earnings. The figures will in practice under the Regulations, be modified. This is very important. The amount of the contributions will be lower and the income higher, as a result of the allowances in respect of insurance and reasonable and necessary expenses connected with employment. Figures are cold things, when dealing with the needs of these people, but I submit that, without any doubt whatsoever, tested by the comparisons with London and Glasgow, both under a Labour rule, the Board's scale for dependants, which is supported by the Government, compares not unfavourably—
Now let me turn from a controversial subject to a subject of more general agreement. The new rent rule is flexible, adjustable, suited to the different needs of each locality and peculiarly adapted to the needs of Scotland. One of the chief reasons—I am sure that hon. Members opposite will agree with me—which brought about the standstill was that the old rent rule did not make sufficient allowance for the low rents in Scotland. We have, for the first time, accurate knowledge of the rents being paid by unemployed persons in Great Britain. The figures which have resulted are very startling. In England, about 26 per cent. of the households pay rents of under 6s. per week. In Scotland, about 48 per cent. of them pay rents under 6s. per week. The House will observe the much higher percentage of persons in Scotland paying a low rent than in England. The proportion is nearly double that of England.
Yes. The comparison is the reason why the percentage of people in Scotland in receipt of transitional payments is much higher than in England. The rent rule is now a pliable, adjustable rule, peculiarly adapted to meet the neds of Scotland. I have endeavoured to place the issue fairly before the House. I have not chosen ground favourable to my argument, but have deliberately selected common practice in the two great municipalities of Great Britain. I have attempted to cover the ground which will be of most interest not only in the House of Commons but to the great public outside. What are the Regulations?
May I interrupt the right hon. Gentleman to ask whether the advisory committees will be entitled to give advice upon individual cases or only upon classes of cases? For instance, will they only be able to say: "The rent usually paid in this neighbourhood is X shillings per week," or will they be able to deal with the rents of particular individuals?
Not with particular individuals but with a locality; with an area, a whole area, Yes; with a specified area in a locality, but not here or there. I think I have answered the question of the hon. Gentleman.
No. I was coming to that point. I am dealing with the general standards to which the Board must have regard, in discharging that part of their duty which is concerned with meeting the material needs of the unemployed. While the Regulations prescribe a certain standard, they allow the utmost flexibility of working to preserve to the Board its right to deal with individual cases—and this answers the question of my hon. Friend opposite—in the light of individual requirements. All parties in the House desire to see work more plentiful, wages higher and conditions of life improved, and all parties are striving, in their various ways, to attain that end. The National Government have not approached this matter in any party spirit.
Great Britain compares favourably with the world. I say, not with any measure of self-satisfaction, but solely to state a simple truth, that Great Britain, under these Regulations and during the last five years, has treated her unemployed persons better than has any nation in the world. When the whole of the facts are known, I have no doubt that not only will the House of Commons support the Government to-morrow night, but that the public will decide and decide rightly, that the Board have taken much time and thought in order to tackle this terribly difficult problem, and that the Regulations which I now commend to the House are just.
The right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House showed a surprising knowledge of the scales of public assistance in Glasgow and in London, but, although those scales have a certain collateral interest in this discussion, he did not throughout his speech throw the faintest gleam of fresh light on the Regulations with regard to which the House is called upon to decide. We are sometimes told that it is necessary not to miss the wood for the trees, but it seems to me that the great danger in this Debate has been the danger of missing the trees for the wood; and, particularly in the discussion yesterday, the House appeared to be in danger of losing itself in a great mass of general principles of more or less relevant application.
One right hon. Gentleman above the Gangway traced the history of un- covenanted benefit since 1920, hon. Members opposite went closely into the events of 1931, and contrasts were drawn by various speakers, particularly by the Minister of Health, between the scales proposed to be paid by this Government and the scales which are now paid by various Socialist local authorities—a fine distinction which, at any rate to us in this part of the House, appeared to be of purely academic interest. It seems to me that these matters are not particularly related to what we have to decide. We have not to decide whether there is to be a means test, or what sort of test there is to be, because that is decided, not by the Regulations, but by the Act. Nor have we to pass a Vote of Censure on the actions of local authorities in any part of the country. What we have to decide is simply whether these Regulations should be passed or not, and the submission which I shall try to present to the House is simply that, in judging these Regulations, it is not necessary to call in aid any general principle of legislation or administration, but that these Regulations stand condemned by the faults which they themselves contain.
I propose to examine what I conceive to be the interpretation of the Clauses of the Regulations, but before doing so I should like to make one or two brief preliminary observations. In the first place, so far as my hon. Friends and myself are concerned, we have not retreated in any way from the view that the service of the able-bodied unemployed should be a national service. The criticism which many of us directed against the Unemployment Bill of 1934 was not that it nationalised this service, but that it left a substantial number of able-bodied unemployed outside the scope of the Bill even after the second appointed day—all those, in fact, who were not normally in insurable occupations. Secondly, hon. Members, in referring to the last set of Regulations, always spoke as if the break-down of those Regulations was in the nature of what lawyers call an act of God. They always spoke as if it was something which could not reasonably have been foreseen. In my submission, that is complete nonsense. The Minister, speaking yesterday, said:
At the end of the third week it became obvious that the scheme was not working out as had been anticipated."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st July, 1936; col. 287, Vol. 315.]
Anticipated by whom? It was not working out, I agree, as had been anticipated by the Board; it was not working out as has been anticipated by the Minister of Labour of that day; but it was working out precisely as had been anticipated by many in this House who had taken the trouble to go to their constituencies and find out what the operation of the scheme would be. A great many of the blunders of that time would have been avoided if the Board and the Minister of Labour had taken the trouble to obtain the information which was available to any Private Member of the House who cared to ask for it.
Thirdly, we sometimes hear it suggested, or hinted, that the difficulties which arose on the last occasion were difficulties due to some rigidity in the administration of some one Department. After the break-down last year, I heard speeches of hon. Members opposite and I read newspaper articles in which it was stated that the Regulations were being too rigidly administered. The argument used was that it was not intended that they should be so harshly applied. That is an argument which has been either used or hinted at on a great many occasions, but it seems to me that to use an argument of that kind is a singularly mean way of evading responsibility for votes given in this House. The difficulties that arose were not due to any lack of sympathy in the administration. The Minister of Labour yesterday paid a tribute to the officials of the Board, and I should like, if I may, judging from what I have been able to see in my own constituency, to associate myself with that tribute, because I do not believe that what happened last year was in any way the fault of the officials. In my experience, for what it is worth, the officials of the Board have been sympathetic, and have done the best that it was possible for any body of men to do in a wholly impossible situation. The fault on the last occasion did not lie in any rigidity or harshness in the administration; the fault lay in the Regulations themselves. They were mandatory in form; only a very small measure of discretion was given; and the results which followed were results which were inevitably bound to follow from the Regula- tions which this House passed in December, 1934.
There is one observation that I should like to make arising out of the speech of the Secretary of State for Scotland. He said that he made his inquiries into, I think, 250 cases in the whole of Scotland, and he found that in only a small proportion of them could it be supposed that people had left home because of the means test. That may be true, because it has been the custom of a great many authorities in the past to assess the proportion of the income of a son or daughter that was to be taken into account even when the son or daughter went away from home, if it was supposed that they had left home because of the means test, and that in itself would deter them from leaving home. I should like to quote one sentence from the Board's Report. It is on page 263, in the report of the district officer for my constituency and the surrounding districts. He says:
Although there are few cases where the 'means test' is the sole or main reason for departure from home, it is necessary to remember that, in a home where there is overcrowding"—
a very common circumstance, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, in Scotland—
incompatibility of tempers, a parent or guardian of doubtful worth, a member guilty of misbehaviour or misdemeanour, or a worthless, shiftless person, it is not difficult to imagine the 'means test' aggravating the position to breaking point.
As was pointed out yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White), the harm that may be done, and has been done, by the test as administered up to the present in family life, has not necessarily lain in the number who have left home, but in the strained relations that exist within the home. We are dealing here, and I think we must be perfectly clear about this, with an arrangement intended either to be permanent or, at any rate, to last for a considerable time. That is made clear by the second proviso of paragraph IV of the Regulations, which lays it down that the reductions that will be made are to be spread over a period of 18 months. If that is to be the preliminary period, it is quite clear that we are dealing with something that is intended to last for a considerable time. Therefore, it is not enough to be content simply with a general survey of the Regulations—to say that on the whole they may effect
an improvement; it is for the House to examine each Clause of the Regulations, and satisfy itself that they do in fact represent an improvement.
I am not going to deny—and I want to make this concession in order to be perfectly fair to my right hon. Friend opposite and those responsible—that these Regulations are an improvement on the last set of Regulations. It would be remarkable if they were not. The last set of Regulations were withdrawn because they were too harsh, and it would indeed be remarkable if, after 18 months' examination, no improvement was shown. I ought in fairness to acknowledge that, in one or two features at any rate, the present Regulations embody suggestions which I have made from time to time in this House. I am glad to see, for instance, that school meals are to be ignored; I am glad to see that the expenses of going to work—tram fares and so on—are to be ignored; and I am glad to see that, at any rate in dealing with one section of wage earners, namely, those over the age of 18, provision has been made that, if they earn more, they shall have more in their own pockets, and that there shall be a minimum below which the sliding scale shall not slide. It is only fair that, having urged in debate that such provisions should be made, one should be prepared to acknowledge it when the suggestions have been carried out.
It would, however, be interesting to know, though I suppose we never shall know, how much of such improvement as there is is due to the Minister, and how much is due to the Board. The Minister has not in fact used his statutory power to amend the draft Regulations, but perhaps one may be forgiven for thinking that the fact that he possessed that power to amend must have been of some value to him when he was going round the country and when he was collaborating in the preparation of the Regulations. It is clear that there was some form of collaboration. I know that the Act originally envisaged the preparation of regulations by the Board, and an independent examination by the Minister, but nobody, I suppose, really thinks that that took place in this case, and I do not suppose that even some future chronicler of the National Government, if such there be, will conjure up the picture of an expectant Minister waiting eagerly in ignorance of what was to come, and, on receiving the Regulations, saying to the Board, as one who had received a birthday present, "This is just what I wanted; how did you guess?"
I want to deal with one or two of the Clauses of these Regulations. I would refer hon. Members first of all to paragraph III, which provides that:
Where by reason of the fact that the amount is small doubt arises whether the applicant is in need, regard shall be had also to the relation of that amount to the amount at which the applicant's needs would be assessed if he had no resources and to all the other circumstances of the case.
This is very similar to a provision which was included in the last Regulations, and it is explained to some extent in the Board's explanatory Memorandum; but it seems to me that this is a singularly mean part of the Regulations. Supposing that a man, when the scale has been worked out and when the various available resources have been taken into account, has only 6d. or 1s. due to him, it may not be very much, but, if he thinks it is worth collecting, why should power be taken to deprive him of it? If he is prepared to take the trouble to go to the Board and ask for this small sum week by week, why should not the Board take the trouble to pay the money? In the Memorandum supplied by the Board the sort of case is given where there are considerable resources in the family, and they say that perhaps a sum of 2s. might be ignored, because it would not be much in relation to the whole resources of the family. That may be true, but that 2s. may be the only money that the applicant can call his own. It may mean a great deal to him. I cannot see why this provision should be made to deprive, it may be only a few applicants, of very small sums that are due to them under the Board's own scale.
I should like to call attention to a point of interpretation which I think has not yet been touched on. Paragraph IV (2) deals with special circumstances. The next paragraph deals with needs of an exceptional character. There is a proviso which says that where there are no available resources as calculated in the terms of the Schedule in the first place, and also where the needs of some other person are included, the appro-
priate benefit rate shall be paid. Paragraph 2 on page 5 says that if in any case special circumstances exist, the amount calculated in accordane with paragraph 1 may be adjusted by way of increase or decrease. The next paragraph says that
If in any case needs of an exceptional character exist, whether arising from prolonged unemployment or otherwise, the amount calculated in accordance with the foregoing provisions may be increased.
One is calculated in accordance with paragraph 1, and the second calculated "in accordance with the foregoing provisions." As I read the section, this discretion to give money for special circumstances only applies to a scale calculated in accordance with paragraph 1, and there is no power to give that addition under the proviso. That is to say, supposing a man and wife are assessed at 24s., under paragraph 1 there is power to give them money for either exceptional needs or special circumstances under one or other of these paragraphs, but the moment you put them on the 26s. scale you have no power to add to it at all. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to correct me if I am wrong.
As it stands, it appears that you are unable to add to any amount paid under this proviso. If that were so, it would reproduce the very worst features of the standstill arrangement. Under the standstill arrangement you had in some cases this ridiculous result. Supposing an applicant was assessed at 30s. on the transitional scale and 25s. on the Board's scale, if he fell ill and wanted something for special circumstances they said, "We will give you 3s. extra, but we can only add the 3s. to the 25s. and not to the 30s." It seems to me that that system is being reproduced by the terms of these provisions and this particular proviso. These matters are technical, but they are of some importance. The proviso is mandatory. It says that where these circumstances exist, the scale shall be raised. If I am right, it would not be open to the officer to say, "We will keep you at 24s. and add whatever the amount may be," because the proviso says that the sum shall be increased. I would ask hon. Members on both sides to read very carefully the terms of the first proviso on page 5, because there are two conditions which must be observed before it comes into operation. In the first place, the needs of some other member of the household must have been included with those of the applicant, and there must be no available resources calculated in the terms of Schedule 2. That is to say, the moment you have any available resources coming in, no matter how small they may be, this proviso falls to the ground and he goes back to the lower scale. Supposing you have a man and wife, with a son earning 20s. a week. The 20s. is to be disregarded. There are no available resources and they are entitled to 26s. But supposing the son's wages rise to 20s. 6d., the 6d. is available resources, and you have no power to put this proviso into operation. That may be an extreme case, but it can happen. However small the resources may be, if it is only a matter of a penny or two, coming into the house, as long as there are resources within the meaning of Schedule 2 they put the man back on the lower scale instead of the higher.
I turn to the first schedule. It is provided that the committee may make recommendations, and then the officer of the tribunal, or the appeal tribunal, may act on them. There are two hypotheses there. A great deal will depend upon the constitution and working of the advisory committees. Are the deliberations and decisions of these committees to be private or public? Are they to arrive at their decisions in secret and communicate them in secret, or will they sit in public and will their decisions be published? Supposing you have them just giving advice without any publicity and the officer of the Board turns down their advice, as he is perfectly entitled to do, it would be an impossible situation, that a member of the advisory committee should be saddled with the responsibility of a decision against which he has himself voted. I know that there are objections to publication but they are altogether outweighed by the objections to secrecy.
Paragraph 2 seems to me to raise one of the most objectionable features of these Regulations. The allowance for a single man is to be only 15s. as against 16s. for a man in a household. I find that extraordinarily difficult to understand. The argument for having a means test is that a man who is living in the household, sharing the same life, the same fireside, and the same food, has not such great need as a man who is living by himself. That is the whole argument, and I am not prepared to say that there is not a certain amount of substance in it. Here you are reversing that principle. You are destroying the only sound argument that you have, because you are saying that the man who is living in lodgings, who has to pay for everything, who gets nothing, and can expect nothing from any member of any household, for he does not belong to a household, is actually to be paid upon a lower scale. Whatever the differences may be between Glasgow and London, in my own constituency and in many others the rate for a single man is now 17s. and it will be 15s. under the new scale.
Turning to the Second Schedule, I welcome the deduction of expenses, and I associate myself with what was said yesterday by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane) on the subject of capital expense. At a time when it is so necessary to increase the number of small capitalists, or small property owners, it seems a most remarkable thing that we should introduce these entirely artificial provisions. We are all concerned with the way in which a man with a disability pension will be affected by these Regulations. The first 20s. is to be disregarded. It follows from that that amounts of over 20s. will be taken into account. I called at the house of a man with a disability pension of 20s. He was married, so they added 5s. for the wife, therefore, his income from that source was 25s. I assume that the 5s. will be taken into account. Under the present transitional scale that man gets 21s. in Dundee. Under the new scale he will get 19s., a considerable reduction from his point of view.
Part II of this Schedule is, I think, the most important part of these Regulations and one from which the most trouble will arise, particularly in Scotland and in districts where textile industries are situated and where you have women in work and their husbands unemployed. Under paragraph 1 the maximum that may be ignored for personal allowance is 8s. either from the applicant's own earnings or from those of his wife, father or mother. In addition, the scale rate may be allowed if the persons concerned have not been scaled together. I want to see how that will work out in one or two cases. Supposing a wife earns 24s., which is the Trade Board rate. Under the present transitional payments scale the husband gets 14s.—17s. less the 3s. that they take into account. The total income of the man and wife at present is 38s. In future, supposing the man and wife are scaled together, the applicant will get 24s. minus 16s., making a total of 8s. The total income of the household will be 32s., as against 38s. now. Supposing they are not scaled together for this purpose. The wife has 8s. plus 9s. according to the scale, making 17s. That deducted from 24s. leaves 7s. The total income of the household will thus be 33s. as against 38s. to-day. So that in one case there is a reduction of 6s. and in the other of 5s. There will be a great many cases like those, not only in my constituency but in others where women are working.
I will give one case which I came across last week-end in Scotland, of a husband and wife paying a rent of 6s. 1d. The wife earns 19s. at the present time. The transitional payment rate for the husband is now 17s. in Dundee, and if my estimate be correct, under the new scale, he will get 13s. instead of 17s., assuming that there is no particular allowance for rent one way or the other. That is not quite so drastic, but even he gets a cut of 4s. upon a very small income. I want to make this point: The allowance to the father or mother of the applicant is only 8s., plus the scale rate, and the balance goes into the pool. I congratulated the Minister just now because, in dealing with wage-earners with sons or daughters, he had introduced the principle of a sliding scale. I think that that was an advance, because it means that if a man earns more, he has more to put into his own pocket, and the whole amount of the increase is not taken off the assessment of his unemployed relatives. The system of not having a sliding scale and disregarding the fixed amount and taking the balance, whichever it should be, was a perfectly indefensible system. They have abolished it in the case of the son or the daughter, but curiously enough they have retained it in the case of the father and the mother.
If the principle of a sliding scale is correct in the case of a son or daughter, why is it not also correct in the case of a father or mother? A great many hon. Members have been misled about these Regulations because they have looked down the last page and have seen what has been done for the children. They have not realised, and I do not think that public opinion in this country has yet realised, that, where it is a question of considering the father's or the mother's earnings, the means test is being retained in its most vicious and indefensible form.
I want to make one other comparison. At the present time everybody points to the treatment of the wage earners, and says that it is more generous. It is true in the case of a son who is over 18, but it is not the case when you are dealing with a son under 18. Let me take the case of a boy of 17 in my constituency who is earning the trade board rate of 20s. His parents now get 26s. In that case they are to receive two cuts under the new scale because the boy's earnings are held to be available resources, and the income of the father and mother will go down from 26s. to 24s., and another 4s. from his pound is to be taken into account, bringing that income down from 24s. to 20s. There is another case, which I do not think anyone will deny, where a small household on a small income is 6s. worse off than before. Finally, there is the feature in paragraph (3, c), in page 9, which says:
If the earner is the householder an additional 5s.
shall be allowed. That looks all right at first sight, but when you examine it, it is not nearly as generous as it looks. Five shillings is allowed for the earner if he is the householder, but if the applicant is not the householder he would only get the scale 10s. instead of 16s. Where the earner is the householder, you may have the household worse off than if he were not. Let me make it clear. Supposing you have two brothers, one earning 30s. a week and the other unemployed. If the man with the 30s. is the householder, you must disregard 23s., plus 5s., making 28s. That is to say, 2s. will be knocked
off the 10s. rate and the applicant will get 8s. If the unemployed man is the householder, you only deduct 23s. You then deduct 7s. from 16s., leaving a total of 9s. So you have this peculiar result, that different amounts are payable according to who is the householder. That will lead to all sorts of jugglery as to who is to pay the rent, and who is really the householder, because it makes a small but nevertheless appreciable difference. Lastly, the schedule deals with the question of dependants. They are to be allowed their scale rates, plus the present allowance of one-third. What does that mean, taking it in actual figures? I have seen a good many cases in my constituency of boys leaving school and getting jobs at 10s. They will get scale allowance at 6s., and in addition they will get a personal allowance of 3s. 4d., leaving a balance of 8d., which is taken off the father's assessment. Again, this is not a large sum, but it is just this cheeseparing of small sums which might very well be left out of account without mattering much to anybody.
It is just that system which has brought the whole conception of the means test into disrepute. I apologise for keeping the House for so long, but I want to say a few words about paragraph 4, which says that
Where special circumstances exist the amounts allowed under this part of this Schedule may be adjusted by way of increase or decrease in such manner as is reasonable ill the circumstances.
Do not let hon. Members opposite attach too much importance to that particular Clause. The particular term "special circumstances" means, and must mean exactly what it says. It must mean something which is exceptional and which does not prevail in a large number of cases. If the scales are wrong, and the machinery working out your assessment is wrong, then it is no good relying upon a Clause like this as a sort of machinery to get you out of all difficulties that might arise. You cannot expect your officials to invent special circumstances where none exist, and it stands to reason that special circumstances cannot exist in the case of the great majority of applicants. If the machinery and the scales are wrong, this Clause is an entirely insufficient buffer against that position.
This Clause was referred to in one connection by the Minister yesterday and by one or two other hon. Members as affecting the case of a nil determination, and it was suggested that where there would otherwise be a nil determination the allowances to the wage-earners might be increased, or that some small sum, at any rate, might be left to the applicant for his own use. That, as far as it goes, is no doubt a concession worth having, but again, do not let hon. Members opposite run away with the idea that this is going to get rid of nil determinations. This is a matter which is of concern to hon. Members in all parts of the House. I sat through the Debate yesterday and heard my right hon. Friend refer to the case of the man left without any money which he could call his own. I believe that the House was greatly moved by the narrative told by my hon. Friend the Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White), who told us of a man who said that his children were all around him and that he had to rely upon them for every penny that he received.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey), in the speech he made yesterday, also referred to this question of the nil determination. I believe that if it were possible to deal with these Regulations seriatim and to amend them, hon. Members in all parts of the House would agree, that there should be no such thing as a nil determination, but in every case, even if you are to have a means test and a household means test, there should be some minimum sum, even though it were only a few shillings which a man might take for his own use, or as the Minister put it, to afford him dignity. I think that they feel as strongly as we do on this side. Let us see how it is proposed to meet this problem. I call the attention of hon. Members to what I think is the most remarkable paragraph in the Memorandum of the Board on page 24. In paragraph 39, half way down, it says:
The Board also contemplate adjustments on a more general ground where the applicant is an elderly man"—
he has to be elderly first—
with a long industrial record in the past but with poor prospects for the future. If his sons have been supporting him for a long time out of wages which, though sufficient for the purpose, do not leave a large margin for their own lives, the Board would in appropriate cases"—
I should have thought that every case like that was appropriate, but apparently we have not diminished that class sufficiently yet—
so increase, under this paragraph of the Regulations, the amount allowed to the sons for their personal requirements as to secure a small allowance to the applicant and thus ease his continuous and complete dependence upon the earnings of his children.
That is one of the most vexatious paragraphs that I have ever read in any official publication. In the first place, it must be an elderly man, and he must have had a long industrial record. In the third place, his sons must have been supporting him for a long time and, lastly, out of wages which, though sufficient for the purpose, do not leave a large margin. When all those four conditions have been fulfilled, I wonder how many applicants will be saved from the indignity of a nil determination? I think it is one of the most grudging concessions of all, if it can be described as a concession at all.
I again apologise for having kept the House so long and also for having gone into the matter in considerable detail. It is difficult to argue figures on the Floor of the House, but hon. Members will realise that these things are of intimate concern to the people who are to be affected. I have quoted comparisons with my own constituency. There we have a non-Socialist authority and at any rate up till now—and in the days of transitional conditions—it has endeavoured to administer the test humanely and sympathetically, but nevertheless keeping within the law, and I do not think that any Government Department has ever suggested that they have broken it. I think that I have said enough to make it quite clear that in a constituency like that, which I think is typical of a good many other constituencies in Scotland, there are going to be substantial cuts under these Regulations. I remember very clearly the havoc that was caused among my constituents by the last set of Regulations. It may not be so widespread this time, but there is going to be the same sort of thing in a good many households when this scheme comes into full force and effect.
I am not one of those who at an election has ever promised unlimited benefits. I have always endeavoured—and particularly during the last election—to exercise a certain amount of prudence about the promises that I have given where State legislation was concerned. I have never said that there should be no inquiries into circumstances if I had my way, and I do not put my opposition to these Regulations on these grounds at all. These Regulations stand condemned upon their demerits. One of the main objections when I voted against the Unemployment Bill under which these Regulations are made was that I could not tell in that Bill—and it was impossible for anyone to tell—how the people that I represented would be affected, whether they would be better off or worse off under the Bill. The same objection applies to these Regulations. We are told that there will be 200,000 cases in which the allowances will be raised, and that there will be 60,000 reductions in the first month or so. That leaves 360,000 cases unaccounted for. In those cases are the allowances to be raised or lowered? We have no means of telling, and I shall be very reluctant to give a vote affecting a great number of my constituents without being able to tell more closely how they are going to be affected.
In the Debate yesterday it was rather difficult to listen calmly to hon. Members opposite posing as pillars of financial orthodoxy. They used a perfectly sound argument when they said, in effect, that we must hold the scales evenly between those who receive the money and those who have to pay it, and that we must have some regard for the people out of whose pockets these revenues are raised. I entirely agree with that proposition. It was a perfectly good and sound argument, but it is an argument which comes very strangely from supporters of the most profligate Government of modern times. They do not give us that advice when we are asked to vote money for some section of the agricultural industry. At Question Time to-day we learned that when we have finished to-day's Debate on these Regulations we are to pass the Committee stage of the Cattle Industry Bill. When these frequent subsidies are put forward by the Government—very substantial subsidies—hon. Members from agricultural constituencies tell us that they are not enough and that the subsidies must be more. Therefore, it does not lie in the mouths of hon. Members opposite to gibe at hon. Members on this side of the House, in whatever part they sit and to say that they are insufficiently scrupulous in spending public money. At a time like this when day after day we have these subsidies voted and we hear demands for fresh subsidies, do not let hon. Members on the other side be too ready by their votes to-morrow to impose substantial reductions upon many thousands of the unemployed.
The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) has certainly made a most interesting speech, some part of which he devoted to a consideration of the kind of case that might be expected to arise in his constituency if the House decides to confirm these draft Regulations. That method of argument, as he pointed out quite clearly, has certain disadvantages. Is has one great advantage from the point of view of the speaker, and that is that it is very difficult to answer on the Floor of the House, because of the calculations involved; but it has one great disadvantage from the point of view of the speaker, and that is that it is extremely unconvincing. One would want to know a great deal more than the hon. Member has told us about the particular circumstances attached to the hard cases which he says will arise in his constituency, and one would need to know much more of the conditions of the household and of the age of the people involved. All that we have to go upon is the word of the hon. Member against the word of the Minister and the Board.
It is true that the hon. Member, with the most commendable frankness, has taken us into his confidence and told us that on the last occasion he was right and the Board were wrong. That is true, but I do not think that it is very likely to be the case now. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because the hon. Member in the last few years has made so many prophecies that have proved to be inaccurate that the mathematical chances of his being right twice on the same subject are rather small. It is fair to suggest that the Minister and the Board have had a lesson, and that they are very unlikely to fall open-eyed into the same kind of error into which for one reason or another they fell in the past. The hon. Member pointed out, very justly, that a good deal of this Debate is in a sense irrelevant to the Regulations. He pointed out, for example, that the question of the means test is not really an issue so far as these Regulations are concerned. In opening the Debate to-day the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) said the Government had no right to bring in Regulations of this kind. But the Government were bound to bring in Regulations of this kind. Everybody knows that. The Government were solemnly pledged to bring in Regulations which would embody the particular disadvantages to which the Opposition so much object, because they were pledged to bring in new Regulations under the Act of 1934; in other words Regulations which would involve the means test, the calculation of earnings and so on, which is the main subject of objection from the benches opposite. Therefore, it is not fair for the hon. Member to say that the Government have no right to do this. Not only the Government but every hon. Member on this side is categorically pledged to bring in and support Regulations of this kind.
The only thing that is really relevant in this matter is the question: Are these draft Regulations superior to the existing Regulations and superior to the Standstill Order? There is no question that the Regulations are very vastly superior to the existing Regulations. I do not think that hon. Members on the Liberal benches or the Socialist benches do justice to that degree of superiority. The hon. Member for Dundee admitted, quite frankly, that the Board had fallen in with some suggestion that he had made in earlier Debates on this subject, but instead of being grateful to them he almost seems to take that as an additional cause of offence. He made enormous play with the Clause which allows to an elderly man who is wholly dependent on his sons a small sum of money, as dignity money. The hon. Member rather implied that that was more an insult than anything else, and nobody listening to his speech would have thought that that concession was one asked for by a distinguished Member of his own party.
I am sorry that I did not make myself clearer. I was trying to show that there could be very few cases in which this concession would apply. Under the terms of the Board's arrangements the matter is so hedged about with conditions as to the man being elderly, about his sons having supported him for a long time, and the rest of it, and I said there would be very few people who would get the concession. I did not say that the concession was not worth having. I said that very few people would get it.
I am sorry if I misrepresented the hon. Member, but certainly he gave me the impression that he did not think much of the concession. I think it is a concession which the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, East (Mr. Mander) asked for on behalf of these elderly people, and it is fair to say that the Liberal party in receiving the new Regulations has not shown the gratitude which one might have expected from them. I hope that I may say without offence to the hon. Member for Dundee that whenever he or any of his colleagues speak in this House there is always one question which springs to my mind, and that is: "Is he still sitting on the fence?" I think the hon. Member and his party are still sitting on the fence in this matter. When the existing Regulations were debated the hon. Member gave the impession that he was not opposed to the household means test, that he gave the Government full credit for good intentions, that he was sure they meant well, but because it was impossible to amend the Regulations and because the allowances were not high enough, he felt bound to vote against them. In that Debate he gave the Minister an indication of the kind of thing which he would regard as reasonable, namely, that the first 20s. or 21s. of a son's earnings should not be brought into account. The Board has now granted that.
Only in regard to sons or daughters who are over 18. It does not apply to others. It does not apply to those under 18. Moreover, the point at which you start is 16s. and not 21s. a very considerable difference.
The hon. Member asked the Minister to arrange that the first 20s. or 21s. should not be taken into account and only a proportion of what followed afterwards, and that has been done. It is all very well for him to say that that only applies to sons and daughters over 18, but if he believes in any principle of the means test, and I understand he still does, he must admit that there is a distinction between a young man who is just starting to work and a young man fully grown up and who may be, as he said in his own speech on the Unemployment Bill, waiting to get married and is saving up for that purpose. There is a distinction between the boy who is just starting and the adult man, and that distinction has been met by the Board.
I think the time will come when the hon. Member and his party will be compelled on this question of the means test to come down on one side of the fence or the other. They will not be able to get away and say: "We do not like this small thing or that small thing, and we shall have to give our vote against the Government on this question." They will have to decide whether or not they accept the family means test.
The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), speaking yesterday, gave hon. Members on this side full credit for having a great deal of sympathy with the case of the unemployed, but said that from the very nature of things we could not have the same intimate knowledge and experience of the lives of the unemployed as hon. Members had on his side of the House. That is a perfectly fair point for the hon. Member to take. It is quite true that we cannot have the same immediate and instinctive sympathy and experience which hon. Members opposite in the main have, but I think we derive a certain advantage from that, and the advantage is that we are able to look at the problem perhaps a little more objectively than hon. Members opposite. They feel this problem with so much passion that they land themselves in a position which is really impossible for them to maintain in logic and in reason. They say that they object very strongly to the family means test. One can respect that objection. They object to it for certain specific reasons. They say that it is unfair for a brother to have to contribute to the support of his brother who is out of work through no fault of his own. If that is the basis of their argument, then surely it is unfair to ask somebody who is quite outside the household altogether to contribute to the support of those inside the household. That is an important point. I do not think that hon. Members opposite in their efforts to support the claims of the unemployed quite realise, or are as sympathetic, to the claims of those in employment.
It may be true that we have not the same experience as hon. Members opposite of working-class conditions, but we have many friends among the working people with whom we talk freely. I have spoken to a great many working men and I know that they would be extremely indignant if they thought that an unemployed man who has exhausted his benefit was going to receive his allowance without any test of need at all. Hon. Members opposite, I am sure, forget that point. The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), speaking yesterday about the London County Council scales, said that the London County Council only paid so much as the funds had to be provided out of the rates. Hon. Members opposite are inclined to forget that the allowances of the Assistance Board have to be provided from somewhere; they do not just happen every week. They have to be provided out of the taxes, and just as the allowances paid by the London County Council have to be provided by the rates. And just as the London County Council are limited by their rateable capacity so the Unemployment Assistance Board and the Government are limited by the taxable capacity of the country.
The answer surely is this: It is one thing to make payments for which there is no claim except the claim of need, and another thing to make payments which will strengthen an industry, prevent it collapsing; payments which will keep people in work and put more people in employment. Surely that is a position which we on this side are quite justified in maintaining, and all this talk about subsidies does not alarm me at all, because I think it is entirely beside the point.
To-day and yesterday we have been discussing these Regulations brought forward by the Government and we shall be discussing them to-morrow. I must confess that to-day I feel a bitter resentment which hitherto I have not felt. When we were discussing the previous Regulations and also the Act, I got rather annoyed with the Attorney-General who was piloting the Bill through the House of Commons. He had everything documented. It was there, and there, and there. I got angry, and said that it was impossible to document things in that way when it came to dealing with the actual requirements of the unemployed. That was a totally different problem. To-day I feel angry because we are not arguing a concrete problem; indeed, it is almost a phantom. Every time we raise an issue we are immediately told, "That is not the point; the Board have a discretion." It is said, "That is not what is meant." All the time we are arguing our case we cannot speak about realities because we are suddenly told, "That is not what is meant; it is something else; there is an overriding rule." The hon. Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Law) claimed that hon. Members opposite had as much sympathy for the unemployed as hon. Members on this side of the House. I hope I shall not be unfair to anyone, but, in my opinion, they are guilty of most contemptible conduct. They are guilty here of meanness. I am not thinking of the scales, but of the way in which this matter has been dealt with.
Look at the position. I listened to the right hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) and the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr (Lieut.-Colonel Moore) when speaking on the subject of their children and Income Tax. The Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed certain provisions dealing with trusts for children. Hon. Members opposite were annoyed and spoke with feeling, and when we on this side criticised them they said, "We feel for these children just as much as you feel for yours." I accept that. They pressed the Chancellor of the Exchequer for more generous treatment and the right hon. Gentleman said, "I will consider your views." We on this side of the House sneered, whereupon the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, "Am I not entitled, when I am making certain changes in the law, to listen to Members of Parliament before I make those changes?" The right hon. Member for Horsham thanked the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was right. Before making a change in the law it is right to listen to what hon. Members of the House of Commons have to say. That was done in the case of the children of the well-to-do. I have always been told that those people who have been to good schools have a higher conception of what is a gentleman and that they will never claim treatment for their own which they will not accord to other people. Last month they claimed the right that hon. Members of the House of Commons should discuss the case of their children, but to-night they are not allowing us to discuss one comma of Regulations which will affect poor children. Is that fair? Hon. Members opposite cannot defend it, because they know it is wrong.
We cannot discuss these Regulations. Who can discuss them? The Board. They can say what the conditions shall be; after they have drafted the Regulations, met the Minister of Labour, the Parliamentary Secretary, and the officials of the Ministry and if my information is correct also the Parliamentary Private Secretaries. The Parliamentary Private Secretaries knew all about these Regulations before we did. I am not blaming them; it was part of their work, but they saw them weeks and months before we did. Will the Minister answer that? I think that I may claim, and not unfairly, that I know these things as well as anybody. Just look at these Regulations and documents for a working man to understand. I could have picked out little bits of mistakes which the Minister made yesterday. The best man on Unemployment Insurance on the Government Front Bench is the Minister of Pensions, and I say that without offence to any of his colleagues. But I give the aristocracy a present of it.
We made a mistake. But I ask, is it fair that the Board can amend these Regulations? Officials can amend them, and after they have amended them they can go back to the Board and the Board can amend them again. Officials and the Board can amend them, but the elected representatives of the people can do nothing. On certain issues I would take advice from the people who may be on the Board. I do not know things that other men must know. But on this issue is the Board capable of being better than we are? Who are they? There is Lord Rushcliffe. I know him. I sat with him for years. Who is he? He was the Minister of Labour, but on Unemployment Insurance no more capable than the ordinary man in this House. There are his colleagues. One of them was a Treasury expert, but he knew nothing about this problem. Another was the chief of the Glasgow Parish Council. He made his reputation by cutting everybody down. He knew Poor Law relief, but he never knew Unemployment Insurance. The Board can alter and amend. We cannot. Not one sentence of these Regulations can we change.
Let me take the Minister's speech. We were guilty of a good deal of interruption of his speech. When I was a boy we lived in a very poor working class district on the south side of Glasgow. We had a neighbour, a big, strong woman, who was married to a small man whom she used to hammer on occasion. Every time she hammered the man she would call "Murder," so that she was always protected. I was reminded of that yesterday. Every time the Minister was provocative he would turn round and say that he was provoked into saying something. I sat with predecessors of the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman was guilty of making charges yesterday. I would not have done that to a colleague without giving notice to him. He made three anonymous charges without having the decency to give the details. He said that there were Members who had not visited their local boards. Who are they? I or any other Member might be one. Why not say who they are and before you make the charge tell the hon. Member you are going to make it? He said that there are certain local authorities who defy the law and when we interrupted he said, "I did not intend to tell you who they were, but I was provoked into it." Then he said, almost like a sort of Edgar Wallace, "I know a lot of cases where they are getting too much." He did not tell us the name and address or anything by which we could investigate these cases. He makes anonymous charges which a lawyer would be flung out of court for trying to make. A judge would have said, "Who are they? Let us have the facts." But he can come down here and think that he can deal with us differently.
I am not going to be drawn to-day into either a defence of or attack on Glasgow. I could have told him of worse cases in Glasgow if he had come to me. He told us of a case in Glasgow of a man and a woman who had a son with them and the son got 17s. I think I happen to know the case because I got the fellow the 17s. Suppose Glasgow had given the mother and father 26s., the Board would have paid only 10s. That is the fact, because where the son under the standstill agreement lives with the mother and father, all that they can receive is 10s. if they receive the scale. What Glasgow did was this. They said, "We will give you 7s. less than the scale, and you can take the Government money in order to save our rates," but actually it was the same to the family. It meant that instead of getting 26s. from the parish council and 10s. from the Unemployment Assistance Board—36s. in all—they got 19s. from the council and 17s. from the Unemployment Assistance Board. And that is his case. I get irritated often in these Debates because I know what the people in Glasgow who claim to be Labour sometimes do—things they should not do, things that are wrong, often indefensible. But when the Minister is going to do this, do not let him claim things in which he himself is an equally guilty culprit. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) wishes for a debate on Glasgow he can have it. Do not provoke me. [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] As a matter of fact, as the Member for one of the Glasgow Divisions has spoken already and has not made a defence of the 26s., I have done it. It was because I wanted to be fair to Glasgow that I defended them on it. If the hon. Member for West Islington wishes to defend the Minister, I will give him the pleasure of his company.
In his Regulations the Minister claims that £750,000 more will be given to the unemployed. First of all there is not one inch of proof given that that will be so. We ask for the facts and for proof and they say that they can only give an estimate. They promised to give the unemployed £3,000,000 more before, and, of course, that was not done. Somebody challenged the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) about his figures. There are 620,000 applicants and they are to get £750,000 among them. Divided up among 620,000 people it comes to as nearly as you can make it 6d. a head per week.
I understood the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) to say that there were 60,000 who were to receive deductions, 200,000 were to receive improvements, and that was only 6d. a week.
Here are the facts: they are to get £750,000 between 620,000 people. Let us be generous to the so-called Board, and say that the unemployed are to get £750,000, although there is no proof of that. It means that the same amount of money is to be available as was available before. To-day what you are passing is the same amount of money as was available before. I want to question even that. According to the Memorandum issued by the Minister of Labour, the expenditure in 1934 for 950,000 was £48,000,000. In the year ending 31st March, 1935, the expenditure for 761,000 people was £42,199,000. For this last year the expenditure for 705,000 was £42,400,000. That shows that if there had not been the standstill agreement the payments, far from being £3,000,000 extra, would have been considerably less. We were promised £3,000,000, but the fact is that, without the standstill agreement, far from our getting a penny piece more, we would have received a smaller aggregate sum. Now £750,000 more is to be given.
What are the facts? I do not intend to follow the Minister in the technical details for the obvious reason that I do not believe anybody in this House, including the Minister, knows the details. They will be known only when the Regulations are put into operation. Then certain bald facts will be known. You will know that the man who is ready to fight for his country—having nothing to fight for himself but ready to fight for other people's property—will have a chunk of his money taken from him when he comes back. You may be sure of that, and you may be sure that of the old age pension paid to the mother of an applicant some portion will be taken into account. You may be sure that in the case of every man who marries a widow and takes over children, the widow's pension will be taken into account. You may be sure that in the case of every man who earns wages, all above a certain amount will be taken into account. Those are facts, but there is not anybody who can tell what the technical details will be.
The House has no right to hand the control over the lives of 620,000 applicants to the whim of any Board or any person. These men are as much entitled to their benefits and rights as hon. Members opposite are to Income Tax adjustments and rebates. What is our case against these Regulations? It is the family means test. The hon. Member for South-West Hull said that he had met a great many people who would be angry if this money were said out without a test. I do not know where he meets these people, but I meet a great many people, and I confess that I have not met any of that sort. Let me point out to the hon. Member that Governments of which his father was the leader and Governments of which the present Prime Minister was the leader paid benefits without there being a means test, and not a single dissentient note was heard. As a matter of fact, in 1922 or 1923 there was a small means test; the Labour Government in the following year abolished it, and the Conservatives rejected it. Why was the means test introduced? It was not because it was demanded by any working-class people or asked for by the Tories. It has its origin in 1931, when we were told that there was a crisis and that the country had no money. It was not a question of the means test being just or unjust, but we had to start to save money because we were hard up. The means test was one of the economies. It was an economy cut for which no one asked, and it was started because we were hard up. One of the charges I make against hon. Members opposite is that they claim to have restored every cut, but I deny that they have restored the cuts imposed upon the unemployed.
Let me leave the question of the means test and deal with those who draw standard benefit. Before the economy cuts were made, every man having 30 stamps in two years could draw one year and four months of standard benefit. To-day a man with 30 stamps is limited to 26 weeks of benefit. That is a terrible cut, far exceeding in some cases a percentage cut; and it has never been restored. What is my case against that? It is that a man with 30 stamps gets standard benefit, but a man with 29 stamps does not. Let us suppose that a man comes back from the Army and goes to Birmingham, where trade is good; he gets a job and gets 30 stamps. But if he goes to Glasgow and does not get a job, he will not get the 30 stamps, and for that he is punished. What is the difference between a man with 30 stamps and a man with 20? There is only one difference, that one man has been unfortunate enough not to be able to get a job which will allow him to get the stamps. He happens to live in one place and cannot get 30 stamps in two years, and because of that you say to every person related to him who has an income, "What is your income?" You do that simply because the man has been more unfortunate than others. It is indefensible.
The hon. Member for South-West Hull defended subsidies. Hon. Members opposite are to-day handing out millions of pounds in subsidies. They have subsidised shipping, they have subsidised beef, sugar beet and wheat. Am I to take it from the hon. Member's remarks that he believes industry to be more important than human life? Hon. Members opposite are prepared to give millions if it can be proved that they are given to industry, but they deny them if they are for life. I have the facts and figures before me, and I believe that to abolish this test would call for less than £10,000,000. I say to the hon. Member that the State insurance scheme ought to be subsidised with £10,000,000 so that these people shall not have the means test inflicted on them; but he will not agree to that, because it is not industry—it is only life. We ask for £10,000,000, less than one-thirtieth of what hon. Members are preparing to spend on munitions, and they will not give it. For the first time hon. Members on the other side really appear in my eyes to be contemptible and low. One hon. Member has said that it is wrong for one side to outbid the other in getting votes by handing out public money and by promising more to the unemployed. Let me point out that hon. Members opposite hold almost every one of the agricultural constituencies, and they hold them by handing over millions of pounds to them. Yet we are told that it is wrong if we hand over some millions to the poor.
To me this is a crucial issue. I have seen this House trying to get away from the unemployment question, but always it has been driven back to it. To-day, even with the fall in unemployment which has come because of the £300,000,000 being spent on armaments, unemployment is a crucial issue. Hon. Members opposite are doing things that I believe to be wrong. To me, the unemployed man who comes to the exchange with his books and his cards denoting that he has 30 stamps and the other man who comes along with his card showing that he has fewer than 30 stamps, are just the same. One man is idle for a year, another for a month—what is the difference? But in the case of the man who is idle for a year, his relatives are searched more minutely than a detective searches a criminal. What is the difference between the two classes of men? I am chairman of a trade union and what do we find? That men from the North-East Coast who have been out of work for years are not wanted by the employers. They are not regarded as being in the same class or category as the other men. Why should they be treated differently?
Let any hon. Member try tramping the streets for 12 months or two years in search of work and see how he would like it. My wife's relatives in the city of Glasgow are poor people and one of my wife's brothers tramped the streets for four years searching for work and, at the end of it all, his most humiliating experience was when inquiries were made at the place where his girl of 21 was employed and her employer and all her fellow-workers got to know that her father had walked the streets for four years. That is what your means test is doing. You go to the employer of a girl like that to make your inquiries, and within 24 hours it is known that that girl's father is receiving national pauper relief. That is what you are doing. You quote Glasgow and you quote London. London is paying pauper relief. That is all it is.
To-day the boast of the Secretary of State for Scotland is that he is going to put another 600,000 on to pauper relief. Well, you are welcome to boast about it. I do not know how the future will go or what will happen. I have lost my faith in almost everything. Sometimes I even feel that it is not worth while bothering about human-kind. I see these struggling, poverty-stricken people and I reflect that it is only an accident that has put me here. If it had not been for that I would have been standing with them shivering in the wind, and my lot to-day would have been poverty like theirs. To-night I ask the House of Commons, whether Tory, Liberal or Labour just to look at these men, to look at their shrunken faces. Why should you inflict hardship upon them? If you want to fight, choose an enemy who can fight back. Do not choose defenceless men; do not choose women and children. You are strong in education, knowledge and wealth. Use those things to uplift the people, but, for God's sake, leave the poor alone.
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) can speak on this subject with exceptional knowledge and as one who by his own exertions has done a great deal to assist unemployed men who are in difficulties over the amount of their benefit. Some of his remarks implied that he felt a doubt as to his usefulness in public life, but I am sure that hon. Members who are acquainted with his part of the country will agree that his usefulness in this respect is very much appreciated. The hon. Member has always been consistent in upholding the view that, in determining the allowances which ought to be paid to an unemployed man or an unemployed family, there should be no test of need and that the scales of relief ought to be substantially higher than those to which we have hitherto been accustomed. He has not been afraid to be explicit. He has done what I think few private Members would care to do in putting on the Order Paper the scales which he himself would suggest. As he knows, we are not infrequently asked what we would regard as the right sum to give to an unemployed man. The real difficulty in giving a definite answer to that question is that the general standard of living among large numbers of those who are earning wages as well as those who are unemployed is much lower than we would wish it to be.
As the hon. Member for Gorbals said, this is a problem of human beings. When we are asked how much we think ought to be paid to an unemployed man are we to state an ideal figure, openly regardless of existing wage levels and acting on the principle, more than once raised in this House, that since there is a surplus of labour and since labour-saving devices are still being developed, we ought positively to encourage well-paid leisure in this country? Or are we to approve of some scale in which the allowances in every case will be less than the wages earned by those in employment; or are we to approve of a scale in which the allowances will be greater in some cases than the wages earned and less in others? I think the scale which the hon. Member has put on the Paper has been conceived with considerable regard to the standard of life which exists at present. I am sure he would not suggest that the sum of 40s. a week would be sufficient to maintain an unemployed man with two children on anything like the optimum standard. The scale proposed by him is, therefore, not wholly unrelated to the existing wage level.
We took this scale as the best scale which was likely to have the approval and support of all people of good will. I hope I am putting that quite fairly. The question was gone into by the Trades Union Congress and by various experts. When I want to get a reform, I wish to have as many allies as possible. I took the scale to which the hon. Member refers, not necessarily as being the best scale in my opinion, but as the best scale to which I could rally public opinion so as to bring about an improvement.
I am obliged to the hon. Member for his explanation, and I take it that he does not dissent from my statement that his proposed scales are not unrelated to the existing level of wages. Let us consider the case of an unemployed man with a wife, and three children aged 13 years, 11 years, and nine years respectively. Under the hon. Members proposed scale, that family would receive 45s. a week. Under the Board's Regulations they would receive 37s. a week, so that the Board's proposal in that case is worse than the proposal of the hon. Member.
I hope if there is time to refer to the rent rule a little later. Suppose that the man had five children, the eldest of whom was 14 years and the youngest eight years. Under the Board's Regulations he would be scaled at 47s. Suppose that if, when he were in full time employment, he would be reasonably likely to earn 48s. or 50s. He would then receive 47s. from the Board, so that his income would be 2s. higher than that which would be received by the man with three children under the hon. Members proposed scale. In the case of the larger family, the eldest of whom was over 14 years, I think the hon. Member's proposal would give 60s. assuming that the hon. Member would not apply any wage stop. But of course, if the man were successful in recovering his employment he would only receive a wage of 50s. irrespective of whether he had five children or three. I should, therefore, say that the main difference in principle between the hon. Member's scale and the Board's scale is that the Board have paid a stricter regard than the hon. Member has thought right to do, to the standard of wages which prevails at present.
The hon. Member said a great deal about the inadequacy of the scales. I know he would not argue that 5s., the figure which he puts in his scale, is enough for a growing boy of 13. The real point that we have to consider is that, whatever we may think of the Board's figures in relation to our optimum standard, there are enormous numbers of lowly-paid or moderately-paid wage earners, with several dependants, who would have difficulty in paying out of their wages a greater amount, in support of one particular dependant, than the sum allocated in respect of a similar dependant to an unemployed man under these Regulations.
If more time were available I should like to follow the hon. Member's comparison between sums paid to the agricultural industry and the sums which are paid to the unemployed. I would only say in passing that the industrial depression from which this country and the rest of the world have suffered and which has caused so much unemployment, was mainly due to deflation and falling prices which affected, most of all, the primary producers, that is to say the agricultural industry. Although we have begun to recover industrial prosperity the primary producer, owing to the disproportionately low price which he still receives, has naturally lagged behind. I think the best way in which to tackle the fundamental problem is to revive—necessarily, in the monetary circumstances of these times, by artificial means—the primary industries of the country.
Before returning to the general argument of the hon. Member I wish to refer to the particular questions which both he and the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) raised about the practical effect of these Regulations in comparison with the existing practice under the stand-still arrangement. There has been a great deal of controversy about Glasgow and earlier in the Debate some Members took exception to continuous references to Glasgow on the ground of repetition. I hope the House will agree that, since Glasgow contains no fewer than 40,000 applicants to the Board out of nearly 100,000 in Scotland and 600,000 in the United Kingdom, it is of great importance, and it is not inappropriate to spend a few moments in trying to work out a true picture of the effect which these Regulations will have in that city. I do so, not with the intention of arguing with the hon. Member for Govan, or of suggesting that the Glasgow public assistance committee are either mean, or generous, or anything else, but simply because I am, as I suppose most of my hon. Friends are, exceedingly anxious to ascertain what the facts are likely to be.
The hon. Member for Govan quoted three cases from the Board's Memorandum, all of which were "resource" cases, but may I first give one or two examples of "no resource" cases, about which there has been some dispute, and I do so only because I am anxious to try to get the facts clear. Take, first of all, the man and wife with no children. At present I think they receive in Glasgow 26s., and under the Board's Regulations they will also receive 26s. If there are a man and wife with one child under 14, they will receive under the new Regulations, if I interpret them rightly, 29s., and in Glasgow also they will receive at the present time 29s. If a married couple have one child between 14 and 16, they will receive under the Board's Regulations 30s. a week, as compared with 29s. at present in Glasgow.
I think I ought in fairness to Glasgow to say that they pay a little extra over 14. If the child continues at school in general they pay extra for that child. It is not in the scales, but it is a discretionary power.
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. But the Board have equally the power and the disposition to give a discretionary increase where it is needed. If there is another child, one 14 and another 12, I calculate that the Board would give 34s. 6d., against 32s. in Glasgow at present; if there is a third child, aged 10, I think the Board would give 38s. 6d., against 35s. in Glasgow; if there is a fourth child, aged seven, I think the Board would give 42s., against 38s. in Glasgow; and if there is a fifth child, under five, the Board's scale would work out at 45s., compared with 40s. in Glasgow. I think I am right in saying that Glasgow has a limit of 40s. in the amount which may be paid to an unemployed man with a family of children. So that, in every one of these "no resource" cases of men with families of children, it seems to me that all the way up the scale the Board's proposals will be either as good as or very substantially better than those which are paid at present by the Glasgow Corporation.
Now, if we take the "resource" cases and suppose there is a wage-earner earning 20s. or less, under the Board's Regulations that will be disregarded and will not, I understand, count as available resources, so that the parents will still be on the 26s. scale. But coming to the "resource" cases, which were the only cases quoted by the hon. Member for Govan—I rather needlessly interrupted him, because I was not sure of the document from which he was quoting, but it was from the Board's Memorandum—he quoted three cases. In the first two there would be a reduction, he calculated, of 2s. Actually it would be only 1s., I think, because I understand that in Glasgow they take gross earnings, whereas the Board's calculations are always on net earnings, so it is the case that where there is only one wage-earning member of a family, earning a substantially higher wage than 20s., the Board's scales will be 1s. worse than the present amount in respect of the earnings rule, and 2s. worse in respect of the scale rate which, it being a "resource" case, will be 24s. instead of 26s.
Therefore, if you had a father and mother with one adult son earning 40s., whereas their present income is 56s., under the Board it would be 53s. I am anxious to cover all the cases I can in which there are likely to be reductions. If there were more than one wage-earner, the family, instead of having a reduction, would have an increase. In Glasgow they only allow half the wages of the second earning member of the family, subject to a minimum of 15s., so that if there were a second member earning 30s., Glasgow would deduct 15s. from the unemployed parent's allowance, against 6s. deducted by the Board, operating on net earnings—that is, 9s. better—and I think the net result would be that that family, whereas they now have a weekly income of 71s., under the new Regulations will receive from the Board 77s., or 6s. more.
I have, for the reasons which I give, followed the examples quoted by the hon. Member for Govan in Glasgow, as Glasgow is the most important place in Scotland from the point of view of unemployment, but if I might for a moment glance at other places in Scotland, I understand that in Lanarkshire the earnings rule is to deduct the whole of the excess over 20s. in respect of the first wage-earner and the excess over 17s. in respect of the second. Certainly, that is true in the county of Renfrewshire. In Ayrshire, they deduct half the excess over 15s.; in Dumbartonshire they deduct, I think, the unemployment benefit scale rate, plus 10 per cent. of the whole earnings which would be the excess over 21s. on a 40s. wage. In the burgh of Dumbarton they deduct everything over 17s.; and in Clydebank, I think, they allow the first 12s. plus one-third of the total wage, making an allowance of 25s. 4d. on a 40s. wage as against 28s. under the Board. If we go further afield, in Edinburgh they deduct the whole of the excess over 14s., and in Aberdeen the whole of the excess over 12s. 6d. If my calculations as to the Board's Regulations are correct, the effect is that the earnings rule will be substantially more favourable than that which prevails now under the stand-still, in almost every Scottish area, and very much more favourable than in some.
The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) expressed some doubt about whether the local advisory committees would make recommendations which would in fact be accepted by the Board. Of course, we must allow discretion, but in the Board's Memorandum they make quite clear what they will regard as reasonable. They say they would regard it as reasonable to disregard 3s. difference between the basic and actual rent, and they say they would regard it as reasonable, for the purpose of calculating whether any deduction should be made, to take one-sixth instead of one-quarter as the basic rent. I think that, from the Scottish point of view, that is a very valuable provision. Take, what is not an uncommon case in Scotland, a family with a scale rate of 48s. One quarter of that is 12s., and I think most hon. Members would agree that to assume that a working-class unemployed man in Scotland, whose family is of such a size as to give a scale rate of 48s., would normally be paying a rent of 12s., would be quite ridiculous. But if we take the proportion at one-sixth, it would mean that the applicant would not be liable to suffer any reduction unless he were paying a rent of substantially less than 8s.
You might take a number of cases with a certain scale rate, or a number of houses in a certain area, or you might take a number of houses of a certain type. For example, it seems to me that it would be open to an advisory committee to recommend that in the case of slum houses of a certain type, that the inhabitants were put to considerable additional expense by reason of the bad quality of their houses and that for that reason a further amount of rent ought to be disregarded.
There is one point which the hon. Member for Gorbals brought forward on which I would like to comment, and that is as to the estimated cost. He said he doubts whether it is true that this scheme will cost £750,000 more. The hon. Member will agree that while it is easy for hon. Members to calculate the effects of these Regulations on a number of cases with which they are familiar, we have no means whatever of checking the Board's financial calculations, which I imagine must be based very largely on guess-work. I have made an attempt to do it by looking through several hundred cases in my own and neighbouring areas, trying to work out in each case what the difference would be and multiplying the net increase by the total number of applicants in the country, divided by the number of cases I have examined; but, of course, I could not be sure that the cases which I have collected, although they seem typical to me in my own area, represented an accurate miniature of the country as a whole or indeed of my own area. I think the Board's estimate must be based largely on guesswork, but I should be surprised if on this occasion the Board have again over-estimated the cost as they did last time, and I would add that those of us who represent distressed areas where it is plain that discretion should be widely exercised ought to be the last to complain if the Board's estimate does not prove to be correct.
I want to touch on what I think is not the least important part of these Regulations, namely, the provision for meeting exceptional needs. Both in the old and in the new Regulations there is contained what has always seemed to me perhaps rather a finicky distinction between exceptional needs and special circumstances. We are informed that cases of
special circumstances arising under Regulation VI (2) are most usually met by an addition to the weekly allowance, while exceptional needs arising under paragraph (3) of the same Regulation are more frequently supplied by a single payment. In these new Regulations the same provisions are made in rather more elaborate form. Regulation IV (3), which deals with exceptional need, reads:
If in any case needs of an exceptional character exist, whether arising from prolonged unemployment or otherwise, the amount … may be increased by such amount as is reasonably necessary.
I am in some little doubt, which, judging from the Debate, seems to be shared by other hon. Members, on the precise interpretation of the word "exceptional." It may be true to say that the additional need arising from prolonged unemployment is exceptional in relation to the country as a whole, but I do not think that it is very exceptional in certain areas. If we take the whole country, out of the 1,700,000 registered unemployed, 620,000 are applicants of the Board, and even if we add the additional number which will be taken over on the second appointed day, I think that we shall still find that more than half the registered unemployed are on standard benefit. By way of contrast, may I draw an illustration from my own constituency? In Port Glasgow last December there were 3,200 registered unemployed, which represented about 40 per cent. of the insurable population. Of that number, only 600 were on standard benefit, the remaining 2,600 being off insurance. So that, while in the country as a whole more than half the unemployed are on standard benefit, in Port Glasgow only about one-fifth are in that position.
I think that it is reasonable to claim that while need arising from prolonged unemployment may be exceptional in the country as a whole, it is not exceptional in an area of this kind, and that the Board's officers ought to bear that fact in mind in their interpretation of this Regulation. The justice of that will be obvious to hon. Members when they consider that, if it were not so, an exceptional need in Bournemouth might be met, because it was really exceptional there, while a precisely similar case might not be met in Jarrow, because it was not exceptional in Jarrow. My reason for stressing this point is a sen-
tence in the report of the Glasgow No. 1 district officer, on page 272 of the Board's Report, in which he says:
Regulation VI (3) is one of the most difficult sections of the Regulations to administer. The difficulty is that needs which are common to a large section of the community in a particular area can hardly be regarded as exceptional.
Here is evidently a case where the Board's officer has found himself in difficulty over the interpretation of the word "exceptional" and has doubted whether he was justified in regarding as exceptional needs which were not exceptional in a given locality. But the officer in the Glasgow No. 2 district refers to the same point in rather different terms. He says:
Regulation VI (3) provides one of the most important avenues by which the welfare of our applicants can be advanced. … The need for a grant may arise from various causes,
among which he includes prolonged unemployment. The House will have observed that in the old Regulation to which this Report refers no specific cause of exceptional need is mentioned, but in the new Regulations, prolonged unemployment is specifically laid down as a probable cause of exceptional need. I hope that there may be no further room for doubt on the point and that the Board's officers in their interpretation of this provision will not feel themselves under the necessity of considering whether such needs are exceptional in those areas where all the consequences of poverty which we are most anxious to prevent have already been heightened by their long continuance.
In deciding whether to accept or reject these Regulations, the main question we must ask ourselves must be whether they will establish a standard of life among the unemployed which we are willing to contemplate at the present time. I hope I may take it for granted that all sections of the House are anxious to raise the standard of life of this country, and that no section of the House would consider that either these Regulations or any other regulations which would be possible now can achieve the standard which we wish to see. I have already tried to show that under these Regulations an unemployed man with a family of children may receive substantially more than a low-paid wage earner. The question of the standard of life is more a problem of wages than a problem of unemployment benefit. The question of how to raise wages, or rather how to accelerate the rise in wage levels, which has been proceeding for several generations, would not be strictly relevant to our discussion now. I am willing to accept these Regulations because I think that they contain that flexibility which is necessary to meet a great variety of need. They are, in every respect, an improvement on the old Regulations, the defects of which have been removed, and they at least represent a more careful and comprehensive provision for the unemployed than is to be found in any other part of the world.
While I have sat in the House listening to the discussion on this important problem, I have contrasted the scene in the House with the scene six months ago, when I sat not on these benches but in the Gallery. The Minister of Mines had made an announcement and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) was speaking for the Opposition. The atmosphere was tense and every Member strained with expectation because there was the possibility that in a day or two 600,000 miners might come out on strike. Yesterday and to-day I have found none of that strained feeling and no tense atmosphere. The benches opposite have been empty almost all the time. Why? Because we are now discussing only the livelihood of 600,000 men who cannot come out on strike.
These benches have been so full for part of this Debate that we have had to send some Members to the other side. I would urge the House to consider what we are doing. We are settling the standard of life of 600,000 people. We ought to give the gravest attention to it because, though they cannot come out on strike, there are other things they can do. I had some associations with the Minister of Labour when he was Minister of Mines. At one time together we bent our energies to settle a grave industrial crisis. He paid tribute yesterday to the Unemployment Assistance Board. I wish he had first of all paid a tribute to the vast army of un- employed who are behaving with such fortitude and patience. If anyone deserves the thanks of this House it is the army of unemployed who for years have gone on hoping against hope, whose women week by week have had to face the hopeless problem of making ends meet. I hope that when hon. Members vote tomorrow they will realise that they are determining the livelihood of people whose numbers are equal to those employed in the great mining industry.
The hon. Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Law) said that Members on the other side had one advantage compared with those on this side, and that was that they could look at this problem more objectively. Of course they can, and I will give the reasons why. The unemployment percentage in Great Britain on 25th May this year was 13.5. In the county from which I come it was 32 per cent. It is far easier to look objectively at the problems of unemployment if you come from a place where it is only 6 per cent. than if you come from a place where it is 32 per cent. How can you look objectively, coldly and calmly at the problem if you come from Brynmawr with 75 per cent., or Ferndale with 69 per cent., or from a country like Wales where, according to the Minister's statement in the White Paper, out of 160,000 unemployed 100,000 will be affected by these Regulations? By the time the Regulations come into operation, and after we have had the 18 months period of slimming and the full force of the Regulations are felt—if this Government is still in power—the whole 160,000 in South Wales will come under the scales. Therefore, if we speak sometimes strongly and with feeling, it is because we realise that on what we are doing to-night depends the livelihood of people each one of whom is as good as any Member of the House. A statement has been issued by the Minister of Health, who spoke so eloquently for these scales last night, and made a very clever debating speech. In that statement, which shows the number of persons seeking public assistance—parish relief was the old name—on 1st January, we find that, whereas the number in England was 328 per 10,000 of the population, in Wales it was 541, and in Merthyr Tydvil 1,123.
Those who have been compelled to seek parish relief are in the main people who have been unemployed so long that they do not even come under the Ministry of Labour schemes. This is essentially a problem of the distressed areas, where men are not unemployed for a week or two, or for six or nine months, but where it has been true to say in the last 10 years that to lose a job is to be condemned to perpetual unemployment. Our vote to-morrow will be a vote to decide the livelihood of those areas. The Minister said in his speech yesterday that he had paid a visit to South Wales. I wonder whether he knew South Wales 10 or 20 years ago?
Then the Minister needs no statistics. Compare the South Wales of to-day with the South Wales of 20 years ago, a South Wales full of virile people, people full of the joy of life, people contributing in no small measure to the songs and the poetry of our nation. Compare Tonypandy 15 years ago with the Tonypandy of to-day. We did not need to discuss unemployment benefit then. What we were discussing was the money spent on sending police there to keep those people quiet. Now we have valleys condemned to perpetual unemployment under the policy for which Ministers are responsible. Ever since 1920 the South Wales coalfield has been condemned to ever greater misery every year because of the policy of successive Governments. The Dawes Report, tariffs, indeed almost every measure taken in dealing with Europe in the last 15 years has meant more pits closed, more men unemployed, more poverty and more starvation in South Wales.
I speak as the Member for a division which is least affected, though it has 25 per cent. unemployed. That shows the picture of South Wales when I can say that though my division is the least affected, we have 25 per cent. of our insured population unemployed. I speak not merely as Member for Llanelly, but I speak as I spoke in leading a deputation to the right hon. Gentleman on Monday afternoon, as the chairman of a council that was set up in South Wales 17 months ago and which led the agitation against the old Regulations. It woke the public conscience of this nation to the indignities of those old Regulations, which were made by the same Board as issued these. As chairman of that council I shall continue to fight against these Regulations until either they are withdrawn or both the Board and the Government are destroyed. I want to come to what is the central feature of these Regulations, not to details concerning a penny here and a penny there. The Minister of Health spoke last night. What was the message of that speech? He tried to score debating points by contrasting these scales with Poor Law relief. Is that your message to the unemployed? Is that what you tell 100,000 men in South Wales? Is that your message to the 600,000 of the unemployed—that henceforth they will be treated as paupers? That is what it means. The hon. Member who has just sat down devoted a great part of his speech to contrasting these scales with Poor Law relief. Poor Law relief was established primarily for vagabonds. These men are not vagabonds, but decent citizens guilty of no crime, merely guilty of the fact that circumstances over which they have no control have overwhelmed them and put them on the road. We on this side, when we speak in the country, will tell the people that almost every speaker from the other side has contrasted these scales with public assistance scales, which by implication is to tell the unemployed that they are paupers.
What is the central feature of these Regulations? It is the household means test, the family means test, the treating of a family as a unit, the counting up of the resources of a family and making every unemployed member of that family depend upon those resources to keep him—however those resources can be raked together. We on this side used to be accused of breaking up homes. I am not sure that I have not read or heard a speech by the right hon. Gentleman in which he rejected Socialism because he said it would break up homes. I invite him to make that speech in South Wales. He will get a reply, not in words, but he will be shown the countless homes which the Government and these Regulations have broken up in South Wales. So far all the consideration has been given, and quite rightly so, to the people immediately concerned, the people immediately hit. My hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar), coming as he does from Abertillery and other townships condemned to poverty by the decline in the coal trade and the financial policy of the Government, spoke elo- quently of the effects upon the unemployed.
The Minister of Labour was Secretary for Mines in 1934 when I was President of the South Wales Miners' Federation. Together we sat for hours in the Mines Department to try to avert a crisis, and eventually we did. The right hon. Gentleman asked us, "Do not strike. I know your wages are low, I know your wage standards are indefensible, but there is a better method than striking. I will set up a tribunal to decide your wages and you will submit your case to that tribunal." He set up the tribunal, and we submitted our case, which was that our wages were so low that men could not exist upon them, and that unless they were raised the men would be driven in desperation to make the last fight of their lives. The tribunal, which was appointed by the Secretary for Mines and the Minister of Labour, fixed what is called a subsistence wage, not a wage based on the ascertained results in the industry, nothing to do with the economics of the industry, but a wage which the tribunal regarded as a subsistence wage required for miners in that coalfield. They are working under that agreement now.
I wish to draw attention to the effect of these scales on the men who work under that agreement, and I will give two examples. The subsistence wage is 8s. 1d. per day, £2 8s. 6d. for a full week. Take the case of a father and mother with an unemployed son. The father is working in the pit, it may be as a labourer, an engine man or a haulier. There are 50,000 men working in that category. If the father works a full week he gets £2 8s. 6d. gross wages, which will give him, on the average, net earnings of 44s. That 44s. has been awarded by a tribunal which regarded it as being the minimum subsistence allowance which a man ought to have. If that father has an unemployed son at home that son will be denied any allowance under these Regulations, because the father is getting the subsistence wage. That unemployed son would now be receiving 17s. per week from the Monmouthshire County Council or from the Glamorganshire County Council, both of which have been attacked. I speak as one who does not live in either county, but as one who has been associated with them. My blood has boiled sometimes as I have heard hon. Members talk about men like the hon. Member for Neath (Sir W. Jenkins), who has given a lifetime of service to Glamorganshire, or the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. A. Jenkins), who has given a lifetime of service to Monmouthshire. I would remind the Minister of Health, if he were here, or the Home Secretary, who is responsible for law and order in this country, that if it had not been for the salvage work done by those authorities we should have had civil war in South Wales.
It is those authorities which have saved this country from the consequences of this poverty and starvation, and it ill becomes the Minister of Health or any hon. Member on the benches opposite to accuse people of extravagance one day and then, as last night, to hold up their scales to admiration. The hypocrisy of it! Almost every day we get questions calling the attention of the Minister of Health to extravagance and nepotism and other things in Monmouthshire and Glamorganshire, but last night the Government were pleased to say "We are doing as well as they are in Glamorganshire." The Minister of Health knows perfectly well that every scale fixed in Monmouthshire and Glamorganshire has been fixed with his knowledge and approval. He could have stopped the payment of those scales any day. He has not stopped them, because he knew the consequences of stopping them. Hon. Members opposite should be the last to talk about Labour administration having been extravagant. In South Wales that administration has stood between the people and stark naked poverty. One of our tragedies is that, on the second appointed day, that administration will cease, and South Wales will be handed over to the tender mercies of this Government and the Unemployment Assistance Board.
I want to say a further word about this household means test. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) spoke of the meanness of taking into consideration widows' pensions and soldiers' pensions. Shall I tell you what affects us very much, in our industry? It is the taking into consideration of compensation. There are men in my constituency, in the anthracite coalfield, who have been pro- ducing coal for which you have to pay 75s. per ton in London. These men are broken, doomed to a living death, with 25s. per week compensation. Some of them I know, who are lying on their backs with broken spines, fated never to rise from their beds. I see them at weekends. They have 25s. per week for compensation. That is all they get, after having risked their lives to provide comfort in the lives of hon. Members. Now this rich, gracious Government, with its scales, and the Unemployment Assistance Board, say: "You poor broken men, who get 25s. per week; 12s. 6d. of that must go into the family pool." [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!"] It is more than a shame; it is a scandal. May I call the attention of hon. Members on these benches to the fact that there are three or four Members who represent the Government in South Wales not one of whom has dared to appear on those benches? Why do they not stand up there, or in South Wales, and defend these scales?
I am not merely a Labour man. I am more than a Member of the Labour party. I am sure that my hon. Friends on these benches will permit me to say this: I am also a Welshman. I love my nation. I love my native tongue; I speak it, and so do my children. My wife is an English woman who loves the Welsh nation and people. I know that we have faults, as has any other nation, but at any rate we have the capacity of giving ourselves in service, in song and in sacrifice. This country has sometimes rung with the courage of the Welsh colliers, the same Welsh colliers for whom you are passing these Regulations. They are the brothers and the kith and kin of the 265 who are still below ground in Gresford Colliery. They are the kith and kin of the men for whose dependants you are subscribing your money, and whose praises you have sung; the men of whom you have been proud.
When I heard the President of the Board of Trade speak the other day I was tempted to remind him of the first occasion upon which I ever saw him. It was in 1915. The Welsh miners believed, as I believed—I was one of them, working in the pit at that time, and delegate to a conference in Cardiff—that they should fight to get their rightful share of the immense wealth which the owners were making out of the national necessity at that time. The President of the Board of Trade came to South Wales with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), both sent by the Coalition Government, to plead with and to ask the South Wales miners to go back to work. "Go back to-morrow. The coal you produce is essential to us, absolutely necessary to carry on the War. If you go back, we will look after you. When the War is over we will see that the miners get a fair wage. You stay in the pit; if you work hard and produce more, and if you do not strike but go back to work, then, when the War is over, we will look after you." They gave pledges that at the end of the War this nation and Government would mete out decent fair play and treatment to those miners. Remember that you are voting these scales for 100,000 of those miners, to whom you gave pledges.
We shall be defeated in the Division Lobby to-morrow night. People who have not been interested enough to come and listen, will come and vote. They will roll up. They have regarded these three days as a splendid chance to get away from this House. There was no Division last night. There will be no Division to-night; a Division only to-morrow night. They have arranged it. They have parties. They are out. They will come here to-morrow night to vote, and to cut down the allowances, to half starve and to reduce the standard of life of men and women whom I know, who are as good, multitudes of them, as I am, or far better than I am, and far better than many hon. Members of this House.
I want to warn hon. Members who sit on the opposite benches, and this Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour has gone out now, but he knows that whatever reputation I have it is for trying to avert industrial crisis. I have risked my reputation with 130,000 men very often by asking them not to do the thing they wanted many times to do. Therefore, when I utter a warning, I am entitled to do so as one who has done his part to try to maintain peace and order in South Wales. I warn the Government that the end of this is not at Eleven o'Clock to-morrow night. When you tramp through those Lobbies, do not believe that you are disposing of this. You cannot dispose of 600,000 men in that way; you cannot dispose of 100,000 Welshmen in that easy way. When you think it is over, it just begins for us. We leaves these benches, and go back to those valleys to light a flame which will never be put out, and which will devour you and your Regulations.
Probably hon. Members in all parts of the House will have been impressed with the speech which the hon. Gentleman has just made. Those who, like myself, come from depressed parts of the country, no doubt appreciated it all the more. I agree with what the hon. Member said that this is more essentially a problem for the distressed areas than for any other part of the country. Our people, who have passed through so many years of prolonged and intense unemployment with such resignation, have an interest which must be essentially different from the interest of those from more fortunate parts of the country. I do not appreciate why so great a part of the discussion has been taken up by the question whether the scales in the Regulations are as much as the public assistance scales in various parts of the country. It is a very poor tribute to any Regulations to have to test them by whether they are or are not equal to the public assistance scales. That is not my test. They have to be tested and regarded upon their own merits, and probably they will be judged differently in one part of the country from the way in which they are judged in another.
So far as my district is concerned—and I have no doubt that we are all deeply influenced by the effect that these Regulations will have in our own districts—few people should receive less than they are receiving at the present time under the standstill arrangement, and a great many will be receiving payments substantially greater than they are receiving at the present time. Personally I must express my deep obligation to the Minister on behalf of those people who will receive more money than they have been receiving hitherto; it will bring much-needed comfort into very needy homes. I am certain that the Minister has had a very difficult task in getting the Regulations approved in their present form, and I have no doubt, too, that, if the Minister had had a free hand as to what Regulations he could have put forward, they would have been of a very much more generous kind than are these.
When I say that in many cases these Regulations will not mean any reduction, I am really referring to the Regulations coupled with the explanatory Memorandum, but it is necessary, of course, that we should all appreciate that the explanatory Memorandum is not part of the Regulations. The House is not being asked to approve of the explanatory Memorandum, and nothing in that Memorandum is in any way binding, so far as I can see, on any of the officers of the Board or on the appeal tribunal. There is nothing, within the limits of discretion given to the officers of the Board, which they are not fully entitled to exercise entirely regardless of the explanatory Memorandum. It has been suggested that there is a right of appeal to the appeal tribunal, but I am not aware of any right of appeal; there is only a liberty to appeal if the chairman of the appeal tribunal gives leave. Therefore, the position really is that anybody applying for any discretionary relief of the kind mentioned in the explanatory Memorandum is subject to what is termed a discretion, but which is nothing more or less than the will of a local dictator, either in the shape of an official of the Board or of the chairman of the appeal tribunal.
When, therefore, one has to consider such matters as the rent rule, the reference to the figure of 3s. in the Memorandum is in no way binding. I would ask the Minister who is going to reply on these matters why, if it is really intended that that 3s. limit in the case of the rent rule shall be disregarded, that intention is not expressed in the Regulations themselves? Whatever is in the Regulations gives a right to the applicant; what is not in the Regulations is purely discretionary. Exactly the same point arises with reference to the single householder, for whom a sum of 15s. is fixed by the Regulations. It has been stated that the single householder will get more than 15s. If it is intended that he should have more than 15s., why is not a higher sum put into the Regulations themselves?
The Minister of Health stated last night that undoubtedly there had been a great improvement in certain parts of the Regulations and statutory provisions dealing with unemployed people who had run out of benefit. That is perfectly true, and we have to recognise the fact. There can be no doubt that under these Regulations the average rate per week payable to applicants is 3s 5d. more than was the average rate under the Labour Government, and it is 2s. more than it was before any Unemployment Regulations came into force. That is a fact which we have to recognise. But it does not follow from that that the present situation is what it should be, because, while a large number of people will receive increases beyond what they were getting before, another large number of people will suffer reductions. The explanatory Memorandum states, perfectly correctly, that the efforts of the Government and of the Unemployment Assistance Board have resulted in a redistribution of the unemployment pool; in other words, that the troubles and difficulties which have arisen have all been due to efforts to distribute, not merely the same amount, but a larger amount, yet to distribute it in a different way.
Of course, one of the chief advantages that many of our families are getting is in larger and more humane allowances for children. On the other hand, the disadvantage under which they are suffering lies in the means test; and, when one has to judge Regulations of this kind, one cannot approve of them unless one is satisfied that they are going to work without injustice to anyone. The mere fact that regulations are even generous towards large numbers of people is no reason, to my mind, why one should approve of regulations which operate unjustly, even though it be to a very much smaller number.
I ask myself, is it right that a married man earning 42s. a week should have his spending power reduced to 32s. merely because he has an unemployed son living in his home? To my mind, there is only one test in a case of that kind. The father is being subjected to a payment of £2 a month for his unemployed son, and the test is, what would be the assessment on that father upon an application to the courts of the country by the Poor Law authorities? In my judgment, there is not a bench of magistrates in this country who would impose on that man an obligation to pay a quarter of that amount. If that be the case, I would ask, on what standard does the Unemployment Assistance Board pre- sume to assess the liability of people in these circumstances? There is only one answer: it is the standard of the Poor Law mind. Again, that a widowed mother left with 25s. a week should have to be subject, under these Regulations, to a liability to pay 6s. a week in order to have the comfort of the presence of an unemployed son in her home, appears to me to outrage one's conscience.
Such are the provisions of the scales so far as applicable in those cases. When one turns to the case of brothers and sisters, what justification can there be for the fact that a brother, earning 50s. a week, should become liable to pay 17s. a week for the maintenance of his brother merely because he lives in the same house? If he lives in any other place he is under no liability to pay a penny piece. Why should the fact that a brother lives with a brother subject him to any penalty whatever, unless, that is to say, the Unemployment Assistance Board wish to prevent brothers from living with each other. When one goes still further down the scale one finds that that precise rule applies to even far more remote relationships, to a wife's cousin or a husband's aunt, and there is exactly that liability to contribute 17s., subject only to these vague and possibly benevolent words in the Regulations, that it is subject to their receiving some other sum which is reasonable in the circumstances. How can one say what sum is reasonable in the circumstances? It must be such a sum as the officials of the Board or the Appeal Tribunal think, in their absolute discretion, should be paid.
It is suggested in the explanatory Memorandum that in many of these cases the earner will be treated on the same footing as if he was a boarder or a lodger. If it is the intention to treat them in that way, why on earth is that not expressed in the Regulations? In my opinion the only logical basis for people in relationships of that kind is that they should be treated in every way on a strict footing as boarders or lodgers. That is my simple outlook with regard to these Regulations. Representing a depressed area, and knowing intimately the conditions of life of our people, I regard it as absolutely impossible to give any support to Regulations which would impose upon those who have undergone privations for so many years a family means test so administered.
I wonder if we can get Members and supporters of the Government to appreciate the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths). Over and over again on these benches we are absolutely baffled by the reactions of Government supporters. My hon. Friend's history is known to many of us. He had no alternative in his young days, like many of us, but the colliery, and that at 12 years of age. The appeal that he made to the House would never have been turned down by any Government which had the least claim to the title of Government in any accepted civilisation. There is no answer to the case that he made. In South Wales thousands are going to receive very substantial reductions under these new scales. That cannot be explained away. The Minister, with all his flippancy, yesterday failed ignominiously to do it. What reactions in South Wales can the Government expect in view of the unchallenged fact that thousands of our impoverished homes are going to be far more impoverished as a result of these scales than they are at present?
Imagine how we must have felt when the Member for South West Hull (Mr. Law) asked us if we did not believe that a brother who was in employment should be called upon to support a brother who was unemployed. Fancy anyone having the effrontery to put a question of that kind to us. An obvious question came to my mind. Who supports you in your luxurious idleness? [An HON. MEMBER: "Speak up."] It is all very well to shout "Speak up." It is the kind of speaking up that hon. Members opposite cannot understand. They might as well have it, that a travesty and an atrocity of this kind perpetrated at the expense of our people is an atrocity against us on these benches. Who is supporting Members on the Government Benches? Do they rely on brothers and sisters? Have they a means test thrust on them? Are they subject to what these scales pro- pose, that a collier who works six days a week brings home to an impoverished family £2 a week, and 12s. of that is to be taken away from him? Can they support that? Will any supporters of this Government go into a mining area or face the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, which is in conference just now, and say, "You deserve 12s. or more of a reduction in the rotten wages that you are receiving at present"? That is what the Government are asking.
It is all very well to talk about a means test and about these scales on a Board, whose Chairman receives £96 a week. There is no means test there. I am sorry that I am driven to make such a mean comparison between the Chairman of that Board and the men who work. There is the Vice-chairman receiving between £50 and £60 a week, and we have a Minister who receives £38 a week getting up to justify a means test. I know that our men are not going to stand it, and certainly not from a Government of this kind. They will resist it. If the coal-owners came along and said, "We are going to effect a reduction of 12s. a week in wages," the Government know very well what would happen. No leader, not even one with the influence of my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly, and certainly not this Government, would prevent those miners from expressing themselves in the only way that a Government of this kind can understand.
Yesterday we listened to superficial and flippant rhetoric from that Box for an hour and a half. It may speak well for the courage of some Members on these benches that they have also read most of that speech. Among other things, I want to be certain of what the Minister had in his mind when he spoke about "dignity payment." This is how the dignity payment applies in cases of which I know. A father at work—in that coalfield of ours at an exceptionally good job—receives about £2 12s. a week, but, unfortunately, he has two sons over 21 years of age at home, each receiving 17s. on the basis of the old transitional payments. Under these generous scales and Regulations they will receive nothing, and I am still looking to see where the dignity payment comes in. What about those two sons, who are men with excellent reputations as coal miners, steady, sober, and having a considerable measure of culture? What is to happen to those young men?
By post this morning I received a large number of cases which had been sent on to me. I am not going to weary the House at this time by reciting these cases, but perhaps one or two will suffice. Here is the case of an unemployed householder, a widower, with two sons over 21 years of age, both of whom are unemployed. At present they are receiving 51s. Will the Minister or the Government say that 51s. is too much for three decent men, excellent workmen when work is provided for them, to keep a home going? Will the Minister get up at that Box and say that 51s. for three adults is substantially too much? Under the new scales and Regulations there will be a cut which will reduce the 51s. to 35s. Will hon. Members on the Government Benches go into the Division Lobby to-morrow night and cast their votes in a way that will tell these and thousands more that a reduction in an appallingly low income from 51s. to 35s. is a right and proper thing for a Government of this kind to do? I could weary the House for hours with cases of this nature, but I cannot assume that Members on the Government Benches are hopelessly and palpably ignorant of working-class conditions in the depressed areas to-day. I have been wondering why the Government did not face this House merely on the household means test apart from any scales or Regulations.
Absolutely legitimate. There is not a Member on the Government benches who dare say in this House, knowing that a record of the statement will be taken, that 17s. a week for an adult is too much. These two sons are receiving 17s. under transitional payment in a perfectly legitimate manner. There is no one who will gainsay that. As I have said, I could take up a great deal of the time of the House in giving examples of this kind. I have a number of them here, and I have many more in my locker. The Minister yesterday appeared to be somewhat concerned that we were going to agitate against these new scales and Regulations. Of course we are going to agitate against them. Is there any reasonable, sensible Member in this House who expects us to do other than that? What would we say if we were subjected to these indignities and humiliations? Would we not agitate? Surely, anybody with the least sense of justice or who has the least spirit of sportsmanship will agitate with us and will not attempt to explain them away, but will go into the Division Lobby to-morrow and vote in the way that one should.
Last night the Minister of Health made reference to the county borough of Merthyr Tydfil. He told the House that Merthyr Tydfil, with other boroughs, had fixed their Poor Law scales on the statutory benefit scales. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman is not present. He knows in detail the circumstances that obtain in that county borough to-day, and he should have been the last man to have mentioned Merthyr Tydfil. Not very long ago the right hon. Gentleman was responsible for the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the conditions of local government in Merthyr Tydfil. What happened to the findings of that Royal Commission? The Minister immediately ran away from those findings and has refused to this day to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission. My best answer to anything that he has to say about Merthyr Tydfil is that he should re-read the recommendations of that Royal Commission and then appreciate the ignominious way that he ran away from the very Royal Commission that he appointed.
It is no use the Minister of Labour attempting to get hon. Members on these benches to say anything disparaging about the staffs who are called upon to do this vile piece of work for the Unemployment Assistance Board. I have nothing to say against them. I have worked with them in the closest harmony that is possible in the circumstances. They have been called upon to do a job that they hate and detest, prying into the most intimate details of the unemployed person's domestic life, instructed to ask an unending series of questions, knowing that those questions mean humiliation to those who are being questioned, compelled, driven by instruc- tions to pursue every half-penny that goes into the house, called upon to cut the compensation of workmen in half under these scales, driven to pursue the poor, helpless, blind person's pension. It is an act of abject cowardice on the part of the Government and its supporters to drive decent men to do such vile, dirty work. They would not like to do it themselves, or if so, then my opinion of the Government supporters is far too high, and it is pretty low at present.
I will not worry the House with the examples galore that I could quote. They are known to us only too well. I am glad that the Prime Minister is present. I want to ask him quite sincerely whether he knows that the belief is spreading in South Wales that this Government has deliberately abandoned it to its poverty and destruction. That conviction is spreading. I get it from men and women who are not in any way associated with me as far as politics are concerned. They are people who voted for the Government at the last Election. The reply of the Prime Minister to the Welsh Members of Parliament, irrespective of party, was the last word in despair. His speech in South Wales last Saturday gave no encouragement, none whatever. The conviction that is gripping the minds and the hearts of the people in South Wales is that you have wantonly, for some reason or other, made up your minds that it will be to your comfort in some mysterious way to permit that nation to be destroyed. That is the conviction. It is not a conviction that has grown in their minds as the result of anything that we have told them. They are people who are not generally given to despair. We have been criticised and condemned for many years on the ground that we are too optimistic, too buoyant in our hopes and aspirations, but the belief that is gripping the spirits of the people in South Wales is that for some reason you have deliberately turned your backs on that coalfield; a coalfield that has made such a valuable contribution towards building up whatever is great about this country.
What will be the reaction of these scales? The Minister of Labour cannot deny that they will further impoverish the people in the South Wales coalfield, that they will increase the depopulation that is taking place there, that they will make our churches and chapels emptier, that they will continue to disintegrate the cultural life that is in that coalfield, that they will hurtle hundreds of business men into the bankruptcy court, in addition to thousands of others who have gone there. They are to be told that further impoverishment is to be imposed upon the people in that coalfield. There is one thing that I must say. We are not accepting quietly the destruction of that coalfield and what amounts, I say deliberately, to the crucifixion of a people and of a little nation that has made its wonderful contribution in every sense of the word to the best that has been assimilated into the life of this group of nations which make up Great Britain. They are not accepting it. They will express themselves in no unmistakable way. They have warned the Government already. That nation is not going to be destroyed. It will fight for its culture, it will fight for the amenities that have been established there, it will fight for the idealism that has been a part of its life for centuries, it will fight for its language, it will fight for anything and everything that is worth fighting for in its life and its traditions.
I warn the Government. Not long ago we used to hear one country referred to contemptuously as "John Bull's Other Island." Some of us are old enough to know the deliberate, wanton, fiendish acts that were responsible for the depopulation of that island. But this little nation in Wales is not going to accept its immolation in that way. It will fight for the personality that is its own and will express it in such a way that this Government will be sorry for the harsh and brutal way it has been acting towards a little nation of that kind. The Secretary of State for War says that he cannot get recruits for his Army. There is a very good reason why he cannot get them from South Wales. There are 500,000 ex-Service men in the ranks of the unemployed and 40,000 disabled ex-Service men unemployed. We of South Wales believe—we are forced to believe—that it is the deliberate policy of the Government to impose starvation conditions on the young men of this country, and these scales are our justification for saying that. What is the objective? Is it not to drive them into the armed forces of the country? Is that the type of soldier you are to depend upon to defend this Empire? I warn the Government to be careful how many of this kind of recruits they take, because they will wake up one day and find that they have recruited the wrong type of person.
I am not going to appeal to the Government at all. The classes which are dealt with in these scales and Regulations are not the friends of the Government. The Government can spend £50 every minute of the day in various forms of subsidies for their friends; they can throw millions of pounds away lavishly to people who have more than they are really entitled to. I hope no one will attempt to blame us if we tell the full story as to who are receiving these subsidies, who are benefiting most lavishly by them. I hope that no member of the Government or supporter of the Government will come here in a state of righteous indignation when that truth is told to people who are to be subjected to scales and Regulations of this kind. I shall not appeal to the Government to withdraw these Regulations. Some 17 or 18 months ago we appealed for the withdrawal of the Regulations and not only were we not listened to; we were scoffed at by hon. Members who are still in the House. While that Debate was going on the scoffing and jeering were very prominent, but when the storm broke out in the country the very same Members who were scoffing and jeering appealed to the Government to save them, because the Government had perpetrated something which would destroy all chance of their being returned at the Election. I have not a shadow of doubt in my mind that history will repeat itself, but with this difference, that next time these hon. Members will not be returned to this House, because the present Regulations are not an attack on the unemployed alone, they are an attack on the employed as well.
May I tell the hon. and gallant Member something that obviously he does not know. It is all very well to talk about these scales being generous but I noticed yesterday that the Minister of Labour deliberately refused to take the House into his confidence on one of the fundamental restrictions which are laid down. My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), speaking about the wages in Lancashire some time ago, said the men were working a full week for 18s., and that 30s. a week was considered a very substantial wage. Why did not the Minister of Labour in his hour and a half of deliberate prevarication yesterday tell the House that these Regulations laid down that whatever be the size of the family, however many members there are, the head of the household must not receive as much in allowances as he received when last in employment? Why did he conceal that fact yesterday? He did so because he knows very well that he is a mere tool in the machine of the Federation of British Industries.
One doubts really whether the ignorance of hon. Members opposite who are so articulate is as profound as one would be forced to believe it is. The Noble Lady would not have jeered at the appeals made on these benches earlier in the day.
The Unemployment Assistance Board, in fact, is nothing but a sub-committee of the Federation of British Industries. [Interruption.] If I dreamt for a moment that hon. Members opposite were as ignorant as they would persuade me they are, I should have brought with me the instructions given a few years ago to this Government by the Federation of British Industries, instructions which the Government are slowly and deliberately implementing, but before the Debate ends I have no doubt they will be read to hon. Members. I must really again suggest to the Noble Lady that she is certainly the last person who should attempt to justify the means test. I shall not repeat what I said earlier in my speech unless I am persuaded that it needs repeating in order to get it into the somewhat addled heads of hon. Members opposite. At this time of the night it sometimes happens that spirits change on that side of the House—
We shall certainly not be backward as agitators in letting the people know how the Government and its supporters reacted to these fiendish and humiliating scales and Regulations. Not one hon. Member who will go into the Division Lobby in their support could subsist for three weeks upon them.
Over and over again in the speeches to which we have listened the subject has been brought up of subsidies given to industry and the amount of money spent on armaments, and it has been inferred that this money could have been added to the amount that will be distributed to the unemployed. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) says that the Government have given these subsidies to their friends. [Interruption.] I have not interrupted any speaker on the opposite side. My spirits may be low, but I have sat here waiting to speak since four o'clock, and there will be a greater chance for other people to speak if hon. Members opposite will allow me to develop my argument. Many of us believe that the subsidies have been given in order that industry shall be kept going and men and women kept in employment.
In judging the policy of this Government in connection with unemployment, we must take into consideration its policy in helping to keep people in employment and in getting them back into employment. Hon. Members have criticised the subsidies, but if these subsidies were withdrawn do they not consider that many industries, including agriculture, would not be able to continue, and that there would be a larger number of unemployed in consequence? I believe also that because these industries would not be able to continue, and because men and women would become unemployed, we should gradually find that there was less money with which to help the greater number of unemployed. It has to be remembered that it is the taxpayers who are providing the money to help these unfortunate people, and the taxpayers can only have that money if industry is prosperous. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who makes the profits?"] The profits are made by all those in industry. If industry cannot carry on the men and women engaged in it will be unemployed, and if profit is not made by industry there will be no money to pay unemployment benefit. [Interruption.] I am not going to give way to anybody. There are other people wanting to speak, and it is not fair to them that there should be so many interruptions. Hon. Members have sat on these benches and been unable to hear what was said on the Front Bench on this side because of the interruptions of hon. Members opposite. It has been suggested that hon. Members on this side were absent because they took no interest in the Debate, but it has been difficult for hon. Members even to hear what a speaker has been saying because of the interruptions.
It has been suggested that another way of dealing with the unemployment problem would be a policy of public works. There are two schemes suggested. One is a form of subsidy to existing industries to keep them going and to keep the people in them employed. The other is to provide money for creating work which is not absolutely necessary, and work in which the unemployed are not necessarily skilled. It is far better to help the industries in existence to carry on, and so give a chance to skilled men and women to carry on at their own work than to give large sums of money for public works. Hon. Members have also discussed the amount that is to be spent on making our defence more secure. They have said that this money should be given to the unemployed. But a large percentage of the money is being spent in giving work to the people of this country. About 80 per cent. of the money spent is going in wages to the people. Are hon. Members supposing that if that money were not spent it would be distributed among the people of this country? If so, their opinion of the workers is rather different from mine.
If there is one thing above all others that these people want it is not merely an extra shilling here or there, but work. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad I have agreement from hon. Members opposite because there is one factor that cannot be disputed, and it is that the policy of this Government has brought more work to these people. But even with this increase of employment there remains this tragic army of people unemployed. Many hon. Members opposite have seemed to infer that hon. Members on this side did not feel so keenly the plight of these people. Some of them have told us that we seemed almost to delight in saying that the allowances cannot be bigger. Do hon. Members opposite really think that a single Member on this side would not be anxious to make these allowances bigger? Hon. Members opposite have talked of people who, they say, are not in contact with the unemployed. I know the conditions in my constituency. The people there are my friends, I go into their houses, I know what they are feeling. Do hon. Members suggest that I would not rather go back to Dundee and say, "There are larger allowances for you, you are to get more money"? Do they not realise that it is far more difficult for us, who care for these people, to act in a way which we believe will help them more but which they may not understand, and which hon. Members opposite misrepresent?
We do not impute motives to hon. Members opposite, and I would ask them not to impute motives to us. I think it should be realised that we know these people, have worked among them, and have put our point of view to them, and realise their difficulties. After all, they have placed a certain amount of confidence in us. At the General Election I did not shrink from speaking on the family means test, and there was not the slightest misunderstanding about my point of view concerning it. I referred to it in my election address and I spoke about it on every platform.
I wish to make it clear that in my election address I said I stood by the family means test. I said I wanted better arrangements with regard to family allowances, and I made that clear. There was no misunderstanding, and at every meeting that I addressed those who were vocal and opposed me declared that they opposed me because I stood by the family means test. My hon. Friend who shares with me the representation of Dundee (Mr. Foot) also stood, I believed then, by the family means test, and after hearing him speak to-day, I think he still maintains that attitude. I make that statement because the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith), speaking a few days ago, said he had made it clear that the whole of his party was in favour of a means test for the individual, but not for the family.
I see that my hon. Friend agrees with me, but I fancy that the hon. Member for Dundee, perhaps because of what he has seen and heard from the people he has mingled with in Dundee, thinks differently from the rest of his party, and still stands for the family means test. I think it will be within the recollection of hon. Members that my hon. Friend, when we were discussing the Unemployment Bill on 5th December, 1933, twitted the party above the Gangway opposite because they were against the family means test, and said that his party was entirely in favour of it. He told hon. Members that they brought it out only at by-elections, and he gave an instance of what he meant in the following statement:
I think that we have a right to say to a man who is bringing home wages that he shall make a reasonable contribution to the upkeep of those of his family who are unemployed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th December, 1933; col. 1544, Vol. 283.]
The hon. Member went on to explain that he felt very personally on the matter. At that time his father was a Member of the House and was sitting beside him, and the hon. Member gave an example which has been quoted to me again and again in Dundee in praise of him. He said that if he was a man in employment he would certainly think it was right, and his duty as a son, to help his father if his father was destitute. I can only say that when at one time I was informed that the hon. Member had changed his mind, I thought that, instead of absence making the heart grow fonder, it had in his case made it grow harder. Therefore, I am glad that to-day the hon. Member has shown that he is in favour of the family means test and would not be willing to leave his father without a share of his earnings.
My hon. Friend also made some criticism of the figures in the Regulations. He pointed out various cases in which he thought the amount was below the standstill amount that people in Dundee are at present drawing, but he did not give the details of any of the cases in which they would get more. I believe the root of this problem is, above all, the unemployed family, where there are no resources and no earnings whatever. I think it is with them that we have to deal, because they have no help. It may be that there will be hardship in cases where the earnings of other members of the family are taken into account, but in those families there is at least some help and support. I think the families where there are no resources should be considered first. Hon. Members have spoken on the subject of the health and nutrition of children, and in that connection I would say that I consider that the best thing about the Regulations is the graded scale for children. I believe that is a great advance. I am sure that all hon. Members realise that growing boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 14 need a larger amount of food. During the time the party opposite was in office and during the beginning of the present Government, there was a flat rate of 2s., and then it was increased to 3s. Now we have an increased assessment for the older boys and girls, and I hope that in Dundee, where we have so many large families, they will all benefit from this. My hon. Friend did not point that out, but he told us of the cuts that are made. I believe he is reported as saying in Dundee that the people who have to suffer cuts would not be consoled by the knowledge that larger amounts would be given in other cases. I would like to ask my hon. Friend, who I believe will vote against these Regulations, whether he will go to Dundee and say to those families which, under the Regulations, will get an extra 5s. or 7s., that he voted to deprive them of what they could get under the Regulations.
I did not intend to interrupt the hon. Lady, but I will point out that I am perfectly prepared in my next speech in Dundee to deal with such increases as there may be under these Regulations if my hon. Friend on her side will go and explain in detail the deductions that are made.
I think my hon. Friend knows that in a letter which I sent to the Dundee Town Council, and which was reported in the Press, I mentioned the deductions and what I hoped would be the increases. I notice that in the letter sent by my hon. Friend he made the mistake of stating that only 24s. would be given to a man and wife. Another good point about these Regulations is the increase in the earnings allowance. The man or woman drawing a larger wage is to get a larger percentage of the earnings. Here, again, I have always disliked the flat rate. It has seemed to me entirely wrong that when a man or woman is working overtime, has a job giving a greater amount of money or is getting more money from piece work, no percentage of that money should be retained.
There is, however, one point of difficulty to which I would like to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. It is the question of the man who is unemployed and his wife who is at work. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee has already said something on that matter, but he did not point out that where the woman has a large family the deduction would be wiped out by the increase in the children's allowances. I agree with him that in the case of the man and wife without children, where the wife is working, it seems as if there would be less money under these Regulations. I believe that in the case of women workers some allowance might be given in respect of particular expenses relating to the family arising out of their work. I realise that there is a personal allowance in respect of a man and wife of eight shillings but very often if a married woman is working, extra expenses have to be incurred in connection with the household. Take the case of mothers in Dundee who go out to work and who have to take their children each morning to a day nursery, before going to work and leave them there to be looked after during the day. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!"] Do hon. Members suggest that it is a shame that a married woman should go to work?
I hope the hon. Member will come to Dundee some day and tell the married women there that it is a scandal and a disgrace for them to be at work. In any case there are expenses incurred by those women in having their children looked after, and there are other expenses connected with their work, in respect of which some allowance ought to be made to them especially in the cases we are considering where the women with small children will have less under this scheme. It may be said by hon. Members opposite that sons and daughters in a household ought not to be asked to contribute part of their income. It may be argued that those people have their own lives to live and should be treated accordingly.
I know that the argument becomes very difficult when applied to the woman who is married. It may be said that the woman's income always goes in support of the household and that she has the same personal allowance as the man. I think that the woman in such circumstances is faring worse under this arrangement than a man in corresponding circumstances. If a woman is to be treated exactly the same as a man in the matter of allowances, she ought also to be treated the same as a man in the matter of wages. There are women who are getting, always I think under trade boards, lower wages than men in respect of the same kind of work and that differentiation ought to be recognised. If the woman is not to be treated on an equality with the man on the one side, she ought to receive some additional help on the other side. In some cases, I am glad that the women's allowancs have been increased and it will make a considerable difference, especially to young women in lodgings whose difficulties are very great.
I have not time to mention other good points which there are in these Regulations, but I would say this in conclusion. I agree with hon. Members on both sides who have told us that it is impossible to say exactly how these Regulations are going to work out and, therefore, I find it difficult to understand the out-and-out condemnation of the Regulations by hon. Members opposite. There is a power of discretion; it will be possible to give help in many ways in special circumstances and I believe that that provision will be appreciated. Hon. Members have spoken of the work of the Board's officials and of what they have already done in, trying to meet special needs. It is those officials who will have to meet special cases of difficulty in the future under these Regulations and while we do not know with certainty how the Regulations will work out, I believe that under them we shall have more chance than we had before of securing better conditions for the people of this country. Therefore I support the Regulations.
The last two Members who spoke from this side were Welsh, and I cannot hope to emulate their oratory, though I believe I can emulate their sincerity. I come from the cold, calculating North and, like my colleagues who spoke earlier, from a Special Area, and before dealing with the Regulations I wish to refer to a sentence which fell from the Secretary of State for Scotland. He spoke about the defence programme of the National Government helping the Special Areas. I received this telegram yesterday:
Government state £24,000,000 orders placed in distressed areas. South-West Durham Development Board on behalf of this area dissatisfied that no work has come here. Why? Signed, Middlewood, Vice-Chairman; Thompson, Secretary.
I have the honour to represent a large part of that South-West Durham area and I shall be pleased to have an answer to the question why none of the defence
work has gone to that area. As to these Regulations they are based upon the means test. They are a result from a cause and the cause is the system of society under which we live, with its differentiation of human values. If society were based on a sane foundation and if the nation were regarded as a family, then the whole of the family income, meaning the national income, would be distributed among the whole of the people more equitably than is the case at present. That would mean, I understand from the economists, at least £2 per week for every man, woman and child. Instead of the family ideal, the capitalist state of society means, as I say, a differentiation in human values and these Regulations emphasise and will perpetuate that differentiation.
The present state of society means that we think only of the minimum upon which the worker can exist, when, in a world of plenty and potential plenty, we ought to be thinking of the maximum which could be given to the workers, to enable them to live fully and abundantly. We call in the statisticians and they produce strings of figures in favour of preserving the status quo. We call in the chemists to work out tables of calories, which, to the hungry, are tables of stone. Those unfortunates, the unemployed, ask for bread and are fobbed off with calories. Every hon. Member knows that a good pork chop is better than a "Dissertation on the Origin of Roast Pig" and that food in abundance would be far better to the unemployed than tables of calories or these Regulations. I have had some experience because early in life I was "passing rich" on £70 a year as a school master. That approximates nearly to 26s. a week, and I am almost ashamed to confess that I was married on it.
Fortunately for me, I married a wife—[Laughter.] I am glad to see that hon. Members appreciate the fact that there is a distinction. I married a wife who could bake, sew, and cook, a wife who could give points to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because she had 52 budgets in the year, and sometimes she could not balance her budget, and we had to go into debt. I am tired to death of hearing the working-man's wife lectured by women who try to teach them how to bake and cook. Our wives could give points to professors, and we do not want lectures for our working wives at all. We do not want to be rationed by Regulations either. There ought to be a reckoning up of the whole of the rations and then a sharing out according to need. Why should people be stinted by Statute? They are stinted, physically and in their clothes. Our working wives, as I have said in this House before, have to go to jumble sales to buy the cast-offs of the rich because they cannot afford anything better. They are worth something better.
Nobody can pretend that these Regulations give that fullness of life which is the due of every person, and the idea that they do is too fantastic to be talked about. The truth is that they are ridiculous Regulations. Let us put them to the test. What hon. or right hon. Gentleman or hon. or Noble Lady would like to be put under these Regulations? Take the most generous scale in the Regulations. There is not an hon. Member in this House, man or woman, who could not prove that they are inadequate. Compare them with the cost of keeping a prisoner in penal servitude—two guineas a week. Compare them, if you like, with the cost of keeping a person in the workhouse—£1 2s. 6d. a week. Compare them with the cost of keeping a child in a Poor Law home—19s. 8d. a week. We have an example in these Regulations of the poor helping to keep the poor. Some are going to benefit at the expense of someone who will receive a reduction. It is the case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.
One of the conditions laid down in these Regulations is to emphasise the difference between rural and urban areas. I live in a rural area, and I protest against the differentiation. Why should it be supposed that living in the country is cheaper than living in the town? I live in the country, and I challenge anyone to go on to a platform and debate the question. They could take the side of the town, and I would take the side of the country. We in the country pay for our food as much as, and in many cases more than, you do in the town. Beside that, in the country we have not the social amenities that you have in the towns, nor the social chances of education. I consider that there should be no difference at all between the dwellers in the rural districts and the dwellers in the urban districts. There is another condition in the Regulations which says that assistance should not equal the wages received, and it is also stated in another place that allowances shall not be too low—two different points of view altogether, and how you can reconcile them I do not know. In my constituency I have miners who are working five days a week and taking home less than 30s. In the village where I live I have quarry-men working for 5s. 3d. a day, and their average weekly wage is based on four and a half shifts, so that some of these people will have about £1 0s. 8d. a week. What I demand for my own child is the prerogative of every child in the country. What I demand for myself is the right of every man in the country, and I say that if the country can afford to do something better than 17s. a week for me, it is not beyond the bounds of human possibility that something better should be done for the unemployed.
It is only the accident of opportunity that I am standing here to-day, and I hope I am doing my constituents justice and representing them. It is not merit; it is the accident of birth and opportunity. Perhaps the unemployed have not been insistent enough. If they had been as insistent as I have, and as other hon. and right hon. Members of this House have, they would not have been submitted to the ignominy of these terrible Regulations. I have heard hon. Members talking about the tax on industry, but where do all taxes come from? The vague answer is "From industry," but the correct answer is "From the worker." When I was a boy in a country district an old miner said to me, "Remember that everything comes from the pick point." That was my first lesson in economics, and I have not forgotten it. My salary, your salary, your big incomes, your millionaires' incomes, all come from the workers. I have heard it suggested by hon. Members opposite that those who are fortunate enough to be at work do not care about carrying the burden of their unemployed fellows. It is a lie and a libel. What they object to is to carrying you people on their backs.
Away with your despicable means test. Let the floodgates of plenty be opened wide for all, and then happiness and joy will come instead of misery and sorrow, distress and degradation. If you do that and give them real Regulations, you will find that the unemployed will not consider themselves as outcasts and Ishmaels. Remember the story of Ishmael of old, who was cast out into the wilderness, "his hand … against every man, and every man's hand against him." That is how the unemployed are feeling at the present time. If you were unemployed, you would not stand for these Regulations at all. You would follow the example set on a historic occasion in Ireland—"Shoot, and be damned." That was said by men who became prominent members of the Government Front Bench, and if I were an unemployed man and society could only grant me 17s. a week, I would say "Damn your society," and I should do my best to bust it. Many of these men who are suffering rallied in the country's hour of need in 1914 to the aid of their country. Is it too much to ask the country to reciprocate now, when its protectors are in dire need? The country ought to rally to their aid. Because the National Government rallies to their aid with Regulations that retard human aspirations, I shall have much pleasure in voting against them.
We have all enjoyed, though we cannot agree with, the last speech, but I do not think some of us enjoyed so much the speech of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. S. O. Davies). I wondered why he was so violent in his attack on these Regulations, but I happened to look up particulars of the General Election in Merthyr Tydfil, and I saw that he was then opposed by an Independent Labour Party candidate, who obtained a very substantial number of votes, and I have no doubt he was endeavouring to steal some of his opponent's thunder. I represent an industrial constituency where at the present time, I am thankful to say, there are fewer than 500 people who will come under these Regulations, and I would like to pay my meed of gratitude to the Government for having brought about that favourable result. The figure is the lowest in my area for many years. As far as I can calculate, the majority of these 500 unfortunate people will get more under these scales than they have done in the past. I am, therefore, on their behalf, supporting these Regulations. During the Election I made my position on the family means test perfectly clear, and on that I was returned. I believe that the close relatives of an applicant who are living with him should, if they are in a position to do so, assist him before strangers are called upon to help. Decent sons and daughters will do this for their parents.
On this question I would like to put a specific point to the Minister and ask him to bring it to the notice of the Board. Decent sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters are, I believe, prepared to do their best to assist an unfortunate relative before he appeals to the general public, but a young man obliged to support a father who has little or no chance of ever getting work may see an unenviable vista before him of having to go on doing so for many years. I am sure that the country would welcome a proviso that when a young man or woman has helped to support a relative for a period of, say, five years, that man or woman should be entitled to say to the Board, "I have done what I can and I think I ought now to appeal to the general public to pay for me." Such a proviso would greatly help a young man in that position. On page 26 of the draft Regulations I find the words:
If the assessment, after necessary adjustments, is equal to or greater than the unemployment benefit rate, the rule would not, of course, apply.
That means—and it will be agreed that it is necessary—that the unemployed under Part II of the Act cannot receive more than he would if he came under Part I. I suggest that if the needs of this man under Part II as assessed come out higher than he would get under Part I, the allowance paid to him as benefit under Part I must be too low. It is comon knowledge that the Unemployment Insurance Fund is again collecting a large surplus, and we hope and believe that the Minister will be able to tell the House shortly about the surplus and to give us further details of how he proposes to deal with it. I hope that he will be able to tell us that he is going to use it to increase the benefit allowances and to increase the period of time allowed to an unemployed man before he comes out of standard benefit, rather than to reduce further the contributions of employers, employed and the State. In that way
we shall, I believe, be able to raise the amount of allowances granted under these Regulations while still keeping the rule that an applicant under Part II cannot get more than under Part I.
The success or failure of this scheme largely depends, not entirely, on the amount that people will get, and on the sympathetic, helpful and friendly handling of the unemployed applicant by the officers of the Board and the Ministry of Labour officials. I hope that the senior officials of the Board will continue in the future, as they have in the past, to choose the very best type of man available for this arduous work, and I am convinced that in future the lot of the unemployed will be better for the Regulations we are now considering.
I am reluctant to enter into the Debate at this time of the night, realising that there are complexities that one would have liked closely to analyse. I am not proposing to analyse the Regulations very deeply. It has been my lot to be connected with the practical administration of public assistance, with county council work, and with the administration of transitional payments. Therefore, I come to the Debate with rather a different point of view from that of many hon. Members who have taken part on the other side. Many hon. Members have treated the subject in the abstract rather than with a full knowledge of the real work of public assistance, the work of transitional payments and the work that is being carried out to-day. I want to take rather a closer view of the picture. When the Regulations were issued I made it my business not only to analyse them myself, but to have them analysed by men whom I regarded as experts, who had been for much of their lives associated with public work of this kind. I am somewhat alarmed to find that of the authorities to whom I sent a copy of the Regulations—men who have spent their lives in administrative work and responsible officials of county authorities—not one has yet given an opinion in favour of their working out one whit better than the Regulations that have had to be withdrawn.
I have submitted these Regulations to one of the principal county authorities, or at least to one of the principal officials
who dealt with more than 800,000 cases under the administrative scheme for transitional payments. I claim that the opinion of a man who has been responsible for dealing with and advising upon transitional payments in nearly a million cases is an opinion to be followed wth some amount of confidence. That opinion was expressed with the greatest reluctance and the greatest doubt, and he is of opinion that these Regulations will share the same fate as the Regulations of 18 months ago. In addition I sent these Regulations to the chairman of one of the principal public assistance committees in this country, the second largest to London itself, and I have his report in my possession. Case after case has been worked out, and he is perfectly satisfied that these Regulations will prove to be no more in favour of the unemployed than the Regulations did more than 18 months ago. I should like to take the opportunity of correcting a statement made by the Minister of Health last night, a statement which surprised me. He said:
I hope that the House realises that since the Unemployment Assistance Board took over this matter the average payment per head has risen from 21s. 10d. to 23s. 7d."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st July, 1936; col. 400, Vol. 315.]
That is per head. I think that if that were so there would not be the revolt in this House and this country that there is at the present time. He said "23s. 7d. per head." We have never asked that; we have never suggested anything of the kind, and I think that what the Minister of Health really meant to convey was 23s. 7d. per family, and not 23s. 7d. per head. I see that the Minister of Labour is shaking his head. I am reading from the OFFICIAL REPORT the statement made by the Minister of Health in this House last night. If that were the position then I do not think there would be any revolt either in this House or the country. I have gone further and asked the men who are in receipt of unemployment benefit at the present time, because they are the people who ought to know something about this matter, ought to know more than anybody else about it. Although I have had these Regulations examined by principal administrators and officials in the country and by the people in receipt of unemployment benefit, I cannot find a single one who is not overwhelmingly of opinion that these Regula-
tions are definitely against the interests of the majority of the people who are in receipt of Unemployment Assistance Board benefits.
I have been impressed with another point of view which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Sexton). I have before me the figures of the West Riding Public Assistance Committee, issued in their report for last year. The hon. Member quoted the figures of the amount per person per week provided from public funds for the maintenance of the inmates of hospitals, scattered homes and casual wards. Is it suggested by the Minister of Labour or by the Minister of Health that 24s. a week is adequate for the maintenance of a man and wife and a household in decency and in comort?
This is a very serious matter. The amount allowed in the Regulations for a man and wife, with rent and all that goes against the home, is less than the average amount for the maintenance of a pauper, a prisoner, a child in a scattered home, or a vagrant off the streets. If this is regarded as an adequate amount for the maintenance of a man and wife, to say nothing about the children, I am sorry that I cannot agree with the contention of Members opposite. This is a standing disgrace, and it is not in the best interests of this country to foist these Regulations upon us. I come from a district in one part of which the collieries closed down in 1921, and from that time until the present day not one individual has been employed in that district. Young men have grown up, have married and their families are growing up, but the collieries are derelict, and have been so since 1921. I was with one of my hon. Friends in his district two years ago, and when we talked in those valleys about the question of unemployment, the people looked, at us in astonishment. They did not know that the problem of unemployment existed.
I was amazed at the provocative speech made yesterday by the Minister of Labour, who charged the public assistance committees with not giving out of the county rates to people who were sick or poor, benefits commensurate with the figures which he was incorporating into his Regulations. Let me put it back at him. I remember that we, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, attempted to give adequate relief and to deal with transitional payments upon a humane basis. The present Minister of Labour did not occupy that position at that time, nor did the present Minister of Health, but there are hon. Members in this House who remember the occasion when the then Minister of Health sent inspectors. It is no use the Minister shaking his head. There are at least two Members sitting on these benches who were there when an inspector came, and we met him in the county hall. He was responsible for the West Riding forcing down their scale. The Ministry of Health then compelled the West Riding County Council to force down their standard, and now we are charged that we would not use the money from the rates to give adequate relief to the people at that time.
In one part of my constituency there are from 10,000 to 15,000 people who have never worked for years, and I am not going to that part of my constituency to defend these Regulations; I am going there to condemn the Regulations, and I do not think there ought to be any misapprehension on the part of the Minister on that question. Is the only answer from the other side of the House to the problem of unemployment to be the same as that which has been given in Germany and in Italy, and which is being given in Spain at the present time? Hitler's answer to the problem of unemployment in Germany was preparation for war; Mussolini's answer to the problem of unemployment in Italy was exactly the same; and the same applies to Spain at the present time. Is your answer to the problem of unemployment going to be preparation for war?
With regard to the means test, I do not think there ought to be any misunderstanding as to where we stand. In every part of my constituency, and in various parts of the country where I have been, I have made it perfectly plain that, at the first opportunity I had of speaking and voting against a Government that imposes a household means test, I should do so, and if hon. Members think they are going to keep the people of this country quiet by Regulations of this kind they are living in a fool's paradise. I put these Regulations to a body of miners in my constituency, and miners have a wonderful way of expressing themselves in very flexible language. My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) gave us last night a sample of the language used by a lady about the Regulations, but that was very mild indeed compared with the way in which the miners of this country look upon the Regulations which are now before us.
The right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate on behalf of the Government this afternoon told us how many people there are in Scotland who are subjected to the means test. I gather that the number is 285,000 at the present time, and that the total income from all sources coming into the households, affected, including wages, National Health benefits, pensions, and all other items, amounts to £20,000,000 in the year. Let me put it straight back now to hon. Members on the opposite side of the House. Can you expect to apply a household means test where the total income of the household is less than 25s. a week? I say that an attempt from that side of the House to impose it upon the country is disgraceful. I submit that there is no argument for these Regulations. There can be no quietude in this country while it is sought to impose them, and to continue to ask the poor to maintain the poor. That is a wrong policy. This country is wealthy enough to maintain the by-product of this system—for unemployment is a by-product of the present capitalist system; and we on this side of the House stand, not only to condemn that policy, but to smash down the people who seek to force it upon the country.
The House has just listened to a Member who has discharged an onerous task of administration in Yorkshire for a very large number of years and who is, therefore, entitled to speak to the House with authority on the subject of these Regulations. There is no doubt that they have given rise to grave anxiety among all classes of people. The recipients look upon them with anxiety because their standard of living is being menaced. The business man entertains anxiety because he sees his potential customers being deprived of the means of buying his goods. Local authorities entertain anxiety because they see the rate position in their areas being threatened. Other people, such as social workers and ministers of religion, have
anxiety because of certain moral considerations which they feel are involved in the effect of the Regulations. Whether they think that anxiety justifiable or not, it is the business of the Government to be aware of it and to take note of it. In order to arrive at a final decision upon the matter, we must agree upon some fundamental principles to guide us. The Minister himself yesterday invited our attention to the fact that we in this House, and the Government in particular, have a concern, as he put it, about this matter. He used these words:
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.
As he proceeded with his speech he was particularly careful to make it clear to us all that, however disturbed we might feel, our concern was to be limited by this consideration: There was to be no interference with the means test. That was the Ark of the Covenant. No one must put an impious hand upon it. A few sentences later the right hon. Gentleman said—I thought rather jauntily:
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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st July, 1936; col. 284, Vol. 315.]
That clearly is his standard of what a means test must fulfil. There shall be no payment of money which is not needed. It is not a very adequate definition of the means test, but it is good enough with which to get on. I propose to argue for a few minutes upon this central principle of the means test. No one can deny that the State expresses concern in regard to individuals or classes in one of two ways. It may take abnormal measures in respect of classes and individuals, and say, "You are an exceptional difficulty; you are the subject of special distress, and therefore, while you are and because you are in this special difficulty and distress I, the State, will come to your assistance." That is the abormal type of assistance which the State gives. But there is also the normal activity which the State takes and the
normal relief that it gives. For instance, we give, through the medium of public funds, State relief by way of non-contributory pensions to civil servants and to judges. These are normal things. But whatever the State does in the matter of expressing its concern for individuals or groups, this, I think, must be the cardinal principle, that whenever the State does give relief, either normal or abnormal, it must do it by convincing its citizens that it holds the scales evenly as between groups, classes and individuals. I ask hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House who are to answer this question—and I will examine it in a moment—is the State holding the scales evenly as between class and class when it insists upon this means test? I do not like to use this kind of argument normally but I must do it to-night.
Every Member of Parliament normally receiving the Parliamentary allowance, as it is called, would, unless there were some sort of allowances presented to him or made available to him, be subject to Income Tax—every one of us, never mind what our private incomes might be. The fact that we get £400 a year would make us normally subject to Income Tax, but the State gives us allowances, and it makes those allowances without any means test. Every Member of Parliament—and I make this statement deliberately—who takes his Parliamentary salary does so without the imposition of a means test upon him, and every hon. Member who votes to-morrow night in favour of these Regulations will be voting for imposing upon other people a test which is not applied in respect of his own Parliamentary salary.
On a point of Order. Our position as Members of Parliament has been challenged. It would appear to me that our salaries, our stipends of £400 a year, are paid to us for services rendered. Therefore, they come under the category of wages or salary, and in no way do they come under a scheme of support, which is now being discussed.
If the hon. Member puts that point to the Comptroller and says that our allowance is a salary or a wage, he will quickly be disabused on the point. The Comptroller will refuse to concede the point. It is an allowance. On the Budget which we have carried this year we had a special discussion dealing with the question of children's allowances, and provision was introduced for dealing with the evasion that had been going on for years. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury took good care to say that the evasion had been strictly legitimate. We increased this year the allowance in respect of children to £60 per child, and there was no means test. The allowance was given to the £400 a year man, to the £4,000 a year man and to the £40,000 a year man. There was no distinction. Therefore this year we have endorsed a proposal whereby we who happen to have children, and people like us outside, receive a financial benefit from legislation which we have carried, without any means test. I have not noticed any signs of any deep sense of moral obliquity on the face of any hon. Member.
We have raised Income Tax this year from 4s. 6d. to 4s. 9d., and therefore those who receive this exemption of £60 at the rate of 4s. 9d. receive an allowance to the tune of over 5s. per week, without a means test. The Regulations do not provide for an allowance in respect of children to that degree until they have passed the age of 14 years, while allowances through the Income Tax can be given to children, sons and daughters, up to almost any age so long as they are being educated. Poor children are to be allowed less through the Regulations than this House allows to Income Tax payers by way of remissions through children's allowances. Let me put another point, because I am still on the question whether hon. Members opposite stand by what they say when they urge a means test. Are they applying it fairly? In regard to Income Tax it is the income which is taken into account, but under the Regulations it is the capital assets which are taken into account, not income. If the capital assets of an applicant amount to £300 in respect of property apart from his own residence, the Regulations say that the first £25 is to be excused and that in respect of every other subsequent £25 they will estimate an income of 1s. per week which, on £300 of capital assets, means 11s. per week, or £28 12s. per year, or 9½ per cent. I ask hon. Members opposite where they can find normally an industry to-day which will give them a return of 9½ per cent.? Yet they are charging these poor people at the rate of 9½ per cent. in estimating the value of their capital.
I did not notice that the hon. Gentleman was on his feet or I would gladly have given way. I beg his pardon. I turn to the abnormal form of assistance. The Government have given abnormal assistance to industry. I am not called on to discuss the merits or demerits of that assistance. Hon. Gentlemen know that the Government have said to agriculture, "You are distressed; the State cannot afford to allow agriculture to become distressed." Therefore the State comes to the assistance of agriculture, but in doing so it has never imposed a means test. Under the de-rating proposals there was no means test. They gave it to the rich and to the poor. Various subsidies—for sugar, wheat, milk, beef, bacon, and shipping—have been given without any sort of means test. I submit, therefore, that the Minister has to answer the question: On what basis of justice is it argued that industries shall receive subsidies without a means test and people attached to one or two other industries in certain areas be subjected to the rigours of this means test?
I want to add one other observation to show to what degree Income Tax payers have received relief in the last few years, and I quote from an official document. There has recently been published this year's copy of the Statistical Abstract of the United Kingdom. Will hon. Gentlemen deny that those who pay Income Tax have been exempted from taxation in the three years, 1931–32, 1932–33, and 1933–34 to an aggregate sum of £4,000,000,000? An hon. Gentleman shakes his head. If he will look at page 195 of the Statistical Abstract he will find that in 1931–32 the exemptions from Income Tax amounted to £1,400,000,000, in 1932–33 to £1,347,000,000 and in 1933–34 to £1,346,000,000, an aggregate of over £4,000,000,000. I submit that hon. Gentlemen have no right to be insisting that the State cannot afford to allow the means test to be abolished. I take these three years because they happen to be the years in which the means test was applied with its fullest rigour, and in that time exemptions to the tune of over £4,000,000,000 were enjoyed by Income Tax payers, while the poor were mulcted under the means test.
I turn from that to discussion of the Regulations themselves. Yesterday the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Health seemed to agree to tell this com- mon story: That, however bad these Regulations might be in effect, they were on the whole better either than the provision made by the Labour Government or by Labour Councils. That was the point of the contention both of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour and the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health. In passing, I would say that I am not sure it was fair of the Minister of Health to make the oblique charges which he made of deliberate intention to exaggerate the burden upon the State with a view to lessening the burden upon local authorities, but in support of his contention the Minister of Health—and I believe the Minister of Labour as well—cited three areas, Glamorganshire, Monmouthshire and London. I would like to take the first of those areas, because Glamorganshire happens to be an area which I represent, and one with which I am therefore more closely connected and which I know more accurately.
Whatever may be true about the rightness or wrongness of the standards set up by the appropriate body in Glamorganshire, it cannot be true that the Glamorgan county authority has been able to avoid heavy responsibilities in this matter. I have before me a copy of the minutes of the finance sub-committee of the Glamorgan County Council, dated 15th July, 1936, and these minutes disclose that, if one compares the statement of out-relief for the month of 13th June to 14th July, 1935, and the equivalent dates of this year, one finds that, in fact, the Glamorgan County Council has had to shoulder an additional burden since last year of £997 a week, roughly £50,000 a year. I ask the Minister, even if his charge be true—and I am not conceding that it is—is there anything very wrong in an overburdened area, such as the area of the Glamorgan County Council, seeking as far as possible to stave off a substantial additional burden of nearly £50,000 a year? Do not the Government themselves at times try to shove the burden from the taxes on to the rates? Therefore, if local authorities properly feel that a national burden should more appropriately fall upon national funds than upon local funds, I do not see that the charge is proved, and I do not see that the county authority of Glamorgan ought to be subjected to such severe censure.
I now turn to another point which was the subject of discussion this afternoon. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland, speaking no doubt from a brief—I do not complain if he found some difficulty with it—referred to London, as did the Minister of Health last night. I apologise if my interruption of his speech caused him any discomfort, but I intervened to ask him whether, in comparing the London County Council standards with the Unemployment Assistance Board Regulations, it would not be fair to make the comparison upon some basis that could be applied to both. I have before me the results of an examination of the effect of these Regulations, as compared with the London County Council regulations in cases where there is no income and a rent of 7s. 6d. a week. That is a common basis for both, and I submit that comparison can only be made on a common basis.
Let us see which is more generous. Take first the single man living alone who has to pay a rent of 7s. 6d. Under the Unemployment Assistance Board Regulations of 1934, the grant would be 15s.; under the Board's Regulations of 1936 the grant would still be 15s. The London County Council's summer grant in that case is 17s. 6d. and the winter grant 19s. 6d. In the case of a man and wife, under the Board's Regulations of 1934 it would be 24s., and under the Regulations of 1936 it would be 26s. The London County Council regulations in that case provide for 25s. 6d. in the summer and 27s. 6d. in the winter. In the case of a man, wife and one child aged three, the Board's Regulations of 1934 provide for 28s., and those of 1936 for 29s. The London County Council grant in the summer months in a similar case is 29s. 6d., and in the winter 31s. 6d. Similarly, a man, wife and two children aged three and five, would receive under the Board's Regulations of 1934 30s, 6d., and under the Regulations of 1936 32s., while the London County Council figures are 32s. 6d. for the summer and 34s. 6d. for the winter.
The same differences, to the advantage of the London County Council standard, are present in other cases. I could go on applying the same comparison in respect of families with household incomes, and here again, with, I think, one exception, the London County Council scale is clearly more advantageous to the applicant than the Regulations scale. We on this side have consistently taken the view that the State must be concerned about the able-bodied unemployed, who are unemployed through no fault of their own. We have stood for the simple principle of work or maintenance, and if the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will give work to my people in South Wales, they can make what savings they like on unemployment benefit. We prefer the work if we can get it. But I would remind hon. Members that our people in South Wales are unemployed not because of any demerit on their part, but because of national policy. Do hon. Members opposite deny the proposition of my hon. Friend who spoke earlier, and who said that the miners of South Wales are not responsible for the economic conditions which have led to their unemployment?
I am arguing that the miners of South Wales are not responsible—[Interruption.] If the Noble Lady opposite asks who are, I will content myself by saying that it was a part of the national policy to impose those charges upon the Germans, and the effect was the first staggering blow at the coal trade in South Wales; and of the imposition of those charges Tory Members shouted as much approval as did anybody else. Therefore, why must the miners of South Wales have these conditions from which they are now suffering if the original cause is national policy, rather than policy over which they themselves had control? Hon. Members opposite sometimes entertain rather unkind feelings concerning the South Wales miner and the South Wales mining industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Oh, yes, but they will not deny this proposition, I know, that the greatness of Britain which was established in the last century was made largely possible, was founded in considerable part, at any rate, upon the industry of South Wales. Indeed, your export trade depended to an extraordinary extent upon the industry of the South Wales miner. Having created the national wealth, having contributed to the national greatness, they are entitled therefore to say to you, "Since we gave a contribution in such generous measure in the days of prosperity, we are entitled to come to you for some generous con- sideration in the days of adversity." Hon. Members opposite have not given us work; they have not provided industry. The defence of the agricultural subsidy was that it created work. Very well, why could you not find money for us to create work? But you have left us. If you will not find work for our peple, then you are driven to the only alternative; you must provide them with maintenance.
I will turn, if I may, to one element in the Regulations to which I want to draw attention. What is the effect of de-rating upon these areas? We excused those industries that were of the creative kind, manufacturers and so on, three-quarters of their rates. Many pits have closed down owing to the conditions which I have already discussed, and the effect has been that the people for whom these Regulations are being devised have had much heavier rents to provide than they otherwise would. We say that the national action has pushed the burden of providing rates through rents upon the poor and taken it off the shoulders of the better-to-do, and now that the problem has become so heavy the Government have had to devise some better formula for dealing with the rent proposition in connection with allowances. I am still in the dark as to what the effect will be. The advisory committee, I gather, will be entitled, judging from an answer given earlier in the evening, to give advice, but although advice is given, the officer of the Board or the Board itself is not bound to take the advice. It remains independent in its judgment and in its decisions. The consequence is, or it might be, that if there is great resentment about this matter, the Government have provided themselves with a nice position. They will be able to say, "It was not we who did it, but the local advisory committee." They will shelter behind the committee whenever adverse criticism arises. It is possible for the advisory committee to give general advice about classes of tenements or the rent concerning tenements, and still leave considerable injustices to fall upon individuals. Can the advisory committee give advice, not in respect of the class of house or type of building, but in respect of the difficulties of a particular applicant in a particular house? As I understood the right hon. Gentleman yesterday, he spoke of classes of houses or housing in given areas. You can speak of houses in that way and overlook the particular difficulties of particular applicants.
I want to turn to another point, and I hope the House will forgive me for making this observation. The worst that can be said and the biggest criticism that can be made of the Regulations is their effect upon youth. When my hon. Friends and I come up from South Wales on Monday mornings from Bridgend, Talbot, Cardiff or Newport, they see a steady stream of young people coming from these areas up to London or to other large cities. I wish that they were all people of mature age, but they are not. A lady who makes it her business to follow the lives of some of the young girls who come from South Wales to London horrified me with stories that she recounted to me from her experience. I do not charge the Ministry of Labour with this—[Laughter.] The man who laughs at this point is a bit of a fool. If hon. Members listen, they will see how foolish the laughter was. I do not charge the Ministry of Labour with this because I know that when they bring young girls up they do their best to look after them. But we see girls of 14 and 15 and less driven to London, taken into houses which are doing nothing else but exploit them. I heard stories of girls who have no other place and have lived nowhere else but the kitchen for three years. They have not had a place to put their small belongings, not even a cupboard. Some of them have had to barricade their doors at night. These are children, school children almost, driven here by the effect of these Regulations, or others like them. Poverty is making the parents drive them somewhere to earn a few shillings to keep the home going. We are creating a social problem in some areas of the magnitude of which hon. Members opposite, with all their good will, have not a glimmering. I am not exaggerating. I hope the hon. and gallant Member for West Dorset (Major Colfox) will spare me that grin.
As the hon. Member appears to have referred to me, I should like to be allowed to interrupt him to say to him that I am not so much amused at the tragedy which he is relating but at himself, because I can tell him that he is an extremely comic figure.
I do my best to present a case for people who are not able to present it themselves. If in my concern for these people I am tempted to exaggerate, a little exaggeration in such a case is justified. What is going to be the effect of these Regulations in these areas? You insist on this means test and as sure as you do it—though I know the Minister would not like it to be the consequence, I tell him it will inevitably be the consequence—he will drive further forward this most distressing social consequence which many of us know to be taking place. Last Saturday I heard a working-class woman make a speech at Cardiff. She made a better speech than I could ever hope to make, for she told her own story. She said that she had a neighbour who had a sick daughter among a number of children. The doctor had told her, "Take your child up to the top of the mountain for fresh air, and when she comes down give her eggs and milk." What was the reply? The woman said: "I can't do it. If I give this one eggs and milk, the younger one will want the same, and I can't afford it." That is a human story, a story of happenings in a working-class home, under existing conditions. She told us of a young man of her acquaintance who moved from one house in a street to a house at another point in the same street, to avoid placing a burden upon his family. You accuse us of breaking up the family; I tell the Government that there has been no influence in South Wales for half a century so menacing to family life as the influence of the Regulations that have been in operation for the last year or so, and that will be in operation for the next 18 months.
We are told even that lodgers who enjoy an income beyond a certain figure ought to contribute to the home to which they happen to be attached. Why should John Smith, who is entirely unrelated to Jones, but may be a lodger in Jones's home, and who enjoys an income beyond a certain figure, be called upon to pay a contribution beyond what he would normally pay a lodger to the maintenance of that home? I ask hon. Members this: How would the landlords of this country like to be called upon to make a contribution to agriculture, merely because they happen to belong to the agricultural household? That is the sort of conception that these Regulations have of what is fit and proper to fall upon these people in these homesteads.
I want to make one further observation. I hope hon. Members will forgive me for making it, but I do so upon my own responsibility entirely. I commit nobody here. We are busy with armaments. Who knows—God protect us from it—whether, perhaps in less time than most of us anticipate, this State to which we belong may be in danger, and the Government will turn to these young men and say: "The State is in danger, in perplexity; come to its aid." If those young men turn to the State and say: "When I was anhungered, did you give me bread? When I was thirsty, did you give me drink?" When my people suffered, did you come to their aid?" What has the State to say? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes, we did."] What has the State to say to the young man who has been driven from his home so as not unduly to burden his parents? What answer has the State to give? What claim have you upon him? Have you any right to appeal to him? You have destroyed in him, by these Regulations, the very ground upon which you might have made a personal appeal to him.
Hon. Members on this side of the House hold the Minister responsible. We have told him quite plainly. I hope he does not misunderstand the situation. To-morrow night we shall be beaten, I know, in the Lobbies, by people who enjoy privileges without a means test, who enjoy benefits without a means test being applied to them, and who now, by the approval and dictation of this House—young men who have never been called upon to make a contribution to their own home—will vote to-morrow night to make other young men make contributions to their homes. Never a sacrifice have they personally made; never have they been called upon to make any financial contribution, because of their fortunate circumstances. The hon. Member need not hold his head so high; he knows it is a fact. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is not here!"]
After all, the vast majority of this House—there are exceptions, of course—the vast majority of young men in this House have come here straight from the nursery, without having done a day's work or made a contribution to the family income; indeed, the family income has made a contribution to them; but tomorrow night they will troop into the Lobby to vote that other people's sons shall go through and do what they themselves have not been called upon to do. They must not complain if people draw distinctions between class and class; they must not forget that we live in days when men draw their own conclusions from facts that they see. I warn the right hon. Gentleman and the Government that, though we are beaten to-morrow night in the Division Lobby, the fight against these Regulations must go on, for we cannot accept the standardisation of these benefits and the placing of them permanently upon the shoulders of our people. We shall carry on this fight, and in the long run right will triumph over wrong, and those who do the work of this country will enter into their share of the recompense.
On a point of Order. I want to ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker, with regard to the question of procedure. I understand that, if a semi-official Member or back-bencher on the Government side replies, that is practically answering all those who have taken part in this discussion. I am anxious to know from you whether, if others take part in the discussion, as they are entitled to do, after another speaker has spoken, we shall have any reply from the Government benches, or will a semi-official Member be put up to answer? I am asking your guidance, but I consider that it is absolutely out of Order practically to close to-day's discussion when the vast majority of us have put in 15 hours yesterday and to-day waiting to get in, and we shall determine, on your decision, how we shall act to-night to see that we get the opportunity to make our point of view known, on account of the long time we have been waiting.
Dealing with the last point that the hon. Member has raised, he is not the only Member who has been waiting all day. With regard to the question of procedure, it must be remembered that this is a three days' Debate, and it is not by any means necessary that the Debate should be wound up at the end of each day.
Would it be in order to ask the spokesman of the Government whether the hon. Member who rose to reply will be replying for the Government, or whether he will be expressing his own opinion?
I should like to take exception to the reproof given to my hon. Friend. He sat here all day yesterday and to-day. Very many have got into the Debate who did not sit yesterday, and did not sit very much to-day.
However much we on this side might be disposed to disagree with the hon. Gentleman who spoke last, we are all, who have known him for some years, ready to make allowances for the heat which he himself will agree he introduced into his speech. Some of us who know the Special Areas and know the conditions under which he has lived for most of his life have been tempted at times to despair at the problem that they present; therefore we forgive him any heat. I hope hon. Members will give us credit on this side, who have sat through two days of this Debate, that we honestly believe in supporting these Regulations we are doing the best we can for the able-bodied unemployed. Those who have sat through the Debate will agree that, in spite of the advertisement that it has received, it has not in any way affected the heroics which have been spoken in certain places outside. The hon. Gentleman did not mention the meeting at which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) was present when it was suggested that every Labour Member might resign his seat and fight a by-election in protest. No doubt, he did not mention it because, in fact, the proposal has been discarded and the much more drastic action taken of holding a Sunday open-air meeting.
The attack that has been delivered from the Opposition benches has in the main developed along two lines. There has been a general attack upon the scale rate, and they have labelled that rate as totally inadequate. The second line of attack, which has been repeated time and again, and in particular by the hon. Gentleman, is that the principle of the means test must go. Those speeches could have been made with more conviction if only hon. Members had been able to conceal some of their own record on the subject. I do not want to be provocative. [Interruption.] If hon. Members want it I can be. I did not interrupt hon. Gentlemen opposite. The question of the principle of the means test is very important. It influences every by-election, and it certainly will play a great part in the next election, whenever that may come. So I think it is important, both from the point of view of this House and of the country, that people should be absolutely certain exactly what is the attitude of each party in this House with regard to the means test. Let me put the case of this side of the House absolutely and categorically. Directly we introduced and passed—[Interruption.] Surely I can interpret at any rate the Act of Parliament for which I voted.
I do not think that hon. Gentlemen opposite will quarrel with what I am going to say. Directly we passed the 1934 Act through the House of Commons we were committed as a party not only to bring in the present Regulations, but to the fact that they should contain the household means test. We stand by that. We have produced the Regulations, and they maintain the principle of the household means test. That is our position, and I am anxious that the position of hon. Gentlemen opposite should be cleared up. There seems to be some doubt about their position, and lately there has been a fundamental change in their attitude towards the Means Test. I hold in my hand—and this will be within the recollection of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) and other members of the I.L.P.—an account of the proceedings of the Labour Party Conference in 1931, when the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) was moving a resolution which called for the improvement of the case of people on Unemployment Benefit. At that time the members of the I.L.P. moved an amendment, to which I hope hon. Gentlemen opposite will give attention, and in particular moved to put in these words:
It pledges the Labour party to raise the benefits to the scale endorsed by the party before the last Election and to abolish the means test for those on Transitional Benefit.
The same hon. Gentlemen sitting on those benches who voted to defeat the amendment of the I.L.P. are now clamouring for the abolition of the Means Test.
If the hon. Gentleman desires it, I will. I have it here. It is:
This Conference reaffirms the long-established principle of Labour policy that
proper provision for the unemployed is a social duty and should be treated as a national responsibility. It protests against the recent reduction of rates of unemployment benefit, the increase of contributions, and the introduction of Poor Law Tests and Poor Law machinery into the administration of Unemployment Insurance.
I thought the Noble Lord was not giving way. That was why I wanted to ask a question. There are several ways of getting information. Did not the Resolution which was moved by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), the manner in which it was moved, and the way in which it was couched, state the policy of the Labour party, which was work or maintenance?
I do not think that I need embark upon that matter now. I shall talk of work or maintenance in a few minutes. The point is, that hon. Members who now sit below the Gangway opposite moved an Amendment to abolish the means test for transitional payment and it was refused by hon. Members opposite.
On a point of Order. The hon. Member has by implication made a charge against us on this side of the House. It is not simply that he has made the charge on his own account, but he has produced a document to back up his charge. He knows that the means test against which objection is made was passed by hon. Members on the other side of the House and not by hon. Members on this side; therefore it is against his own party.
I am not sure that a good many of the members of the Labour party agree with that view, and the Country wants to know the position of the Labour party in this respect. I hope that before the debate finishes the leader of the Labour Opposition, or whoever speaks to-morrow will tell us exactly whether they stand for an individual means test or for no means test. I am not going to quote from speeches but I will quote from two written statements of hon. Members opposite, on this subject. The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), writing in the "Yorkshire Post" last November, said:
The Labour party stand for the entire abolition of the test.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) said that when the Labour party come to power.
they will abolish the means test: Labour will give either work or proper maintenance, free from investigation of the private affairs of the unemployed.
I hope that if the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street speaks to-morrow he will tell us how you can arrive at what is proper maintenance if you have no idea of the needs of individuals and the resources they have.
I accept that as the view of the Labour party. It is clear that whereas five years ago they refused to consider an amendment of the Independent Labour party to abolish the means test, they have now changed their mind [Interruption]. I believe it to be perfectly true of our people that if an unemployed man falls out of the insurance and comes on to public assist- ance and has therefore to be kept at the public charge they realise that in such a case information as regards resources is essential. I believe it to be equally true that the family instinct and pride of the working people of this country is extremely strong, and that they do not wish to be relieved of their proper family responsibilities [Interruption].
Family instinct and family pride in this country are very strong and there is no one who wishes to be relieved of proper family responsibilities. Hon. Members opposite have criticised the scales of relief. Obviously every item in the scale is a proper matter for debate, and the only deduction we can draw from the sweeping condemnation of hon. Members opposite is that if they were in power the rates of assistance would be very much higher.
I hope that I am not unreasonable in my statement of the case. The scales of assistance paid by different authorities throughout the country vary, and have been compared with the scales in the Regulations. They have been compared with the rates which the Unemployment Assistance Board will pay. I have here the Glasgow scale. If the two scales are compared it will be found that in the case of a man and wife with no resources the payments are equal, and that if they have resources the Glasgow scale is better by 2s. The other case in which the Glasgow scale is more favourable is that of the child between 17 and 21, to whom Glasgow gives 10s. and the Board 8s. On the whole range between 5 and 17 years of age the Board's scale is higher.
Is it not the case that in all the assessment's given, as compared between glasgow and the Regulations, in only two cases in the Board's scale higher than that of Glasgow? For a man or woman in lodgings the Glasgow scale is higher than that in the Regulations.
If the hon. Member had allowed me to continue I would have come to that. The scales are—for a child between 5 and 8, Glasgow 3s.; the Board 3s. 6d.; a child 8 to 11, 3s. and 4s.; a child 11 to 14, 3s. and 4s. 6d.; a child 14 to 16, 3s. and 6s.; and a child 16 to 17, 5s. 6d. and 8s. I grant the hon. Member's point that for a single man living in lodgings the Glasgow practice is to give 17s., whereas the Board give 15s., with discretion. If hon. Members will look at the Regulations they will find that in the case of a man and wife with two children the level of assistance is higher than the insurance benefit. That is deliberate in the case of a man and wife with more than two children and no resources, but hon. Members will notice that the margin between assistance and insurance benefit is very narrow in many cases. If you make a general policy of raising the scale by 3s. or 4s. you are inevitably going to undermine the whole of your insurance.
That point was put last night by the Minister of Health. Does the hon. Member realise the implication, that if the local authorities pay higher scales of public assistance than the benefit rates, which is the accusation he is making, then the rates of all local authorities in Great Britain will have to be raised to pay an additional amount to every person on insurance benefit that is, 1,750,000 persons, and that therefore the rates of benefit will be ruined in a fortnight?
The other observation I wish to make concerns wages. It is true that here we are giving assistance to the unemployed, but the working man has to be thought of as well. I hold that it would be absolutely wrong for the Government to put forward such a level of assistance that it would either discourage a man from taking work or tempt him to leave work and live on the public charge. Yesterday I heard an hon. Member opposite say that wages are too low, and ask why they cannot be raised. I hope hon. Members opposite are not suggesting that the Government should use the general level of unemployment assistance as an instrument with which artificially to raise wages. I can imagine no more irresponsible proposal than that the Government should dislocate the whole of the industrial machinery by doing that. There are one or two points of detail I would like to mention, and here I will turn my attention to the smaller and more select band of hon. Members below the gangway opposite. The House will be interested to see on the Order Paper an Amendment down in the names of hon. Members below the Gangway opposite, and I think for the first time—certainly in their Parliamentary experience—they have committed themselves on paper to certain rates of assistance for which they would vote in the Division Lobby.
Well, it has been done before then. I was particularly interested to find that for the rate of 16s. 0d. proposed by the Board for a single male lodger, they moved that 17s. 0d. should be substituted.
I will give way in a moment. I do not intend to make a political point of this, because I know the hon. Gentlemen made a mistake. We cannot amend the Regulations, but the hon. Gentlemen are in the privileged position of being able to amend their own Amendment. All I will say on this point is that when this class of men in the constituency of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) read that the only difference between this wicked capitalist society in which we live and the great new world which is going to be built up by the hon. Member for Bridgeton was represented by 1s. 0d. a week, they must have suffered such disillusionment.
I am amazed at the Noble Lord. I would point out that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer once made a mistake about figures, which I corrected, I did not talk about how I had corrected the Chancellor. We simply wrote 17s. 0d. instead of 20s. 0d. by mistake. Has the noble Lord got it now? If that is all the noble Lords of Scotland can get, God help them.
I accept the hon. Member's statement that it was a mistake, and I am glad to think his constituents will be relieved. I want to mention one or two points that were raised by hon. Gentlemen opposite because I agree with them that these Regulations must be judged not by what is said in this House, but by how they are applied later. I should not vote for them unless I thought that they brought considerable advantages to the people in industrial districts, for one of which I sit. I want to mention the household test, the earnings rule, and the question of rent. When the standstill was introduced people felt that many people were drawn into the household and asked to contribute who really could not be supposed to have any real responsibility for the applicants' welfare. All these relatives have now been taken out of the family circle. The same is true of married sons and daughters, who will now be responsible only for their own dependants, except in exceptional cases. The earnings rule has been improved in respect of young unmarried sons. Many people felt that under the last regulations the sum left for these young men from their wages for their personal use was not enough. I have a table here showing the actual advantages gained by an unmarried son in a household.
The biggest hardship in industrial Scotland was caused by the super-cut taken together with the rent rule. A feature of industrial Scotland is large families in areas with very low rent charges. There might be a large family with a large determination of 50s. or 60s. who could have suffered cuts of 1s. in respect of each child over five and anything up to 8s. in respect of the difference between their actual rents and the basic rent. Therefore, there was sometimes a cut of 13s. or more in respect of these two factors alone. I hold that that would have been an intolerable and impossible position. The super-cut has now gone and proper elasticity has been introduced in regard to rent. The Board in dealing with rent have used the only possible method and one that was dictated by common sense. The method which the Board will adopt is to call in the Local Advisory Committee consisting of people who know the local conditions, and ask them to say what flexibility should be introduced into the normal rule in order to cover the exceptional case. In reference to one point which was put by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) I would say that in the case of an individual in exceptional circumstances there is nothing in the Regulations to prevent the Board from making allowance for the whole of the rent payment. I support the Regulations because I feel, first, that this time there has been thorough preparation, secondly because the administration by the Board in the earlier months has been characterised by a very human spirit and by a spirit of understanding and thirdly, because I know, from my own knowledge of peop