Orders of the Day — Supply.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 6th July 1937.

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Photo of Mr Jack Lawson Mr Jack Lawson , Chester-le-Street

When we were interrupted I was dealing with the amount of the cost of administration of the Unemployment Assistance Board. I think it is more than a mere debating point and that it is of the deepest import to this Committee that the matter should receive serious attention. I think my figures are quite sound. They are based upon what are the estimates as compared with the figures for 1930–31, when the administration of something like 900,000 transition people cost just over £1,000,000, and now fewer than 600,000 are costing £5,000,000 for administration alone. When one considers that we have duplicated the machinery and that the Ministry of Labour still stands, and when we remember all that the right hon. Gentleman said about the machinery, about the skilled men who do the work in the Department, and about the managers who take some part in the social life of each area—I would confirm all that he said on that score—it will be seen how important the question is. I have never seen why the Ministry of Labour with its own staff should not have continued to be responsible for the welfare of these long-term unemployed. I think an examination of the facts will underline my view that this House and the country at a moment of economic crisis were stampeded into doing something which, on closer and calmer investigation, will not hold water.

I do not want to take up too much time, because there are many other hon. Members in all parts of the House who want to speak, but I would like to say that the cost of living matter which was raised by the Minister is not merely a matter for the new committee that has been set up. We are very pleased that that committee has been set up, as there was need for a re-examination of the whole of the factors, but I think something more pressing is needed. I took some pains to get out some figures in an area like my own, last week-end. I have never been satisfied with o. this or o. that, which does not convey much. It is all right as an approximate measure, but in dealing with human things it does not give you a true estimate. I find in my own neighbourhood that since 1934 bacon has increased by 3d. per lb. and butter by 2·d., but, worst of all, flour has increased from 1s. 1d. to 2s. 3¼d. per stone. The cost of flour is a very important item, and it has doubled in the North, where we still bake our own bread, particularly in some of the poorer areas, because they find they can get more out of the flour than they can by buying bread by the loaf. Think what a tremendous thing it means that the cost of flour since 1934 has been doubled. Is there not there a reason for re-examining these scales of payment to the unemployed who are the hardest hit and who have to live very meagrely? If substantial commodities of this kind have gone up in that way, there is really need for something more pressing than merely waiting for the report of a committee that, after all, deals only with the factors that make up the cost of living.

There are naturally many other items on which one wanted to speak. My hon. Friends from Durham will deal with a very important document that has been sent out by the Durham County Council—and I think most of the depressed areas are in the same position—in which they take exception to the number of people left out of the calculation instead of being provided for by the Unemployment Assistance Board. While the right hon. Gentleman dealt with the whole of his Department—and I was very pleased that he should have had that opportunity—the outstanding thing about his speech, as will be seen particularly in a year or two, was the complete absence of a policy to deal with a state of things which every sensible person in this Committee and in the country knows will prevail once this £1,500,000,000 is spent. We are coming to a time when there will be an increase of unemployment, and in the light of that I think the Government should be severely surveying the whole situation, in order to do public works on the same generous scale as they are doing these other works for munition purposes.