Considered in Committee.
[Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]
Clause 1—(Power To Make Orders Council For Effecting Certain Economies)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 8, to leave out from the word "Act" to the word "make" in line 11.This Amendment will have this effect of omitting the reference in the Clause to the remuneration paid to members of His Majesty's Army and Navy. There have been previous discussions in regard to the contractual obligations as between the Government and the men in the fighting services, and it is a matter for extreme regret, which must be shared by all sections of the Committee, that it was necessary for something like direct action to be taken by the men of the senior service before any real considera- tion was given to their case. As one who has enjoyed a somewhat happy connection with that Service I regret, the occurrence extremely and also that it was allowed to develop to such an extent before the Government thought fit to take any action. Two questions arise in regard to this matter. The first is, how far this proposal is consistent with the pledge given by the last Government and by previous Governments in which right hon. Members now sitting on the Treasury Bench were directly concerned. The other point is as to what might he the probable effect on the Service. We have had something of an answer already in the second question. With regard to the first, there has been some questioning as to the action taken by the preceding Government, and by the political representative at the Admiralty, in regard to this particular proposal. I am not in a position to know what happened in the Cabinet and I am not concerned very much as to the discussions which took place, what I am concerned with is the plain issue before us. It is within my own knowledge, and will be confirmed by right hon. Gentlemen opposite, that a very strong protest was made by the Admiralty as to possible happenings should the Government decide to proceed along the lines of the proposed cuts. Unfortunately, those prognostications were borne out by subsequent events. The Jerram Report of 1919 laid down certain scales of pay for the men of the lower deck, and ever since then, whatever Government has been in office, they have pledged themselves that under no circumstances would there be any departure from the scales of pay so laid down. So much was this the case that in 1924 the representative of the Admiralty in this House stated:
That is a specific statement, and was accepted by the House at the time as a pledge, an agreement, with the men of the Service. During the General Election which took place at the end of that year a message was sent out from the Unionist headquarters in reply to the allegation which they said had been spread by the Socialist candidates, that the Unionist Government intended to reduce the pay of sailors and soldiers. May I say that the allegation was absolutely without foundation so far as Labour candidates were concerned, but the Unionist headquarters sent out a leaflet in which they stated that the statement was utterly without foundation and that they would stand by the terms of the Jerram Committee's Report? The hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, North (Sir B. Falle), will remember that a message was sent to him from Unionist headquarters which he circularised in his constituency. That message stated that:"It is the intention that ratings now serving shall continue to receive substantive pay at the Jerram Committee rates during the whole period of their continuous service."—[OFFUNAL REPORT, 29th May, 1924; col. 622, Vol. 174.]
"It would be a breach of contract to reduce the pay of men now serving in the fighting services, and it is absolutely untrue that the Unionist party would make any attempt to do so."
There can be no question as to the actual commitment of this House by Ministers in the former Labour Government and in the former Tory Administration, and, although there is now a National Government, it must be remembered that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer were at the head of the Labour Government in 1924 when a pledge was definitely given in this House. To make it still more binding Mr. Bridgeman, as he then was, First Lord of the Admiralty, in 1925 made a very definite statement reaffirming the decision which had already been arrived at. That is the case so far as the men are concerned. There are one or two other matters which arise. I do not pretend to have any knowledge as to what happened in Cabinet circles, but it is within my recollection that a statement was sent to the sub-committee of the Cabinet from the Admiralty to the effect that any attempt to implement the proposed changes would possibly be attended with grave disaster in the Navy and might impair the efficiency of the Navy.Surely statements like that from responsible persons cannot be treated lightly. Apart altogether from the pledges to which I have referred, one has to give very serious consideration to the ignoring of advice given by persons in responsible positions in such circumstances. I suggest that the reduction in Naval pay insisted upon was the prime cause of the trouble that broke out at Invergordon some days ago; also that the very means by which it was implemented, without any consultation with the men or with those concerned was bound to have a detrimental effect and to be adversely received, particularly when one bears in mind that the Government seem to have adopted differentiation as regards sanctity of contract when they are concerned with financial interests and when they are concerned with those whose bread and butter are dependent on their pay. Nothing has been more strikingly evident in the last few days than, the wide differentiation that the Government make in this way. In proposing this Amendment, I still hope that the Government will go even a step further than that announced by the Prime Minister yesterday, from which I gathered that a decision has been arrived at not to proceed to the full extent with the reductions in the defence Services, except among the higher ranks of commissioned officers. It would be well to be quite clear as to what is meant by a statement such as that, because play was made last Thursday by the Prime Minister, in answer to a question, with the fact that the whole of the remuneration of Naval ratings is not expressed in terms of cash, but that there are other things to be taken into consideration. The protest has been made that the proposed cut runs in some cases to no less than 25 per cent., and in other cases to nearly 30 per cent. of the cash payment given to the lower ratings. I hope that there will be a very clear and specific answer given to us. Is the proposed reduction to have relation only to the cash payments, or does it include other terms of remuneration? Has it anything to do with kit upkeep allowance and so forth? No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will give us a very clear statement with regard to that. One other point is this: There should be some word said with regard to the position of the officers, although of course the proposal does not bear nearly so hardly on them as on the men concerned. [Interruption.] It cannot bear so hardly because the one is concerned with necessities and the other has a margin over and above necessities. There does seem to be some differentiation of treatment between the Naval officer, particularly the married Naval officer, and those in the Army or Royal Air Force. I do not wish to set up any feeling of rivalry, but I want to know whether there is any essential difference in the cut proposed with respect to these two grades of officers. I conclude by recapitulating the two main points of the arguments that I have tried to put before the Committee. The first is that the proposed cuts are inconsistent with the pledges given publicly by previous Governments, and that they are hound to have some effect on the service. When it is said, as it may be said, that this sort of thing has to be done because of financial stringency, that seems to me to set up a rather dangerous argument, namely, that all contractual obligations can be set aside on the ground of financial stringency, which is to be determined by some person along certain lines. I suggest that that is dangerous and that it might be carried out in other quarters and by other people at same other time. The other thing is that it is all nonsense to talk about equality of sacrifice, of equity of treatment, when we make a 25 per cent. cut in the case of a person receiving 3s. or 4s. a, day and 10 per cent. in the case of persons who are in receipt of very much larger emoluments. You cannot arrive at any equitable treatment along those lines. Here the extraordinary thing is that the men who are in receipt of the lowest payment are those who are to have the largest percentage cut made in their pay. That cannot surely be justified on any ground. It seems that in what has been done there has been no real thought in the matter, but simply a wide kind of generalisation as to how the axe might fall and the amount of harm that it might do to individuals concerned. I hope that even now the First Lord will be in a position to tell the Committee that after reconsideration he is prepared to stand by the pledges given by his colleagues and by himself as a member of a former Government, that there will be no departure from the terms laid down by the Jerram Committee, and that he will have taken warning by the serious disturbances that took place in His Majesty's ships at Invergordon—a matter practically without precedent. Certainly since the days of the munity at the Nore we have had nothing like it, and it must be deprecated by every one who has any pride in the Service and sees the possible dangers of such things. If such things happen once, they might happen again, and might happen in different circumstances. Such things are to he deplored. The Government cannot escape responsibility. In fact one of the very first results of their attempts at so-called economy was to produce trouble which undoubtedly had the effect of setting the exchanges against us in the rest of the world and bringing about, perhaps much more rapidly than would otherwise have been the case, the calamity for which we had to pass emergency legislation yesterday. That is the case that I present to the Committee in support of the Amendment and I trust that hon. Members opposite who have not wholly lost sight of the pledges that have been given in their name in days gone by, or of the fact that they have always claimed for themselves the special prerogative of being the defenders of the fighting services, will now see that an opportunity presents itself to stand by their pledges when the call comes to the Division Lobby.
My name is on the Paper in support of this Amendment. The case as it presents itself to my mind is that the Government, in an attempt to effect an economy, did not hesitate to break a contract, that all that followed was the result of the indignation felt by the men in the Navy because the Government had not hesitated to break their word, and that the men in the Navy felt justified in replying to that action in the only possible way in which they could have behaved in the circumstances. We must bear in mind, in dealing with a service of this character, that the normal machinery for enforcing a contract is practically nonexistent. It was to be anticipated that the action taken by the Government would create widespread disaffection amongst men who have no other alternative to the method that they have adopted in expressing their views relative to the breaking of this contract.I am a little bit concerned respecting this new line of policy, and I am not at all sure that, unless there is some clear understanding that it is to end with this very unfortunate experiment, the Government in their desire to effect all-round economies or to get themselves out of difficulties at the expense of the services, may not be tempted to extend that policy to other people also in the employ of the Government. It is obvious that in circumstances such as the present, when the Government make an attempt at recovery by first of all hitting those members of the community who can least afford it, they must not expect the victims of such dictatorial economy to be too meticulous as to the method of their reply. Here was a contract entered into by the men when they entered the service. It was a contract which they had a perfect right to expect the Government to honour, but it was ruthlessly set aside without, so far as we can understand, any consultation through any machinery which would effect the lower ratings. There may have been approaches made to men in high command, and I understand that what in common parlance we describe as "feelers," were sent out. 5.0 p.m. We know that it is the fact I am not going to express my regrets regarding the methods of the men's reply, but the total result is lamentable to everybody in this House and outside. The country has lost far more on this futile attempt at economy than it could possibly have gained, and now the Government are in the process of beating a rather ignomiuious retreat and seeking to effect their object by the methods of compromise. In these days of negotiated agreements one would have expected that they would have taken the ordinary legitimate steps of making approaches through either improvised or existing machinery to see what the attitude of the men would be toward economies of this character. This Committee is entitled to ask the spokesmen of the Government what they propose to do. I read into the speeches delivered a day or two ago, that while the Government are prepared to overlook this act, any repetition of it will be dealt with by the ordinary methods of discipline. I know what such a suggestion would mean in civil life, and I imagine that it is not difficult to guess what was meant by the spokesman of the Government when he uttered that warning as to future action. No one here, as far as I know, wishes to see the relations between the Government and its servants established as the result of revolt. On the other hand, we are not going to tolerate a situation in which terms of service are dictated. I see no reason why machinery should not be established on behalf of the men in this service as it is on behalf of the ordinary employ és in a Government establishment. I would like to know whether we have seen the end of this experimenting. If this experiment had succeeded to the extent desired by the Government I am not sure that we might not have had an extension of it to ordinary departments and workshops of the Government. It might as well be said here, where perhaps it will be heard at a greater distance than if it were said outside, that those of us who represent trade unions in connection with those services, will tolerate no such dictation as we have witnessed in the circumstances already described. Whatever economies may be proposed, these we expect will be negotiated through the proper and ordinary machinery. We expect that we shall get time to look at such proposals instead of being called upon to deal with them as though we were living in an atmosphere of crisis in which everything was going to topple about our ears. Sane, wise statesmanship would have gone beyond the mere sending out of feelers in this matter. But the Government ignored warnings and stupidly went on to receive an adverse advertisement the world over, which has more than negatived, in actual cash value, the total economies effected at the price of the sacrifices made by these men. I sincerely hope that the Government representatives will give us an assurance that this sort of thing is going to end, and that whatever difficulties we may have to face, we shall face them by treating those who are called upon to make sacrifices, as being equally worthy of consideration, even with the Government making such proposals.
Without detaining the Committee for long I wish to make some reference to these cuts as they affect the Service to which I belong. I cannot possibly support the Amendment. Everybody in the House of Commons and in the country realises the necessity for these economies and the necessity for spreading them as evenly as possibly over the community, and it is well understood that the necessity arises to a large extent from extravagance of the late Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Whatever hon. Members opposite may say here, the country outside is quite alive to that fact. It is significant that this Amendment was moved by the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) and not by the right hon. Gentleman who was until recently First Lord of the Admiralty, whose name is attached to it on the Paper. It would have been interesting to have heard the views of the right hon. Gentleman, and indeed I hope we shall hear his views before the close of the Debate. With his well-known and oft expressed love for the Navy, over which he so happily ruled for over two years, he must have given careful and anxious consideration to these cuts and he expressed his provisional approval of them, not in their present reduced form, it is obvious, but in the more stringent form in which they were originally proposed.It ought to be made clear that the increased rates of pay which were granted to the officers and men of the Navy were not so much increases due to the cost of living, as increases which put the rates of pay of the Navy on a fair and equitable basis. Those rates were certainly not upon such a basis before the War or in the early days of the War. Nobody can contend that either the officers or the men of the Navy were properly paid, before 1914. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy), with whom, unfortunately, I am not often in agreement, will, I am sure, support me in saying that we know from our personal experience, not only as regards ourselves but as regards many of our brother officers with whom we lived and served, that the pay of both officers and men was scandalously low before the War. It was not until the Great War came and the national conscience was aroused that these rates were increased to a reasonable living wage. I do not think that anybody in the Service would contend that there might not be necessity for alteration in the rates of pay, and I think, perhaps, that the unpleasantness which took place recently in the Atlantic Fleet, and to which I have no desire to refer further, was due to the fact that the men did not understand what the new rates were going to be, or what their incidence was going to be. [Interruption.] The hon. Member opposite will concede that I may perhaps know rather more about the mind of the sailor than he does. The reduction which the Government has seen fit to, make in the amount of these cuts will be a matter of great satisfaction throughout the Service. It should be made clear that only the pre-1925 rates of pay are affected. One good thing has been achieved. We have done away with the anomaly, so bad for any Service, of two separate rates of pay existing side by-side in that Service. I wish to put in a special plea to my right hon. Friend the First Lord, for consideration of the officers and the petty officers. I hope that when considering-specially hard cases, that consideration will be extended to the instances of undoubted hardship and undoubted penury among officers and petty officers. The officers have been cut and cut again and they suffer under the disability of not having the marriage allowances which are paid to their confreres of the Army and Air Force. That, I believe to be an injustice as I have said before in the House of Commons. Although these cuts are necessary by reason of the National stringency and although I am sure that in the main the sacrifices called for will be willingly and cheerfully made by officers and men I hope there may be some assurance that when better times come for the country, as I hope and trust they will these sacrifices will be remembered and that some effort will be made to stabilise the pay of officers and men of the Navy on a just and equitable basis. I was much struck by something which was said recently by my Noble Friend the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) regarding the cost of living. I believe it is time that we did away with this nonsensical cost-of-living figure which means nothing, and which I believe to be the cause of an immense amount of trouble and misunderstanding and, I might almost say ill-feeling. Let us decide upon the rates of pay which are equitable for a particular service consistent with satisfaction to the members of that service and the capability of the public purse to pay them, both in good times and bad. If times are bad and if cuts have to be made let it be clear that they are emergency cuts and that when good times come again there will be some hope of restoring a rate of pay, which has been decided upon after going into all the details, and which gives satisfaction. To go back on the cost-of-living scale now would be a bad step. I think as I say that these cuts are necessary. One has to look at economy measures as a whole and not too much in detail. I know that no pledge of any kind can be given but I hope that we shall have some indication that consideration will be extended to the officers and men of the Fleet who are making these sacrifices. I was struck by a passage which I found on reading the Debate which took place in the House of Commons about 135 years ago on the occasion which has already been referred to by the hon. Member for North Camber- well—the occasion of the sad occurrences in the Fleet at Portsmouth and the Nore. In that Debate on 19th May, 1797, Mr. Sheridan used the following words which I commend not only to this Committee but to the country—feeling as I do that the country can rest assured, whatever may have happened recently, that there need be no fear about the loyalty of the King's Navy. These are the words:
"If ever man loved man, if ever one part of the people loved another, the people of this country love the seamen. The individuals of this House have ever loved the seamen, and in this respect have shown themselves the representatives of the people. Whatever has been at any period proposed in this House for the benefit of the seamen has been adopted almost with acclamation."
With the final remarks of the hon. And gallant Member for Epsom (Commander Southby), indeed with almost everything in his speech, I am sure that we on this side would agree. I begin by repeating what I said the other night, that there is not on this side any countenancing of indiscipline among men wearing the King's uniform. We may as well face the facts. We on this side—this party—hope to form a Government ourselves with a great mandate from the people in the near future. We may be a Government facing very difficult circumstances. I take, merely as an example, what has happened in other countries. It is possible that there might be something in the nature of a Fascist movement in this country. Suppose that I were responsible for this Department of the Government which we are now discussing, and I found that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr.Churchill), for instance, had led such a movement in Liverpool and had seized the town hall and disarmed the police. If no troops were available, I would not hesitate to send one of His Majesty's ships there and to detail a landing party to round them up. I would send a small gunboat, and they would do the job very well.But in those circumstances you might have some politically-minded officer in command of the little gunboat who might say, "This is a wicked Labour Government, and we are not going to obey their orders," and he might mislead his men, and when these men were dealt withunder the Articles of War, as they would be, they could plead speeches that might have been made, but I hope will never be made, from this side of the House, in defence of their disobedience. They must follow out the lawful commands of their officers, which commands can only be lawful if given on behalf of a Board of Admiralty responsible to an elected Parliament. If you were going to set up a dictatorship in this country and suspend the constitution, commands given in those circumstances would not be lawful commands, but as long as this House is a sovereign House and in the last resort can be appealed to in the case of injustice to the seamen, those seamen must obey the lawful commands of their officers. There is no misunderstanding on that point in regard to the official policy of this party. I will now refer to some much more recent history than that referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom. I was in command of a ship a few months before the War, when we had the troubles in Ulster, and some gallant senior officers of the Army so far forgot their oath of allegiance and their duty that they refused to obey the orders of the Government of the day.
I think the hon. and gallant Member is going beyond the scope of the Amendment.
I did not go back to the Nore, as this was only in 1913, and a movement was then started; an attempt was made to get the Navy to follow the example of those generals, and the overwhelming body of officers said, "No. We are here to do our duty, and it does not matter what the Government is." Most of them, nine-tenths of them, were, as was usually the case in those days, hide-bound Tories, but they were public servants first.
Did I understand the hon. and gallant Member to say that in 1913 there was a meeting of officers held to consider whether they would follow the Army? I was in the Fleet in 1913, and I would like to know where that meeting took place.
It took place at a certain hotel in Plymouth, and the hon. and gallant Member knows that quite well. He may not have been there. They may have thought that he had more sense than to be led away with such nonsense, but I was there, and though I did not speak, I absolutely agreed with the majority that there was no need to do anything except our duty. I do not want to go into this history any further, in view of your ruling, Sir Dennis, but as certain remarks have been made in various quarters about the Navy, it is as well to remind hon. and right hon. Members that other Services have had their troubles, too, and even more recently than 1913.
I think the hon. and gallant Member's memory is leading him astray with reference to the incidents in 1913. I think I can assure the Committee that no officer of His Majesty's Army on that occasion declined to carry out an order or questioned an order. What really occurred was that many officers tendered their resignations sooner than carry out a duty which they felt to be inconsistent with their conscience.
On a point of Order. May I ask whether private soldiers would be allowed to tender their resignations in similar circumstances?
That is not a point of Order, and the bon. Member knows it.
I of course accept the correction of the hon. Member for Henley (Captain R. Henderson) which will serve quite well. May I address myself first to the Financial Secretary to the War Office and to the Under-Secretary of State for Air? We know from the newspapers and from statements made by the First Lord of the Admiralty in this House that very exhaustive inquiries are being made into the conditions of the lower ratings in the Navy, and that the officers, as is the custom, are helping the men in every way to present their case, which the Board of Admiralty will presently examine on the report of the Port Admirals. May I ask the two Ministers to whom I have referred whether similar inquiries are being made with regard to the soldiers and airmen in the two Services for which they answer in this House; whether, in other words, the same care is being taken to examine the hard cases in the two sister Services as is being done in the case of the Royal Navy?I want now to refer to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom. With all that he said about marriage allowances and the under-payment of the officers and men of the Navy before the War we absolutely agree, but when he went on to say that these cuts were necessary, we on this side most profoundly disagreed. They were never necessary in any case.
You had already agreed to them.
The hon. Member must refrain himself. I am addressing the Committee, not anyone on our Front Bench. My right hon. Friend who was the First Lord in the late Government, as he knows quite well and as I know too, can always answer for himself. This whole policy of cutting down the pay of men with very narrow purses in an attempt to meet a world-wide economic situation is sheer madness. I put this to the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom, that he knows very well that the great trouble to-day is a superabundance of goods everywhere in this country, and—
The hon. and gallant Member cannot discuss the general economic position on this Amendment.
I will leave that at once, but I think I am in order in saying that since the Debates that we had last week, in which we exposed the folly of this whole policy, a new event has happened, and that was the event of yesterday, which has had a profound effect on the Debate to-day. The whole basis on which this Cabinet was formed, the whole basis on which members of the Conservative party are now following the leadership of a Socialist Prime Minister, the whole basis on which we changed seats in this House, the whole excuse for it, the whole apologia, has gone. We were told that if these immense sacrifices were made, these hard, grinding sacrifices by soldiers, airmen, and naval ratings, the pound sterling would be saved at its gold parity value. That has gone. We know now that there will be a slight rise in the cost of living, and this affects tremendously the decision that the Committee will have to take when we go to a division. I am sorry that some very alarming statements were made on the wireless last night by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, such as, "Do not hoard food," "Do not do this," and so on.
I must again remind the hon. and gallant Member that that has nothing whatever to do with this Amendment.
On a point of Order. Some of us are anxious to take part in the subsequent Debate. Last night, when an attempt was made, on the Bill then before the House, to discuss the Economy Bill, the Speaker said that that would be relevant in the discussion on the Economy Bill itself and that it would be competent on the Economy Bill in Committee to discuss those matters. Now we understand that you are limiting the discussion to the aspect of each particular Amendment, and are not allowing us to argue that the whole Economy Bill is not necessary.
The hon. Member at the conclusion of his remarks was perfectly right. I am confining the discussion on each Amendment to that particular Amendment, and it would not be my duty to let it go beyond that. If the hon. Member wishes to raise other matters, he will no doubt find another opportunity on some other Amendment, but hon. Members must keep to the particular Amendment before the Committee.
On a point of Order. It is essential in discussing this specific Amendment that Members should not be prevented, if you can see your way clear to allow this, from referring to general economic conditions which make cuts unnecessary. I should regard that, in view of Mr. Speaker's Ruling yesterday, as the right course to follow, and I hope, Sir Dennis, that you will permit that.
I am not sure how long the right hon. Gentleman has been here this afternoon.
I have been here the whole time.
I beg his pardon, but he will perhaps remember that I have already allowed a great many references to general conditions, and I intend to do so, but a reference to outside matters which might have a bearing upon the Amendment cannot be permitted to develop into a discussion of these outside matters.
I will not refer again to speeches on the wireless by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I do not want in any way to alarm people still further by pretending for a moment that the cost of living is going to shoot up. I do not believe that that, will happen, and it is wrong to frighten simple, honest people by ridiculous statements of that kind. There will be a rise, gradual and steady, in the cost of living. A great part of the Fleet is abroad, and so is a great part of the Air Force and the Army, in the case of Gibraltar, where the garrison and Fleet draw supplies from Spain. We are going off the Gold Standard, and a slight decrease in the value of the pound, though it will help our export trade, which is a good thing, will nevertheless mean that they will have to pay more for their food in pesetas, in the case of Gibraltar, and in Egyptian pounds, in the case of Egypt.Therefore, what happened yesterday has reinforced our protests against these cuts enormously. The cuts, which would have been felt very hardly indeed before, will now, owing to the failure of the Government and the collapse of their policy and the undermining of the very basis of their existence, be felt more hardly still, both at home and abroad, and especially in the case of men and officers with wives with them serving abroad. Obviously the pound is worth less, and their money is worth less, so that these cuts will fall on them with exceptional severity. Think of the Royal Air Force officers serving in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Naturally these cuts will fail on them with increased severity; and on top of that the men and officers of the Forces and those who may think of going into the Forces—because this is a matter that affects recruiting, which is not too good in the Army—must remember the propaganda which is going on in the country for tariffs, which will undoubtedly, if they are to be of any use at all, raise the cost of living here. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well then, they will be of no use.The late Lord Melchett, the greatest exponent of economics and a man of tremendous intellectual force, used to tell us frankly that unless these duties put up the cost of goods they would do no good. If there is any honour left in the Government, and if there is any backbone in the Conservative party, we are going into an election in the near future which will be fought among other issues on the tariff issue. All this affects the future of the recruits that you are hoping to attract to the Service; it affects the officers and men whose contracts you are breaking, and it reinforces our opposition to these cuts. I must address a few sentences to the First Lord. The other night on the Adjournment I asked him what he was going to do with regard to naval shipbuilding. It is absurd that in the present state of the country, when we are asking the able seamen, the private in the Marines and the younger ratings with all their difficulties in front of them, to face a 10 per cent. reduction, to go on building more ships to the tune of £26,600,000 which is the cost of the present building programme. It is ridiculous to go on with that, especially as we have a fine lot of splendid cruisers in reserve with many years of service in front of them, and of which, in the present financial situation, we should make use of instead of building new ships. I hold in my hand a, letter which I have received from a sea-going officer. It is one of the many letters I have had, and it is a most loyal and proper letter from a very fine officer in command of one of His Majesty's ships. I knew him as a midshipman and afterwards. I shall be glad if the First Lord will look at it. It was written before the trouble, and he has had no trouble in his ship whatever. He says that the sacrifices undergone by the lower deck are necessarily greater than any suffered by the higher ranks, but even then the cuts would be swallowed by the most loyal set of men living if economics in the Navy were apparent. Gross scandals and extravagances continue, and the men cannot help seeing them. This officer points out that in each home port there is an admiral-superintendent and a Commander-in-Chief, and he asks why their duties are not combined? It is notorious that there are two flag officers at each home port, both living on shore and having considerable staffs. The men see these extravagances going on, and they see no efforts made to reduce them. Somebody will say that the last Government did not do very much. As a matter of fact, they did not, but whenever I criticised them, hon. Gentlemen opposite rallied to the support of the Labour First Lord, and the economists on this side—pacifists if you like—got no assistance. In referring to the trouble at Invergordon, this officer asks:
The Fleet used to go to Invergordon in the old days because, when we were preparing to fight the Germans, it was considered necessary that the Navy should train in the northern waters where they would have to fight their battles. They are still doing it in the same old antiquated manner in which the Board of Admiralty always acts. I am sorry to have to mention the next example because the officer concerned is one of the best in the Navy and this is not his fault at all. The Admiralty have initiated a new Admirals command of aircraft carriers. There are only two in commission, one being in China and the other at home. So you have one Admiral commanding a squadron of two ships. The extravagance and the waste of it is apparent to everyone, and, when you ask the men to take this terrible cut, they cannot help contrasting it with the lavish and useless expenditure that is going on. Why have post-captains in command of sloops and in command of divisions of destroyers? Many other economies are suggested by the officer who has written to me, and he refers particularly to the Admiralty staff, that huge army, mostly of civilians, which is nearly twice as big as it was before the War with the Navy at half the strength. Everyone in the Service knows that these things go on. The same thing applies to the Army with its great list of generals. It is getting like the Portuguese Army, nearly as many generals as privates. It is going on in the same old way with its mechanisation, more tanks, more armoured cars and so on. I sympathise with the Air Force, because they are weak in comparison with the other two Services. I do not attack this expendi- ture on modern machines. My attack on them is that they spend too much on barracks, hospitals and colleges, and duplicate with the other two Services. Before you cut down the wage of the me o, the flower of the race as they ought to be, in the three Services, cut out this unnecessary expenditure which does not add to their fighting efficiency and only makes the men discontented. The Board of Admiralty and the Army Council, like the present Cabinet, are out of touch with the real feelings of the country and the necessities of the present day world, and are unfitted for their job."Why send the Fleet to Invergordon at a cost of £70,000 when they could have done their exercises perfectly well at Portland?
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has made a very long, and, if I may say so, for the most part irrelevant speech on this Amendment. His speech is not wholly without interest, for it revealed one fact about the hon. and gallant Gentleman which I should never have suspected. It appears that in some early day in the long ago he was actually present at a meeting in a Plymouth hotel when he did not make a speech. Many of us will wish we had known him in those early days! The latter part of his speech was an attack upon the policy of the late Board of Admiralty. There was not a point with which he dealt which arises out of new action taken by the present Board, and I am sure that my predecessor, on some occasion more suited to the subject than the present, will be delighted to answer once again the arguments of the hon. and gallant Gentleman.I would reply to the more serious speech of the hon. Gentleman who was lately Financial Secretary to the Admiralty. The hon. and gallant Gentleman addressed some questions to me and some arguments to the Committee. I confess that I do not know for what purpose he sought to re-open the discussion which took place the other day as to exactly what happened in the time of the late Government. It is freely admitted on both sides by those in a position to know, that the Board of Admiralty were anxious about the effect of the economies that were proposed. It is equally well known that the late First Lord advised the Cabinet that, if they were part of the general measures of economy to meet the crisis, fairly applied as between class and class of the community, then he thought that the loyalty and patriotism of the men of the Navy would lead them to accept them. Our decision was exactly the same as the decision of the last Government when they were in office. They were prepared to make £56,000,000 of curs, which included the cuts which we subsequently announced in the pay of the officers and men of the three Services. That is a bit of plain history. There is no more wisdom on one side of the House than another. Before the final decision was announced, a change of Government had taken place, but there was in respect of these matters no change of policy.
Do I understand that the cuts as laid down by the present Government had been agreed to by the late Government?
If the Noble Lady had heard what the late First Lord and the Prime Minister said the other day, she would have known that that was so. I do not think that there is any dispute about these facts. The hon. and gallant Member, dealing with one point after another, ended up by warning us of the difficulty we should have in getting recruits if we cut their pay. There is no proposal to cut the pay of recruits. Men have been recruited at these cut rates of pay ever since 1925. There has been no difficulty in obtaining plenty of entrants, and fit entrants, for the Navy.
Hunger is the recruiting sergeant.
The rates are not in themselves unfair. It was not proposed to alter them, and it is not proposed to alter them—that is, the 1925 rates. What it was proposed to alter are the pre-1925 rates, in other words, the Jerram Committee rates, in respect of the men still drawing them. When the 1925 rates were adopted it was felt that, having regard to the circumstances of the time and the standard of life in all sections of the community, the Jerram rates were too high for the period, and they came to be revised. The Government at that time, and all succeeding Governments, were extremely reluctant to interfere with the rates of pay which men were already drawing, and, accordingly, when they adjusted the rates to the then conditions of life they did not apply the adjusted rates to the former entrants but only to all succeeding entrants. What we asked for now was that those men who had remained in a privileged position as compared with later entrants should consent to a cut which brought them on to the same level as exists to-day for the later entrants, and have proved by experience to be fair and sufficient rates for them.At first sight that does not seem unreasonable. There is nothing grossly unjust in appearance in such a thing as that when we are face to face with such a financial crisis and such necessity for saving as confronts the country and the Government at the present time. But when the proposed cuts were put forward, and representations began to come in from the men of the Fleet to their officers, I began to have some doubt whether the reduction to the 1925 level of the men who had enjoyed the earlier rates would work fairly. It is not a question of whether the rates are sufficient for a man in that standard of life. The hardship arises where a man, in the reasonable expectation of the continuance of certain emoluments, has made commitments from which he cannot escape, and finds, after meeting them, that the reduced pay would not leave him with sufficient money to maintain himself. Information available even before the committees of inquiry met at the home ports brought us to the conclusion that we must introduce some remedial measures into these cats. As the hon. Member said, these hard cases apply not only to the Navy but to the three Defence Services, and, accordingly, the decision which His Majesty's Government took, and which the Prime Minister announced to the House yesterday, was of general application.
Except to the unemployed.
In the case of the unemployed it was from the first only a cut of 10 per cent. In the other cases affected by this revision the cut was of more than 10 per cent., and sometimes very much mere. The late Financial Secretary asked me whether the 10 per cent. limit was to apply to the total emoluments or only to the substantive pay. It is intended to apply to the substantive pay, and not to the emoluments. These inquiries are now proceeding. I hope that the decision announced yesterday will tend to simplify very much their character and to shorten the time which might otherwise have been taken. Though the announcement made should certainly meet the grievance which has been most widely felt and strongly expressed in the Fleet, I should be unwilling to countermand the inquiries which have been promised, but I hope the committees will conclude their work as soon as possible, so that we may be in a position to take our final decision and to promulgate it to the Navy and the other Services without delay. It must be clearly understood that we cannot consider individual cases of hardship. There must be some. There will be such cases—and many—among people who are not in Government service in any capacity, arising out of the hard times in which we are living. What we undertook to consider was classes of cases, and the committees will take particular instances in those classes by way of judging how much substance there is in the complaints.
Is that with the idea of making some adjustments over and above the reduction of the cut to 10 per cent.?
I do not think I can say what I shall do until I have the result of the inquiry. It would be quite wrong for me to promise anything further in regard to this particular Service before the inquiry is completed. It would be quite wrong to express an adverse opinion while inquiries are actually under way. I can say no more except to repeat that I believe that the concession already announced meets by far the largest class of hardship cases; it was the matter about which the unrest in the Fleet was most concerned. The limitation to 10 per cent. affects, of course, the junior officers, too, and I can assure hon. Members opposite that cases of hardship amongst the junior officers arising from the same cause—commitments—are not less than among the men of the lower deck.
The 10 per cent. cut does not affect ratings who came in after 1925?
It was expressly stated yesterday that the cuts proposed were to bring the men who had entered the Navy before 1925 to the 1925 standard. There never was any proposal to cut the 1925 rates, and the fact that men who entered before 1925 now have the cut limited to 10 per cent. does not mean that the men who joined after 1925 are to have any cuts now, any more than they would have had before.
There was a slight ambiguity in your answer yesterday, and that is why I ask.
I have not seen the report of it in the OFFICIAL REPORT, but I cannot conceive how there can have been any ambiguity when the cuts never referred to the 1925 rates at all. There is only one other point. I wish to remove the misapprehension, if it is really entertained by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull, or in any other quarter of the House, that the whole cuts to be made in expenditure of the Navy are to be made at the expense of the officers and men, because even under the first proposal a larger economy had been secured in other ways than an alteration in pay. In view of these new proposals we shall have to make good to the best of our ability and by other economies in the Service—by foregoing things we ought to have, by falling further into arrears—the sums which will not now be saved in pay. The hon. and gallant Member permitted himself to talk as if target practice and fleet exercises were of no consequence.
Oh, no, no! I cannot allow that statement to go unchallenged. What I said was that it was unnecessary to send the Fleet right up to Invergordon for target practice and battle practice, that this could have been done from Portland. In that way we should have saved the tremendous expense in fuel of sending the Fleet all round the coast.
I do not think that was all the hon. and gallant Member said. It is desirable that ships should go to sea. It is desirable that seamen and marines who have to fire guns in battle should have practice in firing those guns, and not be sent wholly inexperienced into battle. We have to balance many disadvantages, but it should be clearly understood that we are not working on a Navy which has been, as it were, fed up as it was in the days before the War. We are working on Navy Estimates which have been cut down again and again. Our cupboards are nearly bare. We have been living on what we had accumulated. We have been exhausting our supplies. We have been postponing building to the last moment. There are ships of the 1930 programme not all of which have been laid down. Not a single ship of the 1931 programme has been begun. The hon. and gallant Member must bear that in mind when he calls so lightly and easily for further reductions. It will be a very difficult task to make them, and it will only be done at the expense of weakening the Navy to a point for which nothing but the absolute necessities of the financial situation would induce me to accept responsibility.
I think that I ought to draw attention to the last remark of the First Lord of the Admiralty, because we ought not to be under any misapprehension as to the real position of the construction programme. He spoke of the 1931 programme not having yet been begun. There is nothing abnormal in that, because in any case we should not begin to lay keels for ships of the 1931 programme until March, 1932. That would be following the normal process of the Admiralty.
The normal process for some years—I am not making any charge against his Board of Admiralty or his Government—it was the normal process of recent years, but it was not the general practice of the Navy—was not the general practice in the Navies of other countries or of our own country in happier days.
Over a whole range of years that has been the normal practice of the Admiralty. I am very anxious to-day that whatever is said in this Debate shall not be harmful to His Majesty's Navy. As I said the other night, no one could have been, as I have been, in close contact with the men of the Navy of all ranks without learning to love the Service and appreciating the extent to which the national service was involved and the extent to which national loyalty was developed. With regard to the case which has been put by the First Lord of the Admiralty, the whole case is not understood by the House. I resented very bitterly what was said the other day by the Noble Lady the Member for Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), when there seemed to he a suggestion that one who had served in office was not prepared to tell the truth. I tell hon. Members now, what I said in the Debate a fortnight ago, that when we were confronted with what we were told was a great financial crisis we said that if it was the right thing to balance the Budget we were willing to do it. We discussed every one of the recommendations of the May Committee report, although, as I said in the Debate on 8th September, there were no doubt many of my hon. Friends on this side who would not have been prepared to debate them at all. I have never sought to run away from the position which confronted the Cabinet Committee.That is not the position which faces hon. Members at this moment. I agree that the Cabinet discussed the recommendations of the May report. None of the original cuts in the three Services were proposed de novo by the Government; but they were the cuts proposed by the May Economy Committee. When you come to deal with the general position in regard to these cuts then I say that that position is completely changed and the late Government were never committed in any sense or form to the acceptance of the cuts now made in the light of the general financial proposals submitted by the present Government. The Board of Admiralty always took the position, and I think quite soundly, when advising upon the general situation of efficiency and discipline in the Fleet that they could only be expected to have loyalty and efficiency if any cuts that were operative were contemporary with general cuts right through the Service. [An HON. MEMBER: "And the unemployed!"] Yes, and the unemployed. We were told at the same time that there must be no raid on the Sinking Fund, but the Government now propose to raid the Sinking Fund by £20,000,000. That is one of the economy proposals of the new Budget. The proposals which were under consideration for direct taxation have not been reached in the Budget submitted by the Government. Moreover, we could have avoided the worst part of those economies by an amendment of de-rating which in spite of the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other night I contend would have yielded sufficient saving to have obviated a great many of the cuts which are now before the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham) said the other day that we could have had considerable savings effected by dealing with tobacco, breweries, and newspapers, and other industries. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that was ridiculous. The right hon. Gentleman further stated that what was suggested in regard to de-rating would only produce an economy of about £750,000. Is there anybody familiar with the industries of this country who does not know that if a revision of the de-rating procedure had been properly tackled, a saving of £12,000,000 or £14,000,000 might have been effected—
The right hon. Gentleman is going rather too far. He may refer to these alternative economies, but he is really not entitled to discuss in detail the question of a reform of de-rating.
It seems to me to be vital for us to show that the whole of the cuts in this Bill are not necessary and to demonstrate where the money can be raised elsewhere in order to avoid these cuts.
The right hon. Gentleman is pressing the matter very much too far and beyond any precedent that I know of. He had an opportunity of discussing many of these matters on the Second Reading of the Bill and he may have an opportunity of discussing certain other questions on other Amendments in Committee or on the Report stage or on the Third Reading, but there must be some reasonable limit to the discussion which can take place on an Amendment, which is so circumscribed as the present one.
The First Lord of the Admiralty has just said that the cuts which we are discussing are necessitated by the financial position of the country. I want to argue in detail that those cuts are not justified.
The right hon. Gentleman is quite at liberty to answer the statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty and I should not have interrupted him even if he had answered them at considerable length, but he must accept this from me that he must not discuss in detail alterations in the law in regard to some other matter relating to other economies. Discussion on those suggestions in detail will certainly be out of order.
I am always anxious to follow the tradition of the House and fall in with the wishes of the Chairman, and I desire to do so on this occasion. I am prepared at the proper time to demonstrate this general statement that without any hardship to the heavy export industries we could have found by such a revision as I have suggested another £14,000,000 from de-rating.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that a Debate on de-rating has nothing to do with these proposals.
In these circumstances, I do not agree that the cuts which have been put forward are necessary. If we had taken the £14,000,000 I suggest relating to de-rating, the £20,000,000 devoted to the Sinking Fund and the extra amount from direct taxation, it would have made a difference of nearly £40,000,000. In those circumstances we are not bound by a discussion which took place. For these reasons, I think we are entitled to oppose any of these cuts and to contend that the financial arrangements laid before us in regard to the general revenue of the Budget are such that we are not now committed to any one of the proposals which the Government have laid before the House.
Will the right hon. Gentleman say how the £56,000,000 economies to which he agreed were made up?
In those circumstances, I do not need to say more than this: I do not believe that any one of my late colleagues in the Government will deny that the Service Departments all the way through defended the interests of the men. I am anxious that nothing we should say at this time should be injurious to the Navy. My case for opposing the cuts as they are presented to the Committee is that we are not getting in the Budget presented to us anything approaching equality of sacrifice and that by adopting the suggestions I have made and dealing with the Sinking Fund and De-rating the Government could have got a good deal of the money which they require without the necessity for cuts of this kind.
When an appeal is made to me even by one of my late colleagues, I am ready to respond to it. Certainly, I have no hesitation in saying that so far as the defence of the men in the Service or employment in any grade of work are concerned, none of my colleagues in the late Government will deny the statement which has been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) that he put up the best defence that he could for the men in the Navy. My right hon. Friend has asked me to confirm that statement, and I have no hesitation in doing so. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough followed up that statement by saying that the circumstances had changed. Whatever may be said about the Budget, no one can deny that you could not levy taxation without knowing what was the deficit, and we could not meet the deficit until we had made up our minds what economies were to be effected. Obviously, when the Government knew how much money was to be raised, they suggested certain economies to raise it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough knows perfectly well that when we were going through that process, although he made an excellent case in defence of the Navy, the ultimate conclusion which he and I came to was that cuts should be made to raise a sum of £56,000,000.
If we are to have a disclosure of what has been said in the Cabinet, and of alleged agreements, let that disclosure be full and complete. I say quite deliberately that neither in honour nor in fair play am I bound in any way to any proposal that was submitted to the Cabinet. I stand here as a representative in the last Government of the Defence Forces, and say quite deliberately that my consent to any cut, or any breach of contract, was conditional upon every section of the community bearing its responsibility. [HON. MEMBERS: "The unemployed?"] The right hon. Gentleman will remember my calling attention to the fact that a certain number of people had had promises kept to them to the extent of more than 100 per cent., and that those people should be one of the contributing parties. Are they? I ask the right hon. Gentleman, are they a contributing party? [HON. MEMBERS: "Who?"] Everyone knows. There is only one set of people to whom promises made during the War have been kept. Promises to men may be broken, but promises to money will never be broken so long as we have our present Chancellor of the Exchequer. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes. I went a tremendous way personally—out of loyalty and affection—a fantastic way; but I repeat quite deliberately in this House that promises to money in this House are sacred, but promises to men are not.I shall go into the Lobby with my party, though, if there had been a real attempt, either by this Government or by the preceding Government, to make everybody pay—to say to the bondholder, "You are being paid in a currency which is more valuable than the money you lent, and you must pay your share "—if every section of the community were called upon to make this sacrifice, I am one of those who would deliberately vote for the sacrifice being made. But the community has not been called upon in a reasonable way to make sacrifices, and I shall certainly vote with my party on the Amendment which has been proposed.
The late First Lord of the Admiralty has referred to an interjection of mine in which I said, "We want the truth," and certainly, after his speech it is easy to understand why I was a little mystified and still want the truth. It is very difficult for some of us, in all quarters of the House, and I am certain that hon. Gentlemen behind the Front Bench opposite are just as mystified as some of us here, but I think it is important to know, because nobody with any sense of loyalty to their country would ever want to make a political question of the Navy. [HON. MEMBERS "Say that again!"] I say again that no men or women who really love their country will ever make a political question of the Navy.
The men of the Navy themselves have done it.
Look at the effect that the misunderstanding of the action of the men of the Navy has had on the country during the last few days, and I want to say that there was a complete misunderstanding on the part of the rest of the world as to what the men meant. If hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite think that it was a political move on the part of the British Navy, they will be grievously disappointed. It was nothing of the kind. They did not mean it in that way—[HON. MEMBERS: "What did they mean?"] I do not believe that the men of the Navy would even bother to explain it. I think it is a pity even now, although the trouble is over, to behave in this way in talking about the Navy, and I am the last person in the world to want to do it. It is plain to the House and to the world that the late Government agreed to these cuts. I myself and many others of us think that they were a little too hasty and were badly done, but I know that the Navy men in my constituency were all agreed that there had to be some cuts, though they thought they had been imposed in rather a hard and harsh way. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to stick by what he said. I wish we could make people outside these islands realise how steadfast and strong the Navy was, and how completely their actions have been misunderstood. Let this be a warning to right hon. Gentlemen opposite that there are some things that it is really dangerous to play with—
They have shown the unemployed that the only way to get a thing is to get up and fight, and they are to be congratulated.
I do not think they want to be congratulated; I think they deeply regret the whole thing, just as much as the nation regrets it, and I would like to tell the House that one Communist who got among the men was soon put out—they had no place for him. The right hon. Gentleman has talked about equality of sacrifice, but we think it would be better if there were equality of responsibility on the Opposition benches. They agreed to everything except the things that they thought were going to be unpopular. They agreed to cut down the pay of everyone except the unemployed. They did not mind about the widows, the pensioners, the Navy, the Army or the teachers; they agreed as regards everything except the unemployed. When hon. Members talk about equality of sacrifice, I would like to remind them that there is no equality anywhere, even on their own Front Bench. I often hear the phrase, "We want equality of sacrifice"; I wish to Heaven we had equality of intelligence. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may try to explain here in the House of Commons, but in the country they will have great difficulty in getting away from their responsibility, which they shirk, and out of which they are now trying to make party capital, even as regards the Services. All that the people in the country have to do is to read their speeches, and they will know that, if they had remained in office, they would have cut down still more.I do not want, to be rude—[Interruption]—but, after the right hon. Gentleman's speech to-day, it, will be seen why I said that we wanted the truth. The truth is that the right hon. Gentleman agreed with everything that this Government has done, but when the time came to fight he ran away. I ask the House—and this is really what I rose to say—[Interruption]. Laughing is the strongest point of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. If they had thought more and laughed less, England would not have had to go off the Gold Standard, and we should not have had to look at the Labour party with sadness and sorrow. I myself will stick by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Dominions Secretary. We know that right hon. Gentlemen opposite agreed to all these things, but had not the courage to do what was unpopular, even for the sake of their country; and I am sorry to say that there was not a woman on the other side of the House who had the courage to do these unpopular things. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for East Islington (Mrs. Manning) who has been busier than anyone on behalf of the teachers, knows perfectly well that they agreed to a cut of 15 per cent. in teachers' salaries. [Interruption.] We on this side of the House are positively sorry—
You are wasting your pity.
Everything that we predicted has come about, and the only thing that I regret is that there are so few hon. Gentlemen, and not one woman, on the other side of the House, who in the time of the nation's need who would do more than come down to the House and say that they agreed with the cuts, but not in detail. That is the poorest and most pitiful thing that I have ever seen in my life. They came down and agreed to everything, but when it came to working it out they had not the courage—
Is that what you got up to say?
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not go round the country saying that, although he agreed to the cuts in the Navy, he did not agree with them in detail. That is not good enough. [Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite can go to their constituencies and into the country as much as they like, hut they sit in this House of Commons condemned as men and women who have not the courage of their convictions. They expect us to take their word against the word—[Interruption]. I should not mind if hon. Members opposite really had a plan of Socialism, but they will never have a plan until it is too late and they will have to come back to the men who have led them.
After the cold and severely logical address that we have had from the Noble Lady, I am afraid my own emotional and rhetorical style will be almost an anti-climax. I rise to support the Amendment to delete from Clause I the power sought by the Government to reduce the wages of State employés. The Bill aims at saving £70,000,000. Of that saving, according to the White Paper, roughly £4,000,000 is on wages of State servants. Whatever the justification may have been for this Bill a fortnight or so ago, that justification has now passed. The basis of the Bill was the necessity of balancing the Budget, because an unbalanced Budget involved a flight from the pound and immeasurable and unspecified cuts in the whole standard of life of the people. Whether or not the measures taken to stabilise the pound were wise or otherwise I cannot argue. What one can say, however, is that, wise or unwise, they have been unsuccessful, and, therefore, the basis of this Bill has disappeared. May I put it a little more clearly by reminding the Committee of the discussion in which the Colonial Secretary took part. It was almost an altercation between the two Front Benches as to how far this side of the house had accepted responsibility for certain cuts. The Colonial Secretary in the course of the Debate took the Front Bench on this side stage by stage through the White Paper, and accused it of complicity in every one of the proposed cuts up to a limit of £56,000,000. Indeed, he could find only one difference between the two sides, which was that he was proposing a specified cut of 10 per cent. in unemployment pay whereas this side, by standing for a course which meant the end of the Gold Standard, was, in fact, standing for an unspecified and indeterminate cut in the standard of life of the unemployed and others. The whole basis of the Colonial Secretary's position has now gone, because the economies on wage cuts which this Amendment seeks prevent were designed to prevent the flight from the pound. The flight from the pound has taken place and, therefore, this Clause is now twice as serious in its effect as it was a fortnight ago.Up to now the Debate has centred almost entirely upon cuts in the rates of pay in the Navy. I should like to take another group of State servants, not with any object at all of minimising the claims of the Navy, the Army or the Air Force, with which I completely sympathise and in regard to which I endorse everything that has been said from this side, but because there are something like 300,000 people on the civil side of the Service who are affected by the economies proposed to be made under this Bill. The Civil Service, as distinct from the Army, Navy and Air Force, has had 23 separate and distinct wage cuts since 1921. In 1921 the cost-of-living bonus was being paid on a figure of 165. To-day it is being paid on a figure of 50, a difference of 115 points. To put it differently, there have been 23 five-point drops since 1921. I might state it still differently by saying there has been a drop in the wages bill of the Civil Service of £8,000,000 per annum in that period. [Interruption.] I gather that the Colonial Secretary is not disagreeing with me?
No. It is true that there have been 23 cuts. What, I was remarking was that between 1916 and 1921 there were more rises.
As a matter of fact, one could not say that with any regard to the facts, because it is not true. Between 1914 and 1920 there were from time to time adjustments of Civil Service pay—I do not deny it—but they were made only long after the increase of prices, in the first case 15 months afterwards, and all the way through they lagged behind the rise in prices and at no stage represented anything like compensation for the rise in the cost of living. In 1920 we had a sliding scale, but even when the sliding scale was instituted the original basis of settlement did not give full compensation or anything like it. I hesitate to repeat what I have said once or twice before, but it is evident that the Colonial Secretary at least needs education. The fact is that the settlement of 1920 gave full compensation on the basis of the index figure only in respect of the first 35s. per week. On salaries between 35s. and £200 a year it gave one-half compensation, and on salaries above £200 a third or less, tapering down to nothing. Beyond that, the index figure is in itself a completely misleading thing. I do not propose to argue whether that index figure is accurate as a reflex of working class conditions. I do not believe it is, but assume that it is. Whether it is accurate or not for working class conditions, it certainly does not apply to the type of life that is led by the bulk of civil servants. May I state two cases? There are some thousands of civil servants, single men and women, who live in lodgings. It may be the case that, if a civil servant went to the counter of a shop and bought eggs and milk, butter and so on, he would find that the cost of living had varied as the index figure suggests, but he does not do that. He pays a lump sum to his landlady at the end of the week. I ask the Committee to accept from me as a statement of fact that in the last 10 years the average cost of board and lodging in the London area has not gone down at all, but during that period there have been successive drops of Civil Service bonus in which more than two-thirds of that bonus has disappeared. Then take the case of a married man with a family. I have a case of a civil servant who in 1921 was earning 110s. a week. At that stage he married and bought a house, the outgoings on which were 22s. per week. He also took out a life insurance policy, which cost him 4s. a week, making a standing charge on his income of 26s. When he was drawing 110s. a week he could pay that 26s. and still have 84s. left to provide for himself and his wife. Now, because of the successive bonus drops, the 110s. has sunk to 64s., the 26s. still remains as a standing charge upon his income and, when he has met it, instead of having 84s. left to keep himself and wife upon, he has now 38s. and, moreover, in the interval children have come along. That is a point which I should like to stress. The index figure is hopelessly inadequate when you are dealing with a section of the community a large part of whose expenditure takes the form of fixed standing charges.The result is that there is in the public service to-day more acute and bitter poverty than I have ever seen in my life. Take that married man. He has to economise by walking to the office instead of riding. There are thousands of civil servants in Whitehall who cannot even afford a modest 1s. 3d. for lunch at the Whitehall Luncheon Club and have to take sandwiches wrapped up in paper. There are thousands of civil servants compelled to undertake evening employment—and by taking it they keep some other poor devil out of a job—and have to do a day's work for a private employer after they have already done a day's work for the State. At their homes the wives are fighting out a bitter battle against a declining household allowance based upon an index figure which has no relation to their circumstances. What does this Bill propose to do about those people? The White Paper on which it rests says:
I do not know what that paragraph means. It is clear enough when it says that we have had 15 points drop in the last 12 months. It is not at all clear what is to happen in the future? It is possible to read that paragraph as implying that, having brought us downhill for 10 years to the tune of 23 wage cuts, now that the cost of living is going to rise, they propose to stabilise us at 50 for the whole of 1932. Is that what it means? I want to tell the right hon. Gentleman in charge of this case, that if that is what it means there is a strong probability—"In the case of the Civil Service, provision has already been made in the 1931 Estimates by the late Government for a 10 point drop in cost of living bonus as from 1st March, 1931, and for a further 5 point drop as from 1st September. Assuming continued payment of bonus at the rate to which it wan reduced on 1st September, during the whole of 1932 there will be a further saving that year of £800,000 in addition to that secured on the Estimates for this year."
The hon. Member has misinterpreted the White Paper. That is not what it means.
I shall be very grateful if the right hon. Gentleman will tell us what it means. Does the National Government know what it means? The least they might do is to make their publications plain to the ordinary intelligence. This is at least susceptible of two interpretations. It may mean that they do not anticipate that the cost of living will go up, but it can hardly mean that. After the collapse of the pound it cannot mean that. It may mean that whatever happens to the cost of living this section of the State's employés are to be paid on the basis of a 50 points bonus. We are anxious about this matter, and I should like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us the intentions of His Majesty's Government in regard to the Civil Service, because the Clause we are discussing gives them unlimited power to do what they like. The Clause gives the Government power to make Orders in Council in respect of the remuneration of persons in His Majesty's Services.I hope that we are not going to give them that power. I hope that we are going to delete that part of the Clause, because in view of the alteration in the situation which has taken place during the last fortnight, there ought to be no question of proceeding with these wage cuts either in the Navy, the Army, the Air Force or the Civil Service. At least, if the Clause is going to be carried against us and the Amendment defeated, will the right hon. Gentleman have the courtesy to tell the 300,000 men and women who are affected by this case what is to happen? You have made a five point cut from September, your pound has gone west and the cost of living is going up, probably at least 20 per cent. What is the position of that body? Their bonus has come down and down. You are making a crippling addition to the Income Tax, and on top of that you have told them that they will have to find nine months' Income Tax by January, a thing that many of them will find it desperately difficult to do. Beyond all that they are now confronted with a sharp upward movement—and it will be a sharp upward movement, probably amounting to 20 per cent.—in the cost of living in this country. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what he proposes to do with these 300,000 men and women in the circumstances? I shall be happy to give way to him if he wants to make a point of correction. I do not want to keep the Committee. If I am under a misapprehension about the White Paper—and the right hon. Gentleman says that I am—I am willing to give way to him so that he may clear it up.
All I said was that the White Paper did not bear the interpretation that the hon. Member has put upon it. The White Paper means what it says.
I put what seems to me to be a legitimate construction upon the paragraph in the Government White Paper.
Do not be impertinent. I am trying to be perfectly civil to the right hon. Gentleman and I am putting to him what seems to be a legitimate interpretation of this paragraph. He inter- vened to say that my construction was wrong. I asked him to put me right. Is he unable, or is he unwilling?
Perhaps the hon. Member will finish his speech. I shall have an opportunity of speaking later on, and I will endeavour to reply to his points.
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, and I ask him specifically: What are the Government's intentions in respect of 300,000 men and women, first, the overwhelming majority who are on a sliding scale and, secondly, those who are on fixed incomes and consolidated rates?We had a statement in the House this afternoon at Question Time in response to a question from this side as to whether the Government would utilise to the full the existing machinery in adjusting these measures. We had a reply that they would. I want to tell the House of Commons how the Civil Service has been treated. We went, to see the present Chancellor of the Exchequer before the issue of the Royal Commission on the Civil Service and we asked him what he intended to do about the bonus. He replied that he could not tell us until he had seen the report of the Royal Commission, but he would then meet us again. After the report of the Royal Commission had been issued, we asked to see him. We were unable to see him during the month of August, and then, four days before the 1st September, without any kind of consultation and without any kind of negotiations—nothing but a curt telephonic intimation—we were told that there was to be a cut on the 1st September. Since then I have put a question in this House to the Prime Minister asking if he would receive representatives of the Civil Service to discuss their case with them. I received an answer from the Prime Minister to the effect that he could see no useful purpose in doing so. In other words, we can get negotiations neither before nor after the cuts in our wages are made. Let me say this to the right hon. Gentleman in conclusion. If that sort of thing goes on I venture to predict that you will get in the coming 12 months the same sort of situation in the Civil Service that you have already seen in the Navy. [An HON. MEMBER: "A threat!"] You can treat it exactly as you like, but my men are fed up. [An HON. MEMBER: "Your men!"] Believe me, these men have a much greater sense of personal loyalty to me than they have to the right hon. Gentleman. [Interruption.] I urge, in the strongest possible terms, that the state of feeling in the Service has now reached a point when the Government ought to give it their very closest attention. I believe that poverty and underpayment are unjustifiable. They have done wrong in imposing cuts, and they have no right to ask from this House the power to impose further wage cuts on that body of men and women by Orders in Council. I should like to know what they intend to do about the Service, and when we have learned that, it may be, that the Service will be able to tell them what it intends to do about them.
I do not wish to deal in any way with the speech of the hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. W. J. Brown) except to say that it ill becomes any Member of this House representing interests however sectional to talk about, "My men," when those men are the servants of the Crown. I think that probably when the hon. Member thinks over the matter in cooler moments he may regret what he has said. I wish to bring back this Committee to the question of the Service cuts—the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. I think that hon. Members on all sides of the House since this Parliament reassembled have had a series of tu quoques. It is not so much a question of, "Do you agree with the cuts proposed or do you not?" or, "You have done it and we never agreed to it." We are a National Government and we are putting through these cuts. I presume that every hon. and right hon. Gentleman who is a Member of the Government assumes responsibility for the cuts. We have no wish to shelter ourselves. I am sure that as a follower of the National Government at the present time, I have no wish to shelter myself behind anyone. We have done it. I think that it is deplorable, but it is necessary, and I support it, and I think that the vast majority of the people of the country have that feeling to-day. What I do regret very much is that circumstances should have mastered man, as circumstances inevitably do master man some time in his life, and that the Government were overwhelmed by circumstances and had to make cuts which, I think, most of us in our heart of hearts know, although they are necessary, are nevertheless cruel and, in some respects capable of improvement. The Government by their alteration" of the percentage in the teachers' cut have admitted the imperfection of their scheme, but nevertheless the scheme was the best that could be done and it is necessary, and for that reason I support it.But I wish to say with regard to the circumstances of the Defence Forces that in the long run, perhaps, these cuts will have been rendered unnecessary when the whole problem of defence is regarded imperially and not in the light of the three departments of the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and the Army, but as one integral unit. When that comes about you will be able to get a vast economy by pursuing the substitution policy of air power over control by ground forces and control by sea power in money and no less in defence efficiency. On the question of the actual cuts in the Royal Air Force, I wish to say as one who has had the honour of serving in that Force that those cuts have been acquiesced in loyally and without complaint, officers and other ranks knowing that these cuts are essential in the national interest to-clay. Nevertheless, whether those cuts are for present serving airmen, or whether they affect new entrants, I feel that in the case of the Royal Air Force they are particularly dangerous, for it is essential for the Royal Air Force to attract young men of the highest character and the best technical ability and, therefore, to offer them the best possible terms, because the Air Force is playing with an element of life which the Army never plays with in times of peace.
What about the miner?
I want to deal with the question of reductions of pay in the Services. Some 18 months ago, in reply to a question of mine, the Under-Secretary of State for Air gave me a comparison of the pay between a major in the Army with five years' service and a squadron leader in the Air Force with five years' service. The latter was paid one shilling a day less notwithstanding flying risks than the major in the Army. One was told that the whole question of career in the Royal Air Force and chances of quick achievement of high rank must be reckoned and that he must not make single comparisons. Every time you reduce the pay you are making the flying risks less represented in the emoluments which come to the officer or pilot. Every reduction makes the lack of appreciation of flying risks more obvious. I only mention this because, as the pay goes down, so does the fact become more and more apparent that there will surely come a time when, though we want to continue to attract the best youths of the country in the cause of aviation, we shall find difficulty because the prospects will not be commensurate with the risks. Equality of sacrifice—yes; but also that equality of risk as regards consideration of the Defence Forces. I want to stress once more that all ranks of the Services have accepted these reductions. Perhaps it is always easy to look for imperfections in any scheme, but I submit that this is no time to Look at imperfections but rather to look at the best and to go forward.
I desire to deal with this matter only in so far as the three armed Services of the Crown are concerned. In defending the cuts in Navy pay, the First Lord said he did not think that in the light of the financial situation those cuts could be regarded as being grossly unjust. I wonder what the First Lord would think if he were to go to a civil court of law when he had a binding contract with another party entitling him to certain payments, and the other party pleaded that because his financial condition had worsened he was entitled to make very drastic changes in this binding obligation. I do not think, at any rate, the judge presiding over that court would entertain such a plea as that for one moment. It is on this question of contracts that I want to concentrate my remarks. This country has a great reputation for observing its contracts and agreements. As the old tag has it, an Englishman's word is his bond. We ought to try as far as possible to carry that out in our ordinary practice. A British civil contract is regarded as having more validity than almost any other contract in the world.If that, be true of our ordinary commercial practices, it certainly should be much truer of contracts entered into by the Government. An obligation rests on the Government to adopt, if anything, a higher standard of conduct in regard to the question of the sanctity of contract than on private individuals. If that be true of ordinary Government contracts, it applies with far greater force to contracts which are entered into between the State and the men who serve in the three armed Forces. It will be within the recollection of the House that the nature of the contract entered into with those forces is very different from the ordinary kind of contract. The man who enters the Navy does not merely engage to render certain service to the State, over a certain period of years'. He does not merely undertake to perform certain drills to render himself efficient as regards guns and ships generally. He undertakes to do something which is much more vital and special to him. He undertakes, in certain circumstances, as part of his contract, to sacrifice his limbs and even his life, in keeping that contract. I submit that is a very special condition of contract. What is more, in the case of an ordinary civil contract, a man may break his contract and perhaps be subjected to monetary penalties, but no such course is open to the men in the armed Forces. If he undertakes a contract of 10 years' service and at the end of five or six years he deliberately breaks it and says he refuses to carry on, he is liable to have imposed on him not merely monetary penalties, but penalties of the gravest kind. The House should he seized of that fact. Further, his position is essentially different from that of any other person, in so far as these rates of pay are concerned. Let this be recognised. It was realised soon after the War that in addition to other objections to service in the armed Forces, there was a strong post-War reaction against service of this kind. Men were specially reluctant, because of the hardships of war and of the cruelty and suffering connected with it, to enlist in the armed Forces. What did the Government do in order to meet that reluctance? They gave specially attractive terms of service. They increased the rates of pay. That is why the rates were increased. Surely, if men were specially induced to overcome their reluctance to this service by these special rates of pay, and they engaged to serve the country for these reasons, there is no equity or justness now, when the stress is not so great, in seeking to change that contract and reduce those rates of pay? I submit that there is an overwhelming case for saying that as far as these men are concerned whom you induced by special conditions to enter the service of their country, you are in honour bound to keep those terms. As to the specious plea of equality of sacrifice, I submit that it could not be maintained before any ordinary tribunal for a moment that there is anything like equality of sacrifice in the way in which these changes are being applied. I refer especially to the very marked differentiations in the treatment between the officer class and the rank and file. Let me give two illustrations of this kind of thing. First of all, take the Navy. I admit that the situation has been modified to sonic extent since the trouble at Invergordon. I am speaking now of the conditions which led to that trouble. I find that commanders who are getting 37s. 2d. per day were to he reduced to 35s. 8d.—a loss of 1s. 6d. per day, equivalent to rather less than 5 per cent. In the case of sub-lieutenants, there was a reduction from 9s. 4d. to 8s. 10d. or a loss of 6d., or rather more than 5 per cent. Here you have two typical illustrations of the officer class. What is the position of the ratings? The lowest paid ratings were to get reduction from 4s. a day to 3s. a day—a reduction of 25 per cent. How can anyone seriously contend, in the light of these figures that there is anything like equality of sacrifice? I will give one illustration as to the Army. Those of us who served in the Army know that there are battalion commanders, and that between those officers and the private soldiers, there is a great gulf fixed. What are the respective changes in the pay of the battalion commander and the infantry soldier? I find the reduction in the pay of the battalion commander is 1s. 4d. a day, but in the case of the infantry soldier—the man who enlisted before 26th October, 1925—the reduction is 1s. a day. Your colonel commanding a battalion suffers a loss of 1s. 4d. and your private soldier a loss of 1s. That is a very striking illustration of the mockery of this sort of equality of sacrifice.
Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to interrupt him as I am sure he would not wish to misrepresent the case. Is he aware that as far as the Navy is concerned, the pay of the ratings has not been altered since 1925, whereas the pay of the officer class has been altered by the cost-of-living cuts previous to this cut?
That may be quite true.
It is very material.
I imagine if that be the case, the officers who were recruited were aware of the fact that there would be cost of living cuts, whereas in the case of the Naval ratings at the time they entered into the contract of service there was no provision in the agreement for there being any cuts in regard to the cost of living. That is my answer to that particular point.I want now to refer to another aspect of the discussion which relates to something which was said by the Prime Minister the other day. Referring to the question as to who was liable to cuts, he told us that the Admiralty submitted a memorandum in which they said that the men would loyally accept this reduction, provided two conditions were met. Those two conditions were that there should be cuts all round in the public service and an adequate cut in unemployment pay. There is some argument as between the two Front Benches as to whether the Labour Ministers ever agreed to that memorandum. But I take that memorandum as it stands as the document which was submitted by the Lords of the Admiralty. I should like to make two comments on it. In the first place, those two conditions, specified by the Admiralty as being the conditions on which the Navy would loyally accept the cuts, were obtained. There were cuts in all the public services and there was a drastic cut in unemployment pay. Yet in spite of the fact that those two conditions laid down by the Board of Admiralty were met, the men, as is well known, did not accept the cuts loyally. They regarded them as a great injustice, and practically the whole Navy for the time being was seething with discontent. It does seem to me that you have there plainly demonstrated that the Board of Admiralty was not properly seized of the feeling which obtains among the lower ratings of the Navy. They did not understand the feeling of the rank and file in the way they ought to have done. My other comment on that document is this: The condition there laid down was that there should be a cut in unemployment benefit. I ask what right had the Lords of the Admiralty to make any condition of that kind? What sort of mandate had they got from the lower ranks of the Navy for imposing a condition of that kind? It seems to me that that was a deliberate and unwarrantable attempt on the part of the Sea Lords to import their own political bias into a question of public administration. I am confident that the ratings in the Navy would never have dreamed of insisting upon that as a condition of accepting the cuts in pay. After all, who are these men? They come from working class homes, and there is hardly a working class home in the country which has not been affected by unemployment already or which has not got the shadow of unemployment hovering around it. These men understand the trials and privations which affect working class homes, because of unemployment, and they would be the last men in the world to lay it down that as a condition of their own reduction the unemployed should be forced deeper and deeper into poverty. It is not only an improper and irregular thing for the Lords of the Admiralty to have introduced this statement into their Memorandum, but it is an unwarrantable libel upon the seamen of the British Navy. I hope that this will be a lesson to those who are in charge of the fighting Departments and that they will realise that contracts that are made with private soldiers or with ordinary able- bodied seamen are just as binding and ought to be as honourably observed as with any other people. There is greater reason to-day for seeing that the contracts with such men should be observed to the very last letter of the agreement. I regret that this blunder has been committed by the Government. I regret it as a serious breach of faith, a dishonourable breach of faith with the men of the armed Forces. If there be any shame in the kind of troubles that we had at Invergordon recently, that shame rests very largely on the Government which was responsible for the breach which brought the trouble about. I hope that even now, in reconsidering this problem, the Government will go even further than they suggest they are going, that they will remember the honourable obligation which they owe to these men and not impose any cuts upon them.
There are two or three points which have emerged in this Debate which are worthy of a little further examination. I am not going to follow the hon. Member who has just sat down into his examination, which I hope he is well qualified to make, into the law of contract, except to say that, from the technical point of view, it may be doubted by those who know about these matters whether it is accurate to say that there is such a thing as a contract between any member of His Majesty's Services and the Government or the nation at large. However I pass that by. I desire to examine the diverse arguments in opposition to the particular passage in the Clause at which this Amendment aims. Apparently, we are to be treated, as I apprehend the situation, to a series of examinations of particular things, with suggestions that each one should come out of the Bill. We are to be told in regard to each one of them, I suppose, that they involve hardship and undesirable attacks upon the earnings of public servants, who deserve a better fate.There is not one of us who approaches the question of cuts in remuneration who does it for a single moment or a single second with a light heart. It is a most disagreeable necessity. I do not suppose there is a man or woman in this House who at any stage in his life has had to contemplate the possibility of asking any individual who is rendering good service, to take less pay, without feeling appalled at having to make the request. If necessity sometimes makes strange bedfellows, necessity also sometimes makes extremely hard cases. With the utmost respect to the hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. W. J. Brown) who has no doubt made a good case for those public servants he is attempting to serve—not his men but the people he is attempting to serve—I do not propose to follow him in an examination as to whether this part of the public service are going to have a bad time or not. Of course, there are going to be hard cases. It seems to me to be little to the point to discuss one by one these cases and to say: "This is going to be a hard case; is it not a very bad case?" Such cases are inherent in the whole subject of this Bill. The opponents of the Bill make this further point They say: "Do not adopt this particular cut. We could show you—this is really a summary of the speech of the late First Lord of the Admiralty—if the rules of Order permitted, how you could raise the money in half a dozen different ways." The first comment that I make upon that observation is that the right hon. Gentleman was a Member of the late Government, which came into office after the most savage attack upon its predecessors upon the subject of economy that I suppose the electorate has ever heard. The opportunity which they had for making those very economics which he now suggests the present Government should make, lasted for rather more than two years. We know the results in economy that they managed to achieve. The rules of Order do not entitled me to examine into the question of what economies could have been effected in regard to Berating, but the subject is not a new one. Those of us who remember the Debates in the last House, although we were not here, upon that Measure, satisfy ourselves at the moment by saying that the more the right hon. Gentleman tells us that there are matters upon which economies can be effected and could have been effected, the more he convicts himself and his late colleagues of a complete and absolute breach of their election pledges on the subject of economy at the last General Election. I am one of those who thought, long before the present Parliament, that the rake's progress of expenditure in this House, was bound, sooner or later, to come to an end, and that the rate of our expenditure had increased, was increasing, and if I might use again a classic phrase, ought to be diminished. I am not convinced, and I do not believe that the public outside are going to be convinced, that we ought to take some of these things out of the Economy Bill because there are still further economies which might be put in their place. I regret that I do not find the proposed economies satisfying from the point of view even of the necessities of the moment. When one recollects the state of industry, the state of trade, at the moment, and the large sums of money which are expected to come from Income Tax and Super-tax, and other things, I am convinced that the further economies which the late First Lord of the Admiralty suggested should be substituted for the economies in this Bill, instead of being substituted ought to be added, and they will have to be added before long. An observation came from the hon. Member for West Wolverhampton which the Committee ought not to part with in silence. The hon. Member used language which sounded very much like the language of menace. The duty which we have to perform is a most disagreeable duty, but it is a duty which has to be performed. The hon. Member neither serves those whom he is attempting to serve, nor does he serve himself, when he attempts to prevent us doing this disagreeable duty by using language which suggests that the consequences may be bad either for us or for His Majesty's Government. I cannot help feeling that when the hon. Member considers—I regret that he is not in his place at the moment—what he said, he may come to the conclusion that his language might have been more happily phrased. It is suggested that the hardships must be evenly spread. I do not suppose that there is anyone who is desirous of attempting anything except that that shall be done as far as possible. But this is a time of emergency, and we must move quickly. It is nothing to the point, to say that these economies are no longer necessary because there has been already a flight from the pound. Hon. Members opposite must realise, when they reflect for a moment, that there is a second stage in the process, and one of which, unfortunately, I had practical experience in three or four countries of Europe just after the War. Your rate of exchange departs. You get a flight from the currency. You get before very long an unbalanced Budget, or a series of unbalanced Budgets, and you have to face the question of meeting the gap. What has been done in other countries where the emergency has arisen? The gap has been attempted to be filled by the creation of credit internally and by the issue of paper money, and the result has been not a flight from the currency but an absolute collapse of the currency. I have seen in France, in Austria, in Hungary, and in Italy, the result of that process, not so much upon those people who were well able to protect themselves, those people who have a, superfluous amount of cash as compared with vital necessities, but the effect upon the work-people, the wage earners, the pension holders; people who have none too much of this world's goods. Who really suffered most? The very people at the lower end of the scale and not the people at the top end. Therefore, to suggest that because the flight from the pound has gone to the slight extent that it has already gone, the necessity for this Bill has passed away, is really to hug ourselves with a comfort which does not exist. As one who has been in foreign countries and seen these things and watched their effect upon the workpeople, I would appeal to hon. Members opposite to try to grapple with this question from that point of view—I am sure that they intend to do that—and to shut their eyes for the moment to the discussion of these difficult economic questions, the flight from the pound, and international trade, of which I, unfortunately, know very little, and on which. I am by no means an expert. On these various grounds I submit that the Amendment to leave out these particular cuts is one which the Committee ought not to support, and I certainly intend to vote against it.
An hon. and gallant Mernbee who spoke just now from the opposite benches referred to some sections of Government employés, and almost hinted that the whole of these sections are prepared to accept the reductions which are being forced upon them without any negotiations whatever. I know of no section of Government employés that have accepted these reductions. I know that everyone has resisted them, and at this moment there is one section meeting in the War Office in order to resist the imposition of these reductions. We are told by the Government that because the Chancellor of the Exchequer says these reductions are necessary we should accept them. No argument has been used to justify them. The hon. and learned Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Croom-Johnson) has just suggested that the only reason why we should accept these reductions is because of the incidents he witnessed when he was visiting France and Germany and Hungary just after the War; that we should be warned, therefore, lest a worse condition might befall us. I should imagine that with his trained mind he could have found something much better as an argument to advance in support of the Government's proposal.I want to put in a plea for a section of the people who are being asked to accept a reduction of wages whose present wages are inadequate to maintain a reasonable standard of life. The people employed in the arsenals and dockyards in the country, and in the various War Office establishments, are in many cases getting a wage a great deal less than 50s. a week, and they are being 'asked to accept a reduction. In addition, we are being asked to agree that this reduction shall be enforced by an Order in Council. I should consider that I should be acting against the interests of the country if I agreed to any such proposal, if I agreed to any such method of handing over any section of the community in this way or agreed to a reduction in wages which are already totally inadequate. I hope that the employés in the Plymouth Dockyard will read the speech of the hon. Member for Sutton (Viscountess Astor). The only point in her speech was that because she believed some hon. Members on this side of the Committee agreed to certain reductions she is entitled to support a worsening of the conditions of every housewife in the district she is supposed to represent. During the whole of the discussions we have heard no justification for such powers being handed to the Government in order that they might reduce wages without any negotiations. Those who have attended the conferences At the Treasury during the last few weeks have been told by the officials representing the Government that they could only repeat what they had been told by their superiors, and that was that the reduction of wages must operate as from the 1st October. I ask the Government, even at this late hour, to reconsider the position. There was nothing to justify their proposal a fortnight ago and there is even less justification now in view of the position of the pound at the moment. I hope the Government will be ready to help the people in the homes of this country in their endeavour to live up to a reasonable standard of life rather than ask for a worsening of that condition. If not, then the Government are prepared that people should live under conditions which are a discredit to the country and a disgrace to any Government which is responsible for bringing them about.
Some time ago I heard complaints from hon. Members on the other side that some of us who are associated with the movement against war and all that war involves were against the soldier. Of course that was a lie; and they knew that it was a lie. Where are the friends of the soldier on the other side of the Committee to-night? Not a single word of protest against the cut in soldiers' pay has come from the colonels and captains and majors on the other side of the Committee. They, who go on to platforms throughout the country with the Union Jack wrapped around them and make passionate appeals to the electors on the ground of patriotism, who are supposed to be the guardians of the Army and Navy and armed forces, are prepared to sacrifice the poor private soldier on the altar of economy, but are not prepared to make an adequate sacrifice themselves out of their dividends and profits. That is what it amounts to.I am here as a post-War soldier, and as a war-time soldier, who never rose above the rank of private, had there been a rank lower than that of private I expect I should have been there. I was proud to be a private soldier, one of the rank and file, and I rise to make a plea for fairer and juster treatment of the bottom dogs in the Services. I believe that they are being unjustly penalised in this Bill. It is all very well for lawyers to tell us that there is no contract. I am not concerned about the legal aspect of the question, but morally there is a contract, and for the good name of our country we should maintain not merely what is legally right, but what is morally right as well. Moral things, I know, do not appeal to lawyers. The only things that appeal to them are fees, and if the fees are big enough they will argue that black is white one day and green is red another day. We cannot take them seriously when they say that there is no legal contract as far as the soldier is concerned. The soldier knows that if he signs for seven years and five years, that is 12 years, and at the end of three or four years of his Colour service he gets fed up and wants to go home, that if he goes away from barracks and from military discipline the civil police will be put upon his track; he will be brought into court and charged with desertion and when he gets back to the regiment he will be court-martialled and sent to the guard house to carry weights around and be generally put through it by the sergeant-major of his regiment. He is under no illusion as to whether there is A, contract or not. He knows that he has to serve the full time. This Economy Bill says that although he was promised certain conditions during his period of service, because a national emergency has arisen that contract must be broken. He may be a man who fought in the last War, a man who helped to build up the profits of those people who did not fight in that War, but who did very well out of it; the hard faced men who comprised the 1918 Parliament, the hard faced men who have hung around the neck of this nation a debt of £1,000,000 a day in interest, and in order that the Ark of the Covenant shall not be touched, in order that the interest shall remain intact the poor old soldier, the "P.B.I." as we used to call ourselves in the Army, the poor old infantry, have to shoulder the burden while those who made their money are to make no sacrifice. I have pleaded in this House before not only that the soldier's pay should not be reduced, but that as long as we have armed forces we should see that their standards of life and remuneration are at least equal to the decent standard of life enjoyed by certain classes of the community outside. Before these cuts came the ordinary soldier and sailors' pay was well below the poverty line and these cuts, therefore, only aggravate the position. Why are the poor infantry soldiers, the ordinary private soldiers picked upon like this? The Government say: "We know what happened during the War. Tommy had to go through an awful time; he was always grousing," as the old song said, "Grousing, grousing, grousing." It was perfectly true. Tommy was grousing, but he went through with the job. And the Government have said: "We know what Tommy is made of. He will grouse about these cuts, but nothing else will happen. He will go on grousing with his fag and lucifer."Now the Government propose to take his fag away, and leave him only the lucifer. I want to remind hon. Members that although the Army apparently, as far as the censorship allows us to know, have accepted these cuts quietly, I have a recollection of what happened towards the end of 1918. The War is over and we have had diaries and memoirs written by some of the generals and colonels and admirals. We know that there was serious trouble at Etaples. Hon. Members opposite will no doubt remember that trouble. I dare say they remember how the commanding officer was given the raspberry by the soldiers when he went to address them, and how they refused to have the wool pulled over their eyes. I know I must be careful because the last speaker but one reproved my hon. Friend the Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. W. Brown) for using the language of menace. I am not using the language of menace. I am asking hon. Members opposite to face the facts. It is not menace to tell them what might happen if they are not careful. Although apparently the ordinary private soldier, as far as we are allowed to know, has accepted these cuts, it must be remembered that the Army to-day is a very different Army from the pre-War Army, that it is mainly conscripted by hunger and poverty, and there are in it men with trade union training and trade union principles, men in bigger numbers than ever before who have themselves endured unemployment and poverty; and if there are troublous times coming, after all the Government gave in to a certain section affected by this Bill, because those people had the common sense to say:
"We do not want to fight, but by jingo if we do,
Those other people did not want to cause any trouble. They just folded their arms and the Government could not carry on without them. Because the Government could not carry on without them the Government had to do something. So we have the Government capitulating and crumbling at the display of determination on the part of one of the Services. I may be asked, "Why are you complaining if the Government have made concessions? Why not accept them?" In the first place I am opposed to the whole principle of the Economy Bill. Secondly, I believe that what has happened in the past few days, in the capitulation of the Government to the soldiers and the sailors, is going to create a very desperate and a very ugly position in the large industrial centres of the country. There are some of us who, if necessity comes, are prepared to transfer the fight from the Floor of this House to our constituencies, who are prepared to be amongst the unemployed and to lead the unemployed in demanding from the Public Assistance Committees that justice shall be done to them. We are justified in doing that, and we are encouraged in doing that by what has happened regarding the cuts in the pay of the Army aril Navy. If a lead is given by the other services and it is taken notice of because they make themselves awkward, my view is that those of us who live amongst the unemployed have a right to take this action. I stated only last night that these unemployed men come to me. Every week-end I get 20 to 30 of them, desperate cases. There is the case of the man, his wife and three children from whom the Government are taking 3s. 9d. a week, which means taking crusts from the children and taking milk out of the baby's bottle. It cannot be wondered that those of us who do not spend our time in the West End clubs, but live right in the heart of our constituencies and see the poverty around us, get warm on this question. It cannot be wondered that it makes us fear that if a lead is given by the Services which brings some alleviation of their suffering, it is our duty to go and give a lead to the unemployed in order to get some alleviation of their suffering. That is how I feel about it. On this question of the Services, I would like to know upon what terms my right hon. Friends, or ex-friends, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister, went into the National Government. Was there any give-and-take on this matter? I remember the occasion when both the Gentlemen I have mentioned were very deeply interested in the Workers' and Soldiers' Council movement. I myself was on the executive of that particular movement, and I met the present Chancellor of the Exchequer and the present Prime Minister in London regarding it. I was representing the Midlands. In those days we were discussing the possibility of setting up workers' and soldiers' councils. Had there been in operation workers' and soldiers' councils, there is a possibility that all the Naval trouble would have been avoided, and the possibility of any trouble in the Army would have been avoided, and the National Government would have been avoided. Here the Government go to men who have entered into a contract of service, and say to them "We are going to vary your service." The men have no voice in the matter. In order that any future developments in economy can be properly carried out with the consent of all parties concerned I ask whether, seeing that in the present Government we have two ex-members of the Workers' and Soldiers' Council movement, the Government have any intention of setting up throughout the country workers' and solders' councils. In the present state of emergency that is a very appropriate step to take. After all the workers and the soldiers are suffering the cuts. A workers' and soldiers' council would enable them to come together and to decide upon com- mon action. What is the view of the Government on that particular matter? I am opposed not merely to the cute in the soldiers' pay, but also to the cute in the sailors' pay and in the pay of the Civil Service. I am not concerned with the confidential exchanges across the Table between the two Front Benches. When this crisis arose I simply said: "I belong to the working class. My class has made sacrifices ever since the War, and of course before the War." We are told about equality of sacrifice—sheer bunkum. What happened during the War years? Very well preserved old gentlemen went on recruiting platforms, carrying their futures in front of them, and they said to the populace and the young men of this country, "Go on lads, we will stand behind you." It was a long way behind. They also said, "This is a great crisis in the history of our country. We have to beat the Germans. We have to get the Germans down, and by Jove, in doing it there must be equality of sacrifice." They got all the equality, and we made all the sacrifices. Do hon. Members think that the same bait is going to "cod" the workers twice in succession? The Government talk about equality of sacrifice. Where was the equality of sacrifice during the War? The lads who went out came back maimed and crippled and smashed, and some of them to-day are going to public assistance committees. Pawnshops are full of the medals that they won, and those who stopped at home and coined the blood of the lads who died, or made profits out of the suffering of the women and children who were left behind, are in the House of Lords rewarded with peerages because they made brown paper soled boots and sold adulterated—We've got the ships, we've got the men, we've got the money too!"
Is the hon. Member suggesting that Members of the House of Lords did not take their part in the War?
I am not suggesting anything of the kind.
The hon. Member most deliberately made a statement to that effect.
The hon. and gallant Member is not on the quarter-deck now.
The hon. Member has not given way, and therefore the hon. and gallant Member must remain in his seat.
I am prepared to give way to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but I am not prepared to be bullied by him. In the War he was in a position to say: "Two men, fall in," and I was in the guard-room. But here I am his equal, and I intend to say what I want to say to those who had the power to bully and dominate over my class during the War. What I was saying about the other place was not that numbers of them made no sacrifices during the War, but that those who stayed at home and made profits during the War were rewarded by places in the House of Lords and were able to buy their peerages, many of them during that particular time. Now we have this humbug about equality of sacrifice. I deny that there was anything approaching equality of sacrifice during the War. I deny that there has been anything like equality of sacrifice since the War.When I am faced with this crisis as a Member of this House, I do not forget the history of the past. I do not forget that my class has been sold every time. Equality of sacrifice has been the watchword and the catch-cry and I am not prepared to acquiesce in the selling of my class again. I am on this side of the House because I realise that this Economy Bill and its provisions for cutting down the pay of those employed in the Services, as well as the other provisions, are a declaration of war on the working-class by the people on the other side of the House. If I could fight in the War from 1914 to the end of 1917 against Germans who had never done a thing to me, whom I had never even seen before, then, by God, if it is war in this country I am fighting on the side of my class against enemies that I can see, against enemies that I do know have meant to the men and the women and children of my class poverty and suffering and sorrow at least ever since the end of the War. 8.0 p.m. I speak with an ever-present knowledge of what the working class are going through. I myself have stood in the queue at the Employment Exchange. I have been before a court of referees. I have known what it is to scrape to make both ends meet. In my childhood I was the eldest in a family of eight; my father was a painter, engaged in a fluctuating trade and I know the conditions in a working-class home. I am not prepared to support the hon. Member opposite who delivered such a lawyer-like speech on this matter. He said that we ought to accept all the economies in the Bill and as many more as we could think about. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I gather that the hon. Member assents to my rough-and-ready interpretation of his speech. But I ask right hon. Gentlemen opposite, when are they going to start at the top end? Why do not the people who believe in that view, ginger up the Government? Some of us on this side helped to ginger up the previous Government. Why do not those people ginger up their Government? If they believe that the way to obviate injustices is to get economies higher up, let us see them delivering the goods. Let us see them coughing it up.
May I ask the hon. Member whether, during the War, there was equality of sacrifice among the working class?
Certainly not! I said there was no equality of sacrifice during the War. The Government put many of the working class at jobs where they had better conditions than the lads in the trenches. It was the Government who put them into that kind of work, but there was no equality of sacrifice then, and there is going to be none now, and that is why I oppose the Bill. I believe that this Measure is going to be used by right hon. Gentlemen opposite to do more than merely reduce the pay of soldiers and sailors. Once they have got Tommy and Jack down, then, Tom, Dick and Harry will come down as well. The workers in both the sheltered and unsheltered trades will be attacked, while the whole Economy Bill depends upon the attack on the benefits of the unemployed. By this Bill, I say, you are robbing the poorest of the poor and taking the crust from the child of the unemployed man.I would like some enlightenment from hon. Members opposite. I cannot understand why the agonised cry of the distressed bondholder has more effect upon the hearts of right hon. Gentlemen opposite than the piteous plea of the hungry child in the slums. That is the whole situation boiled down to plain simple language. We have been told that all these economies are necessary. As one of the multitude of men who took part in that great "shemozzle" from 1914 to 1918, I am surely permitted to ask why the unemployed, many of whom are ex-service men, many of whom wear the silver badge or the British Legion crest, should be treated as they are now being treated. These men were promised "a land fit for heroes to live in" and many other things. They were promised that, if we could only beat the enemy, after the War things would be all right. Why is it that the ex-service men who has been unemployed for 26 weeks should now be sent to the public assistance committee? These are the men whom you called heroes in 1914; the men whom you cheered and feted in 1914, the men whom you welcomed when they came on leave, the men whom you invited into your own homes, you rich people! Why is it that these men, now that they are no longer wearing khaki or blue, now that they are once more in "civilians" are being told: "You do not want to work; you are a shirker; you must go to the public assistance committee and there must be a strict investigation into all that is coming to you, and we must see to it that you get the barest subsistence level and not a farthing more." You did not say that to the soldier when he was in hospital blue, and when you asked him to your homes and gave him tea in your drawing-rooms. But he is still the same man. From 1914 to 1918 he was doing your dirty work lie was fighting the enemy you had selected for him and he was a hero. To-day, he has doffed that uniform and instead of being in the ranks of an army dominated by capitalism he is in the ranks of his own army. Instead of wanting to fight the enemy chosen for him by you, he wants to fight the enemy that he knows to be his enemy—the enemy he can see. Because he is taking that attitude, you say: "He may be the same chap but we do not want another war just yet, and we can let him pass. We can train his children for the next war. We cannot bluff his generation, but we may bluff the next generation." You think you can treat these men with absolute brutality at present. Who would have thought in the years from 1914 to 1918 when the lads gaily went forth in their khaki uniforms to crush German militarism, that those same lads who fought Prussianism and militarism would in 1931 be subjected to the Prussianism and militarism of the Poor Law of this country. I most emphatically protest against it. I am not singling out the ex-service men, because I object to my class being divided into watertight compartments, but I believe that these things are proof to us that, being an ex-service man does not count for anything to-day. The only thing that counts today is whether you are prepared to stand by the class to which you belong, or whether you are prepared to bow the knee to the Baal of capitalism. For me, I stand by the class to which I belong.
A little earlier in the Debate, the hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. W. J. Brown) addressed a specific question to me. I asked him at that time to continue his speech and promised that I would endeavour to answer him later. I now rise to fulfil that promise. I wish, in the first place, to clear away what appears to me to be a misapprehension on the part of the hon. Member. He invited the Committee to support this Amendment on the ground that cuts in the Civil Service ought not to be made subject to Orders-in-Council.
I suggest that that is an inadequate representation of what I said. I tried to describe the cuts that had already taken place; to argue that they were unjust and to ask for a statement of the intentions of His Majesty's Government about the future, especially because of the apparent ambiguity of the paragraph in the White Paper.
I shall come to that, but the point which I am on now is a different one. The hon. Member asked the Committee to support this Amendment on the ground that cuts in the Civil Service could be made under Orders-in-Council and ought not to be so made. What I desire to say, in order to clear away an apparent misapprehension, is that Orders-in-Council are not required to make cuts in the Civil Service, and it is not proposed to make these cuts by Orders-in-Council. If this Amendment were accepted, it would still be possible to make cuts in the Civil Service and the Orders which the Amendment seeks to delete from the Bill, are not required for the purposes of the Civil Service at all.Having said that, I pass on to the point which the hon. Member repeated just now. He quoted a certain passage from the Memorandum on Reductions in National Expenditure and attributed to that passage, a meaning which seems to me wilfully to distort the natural interpretation which would he placed upon it. The hon. Member said that the paragraph in question was designed to indicate, on the part of the Government, an intention to stabilise the cost-of-living figure at 50 per cent., having first had the advantage of the continual reduction which followed the fall, in the cost of living. What does the paragraph say? The words are:
Then follows the passage to which the hon. Member took exception:"In the case of the Civil Service, provision has already been made in the 1931 Estimates by the late Government for a 10-point drop in cost-of-living, bonus as from the 1st March, 1931, and for a further 5-point drop as from the 1st September."
I submit that it is grotesque to read into that sentence anything more than its obvious, natural meaning. You have to make an estimate of what saving may be anticipated next year on the Civil Service. In order to do that, you must obviously take some figure as the cost-of-living bonus. The figure at present being 50, the assumption is made that that figure remains the same during the whole of this year. If it does, then the saving will be £800,000. If the 50 were to change, obviously the estimate would have to be changed, and it is really putting into the White Paper something which certainly was never intended, and I do not think ought to be attributed to it, to suggest any sinister design behind those words. The hon. Member, I hope, will be satisfied with that explanation so far as that point is concerned. He asked what were the intentions of the Government with regard to the Civil Service. I would remind the Committee that the Royal Commission on the Civil Service came to the conclusion that"Assuming continued payment of bonus at the rate to which it was reduced on the 1st September during the whole of 1932, there will be a further saving that year of £800,000 in addition to that secured on the Estimates for this year."
They went on to recommend consolidated rates of remuneration which were roughly equivalent to the cost of pay plus bonus of 55 points, which was the level at which it stood before the last cut on the 1st September. That was their recommendation, but in another passage they stated that their recommendations as to pay were subject to the overriding condition that the financial position, of which the Royal Commission could not be the final judges, admitted of their adoption. Therefore, these recommendations were subject, of course, to the financial condition of the country. The late Government decided that the financial condition of the country required the operation of the sliding scale scheme to proceed and the 5-point drop to take place on the 1st September. The present Government found that decision already taken. It was not part of the scheme of economies which has been decided upon, but was decided before the question of the general cuts had been considered at all. I want now to say to the hon. Member that, as regards the recommendation of the Royal Commission and the permanent arrangements to be made, the Government have not come to any conclusion at all, and that the 5-point drop which has already taken effect on 1st September is to be considered without prejudice to the future consideration of the Royal Commission's recommendation."The present general standard of remuneration of civil servants is reasonable in the light of the wage levels now prevailing and calls for no substantial revision."
When the Royal Commission made the recommendation to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, the Royal Commission was thinking in terms of the pound at its own value; it was not contemplating what has subsequently happened. Do I understand from what the right hon. Gentleman has now said that the Government, having so far reached no final decision about the Civil Service pay, are prepared to look de novo at the whole situation, having regard to the three elements, namely, the flight from the pound, the Royal Commission's recommendation, and the financial situation, and to enter into reasonable negotiations with the representatives of the Service with a view to finding a just and equitable settlement?
I think that goes a little further than I should be justified in accepting at the moment. On the question of entering into negotiations and so forth, I am not authorised to speak as to the exact procedure that will be adopted, but I think I may say generally, in answer to the hon. Member, that the question of the future arrangements to be made with the Civil Service will have to be taken up de novo. It must be considered in the light of all the circumstances existing at the time, and I have not the slightest doubt that when the Government come to consider that question, they will follow the course of procedure that has always been followed in the past. In the meantime, the present Government have made their statement, that they would consider the 5-point drop, already decided upon before they came into office, as the Civil Service contribution to the new question of economy which has arisen since that was decided, and that they would not ask for any further cut from the Civil Service in respect of these economies.
In reply to what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, might I raise the case of the industrial employés in the Royal dockyards? It cannot be said that these men are members of the Fighting Services, nor are they Civil Servants, but they come somewhere midway between these two sections of the community, and I would like to ask the Government spokesman whether what the right hon. Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) has just said as applying to members of the Civil Service will also apply to men and women who work in the Royal dockyards.In the city of Portsmouth there are over 10,000 of these men, who are, under the May Committee recommendations, about to suffer a cut of 2s. per week. I understand that they have taken the matter up through the proper negotiating machinery and that meetings have been held at the Admiralty on this matter. I also understand that they have been told that, in advance, the Government have decided that the 2s. preferential bonus is to go. I submit that here is a case which should be classed, if possible, with members of the Civil Service, because these men are liable to be sent abroad, in many eases their work is of a most dangerous nature—they deal with explosives, and it is dangerous in other directions, such as the testing of battleships and so on—and it seems to me that they should be treated in a different way from some other sections which have been under review this evening. Another point that I would like to make in this connection is, that they suffer a deduction of 2s. towards their pension, although I believe it is understood that their pensions are non-contributory, and yet, as established men, they have to pay every week 2s. of their pay. Considering that their basic wage is £2 8s., and that it suffers the reduction that I have spoken of, considering that it is now decided that a further 2s. preferential bonus comes off, and with the knowledge that the cost of living is likely to go up, I plead with the Government that they should include these workers in the dockyards, who, although they might not be classed with civil servants proper and certainly are not members of the fighting Services proper, still are employés of the Government and should be included with others in any review which might take place. I was also glad to hear the First Lord of the Admiralty say, with regard to the cuts in naval pay, that in this review which is to take place he is going to deal with hard classes and not merely with hard cases. I think that in that direction he has been wise, and it will cause an immense amount of satisfaction, from what I know of them, among the members of the lower deck.
I very much regretted many of the statements which were made by one hon. Member who spoke from the Opposition side. In his reference to the War and to conditions existing between officers and men, he rather led the Committee to believe that those relationships were not of the best, that the officers did not treat their men well, and so on. I am sure that those men will be among those who will express the deepest regret and resentment at those statements publicly made in this House. The hon. Member was very unfair in the statements that he made. I think he was carried away by his feelings; at the same time, that is no excuse for making the most unfounded statements which he did. So far as the reductions in pay in the Naval Service are concerned, we all regret those reductions, but we on this side recognise that those reductions were inevitable if the Government were to carry out their policy of bringing about economies in all sections of State service. You cannot leave out one Service and reduce the pay in another.It is a most regrettable thing that it was necessary to bring about these reductions, but I am sure that some things said in this House with regard to the reductions will be resented. The men in the Service are quite willing to bear their share in the present national crisis. As a naval officer, I regret the incidents that happened in His Majesty's Fleet. I can realise that when the men who had been living on the high rate of pay and had adapted their lives accordingly, were suddenly brought face to face with a reduction, they would be rather hard put to it to know how to adapt themselves to the new rates. At the same time, I am sure that all ranks in the Navy will accept these reductions in the most loyal way in the best spirit of the Service. These men were no doubt carried away by their feelings at the time, and I am glad that the First Lord and the Prime Minister have been able to make a statement that the reductions in no case will exceed 10 per cent. If the hardship of the case of the young married seaman can be dealt with, I shall be very glad. I would remind hon. Members opposite who are so bitter about these reductions in pay, that after all the late Government agreed to them.
Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
The Committee divided: Ayes, 274; Noes, 221.
Division No. 489.]
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Eden, Captain Anthony||Lovat-Fraser, J. A.|
|Ainsworth, Lieut.-Col. Charles||Edge, Sir William||Lymington, Viscount|
|Albery, Irving James||Edmondson, Major A. J.||McConnell, Sir Joseph|
|Alexander, Sir Wm. (Glasgow, Cent'l)||Elliot, Major Walter E.||MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)|
|Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Liverp'l.,W.)||England, Colonel A.||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir William (Armagh)||Erskine, Lord (Somerset,Weston-s-M.)||Maclean, Sir Donald (Cornwall, N.)|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)||Macquisten, F. A.|
|Aske, Sir Robert||Everard, W. Lindsay||Maitland, A. (Kent, Faversham)|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Falle, Sir Bertram G.||Makins, Brigadier-General E.|
|Astor, Viscountess||Ferguson, Sir John||Mander, Geoffrey le M.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Fison, F. G. Clavering||Margesson, Captain H. D.|
|Atkinson, C.||Foot, Isaac||Marjoribanks, Edward|
|Balfour, George (Hempstead)||Ford, Sir P. J.||Markham, S. F.|
|Balfour, Captain H. H. (I.of Thanet)||Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||Mason, Colonel Glyn K.|
|Balniel, Lord||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Meller, R. J.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Galbraith, J. F. W.||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon||Ganzoni, Sir John||Millar, J. D.|
|Bennett, Sir E. N. (Cardiff, Centrel)||Gault, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton||Milne, Wardlaw-, J. S.|
|Berry, Sir George||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)|
|Betterton, Sir Henry B.||George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesea)||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. Sir B.|
|Bevan, S. J. (Holborn)||Gibson, C. G. (Pudsey & Otley)||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)|
|Birkett, W. Norman||Gillett, George M.||Morris, Rhys Hopkins|
|Blindell, James||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Glassey, A. E.||Morrison, W. S. (Glos., Cirencester)|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Glyn, Major R. G. C.||Muirhead, A. J.|
|Bowyer, Captain Sir George E. W.||Gower, Sir Robert||Nail-Cain, A. R. N.|
|Boyce, Leslie||Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.J||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Granville, E.||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)|
|Broadbent, Colonel J.||Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.||Nicholson. O. (Westminster)|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'I'd. Hexham)||Gray, Milner||O'Connor, T. J.|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter||Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackley)|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen.H.C.(Berks, Newb'y)||Greene, W. P. Crawford||Oman, Sir Charles William C.|
|Buchan, John||Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Owen, Major G. (Carnarvon)|
|Bullock, Captain Malcolm||Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro' W.)||Peake, Capt. Osbert|
|Burgin, Dr. E. L.||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)|
|Burton, Colonel H. W.||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Perkins, W. R. D.|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)|
|Campbell, E. T.||Hamilton, Sir George (llford)||Power, Sir John Cecil|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Zetland)||Pownall, Sir Assheton|
|Castle Stewart, Earl of||Hammersley, S. S.||Pybus, Percy John|
|Cauttey, Sir Henry S.||Hanbury, C.||Ramsay, T. B. Wilson|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Rawson, Sir Cooper|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R.(Prtsmth.S.)||Harbord, A.||Reid, David D. (County Down)|
|Cazalet, Captain Victor A.||Hartington, Marquess of||Remer, John R.|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.)||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Rentoul, Sir Gervals S.|
|Chadwick, Capt. Sir Robert Burton||Haslam, Henry C.||Reynolds, Col. Sir James|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn.Sir J.A.(Blrm.,W.)||Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd,Henley)||Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston)||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)|
|Chapman, Sir S.||Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)|
|Christie, J. A.||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Robinson, Sir T. (Lanes, Stretford)|
|Church, Major A. G.||Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar)||Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell|
|Clydesdale, Marquess of||Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Rosbotham, D. S. T.|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Horne, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert S.||Ross, Ronald D.|
|Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir George||Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K.||Rothschild, J. de|
|Cohen, Major J. Brunel||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N)||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E.|
|Colfox, Major William Philip||Hunter,Dr. Joseph||Russell, Richard John (Eddlsbury)|
|Colman, N. C. D||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||Salmon, Major I,|
|Colville, Major D. J.||Hurd, Percy A.||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Hurst,Sir Gerald B.||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)|
|Cooper, A. Duff||Hutchison, Maj-Gen. Sir R.||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Courtauld, Major J. S.||Inskip, Sir Thomas||Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L.||Iveagh Countess of||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.|
|Cowan, D. M.||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)||Savery, S. S.|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Scott, James|
|Crichton-Stuart, Lord C.||Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Camborne)||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Jowitt, Rt. Hon. Sir W. A. (Preston)||Shepperson, Sir Ernest Whittome|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. C.||Kedward, R. M. (Kent, Ashford)||Simms, Major-General J.|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Kidersley, Major G. M.||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U., Belfst)|
|Cunliffe-Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Knight, Holford||Skelton, A. N.|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Knox, Sir Alfred||Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)|
|Dairymple-White, U.-Col. Sir Godfrey||Lamb, Sir J. Q||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. (Hertford)||Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R.||Smithers, Waldron|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Law, Sir Alfred (Derby. High Peak)||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Davies, E. C. (Montgomery)||Leigh, Sir John (Clapham)||Somerset, Thomas|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Leihton, Major B. E. P.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Dawson, Sir Philip||Lewis, Oswald (Colchester)||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Little, Graham-, Sir Ernest||Southby, Commander A. R. J.|
|Despencer-Robertson, Major J. A. F.||Llewellin, Major J. J.||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.|
|Dixey, A. C.||Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hon. Godfrey||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Dixon, Captain Rt. Hon. Herbert||Locker-Lampson, Com. O.(Handsw'th)||Stanley, Hon. O. (Westmorland)|
|Duckworth, G. A. V.||Lockwood, Captain J. H.||Stewart, W. J. (Belfast, South)|
|Dugdale, Capt. T. L.||Long, Major Hon. Eric||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Sueter, Rear-Admiral M. F.||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Taylor, Vice-Admiral E. A.||Wallace, Capt. D. E. (Hornsey)||Womersley, W. J.|
|Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. Lambert||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Thompson, Luke||Warrender, Sir Victor||Wood, Major McKenzie (Banff)|
|Thomson, Sir F.||Waterhouse, Captain Charles||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton|
|Titchfield, Major the Marquess of||Wayland, Sir William A.|
|Todd, Capt. A. J.||Wells, Sydney R.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Train, J.||White, H. G.||Viscount Elmley and Sir George Penny.|
|Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Turton, Robert Hugh||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fite, West)||Hardie, G. D. (Springburn)||Naylor, T. E.|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Noel Baker, P. J.|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Haycock, A. W.||Noel-Buxton, Baroness (Norfolk, N.)|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (Hillsbro')||Hayday, Arthur||Oldfield, J. R.|
|Allen, W. E. D. (Ballast, W.)||Hayes, John Henry||Oliver, George Harold (Ilkeston)|
|Ammon, Charles George||Henderson, Right Hon. A. (Burnley)||Owen, H. F. (Hereford)|
|Angell, Sir Norman||Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)||Palin, John Henry|
|Arnott, John||Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield)||Paling, Wilfrid|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Herriotts, J.||Palmer, E. T.|
|Baker, John (Wolverhampton, Bliston)||Hicks, Ernest George||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)|
|Baldwin, Oliver (Dudley)||Hirst, G. H. (York W.R. Wentworth)||Perry, S. F.|
|Barnes, Alfred John||Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.|
|Barr, James||Hoffman, P. C.||Phillips, Dr. Marion|
|Daley, Joseph||Hollins, A.||Pole, Major D. G.|
|Beckett, John (Camberwell, Peckham)||Hopkin, Daniel||Potts, John S.|
|Bennett, William (Battersea, South)||Horrabin, J. F.||Price, M. P.|
|Benson, G,||Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield)||Raynes, W. R.|
|Sevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Isaacs, George||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Bowen, J. W.||Jenkins, Sir William||Riley, F. F. (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Ritson, J.|
|Broad, Francis Alfred||Johnston, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Romeril, H. G.|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Rowson, Guy|
|Bromfield, William||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Bromley, J.||Kelly, W. T.||Samuel, H. Walter (Swansea, West)|
|Brooke, W.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Sanders, W. S.|
|Brothers, M.||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Sandham, E.|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts, Mansfield)||Kinley, J.||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (South Ayrshire)||Kirkwood, D.||Sexton, Sir James|
|Buchanan, G.||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)|
|Burgess, F. G.||Lathan, G. (Sheffield, Park)||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis|
|Buxton, C. R. (Yorks, W. R. Elland)||Law, Albert (Bolton)||Sherwood, G. H.|
|Cameron, A. G.||Law, A. (Rossendale)||Shiels, Dr. Drummond|
|Cape, Thomas||Lawrence, Susan||Shinwell, E.|
|Carter, W. (St. Pancras, s.W.)||Lawrie, Hugh Hartley (Stalybridge)||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Charleton, H. C.||Lawson, John James||Simmons, C. J.|
|Clarke, J. S.||Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle)||Sinkinson, George|
|Cluse, W. S.||Leach, W.||Smith, Ban (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Lee, Frank (Derby, N.E.)||Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Lindley, Fred W.||Smith, Tom (Pontetract)|
|Cove, William G.||Lloyd, C. Ellis||Snowden, Thomas (Accrington)|
|Daggar, George||Logan, David Gilbert||Sorensen, R.|
|Dallas, George||Longbottom, A. W.||Stamford, Thomas W.|
|Dalton, Hugh||Longden, F.||Stephen, Campbell|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Lunn, William||Strachey, E. J. St. Loe|
|Dukes, C.||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Strauss, G. R.|
|Duncan, Charles||McElwee, A.||Sullivan, J.|
|Dunnico, H.||McEntee, V. L.||Sutton, J. E.|
|Ede, James Chuter||McKinlay, A.||Taylor, R. A. (Lincoln)|
|Edmunds, J. E.||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Taylor, W. B. (Norfolk, S.W.)|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||McShane, John James||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Edwards, E. (Morpeth)||Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Egan, W. H.||Manning, E. L.||Tout, W. J.|
|Freeman, Peter||March, S.||Townend, A. E|
|Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton)||Marley, J.||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles|
|Gardner, J. P. (Hammersmith, N)||Marshall, Fred||Turner, Sir Ben|
|Gibbins, Joseph||Mathers, George||Viant, S. P.|
|Gibson, H. M. (Lanes, Mossley)||Maxton, James||Walkden, A. G.|
|Gill, T. H.||Middleton, G.||Walker, J.|
|Gossling, A. G.||Mills, J. E.||Wallace, H. W.|
|Gould, F.||Milner, Major J.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Graham, Rt. Hon. Win. (Edin., Cent.)||Montague, Frederick||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Coine)||Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Morley, Ralph||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Welsh, James (Paisley)|
|Grundy, Thomas W.||Morrison, Robert C. (Tottenham, N.)||Welsh, James C. (Coatbridge)|
|Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton)||Mort, D. L.||Westwood, Joseph|
|Half, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Mosley, Lady C. (Stoke-on-Trent)||Whiteley, Wilfrid (Blrm., Ladywood)|
|Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Mosley, Sir Oswald (Smethwick)||Whiteley, William (Blaydon)|
|Hall, Capt. W. G. (Portsmouth, C.)||Muff, G.||Wilkinson, Ellen C.|
|Hamilton, Mary Agnes (Blackburn)||Muggeridge, H. T.||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Hardle, David (Rutherglen)||Murnin, Hugh||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)||Winterton, G. E.(Leicester,Loughb'gh)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercllife)||Young, R. S. (Islington, North)||Mr. T. Henderson and Mr. Thurtle.|
|Wilson, J. (Oldham)||Young, Sir R. (Lancaster, Newton)|
I beg to move, in page 2, line 7, to leave out paragraph (b).The case I have to put on this Amendment is so strong and overwhelming that if the discussion on this Bill were proceeding in the ordinary fashion, and one had more time to discuss this particular matter, I feel quite certain we could obtain such substantial modifications of what is laid down in the Measure as would give us a good deal of that for which we are asking. What is before us in the Bill and in the White Paper, and as amplified and explained by answers which have been given by the Minister of Labour, is a proposal that those on transitional benefit shall have their needs assessed by public assistance authorities under the procedure and according to the ordinary standards of the Poor Law. When this matter was raised the other day the Minister of Labour rose in his place and said that my right hon. Friend the late Minister of Labour had agreed to this proposal. On that point the late Minister of Labour and I stand exactly on the same footing. Neither of us was present at the discussions referred to, and on the question put by the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas) the late Minister of Labour did not altogether understand the point. [Laughter.] No, I think he did not fully understand the gravamen of the point that was put to him. My right hon. Friend said, in answer to a question by the right hon. Member for Derby, who had asked him whether a proposal for a means test was ever agreed to, that he himself—I am summarising his words—was prepared to agree to a national scheme which involved the investigation of the question, but not under the Poor Law. Those who have had little or no experience of the Poor Law regard that as a distinction without a difference, but there is an enormous difference. Hon. Members opposite, if I may judge by paragraphs in the newspapers and by questions which have appeared, seem to be full of the idea that among the hundreds of thousands of people on transitional benefit there are individuals with satisfactory private means who ought not to be allowed to draw transitional benefit. Among those hundreds of thousands there may be a few who in a long life have accumulated comfortable means—there may be such people—and if the question were whether Parliament ought to fix a limit of income, and say that no person with private means above that limit should receive transitional benefit, and if that were to be administered by the same methods as the contributory old age pensions are administered, then I should be perfectly willing to admit that the matter was an arguable one, and to argue about the details of limits and all the rest of it. But the proposal to put men now on transitional benefit under public assistance committees and apply to them the ordinary Poor Law test is one which, speaking for myself, and I know that I am speaking for most of those behind me, is a thing so repugnant to all my experience and all my feelings that not only would I not dream for one moment of associating myself with a Government that did such a thing, but if by any inconceivable concatenation of circumstances the party itself should have asked me to do it, I would have left the party. To have recourse to the Poor Law is something which is bitterly repugnant to most members of the working class. It was believed, and I believed it myself, that to a large extent the Poor Law stigma had vanished. We have had recently a careful and authoritative inquiry, the only one I have known of recent years, the special inquiry set on foot by the Royal Commission on Unemployment Insurance, as to what actually happens to workers cut off unemployment benefit. That evidence has not been published, because it is so bulky, but it is summarised fully and carefully in the current number of the "Economist." The "Economist" says that the investigators were struck with the reluctance of persons on transitional benefit to go to the Poor Law. The investigation gave a number of cases of self-respecting people who refused to apply for Poor Law relief. They gave a number of instances of men who almost preferred to starve rather than go to the Poor Law. Why is it that there is this bitter feeling against the Poor Law service? I think it is because these people feel that by applying for relief they fall to the pauper status. That is true in point of fact, although the money actually comes from another source. In connection with transitional benefit, there are courts of law, and referees to determine these claims. There is also a body of case law, and there are umpires to keep the referees more or less within the bounds of precedent, and they settle case law exactly like the High Court judges. The regulations governing transitional benefit are made by a Minister of the Crown and that Minister is responsible to the House of Commons. How does all that compare with the Poor Law? In the case of the Poor Law, there is no appeal to the Ministry in England, although there is a provision of that kind in Scotland. I want to know if the Minister intends to assimilate the practice in England to the practice in Scotland. Under the Poor Law the Minister has very great restricting power, but he has no power to lay down a minimum standard of means. The late Minister of Health took legal opinion on this point, and he was informed that he could not lay down a minimum standard. Under the Poor Law there will be no Minister responsible in the House of Commons and there will be no Minister with power to lay down regulations. There is no established practice in regard to this point between one Poor Law authority and another. Some boards of guardians have scales of allowances above the amount of unemployment benefit, and others have scales which are considerably below that standard. On the other hand, some authorities have no scales at all, and declare that they relieve persons according to their needs. I remember when I was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health there was one authority which, in the opinion of the Ministry, had adopted a scale which was much too low, and we desired to raise it, but all we could do in that direction was to send that particular authority a strongly worded remonstrance. If we adopt a system which throws those who are receiving transitional benefit on to the Poor Law the Minister will have no power to enforce a uniform standard of maintenance. The most alarming thing about this administration is that the Poor Law authorities are subject to the limitations of the Poor Law, which means that you must not give relief except for the immediate purpose of relieving destitution. In administering the Poor Law, the practice is to estimate the income of the whole household, taking all the income which comes into it, including grandfather's old age pension, sick benefit, the earnings of the children, and the pension of the soldier's widow, and count the whole together and divide it by the number of people who are members of the family to see if there is enough for the family to exist upon. That is the Poor Law practice. It is true that some guardians make little concessions. Some do not count the earnings of the children, and some do not count the small pensions, but what I have described is the general practice of most of the local authorities. What does that mean? It means that the bulk of the cost of keeping unemployed people will be thrown upon the relatives. If you consider where there is most unemployment you will find that it is concentrated in certain localities, and when you adopt Poor Law standards for the unemployed you will throw a great cost on the rates, in fact you will be imposing a new form of taxation on some poor unfortunate area. I have already quoted from the Royal Commission on Unemployment which dealt with unemployment benefit, and I have shown that 46 per cent. of the unemployed were living at the expense of their relatives. If the Poor Law standards are applied to the unemployed, you will find that the relatives of these men, who are just keeping their heads above water, will be brought down to the common level. That is not economy, but it is a capricious form of taxation which is particularly repugnant. The process which is now suggested is reversing the whole course and progress of legislation which has been passed during the last century. The Royal Commission on the Poor Law reported that many uncertainties of the Poor Law had been remedied, and that a good many persons had been removed from the ambit of the Poor Law. That process began in 1908 with the passage of the Old Age Pensions Act, when it was laid down that the deserving poor should not be left to be dealt with by the Poor Law, but should be dealt with in some other way. By Statute after Statute—by Health Insurance, removing the sick to a great extent from the Poor Law; by Unemployment Insurance, removing the unemployed to an enormous extent from the Poor Law; by the whole structure of the contributory widows' pensions and old age pensions—year by year the House has withdrawn more and more classes from the uncertain, unregulated provisions of the Poor Law. Now, for the first time, we are about to reverse the process—to take away from men and women the protection which regulations give them, and place them again under the Poor Law, which the House of Commons cannot control and for which no Minister is responsible. I say that that is a retrograde step; I say that it is a hardship upon these men which it is hardly possible to exaggerate. This is not an essential part of the Bill; it is a part of the Bill which could be altered. The House could here and now agree to substitute some regulation framed by itself to prevent what I understand is vexing the hearts of hon. Members opposite, namely, the possibility that there may be some few moderately rich people among those who are unemployed. If the House is still obdurate, then I would appeal to the Minister of Labour himself. Even if this Measure is kept as it is, he would undoubtedly, by his Orders-in-Council, have the power to make the whole thing subject to regulations and to provide for an appeal. He is responsible as far as modifications go, and, if the House insists upon keeping this provision—I very much hope that it will not insist upon it—he can at any rate take away some part of the uncertainty, the hardship and the caprice. I have tried not to say a single provocative word; I have tried to appeal to what I believe has almost become traditional in the House of Commons, namely, that the sphere of the Poor Law should be limited, and that as many people as possible should be transferred from it. I do not want to waste the time of the Committee by repetition, but I would appeal particularly to those members of the party whose proudest boast is that they introduced Old Age Pensions, Health Insurance, and Unemployment Insurance. I appeal to them not to reverse the whore tradition of their party, and bring back enormous classes of persons to the administration of the Poor Law.
On a point of Order. As this is a question which affects the Poor Law in Scotland, could we have a representative of the Scottish Office on the Front Bench opposite?
I am afraid that it is not within my power to order or otherwise secure the attendance of a Minister in the Debate.
I support the Amendment. There is nothing in the National Economy Bill or in the Budget that I like, but one particularly hates and loathes the part of the Bill with which we are dealing at the moment, which will force thousands of men to go to the public assistance committees. I come, with several of my colleagues, from a distressed mining area, where we have thousands of men who will have to go straight to the public assistance committee. We have 60,000 fewer miners employed to-day than we had in 1924, and the great majority of those 60,000 men will be forced to go straight away to the public assistance committee. I estimate that, when this part of the Bill comes into force in the County of Durham, we shall have no fewer than 70.000 miners in the County of Durham who will have to go straight to the public assistance committee for the purpose of submitting to the needs test. One can only describe that, as applied to such a class of men, as brutal.When Unemployment Insurance was started, and the whole of the working classes were got to contribute to the Unemployment Insurance Fund, they never dreamed that the time would come when the fund would be so altered as to force them before the public assistance committee. The very object of their contributing to the Unemployment Insurance Fund was to prevent them from having to go to the Poor Law and to protect them from such a humiliation, from some- thing so obnoxious to the working class as the Poor Law. When we were sitting on the other side a the House, and when the Unemployment Insurance Bill was passed which abolished the "not genuinely seeking work" Clause, and lifted thousands of people from the Poor Law on to the Unemployment Insurance Fund, we boasted about it, because we believed that it was one of the good things that we had done, and a thing for which we deserved credit. To reverse the process, and force all these thousands of people back before the public assistance committees, is a thing that we cannot too strongly condemn. I hold that the Unemployment Insurance Fund is the proper place for an unemployed workman who cannot get work. As I said on Friday, the cost of the machinery of the Unemployment Insurance Fund is no less than £5,000,000 a year, while the machinery of the Poor Law costs only £2,000,000 a year. In view of the fact that we are spending so much money upon the machinery of the Unemployment Insurance Fund, I hold that the Unemployment Insurance Fund is the place where the unemployed workman can be and ought to be, and that he should not be on the Poor Law. We have to bear in mind—I speak for the County of Durham, and with a knowledge of the mining industry in that County—that it is impossible for men in the County of Durham to get work, and they are not responsible for being out of work. I will give the House an instance of 1,000 men who will have to go before the public assistance committee. In my Division there is a colliery which was stopped in March. That colliery employed 1,000 men, whose six months are now up, and who will have to go straight before the public assistance committee. In that colliery there are good seams, with 8,500,000 tons of coal still to work. It has coke ovans, a washery, and by-product works. It had to stop because the management owed the bank £27,000, and the bank said that they could not lend them any more money. The owners could not get anyone to invest more money, and, therefore, they were forced into liquidation, and the colliery has been standing idle since March—one of the best collieries in the County of Durham, employing 1,000 men. They have been unemployed ever since, and they will have to make tracks for the Poor Law and submit to the needs test. These men, and thousands of others, are not responsible for being unemployed. They are unemployed because of the failure of private enterprise, because of the poverty of private enterprise, because private enterprise has not any money to carry on and because the banks have played the game they have been playing lately of being prepared to lend money to anyone who wants to squander it but not to industry to enable it to carry on. When that colliery was stopped I went round to four important Departments of the Government to see if it was possible to get some money to help the colliery to keep on, but none of them was of any assistance. It is not fair to force those men who are unable to find work on to the Poor Law. The Minister of Labour was asked a question to-day as to the number of men who would be forced to go before the public assistance committees. He said he had answered the question in the early hours of the morning, and his answer would be found in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I was here in the early hours of the morning, but I did not understand the hon. Gentleman's answer. The fault may be mine because of the hour. I should like him to tell us, not the number of men who are in receipt of standard benefit, who when their 26 weeks expire, will have to go to the public assistance committees, but what will be the total number of men now on the Unemployment Insurance Fund who will have to go to the public assistance committees.
The hon. Member misunderstood me. I did not say I gave in the early hours of the morning the figures for which he is asking. I did in fact give those figures at the earliest possible moment at which I could get them to his hon. Friend on the Front Bench, who has them now. I think they are in today's OFFICIAL REPORT.
I have seen the answer, but it is not clear to me, because it seems to me that the number he gave is the number who will come off standard benefit and go to the public assistance committees. He says in his answer:
I should like him to tell us the total number of people now on the fund and in receipt of standard or transitional benefit who will be forced to go to the public assistance committees. What does the Chancellor of the Exchequer hope to gain by forcing these thousands of people on to the public assistance committees? The only object can be that he believes that their benefit will be reduced lower than the 2s. 9d. per week to which a man and his wife are to be reduced now. A far more honest course would have been to keep these people on the fund and cut the benefit to the amount that he thinks it ought to have been cut. Then we should have known what he really did mean. He has taken a roundabout and shabby course in order to reduce the benefit lower than the 2s. 9d. per week. I should like to know who they mean shall go to the public assistance committees. Do they mean only those who are either in receipt of standard or transitional benefit paid through the Employment Exchange, or do they mean that, where unions or other bodies have their own special arrangements for giving unemployment pay, the men belonging to those organisations, too, will have to go before the public assistance committees? In the Estimates for this year there is a sum of £128,000 for grants towards administrative expenses incurred by associations making arrangements with the Ministry to administer unemployment benefit in respect of their members. Are the members of those organisations exempt from going to public assistance committees, or will they also be forced to go to them? There are two other items in these estimates that I want to ask about. There is a grant of £36,500 towards administrative expenses incurred by local education authorities undertaking additional duties in connection with the administration of unemployment benefit to juveniles under Section 6 of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1923. Are those juveniles who have been in receipt of unemployment benefit for more than 26 weeks to be forced on to the public assist- ance committees Again, under the same head, £130,000 is to be paid as grants to local education authorities in respect of approved courses of instruction for unemployed juveniles. Are the Government proposing to send these juveniles who have to submit to the needs test to the public assistance committees? I am glad that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is here, and I submit to him that he might have taken a far different course from the present course of saving a few shillings. I find in respect of the court of the Umpire that in 1927 we were only paying £4,730, and this year it has increased to £17,200. The Chancellor of the Exchequer might have directed his attention to some of those large expenditures in connection with the fund and saved money before trying to save money by the means suggested."Figures obtained in respect of 14th September, 1931, show that on that date about 377,000 persons (of whom about 80,000 were women) in receipt of benefit other than transitional benefit had received 156 days' benefits or more in their current benefit year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st September, 1931; col. 1285, Vol. 256.]
What is the increase in the number of cases?
Naturally there has been an increase in the number of cases. But what do the Umpires' Courts do? They simply decide the question as to whether a man has been seeking work or not and whether he is entitled to benefit. For that we pay the Umpires this year £2,500, and the deputy umpires, £8,000. There is an enormous staff in addition. It is wicked to spend money upon these courts which are totally unnecessary for this class of work. The Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to have tried to save that money before he forced men to go to the public assistance committees.
Is the hon. Member suggesting that these cases should not have been investigated at all?
These cases were better investigated when the rota committees were in existence, and men gave their services free. On Friday I said that in regard to the Court of Referees the cost had increased four times. As a matter of fact, the following are the figures in respect of the Courts of Referees. In 1927, we paid £26,000, and this year we are paying £140,000, an increase of £114,000.
And there are scores of thousands of additional cases.
Scores of them never ought to have been sent there, and would not have been sent there if it had not been to supply men with work at 2½ guineas a day. I strongly oppose the proposed action on the part of the Government. There is not the slightest doubt that some of their actions can be justified, but no action can be as bad as that which is going to force people to go to the public assistance committees. They will be tainting with the Poor Law men and women who have learnt to be above the Poor Law and do not wish to have any association with it. In spite of themselves, they will be forced before the public assistance committee. I hope that the Committee will not agree to this being done and will oppose this part of the Bill. I hope that in the interests of thousands of men and women we shall carry the Amendment.
I agree entirely with what has been said by my hon. Friends, but I wish to ask for your guidance, Captain Bourne, as to whether I shall be in order in raising another issue on this Amendment of considerable importance to very many people in this country. I attached my name to the Amendment in order that I might be able to do so. The point I wish to raise is in respect of the transfer of money from panel doctors' fees to the Treasury. It will be noticed that the Amendment relates to a portion of the Bill dealing with the duties of local authorities, but it also refers in the Clause with which we are dealing to "any such service" mentioned in the Measure. Unless I have an opportunity here nothing at all will he said, as far as I can see, on any other part of the Bill itself dealing with the problem I desire to raise. It will be noted that Health Insurance is mentioned specifically in the Schedule, but the Bill is so nebulous in its wording that I cannot see any other way of raising the issue unless I do so here. The point I wish to put to you, Captain Bourne, is that under the Bill the Minister will be able to give certain instructions to local authorities, and local authorities are represented officially on insurance committees. Insurance committees in turn are the authorities called upon to pay panel doctors' fees. I should like, therefore, to know whether I shall be in order in dealing with the transfer of £850,000 from doctors' fees to the Treasury on this Amendment.
On that point of Order, as far as I am aware I do not think it can be contended—and I do not think that my hon. Friend, who is an expert in these matters, will disagree—that local authorities can have anything to do with the question of panel doctors. In fact, my hon. Friend is aware that that matter is dealt with by the insurance committees of the country.
I think I understand the Minister correctly that it is not a matter which would be dealt with under this paragraph, but. I think that the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Davies) will be quite in order in raising this point when we come to deal with National Health Insurance in the Schedule. It appears to me that that would be the more appropriate place for him to raise his point.
I accept your Ruling there, but will not the Committee be in this position? Every subject mentioned in the Schedule will be discussed on these Amendments, while National Health Insurance will only be appropriate for discussion on the Schedule.
I would point out that education, police and roads certainly do not arise under this part of the Bill, as far as I can make out. Unemployment undoubtedly arises on the Amendment we are discussing. I am in a little difficulty in knowing what other duties local authorities may perform, but I am inclined to think that it would be better for the hon. Member to raise this matter on the Schedule.
I am certain that the promoters of the Bill in adopting this method of dealing with the unemployed never realised or understood the great injury they are going to do with regard to a county like Glamorgan. I have already had an opportunity of pointing out some of the facts and figures regarding the condition we are in. The conditions in Durham have been stated by one of the hon. Members representing a Durham Division, and I beg to be allowed to picture to the House the condition we have been in since 1914. There was a very large influx of men into Glamorgan. In the Rhondda Valley alone, between 16,000 and 18,000 went to the colours and fought for their country at that time, and 15,000 new men were brought in to fill their places. Unfortunately, we have not been able to get rid of that influx of new men, and they have remained with us, though of our men who went to the War fortunately a very large proportion came back, some disabled but some still wanting to go into the mines and resume their former occupation. At the end of the year 1920 and the beginning of 1921 we had an increasing burden of unemployment, and in the slump that took place we found we were carrying at that time the 13,000 or 14,000 additional men who came into the district of Rhondda Valley, where there was an adult population of miners of between 44,000 and 45,000 men in 1914.We have to carry this large number of men who have remained with us, and Glamorgan County now has an increasing burden from this specially dense block of unemployment in the mining valleys, with the result that in Glamorgan administrative county at the end of July we had 85,000 men unemployed and in receipt of standard benefit and transitional benefit. That was out of a total of 377,000 on the register. We have had calculations made, and we have found that there are at present 27,400 men who are on transitional benefit. I should like to call the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Labour to the fact that we start off with this 27,400. I am discussing the fate of Glamorgan County as an administrative machine, and if something is not done we are going to be put down and out. We shall have to ask the Government to take over the responsibility of trying to carry on that county which has been in its time one of the most valuable counties in England and Wales, producing the best class quality of coal in the world, and yet we cannot find a market for our goods. We are carrying this burden as one of the results of the War. We have now these 85,000 men, 27,400 being on transitional benefit, and we are looking forward to this unhappy prospect. In addition to that 27,000 we have unfortunately a large number of men who, some of them from the year 1921, others from 1924, and others from 1926, have not been able to get what I call continuous labour. Some have been able to get back into standard benefit, because we have been pretty fortunate with regard to finding relief work for them in the county. In the last 18 months we have found eight weeks' employment on relief work for 14,212 men, so that they have been brought back into standard benefit. That, however, is another story. I want to call attention to the fact that very shortly we shall have an enormous number, thousands of men, in addition to this 27,000, who will have to be dealt with, if this Clause is to continue in the Economy Bill, by the public assistance committee. As a county, we are at present, administratively, in a parlous, pitiable and submerged condition through no fault of our own. We have at present 700 per 10,000 of the inhabitants of the county of Glamorgan in receipt of Poor Law relief and dependent upon it in one form or another. We are double the next highest county in England and Wales. We have an average four times that of the next four counties put together, taking Glamorgan out. I ask the serious attention of the people who are submitting this proposal to put this work out to the public assistance committee as to what they are prepared to do to help us to carry on. We are one of the counties the Minister of Health referred to. We are in that block where we have the densest kind of depression brought about by the condition of trade in all the country to-day. We are being pressed down inch by inch so that the level of our population is pulled down lower and lower month by month and year by year as long as the trade depression continues. We are now living upon each other in that county, and I commend the attention of the people responsible for this Clause to the problem, and I ask them what they are going to do to assist us. All these circumstances have been brought about through no fault of our own, and we have done all we possibly could in every direction to try and find employment for our men. We have raised ourselves to the effort of finding work with help of the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Health, and the Board of Education who have held out a helping hand to us during the past 18 months or two years. We have struggled in order to give honest wages and work to our men rather than to put them on Poor Law relief. I now boldly ask the authorities here to-night what they are going to do to help us in this position? I know that on the present Front Bench they are paying no attention, but it is a very serious matter as far as we are concerned. I am much obliged to the Committee for listening to me on this occasion and to you, Captain Bourne, for having given me this opportunity, but, believe me, I see the wreckage ahead of us as far as my county is concerned if this burden is put on us and there is a further lowering of the standard of our people. Unless the Government take some measures to assist us materially, we cannot hope to live. It. will only mean reducing the standard of living once again to a lower degree than at present. We have made a noble effort there in assisting our men as far as possible, but we cannot do any more, and we turn to the Government and ask if they are going to inflict upon us again this position of forcing thousands of people out of this 85,000 at present unemployed to a lower standard of existence. It was never anticipated that a county like ours, which has done such service to Great Britain in the past, should be allowed to continue in this position, and that we should see such depression, privation, and starvation among the men, women and children whom we love so well in this district.
On a point of Order. Our system of Poor Law in Scotland is entirely different from the system in England. Is it not possible on this occasion for us to raise the question of the administration of the Scottish system?
I do not see that there is any objection to the hon. Member raising the question of the Scottish system on this Amendment.
Will the Government take steps to arrange for someone representing the Scottish Office to be present?
I would like to raise the same point, having regard to the statement made by the hon. Lady who moved the Amendment in regard to the difference between the Scottish law and the English law. It is a matter of immense importance to us whether the changes that are suggested to be made are going to alter in any way the application of what we call the Poor Law in Scotland, or whether there will be any change in regard to the transference of people who are said to be necessitous cases. That is how we refer to them in Scotland. I hope that if there is any possibility of the Government bringing forward some Minister who understands this matter as regards Scotland, we shall have full opportunity of raising the matter. I hope that the statement that is about to be made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education for England will not preclude the subject of Scotland being dealt with.
I think hon. Members had better wait and hear what the Minister has to say. It may be that the points they wish to raise will then be no longer necessary. I do not know.
I would like to move to report Progress, in order to draw attention to the fact that there is no representative of the Scottish Office on the Front Bench. We have raised the matter on two occasions and Members of the Government have heard our protest. We do not know exactly what the administration of the Scottish Poor Law will be, acting under certain instructions of the Scottish Board of Health. I and my Scottish colleagues desire that there should be a representative of the Scottish Office on the Front Bench to answer any questions that we may ask.
I cannot accept that Motion. I would point out to hon. Members that if it were carried it would reduce the somewhat limited time that we have available for discussing this Clause.
Perhaps the Committee will allow me to say a few words from the point of view of the Ministry of Health, with which I was associated for some time. When they have heard my observations upon the effect of the Amendment, perhaps hon. Members will he in a 'better position to judge whether it is necessary to press the points they have put to the Deputy-Chairman. Let me say a few words in reply to the hon. and gallant Member for East Rhondda (Lieut.-Colonel Watts-Morgan). All of us who have bad some knowledge of local administration during the last few years appreciate the difficulties of his area and other areas. The hon. and gallant Member is under a complete misconception if he thinks that by any proposal in this Bill any burdens so far as rates are concerned in his particular county are going to be increased. The matter with which we are dealing tonight is purely an administrative one. However severe the burden may be in the locality with which he has been so long and so honourably associated, they are not material so far as this particular proposal is concerned. We have in this Clause paragraph (b) which provides:
The hon. Lady who was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health in the last Government has moved that paragraph (b) be deleted. My first observation is that we are dealing with a question of administrative machinery in the main."for imposing duties on local authorities in connection with the administration of any such service."
Does the right hon. Gentleman regard the reduction in benefit as a purely administrative act?
I am not dealing with the question of reduction in benefit. I am dealing with the proposal now before the Committee, and to which I can only address myself under the Rules of Order, namely, whether that paragraph shall stand part of the Bill or not. Paragraph (b) is to enable the present machinery of local authorities to be used in assessing the needs of claimants for transitional payments, after they have run out of insurance benefits. That applies to Members of any particular organisation or trade union. It applies obviously and only to these insured people. I have been asked whether juveniles would be affected by the proposal. The answer is that transitional benefit is not applicable to juveniles. Therefore, that question does not arise.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that after 26 weeks the question of the means test applies? Is he aware that juveniles get benefit well after 26 weeks?
The right hon. Gentleman dealt with one part of my remarks. Will he tell us what the Government propose to do with regard to the work that is going to be put upon the shoulders of the public assistance committee, and how they propose to meet the expense?
On a point of Order. Protests have been raised from this side of the House about the absence of any representative of the Scottish Office, and the importance of raising matters affecting Scottish Poor Law. I want to raise this further point, and I hope the Government will consider it. I had forgotten when the right hon. Gentleman rose that he is not at the Ministry of Health or at the Ministry of Labour. We are in this extraordinary position, that the new Government have appointed as the Minister to explain the position with regard to local administration the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education. He is to explain a matter which partially belongs to the Ministry of Health and partly to the Ministry of Labour, and has absolutely no contact with the Board of Education. The Committee is entitled to some explanation why there is no representative of the Scottish Board of Health and no representative of the English Ministry of Health present and no representative of the Ministry of Labour, whose Department is partly involved and who has passed over his responsibility to the Board of Education. It seems to me that within a fortnight of the formation of the new Government there is something decidedly lacking in the enthusiasm and earnestness with which they are tackling their work when such a large percentage of responsible Ministers are absent while important questions are under discussion.
Perhaps I may be allowed to say a word upon that. I am endeavouring to assist the Minister of Health, who has been present in the Committee nearly the whole of the time and has only gone away for a short period. I also happen to be to some degree acquainted with these matters, but if my answers are not satisfactory the Minister of Labour will be in a position to speak and, if necessary, any questions regarding Scotland can be discussed. The obvious question before the Committee at the moment is this, that if you come to a decision, as the Government have come—
Can the right hon. Gentleman say where the Parliamentary Secretary is? Why is he away?
That is a question which should be addressed to the Prime Minister. [Interruption.] The question before the Committee is this, whether it is desirable, having regard to the decision of the Government that claimants for transitional payments, after they have run out of insurance benefit, shall be subject to a test of some kind, to use the existing machinery or, as I understand the proposal, to set up new machinery altogether.
We are not there yet. The right hon. Gentleman got up to correct a statement I made. I asked a question as to whether juveniles would go before the public assistance committee. The Minister of Education has said that they would not, but I want to put a question to the Minister of Labour.
On a point of Order. I only gave way to the hon. Member. If he wants to raise any further points he must do so at the appropriate moment. I have indicated my view. As juveniles do not get transitional benefit that is a complete answer to the question of the hon. Member.
On a point of Order. Is it in order for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education to answer on a point of Order? The right hon. Gentleman put the point of Order and answered it himself.
The question before the Committee—
Is it in order for a Minister to stand at the Box and state a certain thing as a fact when he knows nothing at all about it?
I have no knowledge on that point. It is a matter for the Committee to consider on its merits.
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) must be the first to admit that knowledge on these matters is not confined to Ministers or to particular Departments, because I understand he feels that he can make very useful contributions to our Debates on the subject, although he is not a Minister of the Crown. The matter before the Committee is simply this, whether, having regard to the decision at which the Government have arrived, you are going to use the existing machinery in our public assistance committees or set up new machinery altogether. The opinion at which the late Minister of Health himself arrived was that there must be a means test. The view not only of the Government but of a very large number of people who have given this matter impartial consideration is that it would be very costly and inconvenient and, I think, very detrimental, from the point of view of the people concerned, that when you have the machinery which exists at present in the public assistance committees you should endeavour to set up, as must inevitably follow if you reject the machinery now in existence, some new kind of machinery altogether.I confess that I was very surprised, speaking with such knowledge as I have of my own area and what I have gained from listening to Debates in this House, at what undoubtedly must mean an attack on the public assistance committees of the country. When the matter was discussed in, the House of Commons during the passage of the Local Government Act there was general agreement, not only on the Conservative side, but on the Labour side also, upon one proposal in that Act. The proposal which obtained practically unanimous approval was that we should pass away from the old Poor Law spirit, from the administration of the old Poor Law guardians, and devolve the work upon what are now called public assistance committees. I recollect very well that in the manifestos and statements of policies which were issued by the Labour party on this matter they were at one with the Government in the view that one of the objects of setting up public assistance committees and abolishing the Poor Law guardians was to get away from what a large number of people, rightly or wrongly, regarded as the Poor Law spirit. I have often heard the right hon. Gentleman the late Commissioner of Works say that, so far from there being anything detrimental in people going to the Poor Law guardians, that any reflection should be made upon them or that they should be treated in any different way to other sections of the community, they were indeed only obtaining their rights as citizens. A general attack is now being made on a large number of people who are going to the public assistance committees. If hon. Members say that a cruel wrong is being done by the proposals of the Government in asking people who are out of benefit to go to public assistance committees, if they say that something detrimental is being inflicted upon them, then I say that they are condemning a large number of people of this country, and they have no right or justification for taking that attitude. [Interruption.] If it is true, as they say, that there is something wrong and detrimental and that people are offended by what is called the Poor Law spirit, or the Poor Law taint, that is not the end of the story so far as the Labour party is concerned.
On a point of Order. The question that troubles me and which I put to the Minister was this: Is this going to he an increased burden on the public assistance committees? Are the relief committees to be called upon to do this work? I again ask the right hon. Gentleman. I am deeply concerned with regard to the effects. Is there going to be an increased cost to the public? Our staffs at present are overworked and we have none to spare.
That is not a point of Order.
Nobody has given way more frequently than I have. On several occasions I have done so. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has not treated me fairly. He said that he rose to a point of Order, but he knows perfectly well that it was no point of Order at all. I want to continue my argument, however inconvenient it may be. I shall not give way again to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, because I think he has abused the position. I was saying that if there is any truth in all these objections to Poor Law reliefs and the Poor Law taint, hon. Members can equally say that it is applicable to the very large number of people who to-day go to the public assistance committees of the country. The Government do not accept that view. It could be quite legitimately said that the very large number of people who go to the public assistance committees to-day receive fair consideration at the hands of those committees, and it is unfair to say that they are infected by any Poor Law taint. If that statement be accepted, it will be equally applicable to the people who will be affected by the proposal made by the Government to-night.10.0 p.m. I was very interested to observe, from the statement of the hon. Lady, the late Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, that after some two years' experience she was able to mention only one authority against which she had some particular complaint about the scales of relief. If, in fact, she held this view about the public assistance committees for so long, it is surprising that we have had no statement during the last two years either from the Minister of Health or from the Parliamentary Secretary on the subject. If hon. Members look at the annual reports of the Ministry of Health, so far as the administration of Poor Law relief is concerned there is not a single word said by way of complaint of the public assistance committees. It is a remarkable thing that these complaints are made for the first time by the hon. Lady to-night.
On a point of Order. Is it in order for the right hon. Gentleman to explain whether the public assistance committees are functioning sell or not when speaking on this Amendment? Was the right hon. Gentleman absent when we complained many times from the benches opposite about the London public assistance committees?
With regard to the first point, the hon. Lady who opened the Debate devoted no small part of her speech to the question of the public assistance committees.
May I ask a question?
No. I am not going to give way.
On a point of Order. Is there no rule of the House against repetition?
There is a rule against repetition, but I think that most lion. Members are constantly breaking it.
Let me pursue my argument. During the last two years, so far as the records of the Ministry and the public statements of the Minister of Health and Parliamentary Secretary are concerned, there has been no single word of complaint about the work of the public assistance committees.
We complained of the London committees for weeks.
When the estimates of the Ministry of Health have been discussed it has been the duty, and I have no doubt the pleasure, of the Minister of Health to defend the public assistance committees of the country. Therefore, it is surprising to-night that, with a newfound freedom and irresponsibility, the late Parliamentary Secretary should for the first time devote her time to an attack upon the bodies which for two years she had the fortune, and I hope the privilege, of defending. There was a, question arising from the conclusion that the people concerned in our discussion should not only go to the public assistance committees but that there should be some test. The public assistance committees of the country have done their work well, and it is unfair to say that the people who have gone to them have been in any way affected by the Poor Law spirit. As to whether there should be any test at all, I ask the Committee to consider a statement made only a few days ago by the late Minister of Health. He had some responsibility in the matter. He has had considerable experience of a Government Department during two periods of office, and this was the conclusion that he came to—
On a point of Order. Is it in order, when a Guillotine Motion has been passed by the House, for a Minister to use the time in dealing with extraneous matters and absolutely refusing to answer the important questions that have been put to him, questions which are the subject of dis cussion and are vitally important to the local authorities of the country?
On that point of Order, may I ask whether time is being purposely wasted so that the Scottish point of view on this question may not be heard?
With regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. H. A. Taylor) if the Minister goes outside the limits of the Amendment it is my duty to stop him. With regard to his second point, the question of how hon. Members choose to use the time available is at their discretion and not mine.
Is it not against the traditions of the House of Commons, when a Guillotine Motion has been passed, for the spokesman of the Government to refuse to reply to questions of substance affecting the policy of the Government; and what protection can the Chair give to Members who wish to treat the business seriously instead of having this kind of tomfoolery?
I would point out that hon. Members by raising futile points of Order are not assisting the progress of the Debate.
I wish to come to the main argument which has been raised this evening and I am rather surprised that hon. Members opposite do not seem inclined to listen. The main matter which has been raised to-night is whether the Government are doing right in casting this further duty on local authorities of having some test as to means in connection with the people with whom they will have to deal. I wish to put before the Committee an opinion to which I thought they would have been only too eager to listen, and that is the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman whose name is to this Amendment but who has failed to move it. The right hon. Gentleman the late Minister of Health was asked whether he himself was prepared to have any means test at all and this is what he said:
I suppose what that really means is that the right hon. Gentleman is committed to an investigation of means and therefore the only matter left at issue between the late Minister of Health and the present Government is the exact machinery to be adopted. [Interruption.] Hon. Gentleman opposite who have made so many speeches will I hope permit me to reply to them. The late Minister of Health had full responsibility in this matter and has as much knowledge of it as anybody else on that side of the Committee. As I say, the sole issue between us is not whether there should be a test but the exact machinery to be applied. The hon. and gallant Member for East Rhondda (Lieut.-Colonel Watts-Morgan) asked whether the public assistance committees would be in a position to deal with the large number of applicants which he apprehended would come before them. I see no difficulty myself. If the number of applicants is such as to require an increase in the membership of the public assistance committees I have no doubt that measures can be taken—"I was prepared and I am prepared to agree to-day to a national scheme which involves the investigation of the question but not under Poor Law auspices, for remember what this means."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th September, 1931; col. 534, Vol. 256.]
I wish to finish with this point. As I say, no doubt methods can be adopted by which the membership of the public assistance committees can be increased, and, as regards the expenses, the Minister of Health has already said that these will not devolve upon the committees but upon the National Exchequer. That I hope satisfactorily answers the point of the hon. and gallant Member.
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the question put by the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) which is of considerable importance to the public assistance committees, namely, what is the total number which the public assistance committees will have to deal with as a result of this Measure? If the right hon. Gentleman cannot answer himself, perhaps the Minister of Labour will do so. Taking into account the present number on transitional benefit and those who will come on to it as a result of the immediate operation of the 26 weeks period, what is the total number?
Obviously, the hon. Gentleman had better put down a ques- tion on that point, and it will be answered. I obviously could not say offhand what the number will be, and I should think that in any event it must be a matter of estimate.
On a point of Order. Is it in order for the Minister deliberately to mislead the Committee?
The hon. Member has no right to make that se-mark against any other hon. Member.
I used the term deliberately. I want your guidance. I say that the Minister is deliberately misleading the Committee—
That expression must not be used by any hon. Member about any other hon. Member.
On a point of Order. I want a Ruling on this question. Is "deliberately misleading" a non-Parliamentary expression?
Imputations against other hon. Members are not allowed.
I should have thought from my knowledge of English that it was not an imputation but a statement.
Is it not the usual practice in a Debate of this kind for Members to ask questions, such as the question which has been put to the right hon. Gentleman as to the total number and is it not the usual practice for the Minister who is replying for the Government, to answer those questions. I suggest that, if the Minister cannot answer, we ought to have another Minister who can answer.
I have no power to compel a Minister to answer, but the more points of Order are raised, the less chance there is of the Minister replying.
I was asked to give the number of people likely to be affected by this proposal. Obviously, a question of that kind might very well be put on the Paper, and if the hon. Gentleman will allow me to say so, I do not think any hon. Member is entitled to say, when I say that I cannot give the answer, that I am deliberately misleading the Committee. That is a very unfair statement for any hon. Member to make and is quite unjustified, so far as I am concerned.In conclusion, I would say that hon. Members have to make up their minds on this Amendment, having regard to the fact that both the Government and the late Minister of Health have come to the conclusion that there should be a means test, whether it should or should not be used by the public assistance committees. If they think the public assistance committees have not done their work well and have acted cruelly and wrongfully, they must vote against the proposal; but if, on the other hand, they accept the statements made by the late Minister of Health and the late Parliamentary Secretary over a period of two years that, taking their duties as a whole, difficult and troublesome as they have been, they have not done their duties unfairly but to the reasonable satisfaction of most people in this country, then they must come to the conclusion that they must support the Government in this proposal. If they come to the conclusion that people who go to the public assistance committees are wrongfully affected, and, if there is any attempt to counsel them from doing it, they are condemning many thousands of their fellow-citizens to unnecessary trouble and hardship. [Interruption.] I submit that, having regard to the financial circumstances of the time, and to the conclusions of all responsible people who have dealt with this matter, the Government are taking the right course in asking the public assistance committees to take on this further difficult, onerous, and responsible duty.
The only case put up by the Government is not a defence of their proposal, but to say that the last Minister of Health was in favour of a means test and that therefore they are in favour of it. We have now got to the stage of argument that we get no reply on the merits of the thing at all. All that is flung, at you is that somebody else was in favour of it and that therefore the Government are following that somebody else. Might I ask that the Government should defend their proposals on their merits, if they can be defended? As one who has always taken a course, whether with my party or against it, and as one who would have taken a course against my own Minister of Health and who would have asked from him a defence of his conduct, I think I am entitled to ask to-night from the Minister of Health: What is your defence for putting barge masses of people on to this Poor Law test at the present time?I know we could be told about a, conference held with the late Minister of Labour, the late Minister of Health, and members of the Liberal and Conservative parties, who are alleged to have come to some sort of formula about a means test. We have had that sort of thing long before the right hon. Gentleman took office, and we shall have it, I suppose, long after he has left office. Before the Minister of Education is put up again to answer, I hope that he will have a better brief on the subject. He is a lawyer, but he would never earn a fee with a brief like the one he has had to-night. My hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) asked a perfectly natural question in regard to juveniles. It is true that the Poor Law in some ways is a taint. Everybody whom I know goes to the Employment Exchange and struggles as hard as he can to remain on Exchange benefit. It is not that if he went to the Poor Law he would be pointed to as a bad man, but he wants to retain Employment Exchange benefit because he is there with the mass of his fellow kind and he always has the chance of getting a job. The right hon. Gentleman said that the case of juveniles did not arise. The White Paper issued in connection with the Bill speaks of the 26 stamps and then refers to this test. A juvenile can be on standard benefit and the qualification is that he must have 30 stamps in the past two years; therefore, it is conceivable for a juvenile to draw 26 weeks and still qualify for standard benefit. My hon. Friend asked what is to happen to that juvenile. Is he to go through the Poor Law test? In this matter we are going on to a principle never before put on the Statute Book. The Ministry of Labour funds are not the property of the Minister, but are contributed to by the insured person, the employer and the State. I may be told that the expense for this new test work will be paid by the State, but the machinery of the Exchange and the staffing is paid for out of the three contributions. Here for the first time, therefore, you are utilising contributions paid for a particular purpose in order to pay for work in connection with Poor Law administration. That is the new principle; you are asking the fund for the first time to pay money for what is an illegal purpose. For what was the money contributed? I ask hon. Members who have some regard for what is right and decent, even in times like this, to apply their minds to this point. The fund is contributed by three parties, and the administration is for a particular purpose, namely, Unemployment Benefit. It is proposed now that this money shall be paid to the Poor Law authorities for another purpose. Is it, however, intended that the extra money to the unemployed will be paid out of State funds, and that the Poor Law inquiry will be paid for out of State funds as well? That has never been decided. If, on the other hand, you pay for it out of the ordinary funds, you are deliberately embarking on what is an illegal thing, namely, the utilisation of State money collected for a particular purpose in breach of a deliberate and definite contract. I wish to ask the Minister of Labour a question on a point which has already been raised but on which his reply was not satisfactory to me. In the case of a large number of people the period of 26 weeks will expire on 1st October. In many of those eases some time must elapse before a decision is come to about the needs test. What is to happen to those people in the meantime? As far as I gathered from his statement, the Minister said they would remain in benefit until the inquiries were completed, but I would point out that that will mean unfairness. One authority will engage a large staff to deal with these cases and another authority will not have so large a staff. I can conceive that in the ease of a place like Glasgow there may be 100,000 or 50,000 or 40,000 cases, and if the staff is not increased sufficiently to deal with the cases quickly it will result in some poor man, A, being picked out first and being flung off the benefit perhaps eight or 10 weeks earlier than another man on the list. It would be much fairer if we were to say that the Act should come into operation on 1st October and inquiries begin then, but that until some specified date, some eight or nine weeks afterwards, it should not be applied to the various cases. Another question is what is to be the actual needs test. Last night, when I was in my Division, a man approached me who lives with his brother-in-law and his sister. This man has been unemployed for 12 months, though previously he had a record of working for 16 years with one firm. That man may have to undergo the Poor Law test right away. He is living with his brother-in-law and the point is, is he to be taken as being one of the family? He could leave his brother-in-law to-morrow and go into lodgings if he wished, and I said to him quite frankly, using a phrase that may hurt the feelings of some of my colleagues here, "If I were you I should get out while the going is good. Leave and go to another house, because the chances are that you will be Classed as being, one of the family seeing that you are living with your brother-in-law." If he leaves and goes into lodgings he will get his 17s.—or 15s. 3d., I was forgetting what is to happen. Again I ask, What is to be the family test? Is it to be left to the Poor Law authorities to decide it or is a family test to be laid down by regulation by the Minister? If you are living with your brother-in-law are you living in the family—or with an uncle? Where does the family relationship begin and where does it end? You think you are going to save money, but try to visualise what is going to happen in a large number of working-class homes. This is not the first time we have had a family test. Under the Act of 1925 it applied only to persons up to the age of 25. What happened then in the case of people living with their relatives? Some of them went on living in the family until just before the inquiry was due and then left the family, and went to another house. Others had left the family long before. This is not uncommon in the case of young men brought up in a family. One of them will say: "I will stay with father and help," and he does so, and helps as long as he is working. Then he becomes unemployed for a while and the family test is applied. Another son says: "As soon as my time is out I am chucking the family and leaving home to go to live outside." Under this scheme of the Government's the young fellow who goes away from home in that way will escape this family test, while the son who has remained loyal to the family has to undergo the family test. The Minister of Health has no great reputation for human sympathy, but although I do not wish to say anything derogatory at least he has as much as the Chancellor of the Exchequer—and the latter was brought up in the Socialist movement, and the Minister of Health was not. This proposal of the Government appears to me to be very shocking, and what is more shocking still is that while you are giving concessions to the teachers you refuse to give concessions to the unemployed. The Measure we are discussing is the most cruel blow that has ever been aimed at family life, and it really means the grinding down of the young men, depriving them of all chance of obtaining employment. Take the case of a young fellow between 27 and 28 years of age who is working at some occupation, lives with his father, and is saving to be married. He is a decent fellow, but unfortunately his father becomes unemployed. A means test is applied to that family, and what happens? That young man, instead of continuing to live with his father, leaves the home, and gets married probably a year earlier than he otherwise would have done. This Measure is being brought forward by those who have accused the Socialist party of breaking up family life, but I am sure that this Bill will affect family life very severely, and it is really a blow dealt at the people who are in the position of grasping at the life belt before they sink. How will this Measure work in the case of those who are just taking on the responsibility of new houses and who are now trying to earn enough to pay a decent rent? This Measure will drive those young men out of the new houses, and it will also drive the old men and women back into the slums. In this matter I am not appealing so much to those who have left the Labour party, as I am to the cast-iron Tories, and I ask them seriously and candidly how they can claim that they are doing all this on purely financial grounds? Can the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) defend these proposals financially? You are going to set up an army of inspectors to investigate every home, and alongside of that you must have a great increase of petty crime—people saying that they have not this or they have that—with the result that prosecutions must increase. In the first place, you are going to add considerably to the investigation staff, and, secondly, to the number of people convicted of petty crime; and, consequent on that, there will be added costs. Will you save anything in the end? I question if, when you reckon the debits against what you have saved, or are alleged to have saved, you will in reality have saved anything at all. Administratively it will be unfair. The Poor Law authority will have its inspector going round, but it is not the Poor Law authority that is going to pay the money; it is the Government; and, therefore, there will be no inducement to the authority to make the inspector put in a right amount—he can put in what he likes. Who is to say if this man does his job rightly or wrongly? You are going to have a topsy-turvy administration, with no coherence. The reduction of benefit is bad, but 50 times worse, to my mind, is this section. It is a cruel way, and one which, to anybody who knows the lives of the working class, is shocking, and has no equity in it. I ask the Minister of Labour to tell me how it is going to be worked, who is paying the cost—the fund or the State—and whether there is to be any uniform scale, or whether each investigator is to be allowed to go his own way. I appeal to the Minister, in conclusion, as a man who, I think, would at least try to do the decent thing, to assert himself against the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the man who, by his domination, guided and drove the last Government into things that were against our hearts and minds. Everyone in the party knows that everywhere we had to fight him, and he kept us back from every decent thing. He went on stupidly at the Hague, and he will do the same here. He will ruin every decent man that comes in contact with him. I ask the Minister of Labour, who has some semi-spark of decency. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has one mania, and one only. He sees this financial problem, the balancing of things, but he never sees human life; he never comes in contact with the common people —he left them long ago. He only sees these pounds, shillings and pence that he must balance. He is away from human contacts, and he would ruin anything. I ask the Minister, not for the sake of his party but for the sake of his own self-respect, for the sake of the years to come, not to look back and say, "When I held office as Minister of Labour I ruined home life "—because that is what this Measure means. I ask him to put his self-respect before party loyalties or party ties.
The picture drawn by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) may apply to the particular districts which he knows, but it certainly does not apply, at any rate, to the poorer districts in London. I have been connected with Poor Law Guardians and public assistance committees for 20 years, and I think I can claim at any rate to speak with some authority on that question; and I do not understand the objection that is raised, provided that you are going to have a means test, to this form of investigation. Take one of the poorest districts in London. The fact is that, if you hand over this investigation to the public assistance committee, 80 per cent. of your facts are already collected. They are there. I could guarantee to go to Bermondsey to-night and take the people who are coming on to transitional benefit and find out the facts about them, the amount of rent, the number of people in the house, and the total income coming in. It is scheduled. It is ready for immediate application. [Interruption.] I can claim to speak with some knowledge. I have been in this matter, and it is my business for another reason to get in touch with the officers and find out these facts.Hon. Members opposite are always complaining about overlapping and saying that under Socialism it would disappear entirely. They complain about two bakers coming up one street. These officials are employed by the local authority, and I cannot see any more taint attaching to the official or the local authority than to an inspector of the Ministry of Labour. We try to teach people in the poorer districts—I have taken my part—that there is no slur, if they are down, in going to get money from the rates any more than from any where else. I have taught them that it is their right under the law of the land. We tried to do away with the idea of any stigma. We have this machinery in existence. We have the facts all collected, and there will be no delay. People who want benefit can get it immediately. You are proposing to set all that aside and to set up another administration, or another investigation, where it will take months, if not years, even if they were trained, to get at the facts, which are already lying there waiting. It would be a very great mistake. It is arguable whether you should have a means test or not, but, provided we are agreed upon that, it would be a fatal mistake to duplicate machinery that is already in existence. I hope the Committee will pursue this path and will teach people that, when they have run out of benefit, there is no stigma in taking money for allowing people who are paid by the rates to investigate the conditions. I hope the Minister will stick to his point. It has been carefully thought out and could be applied without any difficulty.
The hon. Member would have the blouse believe that those who go to the Poor Law authorities in London should be quite content that they are having the best possible treatment. Our complaint against the public assistance committees is not that they are a new machinery, but that they are carrying out the old methods of bumbledom which made the Poor Law so hideous to the working people. We feel that this suggestion to make decent working people go to the public assistance committee to assess the amount of benefit that they are to take from the State is not treating them in the way that they are entitled to he treated. [Interruption.] The hon. Member is telling us what he has in his head. I am trying to tell the Committee what I have in this paper. I represent the old borough of Southwark, in which there is a very large engineering factory. During the last few months it has had to discharge 500 or 600 of its workers. On inquiry I find that the majority of them have been there in continuous employment from seven to 10 years. They have paid their contributions to unemployment insurance all that period. They are approaching the 26 weeks of their unemployment benefit, and, directly this Bill is put into operation, they are going to be sent to the public assistance committee.These men feel it very keenly that an application for benefit for which they have paid should be subjected to the inquisition of the Poor Law. They do not like the public assistance officer coming round and visiting their houses. These public assistance officers go into the people's homes. They open their cupboards and inquire what food they possess. I have personal knowledge of persons being refused food by the public assistance committee because the officer reported that when he went into their house he found food upon the table. The food had been put on the table by some of the friends of the poor people in the same dwelling who, knowing that they were hungry, gave up portions of their own food. I admit that in many cases when you can get these people's claims argued before the public assistance committee, you are able to obtain some sort of redress. But they cannot argue their own cases, and many of them do not want to bother anybody to support their ease. We are taught to believe that the Englishman's home is his castle, but the only castle we have in Southwark is "The Elephant and Castle," and those people are not able to go in there. An artisan, who has been trained and has worked for years at his trade, finds himself unemployed and has to submit to being asked whether he really owns a wireless set, and whether he can get rid of it? He has to explain what his children are earning and what he is doing with his children's earnings, and what grandfather is doing with his pension if he happens to live in the same house. These things are not fair to these people. I represent the Borough of Southwark and those who have studied literature know that it was part of London Dickens was so fond of portraying in his books. It is a part of London from which comes the traditional story of Oliver Twist. There was a great amount of Bumbledom in the days of Dickens. To-day we could do with another Dickens to portray the scenes which are going to happen in Southwark, and what a Dickens' story he would be able to tell.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education was not quite fair to us in the reply which he made this evening. The late Minister of Health may have been in favour of a means test, but there is a world of difference between a means test and the destitution test applied by the Poor Law authorities. I need only call attention to the means test applied in the case of a person applying for an old age pension and the test applied in respect of Poor Law relief. In the one case the Inland Revenue officer inquires the personal income of the applicant, but the Poor Law officer, as has already been stated, inquires into the whole income of the household whether the persons residing therein are legally liable to maintain the applicant or not. That is a very distinct difference. I am further of the opinion that the Government have not acted very bravely in seeking to put this very unpleasant task upon the public assistance committees. They are seeking to do a mean thing, and they are trying to do it by means of agents in order, presumably, that the agents may incur the odium while they get away with it. I do not think that that is fair and in the interests of economy. Already the Employment Exchanges do employ inquiry agents, and I am satisfied that the public assistance committees will have very largely to increase their staffs to do this work and that it would not make very much difference whether extra assistance was employed on the Employment Exchanges or by the public assistance committees.I rather view the matter as merely a subterfuge for putting transitional benefit on to Poor Law assistance altogether. There has been a big outcry from some hon. Members opposite with regard to the payment of transitional benefit. Transitional benefit for them has been an excellent insurance against revolution. They have to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) for the institution of this uncovenanted benefit, which, undoubtedly, has protected them from worse things. The whole of this is ill-conceived. I think that it has been done in a wrong and an uneconomical way, and that the people who are having to suffer the ignominy which is put upon them will place the blame on the right shoulders and that the public assistance committees, who are composed of public-spirited citizens doing an unpleasant duty, many of them in the pleasantest possible way, will not incur the odium which should go to the credit of the so-called National Government.
I should like to appeal to the Committee to refuse to give the Government the power to carry out the administration of public benefit through the public assistance committees. In the first place, these public assistance committees in the industrial areas to-day have already far more work than their members can do, and the administration tends to get into the hands of officials or in the hands of non-elected members on the committees who are not responsible to the electorate. Indeed, I was amazed and ashamed that the right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) took up so much of the time of the Committee in what was totally irrelevant to the issue we are discussing. Because a, number of unfortunate people have had to go to the public assistance committees in order to keep themselves and their families alive is no reason whatever why you should submit another million of our fellow-citizens to the indignity of having to go before Poor Law committees and prove destitution before they can be maintained as a public right. I want to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that the White Paper says the public assistance committees "may"—not "shall"—give benefit up to the existing scale of unemployment insurance.We all know that there is a very wide difference between the outlook and policy of public assistance committees in various parts of the country. In my own division, I know a man who happens to be a political opponent, but who has done exceedingly valuable work and whom I greatly respect, and I am sure that, as far as his influence on the committee is concerned, he will do his best to give every applicant a fair and square deal without in any way attempting to humiliate him or to make him feel uncomfortable. But a few miles away, where the Poor Law committees are entirely in the hands of reactionary farmers and members of the Conservative party, it is a totally different story in regard to the treatment of those who have to apply. By adopting this procedure you are deliberately trying to deter people from getting sufficient nourishment to keep them fit, so that when the industrial revival comes—if it ever does come under the capitalist system—many of them will not be fit to carry on their work. The Government are deliberately penalising the most thrifty section of the population. Let me give the example of a workman who has exhausted 26 weeks' benefit. He may have spent a lifetime in a particular firm in my Division. The works have been closed down. Clerks, clerical workers, draughtsmen and others besides industrial workers are now on transitional benefit at the Employment Exchange. Many of them are buying houses. Many of them have saved £50, £100 or even £200 against the rainy day. With the aid of the Unemployment Insurance benefit they have been making their payments for mortgages on their houses and other payments in order to keep themselves alive. What will he the position of these people? If they apply for transitional benefit, however long their record of industrial insurance may be, they will have, first, to get rid of the £50 or other sum that they have saved. They have to be completely destitute. If they have any negotiable property they will have to sell it. They have to be reduced to a state of destitution before any public assistance can be given to them in the form of transitional benefit. It is absolutely criminal and disgusting that anybody can assent to this kind of treatment being meted out to millions of our fellow citizens. As time goes on, unless there is an unexpected industrial revival, very large numbers of people in my constituency, anything up to 3,000 or 4,000, may be affected within the next three or six months. They are all people of a type who have tried to make the best of things. They will be compelled to apply to the Poor Law authority as a condition of receiving transitional benefit. I am unable to understand the point of view of Members of the Conservative party, who are willing to provide liberal food allowances for the soldier and the sailor in order that they may be ready to fight, if need be, while they have so little regard for the industrial reserves, the workers by hand and brain, whose work and service is the real source of wealth in the nation, that they subject them to semi-starvation and put them through the kind of test that they are now imposing. It is a disgrace to Great Britain, and those who vote for it will live to regret it.
Are we not to have an answer to the questions that have been put.
I was under the impression that this Debate was going on. A good many questions have been asked. I thought that probably others would be asked and that it would be better to reply later.
It is not my intention to waste the time of the House, but I would point out that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education was deceiving the House when he declined to give figures. It is well known to most Members of the House that the Minister of Health gave the figure of 500,000 as the number who would be affected by this Measure. I am glad to see the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland in his place. Is he in a position to say what the instructions are to the public assistance committees in Scotland? The public assistance committees are at a loss in regard to the matter. They do not know where they stand. The managers of the Employment Exchanges do not know. In my own Division 2,500 people will come off standard benefit immediately this Act comes into operation.
It being Eleven, of the Clock, the CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the Rouse.
Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Thursday.
The remaining Government Orders were read, and postponed.