§ Again considered in Committee.
§ [Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]
Question again proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £22,592,900, be granted for the said Service.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Mr. WHITE
When Black Rod summoned us to another place, I was inviting the Committee to consider a great extension of the constructive side of the Ministry of Labour by an enlargement of its training and educational activities, because I believe that a new approach to the whole problem of the treatment of unemployment is essential, and because I 575 feel certain that the juvenile unemployment problem cannot be left to-day where it is without disaster to the juveniles themselves, and that it should be in any future scheme based purely upon relief which the Minister may ask us to consider. If the figures which I have mentioned this afternoon are not an exaggeration, we may reach in 1937 a figure of 600,000 juveniles unemployed. The position is one which it is difficult to contemplate without horror. We know what is going on in enforced idleness at street-corners. When you approach groups of men you find that some of them have not had a job for six months, some for 12 months, and some even Since they left school.
Another insidious thing which is making itself felt upon our national life now is the position of the family where the father is out of work, and perhaps a son or two are in work and making a small sum and are called upon to keep the home. That has a very bad psychological effect upon the boy, and a disastrous effect upon the whole atmosphere of the family. It is for these reasons that I invite the Committee and the Minister to give very serious consideration to the proposition which I have ventured to lay before them. I would ask the Minister to investigate promptly the effect of the withdrawal of juvenile labour and the substitution of adult labour in some typical industries. One might suggest the cotton trade and also the distributive trades as those which might present particular difficulties. I hope that the Minister with the information before him will come to the House and submit his conclusions.
§ 6.18 p.m.
On the occasions on which I have had the privilege of addressing the Committee I have spoken entirely as a supporter of the National Government on their general policy, but to-night I am going to exercise my right as a citizen representing a constituency which is profoundly affected by the work of the Ministry of Labour. Frankly, I am disappointed at the work of that Department. Ever Since the Inception of the needs test there have been legitimate grievances in its conception, in its administration, and in the variation of 576 details of scales which have called forth condemnation from hon. Members, from certain sections of the Press, and from people who have been called upon to carry out the regulations which have been laid down by the Order in Council. Conflict has raged round the question of taking into consideration the earnings of other people in the household when the head of the house comes before the public assistance committee for the assessment of transitional payment. Conflict has raged round the inclusion of old age pensions, of army reserve pay, and of unemployment insurance benefit in assessing need. I do not intend to-night to refer to disability pensions or to Capttal assets, because to some degree they have been dealt with by the Ministry of Labour. I must, however, refer to the recomendations in the Report of the Unemployment Insurance Commission on the points I have raised, which have been argued about and discussed, and with regard to which, on very many occasions, hon. Members have attempted to persuade the Minister to give some assistance. I will refer first to the assessment of the family income. In discussing that, the Majority Report of the Unemployment Insurance Commission says:If we do not give an exact definition of the household and the degree of the mutual responsibility of members of the household, we think also that the reasonableness and the practicability of our proposals depend upon the adoption of intelligible principles of treatment with regard to different elements of family income, and particularly with regard to earnings. The practice of regarding almost the whole income of each member of the household as available equally for all the other members is not easily defensible, and we think it necessary that under any system of discretionary assessment definite guidance should be given to the assessing bodies as to the treatment of different kinds of income. We suggest below the lines on which in our judgment guidance might be given.The Report goes on to say:If all earnings are taken into account, the Incentive to earn is diminished. We think it well to avoid that situation and, therefore, recommend that in assessing the needs of the applicant himself a proportion of earnings should he ignored so that an unemployed worker is not deterred from taking short spells of work.It must be well known to the Minister that Members representing industrial areas where unemployment is rife have pressed and pressed again in order that 577 we might obtain some kind of guidance for the help of public assistance committees in assessing needs. I have told my people on repeated occasions quite fearlessly, that where the State is paying money into the family, the State, of necessity, has a right to know whether that money is required, but after a certain period of time—and I say this with great deference to the Department—one becomes absolutely weary of trying to get some sort of help for the kind of constituency that I represent.
I turn to another proposition. I think, and I suppose that the Majority of people in the country will agree, that where a man is drawing unemployment standard benefit for a period of 26 weeks, which is his by legal right under the definition of the law laid down in this House, it is unfair that, in assessing the family needs, that the 15s. 3d. payable to the applicant should be regarded as family income available for the whole of the family. I turn to the report of the Royal Commission on this matter which says:This item will affect only members of the household other than the applicant for relief. If the member of the household in receipt of benefit is wholly unemployed and is not in receipt of other payments (with the exception of trade union benefits) he should be regarded as outside the household group for the purpose of assessing resources and needs.I think that that point has also been brought to the attention of the Minister, but again we have been unable, during the 18 months Since the needs test became the law of the land, to obtain any help from the Department. Again, with regard to State pensions, the Unemployment Insurance Commission recommended:Where a member of the household is in receipt of an old age pension (contributory or non-contributory), or a widow's or orphan's contributory pension, and is not in receipt of other income, that member should be ignored both as a contributor to the income of the household and as a person to be provided for.May I digress for a moment to make my position plain? I am not contrasting the records of the National Government, the late Socialist Government, or its supporters in the Liberal party; and I would remind hon. Members above the Gangway that their contribution was "promises without performances," and that of hon. Members opposite "criticism 578 without courage." I am not comparing the records of the three parties. I do think, however, that on occasions like this I have a right, speaking as a citizen, to put forward the point of view of my area. Again, we have on repeated occasions brought to the notice of the Minister the variations in the administration as well as in the scales in certain industrial areas adjoining one another. I mentioned earlier the particular point of Army Reserve pay. We have had a tremendous amount of difficulty in my own division, and now, because the committee which is administering the needs test must of necessity operate entirely the Order in Council, the whole of the Army Reserve pay of the men in my division is being taken into consideration. That is not the fault of the committee because there has been no guidance from the Ministry of Labour on this point. In the adjacent area, which is Newcastle-on-Tyne and immediately over the river, we find that the committees are using their own discretion and, not taking the whole amount of the Army Reserve pay into consideration. Is there any reason why some guidance, at any rate, might not have been given by the Department? I feel strongly that the people for whom I have some responsibility should be placed in this very unfortunate position as compared with other areas.
Before leaving this point, I want to call the attention of the Minister to another recommendation in the Report of the Unemployment Insurance Commission. We have been told by the Minister and by the Parliamentary Secretary on many occasions that they cannot interfere with the scales of relief as laid down by the various councils responsible for administering them, but I find in this report that one of the strongest recommendations of the Majority of the Commission was this. Referring to the Minister of Labour, they say:He should aim at seeing that a proper relation is kept between the relief scales and the rates of benefit provided by the insurance scheme and avoiding undue variations between adjoining industrial areas; and in the last resort, as we suggest, he will have the power actually to impose a scale either on all areas or on some defined group of areas or on individual authorities.In spite of that, under the present Order in Council, no power is given to the Minister, and there was no reason, as far as I can see, why the Department 579 should not have taken some action in this connection seeing it is recommended by the commission. Coming from a part of the country where unemployment is almost Unbelievable in its distress, I appeal strongly to the Minister to give some guidance in order to ease the burdens of those people who are obliged to accept transitional payments rather than work and wages.
From that I come to this point. I listened yesterday to a brilliant exposition from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in reply to the challenge from hon. Members above the Gangway that the unemployed were worse off now than they were when the Socialist party was in office, but on such occasions I just think to myself, "How I wish that we could forget politics and come down to plain facts!" It was a brilliant exposition and answer, if I may respectfully say so, but I would point out, speaking for those in my area, that it does not matter whether 20s. purchases 22s. worth of goods to-day whereas three years ago it purchased only 18s. worth. The point is that it is impossible for a man—with a wife—in the prime of life, a man who may have been a miner, a shipyard worker or an engineer, a manual worker for his living, to live year after year either on 18s., 20s. or 22s. a week. The tragedy of unemployment in our part of the country is that it is not short-term unemployment Anybody can put up with a small sum of money for a short time, but when unemployment lasts for years and years, and there seems to be little chance of any work in the future, one ought to realise, in common justice, that the standard of life cannot be maintained on such allowances. I very much hope that in the future when we are discussing the respective merits of the Socialist party and the present National Government, we shall forget about politics and come down to real facts.
That brings me to another point. There has been a certain amount of anxiety and apprehension in my part of the world as to the physical condition of the men and women who have passed through this long period of unemployment. The week before last I asked the Minister of Health whether he was prepared to institute an inquiry into the condition of the people 580 in Northumberland. If the physical deterioration is not apparent, if there is no physical deterioration, then surely there is no reason why we should not have such an inquiry. The Minister replied that he had got reports from the medical officers of health. I am perfectly certain that in our part of the world we have got the most adequate medical officers of health, but there are other people—there are matrons of the maternity homes to which the women go, there are the panel doctors, there are hundreds of societies which are trying to protect the interests of the people suffering such acute distress and hardship who might with confidence be consulted, and I would impress on the Minister that if there is no physical deterioration we have nothing to be worried about, but if there is the chance that the very flower of our country, the people whose industry has made this country famous throughout the world, are losing their physical capacity for work, it is up to this Government to face the facts frankly. I press on the Minister most urgently that in order to reassure the House, and to reassure us who are responsible for these people, steps should be taken through an appropriate inquiry to find out the actual position.
I apologise to the Minister for not being present during the whole of his speech, but I am led to understand that he has asked for an additional sum of money for training and reconditioning the unemployed. I congratulate him very Sincerely on that determination, but I want him to go very much further. I understand that the camp at Kielder in Northumberland was specially mentioned, and I wish to ask him how many of the thousands of people in my division will be reconditioned in that camp? I think I am right in saying that probably it will be a very small percentage. I want the National Government to be brave and to produce something which is really worth while. I suggest that we should take all the young men between the ages of 16 and 25 who are available for transitional payment, young men who have not had the opportunity of learning any trade, and I would make it compulsory that they should go to a first-class training camp for six months. I would feed them well. I would make them do forestry, teach them how to 581 cultivate allotments, and I would have the finest people in the country to teach them to play organised games. It would give them something to think about, give them some vision and give them some imagination. I would also give them a certain amount of pocket money, because I do not think it would be good for those youths to be entirely dependent on their parents, or, for that matter, in a camp of that kind, on the State, for every single penny they want. When they return to their homes I would give them their National Health and Unemployment Insurance cards stamped to date. I know that a suggestion of this kind will probably meet with the fiercest opposition. There is a certain section of trade union leaders—
My hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) says, "Hear, hear." My answer to that would be that I would fight the trade unions. Though the political trade unionists might disagree with that policy, I am quite certain that the Majority of trade union leaders, concerned about the discipline of the young unemployed men, who do not know what it is to have discipline, do not know what it is to be organised, who have never had a chance of earning anything for themselves, would welcome the proposal; and incidentally, also, I believe the parents of those young men would be only too thankful to have them properly fed, housed and looked after. When those young men came back from camp I believe they would be better, happier and more contented for having been to camp and have learned something from the good, hard physical exercises and the happy comradeship which I know they would have there.
We have waited a long time in the North of England, and we want something. We want the Government to give us some bold policy, even if it does not meet with the approval of all the people throughout the country. Those in my part of the world would rather the Government made a mistake than that they should go on pretending that everything in the garden is lovely, when, in fact, it is too frightful for words. I hope that when the Parliamentary Secretary winds up the Debate he will not give us an 582 ordinary Ministerial reply. We want something a little more definite, we want to be heartened and encouraged, and I believe that if the Government adopt a forward policy all moderate opinion throughout the country will be solidly behind them.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
No one could have heard the last speech without recognising that it was a very fine effort, and I would add that it had some originality and some courage about it. I do not propose to follow the hon. Lady, although I ought to say, as to her suggestion about compulsory labour, that Conservatives must not condemn a thing in one country and then demand it in their own country. They cannot attack Russia for compulsory labour, and then advocate compulsory labour in Britain and think it is something different. I do not want to engage in controversy with the hon. Lady for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor). I say it was compulsory labour that was advocated. The hon. Lady the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) said that she would make it compulsory.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Well, compulsory training. You would send them to camp to work. They would have to work.
May I put the hon. Member on the right track?—I did not say "compulsory labour." I said that I would have these young men taken compulsorily to camp for reconditioning and for putting them into a sound condition.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The hon. lady said "compulsory." What is compulsory training? She is not going to take them there and give them money for a holiday; she is going to make them work. I have been at most of the reconditioning centres in Scotland and in England, and the men have to work. You may call it training, or labour, or work, or whatever you like, but it means compulsorily making them work, and I am only saying, apart from the merits of the thing, that people cannot condemn other countries for compelling their people to labour if they advocate the same thing here. The hon. Lady must also face two other facts. For what are they to be trained? I hope the hon. Lady will not think me un- 583 generous to her or unsympathetic, but after taking part in Debates here for 11 years some phrases are irksome to me. They sound admirable, but I always ask myself, "What does the phrase mean?" What is this training for? If it is to be of any use it must be objective. Are they to be trained to be miners, building trade workers, engineers or shipbuilders? If it is training, and the choice were offered to me, I would prefer that they should be put into ordinary Government Departments and trained, or even into private employment, because there they would have some acquaintance with the realities of ordinary everyday conditions of human life.
They are to have six months' training, and what is to happen at the end of it? I often see people taken from their slums and moved to decent homes, and I have often felt that the tragedy was worse because they could not be kept there and, after a year, had to be chased back. That was worse than being allowed to live in their slums. Can the hon. Lady say what is to happen at the end of the six months' training? Are they to be hauled back and allowed to drift again? The whole position is not met by some form of training that moves men about as in a game of chess. The idea that the working people need training is fundamentally wrong. I live in a Division that is packed full of poverty. Bad as conditions are in Wallsend, they are worse in my Division. It always was poor. As I have known it, Since I was born in it 40 years ago, it has been poverty-stricken. Wallsend has not been so. I remember Wallsend as a prosperous place.
My proposal is that you should give men an income. Give the ordinary unemployed man a decent income, and he will train. The marvellous thing about the unemployed is how little Government help they need. I have watched them at the Exchanges. I live near to one of the biggest Employment Exchanges Scotland, and I see men every day doing things for which in my youth they would have been sneered at. I see them with perambulators outside the Exchange and on the Exchange doorstep, when they are going in to sign. Watch the young men. I want to refer to the hon. Member who is a doctor, and who is very keen about the question of liquor. Look at the facts about drink. [Interruption.] This is 584 not a matter for cheap joking about somebody else. None of us is too free. If some of us have faults, they can be balanced against the faults of others. I have not been too critical of others. I have too many faults myself to throw too many bricks about, but my faults are transparent and honest; others are more capable of hiding them. Look at the facts about drink and about sex crimes. What you notice every day in that respect, in the City of Glasgow, is that there is a diminution. The character and the training of the men are better. They do not need herding about.
I am the chairman of a trade-union of which one-third of the members are now unemployed. They are decent men. Give them an income; they will train. They will play football, they will dig their gardens, or they will play music. Give them the opportunity to do these things, and they will do them; the idea that you should herd men is, from some angles, wrong. The finest thing is to keep them in some way concerned with the female sex and with their mothers and sisters. When you move men for six months again from the influence of their mothers and sisters, the six months is often shockingly wrongly wasted. I say that, as one who was brought up to be as wild as ever a man could be, at the age named by the hon. Lady, but who would have been wilder beyond recall if it had not been for the kindly and humane influence of the other sex, at that age. To herd men is wrong. These men make their own training for themselves. I see an hon. Member who sits for a Welsh division. When I went there, what struck me in that division was the way in which decent miners were walking up hills to play games and to read. I saw them in on: town in his division sitting in a hall reading, the Bible, I think, studying a question of religion.
Let me take another aspect of this matter. I agree with the hon. Lady in her criticism of the means test. Once you engage in the means test, I cannot see how you are to draw the line. The administration of the means test means that once you embark upon it you have either to have no means test or a strict means test. This may be looked upon as a defence of the means test, but I say that the means test was not put on by the present Government because they 585 are inhuman. I do not believe that of the men who occupy that bench. I have a regard for the Minister. I do not believe that anybody in the House has not. I have a regard for him that few men have. He did not put on the means test, along with others of his colleagues—say, the Minister of Agriculture, whom I have known for many years—because they are inhuman. Do not think that the Prime Minister suddenly became an inhuman man when he went to that side, from being a human man when he was here. That would be an insult to every one of them. I am sure that my Labour colleagues will agree with me. What made them do it? It was money—finance. If they could give the things, they would do so. In the main, they put on the means test because it saved money. That was the reason.
If you are going to have a means test you must save. If you do not save, then the argument of the hon. Lady about demarcations falls. You have either to have a means test that is mean, or no means test. I live in the City of Glasgow. What are the facts there? The public assistance officer went into the matter and found the number of people whom he and I would exclude, all of moderate means, but if you were excluding them, it would mean that the means test would not be worth running. Suppose you fixed an income of £2 a week untouchable. That is not a high income. Nobody would say that it is too much to fix that income in Glasgow. You immediately affect every female worker and the great bulk of the men, and the result is that you get no income. The cost of administration is high, and if you are to get your administration costs you must have a test that is mean and comparatively inadequate. You are saving now, and you must save, if you are to run it. Supporters of the Government must face the fact that it is going to be mean.
There is the question of the ex-service men, about whom the hon. Lady spoke so well and eloquently. I think that it is awfully unjust that a reservist's pension should have been cut 25 per cent. Do not let us forget that the only person who has had a cut of more than 10 per cent., in this country, is the reservist. The teacher, the Member of Parliament, and the police, as well as other classes have had a cut of 10 per cent., but the 586 reservist has suffered a cut of 25 per cent., from 1s. a day to 9d. It hurts him, because he gets his 9d. a day in quarterly sums. He has £3 10s. handed to him; in the meantime, his wife has mortgaged the quarter's rent. She gets no unemployment benefit for the period, yet she has to pay the rent, and the result is that she is forced into a terrible position. If the money were paid each week they might have some method of looking after it, but as it comes each quarter, the result is a terrible hardship. I agree with the Minister that the officials of the Employment Exchanges are decent. I often feel that I am unjust to them. I go to the Exchange every week, and I shout and roar, and I bully them. I curse, and I often swear at them. [Interruption.] Yes, I do. The Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth would not do that. She would do it more genteelly; but the effect would be the same. She would frighten them and annoy them.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I know her well, and she would probably frighten them more than I do. They are decent and civil. The problem with which we are faced to-day concerns the 3,000,000 unemployed men who have no training or anything else. You may talk round it, but I want to see even 100 or 1,000 men assisted. I do not mind your reducing the hours of labour, but even when you reduce the hours of labour you are still faced with the problem of the development of the machine, which still goes on. The great thing before the House of Commons, the one overwhelming problem, is not how to see that men are kept and trained, but how men and women can get enough to keep and train themselves. I want to see the hours of labour readjusted. I cannot understand the philosophy that keeps men working 40, 50 or 52 hours a week, when there are men getting no work at all. I cannot understand why one (man should work too long and another man should work too little. I cannot understand the brains that have conquered the air and created science, but cannot conquer the elementary principle of one man doing too much and another man too little. I often think that we, who are entrusted with the affairs of the nation, might apply our minds to it.
587 One of the first problems is so to regulate labour that those engaged in it shall not be asked to undertake more than they should undertake, while other men are denied the right to share it with them. The Minister says that we have the problem of international trade. After all, a nation is not run in compartments. The right hon. Gentleman says you may ruin your trade with America, but in running a nation, when one man's hours are reduced another man takes his place. The sum total of the wealth of your nation remains the same. I cannot see how your volume of trade or industry could thereby be affected.
The only thing is, how are you to increase your unemployment benefit. You talk to-day about putting 100,000 men into training. Talk of taking another quarter of a million and doing what you like with them; talk about your road schemes and other things—there still remains, as a residue, the biggest part of the 2,500,000 who are unemployed. To them unemployment benefit is their wages. It is not transitional or standard benefit; it is wages, their income and their life. For the House of Commons to keep children living on 2s. a week is indefensible. We pass a Rent Bill asking these men to pay rent nearly 50 per cent. more than they have been paying. For the House of Commons to do that is wrong. It may be said that the country is not well off, that we are poorer than we were. I do not quite agree with that, although every hon. Member impresses upon me that it is right. Assume that we are not so well off, and no longer the wealthy nation we were, I still say that there is something horrible about asking the 2,500,000 unemployed people to carry the burden. Why should they have been picked out? Really it is not they, but their children who are picked out. It is the sons of the unemployed that remain unemployed. It sentences them for ever to nothing. It is not decent, and it is inhuman to ask this section to go on indefinitely—to suffer for 10 years, and then continue to suffer.
I want to thank the Minister for a small concession, granted to me after two years of painful and constant agitation. It has been granted with regard to sick men. A man who is sick, and has gone off sickness benefit on to unemploy- 588 ment benefit, used to be subject to a gap of three or four days. The Government have now taken steps to remedy that, after two years of hammering, and insistence. This small concession is welcome in these days, because I have practically given up hope of getting much. When I see the smallest thing coming it seems a lot to me. I have little hope from this Government, or any Government. I can only see the tragedy of the matter. We are told of the peacefuiness of the unemployed. To mo that is a tragedy. They have become so terribly depressed that they are losing their spirit to rebel. That is a terrible human tragedy.
I do not know whether others see it as I see it. My wife and I were born among them. It is just by accident that she and I have an income. I often look at my wife, possibly the kindest soul ever man had. I say to myself, "How would you like her to be treated as an unemployed man's wife is treated?" I would hate it. We have no right to treat another man's wife as we would not like our own wives treated. I say to the Minister that he is entrusted with the biggest task of all—the maintenance and care of human beings. These men were ready in time of war to give their lives, and would do it again. Surely during the coming months the Minister of Labour, and his colleagues, should bend themselves to the only task worth while—seeing that these millions are at least treated in a human and proper fashion.
§ 7.7 p.m.
I am very glad that the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) ended up with a word of praise for the National Government. It was generous of him, and I think that in some ways they deserve it. I believe that the best thing that followers of the National Government can do is to make speeches such as we have had from the hon. Lady the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward). We know that there is no Minister of Labour who has been keener about his job than the present one. We are not helping him if we sit quite silent. If we are to have a forward policy we must push it on. It is one mistake of supporters of the present Government that they feel it is wrong to criticise the National Government. There is no Minister, who wishes to get 589 on, who is not really helped if Members get up and state their opinions. I am sure that the hon. Member who has just spoken completely mistook the desire of the hon. Lady. Her plan was much the same as that of the Leader of the Opposition who said that if he had his way he would compel young men to go into camp and get proper training.
The hon. Gentleman is complaining because it is to be work. What the hon. Lady means, and what I think we all mean, is that in this national emergency we have got to do something about our juvenile unemployed. They are increasing every year. Owing to the large increase in the birth rate 14 or 15 years ago we may, in 1937, have about 600,000 juveniles unemployed. The hon. Member says that they should be trained privately. It is not a question of private training; it is literally a question of hanging round street corners. There is no right-minded parent who would not rather have his boys and girls receive some sort of regulated training. I do hope the Leader of the Opposition will assist the Government. The Government ought to have an emergency plan. At present, it is just piecemeal the way they are going on, and time is passing. One of the tragedies—and the Minister of Labour knows it—is that children between 14 and 16 are getting work, but the moment they come on unemployment insurance they go out.
Something should be done at once. We ought to raise the school age, and lower the insurance age. Then we might have some control. The Minister does not know how many children there are out of work. He knows little about the conditions of children in unregulated trades. He made a spirited reply about Mr. Tom Shaw, and the conditions are better in this country than in any country in the world, on the whole. I should think there are some States of America where the conditions are far worse. But I am not concerned with American legislation. I have lived in England longer than in America, and I know more about England. The Minister of Labour knows that there are children in unregulated trades working 10, 12 or 14 hours a day. That is the kind of thing the Government should think about. They ought to have a big, bold plan with regard to hours of work, 590 and prevent employers taking on children at 14 and turning them out at 16.
This idea of training, I think, has not been thought out. If the Government are not doing it, the House of Commons ought to do it. If the Government will not work, we ought to do so. Every country with this great problem has been doing something. We, who are more progressive than any other country as far as social legislation is concerned, are lagging behind. I hope that the Minister will realise that the speech made by the hon. Lady is the sort of speech which is being made all over the country. We have trade union opposition. What does that mean? We have had trade union opposition to all progressive legislation. We have to get over trade unions or we shall not get anywhere. We would have had many more people in the building trade years ago if we had not had trade unions. I rejoice that trade unions are going down, because working men are beginning to see that they are restricting industry. We will not be frightened by them. The Minister said something about setting up trade boards in two trades. Will he consider setting up a catering board which is badly needed? The Labour Government did not do it.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I beg the Noble Lady's pardon. The Labour Government were fought in the courts by the catering interests.
I quite agree, but that was not Conservatives; it was the catering interest. That is why I hope the National Government will set up trade boards. I am perfectly certain that if the House knew the catering conditions, hon. Members would ask for such a board. We never get a lead from the Government, they are so timorous. They are doing splendidly natioNaily, but they should be a little more forward socially. With regard to these training camps, we can keep the minds and bodies of these boys from going to rack and ruin. That is what is literally happening. I appeal to the Minister and to the House not to be so passive. We are not helping the National Government by that; they will become as bad as the late Labour Gov- 591 ernnent, who never said a word, because they were afraid that, if they did, they would be turned out. Do not let us do that; let us begin to press the Government, and see that within the next year we have some plan for our juveniles. We must be prepared for a great increase in their number, and we may have to raise the school age and lower the age of insurance, but let us do something; do not let us sit still and wait for a better day. The Minister knows that, if we had 15 speeches like that of the hon. Member for Wallsend, the Government would begin to move; Governments do not move unless they are pushed. I hope and pray that the right hon. Gentleman will listen to what has been said, and take it to heart.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. BATEY
The Noble Lady began by thanking the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) for complimenting the Government, but she ended her speech in a way that was the reverse of complimentary to the Government. She seemed to forget that the beginning of her speech was altogether different from the end. The speech of the hon. Member for Wall-send (Miss Ward) was a most important one. I am sorry that this Debate has to be interrupted at 7.30, because the hon. Member for Wallsend, backed by the Noble Lady, has given the Committee a most important topic for discussion.
With all that the hon. Member said in regard to the means test, I, as one who also comes from a distressed area, thoroughly agree, but what effect would a speech on the means test have on the Minister? I remember so many of these Debates. Only to-day I was wondering how many Debates on unemployment there have been in the House during the last 10 years. They all seemed to end alike, and we never seemed to get any further. When one thinks of the little progress that results from Debates on unemployment, one is hardly surprised that there should be attacks upon Parliamentary Government, and that so many people should be falling away from democatic and Parliamentary Government and losing heart in it. When, however, the hon. Member for Wallsend suggests that young men from 18 to 25 should be put into a camp, I strongly disagree with her. If she thought that the political trade 592 unionists would disagree with her in that, she was right; I cannot understand any trade unionist not opposing it most bitterly.
§ Mr. BATEY
I know of no trade unionist, I know of no member of the Labour party, who would not bitterly oppose such a proposal. It is surprising how new ideas come into being. I was reading in the newspaper only a week ago that Hitler was going to form a labour army like this, starting at the age of 18, and to use this labour army in making war. I wonder if that is where the hon. Member for Wallsend got her new idea from? Are we to understand that she is in favour of Hitlerism? This idea is not new at all; it is an idea that we have been afraid of.
The Minister of Labour was more cautious. When he was speaking of the new Bill that is to be introduced, he said that the proposal was to deal with the unemployed by training, by occupation, and by recreation. I understand training and recreation, but I do not understand what he meant by occupation. Had the Minister in mind what the hon. Member for Wallsend said more bluntly—that he is going to deal with the unemployed by putting them into an army that will not merely be in a camp, but can be used for labour purposes? The hon. Member for Wallsend seemed to suggest that that was necessary for the training of these men, but I should like to ask her some questions. I have a good knowledge of her division; I was born there. May I ask her what young men of 18 who are miners need training? What young men in the shipyards need training? What young men in any of the trades in the Wallsend Division need training? None of them need training, and the proposal is left in all its nakedness; what some of our friends want is a conscript labour army, with which they will be able to deal at their own sweet will. The hon. Member for Wallsend suggested that they would be given pocket-money.
593 The Minister of Labour said this afternoon that he was asking for an increased amount of no less than £800,000 for training. When he talks about putting these trainees in camps to deal with forestry, one can understand it, but when he goes beyond that, and proposes to put them to learn trades, it leaves me cold. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that a far better way of spending this £800,000, which is not a small sum, would be to abolish the means test and give the proper unemployment benefit to those who are on transitional payment. I do not know why the Minister has this idea of training so fixed in his mind. Throughout his whole speech to-day he seemed to regard training as the chief and the best thing that the Ministry of Labour could do. In my opinion it is one of the things that the Ministry of Labour might well leave alone. What they ought to do first and foremost is this: The Unemployment Insurance Fund was started in order to relieve unemployment, to pay men benefit when they were unemployed; and that should be done first. The spending of money upon anything else should only come after those who are unemployed have been paid their benefit.
That leads me to ask one or two questions on the Estimates. I notice that the amount that is to be paid for the removal of workers is being cut down from £57,000, as it was last year, to £39,000—a reduction of £18,000. I consider this to be a wise spending of money, a much better way than spending it on training, because, where a worker has been unemployed for several years and all his resources have gone, even if he can find employment in another part of the country he cannot go to it—he cannot remove his furniture and take his family there. I think it is unwise of the Ministry of Labour to cut down this figure for the removal of workers. Why is it being done? Is it thought that there will be no need for the money, that people will not be able to get work in other parts of the country; or is it simply a question of economy and penalising the workers?
I want also to draw attention to the fact that the cost of courts of referees, which last year was £124,000, is reduced this year to £50,000. The Minister of Labour did not say anything about that in his speech, and I think that, if he has 594 an opportunity to reply to-night, he should tell us the reason for this very large reduction of £74,000. Unless the work has decreased, it seems to suggest that there will be a great danger of men not being able to get before the courts of referees. I cannot imagine any reduction being made in the fees of the chairmen or members of the courts, so one can only conclude that a lot of the courts are to be closed. If that is so, it will be a real hardship upon unemployed men who have to go to the courts of referees. With regard to the item:Grants for assisting the voluntary provision of occupation for unemployed persons,this is put in rather misleading words, because what one would understand from it is that the £10,000 that was given last year to the National Council for Social Service is to be increased this year to £25,000. I think the Minister should tell us the reason for that increase for this charity organisation. We object to the unemployed being linked to any charity organisation, and we opposed the giving of £10,000 to the National Council for Social Service.
§ It being Half-past Seven of the Clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed, without Question put.