§ Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 69.
§ [Captain BOURNE in the Chair.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it is expedient to extend until a date not later than the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, the period in respect of which grants are to be paid to local authorities out of moneys provided by Parliament under section one of the Unemployment Assistance (Temporary Provisions) (No. 2) Act, 1935."—(King's Recommendation signified.)—[Sir K. Wood.]
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Sir Kingsley Wood)
This Financial Resolution is necessary in the following circumstances. The Unemployment Assistance (Temporary Provisions) No. 2 Act made provision for grants from 1st March, 1935, to 30th September, 1935, placing public assistance authorities as nearly as might be in the financial position they would have occupied had the second appointed day not been postponed from 1st March, 1935. The second appointed day, as hon. Members know, is the day 1200 from which public assistance authorities are to be relieved of, and the Unemployment Assistance Board are to assume, responsibility for the assistance of those able-bodied unemployed within the scope of Part 2 of the Unemployment Act, 1934, for whom the board did not already become responsible on the first appointed day. This Resolution is necessary in order to give the necessary authority for the introduction of a Bill to continue these grants for the further period from 1st October, 1935, to 31st March, 1936, or to the day hereafter appointed as the second appointed day, whichever is the earlier. The method of determining the grants will be the same as that provided for in the Act of 1935, and it is estimated that the annual rate of grants will be approximately £4,000,000 for England and Wales and £1,625,000 for Scotland.
§ Sir K. WOOD
If the transfer of responsibility from the public assistance authorities to the Unemployment Assistance Board shall not have been effected by 1st April, 1936, further legislation will be necessary.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I think it is hardly necessary for me, unless hon. Members particularly desire it, to describe again the methods of calculation and matters of that kind. I think that the chief thing that hon. Members, will be interested in is what has been the effect of the temporary provisions in the period which occurred up to 30th September, 1935. I had the opportunity a little while ago of reading the Debate on the Second Reading of the Bill before it became an Act, and doubts were expressed as to what the effect of the provisions would be, and fears were expressed, of which I do not complain, because it is the duty of the Opposition to express fear, that somehow or other the local authorities would be very badly hit by the proposals. I am very glad to give the Committee an account this evening as far as we are able to do so to-day. I give the account on provisional figures which have been obtained from local authorities. It is estimated that the arrangement made under that Act resulted in the local authorities being 1201 some £400,000 better off than they would have been if the second appointed day had not been postponed.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I am dealing with the whole situation. Whether that will be the case when the whole period up to 31st March next is taken it is, of course, clearly impossible to say at this moment, and there are grounds for thinking that in some areas which have suffered heavily from unemployment there may be an improvement in certain cases, and I instance one, the case of Sunderland, which has lost slightly under this particular proposal. That is one of the few local authorities where expenditure has been slightly in excess of the grant, and where unemployment has fallen from 26,392 in April to 23,200 in November. I have been considering as the Committee will expect me to do what could be said, what undertaking I could give, in respect of those few authorities which have lost slightly. I have had in mind the many representations that have been made, particularly by hon. Members who represent divisions in Liverpool and other local authorities in the country.
The associations of local authorities, with whom we have discussed this matter and who, as one might anticipate, are very well satisfied with the position, have asked me to give consideration especially to those areas where the grant ends in a state of circumstances where certain local authorities may have lost, and I have given attention to their request. It is a small loss, but it is right that their case should be considered. So far as these areas are concerned—there are very few—the figures are purely provisional, and they may be altered as a result of the unemployment experience of the next few months, but an opportunity will occur to ascertain the definite position when we come to consider the proposed legislation referred to in the King's Speech in relation to this particular matter. If there should then be any cases of local authorities which can properly be said to have suffered as a result of the arrangement, although of course I cannot undertake to give a blank cheque to make good any loss which any local authority may have suffered, I do undertake to examine sympathetically 1202 hard cases with a view to making special provision for them in such legislation. I do not think that the position is unsatisfactory as far as the proposals are concerned, because the great bulk of the local authorities, far from suffering as a result, have had a substantial sum in excess. I am reminded that the figures I have given refer to England and Wales.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. SILVERMAN
Would the right hon. Gentleman tell me whether I am interpreting his implied undertaking correctly? Is it that he undertakes to make up to local authorities which can prove a loss the amount of their loss so far as they can prove it to his satisfaction?
§ Sir K. WOOD
The Secretary of State for Scotland will intervene in the discussion at a later stage. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) happens to belong to the same profession as I do—the lower branch of the profession; it gets lower fees.
§ Sir K. WOOD
The hon. Gentleman has put a question to me in a form which I would prefer to answer by referring him to the very careful statement I have made. I think, as a matter of fact, that the few local authorities concerned will be satisfied with the undertaking I have given. I would like to sum up by saying that as far as this Financial Resolution is concerned the bulk of the local authorities have not done badly out of the transaction. There are a few others who have suffered a little—a comparatively small sum—but I have no doubt that they will be quite prepared to accept the undertaking I have given, and that things will end up satisfactorily so far as they are concerned.
Lieut.-Colonel SANDEMAN ALLEN
If this Resolution is not carried, will the local authorities get their money?
§ Sir K. WOOD
Barnsley is one of the places which, under these proposals, will receive a not unsatisfactory sum.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. ARTHUR GREENWOOD
We do not look upon the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health as the chief nigger in this particular wood pile. He is just the residuary legatee. He has inherited this very dirty piece of work from his predecessors, and what I have to say is not intended in the least to be a reflection on him, though I am bound to add that he was a little disingenuous in his opening speech. He explained that the Financial Resolution was necessary "under the following circumstances," but, of course, the chief circumstances was the sheer and utter incompetence of the last Government to deal with this problem. The right hon. Gentleman—I can understand his motives—glossed over the truth, but it is very important that the truth should be told. There are Members here now who do not remember the Debates on this subject before the right hon. Gentleman was Minister of Health and when he was making a success of the Post Office—an easier job than he now has. The Government are in a very undignified position, because had it not been for the mess and muddle of the Regulations under the Unemployment Act, 1934, we should not have seen the right hon. Gentleman standing there tonight wasting important time at the beginning of the first Session of a new Parliament.
It is important that we should have in our minds a full picture of the situation, and I want to carry the minds of hon. Members back to a statement made by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor as Minister of Health, who now, alas, has gone to the obscurity of the other place, when he said on 12th April, 1933, amid acclamation, that the able-bodied unemployed were to become a burden upon national funds. Hon. Members opposite, who up to that time had believed that it was very good to punish the unemployed under the Poor Law, hailed this as a great reform, and we on this side wondered what kind of spiritual change 1204 had taken place in the hearts and minds of the Government. Then we found that we had been "had." We found that the Government had not taken 100 per cent. responsibility. I am sorry that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not here, because he has tried to disprove what I have said, but so far without making any impression whatever on my mind or on the minds of my hon. Friends. It is still true that local authorities are being left with part of the responsibility and that the hope held out to them did not materialise.
We had one delay after another in dealing with this matter. In the King's Speech in 1932 we were informed that the Government meant to deal with the whole problem of the treatment of the unemployed. The rest of 1932 passed, and 1933 passed, and then, in another King's Speech, we were told there was to be legislation, and a Bill was introduced. Within a few days that Bill was withdrawn and another took its place—it was not substantially different, but the procedure showed the slip-shod workmanship of the Government. After six weary months of debate in the House the Bill got on the Statute Book. The point about this Resolution to-night has not been explained by the right hon. Gentleman. His mind is still too full of his Post Office. He must re-adjust his point of view and recollect the sort of things that happened during the last Parliament.
Under Part II of the Unemployment Act, which purported to transfer the maintenance of the able-bodied unemployed to national funds and a national organisation, it was laid down that the Government had to decide upon an appointed day, when those responsibilities should cease to be the responsibilities of local authorities. It was commonly understood that local authorities were to get rid of those responsibilities in October, 1934. I know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said at that Box that he never said any such thing, and it may be that he did not, but the art of subtle suggestion may have been responsible for convincing the local authorities that it really was intended to have the appointed day in October, 1934. In the official gazette of the County Councils Association for May, 1934, it was said that 42 county councils had framed their estimates on the assumption 1205 that Part II of the Bill would come into force on 1st October, 1934, and that it was estimated that unless this expectation materialised the county councils—not the county boroughs—would be called upon to provide between them an additional sum of nearly £300,000 for the second half of the year. At a meeting of the Parliamentary and General Purposes Committee of the County Councils Association held in February this year, according to their official gazette,The Secretary again stated that as regards the date of the second appointed day, so far as the local authorities were concerned the discussions had taken place on the distinct understanding that 1st October, 1934, would be fixed for this puprpose.When first I raised this question in the House it roused a certain amount of indignation among hon. Members opposite. When we had a debate on 12th February, the day before the discussion from which I have just quoted, this is what was said—I was speaking at the time:The Government have treated local authorities in this matter very badly. They were led to believe that the appointed day, when they would be relieved of 60 per cent. of the cost of the able-bodied unemployed, would be the 1st October last year.Sir JOHN WALLACE: By whom?Sir LUKE THOMSON: This is very important. Will the right hon. Gentleman point to any time or period when the Government gave any indication of the kind?The hon. and gallant Member for Tiverton (Lieut.-Colonel Acland-Troyte), who spoke as one who was present at the County Councils Association meeting, said then:The question was considered by the Government and the County Councils Association, and 1st October was mentioned."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1935; cols. 1785–6, Vol. 297.]Speaking later in the Debate the hon. and gallant Member for Tiverton said:It will be remembered that it was originally intended that the appointed day should be 1st October last year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1935; col. 1851, Vol. 297.]That was specific. It has never been denied. [HON. MEMBERS "Oh!"] It has never been denied authoritatively that the suggestion was put into the minds of the local authorities. It is extraordinary that 42 county councils should budget for 1st October as the date when they were to be relieved of responsibilities if nobody had instilled that date into their minds. They have not invented it, 1206 and the hon. and gallant Member for Tiverton and others have said that 1st October was used as a basis of discussion. But, without any consultation with the local authorities, the appointed day was fixed for 1st March this year, and for six more months the local authorities were left carrying a burden which they had had reason to believe was to be taken off their shoulders.
What happened in the interval? By March the whole business was in a state of chaos. In February the late Government appeared on the Treasury Bench in white sheets, the most abject spectacle ever seen in the House of Commons since the War. They had launched their Regulations under Part II of the Unemployment Act, and then had to come down here to say that they would not work, that they were a mistake and please could they have a stand-still arrangement? As a result the Minister of Labour was transferred to a "better 'ole." He went to the relative security and seclusion of the Board of Education. That was the scheme which was described by Lord Rushcliffe, then Minister of Labour, as the greatest piece of social legislation for a generation. The position became so confused that the scheme broke down and the appointed day could not operate even from March. Therefore the Government said: "We will have a standstill arrangement." We did not invent the term. It was invented by the then Minister of Labour and was a very good term for a stand-still Government. The Government are still standing still on this question, and that is the reason for this Money Resolution. The Government are in the same position as they were in at the beginning of this year, when they came in sackcloth and ashes and said they were very sorry for their Unemployment Regulations.
The Government are now in the humiliating position of having to carry on the existing arrangement with the local authorities. The Government knew in July that there were going to be no unemployment regulations by the end of September. The Minister of Labour told us so in the House. He knew perfectly well there was not going to be any and the Government knew, and it was their duty to introduce this Bill last July and not to leave it over to this Parliament. What is the position now? For nearly two and a half months, hard-pressed local 1207 authorities have been footing the Bill and the Government have not been able to pay them any money. It is all right to pay the money retrospectively now, but the Government have treated the local authorities very shabbily. They knew that they would be in this position and they could equally have spent the time on this Bill in July as to waste time on it now.
That is not all. It is true, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, that many local authorities will not be any worse off, although he admits that some are. He has made the astonishing admission that because the Government made a mess of this business, local authorities in England and Wales are £400,000 better off than they would have been if the second appointed day had come into operation. What does that mean? It means that the substance of the Act is bad. The Minister is trying to take credit now for generosity—not arising out of any desire for generosity but because his Government made a mess, got into a particular kind of hole which I will not describe but which the Secretary of State for the Colonies always describes very effectively. Now they come here and preen themselves and say: "Really, we have done better for the local authorities by making a muddle of the Act than we should have done if we had carried the Act into operation." That is an extraordinary position.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about examining sympathetically all the hard cases and asked my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) to look very carefully into his statement. There are cities in this country which are all right. The right hon. Gentleman said that Barnsley was but he knows that even in spite of this additional £400,000, which is apparently going to many places that do not need it, there are towns in this country where the burden of maintaining the able-bodied unemployed is even now increasing. The right hon. Gentleman did not mention those towns, but I will mention four of them: Liverpool, Sunderland, Tynemouth and Wigan. They are not the only ones. They are towns which have been very hard hit. That only proves that the basis of the original Act 1208 is wrong, and the advantage—this profit, so to speak, of £400,000—that some local authorities are getting, only shows to the Committee, if the Committee will exercise independent judgment on the matter, how bad the original Act was.
I think we must press the right hon. Gentleman to do more than examine hard cases sympathetically. It is easy on that side of the Committee to be sympathetic. Any Minister can always examine cases sympathetically. The point is, does he mean to do anything? Does he mean to put some of these areas, which are still suffering, notwithstanding this grant, into the same position as the other areas, some of which appear to be making a profit out of this marvellous arrangement of the Government? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, or the Parliamentary Secretary, will tell us before night is over whether he is going to deliver the goods. It is due to those local authorities who are suffering, not because of any moral delinquency on the part of the councils but because of the exceptionally difficult circumstances in which they find themselves.
I come to my last point of substance. The Act was intended as a great final piece of legislation to deal with the unemployed. I wish new Members would refer back and read the most fulsome adulation which was showered on the Bill when it was introduced—chiefly by its authors, who covered themselves with praise on the Second and Third Readings. It is not permanent and it is not properly working, at least as regards Part II. We are in the astonishing position, as regards the major part of the Act which deals with the transfer of authority and responsibility from the local authorities to the State—
The right hon. Gentleman is going into the details of the whole of the principal Act. Under this Resolution we are dealing only with a very small part of it, and the Debate had better be confined to that.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
On this one financial point we have had the most specific financial arrangements, not contemplated in the Act, financial arrangements which are now going to operate for another six months, presumably.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
Or six years, whatever it may be. It may operate for only six months. In 1937, the whole of this financial basis is to be considered again, which means that two years after the Act has been put on the Statute Book we still shall not have got down to the financial basis, which has to be tried out before there can be any proper and reasonable adjustment in 1937. That is treating the Committee and the unemployed very unfairly. Nobody on these benches or on any other benches can oppose the Government in this tardy act of justice to the local authority. That is obvious, but it is due to the Committee that we should make a protest against this very tardy action on the part of the Government, who are tidying up the work which was left by the old Government, and which could very well have been done before the General Election. We are protesting also against the inordinate delay in facing up to the primary problem of our time. Although we do not intend to vote against the Financial Resolution—we clearly could not do it—we shall continue to make our emphatic protest against the Government's treatment of this important problem.
§ 7.41 p.m.
I will only detain the Committee for a moment in order to make a point quite clear to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), who complained so bitterly about the date of the second appointed day. I would bring to the notice of the Committee a letter dated 24th April, 1934, from the County Councils Association to the Treasury. The letter contains the following phrase:Admittedly the Association has not received any intimation either written or verbal, that the Bill would come into force on the 1st Ocober next.That is from the County Councils Association and it deprives the right hon. Gentleman of the view—
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
May I ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman whether he is aware that many members of the City Council of Liverpool hold that view?
I am very well aware of that fact, but this letter is from the Association and there 1210 is no ground for anybody to hold that view. That has been stated from time to time, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has quoted chapter and verse in this House, and I have listened to him. I am not one of those talkers on the Bill of whom the right hon. Gentleman showed such expert knowledge, but I hold very strongly that the Government must very shortly take over 100 per cent. of the able-bodied unemployed. There was no pledge that the second appointed day would be in October, 1934. If people have jumped to conclusions falsely, that is their own fault. It is clear from the letter which I have read to the Committee that the Association realise that they have no definite ground on which to base their assumption.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mr. LOGAN
I have never been able to verify that particular date. When we were budgeting in Liverpool, the Leader of the Tory party made it known to the Council that in his mind the date was July and not October. When the Act was passed and the budget was being taken, we certainly dealt with October, 1934. Evidently the Council had received, as they thought, not official information but an intimation that as regards that area they would be perfectly right in their budgeting. My object in rising is to ask here and now, in regard to the problems which have been put forward by the Minister, what the Government intend to do. I am not concerned whether the date be October, 1934, or not, or whether there is to be any further procrastination. I ant at a loss to understand how any huge corporation, or even hon. Members who represent Liverpool, can be quite easy as to the financial position of Liverpool. In regard to these unemployment assistance temporary provisions, I am compelled to refer to our position in that city. Last night it was my unpleasant experience to listen to a maiden speech in which the suggestion was indicated that all in the City of Liverpool was very delightful. I want to point out how we stand with regard to this matter. The figures that I shall give are indisputable, and I am sure that hon. Members who come from Liverpool will have to agree with me that in Liverpool our position financially as regards this matter is absolutely unsatisfactory.
1211 We are asked to assent to the postponement of the obligation which the Government undertook to take over the able-bodied unemployed. There has been procrastination since October, 1934, was suggested as the date. It is now proposed that it should be the 31st March, 1936. There is no finality. When is it going to end? It would appear that this is going to be a hardy annual year by year, until at last it becomes part and parcel of the unemployment problem. What I have to say is in reference only to the City of Liverpool; I am not going to deal with other parts of the country as to which I have no information; but I want the Minister to understand that my figures are absolutely correct. If there is any dispute as to their accuracy, let it come from the Front Bench.
Our expenditure in respect of able-bodied unemployed in the year 1931 was £293,000; in 1932 it was £436,000; in 1933, £646,000; in 1934, £775,000, and in 1935, £1,093,566; and we are now budgeting for an expenditure of £1,335,000 in 1936. Is it not strange, when we hear maiden speeches in this House such as we heard last night, that, while in 1931 this burden upon us was £293,000, to-day its amount is £1,335,000? If anyone coming from that city on the Mersey has the impression that everything in the garden there is lovely, and that we must vote with a Tory Government for postponement, I am not in agreement with any such policy, and I must voice the collective opinion of all parties in the City of Liverpool against such a policy. Liverpool has denounced this procrastination. It demands, as far as the able-bodied unemployed under Part II of the Act are concerned, that they should be totally taken over without any ambiguity whatever, and we feel from a business point of view that unless this is done it will be a complete stranglehold over the position of the City of Liverpool. No hon. Member from Liverpool, and there are eight in this House on the side of the National Government, can get up in the House and dispute anything that I am saying on these points, and, what is more, they are bound by the unanimous vote of their party in Liverpool to vote with the Opposition on this matter. That being so, I come here in unity—not on party policy of course—with my colleagues from Liverpool to see that that city on the Mersey, as one of the areas 1212 that have been very badly hit, is properly dealt with.
I feel that financial arrangements such as those now proposed are unbusinesslike. This stand-still arrangement, and the muddle that was made in regard to the Election, were part of a trick that the Government dare not bring before the electorate until after the Election was over. Had this policy of procrastination been pursued, or had the Government been deliberate in bringing forward their programme in regard to the regulations, the General Election would have assumed a different aspect. Municipalities all over the country would have voiced their indignation against the system of procrastination that is now going on, and I feel that I must express the indignation that has been expressed deeply by all parties in Liverpool. This is not a political question, and I take umbrage at my colleagues not backing up the policy of the City of Liverpool, because that city has sent practically an ultimatum to its representatives in the House of Commons to press this Government, National though it may be in its aspects, to deal better with the plight under which we are now labouring.
We have to-day 57,336 able-bodied unemployed now on the register, and I want to know how we are going to be affected if that procrastination goes on, and we do not get some benefit from the Act. I put it to the Minister that if, when he was Postmaster-General, he had carried on the Post Office in the same way in which this business is being carried on, it would have been necessary to put in an Official Receiver to manage that business. It would have been necessary to appoint commissioners to look after the Minister. Our position in the city of Liverpool is bad, and this dilatoriness on the part of the Government can no longer be tolerated. We must have business methods.
Members from other parts of the country can, speak from their own point of view; I am speaking on behalf of Liverpool, with the full authority of the whole city council, representing every shade of opinion in that council, and I say we are not satisfied. Our position, with one person in five unemployed, is becoming terrible; it is becoming a stigma on our national life; it is keeping people from coming to the city of Liverpool. When I think of the effect of 1213 the higher rates upon our shopkeepers and upon the general trade of our city, I must express my indignation at the dilatoriness of the Government. If I could obstruct, or get a Division to-night that would force the Government into such a position that this Bill would not go through, I would willingly do so. I might be told that the responsibility would be very great, as a refusal of the Bill would bring difficulties; but the sooner we have difficulties, the sooner we make Members of the Government realise that this is a vital matter affecting all parties in the country, the better. For that reason I raise my protest, and I shall be interested to see if any Member from the city of Liverpool will get up and express different opinions from those which I have expressed in regard to our indignation against this proposal.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. MARSHALL
I am afraid it is going to be the experience of the Minister to-night to sit and listen to the story of one suffering town after another as regards their experience of public assistance and unemployment generally. I am not, of course, going to oppose the passing of this Resolution. It is no doubt very necessary. But, I think that this is a very fine opportunity for us to tell the Minister exactly what the various authorities think about this question of unemployment, and I would add my voice to that of the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan) in asking the Government to implement the definite and solemn promise which they gave to carry to the extent of 100 per cent. the burden of the able-bodied unemployed in this country.
The Minister referred to the fact that certain authorities were satisfied in regard to this money arrangement, but I have yet to learn what authorities are satisfied in regard to their treatment by the Government so far as unemployment is concerned. As a matter of fact, there have never been stronger representations made on any matter; representations have never been more unanimous on any subject than on this question of the able-bodied unemployed. Interview after interview has been sought with the Government; representations upon representations have been made to the Government on this matter—all with one definite object, namely, to get the Government to undertake the responsibility for 1214 100 per cent. of the able-bodied unemployed. I have here a resolution passed by the executives of the distressed areas, in which they again demand—and this demand is made after many more demands of a similar kind—that the Government shall undertake this solemn responsibility which they promised to undertake some time back.
All parties in our local councils are agreed on this demand; there is absolutely no difference so far as the parties are concerned. It is not a question of dividing the parties into Labour and Conservative, or whatever may be the case in the various localities; all parties are united in this demand. As a member of a local authority who has had some experience, I understand some of the difficulties with regard to this question. I know the difficulties that the local authorities have had to confront during the last 10 years in regard to unemployment, and I am amazed at the fortitude that has been displayed by the local authorities in this matter—a fortitude displayed by men who have been suffering untold miseries as a consequence of the Government's dilatoriness.
Some time ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the Government were already bearing something like 95 per cent. of the total burden of unemployment in this country. Frankly, I do not know how he arrives at that figure. He could only arrive at a figure of that character by taking into account the total contributions paid by the employers of the country, and also the contributions paid by the workers, who, of course, contribute their quota towards the statutory benefit under the Unemployment Insurance Acts. It seems to me to be ridiculous to say that the Government are already bearing 95 per cent. of the total cost of unemployment, and I should be interested to hear what the Minister has to say on that matter.
I want to give the experience of Sheffield in regard to this matter. Sheffield is a great industrial city, and I am happy to say that during the last four or five years there has been some improvement in Sheffield as regards unemployment. The figures have gone down from about 56,000 or 58,000 to about 30,000. I am not going to discuss the question whether that is due to tariffs, or to the natural enterprise of the people 1215 of Sheffield, or what it is due to, but it is a fact that that reduction has taken place. If the Government care to take the credit for it, they can do so, though of course there are differences of opinion about that, but it is a fact that unemployment in the city of Sheffield has decreased until the figure is now somewhere about 30,000, as against 58,000 in 1930 or 1931. One would naturally expect that, with such a decrease in unemployment, the city would have gained some relief as a consequence, and I think we are entitled to demand that some relief shall be given to a city where, owing to the enterprise of its citizens, its unemployment has been reduced to that extent.
I think the following figures will probably be as amazing, and as much a revelation, as those which were given by my hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool. In 1931, out-relief in the city of Sheffield cost about £328,000. In 1932 the figure went up to £451,000. In 1933 it was £616,000; in 1934, £700,000; and in 1935, £708,000. So we get this amazing position, that while unemployment in Sheffield has gone down by 28,000 the cost of relief of the able-bodied unemployed has gone up to a total figure of £1,163,000. That means a rate of 8s. 9d. in the £. Public assistance in Sheffield, if you take the whole scope of public assistance, counts for 8s. out of a total rate of 17s. in the £. I say that is an intolerable burden and that we are justified in demanding that the Government shall take over the responsibility—a responsibility that they are solemnly pledged to take over. Sheffield and other towns have suffered poverty and in many cases destitution, they have struggled might and main under an intolerable burden, and at the same time the Government have been taking credit to themselves.
In reply to a question in the House, it was stated by the Ministry of Labour only the other day that the Unemployment Insurance Fund had a surplus of £20,000,000. That £20,000,000 has been dragged out of the people of Sheffield and Liverpool and other towns, and some of that £20,000,000 should be used to relieve the intolerable burden under which they are suffering to-day. I sincerely hope that every Member who represents a distressed area, or one of these great 1216 cities that have been bearing this burden for years, will make known with no uncertain voice that they demand relief. I hope that at the first opportunity the Minister will bring forward some measure to give to local authorities long overdue relief.
§ 8.3 p.m.
I come from a district which is classed as a distressed area and I am fortified in two ways. In the first place the Cumberland County Council has passed a resolution asking that the cost of the able-bodied unemployed should become a national charge. The Cumberland County Council is not a Socialist body. It is a body made up of a majority of Conservatives, with one or two Liberals. In that respect I think I can say that I am speaking for the whole body of opinion in Cumberland. Then I am fortified in tins way, that not only did I mention in my election address that I considered that the cost of the able-bodied unemployed should be a national charge, but I mentioned it at almost every meeting I attended during the Election. I want to ask the Minister whether he can state the position in Cumberland to-day, and I also want to ask what guarantee the Government are going to give that the cost in the distressed areas will be made a national charge in the future. Are the Government prepared to give a straight answer, or are they going to defer their answer and leave us in the dark still longer? I think we are entitled to a straight answer from the Government. It is a very important matter to the distressed areas.
Really one is led to the conclusion that the Government supporters come from districts where the cost of the able-bodied unemployed is small compared with the cost in the distressed areas. I have in mind some parts of Lancashire, where you have, for instance, business men living in Southport and Blackpool, going to the cities of Manchester and Salford in the morning and returning the same night, who are not bearing a proper share of the cost of relief. I feel that we are entitled on the facts that have been given to some definite promise as to what is going to be done in the future. My object in rising is to say distinctly and deliberately that I have the support of the whole of the Cumberland County 1217 Council upon this matter and that I am also supported by the fact that I fought the election on this particular question.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Mr. KIRBY
I rise to speak on this matter mainly because when I spoke on Friday last the Noble Lord the Minister without Portfolio questioned some of my figures because in the course of my remarks I had referred to the cost of the maintenance of our local hospitals and institutions in Liverpool. I want now to give some other figures and to make clear to the Minister what I intended to say. In what I am going to say now I hope I shall be able to make the position clear beyond possibility of any mistake so far as figures relating to Liverpool are concerned. Some of the figures I am about to give differ slightly from those I gave on Friday, but I make no apology for that. The reason is that since Friday I have received from the City Treasurer figures which he has brought up to date. The total annual cost to Liverpool of the able-bodied unemployed who come within the scope of the 1934 Act, based on our experience in January and February this year, would be for the 12 months £1,015,193. We have, however, to make allowance—perhaps I did not make this clear the other day—for the Government grant to Liverpool in respect of the unemployed. That amounts to £762,291.
On top of that the Government, rightly or wrongly—quite wrongly in my opinion—claim credit for £180,000 which is included in the block grant to the city. That is an amount which we have never allocated for a specified purpose, and we have been told by the Ministry of Health that it should not be specially allocated. However, giving the Government credit for that, their total contribution during the current year would be £942,291. That leaves a net amount chargeable to the rates of the city in respect of the able-bodied unemployed coming within the scope of the 1934 Act of £72,902. In addition to that—these are the new figures I want to give—we have to maintain able-bodied unemployed who are not insurable and do not come under the 1934 Act. It is estimated that in the current year the cost will be £1,335,531, against which we shall get a grant from the Government of £1,015,193. That leaves a net charge on the rates of £320,338, which with the amount charge- 1218 able in respect of the able-bodied unemployed coming within the scope of the 1934 Act gives a total of £393,240.
May I say that the able-bodied unemployed not within the scope of the 1934 Act are costing the city no less than £200,000 by reason of sickness and of transfers from the insurance scheme to the rates? That is included in the £393,000. On top of that, we have the cost of maintaining the ordinary poor, which is £528,765, so that our total cost amounts to £922,000 in the current year, and that is equivalent to no less than 3s. 4d. in the £ on the rates. I think the figures I have given make the position in regard to Liverpool rather clearer, because I have specifically avoided any reference to hospitals and institutions. I was interested to hear the Minister state that he and his colleagues had been considering this question in regard to the special areas. He said that he found on examination that these special areas had benefited to the tune of some £400,000 in the year, but that there were some places which probably suffered some small loss because of the postponement of the appointed day. With regard to that I would point out that our loss was £270,000. If that statement is challenged I would ask the Minister whether it is not the fact that Liverpool has received the approval of the Ministry to spread that deficit over a period of five years at an annual charge, I think, of about £54,000. If that is the average, then obviously the figure I have quoted must be correct.
I do not want to press the matter unduly now—although we shall continue to press it if we do not get satisfaction—and I should like finally to refer very briefly to the remarks of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who represents West Birkenhead (Lieut.-Colonel Sandeman Allen). He said that if local authorities—I am not quoting him exactly but more or less correctly—fixed a date wrongly it was entirely their own fault. That may be so in regard to fixing the appointed day, but it is not the fault of Liverpool nor of Sheffield and other places that there is this great volume of unemployment. After all, that is the kernel of the situation, and that is what we have to consider. We have to remember that the unemployment situation in Liverpool has been made worse by the policy of the Government both in relation to its trading 1219 relations with the Irish Free State and with regard to its policy of quotas, tariffs and Protection generally. In regard to those matters the fault cannot be laid at the door of Liverpool. If the National Government believe that in the interests of the country generally it is necessary to carry on that policy of tariffs and quotas, those towns and cities and seaports which suffer as the result of that policy should not be asked to bear the whole burden while cities like London and Birmingham are let off. Liverpool will not and cannot be satisfied until the bulk of this great burden is taken off its shoulders.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Mr. RICHARD LAW
It would be a pity if the Minister were to go away with the idea that the Merseyside is the only part of the country that is interested in this question. It is difficult to know quite to what the relief that has been promised will amount. I can assure him that Members from other parts of the country besides Merseyside will be pressing him very hard to give the relief that he has promised. More than one Member who has spoken has pointed out that we who represent distressed areas shall continue to press for the Government to take over the whole burden of the relief of the able-bodied unemployed. I am not concerned with whether the Government promised to do this or not. I do not think, strictly speaking, that they have promised to take over the whole burden. At the same time there is an unanswerable case in equity why places like the Merseyside and Humberside, which have suffered very severely through no fault of their own, should be relieved of this burden, which is and ought to be, the burden of the nation as a whole. I hope the Minister will not consider that, because he has granted some concession in respect to the postponement of the second appointed day, he has discharged his whole duty towards local authorities in this respect, because he will not have done so, and I am sure there will be plenty of Members to keep on reminding him of it.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. SILVERMAN
I think there can be no doubt as to what is the general principle agreed upon in the House in regard to this matter. I am not repre- 1220 senting any Liverpool constituency but I cannot forget that I have been for some little time a member of the Finance Committee of the Liverpool Privy Council, and for rather longer a member of the council itself. I hoped at one time, listening to the Minister of Health, that we were going to get from him an undertaking, which I am sure he must realise to be wise and just, which would put an end to this problem once and for all. The hon. Member who spoke last did not think the Government had promised anything. I do not know whether that is so or not but I have rather gathered from the general tone of the Debate that it would be very difficult indeed to find any Member of the House who was prepared to defend any other principle than that the full cost of the able-bodied unemployed should be borne by the State and not by the local authorities. I have always understood that one of the main purposes which the Government hoped to fulfil by the very Measure which it was afterwards forced to postpone was just that question of taking off the shoulders of the distressed areas themselves the burden of maintaining those people who constituted them a distressed area. How can there be any objection to that principle?
I suppose it is not incontrovertible but I think it is generally accepted in Liver-pool, both by those who support the National Government and those who oppose it, that wherever the policy of tariffs may or may not have brought some benefit, temporary or permanent, there is one spot to which they could not on any theory or on any principle be held to have brought any benefit and that is Liverpool or any other seaport. It may be that the Government are right and those of us who differ from them are wrong in thinking that the general principle of protective tariffs is one which remedies the problem of unemployment and brings some kind of prosperity somewhere, but I do not think the Minister himself or any of his supporters would argue that, wherever a tariff may be beneficial, it is of any benefit to a seaport. Therefore you would be compelled to admit that a policy which in their view may have brought prosperity somewhere has only increased the burden which Liverpool has to bear.
1221 I hope no one is going to say that those problems are in any way caused or contributed to by the administrative of the local authority in Liverpool. I have many quarrels with that authority. It does not belong to my side of politics. It has a Tory majority and has had for a very long time. I do not think any one on that side of the House would say that the administration of Liverpool has had anything to do with it, whatever I might say. They cannot get out of it on any principle of that kind. Then what are they going to do? There is no doubt that, if the regulations first placed upon the Table under the relevant Act had not proved abortive, this problem would not have existed. I am not going into the question of why they proved abortive, because it is not relevant to the discussion, but they did and they had to be withdrawn, and it is the fact of the withdrawal of those regulations and the fact that it was necessary to postpone the appointed day that has created the problem that we are trying to solve. Is that going to be laid at the door of Liverpool or any other local authority? Surely it cannot be and, unless the Government is prepared to meet local authorities on this question, it will find itself inevitably in this position, that it is calling upon the hardest hit areas to pay some part at any rate of the financial penalty for the fact that the Government produced regulations which it had to withdraw and appointed a day which it subsequently had to postpone. Can there be any defence for that? There is no one, certainly not the right hon. Gentleman, who will say that it is equitable.
When he was addressing the House I interposed a question and he reminded me that he and I belong to the same profession. Let me ask him to consider it not as a politician nor as a member of the administration. Suppose these distressed areas came to him in his professional capacity and asked him to advise them upon the equity of their case. Would he turn his client away or would he advise him, "In my view, the claim that you have against the adminstration is abundantly justified both in law and in equity, and I will prosecute your claim with all my professional ability to a successful conclusion." I do not want to go into a lot of figures as my hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan) and my hon. 1222 Friend the Member for Everton (Mr. Kirby) have given certain figures. I think that they are correct, but it is irrelevant, for it does not matter in the least whether their figures are correct or not. Let them be challenged and controverted, and let the right hon. Gentleman say "I do not accept your figures." How does that improve his position? He did say that there were cases—and I understood him to include Liverpool—that have suffered a slight loss by the postponement. Whether a loss is slight or substantial is a matter of opinion, and the Minister is no doubt dealing habitually with such enormous sums of money that a paltry few hundred thousand pounds may appear to him to be a slight matter.
In Liverpool it is not quite such a slight matter. Even were it so, the point here is not whether the loss is slight or whether it is substantial. The point is to show him the loss, whatever the loss may be. I expected at one, part of his speech that he was recognising that principle and would at least satisfy our reasonable, just and equitable demands. I listened to him very carefully. I noted what he said, and, thinking that he was being betrayed by a slip of the tongue into vagueness which he did not really intend, I ventured to interpose with the idea of clearing up the ambiguity of the undertaking and trying to get from him exactly what it was. I discovered what perhaps, if I had been more experienced in the ways of this House and of Ministers, I should have known before I interposed, that the ambiguity was no lapse and no slip of the tongue. It was deliberate and intentional because his reply was, "No. I prefer to leave the undertaking in the very carefully prepared and selected phraseology that I have employed." Why did he do that? Because he preferred the undertaking to be vague rather than explicit. Why should he prefer the undertaking to be vague rather than explicit, unless he knows that he proposes to do nothing that will satisfy the authorities concerned? If he meant really to satisfy the authorities concerned, I cannot imagine why he should not explicitly say so. What did he say? He said that he would give an undertaking—I hope no hon. Member will mind interposing to correct me if I am wrong—in those cases 1223 where there had been some slight loss, to examine very sympathetically the question of the loss, and then he expressed a hope that the authorities would be satisfied.
The authorities, let me tell the right hon. Gentleman now, will not be satisfied to pay any part of the cost of the mistakes of His Majesty's Government. The Government must pay that loss themselves. The authorities will not be satisfied if they are left to stand the loss for things which are not their fault and over which they have no control. Surely, if the question is really one of figures, it would be easy for the right hon. Gentleman., and I invite him to say this. I cannot speak for the City of Liverpool, as I represent no part of it in this House, and no doubt my colleagues who are of my way of thinking, as well as hon. Members on the benches opposite, will be able to speak for themselves, but personally I should be perfectly satisfied if the right hon. Gentleman were to give this undertaking and say, "I will go into the question with you very carefully in order to ascertain what exactly the loss is." He might also say—and I would not mind if he said it—"I am not prepared to accept your figures. I think that they are mistaken, misconceived and founded on a wrong basis." Let him say so if he wishes, but let him say further, "I will examine everything you have to say, and I will pay back to you every penny that you can prove to me that you have lost by reason of the postponement of the second appointed day.
I am prepared to make the right hon. Gentleman judge in his own case and to accept his decision, provided he arrives at it after proper investigation. I, and I am sure all the distressed areas involved in this matter, would be prepared to give him such evidence to back our figures that, being a fair-minded man accustomed to the weighing of evidence, he would not be able to resist the correctness of the deductions we have drawn from them. Be that as it may, I am prepared to put all these facts and figures before the right hon. Gentleman and to accept his decision as to what is, in fact, the amount of the loss sustained, provided he will undertake to pay for the loss, whatever he may ascertain it to be. Why cannot he do that? It that too explicit? 1224 Why should he not do it? All he says is, "I will undertake to examine it, and after I have examined it I will undertake that you will be satisfied." I do not know how he could undertake that we would be satisfied, but he could undertake to pay us what he himself was satisfied we had lost. That is the demand. It is not a party demand. The case that I have been trying to make in the last few minutes, and that of my hon. Friends here, is a non-party case, and it would be backed whole-heartedly by people of every shade of opinion in the Liverpool City Council and in the Bootle Town Council. Our claim is entirely legitimate and is based purely on the equities of the case and on the alleged or avowed principles of the Government's own legislation. I leave it there. I invite the right hon. Gentleman to give us such an undertaking.
There is one other and quite a different matter to which I should like to refer, and that is the operation of the so-called stand-still agreement. I understand that there was a great deal of verbal play the other day between my hon. Friends who sit below the Gangway and one of His Majesty's Ministers—
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
It was much more serious than that. The hon. Member must not take our discussions verbally.
§ Mr. SILVERMAN
I apologise if the hon. Member thinks that I am doing him an injustice. I do not intend to do him an injustice; at any rate much less an injustice than perhaps he intended to do to some of my hon. Friends. When I said "verbal play," I only meant that there was some attempt on the part of the Minister involved to escape from what I understood was a perfectly clear undertaking, by playing upon the words in which he alleged that the undertaking had been given. I understand that it was intended that no man during the operation of the standstill agreement should be worse off than he would have been, or than he was, when his case was in the hands of the public assistance committee. Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman once for all that if he thinks that that standstill arrangement is being honourably operated up and down the country, he is labouring under an illusion which keeps him outside the facts of how the unemployed in this country are living.
1225 I do not want to delay the Committee—perhaps I have spoken too long already, and I apologise if I have—but I should like to point out two things. When a woman is expecting the birth of a child every public assistance committee regards that fact as increasing the degree of destitution in such a way as to justify increased relief. The Unemployment Assistance Board do no such thing. We cannot get at them. The right of appeal is fobbed off and obstructed in every possible way. Even if that right is known and if the applicant avails himself of it, it is very rarely of any avail. Under the old public assistance committees we could go to them, we knew where to go and we knew how to deal with the case, but under the present system we do not know. There is nowhere that we can go. There is no one who can control the board. If I understand the answers of the responsible Minister correctly, he cannot control them. If we can prove to the right hon. Gentleman that people are considerably worse off in many cases, and worse off to the point of danger to life under the operations of the standstill arrangement, will he take steps to see that that arrangement is more honourably carried out in the future?
Let me give another instance, and again it is connected with maternity. I know that the Minister of Health is very interested in maternity and child welfare. I can quote an actual case and can give the details if the Minister wants them. It is the case of the wife of an unemployed man who was expecting confinement.
§ The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Mr. Entwistle)
The hon. Member is going into details of administration. That is not in order on this Financial Resolution.
§ Mr. SILVERMAN
If it is not in order, I will leave it there. I do not want to do anything that is not permissible, but I thought that the operations of the standstill arrangement would be part of our business on this Resolution. The point that I was going to put was that in a case of that sort, I believe it to be the general principle that the public assistance committees would have granted relief for extra sheets, blankets and bed clothes, but I know of many cases where under the standstill arrangement that is not allowed, although it is 1226 known that the public assistance committees would have granted it. I should like to know whether the Minister thinks that the undertaking given is being carried out in that respect. If the right hon. Gentleman wants his Resolution to be carried to-night, he can carry it easily and simply by giving effect to what I know he himself believes to be right and just, by giving us an undertaking to pay to us whatever we can prove to his satisfaction we have lost.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. T. SMITH
On a point of Order. Seeing that this Financial Resolution is linked up with the standstill order and is more or less administered by the public assistance committees, would it be in order on this Resolution to deal with certain phases of administration?
§ The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN
To go into detailed administration of the means test and other matters arising under the standstill agreement, would not be in order on this Financial Resolution.
§ Mr. SMITH
We were given an assurance in the early part of the year, when the standstill order was brought into operation, that the unemployed who came under that order would not be worse off. When the transitional machinery was in operation certain public assistance committees gave to the unemployed a winter coal allowance, but in the last two or three weeks certain public assistance committees have informed deputations that they are now debarred from giving this winter coal allowance. If that be so, it is in direct contradiction of the statements that were made from the Box when the standstill order was brought about.
§ The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN
In so far as that was used as an illustration dealing with any assurance of the kind, it would be in order.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Mr. Shakespeare)
I think that at this stage, if the Scottish Members will agree—
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
On a point of Order. I did not intend to intervene merely on the Scottish position. While there is a Scottish position, it is to a large extent governed by the general position. I wish the Scottish position to be discussed but I wish to intervene on the general issue.
§ Mr. MAXTON
On a point of Order. We were led to understand from statements that were made to us that the general debate having been opened by the Minister of Health it should continue for a certain period and that at the appropriate moment the Secretary of State for Scotland would intervene and state the Scottish position and give figures dealing with it. After that statement was made persons who wished to raise specific Scottish matters were to be allowed to do so, but the general debate was not to be terminated, and when it was terminated it was to be terminated by a representative of the Ministry of Health. Am I to understand that that arrangement which was come to in unofficial ways is to be departed from and that the general debate is to be closed before the Scottish debate starts?
§ Mr. HARDIE
Was not that arrangement made as the result of a statement from the Front Bench opposite?
§ Mr. SHAKESPEARE
I thought that it would facilitate matters if I disposed of a number of questions, without any idea of making a long speech, and then the hon. Members opposite below the Gangway could raise points in general, and particularly in regard to Scotland, to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland could reply. If the hon. Member prefers to speak now I am entirely in the hands of the Committee. If he thinks there is any unfairness on my part, I will immediately sit down.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
In the circumstances I do not propose to make a 1228 speech, but will the Parliamentary Secretary in the course of his remarks reply to this point. This is national money which is to be handed over to the public assistance authorities concerned. In other words, we are to recoup them for expenditure into which they have entered or intend to enter. The question is what guidance, what control, have the Government on the spending of this national money? Can the Government through the Minister of Health in any way intervene in the spending of it? Can they insist on seeing that the recipients are properly paid according to the law?
§ Mr. SHAKESPEARE
The Bill is intended to adjust for a further period the financial relations of the central Government and local authorities. Hon. Members who are interested in unemployment and public assistance, and who desire to raise questions such as the granting of Christmas relief, are reading into the Bill more than is really in it. As far as the Ministry of Health is concerned it implements a promise made to local authorities, and the conditions of relief and questions of Christmas relief really fall outside the scope of the Bill. The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) started by producing a number of ghosts which seemed to haunt his speeches in the last Parliament, but which whenever they were produced were always laid. I was hoping that these ghosts would not be produced in the present Parliament, because I should have thought that they had all been disposed of to the satisfaction of everybody. At any rate those hon. Members who are still not satisfied should read some of the Debates in the last Parliament, and they will see that all these ghosts and bogies hardly survived those Debates. Let me deal with one or two main points which show how unsubstantial they are. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the speech that the previous Minister of Health made on the 12th April, 1933, and contended that he then said that the Government would assume financial responsibility for all the able-bodied unemployed. He never said anything of the kind. What he said was that the assumption of responsibility by the Government was subject to the adjustment of the block grant. Two or three hon. Members, including the hon.
1229 Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. Logan) will perhaps remember that Debate.
§ Mr. SHAKESPEARE
I would advise every hon. Member who has a defective memory on this point to read the Debate, because he will find that several hon. Members immediately got up and attacked the Minister of Health for not assuming full responsibility for the able-bodied unemployed. It is fair to say that although many Governments and parties have talked about assuming national responsibility for the able-bodied unemployed it is the National Government that has gone a very long way towards doing so. Let me illustrate it in this way: Under the Unemployment Insurance Act some 12,000,000 persons are qualified for benefit in times of unemployment. When we considered in the last Parliament the category of persons who should come under the board it was decided by the Government to frame the widest definition possible. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) will agree that the definition was so widely drawn that it actually covered not 12,000,000 persons but over 16,000,000 persons, and as they all qualify for expenditure in respect of this Bill I think we can say that we have gone a long way towards assuming national responsibility for the able-bodied unemployed, though not perhaps, the absolute 100 per cent.
§ Mr. SHAKESPEARE
I think it would be a mistake to take over the whole responsibility on the ground for one thing, of good administration. Those who know anything about local government know that it is not altogether desirable that local authorities should be free of all financial responsibility whatever for a service they administer, and I doubt whether—even if the right hon. Member for Wakefield were standing here—he would totally free local authorities of responsibility on account of good administration. The question of the October date was disposed of by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division. He rather implied that there had been a pledge—
§ Mr. SHAKESPEARE
There was not even that. The word "pledge" has been used, but the suggestion is so unfounded that I do not think even of replying to it. There is not one scintilla of evidence that there was any understanding or agreement that any day should be fixed. I cannot find it anywhere. It may be that there was an expectation on the part of optimistic local authorities that the day of transfer would happen earlier than it was fixed—
§ Mr. SHAKESPEARE
It is no use making these statements without some foundation, and until I get a line of proof either verbal or written I do not intend to deal with that point. What we did was to allow for the natural disappointment of local authorities when their hopes were disappointed, and allowed them to spread over their extra payments by borrowing over five years. The next point made by hon. Members was that the burden upon the local authorities had been increased. My reply is that the contribution of the local authorities was fixed in relation to the standard year and in so far as there has been an increase it does not fall on the local authorities. That is another instance of the generosity of the Government. Let me illustrate that point by the Liverpool case. Several hon. Members including the hon. Member for the Scotland division and the hon. Member for Everton (Mr. Kirby) mentioned the case of Liverpool. The hon. Member for Everton produced a great number of figures which at short notice it was rather difficult to follow, but as a matter of interest I read his speech and I think we are talking about two different things. The basis of our figures is responsibility for the relief of able-bodied unemployed men and we estimated that by calculating the expenditure on relief in the standard period.
On reading the hon. Member's figures I find that he has added to that annual expenditure a considerable sum in respect of cases other than cases of unemployment, for instance cases of sickness and accident. In doing so, he is asking the Government to assume a responsibility which nobody else has ever asked them to assume. But if we take what I think is the fair basis generally—and what is 1231 fair for the country is fair for Liverpool—if we take the expenditure on relief based on the three winter months chosen, I think that even in regard to Liverpool the Government can hold up its head. We can say that we have dealt pretty generously with Liverpool. I find, to be exact, that out of an annual liability of £1,015,000 the Government is contributing £762,000. If I owed £1,000,000 and somebody said, "Here is £750,000" I should feel very grateful.
§ Mr. KIRBY
I can understand the hon. Gentleman's position and I think that his figures taken as round figures are, generalling speaking, correct. We say, however, that we have to shoulder this burden of the other able-bodied unemployed. They may be sick but they are unemployed, and nothing that you can say will alter that category. We have to keep them and we want help to keep them, and our burden is different from and is heavier than the burdens that exist elsewhere.
§ Mr. SHAKESPEARE
The hon. Member is now raising a rather different question, and one which is outside the purview of the proposed Bill. I want to say to the Liverpool Members and to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) that in so far as any local authority has suffered loss by the postponement of the second appointed day my right hon. Friend has made the position clear. He has said that he will consider any hard case. I mean any hard case among local authorities.
The hon. Member for Brightside (Mr. Marshall) referred to a statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the effect that the Exchequer was bearing the cost of the assistance of the able-bodied unemployed to the extent of 95 per cent. and that only the difference between 95 per cent. and 100 per cent. was left to the local authorities. The hon. Member wished to know whether, in calculating that 95 per cent., the cost of unemployment was included. It is not. The whole cost of those who come under what we call the Unemployment 1232 Fund is outside that calculation. The hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Anderson) asked me how Cumberland would fare. Cumberland is, I think, one of the gainers. Speaking from memory, I think Cumberland will get something like 70 per cent. of the total expenditure on outdoor relief, which is a very considerable help.
I return to my first point. This really is an innocent little Measure by which it is hoped to do justice to the local authorities and make sure that they shall be in no worse position as a result of the postponement of the second appointed day. There is no more in it than that. I think experience has shown that the basis of the calculations in the Act was right because in fact the great majority of local authorities have gained by the postponement of the second appointed day. The Bill, in connection with which this Financial Resolution is moved, continues the arrangement.
§ Mr. SHAKESPEARE
Again we seem to be dealing with different points. All that the Government claims is that local authorities will not suffer by the postponement of the second appointed day, and this Bill makes that perfectly clear. Over 95 per cent. of the local authorities will actually gain by the postponement of the second appointed day, and I hope I have now said enough to answer the various points raised by hon. Members.
§ Mr. E. SMITH
I put a question to the Minister of Health on this subject and the implication of his reply was that there was some hope of the distressed areas being relieved. Are we to take it from the Parliamentary Secretary's statement that there is no hope at all?
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I rise to continue the discussion, and I understand that the Secretary of State for Scotland will intervene to deal with certain Scottish matters. I also wish to raise one or two general issues affecting the Ministry of Health. There has been a great deal of discussion on the question of whether or 1233 not the Government pledged themselves on this matter of the appointed day. I have attempted to find somebody who could tell whether they did pledge themselves, but so far without success, except in one instance. I attended a local authorities meeting, which was representative of both Scottish and English authorities, where the Treasurer for the City of Glasgow made the definite statement that he had met a Government official, along with the chief of the Public Assistance Department in Glasgow, now a distinguished member of the new Unemployment Assistance Board; that at that meeting either the chief official or the then Under-Secretary for Scotland, Mr. Noel Skelton, whose death we all deplore, was present, and that at that meeting the local authorities were told by responsible people that the date was to be, if not in July, certainly not later than October.
That is the most definite statement that I have met. I am aware that the Secretary of State for Scotland has endeavoured on many occasions to contradict it, but I will not say more on that point. My second point is as to how far the predecessor of the present Minister of Health, in a speech in this House, led the local authorities to believe that the grant would be one of 100 per cent. On that, I am aware that the ex-Minister of Health has constantly endeavoured to counteract that view and to say that it was not his intention, but if any layman cares to read his words in the OFFICIAL REPORT, any ordinary member of the public, any man without great legal training or training in word quibbling, he will agree that when that speech was made, on a Motion, I think, by Sir Luke Thompson and others in connection with the distressed areas, it would be taken as meaning that the Government intended to make a 100 per cent. grant.
That is as far as I will go on past promises, but I want to raise this issue with the Minister. It is true that this sum is to make good a promise given to the local authorities that any sum that they paid out to those not taken over, but who would have been taken over had the appointed day operated, would be paid to them, and this Money Resolution is to make that payment. If you feel, Mr. Entwistle, that I am getting out of order, I must submit, because I cannot expect to get the latitude that 1234 newer Members are, perhaps, entitled to get, but there are one or two issues on this matter which may have repercussions just outside the bare limitations of this Resolution. The great bulk of these men are now paid by the local authorities, when in effect the Minister of Labour ought not to have transferred them as such to the local authorities. Incidentally, I think the Minister of Labour or one of his representatives should be present to-night, because there are repercussions affecting his Department very seriously.
If I may, I will trace back a little of the history leading up to this matter. Why is it that to-night we are devoting this sum of money to this purpose? Apart from arguments about dates, apart from arguments about 100 per cent., briefly speaking this was the position, that until the Labour Government abolished the "not genuinely seeking work" condition large numbers of people were constantly being thrown upon poor law relief, and the consequence was that in those days public assistance committees had to meet that expenditure on poor law, which really was not a right and proper burden upon them. The Labour Government abolished the "not genuinely seeking work." but the story does not end there. It was then thought that, following on that, the great mass of able-bodied unemployed would go from the local authorities and become a national charge, but that did not occur, and the "not normally in employment" condition took the place, or a substantial part of, "not genuinely seeking work." [An HON. MEMBER: "It was an umpire's decision."] It was not a matter of an umpire's decision. Until then "not normally in employment" was confined to a limited number of people, and the decision was made by insurance officers first, and then submitted to the umpire, but the insurance officers were servants of the Minister of Labour, and it would never have gone to the umpire had not those servants of the Minister of Labour put it there. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] You can quibble and dodge as much as you like, but "not normally" took the place and took it without any interference.
That being so, again the burden mounted up, but alongside of that there came another piece of legislation, which 1235 threw the burden almost entirely on the Poor Law again, and that was the Anomalies Act. Whatever you may say, the Anomalies Act had this effect—it did not have a means test, but it had what was worse, namely, an occupation test. If a person followed a certain occupation, whether he had means or not, he was refused benefit, and such people became almost entirely a burden on the Poor Law. That burden further mounted up, and because of those things the Government were faced with an outcry in the country, which made such an impression that the Government had to take over some part of the burden as a national responsibility. Following upon that, the Government introduced the Act, under which they fixed two appointed days, one under which they are now working, and the second appointed day, on which were to be taken over what are called the able-bodied unemployed.
But this is the point, that when we passed that Act I understood that "not normally" was abolished, whereas I am finding to-day, pending the second appointed day, "not normally" is still operating; and here we have a position which is contradictory, namely, that under an Act of Parliament "not normally" is abolished, while, because of the delay in fixing the second appointed day, we are still working under it. The Minister of Health, I know, runs in double harness with the Minister of Labour, because two men more alike in a Government I have never known. They are both of the same type, both good propagandists, both excellent men for advertising and in seeing that their posts are well maintained, and always hitherto both among the few Cabinet Ministers who have not been put down but have constantly been moved up. They have that in common at any rate. But "not normally" is now being worked, and to-day, because Parliament is in effect abolishing this Section of the Act, it should be stopped being worked, and in future no further charge should be thrown on the local authorities through its operation.
The Minister of Labour has a further responsibility. I have constantly been told in this House that when you grant State money the State must have a responsibility. Indeed, the Under-Secretary said the reason why the local authorities were not given 100 per cent. 1236 was that they had to have some responsibility. I take it that when we are paying 95 per cent. of the cost we have some right to see that the money is spent as the Acts of Parliament desired that it should be spent. I have never yet been able to get from the Minister what steps are taken by him to see that the sum which has been granted by Parliament is spent as Parliament desires it to be spent. I see that some local authorities are actually receiving more than the Exchequer thought they would receive. Are they receiving more because they are able to give the unemployed people less than the Act of Parliament allows? We have a position here which should receive some criticism. We have two sections of the unemployed, namely, the able-bodied and those on transitional payment. According to the Minister of Health, both are paid out of the same fund, that is national money, with the exception of 5 per cent. of the money in one case. That is to say, those on transitional payment are being paid by the Exchequer direct, and those on able-bodied benefit, to the extent of 95 per cent. of the money, are also being paid from the Exchequer. I do not think that the Minister will deny that.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The transitional payment is entirely met from the Exchequer grants, and the able-bodied unemployed are paid to the extent of 95 per cent. also from national funds. Although the same people are providing the money, two sets of conditions are operating. One local authority says, as Glasgow does, that they will impose on the able-bodied a family maximum income. In Glasgow they say that if a man has five or six children he can have only 40s. That is what the Labour majority on the Glasgow Corporation says. The Government come along and say that there is to be no maximum family income for those on transitional payment. One set of the unemployed are, therefore, being treated differently from another, although they are being paid out of the same public funds. I say to the Minister of Health and to the Secretary of State for Scotland that, pending the new regulations, the time has arrived when there should be no differentiation between the two sections 1237 of the unemployed. Can any hon. Member defend a difference of treatment where national money is being paid, and allow able-bodied unemployed, because of an accident of date, to be worse treated than if they were charged to the transitional payment, which is, in effect, the same money? If there is no family maximum for those on transitional payment, there ought to be no such maximum for the others. For those under transitional payment 3s. a week is now the standard rate for a child, but in the case of the able-bodied unemployed who are paid out of the same fund, the public authority can fix any amount that they desire. In the bulk of cases they fix it at 2s. The delay of dates which has caused this differentiation was not the fault of unemployed persons or of the local authorities, but it was the fault of the Government.
May I say a word or two about my own city's claim in this matter? Under the Act we have been asking local authorities, while they receive payments, to make payments back to the Unemployment Assistance Board. Glasgow Corporation last year had to pay back £400,000 to the Board. Glasgow's population numbers a little over 1,000,000. Liverpool had to pay £290,000 to the Board. London, on the other hand, with a population five times greater than that of either Glasgow or Liverpool, had to contribute less than £250,000. The valuation of London must be at least 20 times greater than that of either of the other two cities, and yet, with its vast resources, it had to pay only £250,000. Can anybody defend a basis which asks such different payments as these? The local authorities, when they make a demand for 100 per cent., make a demand for equitable treatment as between area and area. Nobody could defend the difference between London and Glasgow. The Ministry may say, "We are giving you more back; you are getting more out of the kitty." It is true that out of that pool Glasgow and Liverpool get more, but the point is that their poverty burden is greater, and does it mean because they happen to get more that these places should pay far in excess of the others?
I want to raise this other and purely Scottish point. You cannot fix unemployment charges on a population basis like the 11/80ths basis which is adopted 1238 for Scotland, and which was fixed for education. Unemployment might differ greatly between Durham or South Wales and London compared with the difference between Glasgow and South Wales. You cannot fix the same ratio of 11/80ths on that basis. In this Bill there should have been some proposal to alleviate and to modify the position of Glasgow, which is the worst hit city in the country. I recognise that we cannot divide against this public money going to the local authorities, but I say in connection with the delay in the fixing of the appointed day that steps should be taken meantime to safeguard two things—the care and well-being of the unemployed, because I wish to emphasise again the point that you have no right to hand over public money to the local authorities without seeing that the conditions of the unemployed are decently maintained; and, secondly, that the local authorities, and in particular my native city, should under these proposals receive a fairer and squarer share of the nation's money than they have received hitherto.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ Mr. LEONARD
Notwithstanding what has been said with regard to the delay in the fixing of the second appointed day, I regret the attitude adopted by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health and the demand he made for something specific. I think I am entitled to press again the significance of the fact that practically the whole country was under the impression that October was the month in which this day should appear. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has given me a reference to the City Treasurer of Glasgow and the attitude that he adopted. But may I point out in addition that at a large conference in the Caxton Hall on 28th February not only did the Scottish people indicate their impression of the matter, but there seemed to be unanimity also among the spokesmen of the English authorities that the day was to be in October. I know it is not fair to endeavour to make capital out of any mistake that has been made, but we must remember that in all local authorities there are officials who have to anticipate matters rather more than the elected representatives. There is no doubt that these officials had been in touch with the authorities, and my own belief is that the impression that the 1239 date was to be in October came from a source of that character. I think because of that we are entitled to press that the anticipations we had in regard to October were to some extent justified.
Perhaps I may be allowed to add to what has been said by the hon. Member for Gorbals with regard to Glasgow, for this is an important matter to the city. Scotland generally has been continuously affected by this problem of the maintenance of the able-bodied unemployed, and especially since 1921. We find from statistics that in Scotland since 1921 there has been spent in this connection no less than £17,000,000. But out of that Glasgow has had to bear no less a sum than £9,000,000. I think that shows clearly that Glasgow, within Scotland—which also has a legitimate protest to make—is entitled to make some, special reference to the position in which it finds itself. With regard to the expectations of relief, reference has been made to the formula on which the expectations of the authorities have been based. On 12th April, 1933, the then Minister of Health said that the House was resolved that responsibility for assistance to all able-bodied unemployed not over 65 should be accepted by the Government with such re-adjustments in financial arrangements between the Exchequer and the local authorities as was reasonable having special regard to the necessities of the distressed areas. I do not think the formula that has been adopted is paying special regard to Glasgow.
The figures I have given indicate justifiable cause for asserting that special consideration has not been given to Scotland, and certainly has not been given to the City of Glasgow. I find, from statistics compiled by the City and taken from the Department of Health itself, that the cost of maintaining the unemployed alone between 1st October, 1934, and 1st March, 1935, was no less than £651,923 and that an analysis made by the Department of Health showed that 88.78 per cent. of the expenditure during test periods in August, September, November and December in 1934 was incurred in respect of cases which are within the scope of Part II of the Unemployment Assistance Act. Therefore we assert that 88.78 of the expenditure by Glasgow between 1st October and 1st 1240 March is expenditure for which Glasgow has a right to expect repayment from the Government. The amount is stated as £578,777. That is a sufficiently large sum, taken in conjunction with the general hardships which have to be met in the case of Glasgow, to warrant us putting forward this protest.
I am particularly pleased that the hon. Member for Gorbals made reference to the 11/80ths. I am speaking from memory, but the total contributed to Scotland in the form of distressed area grants in the year 1933–34 was £60,000, and of that £40,000 went to Glasgow, but Glasgow had to pay £399,000 in the form of a contribution to the Unemployment Assistance Board—that is after the deductions they are entitled to make from the grant given. While Glasgow receives £40,000 it pays £399,000. For these reasons we feel we are entitled to protest against the attitude which has been adopted towards this very grave problem and to urge the Government to take speedy action in order to alleviate the position.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Sir Godfrey Collins)
The hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Leonard) and the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) have drawn attention to two points which have often been discussed in this House, namely, that it was expected that the appointed day under the Unemployment Act would be 1st October, 1934, and the understanding on the part of many local authorities that the Treasury would take over 100 per cent. of the burden. I have on previous occasions endeavoured in Parliament to meet those two points, and, if I remember aright, those two hon. Members were present at a meeting in the Scottish Office a year ago when they were discussed for a very long time. If I may charge my memory, I asked for proof of their contention about those two points, and endeavoured to the best of my ability to trace the origin of those statements and I think they will agree with me that after we had discussed the matter for some time those two points were really put on one side. Still, I can quite understand those hon. Members and other Members who speak on behalf of local authorities seizing every proper Parliamentary opportunity to press the Government to under- 1241 take 100 per cent. responsibility. The Government have at no time ever promised to do it, but Members in all parts of the House, thinking of their constituents, and representing their interests, are bound to take every available opportunity of stressing the burdens on the ratepayers and inviting the Government to accept the full burden. If the Committee will excuse me I will not now endeavour to deal with those two particular points.
Both hon. Members referred to the case of Glasgow and the Goschen formula. If the Goschen formula had been applied to the particular sums of money which the Committee are asked to vote this evening the position of Scotland would have been very much worse. Scotland is receiving grant at the annual rate of £1,600,000 and England £4,000,000. If the Goschen formula had been applied, England would receive £4,000,000 while Scotland would receive only £550,000. The Goschen formula was discarded and another formula was devised which has worked well in the interests of Scotland, and I think it was a very reasonable bargain for Scotland. The two hon. Members also drew attention to the heavy burden still resting on Glasgow, unfortunately, through the heavy unemployment in that area. The whole trouble on that point has arisen through the original Bill asking the various authorities to pay back to the Exchequer a definite sum. If, instead of adopting that form, the Government had adopted the grant-in-aid form and handed to those local authorities a specific sum towards the maintenance of the unemployed in their areas, I suggest that we should seldom have heard of the burden resulting from the sums which the local authorities are handing back to the Treasury. In reality, Glasgow has gained per head of the population a sum of 16s. 11½d., a larger sum than any town in Great Britain. Naturally I do not complain of that, because it is due to the heavy unemployment in that area. Liverpool receives 16s. 9½d. per head of the population, whereas London only gets—
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Because London does not need it. If we had the same proportion of unemployment in Glasgow as in London we would take a smaller sum. The point is that Glasgow has received this money because of the poverty there.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I quite understand that, but I am entitled to point out that these cities are receiving definite sums which they would not have received had not the Government come forward to help them. I have endeavoured to present the facts, from another angle it may be, but undoubtedly from a correct angle. These cities are receiving these large sums as grants from the National Exchequer. I am sure the hon. Member for Gorbals will not expect me to follow him into the history of the "genuinely seeking work" Clause and other points in connection with the Act which he raised. Undoubtedly they are fit subjects for discussion at the proper time, but this Financial Resolution is to continue the payments to the local authorities under the standstill agreement.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer this point? Have the Government no control over the sums of money paid to the unemployed? The Government are making national grants which, according to their own statement, almost equal the Government grants for transitional payments. Have the Government no control over the amounts the local authorities disburse?
That cannot possibly arise upon this Resolution, which merely continues the existing state of the law. The hon. Member's suggestion is to alter the law itself, and that cannot possibly arise.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The law is that this sum is paid for the maintenance of able-bodied unemployed. The Government, through the Ministry of Health, have gone to the local authorities who are paid national money in this case, and have asked them to treat the unemployed in a certain way. I am asking if they will do in this case what has been done in practice where the sum has been granted.
But the hon. Member was going beyond that by asking for an alteration in the general law.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I am asking that the Government should make a recom- 1243 mendation to the local authorities. If the local authorities refuse to act, the Government have immense powers over them. I am asking that the law for one set of local authorities should be the same as for another set.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I may be able to make representations; but unless I were supported by an Act of Parliament to enable me to carry such recommendations into effect, I would not be, and I am not, in a position to do so. I say quite definitely that I am not prepared to make such recommendations; I have not the statutory power to insist.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
The duty of the local authority in this matter is to continue as they did before the introduction of the Unemployment Act. They are continuing their responsibility in the same way and in the same spirt as they did before the introduction of that Measure.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I hate to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman once more, but may I point out that one of his predecessors issued a circular to every local authority saying that they must not pay more than a certain sum for each child? If that right hon. Gentleman had power to recommend the cutting down of the amount, it is not too much to ask, in the altered circumstances, that a circular be issued recommending all authorities to pay 3s. for a child.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
The hon. Member has to understand that I am not in a position to do so. My predecessor may have recommended that certain sums payable in respect of children should be cut down. I do not know the circumstances which caused him to take that course of action. I gather that the hon. Gentleman is asking me to increase the sum—if I followed him aright.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
The sums payable to certain persons, he suggests, should in certain circumstances be increased. If I did that, the authorities would at once, and very naturally, come to the Government and say: "As you are pressing us to hand over these extra sums to these individuals, it is your bounden duty, 1244 having invited and pressed us to do so, to find a large sum of money for that purpose." I honestly and definitely tell the hon. Member that I am not prepared to undertake that responsibility. It is for a much smaller and simpler purpose that I wish to commend this Resolution to Scottish Members on the general ground that it is advisable—
§ Mr. LEONARD
I think the right hon. Gentleman has in his possession details in regard to Glasgow, which give in a tabular form the payments in money or kind to the poor and the sums received from the Government towards the cost. The difference between them is supposed to have cost Glasgow a rate of 6s. in the year 1934–35. As a matter of fact, what was received from the Government was 9 of a penny.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I hope before I sit down to show that the Resolution will be of some small advantage to the local authorities. Maybe I have expressed it too highly. It will be within the recollection of hon. Members opposite that a large Scottish deputation interviewed the Chancellor of the Exchequer when the appointed day was first postponed. That deputation, which was introduced by the Lord Provost of Glasgow, made a bargain that the advance should be calculated on the actual expenditure of December, 1934, and January and February, 1935. That has turned out to be a reasonably good bargain for the local authorities, and I am glad that it has done so. The relationship between the central government and the local authorities should be of a harmonious character. This House has entrusted to those local authorities duties of a far reaching character, and it is the duty of the Government of the day to assist those local authorities and encourage them in every possible way.
Let me now come to the particular sums which those local authorities are receiving through the reasonably good bargain which was made by the Scottish local authorities when they interviewed the Chancellor of the Exchequer nearly a year ago. It is estimated that up to the middle of November the local authorities will be paid about £2,600 per week more than if the cases had been transferred from the Poor Law on the appointed day and if the date had not been postponed. That is the result of the bargain. No 1245 doubt during the winter the local authorities' expenditure may rise, but after making allowances for that, it has been estimated—again I give the figures provided by my officials in answer to the point put by the hon. Member—that the local authorities as a whole will gain about £2,000 per week. Earlier in the Debate, the Minister of Health gave an undertaking to the Committee that hard cases would be sympathetically reviewed. Up to now we have only received one complaint from local authorities in Scotland as to the working out of the bargain made nearly a year ago. After the undertaking which the Minister of Health has given, if that authority cares to put forward a claim it will be sympathetically considered. The promise given by the Minister of Health naturally covers not only the authority which has complained in the past but every local authority throughout the land.
Much play has been made in the Debate as to the 100 per cent., and I wish to come back to that point. Every local authority hopes that sooner or later the Government will undertake the full cost of the expenditure. Let me remind the Committee that contributions under the Unemployment Act and the block grant formula must be revised by this House before the beginning of the financial year 1937–38. We are, therefore, within 16 months of a revision of the block grant and of the contribution payable by local authorities to the Treasury under the Unemployment Act. It is, therefore, not too much to ask local authorities not to press their demand now in view of the short time which must elapse before the review of the block grant formula and the formula adopted under the Unemployment Act, which is bound to arise within 16 months. I may mention to hon. Members opposite that we have already started the work of reviewing that formula, so as to be in a position to come to the House at the proper time and submit a formula for the judgment of the Committee. I hope I have covered, I do not say completely, but fully enough, the points made by hon. Members opposite. I think, myself, that the bargain which has been made is a reasonable one, and I commend it to hon. Members opposite.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Mr. FYFE
It is not my intention to detain the Committee for any length of time at this stage of the Debate, but there 1246 are two points that have become crystal clear in the expression of policy from the Government Bench, to which I feel I must draw the attention of the Committee once again. The first is the position that was adopted by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, and has been underlined by the Secretary of State for Scotland. That is that for the moment the Government are not prepared to change their attitude with regard to our contention that the maintenance of the able-bodied unemployed should be made a 100 per cent. national charge. I must say that I am not impressed by the suggestion put forward by the Parliamentary Secretary that adherence to this position is necessary in the interests of good administration in local matters. I have heard it put forward before, and no doubt we shall all hear it put forward again, but I have still to hear the necessary particulars of those dangers to administration which are suggested, and I say that, even if there were these dangers, which are as yet unspecified and unparticularised, the position of Liverpool, of which this Committee has heard enough, and the difficulties which obtain in our city, would far outweigh any suggested dangers such as this Committee has not yet had placed before it.
With regard to the point raised by the Secretary of State for Scotland, that in any case this matter is going to be considered within 16 months, I am quite aware that it does not take a long time to say "16 months," but 16 months is a long time of passage when you are a local authority giving consideration to a difficult matter of this kind, and dealing with the sums of money that are here involved. Therefore I feel, and I know that I speak for hon. Members in all parts of the House who come from areas of this type, that we can and must ask the Government again to give reconsideration to this matter, and at any rate to give a full expression and a clear exposition of those dangers to administration which they ask us to consider before we continue the pressure we are now exerting, and which, until we are convinced, we shall continue to exert.
With regard to the second point I am able to adopt a pleasanter and easier, and, I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will consider, if he ever observes it, a quite grateful attitude. I refer to the undertaking given by the Minister of 1247 Health with regard to the sympathetic consideration of any loss occasioned to a local authority by reason of the postponement of the appointed day. May I say again quite frankly that I cannot share the difficulties or doubts expressed by one of my hon. Friends, who has since left this Chamber, as to the difference between the undertaking given by the right hon. Gentleman and a specific undertaking to pay the loss that may be occasioned. In my view, when the right hon. Gentleman says that he will give sympathetic consideration to a hard case, the hard case will be established when a city like Liverpool can and will prove that loss has been occasioned in the way that is suggested. The Parliamentary Secretary has now returned, and I hope he will take notice of this gratitude. We are grateful for that undertaking, and, when the right hon. Gentleman is considering the position that obtains in Liverpool, and the loss that has been occasioned to Liverpool by this postponement, we hope and trust and believe that we shall be satisfied in that regard.
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ Mr. HARDIE
I want to join with the hon. Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool (Mr. Fyfe) in making my protest on this matter. No amount of explaining in the House of Commons or anywhere else is going to wipe out the definite statement that I have just been reading in the OFFICIAL REPORT. That statement is quite clear, and definite, and nothing has been said that wipes it out. A responsibility was accepted at that time, and the local authorities acted in all good faith upon the assumption that that statement was to be carried out and honoured. I want the Committee to consider the position of those who are engaged in local administration. Supposing that we accept the period of 16 months which has been suggested, imagine what 16 months means to a local administrator having to deal every day with case after case if he has to tell them just to wait 16 months when things may be a little better. That pledge having been given, the local authorities set about doing their business, and they have incurred what must become a loss if the Government do not implement their promise. In Glasgow alone it has meant an increase of 10d. in the rates, and it is going to increase them more and more 1248 unless the Government redeem their promise.
The Secretary of State for Scotland knows Glasgow well, and is familiar with the conditions, not only of Glasgow, but of the surrounding districts. It is not to be forgotten that, while Glasgow has a population of over 1,000,000, a great number of these people work outside the city, and I hope the Secretary of State is not forgetting that point, which becomes very important. If yon take the areas surrounding Glasgow, you will find some of, let us say, the west-end type, where the rates are in some cases just about a sixteenth of what they are in the industrial centres, and these people are carrying on business in Glasgow. We have to realise what the De-rating Act has meant to great industrial cities like Glasgow. I should have thought that, when all these things were taken into proper review and related to the conditions, some method of differentiation would have been developed in order to meet the difference in these cases, but the Secretary of State for Scotland tells the city of Glasgow that it will have to wait for 16 months before any change can be made. In the meantime it has to pay out of its rates all that the Government has refused to pay.
That is a most shameful position to take up, to make local authorities believe that this was a sane, common-sense offer by the Government. You cannot get away from this fact, however much you try, after all that has been done by local authorities. Every Member in this House ought to see to it from now on that that pledge is implemented, and that the cost of assistance to able-bodied unemployed is made a national charge. You cannot expect huge industrial areas, stricken as they have been, to be able to pay the real costs that fall upon those areas through unemployment. The Secretary of State for Scotland is bound to see that there is only one way out, and that is by taking the whole responsibility for every penny local authorities have spent since the promise was given.
§ 10.7 p.m.
§ Mr. BROCKLEBANK
I very seldom address the House, and I do not propose to do so now for more than 30 seconds. I merely wish to state publicly in the House that I quite clearly associate 1249 myself with every word spoken by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool (Mr. Fyfe).
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow.