§ DEATHS AND SUICIDES DUE TO STARVATION.
§ *MR. KEIR-HARDIE, Member for the Southern Division of West Ham, rose in his place, and asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance—namely, " the number of deaths and suicides due to starvation, and to the causes responsible therefor; " but the pleasure of the House not having been signified, Mr. Deputy Speaker called on those Members who supported the Motion to rise in their places, and not less than 40 Members having accordingly risen:—
said, that in the notice he issued to hon. Members inviting them to support him in asking leave to move the Adjournment, the increase 1180 of pauperism was one of the things to which he stated he proposed to call attention, but it had been suggested to him that that subject should be eliminated from the Motion, and, of course, he at once bowed to the decision of the authorities of the House. They, therefore, were being asked that day only to consider the question of deaths and suicides due to starvation, and the causes responsible therefor. It was a very difficult matter to obtain definite information regarding the number of people who had died of starvation. There was a Parliamentary Return made to the House in respect of the Metropolis, and according to that the number of people who died of starvation, and were certified to have so died by coroners' inquests, was as follows: In 1891 the number certified was 30; in 1892 the number was 31. They had not the official figures for 1893, but he had carefully collected figures from the newspapers, and these showed the number of deaths from starvation, and of suicides through fear of starvation in all parts of the country this year was over one per day. Ruskin, as far back as 1869, spoke of the approaching struggle between wealth and pauperism, and it was to call attention to that struggle that he had taken this step of moving the Adjournment of the House. He made no apology for intruding this question between the House and the business upon which it was engaged, because this was a question which affected the wellbeing of the people, and, therefore, it should take precedence over all other questions. The figures published by the Local Government Board showed that there was a general increase of pauperism all over the country, with the exception of one district, as compared with last year. Taking the week ending September 4, 1892, and comparing it with the same week this year, they found an increase of over 2 per cent., while the population had only increased 1.1 per cent. In the Metropolis the increase was 9.6 per cent., in the Eastern Division 7.1 per cent., in the North-Western 10.4, and in the York Division 9.0 per cent. These were the actual figures showing the increase in the number of the dependent poor—the class of people who died of starvation. The responsibility for this increase was difficult to fix. It, would be said, no doubt, that one reason for the increase in pauperism was 1181 the lock-out in the coal trade. He admitted that to a limited extent in different parts of the country it was correct to say that an increase of pauperism had been due to the lock-out in the coal trade; but in the Northern Divisions of England— including Northumberland, Durham, Cumberland, and Westmoreland, where the lock-out actually produced benefit, because the miners remained at work; in those districts the increase in pauperism was 12.6 per cent., and of able-bodied paupers 30.2 per cent. One noticeable feature in connection with the increase was the very large increase in the proportion of able-bodied paupers in the Metropolis as compared with indoor paupers who received relief between September of this year and September of last year. It was no less than 7,624 persons. This was a serious state of matters, calling for the attention of the House. When they came to consider the causes responsible for the destitution, at once they found that the number of persons out of work was the direct cause of so many being added to the poor rate and of so many persons committing suicide. The remedies hitherto suggested had been inadequate to cope with the difficulty. The growth of pauperism and the number of suicides and cases of starvation were almost in exact proportion to the number of persons out of work. Suicides were highest in the Metropolis, and it was here that the largest number of men and women were out of work. In London there were 100,000 men out of employment and 50,000 only casually and insufficiently employed; in Birmingham there were 5,000 men out of work; Barrow-in-Furness, 5,000; Hull, 7,000; Sheffield, 5,000; and Liverpool, 3,000. In all the agricultural counties the proportion of labourers permanently out of employment was from 3 to 8 per cent. One labourer had written to him—For God's sake do something to bring the idle land and the idle labourers together, and prevent our children from dying of starvation!As an instance of the great destitution in London, he might mention that one firm of bill-posters advertised for 300 men to carry boards at 2s. 6d. a day, and received 1,220 applications from men, which included skilled artisans, clerks, agricultural labourers, and general labourers, one coalheaver, one ex-captain in the Army, and one ex-Bible reader. 1182 At least one person was known to have died each day in the country from starvation, and there must be many others of which they heard nothing and which never came to the surface; and in his opinion the House could set its baud to no higher work than that of finding some way out of the terrible state of affairs in which they were involved. And now he came to ask: What could the Government do to prevent people from dying of starvation or of committing suicide through fear of starvation? The Government might say that they could not do anything; and if that were endorsed by the House some other way would require to be found of getting something done; but they had a right to look to the Government of this mighty Empire to solve this problem. A reference had been made this afternoon to the outrage in the French Chamber. Like every other hon. Member, he deplored the fact that men should commit acts of that kind; but, looking a little deeper, he asked whether there was not in London, and in every great centre of population, a soil in which anarchy had its root? Were they not manufacturing persons of that type by leaving them destitute and miserable, and then telling them they could not do anything for them? He admitted that the question would not be settled until they had learned to organise industry on some systematic basis, when a Department of Government—as it would one day—would be fully occupied in altering and adjusting the industry of the nation so that no willing man would be left destitute, and no child would die of starvation because its father could not earn a living for it. Until that time came there was much that might be done. One thing could and should be done at once. And that was: the Government could establish an eight-hour day in every Government factory and workshop, and they could prohibit all overtime. Another suggestion he would make was to place the men engaged in transit by road, rail, or canal under the operation of the Act for shortening the hours of labour. There were 700,000 men employed in the carrying trades of the country, and it was a moderate assumption to say that these men worked on an average 12 hours a day. One firm of omnibus owners in London 1183 had drivers and conductors who worked for 17 hours out of the 24, and there were men living in the same building, separated by a brick, working 17 hours a day, while others were altogether idle and destitute. It should not pass the wit of that House to devise means to prevent one man from being killed by overwork while another was dying of starvation through lack of work. The shortening of the hours to eight would find immediate employment for 300,000 men. Doubtless, it would be suggested that emigration should be promoted. Emigration had taken away this year 203,044 persons from these shores; and if this exodus was not sufficient to meet the evil then he did not think that the House ought to countenance the compulsory expatriation of British citizens to foreign lands. There were plenty of unfilled acres in this country, and it was nothing short of a shame to speak of sending men abroad while they could be usefully employed at home. At the present day, with more than double the population of 1821, we could only feed 12,000,000 of people with home-grown wheat, as compared with 19,000,000 in the former period. It was for the Government to find out the causes which prevented the land from growing wheat, and to do their best to remove them, no matter how they might run counter to the fetishes of the past. It was a harassing spectacle to see the Agricultural population coming in to compete with the town artizans. If land in England was properly used by a proper system of cultivation it would provide food for four times its present population. He thought he had shown that emigration was no remedy for the evils of which he complained. There was one other thing the Government might do. A scare was being worked up about the naval defences. There would be no difference of opinion in any quarter of the House that, as they were dependent to such a large extent on foreign nations for food supplies, it was absolutely essential that the Navy should be able to protect those supplies against any possible combination of Foreign Powers.
MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER
I think the hon. Member is wandering from the point. The state of the Navy is not material to the Motion.
said, he was about to point out that the Government could do something to meet the distress which was the cause of deaths and suicides. They might anticipate the Estimates for next year and at once lay down eight or ten cruisers to be built in different parts of the country. He had been told that the building of such cruisers, at £250,000 each—
MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER
I must again point out that the state of the Navy has nothing to do with the Motion before the House.
said, he was endeavouring to show that in the building of each of these cruisers 3,000 men would be employed for 18 months or two years, and that if the work were distributed all over the country—in London, the Clyde, the Tyne, the Mersey, at Barrow, and elsewhere— thirty thousand persons would be employed directly and many thousands indirectly, and so kept from destroying themselves or dying of starvation. One other thing might be done. The Board of Trade could, under its statutory powers, set to work to reclaim waste lands. By the Improvement of Land Act of 1864 the landlords had power to borrow money for these purposes; and by the Amending Act of 1866 the Board of Trade had power to deal with foreshores. Something might also be done to make the condition of life in workhouses more agreeable to the veterans of industry, whose only crime was that they were poor. If the Local Government Board were to insist upon proper accommodation being made for the aged poor, work would be provided for many persons. In the workhouse of his own constituency, West Ham, there were 159 more people than it was certified to accommodate. If they tried to provide work in this way, they would have done something to meet the case. The Local Government Board could insist upon this. He had similar figures to those of West Ham from other places, and he thought the Government should insist upon the Poor Law Authorities providing work in the way he had suggested. The Government, by a Circular to Vestries and Local Bodies—a Circular dated the 30th September—had asked the Local Authorities 1185 to unravel the labour problem which they themselves were unable to solve, and it was evident from the reply of the Vestry of Paddington to that Circular that it held out delusive hopes of employment. As to the recommendations contained in the Circular, the Vestry pointed out that there were no sewage farms in Paddington; that the laying out of open spaces, recreation grounds, and new cemeteries had been already dealt with, and that as to cleansing of streets, there were no streets in the parish which were not already cleansed other than those which had not yet been taken over by the parish. The Local Authorities had refused to act, or were unable to do so, and had thrown the responsibility on the Government. If the Government were going to ask the Local Authorities, at a great cost to the ratepayers, to find work for the unemployed, the Government ought to set the example. It could, on its own initiative, and without any legislation, provide work for thousands of men of a productive and useful kind; whereas if the Local Authorities were to undertake at their cost a responsibility of this kind, they would be casting a burden on the ratepayers that would be unbearable. He trusted the House of Commons, charged with the destinies of what they were told was the greatest Empire the world had ever seen, would not sit idle in this matter, and confess their impotence—their incompetence to deal with the simple problem of finding work for the idle many. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen laughed; but he considered that, with the 8,000 or 10,000 men who that day marched through the streets, it was no laughing matter. It was a question of suicide or starvation. He regretted that hon. Gentlemen should so far have forgotten themselves as to laugh at the statement of these men's misery. [Cries of "No!"] What they sought was work, and the whole problem was to find work for them. Within eight, almost within sound, of this House the moans of the wretched and the groans of the dying might be heard; and he trusted the outcome of this discussion would be to sweep away the disgrace winch attached to this Assembly of refusing to do anything to meet the claims of from 1,000,000 to 1,500,000 of British workmen. He begged to move the Resolution.
§ MR. J. A. M. MACDONALD (Tower Hamlets, Bow)
said, he desired to support the Resolution, and in doing so he did not propose to deal with any statistics bearing upon the number of suicides or cases of starvation. He would confine himself exclusively to the causes to which this destitution had been traced. In a recent Report of the Labour Department upon the unemployed, the various classes of the unemployed were divided in four; but for all practical purposes the unemployed might be divided into two classes—those who were fit and willing to work, if they could obtain it, and those who were morally and physically unfit for work even if it were abundant. He had read, in addition to the Report issued by the Labour Department, the pamphlet recently issued by the Charity Organisation Society of London, which appeared to him to put one view of the unemployed difficulty with masterly clearness and ability. But he did not agree with the conclusions come to in the pamphlet, mainly because he disputed the grounds on which the views were supported. They started, in the first place, with the assumption that the problem was rather a moral than an economic one. If they looked at the second of the two classes into which the unemployed were divided—namely, those unfit for work, the problem was a moral one; but if they looked at the first class—those who were willing to work but unable to obtain employment—the problem was not a moral, but an economic one. The whole difficulty of the question was that the moral problem imperceptibly shaded into the economic. The solution of the moral problem could be found in an application of the present Poor Law system with such modifications in detail as were necessary to make the treatment of the poor more kindly and humane than it was; but with respect to the economic question that presented the real difficulty, the Government would sooner or later have to pursue two lines of policy—one intended as a temporary resource, and the other as a permanent solution. The Government, in 1886, had adopted a different line of policy, in dealing with the unemployed question, to that which had been continuously adopted since 1834. In 1886 the Local Government Board made a new departure in issuing a Circular to District Boards and Vestries, 1187 calling upon them to find work for the unemployed. That was a policy which the Local Authorities declared to be impossible to carry out. He had heard from various parts of the country, and had been told by the Guardians in his own constituency, that when the Local Authorities applied for the sanction of the Department for loans to carry out relief works, their applications were always met in a hesitating and rather repelling manner. The Guardians in his own constituency complained that when they had applied for a loan for this purpose it had been refused. But he desired to say, with reference to this policy of the Government, that it could not, so far as he could see, be permanently successful, even if it could for a moment alleviate distress. It was unjustifiable unless on the ground that the causes were temporary in operation or on the ground that the localities were called on to act merely while a permanent remedy was taking effect; and the question which it seemed to him the House had to discuss was whether or not a permanent remedy really was possible. The question, he knew, was a question of enormous difficulty, and it was a question upon which he, at least, did not care to dogmatise too confidently. But there were two or three suggestions that had been made with reference to this problem upon which he should like to say a word or two. In an interview which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham recently had with a deputation of the unemployed he dealt with two proposed remedies. He had been asked to favour legislation prohibiting the immigration of destitute aliens. Though he (Mr. Macdonald) represented an East End constituency, he had never been able to persuade himself that this immigration was an evil of very great magnitude. He had never heard—
MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER
I do not think that would be pertinent to the Question before the House, because the reference to foreign paupers was struck out of the Motion for a reason declared some time ago. The Motion was limited to deaths from starvation and suicides.
§ MR. MACDONALD
asked if it would be in Order for him to refer to those circumstances in connection with the social life of the people from which the results of suicide and starvation sprung? If 1188 Mr. Deputy Speaker ruled that he would be out of Order in referring to those circumstances he would be obliged to resume his seat, because he did not know that he had anything to add to the statement made by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Keir-Hardie). The question of the foreign immigrant was a question which certainly did excite a great deal of attention in the East End of London, for the reason that this immigrant brought in labour which entered into competition with our own labour and which did, undoubtedly, tend to increase the hardship of life of the people of the East End, which tended to produce that starvation and suicide of which the Motion complained.
§ MR. MACDONALD
said, he supposed,. then, he should not be in Order in referring to the second subject dealt with by the hon. Member for West Birmingham —namely, the extension of our markets abroad in order to give full and ample employment to our people.
MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER
I think not. Those are two great questions not within the contemplation of this very limited Motion.
§ MR. MACDONALD
said, he would content himself, therefore, with formally seconding the Motion of his hon. Friend.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— (Mr. Keir-Hardie.)
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Sir W. FOSTER, Derby, Ilkeston)
In the first place, I must congratulate the hon. Member for West Ham on the attention and consideration with which his speech was received by the House. I should like to point out to him that he misinterpreted any smile which he saw on the faces of hon. Members. I am sure that not a single Member of the House for a moment had any thought of levity in reference to this great and serious matter. What did excite a smile on the part of Members was his calling the great problem of how to deal with the unemployed, and how to sweep away the great masses of human misery which he described in such forcible language, a simple problem. He will, I think, admit that it is one of the most complicated questions with which 1189 any statesman has to deal. The Motion is confined to deaths from starvation and suicides resulting from destitution. I am sorry that the hon. Member was unable to give us statistics as to these deaths covering a recent period. It is difficult for any private Member—it is difficult, even, for a large Public Department—to obtain information on such a subject up to date, but such figures as I have I will supply the hon. Member with, not for a moment with a view of minimising the contention of the hon. Member that this subject is one that requires attention, but with a view, if possible, of arriving at an understanding as to the actual condition of things. The hon. Member alluded to Returns made of deaths from starvation. Now, the Returns relating to deaths from starvation have been collected for 11 years; and the last Return relates to last year. In looking over those Returns I was much surprised to find that the figures for last year are exceeded by those of six previous years, and that in 1882 the number of deaths from starvation was nearly double that of last year. So that, so far as deaths from starvation are concerned, there is an improvement instead of a retrogression. When the hon. Member spoke about the number of deaths from starvation this year it struck me that he must have been an attentive reader of the newspapers, and that some deaths he has seen mentioned appeared to him to be referable to such causes. But I do not think these cases have been more numerous than on former occasions. The hon. Member's opinion is founded entirely upon a conjectural basis. The figures I have are important. The number of deaths from starvation in the metropolitan area was, for 1891, 30, and in last year's Return was 31, but when those cases are analysed it is found that they differ very much as regards their gravity; for instance, nine out of the 31 cases are those of the deaths of children, and those deaths were due in a large number of instances not so much to want of food as to improper food and neglect. Therefore, they cannot be properly classed as deaths from starvation. And when one comes to the 22 adults, one finds that most were people in the last stages of wasting disease, and at the coroner's inquest it was shown that death was produced not so much by want of food as accelerated by 1190 want of food and exposure. I find that last year there were four cases of death practically from starvation—three from starvation alone and one from starvation and exposure. Well, I think that every preventable death from starvation is a disgrace to the community such as every good Government and Local Authority ought to try to prevent.
said, that what he had said was that deaths included suicides from fear of starvation, though they were not given in the Return.
§ SIR W. FOSTER
That is a point I shall come to in dealing with suicides. I am speaking now of cases of starvation brought under the notice of the Public Authority. I think we may congratulate ourselves on the fact that the cases are so few, but still four persons have died from starvation in this the richest city in the world, and that ought not to have occurred. When such cases come before the Local Government Board we take care to see whether they are due to the neglect of the Local Authorities; if so, they receive the very serious attention of the Local Government Board. But, so far, we have not been able to bring home to the Local Authorities any neglect, and in all cases in which the Local Authorities have been applied to they have taken measures to relieve the distress. The suicides in the metropolitan area were a few larger in number last year than in the preceding year— namely, 452 in 1892 as against 423 in 1891. In England they were 2,583 in 1892 and 2,483 in 1891. When the hon. Member said that one or two deaths occurred daily from suicide I am bound to admit that that opinion is opposed to my own.
What I said was that there are one and a-half deaths daily from starvation or from suicide through fear of starvation.
§ SIR W. FOSTER
Add the deaths from starvation, and suicides from fear of starvation, and I do not think that they will make up anything like that number, and upon that point I must differ from my hon. Friend. He has a right to his opinion, and I have a right to mine. It is a matter which can only be settled at the end of the year, when we have the official statistics before us. These things point to the condition of the population as regards poverty, and the 1191 best side lights we can get on that are the figures the hon. Member himself gave the House of pauperism in different parts of the country. We are not going into the question of the administration of the Poor Law or of Poor Law statistics generally; but in illustration of his position, the hon. Member brought forward certain statistics as to pauperism. These statistics have not been brought down quite to the present date, and the conclusions to be derived from them, therefore, are open to some uncertainty. The hon. Member was right when he said that there was an increase of metropolitan pauperism, and that, consequently, distress has gone up considerably during the last few months. In the last week of November, 1893, there were 105,347 persons chargeable on the poor-rate; that was 9,505 more than in 1891. So that there is a considerable increase, and a large number of these are undoubtedly able-bodied persons. There is an increase of about 5,000 out-of-door people chargeable on the rates. That does not mean 5,000 able-bodied men chargeable on the rates, but 5,000 men, women, and children. If one of these men has a wife and five children they go down in the Return as seven. It does not by any means represent the total number of able-bodied men out of employment. I want that to be understood. That is the condition of things in the London district. If we compare that with the condition of things in previous periods, it will be seen that in the preceding 36 years the actual number of paupers has been exceeded seven times—in 1866, 1867, 1868, 1869, 1870, 1871, and 1872. It is a remarkable thing that in 1872 there were more paupers chargeable than at the present time during the same period of the year, though the population of the Metropolitan district was then 1,000,000 less than it is now. There were 107,806 paupers in November, 1872, out of a population of 3,300,000, whereas the number now is only 105,000, out of a population of 4,300,000. That shows— as far as these figures can exemplify it— that the general well-being of the people is better now than it was in 1872, and that we are making some progress in the matter. But the figures are more striking if we take the number of paupers in proportion to the population, which I think 1192 is the better way of testing the question. At present the proportion per 1,000 chargeable on the poor rates in the metropolitan area is 24.5; last year it was 22.5; in 1891 it was 21.8; in 1890 22.4; in 1889 23.2; in 1884 24.2; and in 1887 25.1. So that in 1887 we had a larger proportion of people chargeable as destitute on the metropolitan rates than we have at the present time. If we go over the proportion for the past 36 years we find that 19 times out of the 36 the present proportion has been exceeded. We have some reason to congratulate ourselves, so far as the metropolitan area is concerned. If we go outside the metropolitan area we find the same state of things existing. The proportion which paupers bore to the population of the country in the last week of the month of November, 1893, was 23.6 per 1,000, which was smaller than in any other year except the three years immediately preceding. It fell to 22.2 in 1891. In 10 out of the years from 1857 to 1870 the proportion was more than 40 per 1,000. If the paupers had borne the same proportion to the population in 1893 as they did in 1863, 1873, and 1883 the numbers would have been, as compared with those years, 1,330,259, 958,814, and 768,258 instead of 702,237, which is the number now. That shows that there is an enormous diminution in the amount of poverty and destitution in the country which comes under the notice of the Poor Law, and that the diminution is progressing, with the exception of occasional rises which are to be deplored. When we look at these figures and look over them carefully it will be seen that though there is much to be regretted there is no occasion for any great alarm. I am led to that conclusion by looking over the lists published by the Labour Department of the Board of Trade. It is true that the borough of West Ham, which the hon. Member so well represents, has had a considerable increase in the number of poor chargeable to the rates. The number rose from 20.8 in August to 21 in September, and to 23 per 1,000 in October. In the whole metropolitan area there has been a large increase and a less large increase throughout the rest of the country. But I will call the hon. Member's attention to what he himself referred to as the probable explanation of this. 1193 We have had a long-continued depression of trade, which has affected especially the great centres of population, and we have also had several great industrial troubles, and these always weaken the powers of resistance of the poorest class of the population. That has been going on for two or three years, and then on the top of it has come one of the greatest industrial struggles of our time—namely, the lock-out in the coal trade—
§ An hon. MEMBER: The strike.
§ SIR W. FOSTER
The consequence has been that we have had an increase of pauperism which is not limited to the places where the lock-out took place, but which is felt in London and all over the country. In North Staffordshire 30,000 potters were thrown out of work from the difficulty of getting coal; in Widnes 5,000 chemical workers were in the same condition, and in the iron districts, and wherever coal is required for industrial occupations the pinch of poverty has been felt as much as by the miners in their own districts. Some 2,000,000 of people connected with the coal industry were at one time on the verge of starvation, and there were another 2,000,000 who suffered from the workers being thrown out of employment owing to the same cause. The Government regret that every whit as much as the hon. Member who moved the Adjournment. Therefore, I submit that any figures which we take up should be considered with reference to the various circumstances to which I allude. The hon. Member also went into the question of suicides, but could not give us any figures to support his view. He has said that there have been more suicides during the last 12 months than during the previous 12 months, but that is only a matter of conjecture and not an opinion based on any figures. There have, no doubt to those who read the newspapers, appeared to be a large increase in the number of suicides during the past 12 months, but many of these have been, not among the working classes, but among those who were well-to-do. There have been many cases in which men have put an end to their lives not because of want of work, but because of overwork, the stress and strain of what I may call this telegraphic age having affected their minds and induced 1194 them to take their own lives. I am sorry to say there have also been a number of cases of suicide among young people, but these cannot be attributed to want of work. There have also been many suicides among people from emotional circumstances, and such persons, in putting an end to their existence, do not pay much attention to the scarcity of work. I do not think that the figures available show that there has been a greater number of suicides from want of work during the last 12 months than at other periods of our history. The hon. Member has referred to the organisation of labour as a means of getting out of the difficulty, and the Board of Trade and the Local Government Board would do what they can in that direction. In certain parts of London there are Organisations already, and in other districts the Guardians are organising bureaux for labour purposes, and I hope that other bodies will imitate this example. The hon. Member referred to the hours of work of men in Government employ. The Government have promised their sympathetic consideration of the question, and I cannot add to the statement recently made by the Prime Minister that there is a sincere desire and a rather sanguine hope that a reduction may be brought about in the near future. I agree with the horn Member that the hours worked by men engaged in the carrying trade might be shortened with benefit to the men, credit to the community, and profit to the industry. I have great sympathy with him in that desire. He went on to speak of the amount of corn consumed in the country as compared with former times. While I will not follow him into a discussion of the principles of Free Trade and Protection, I sympathise with the hon. Member's desire that the land of the country should be made more productive. I believe it could be made more productive in the way of growing food for the people who till the soil if we increase the facilities which the people have of getting to the soil to till it for themselves. That is a subject which the late Government dealt with in a sympathetic spirit; it is a subject which the present Government, in the Parish Councils Bill, also deals with in a sympathetic spirit. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh, but we have introduced into it, as far as we have gone, 1195 much that will render it easier for men to get access to land. If we can put thousands of the labourers to till allotments there will be less crowding into the towns and less competition at the pit's mouth. There will be a healthier and a stronger race, and greater strength will be added to the Empire than by the vaunted specifics such as Protection, which some hon. Gentlemen opposite are inclined to favour. The hon. Member went on to say that he wanted certain provisions made as to cultivating waste lands and reclaiming waste land or foreshores. The foreshores are under the Board of Trade, but a portion of the foreshores of the Thames is under the Conservancy Board, and in the metropolitan area something might be done by them in that direction. With reference to the aged poor and the provision of cottage homes for them, that question is under the consideration of a Royal Commission, which I hope will report shortly. I trust that, as a result of that Report and of the action of the Local Government Board, there will be more attempts made to improve the condition not only of the aged poor, but of all the poor. In the direction of classification, I believe we can look for the best reforms, and I think the hon. Member's suggestion about cottage homes for the aged poor is well worthy of attention. The hon. Member referred to the Circular issued by the Local Government Board with reference to public works. That Circular was issued as long ago as September last with the view of pointing out to various Local Bodies how by means of public works a great amount of employment might be afforded to those who were lacking work. So far I hope it has had good results. The Local Government Board has endeavoured to expedite its methods of procedure; and I hope that various kinds of useful work, such as sewerage works, the making of roads, and the building of infirmaries will go on throughout the country during the present period of distress so as to provide employment for the poor. I can assure the hon. Member that the applications that reach us from Local Authorities for loans for such purposes are receiving the earliest attention and the speediest solution on the part of the Local Government Board. Local Bodies, however, differ on this matter. The hon. Member 1196 quoted a circular that had been sent out by Paddington. I do not think that circular was very creditable to the Paddington Authorities. It is not for them to tell the Local Government Board that their streets are well kept and that they have no sewage farms in Paddington. [Opposition cries of "Why not?"] We know that as well as they do. When we send out a Circular of this kind we wish it to be received in a sympathetic spirit, and not to be taken too literally. I have no doubt there is other work to be done in Paddington, and if the Local Authorities of Paddington would do what the Poplar Local Authorities are doing they would be carrying out a very useful work. In Poplar they do not write and tell us that their streets are well kept, but they are searching out insanitary dwelling places, and cleaning and whitewashing them, whilst, where the roads are not properly made up, they are having them remade, and so they are throughout their district getting a large amount of sanitary work done by the poor people. They are thus, in a right and sympathetic spirit, endeavouring to meet this great evil. That is the spirit in which we wish Local Authorities to meet the Circular we sent out. The hon. Member referred to an increase in the Navy and to greater activity in the Dockyards. I will not go into that question, but I hope that work will be found in the various places referred to for some of the unemployed. But it must be remembered that it is not generally the skilled artizans of the dockyards who suffer most at these times. Those who suffer generally belong to a class much lower than that, and to a class which at the same time is not fitted, as a rule, for the rough work of farming or for the kind of work done by Local Authorities. So that work undertaken by Local Authorities at these times is not, done by the most skilled labourer. I would still rely in this matter, and would ask my hon. Friend to rely, rather upon the action of Local Authorities than on the action of the Government. I do not myself believe in people coming to the Government at every difficulty. It is not in that way that Englishmen have acted in the past; they have generally been able to meet their own difficulties without coming to the Government for assistance, and I think that is a better 1197 and more manly way of proceeding. I would rather see the self-reliance and self-help of Local Authorities called into action on these occasions than see them come to the Central Authority for aid. We have seen in this century more than one disaster caused by the Central Authority undertaking great public works. I believe that when Local Authorities, in face of distress such as I believe exists at present, carry on public works they are using the most productive form of providing employment, because, whilst they relieve the distresses of the poor, they at the same time secure permanent works. I would rather that this were done in the future through the action of Local Authorities than by any Central Body like the Local Government Board or the Board of Trade, because I believe that such action not only develops the duties of citizenship, but strengthens that manly self - reliance which has hitherto been so creditable to the country.
§ SIR J. GORST (Cambridge University)
I agree with the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Keir-Hardie) in thinking that there is no subject which more urgently demands at the present moment the attention of the Government and of the House of Commons than this particular matter. I understand, Mr. Deputy Speaker, after your ruling that I should be out of Order if I were to enter into the general question of the unemployed, and that my remarks must be restricted to that particular class of the unemployed which exists, unhappily, to perhaps the greatest extent in London of any city in the world, but which exist in every great city both in this country and abroad—even in America and our Colonies —that class of casual labour which lives in a state of chronic hunger and distress, and which furnishes the persons who die of starvation, and who commit suicide from the fear of starvation. I am more anxious to address the House on this question, because I further agree with the hon. Member for West Ham, and I disagree with the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Local Government Board (Sir W. Foster) in thinking that the subject has now reached a phase when it demands the attention not so much of Local Authorities as of the Central Government and the Central Parliament of the Empire. The cause which leads to the existence of this class of labour is one over 1198 which Local Authorities can exercise very little control. The class is created by the continued immigration of labour from the country districts into the great towns, and the evidence which has been given before the Royal Commission on Labour, and which was published not many weeks ago, gives the clearest possible history of such immigration. It is quite hopeless to attempt to stop it. As long as the rural districts are in so very unprosperous a condition, as long as agriculture is depressed as it is now, there is an irresistible temptation to the young rural labourers to immigrate into the towns. The immigration into the towns, so far as they are individually concerned, is a great success in the first instance. They get higher wages at once, and find themselves in a much more prosperous condition than they would have been in had they followed the pursuits of their parents in the country. They prosper for a considerable number of years, but then they are squeezed out of the employment in which they are engaged by the immigration of fresh labourers from the country. The people who employ skilled labour in the towns like to have the youngest and most effective labour they can get, and so they steadily degrade the older men in favour of the newcomers. The older men get into worse-paid situations; they struggle on for a certain number of years, finding life every year more and more difficult, until at last they become casual labourers, and swell the great army of the unemployed in the East End of London, and in almost every great town in the Empire. The members of that great army are in a state of chronic distress. They can scarcely keep their heads above water in prosperous times, and the moment a depression of trade takes place, or any cause lessens employment or reduces wages, they sink into the condition of poverty, hunger, and distress which gives rise to the incidents to which the hon. Member for West Ham has called the attention of the House. Well, I say this is a difficulty which Local Authorities cannot meet. None of the Local Authorities of London, for instance, can produce any effect whatever on the movement of labour from the agricultural districts. It comes in whether they will or not; and all 1199 the efforts they make, incited by the Circulars of the Local Government Board—though I do not mean to say that those efforts are not laudable, and do not for the moment alleviate and palliate to some extent the distress which exists— really only increase the evil. The more work you provide in town parishes the more men from the country districts will flock in, and if all the recommendations of the Local Government Board were carried out in their entirety, if every unemployed man in London were set to work during the present season, it would in the long run only aggravate the evil, because more people would in consequence be brought in, and next year you would have a still greater evil to cope with. I know it is often said that a great many of these so-called unemployed people are people who never work. That is quite true. On the outskirts of civilisation you always find a number of people, some of them semi-criminals, who under no circumstances will work. I think Mr. Charles Booth estimates the number of these people in the East End at about 10,000. It is not a very large number, and we are not talking about this class at all this afternoon. We are 'talking about the people who are ready and willing to work, but who cannot find any employment at all. That such a class exists in all our great cities is undoubted. It is proved by statistics and by other evidence. It is a miserable thing for our civilisation, and a thing that is dangerous to the permanence of our civilisation, that a class of people who are in a state of hunger should exist. The hon. Member who has just spoken has discussed some of the remedies which were suggested by the hon. Member for West Ham, and which might be applied to this state of things—
§ MR. CAINE (Bradford, E.)
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I rise to Order. I wish to ask you whether the right hon. Gentleman is not transgressing the ruling you gave when my hon. Friend (Mr. Macdonald) was speaking?
§ SIR J. GORST
On the point of Order, I may say I was about to follow the hon. Member the Secretary to the Local Government Board through the various remedies which the hon. Member for West Ham had suggested as applicable to the class of chronically hungry 1200 people amongst whom deaths from starvation take place.
MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman must, of course, limit his remarks to that class of people amongst whom deaths from starvation and suicides through fear of starvation occur.
§ SIR J. GORST
I am endeavouring to confine myself strictly to that particular class. The first remedy which the hon. Member discussed was one which applies partly to that class and partly to another class, and which it would be entirely out of Order for me to discuss—I mean what he called the organisation of labour by the establishment of registries. Such registries would, to a great extent, be used not by the class of which I am speaking, but by another class, although they would be partly used by the starving unemployed people in the East of London and elsewhere. All I want to say about these registries is that the development of this system of registration of labour is now waiting for the action of the Central Government. There have been registries established by voluntary effort. [Ministerial cries of "Order!"] I am strictly in Order. I am merely following the Secretary to the Local Government Board.
§ SIR J. GORST
There have been established labour registries in a great many places, and I understand the Secretary to the Local Government Board approved of them. But the universal testimony is that they are of no use unless the Government, as the Central Authority, will establish a Clearing House. It is to me a matter of surprise that the Local Government Board or the Board of Trade should not attach to the present Labour Department a Central Clearing House to which employers could apply, and which could receive lists of the unemployed sent up by the local registries, and thus clear off a considerable amount of the distress in the country. It is distinctly the Government that is now blocking the way. Until they will move in this matter, nothing more can be done. It requires nothing but a properly organised scheme. This would not need legislation or any, except the most trivial, expenditure of public money, and 1201 nothing but organisation. But that is a remedy which will not cure the disease. It will palliate the symptoms and make them, to some extent, less acute, but everybody must recognise that the mere organisation of unemployed labour will not cure the social disease which gives rise to these cases of starvation and suicide. I will not follow the Secretary to the Local Government Board into his second remedy—the diminution of the hours of labour in Government Departments and in the carrying trades. That remedy was suggested and, to a certain extent, improved by the hon. Member for West Ham. I have frequently in this House expressed my opinion on that subject, and I will not trouble hon. Members with them again now. Then the Secretary to the Local Government Board touched upon what I believe is the direction in which the real cure for this social evil is to be sought, and that is the necessity of increasing the growth of food in the country, and somehow or other getting those people who are doing nothing, whose labour is now running to waste, employed upon the land. How that is to be done is a very much controverted question. If I were to express my own ideas in detail I might find myself not altogether in unison with my right hon. Friend the Member for Thanet (Mr. J. Lowther). I think everybody in the House will feel that we can never cure the evil to which the hon. Member for West Ham has called attention by keeping the people from the country in the towns. It is one essential condition of success that we should get them out of the towns. How to get them out of the towns is a subject well worthy consideration and discussion in this House. It is not only the land of this country that is open to our unused labour, but there are other lands the inheritances of the people of this country spread all over the world, and to me it was a melancholy reflection the other day when I saw that the coloured population of South Africa—not native— which does all the labour in the eastern and western part of Cape Colony, had bread enough and to spare, whilst the English people—their Imperial masters—are perishing with hunger. Why some statesman or Government should not try means for bringing this perishing labour altogether from our 1202 great cities into contact with the land where people may at least grow their food, or where there would be no necessity to die of starvation, is very discreditable to the statesmanship and patriotism of the present day. There are two perfectly distinct opinions on this subject. There are some people—and I am afraid the majority of well-to-do-people—who look upon misery and wretchedness of this class. as inevitable. They quote a text of Scripture, which says the poor is always with us, and they reconcile themselves to the belief that our wealth and prosperity and civilization are always to be accompanied by the existence of a class numbering hundreds of thousands who are to live in a chronic state of hunger and of destitution. If that is true, if the existence of that class is inevitable, it is a very sad drawback to the advantages of our civilization. But such a state of things might be contemplated; it might go on and not cause great calamities to the body politic. There is another view which I share, and that is that this particular disease is a kind of cancer which eats into the social institutions of our country—that the existence of an unemployed class in a state of chronic hunger in our great cities who die of starvation and commit suicide through fear of it is a danger to the continued existence of the civilization to which we belong. If the Government and Parliament of this country do not address themselves to the treatment of this disease, which is a peculiar incident of modern western civilization, then our supineness may be revenged upon us by the spread of this misery and dislocation and disorganization of labour, until it may actually become fatal to the continued existence of the civilisation which we enjoy.
§ MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
did not think the House would grudge the short time occupied in the discussion of this important question. It had been admitted that the increase of suicide and starvation was directly traceable to the large number of people out of employment at the present time. The Government were responsible at least for the employment of one large class of people, and it was worth while to consider for a moment whether the dealings of the Government with their workmen had been such as to stave off this misery. The 1203 right hon. Gentleman who had replied so effectively on behalf of the Government to the Member for West Ham, spoke very properly of the period of distress through which the country was passing—a distress of which all the industrial classes in the country-had had experience. It did not affect the Government in exactly the same way as it touched employers. No doubt it made the Revenue a little less prosperous, but still they were not so poor that they might not have afforded throughout this period to have treated their working men properly if they really appreciated their claims. The first difficulty the House of Commons had got to deal with was that the facts of the position of these working people were never laid before them in detail, and Members had to obtain the particulars they required in a painful and laborious manner. He had, for instance, been trying for the last five or six months by means of letters, private inquiries and questions in the ,House to find out the details of hard cases brought to his knowledge of workpeople in Government employment, and his efforts had been attended with only a moderate amount of success. He had, however, ascertained that during November at least 100 men had been dismissed from the Government workshops at Woolwich, and in the last 12 months about 1,000 from various establishments. In fact, all through the period of depression, the Government had been dismissing men as if they were private employers, and felt the depression as much as any of those who had to grapple with ordinary trade competition. He could not help regretting that the Government did not give a little more consideration to the position in which men were placed by being thrown on the labour market in such a time as this. He did not allude to this in any Party sense—it was not, indeed, a Party question—but the claims of the working men, who formed so large a proportion of their population, were deserving of consideration. Whilst these men were being dismissed, and whilst this depression existed, there was plenty of work to be done in the various Government workshops. Some two or three weeks since he introduced a deputation to the Secretary of State for War, who came to represent the serious troubles which resulted 1204 to them from the dismissals which were going on in the workshops. The right hon. Gentleman made a sympathetic reply, but he hardly dealt with the dismissals at all, which was, however, the serious aspect of the case, the men dismissed going to swell the army of the unemployed, and leading to the starvation and suicide with which the resolution dealt. The Secretary for War told the deputation that it was impossible to avoid the fluctuations of labour, but the right hon. Gentleman did not give facts sufficiently strong to support his contention. For instance, the Government were now manufacturing cordite, and they were only making one ton for every three tons immediately required. Surely men might be employed in larger numbers on its production. Again, a large order from India for cartridges, which had been postponed for financial reasons, might have been put in hand, and this alone would have afforded employment for 12 weeks to 2,000 men; and then the work required by the Naval Programme might have been pushed on. There was much work which might have been put in hand if there had been a desire that this great suffering to the working classes might have been avoided. The fluctuations of which the Secretary for War had spoken might be diminished if the Government Departments would make an effort in this direction, and, if the Government did so, it would be an example to Local Bodies and private employers to avoid those irregularities of employment which caused so much misery, starvation, and even death to the working classes.
MR. JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)
wished to dispel the notion that small holdings and allotments in the country were a remedy for the starvation of the towns. The truth was, that where they had this large number of small holdings, they had less labour employed than where they had land farmed in a large way. To give employment they must have men who had money to put into the land. It was only yesterday that he saw land which was going out of cultivation and labourers standing by bewailing their hard lot; and they said when they heard Members of Parliament talking about small holdings, they wished they could put them on this uncultivated land to try and make a living out of it. He should like 1205 to set some hon. Gentlemen down on this land, and trying to get a living out of it without having money to put into it like these poor starving people. He knew a man in his own neighbourhood who was in very good employment in a town, but unfortunately a relative left him 20 acres of land with a small cottage. He gave up his employment, went with his family to reside on the land, and from that day to this had gone from bad to worse, and was now in a state of almost starvation. There was no employment in these small holdings in the country. The land would not afford employment unless money were put into it If it were desired that the land should afford employment, hon. Members should induce people with money to cultivate it, and then it might be made to afford double the amount of employment that it did now. Farmers at the present time were so poor that they could not employ labour, and they certainly could not pay a man 12s. a week when his labour only produced 10s. at the most a week. If hon. Members opposite were in earnest in this matter, they would endeavour to take steps for the improvement of the agriculture of the country. It was the much-maligned landowner who provided work for the agricultural labourer, and also employed all the old men and kept them out of the workhouse, and so enabled them to end their days in peace and happiness. But he was sorry to say, owing to the depressed state of agriculture, the landowners were becoming fewer and fewer. He wished to warn the House against the idea that these small holdings would give employment to people.
§ MR. BOUSFIELD (Hackney, N.)
had listened with great attention and disappointment to the statement made upon this matter by the Secretary to the Local Government Board. The optimistic conclusion to which the hon. Gentleman seemed to come was, that all was for the best in the best possible world, and under the best possible Government. He told them they had reason to congratulate themselves; that, there was no great necessity for alarm, and then went on to complain that in a matter of this sort Englishmen ought not to have to go to the Central Government, but should rely on themselves in the different localities. In that he quite agreed with the hon. Gentleman, but he had to make a complaint 1206 against the Government in this matter, and that was that whereas the Government officially told them the different authorities ought to look after the matter themselves, yet when these Local Authorities and Boards of Guardians applied for powers to do things they could not do without the consent of the Central Government, they were discouraged in these applications and sent back. Unfortunately, all Local Authorities were bound hand and foot, and could not move without the consent of the Central Authority. Representations had been made by the Hackney Board of Guardians to the Local Government Board as to the amount of distress that existed in their district, which was driving people to suicide and despair, and asking whether they could give a certain amount of work to deserving people who were in destitute circumstances.
§ The hon. Member was proceeding to quote from the correspondence when—
§ MR. BOUSFIELD, continuing, said, the reply of the Local Government Board was that they could not give any employment unless it took the form of relief. It was perfectly well-known that there were large numbers of workpeople in this country who, sooner than accept relief in the ordinary form in which it was given by Boards of Guardians, would accept suicide, or death, or starvation in any form. It was, therefore, perfectly well-known that when the Local Government Board, in reply to the Board of Guardians asking for consent to set these people to various kinds of work, stated that the Guardians could not give remuneration except in the form of relief, that it was condemning these people to starvation, because the prevailing sentiment was that under present circumstances people would not accept Poor Law relief under the degrading terms on which it was offered. Subsequently, the Board of Guardians drew the attention of the Local Government Board to the fact that there was power vested in them under existing Statutes by which they might acquire land in the country, and use it for the purpose of providing work for the unemployed, and asking for leave to exercise that power. The Local Government Board, in reply to the application, said that the Statutes 1207 in question were generally regarded as being obsolete, and that, therefore, leave to exercise the power they gave must be refused. He maintained that in giving these replies to the applications of the Hackney Board of Guardians the Local Government Board had done their best to discourage them in their efforts to provide work for the unemployed. He contended that Local Authorities, in reference to this matter of employing people, should be allowed to make their own experiments, and that the Central Authority should give them that freedom which was required for these experiments. That was the true policy for the Government in the matter, and the Government by hampering instead of encouraging the Board of Guardians deserved ill of the people of the country. There were two practical things which he thought the Government might do quickly in the matter before the winter was passed. They might pass a short Act of Parliament, probably with the consent of both sides of the House, throwing on the Local Authorities the duty of keeping a register of the unemployed, and they might issue a Circular to Boards of Guardians pointing out the powers which already existed for relieving the unemployed and stating that no difficulties would be thrown in their way if they saw an opportunity for making an advantageous experiment in the matter.
§ MR. KEARLEY (Devonport)
said, that there was no doubt that the want of employment was largely responsible for those evils of which his hon. Friend the Member for West Ham complained. He proposed to confine himself to the question as far as it touched the Government as an employer of labour, especially as that point had been touched on by Secretary to the Local Government Board. In the first place, it would be admitted that the Government by working overtime in a great many of their establishments were tending to aggravate the evils complained of. That was a point on which he, as the representative of a constituency in which there was one of Her Majesty's dockyards, could speak with some authority. The Secretary to the Local Government Board had stated that even though the Government might increase its production so as to absorb some of the unemployed labour, it would not give work to the skilled men who 1208 suffered through the want of employment. But that was not quite so. Take the case of the Keyham Factory in his constituency. If the Government were to adopt shorter hours in that factory the men that would get employment would be skilled men, such as fitters. The Trades Union to which these men belonged had a larger number of unemployed on their books than for any year before. Therefore, if shorter hours were adopted in the Government factories and workshops it would tend to diminish the great evil of the unemployed. When the House remembered the grand declarations made by the Government in March last, when they said they would accept a position equal to the best employers in the country, it was not too much to ask of them to give an earnest of that intention by establishing 48 hours per week in their workshops.
§ MR. KEARLEY
said, he admitted that it was rather difficult to apply the subject to suicides, and he would resume his seat.
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S.E.)
said, that as the Representative of Tilbury Docks, he should like to refer to certain things which was occurring there every day. He need hardly say that he alluded to the question of foreign immigration—
§ MAJOR RASCH
said, of course he would bow to that ruling, and would not continue his remarks, but he would support the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Motion in the Division Lobbies.
MR. J. LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
I think the House ought as far as it can to separate the causes which have led to the deplorable circumstances referred to in the Motion into two categories— namely, causes due to transitory circumstances, and causes of a chronic and permanent character. With regard to causes of an ephemeral nature, the hon. Gentleman who moved the Motion made suggestions with which I am not prepared very largely to agree with him; nor, on the other hand, am I inclined on the present occasion, at any rate, to maintain an attitude of hostility to the action of the Local Government Board, so far 1209 as that action has been concerned with temporary causes of distress. The hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Local Government Board spoke of a Circular which his Department issued in which certain works of a temporary character had been recommended, and he spoke of various works which had been undertaken by Local Authorities with a view to meet the causes of the distress. The hon. Gentleman was on tolerably safe ground while he confined himself to that limit; but when he proceeded to deal with causes of a permanent character, he entered on a line of argument in which I am not at all disposed to agree with him. The Secretary to the Local Government Board spoke of the desirableness of encouraging the occupation of land, and he referred to certain efforts in that direction contained in the Parish Councils Bill. Of course, the hon. Gentleman was tempting me to refer to that Bill, but I certainly will not follow him into any criticism of its provisions, as we have already so many opportunities for discussing the measure. But if we are to take an intelligent view of the sad circumstances to which attention has been drawn it is most important that we should recollect that the Local Government Board Circulars recommending the digging of a drain or two, or the pulling down of a slum, and the construction of a street or a road will do nothing whatever towards alleviating permanent causes of distress which have culminated in so many cases of starvation and suicide. Whatever difference of opinion may prevail as to the remedies to be applied, it is indisputable that for many years past there has been a vast accession to the population of the towns owing to the depopulation of the country districts, and nothing has contributed more directly towards the multiplication of the sad cases of death resulting from want than the elbowing out of the urban population by the rural recruits attracted to the towns through the diminution of employment in their own districts. Is anyone prepared to deny that the vast progress made during the last 20 years in the diminution of arable cultivation has distinctly led to migration from the rural districts to the towns? If I may quote statistics, I can show that at least 60,000 persons have been thrown out of employment during the last few years in 1210 the rural districts and driven into the towns by this cause. If hon. Members think that the works suggested by the President of the Local Government Board in his Circular can do anything towards alleviating the permanent causes of distress, they are hugging a very vain delusion. The crowding of our towns and the consequent destitution are owing to the fact that the cultivation of large areas of the country has been absolutely abandoned, while large tracts of arable land have been laid down to grass, thereby necesitating a large diminution of the rural population employed on the land. It is calculated that at least three out of every five labourers employed on the land are dismissed for every acre of arable land which finds its way into grass. I am sure the House will not be led away from the path of duty before it by the suggestion that ephemeral sanitary works and doubtful expedients of that kind are sufficient to meet the permanent causes of distress. The only true remedy for this state of affairs is that some profitable return should be secured to those engaged in the cultivation of the soil. Until Parliament is prepared to do something to bring the waste land into cultivation, until it is prepared to boldly face that issue, and so long as it is terrified by the bugbear of Protection—
MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER
The right hon. Member cannot raise the question of Protection in connection with this subject.
MR. J. LOWTHER
I wish to avoid anything of that kind; and I would prefer to put my point in this way: Until Parliament is prepared to apply the remedy which will enable the land to be, cultivated and the great flocking of the rural population into the towns to be checked it is simply trifling with the subject The hon. Gentleman who made the Motion referred to a subject which you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, very properly pointed out cannot be referred to in detail— namely, the extent to which our workmen are driven to starvation and suicide by the competition of aliens in the labour market. Without going into the question of the immigration of aliens, I will merely say that in many cases destitution 1211 culminating in death has been brought about by the competition of such persons. In one case—
MR. J. LOWTHER
If the hon. Gentleman opposite had waited till I had finished my sentence he would have found that I would have said nothing to offend his sensitive ears. I was merely about to refer, when I was again interrupted by the hon. Member, to one specific case of suicide that has appeared in the newspapers, in which death has been clearly traced to the fact that the employment which the suicide was previously engaged in had been taken away from him by such competition as I have referred to. I trust the House will not content itself with a few passing words suggesting ephemeral remedies; but that it will look boldly in the face all the difficulties with which this problem is surrounded, and that it will not hesitate to grapple with them.
§ COLONEL HUGHES (Woolwich)
said, it was difficult to understand what was relevant to the Motion; but in the few remarks he had to make he would strive to keep in Order. He was of opinion that the Circular sent out by the Local Government Board was an invitation to a number of poor parishes to impoverish themselves still more by increasing their rates. In Woolwich the rates were 7s. in the £1, and the public works in that district would have been done long ago if they could have afforded it. At the very time that the Circular was received from the Local Government Department the War Department were discharging or suspending men in batches every week, and so were increasing the difficulty with which the Local Authority had to deal in meeting the distress caused by lack of employment. The Labour Department of the Board of Trade had been more active of late, but had never been sufficiently nourished with public money. It ought to be a separate Department, presided over by a Labour Minister, and it could then supply information as to the districts where employment was needed. Why did not the Government come forward with a Supplementary Estimate for Government work which was necessary without waiting for the magical 1212 date of April 1? The Government were no doubt bound by the old red-tape notion that they had got to spend so much money before the 1st of April, and that they could not move in any new matter until that date had arrived. This distress was a national, and not a local, complaint, and must be dealt with over a larger area than the Local Authorities referred to by the President of the Local Government Board, if it was to be dealt with adequately. The Prime Minister's sanguine hope of adopting 48 hours a week in Government workshops was no use unless carried into effect. Sympathy without relief was no proper answer on the part of the Government, and although Governments of both Parties had hitherto paid insufficient attention to the masses of the people, he had expected from a Liberal Government a different answer to that which had been given.
§ GENERAL GOLDSWORTHY (Hammersmith)
said, the Secretary to the Local Government Board had stated that the Government had no statistics as to the number of suicides this year. But he did not think the House should wait until they got these statistics, but they should do all that it was possible for them to do at once in order to prevent starvation and suicides arising from distress. It was only that day that he was visited by a workman who had told him that for 30 years there never were such bad times, and he had had letters from the Society of Engineers which stated that they had never had such calls on their funds as at the present time. He thought it was the duty of the Government to do something, especially as by their action the previous day on the betterment question the unemployed in London would not get the legitimate employment which they would otherwise have had. He felt strongly for the unemployed, but still he did not think the Government should provide work for them, though, considering the action they had taken on the betterment question, they ought to do something. The Government would find that when the General Election came it would be brought home to them that many of the suicides and the deaths from starvation were due to their want of action. If the hon. Member for West Ham went to a Division he would support him, for though he was opposed to the Government 1213 giving work to the unemployed, we wanted a proper Navy, and the Government could find money to do what other people could not do.
§ SIR MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)
said, he thought this question was well worth consideration. They were too much accustomed to hearing it treated purely as a local matter, whereas really it was an Imperial matter. He did not anticipate that the Government would immediately assist the unemployed of London, but he thought it was their bounden duty to take measures whereby they could reach the foundation of all these cases of misery, and suicide, and starvation. They all knew what urged and hastened the rural labourers to London, swelling the ranks of the unemployed. It was because they could not get on the land—because land was entirely unproductive at the present time, and when the Government brought in in September, when three parts of the House of Commons had left, a Fisheries Bill, which imposed a 1d. rate on the whole population of Scotland, to maintain a single industry, surely they might—
§ SIR MARK STEWART
said, he only desired to say that if the Government found a way for encouraging the industry of fishing in Scotland, they ought to allow no antiquated notions to prevent them from finding a Way also for encouraging the cultivation of land. The present time was as bad as bad could be, and if it continued they would have a still greater number of suicides and deaths from starvation. He could give the House numbers of illustrations of hardships and starvation in country districts through a want of employment. It became the Government to take an Imperial view of the question. The Government had brought in measures which the House or the country did not care two-pence about, instead of directing themselves to these social matters, which were of far more importance to the country than many imagined. He maintained that there ought not to be those suicides and deaths from starvation. He had a very large farm, and when he got only 25s. a ton for his potatoes, surely there ought not to be starvation, food was so cheap. Years ago it was understood that statistics would be given on those matters by a 1214 Labour Bureau in connection with the Board of Trade, but no such information had been given, and the House was, therefore, at a disadvantage in dealing with the question. Unless they went to the bottom of the matter and searched out its real causes they would never be able to effectively cope with the difficulty.
§ MR. POWELL WILLIAMS (Birmingham, S.)
said, he did not propose to detain the House more than a few moments, because he did not think the subject could be properly discussed now. If anyone wanted to know why such a large number of suicides took place in the East End of London he had only to go there to see the conditions under which the people lived and carried on their occupations. Anything more sad and shocking than the scenes to be witnessed there it was impossible to conceive. If they looked into the doss-houses, the private workshops, and the shelters of General Booth, and asked themselves whether life was worth living in such circumstances he believed the universal answer would be that it was not. Some years ago a Commission sat on the question of sweating, and important as was the evidence collected, and effective as was the work of the Commission for a time, he ventured to say that it had done nothing permanently to decrease sweating among the working classes. This was a national question which no parish could adequately deal with; it was one with which the Government alone could cope. Though this Debate must necessarily be ineffectual, he hoped that something would come out of it.
§ MR. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)
said, he joined in the opinion that this question exceeded in importance other questions now before Parliament, and that no time ought to be grudged for its discussion, but he regretted that the terms of the Resolution were so restricted that they could not deal with the matter in all its bearings. The Debate had shown that neither the Government nor the House were in possession of the real facts of the problem. They had had conflicting opinions as to the extent of the evil. The Secretary to the Local Government Board in his sympathetic speech had gone back many years in order to show that there were not now a larger number of persons in receipt of relief than there were 10 years ago, but he did not tell the House 1215 that, compared with 1892, there were on October 31 27,000 more. There was another fact which deserved attention— namely, that in 32 organised trades there were no less than 25,000 men in receipt of unemployed pay, and if that was the case with regard to organised trades it must be much worse in connection with unskilled labour. These facts showed that the evil was very acute. He therefore wished to know what the Government intended to do with a view to supplying accurate information as to the extent of the evil and the nature of the problem? Would the Government take such action as would induce every Local Authority to have a labour registry so as to assist not only in supplying information, but in providing employment? Another point was, what were the Government going to do with regard to their workmen? for he contended that one of the causes of the starvation in the country was that the present Government had not taken prompt action to put their workmen on an eight hours day. They had had 16 months to consider the question, but nothing had been done. Did the Government intend to enforce the Railway Servants' Hours Bill, or to issue regulations for the guidance of Boards of Guardians in hiring land to employ labour? In view of the number of agricultural labourers out of employment it was time for action, for he believed that in this direction much good might be done. The Government should not fail to realise that the real solution of this difficulty was in some way or other to stop the immigration into the towns.
§ SIR S. NORTHCOTE (Exeter), who was indistinctly heard, said, to a great extent he agreed with the Secretary to the Local Government Board in the preference he expressed for the exertions of the Local Authorities as against State action. Yet he was bound to say that they would find a widespread feeling in the country that the action of the State in some form or other must be invoked. He thought it would be wise if the Government could see their way to develop the action of the Labour Bureau. What he particularly wished to press on the Government was to consider whether some steps could not be taken to revive in the different localities in the Kingdom local committees to develop the emigration system. He thought voluntary 1216 emigration, if established, would do something at least to relieve distress. He knew that emigration was not a, popular remedy, but it was a possible one, and he trusted the Government would consider whether they could do anything to promote it.
§ MR. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
said, he thought it must be felt that, in regard to this important question, which deeply affected the whole community, they had been engaged in a Debate of a thoroughly unsatisfactory character, for under the restrictions imposed it had been confined to very narrow ground. Although he thought there had been some exaggeration, there was a great want of employment, particularly in certain parts of the Metropolis, and, while some of the Parish Vestries—the one in his own district, for example—had been giving extra employment, he felt that the richer districts of the Metropolis might be called upon to assist the poorer districts. How could they adequately discuss such a subject as this under such circumstances? He might almost say that the discussion had been worthless, and that the votes given in a Division would partake of the same character.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I think everyone will agree with the hon. Member who has just sat down that this Debate must necessarily be of an unsatisfactory character, not indeed that the subject is a small one, but because it is much too large a one. Your ruling, Sir, has, no doubt, very properly restricted the area of the Debate; but I notice that, among the subjects of necessity introduced into a discussion of this kind, various speakers have referred, among others, to the following subjects:—Dockyards, betterment, emigration, small holdings, Government employment, Poor Law administration, Protection, registration of labour, and the eight hours day. [An hon. MEMBER: Equalisation of rates.] I have only made a selection; it is not a complete enumeration; but, at all events, it is a tolerably large one, and the very fact that hon. Gentlemen have attempted to bring in, with more or less-success, these various subjects proves how far-reaching this discussion must necessarily be if it has adequate scope, and how impossible it is to base a sufficient building on so narrow and limited 1217 a foundation as that supplied by the words of the hon. Member for West Ham. At the same time, I feel, and I think the House will also feel, that when the outside public is deeply stirred and moved by any great problem—when the public prints are occupied as the representatives of the public opinion with any great social problem—it is advisable that this House should show so much sympathy as is shown by some debate, however inadequate, within these walls. I am sorry that the Government have spoken to us through the mouth of one who is not in the Cabinet. I cast no reflection on the hon. Member, who has shown great ability. I listened with great interest to the speech of the Secretary to the Local Government Board. It was full of facts and figures, and it was a most important and interesting speech. I do regret that some Member of the Cabinet has not thought it desirable to supplement that speech with more authority than can possibly be wielded by the Secretary to the Local Government Board. From the Papers published by the hon. Member's Department it appears to me that he has unduly minimised the extent of the evil which exists. There is only one other point I shall dwell upon in connection with the speech of the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman gave us to understand that we were not in a worse position in the Metropolis at the present time than we were in at corresponding periods of previous years. But this is what the Local Government Board says in the note appended to the September Return—The forthcoming figures show that the number of persons relieved in the Metropolis in September was larger than in any year since 1873, and was also larger than in the years between 1857 and 1865. In only eight out of the preceding 36 years have the number of persons relieved in September exceeded the number of persons relieved this year, and the proportion of pauperism to population is larger in 1893 than in any year since 1876, one year only being excepted.That portion of the note is certainly ominous, and I am not aware that anything has occurred since its publication to minimise the serious information that it contains. Therefore, I cannot hut think that the hon. Member's statement was coloured with a somewhat unduly rosy and optimistic tinge which the stern facts of the most melancholy case do 1218 much to dissipate. Several speakers in this Debate have sought the source of that pauper class from whom are drawn the cases of starvation and suicide specifically referred to in the Amendment. They have traced the origin of that class to the immigration from the country districts into the towns. I shall venture to lay before the House one general consideration in connection with this immigration from the country, which seems to be almost invariably lost sight of by those who discuss this question, but which lies at the very root of the problem, and which, if it be forgotten or omitted from consideration, renders all our deductions and arguments worthless. Of course, I admit that in times of agricultural depression the immigration from the country to the towns must increase with all its consequent evils. As we have been passing through a period of agricultural depression, not, I fear, to be remedied by any solution hinted at here, it follows that there has been an aggravation of the evil of immigration. But do not let any Member suppose that if agriculture were as prosperous now as it was 20 years ago, or as the dreams of the greatest dreamers of dreams would make it, you could by any possibility stop this immigration from the country. It depends upon causes and natural laws which no laws which we can pass can permanently modify. The plain fact is that in a rural district there is and can be only one investment for capital and only one employment for labour. When prosperity in agriculture increases immigration into towns diminishes, no doubt; but, however prosperous agriculture may be, a normal point must be reached when no more capital can be applied to the land and no more labour can be applied, and when you have reached that point it does of necessity happen that if marriages occur with the frequency with which they occur at the present time, and if families are as large as they are at the present time, there must be an immigration from the country to the town, from the place where there is only one kind of employment of labour, strictly limited by the natural capacity of the, soil, to another place where there is no limit whatever to the employment of labour except the limit set by the amount of capital seeking investment and the amount of labour capable of 1219 taking advantage of that capital. If that were an abstruse doctrine of political economy I should be afraid to mention it in this House, where political economy has become a byeword and reproach. But it really is a plain statement of a natural law which I most earnestly advise every man to take to heart. Let us suppose, for example, that small holdings had the effect of diminishing the immigration from the country to towns, of planting a large number of labourers on the land who at present do not find employment on the land, and of thereby mitigating the evil, how long would that state of things last? Is it not plain that even if small holdings succeeded—and I am afraid that, except in peculiar circumstances, it is impossible at present prices that they should succeed—the only result would be that you would have a large number of families in the country districts, of which the surplus children must come to the towns in search of occupation? The only result of increasing the number of families on the land, whether in consequence of the adoption of protection, or by the extension of small holdings, or by any other scheme, would in the long run be not to diminish, but to aggravate the evil of this very immigration to which many gentlemen here attribute the evils from which we are now suffering. I hope the House will not think that what I have said is unworthy of consideration. These are subjects upon which accuracy of thought is really of as much importance as excellence of sentiment. It is a very little matter whether we adopt a sympathetic tone or not unless we are prepared to devote our minds impartially to the consideration of the real permanent issue and not accept the first imaginary remedy for a very serious and grave evil. There is one other point which ought not to be left out of consideration. We have in this country, especially in London, a gigantic aggregation of population. The population of London is now no less than 4,300,000 within the metropolitan area. One consequence of this extraordinary aggregation of population is that you see compressed within narrow limits all the sores and diseases and evils of the social system which, if the population were widely spread, would almost escape 1220 notice, not because they would be less in quantity, but because they would be spread over a larger area. If all the Utopias of the hon. Member for West Ham could be turned into realities there must always be in any civilisation a certain amount of waste produce—a certain number of failures. In a congested population you see the people all congregated in one place, and the failures strike the imagination as they would not strike it in other circumstances. Although I do not think that we can easily exaggerate the disease, I do think that sometimes we are ready to fancy that it is greater at the present time than it was in past time, when the population was less congregated in small areas, or than it is now in the country where the population is thinly spread over large areas. Many gentlemen have in this Debate expressed or hinted their opinion that a great deal might be done by the State organisation of labour. I do not mean State organisation in any Socialistic sense—I am not referring to the State's getting hold of the instruments of production: mills, farms, &c.—I mean the organisation of labour so that a man with labour to dispose of may know where it is best to dispose of it, and I think that possibly something can be done in that way. After all the chief source of prosperity in the wage-earning classes, the greatest source of prosperity, compared with which all other sources sink into insignificance, is the demand for their labour which is produced by a very large amount of capital seeking investment in new enterprises. I say this simply in the interests of the workmen, and it is a fact which the working classes sometimes do not sufficiently keep in mind. You cannot do a greater injury to the working classes than by doing something which induces people, who in other circumstances would invest at home, to invest abroad, or by doing something which prevents people from investing at all and induces them to spend their surplus money upon luxuries and amusements. I hope the House will not suppose that in making that observation I am taking the part of one class against another. That is far from my desire. The hon. Member who spoke on behalf of the Government told us with truth that one of the reasons why this year was a year of exceptional distress was that it has 1221 been signalised by a trade warfare between the employer and the employed in an industry on which other industries depend. Everybody feels that these great battles, though they may be necessary, are, like other battles, horribly destructive. Everyone must desire, and none more than the Government, who have done what they can to prevent them, that these barbarous methods of settling labour quarrels should, if they cannot be done away with altogether, be diminished as far as possible. I do not dispute that both the Trade Unions and those against whom the Trade Unions are arrayed may have been doing in all cases the best for their own interests, and I do not deny that in the long run the action of Trade Unions may have been on the balance of enormous advantage to the class for whom the Trade Unions were established; but it appears to me that we sometimes forget how intimately bound up is the prosperity of the working classes with the profitable investment of capital in this country. Here and there, now and then, undoubtedly, the workmen may be right, are right, I believe, in combining to see that they get the full measure of their rights; but in spite of these passing difficulties between the two classes, it is absolutely impossible that you should permanently do anything for the one that does serious lasting injury to the other. What I feel is that the great object you have to look to, and probably the method to which the House can best devote its energies, is to do all in its power to foster and secure enterprise in our great commercial centres, and so to organise the relations between those who seek employment and those who seek for workmen, that any man who desires work shall not be without it if there is any man willing to find work for him. These are very old-fashioned and, perhaps, elementary considerations, but they are not always remembered by those who discuss these questions, and it is simply because I feel that I should be, perhaps, yielding to our natural desire, in touching on these social problems, to lose ourselves in soft platitudes that I have ventured respectfully to lay before the House the hard facts which none of us can dare to forget if we are adequately to deal with the subject.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. H. H. FOWLER, Wolverhampton, E.)
The interesting, almost fascinating, speech to which the House has just listened makes me more regret the conditions under which the Debate has been conducted. Although the right hon. Gentleman has opened a very wide field of discussion, and although there might be a good deal of general agreement with some of his propositions, yet some of us will be disposed to dissent from many of the conclusions he has laid down. It would, however, be clearly out of Order to follow the right hon. Gentleman through all his remarks. The right hon. Gentleman complained that no Member of the Cabinet had taken part in the Debate. The reason was that the Secretary to the Local Government Board, in the course of his fair and statesmanlike speech, had stated the views of the Government on this question. We are not at liberty to go into the whole of the question, nor do I think that a Motion for the Adjournment of the House is the best mode of considering a question of this vast importance. As to the complaint against the administration of the Poor Law by the Local Government Board, made by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Bousfield), I have only to point out that the administration does not depend in any way on the Party politics of the President for the time being. The Local Government Board pursues a well-defined policy which has been laid down by a long line of predecessors of mine. When the proper time comes I shall be prepared to give a complete answer to the charges the hon. Member for Hackney has brought against my Department. Meanwhile, I would only say that we are dealing most sympathetically with applications made to us by the various Unions in London, and I have reason to believe that one or two public-spirited Boards of Guardians are now trying experiments which might throw some light on the question we are discussing. There is only one other remark I will venture to submit, and it is this: In a very short time the Royal Commission on Labour over which the Duke of Devonshire presided with so much ability will have concluded its labours. Whatever the conclusions of that Commission may be, they will present to the 1223 House and to the country a more complete and more accurate exposition of all the conditions of labour at the present time in this country than has ever been presented before. Though I am a Member of that Commission, I feel enabled to speak rather eulogistically of its labours, because for more than 18 months I have not been able to take part in its deliberations, and therefore speak as an outsider. But I feel satisfied the Report and their investigation will throw considerable light on this difficult problem, and the time will come when we must have a much fuller discussion in this House than can be afforded on a casual Motion for Adjournment. I would, therefore, now appeal to the House to bring this Debate to a close.
said, that the discussion, with all its defects, would not have been in vain if only it had produced the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. The House had been precluded by its own act from discussing this question that day, and the only means which remained to the House of informing the Government of its opinion on this point was the Division Lobby. Every Member who went into the Lobby with him declared that the Government should do something immediately to provide work for the unemployed. ["No!"] At all events, he did not want anybody to go into the Lobby with him who did not hold that view. Those who went into the Lobby against him held the opposite view. ["No!"] The Liberal Party, when in Opposition, adjourned this House to discuss the case of a girl wrongly imprisoned. Was not this question of the unemployed as pressing and as important as the imprisonment of a girl? This House, after a Motion for the Adjournment, had passed a Bill dealing with swine fever, involving or authorising an expenditure of a considerable amount of money—£60,000 a year—and he held in his hand a Bill for a loan of £10,000,000 to India. He submitted that if these matters could be dealt with by moving the Adjournment, so also could the question of the unemployed. If the Government had indicated that they would appoint a small Select Committee, or have taken any other step in order to find relief for these people, he would have felt satisfied. He objected 1224 to being interrupted by the Member for Sunderland.
§ MR. STOREY (Sunderland)
I rise to Order. I do not think the hon. Gentleman should have used my name in any such way. I simply made an observation to an hon. Friend of mine which had no reference to the Member for West Ham at all.
said, the Government had taken up the position of saying they could not do anything in the matter, but that the Local Authorities must deal with it. But the Local Authorities were unable to do it, and it became the duty of the Government in some way or other to remove this evil.
§ MR. STOREY rose to speak, but—
§ MR. KEIR-HARDIE, rising to Order, said: I wish to ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether this discussion can be entered on after I have replied?
MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER
Undoubtedly; otherwise an hon. Member having made a Motion could at any time close the discussion.
§ MR. STOREY
said, the Resolution before the House was that the House do now adjourn. While he sympathised with the woes of all mankind, he intended to vote that the House do not adjourn, in order that they might get on with necessary business.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 33; Noes 175.—(Division List, No. 380.)