§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Main Question (19th February), "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth—
§ "Most Gracious Sovereign,
§ "We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses, of Parliament."—(Mr. Dickinson.)
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
MR. STANLEY WILSON
said when the House rose he had just commenced to move the Amendment standing in his name dealing with the encroachments of the sea. It was a question of the utmost importance, as the sea was encroaching on the coast in many parts of the United Kingdom at an alarming rate. In Holderness it was a very serious and grave question. From the seaside town of Bridlington to as far as Spurn Head the sea had swept away the land at a very rapid rate; as much as four yards of land were swept away last year. He did not raise this as a party question, but he spoke on behalf of many parts of the United Kingdom and was glad to say that he had the support of many Members situated on the opposite benches. They wished to induce the Government 863 to come to their assistance and to give financial assistance if possible. The law of the land and modern decisions in Courts of Justice were both on their side, going to show that it was obligatory on the Crown to prevent inroads being made upon the land by the sea. The Board of Trade returns showed that the acreage of the country was gradually diminishing; every year we lost a tract of land the size of Gibraltar. In thirty-three years, from 1867 to 1900, the acreage showed a diminution of over 182,000 acres, although the land reclaimed from the sea was included. He could not help thinking the present system was an unfair one. All the land reclaimed became Crown property, but, whilst receiving any revenue derived from it, it did nothing itself for the protection of our coast. In his constituency they had an excellent example. A very large tract of land had there been reclaimed from the estuary of the Humber, known by the name of Sunk Island, and it brought in to the Crown a revenue of something like £10,000 per year. They thought that a portion of this sum ought to be expended in defending the east coast from the ravages of the North Sea. Whilst speaking on the subject he wished to give grave warning to the President of the Board of Trade. It was absolutely necessary to maintain the road leading to Spurn Lighthouse, which was joined to the land by an embankment three or four miles in length. That embankment had to be maintained by the Board of Trade, but the Board of Trade defences were at the present time in a very bad position. The sea was likely to break through the main road, and he could assure the President of the Board of Trade that a very large sum would have to be spent in repairing the damage. There was an old saying that a "stitch in time saves nine," and he thought it would be well if the President of the Board of Trade looked into the state of the defences. If he did he would find them in a shocking condition. In Italy the State shared with the people of the district the cost of sea defence. In Belgium the State had built large sea defences entirely at its own cost, and had in many other cases contributed 864 large sums towards the maintenance of the sea defences, the national grant in that country between 1902 and 1904 being no less than £1,000,000 per annum. In France also the State contributed large sums. At present in this country the cost of protecting our shores from the sea fell upon the individual landowner or upon the parish or township where the inroad might be taking place. The result had been entirely unsatisfactory, local effort to cope with the difficulty having absolutely failed. It was not for him to offer suggestions for schemes, and he did not know whether the President of the Board of Trade had any scheme for dealing with the matter; it would be best for the right hon. gentleman to discuss the subject with experts. He had no doubt the right hon. Gentleman would have seen the reports of the important Conference which took place in London on February 6th. Those reports showed conclusively that this was a national matter, which ought to receive national assistance. The difficulty was to persuade the nation to give assistance. He had not raised the question in any Party spirit or with any idea of personal advantage, because land in which he was interested had no connection whatever with this matter. He trusted that the President of the Board of Trade in his reply would be able to hold out a hope that it was the intention of the Government to do something. Perhaps he might be able to see his way to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the matter, to see what damage was done, and to report as to the best method of effectually dealing with it. It had been said that the Government intended to find work for the unemployed, and he could not imagine a better or a more beneficial mode than that they should be put to the task of defending our foreshore. He maintained that it was the duty of the Crown to protect our shores from attacks from the sea just as much as it was their duty to protect them from attacks by enemies. He thanked the House for listening to him, and begged to move.
§ MR. LUKE WHITE (Yorkshire, E.R., Buckrose)
seconded the Amendment. He declared that the question had 865 become a national one, and he hoped the President of the Board of Trade would make some official inquiry into it. The matter was one which required their earnest attention. A great many of the local authorities had done much in order to protect our coasts from the erosion of the sea, expending large sums of money in that direction. The town of Bridlington had spent no less than £100,000 in order to protect the town from the inroads of the sea, and this had placed an enormous burden upon the local ratepayers. In this respect he would appeal to the President of the Board of Trade as to the period allowed for the repayment of loans raised for the erection of sea walls and sea defences. He considered that where the defences were of a permanent character a longer period for repayment should be allowed local authorities than the scale which existed at present? This was a serious question to those who were trying to do their best to stop the inroads of the sea, and he certainly thought something might be done to encourage local authorities by making better provision for the repayment of loans than was allowed them by the present short terms. Bridlington some thirty years ago obtained a loan, and the period for repayment allowed was fifty years; but seven or eight years ago they applied for a loan for works which were of a permanent character and they only obtained a period of twenty-five years. That was a very short period for works of a permanent character. He earnestly trusted that the President of the Board of Trade would seriously consider the matter. It was one which affected the country as a whole, and it particularly affected the ratepayers along our sea coast. It ought to be attended to, and he trusted that some official inquiry by experts would be made. He hoped local authorities would not only be assisted by the Government by advice and in a pecuniary sense, but that the Government would do something to place the matter upon a national basis so that all the local authorities might know their position.
At the end of the Question, to add the words, But we humbly represent to Your Majesty
that the serious encroachments of the sea on our coast call for the immediate attention of His Majesty's Government.'"—(Mr. Stanley Wilson.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added.'
§ MR. H. H. MARKS (Kent, Thanet)
said that as he represented a constituency which was one of the chief sufferers from the great and growing evil of sea erosion, and one of the chief victims of the ever-recurring expense which that evil entailed, he ventured to address a few words to the House. He recognised that it would be wholly unreasonable to expect that this question, so long neglected by so many Governments, should have found a place in the programme of the present Government, in these days of its tenderest youth, not to say its toddling infancy. They must all recognise that the Government had a large, varied, and ambitious programme, and if the question raised by the Amendment had involved any consideration of legislation he would have had some hesitation in rising to support it; but he ventured to suggest that this was not necessarily a question of legislation. It was, it seemed to him, rather a question of sympathetic administration, and he looked with some confidence to the President of the Board of Trade to give it that sympathetic consideration, first of all because he knew the broad mind with which the right hon. Gentleman approached all matters of public interest, and secondly, because he remembered that, according to the proverb, new brooms swept clean. The operations of nature were responsible in a large measure for the erosion of our coasts, but a great deal of that erosion was due to the defective methods which had been employed to deal with the evil. A large portion of the land which had been allowed to be washed away by the sea had been so washed away through the ignorance or negligence of the owners of the land. Another trouble was that the local or other authorities had been in the habit of employing their own officer to design and carry out the defence works; and in many cases the men so employed had no practical knowledge of the subject. He could instance experiences 867 at Lowestoft and Morecambe Bay. It was here and in this direction that he suggested that the Government could be helpful. He was not going so far as to suggest that the cost of maintaining our coasts from the invasion of the sea should fall entirely on the National Exchequer. He would like it. All who represented sea - board constituencies would like it. But he fully recognised that as things were at present and as things were likely to be for some time to come that demand could not be granted. But there were things the Government might do. The Government might assist to provide the funds for the necessary defensive works, at low interest, on easy terms of repayment, secured, in the case of private owners, on the land, and in the case of municipal owners, on the rates of the local area, and subject always to the condition that the works should in every case be carried out by an engineer of experience in this work and approved by Government. Such a course as that would ensure some organised method in the treatment of the evil of which they complained, and, he felt confident, proper and permanent work. So far as he was concerned, speaking on behalf of the local authorities in his own constituency, whilst they would like to ask for all they wanted, they thought it prudent and discreet to ask for what they thought they might reasonably hope to get, namely, some action on the part of the Government recognising the necessity for uniformity in coast defence work, and for the direction of those works by some one of competent authority and of competent experience. If those things were forthcoming, and if, combined with them were offers of reasonable terms on which to raise the funds required for the works and reasonable periods within which to repay the advances made, whilst they would not have removed the evil—which unfortunately was not removable—they would at any rate have mitigated in some considerable measure the burden which at present weighed heavily and with increasing oppressiveness on some of the most important districts of the country.
§ MR. G. BARING (Isle of Wight)
drew attention to a very important con- 868 ference held in London a short time ago of the representatives of local authorities of many places on the coast, which came to the unanimous decision that it was time the Government intervened and took some strong action in order to come to the assistance of local authorities in the matter of sea defences. There were most alarming reports of the disastrous action of the sea on the east coast, and the conference was unanimously of opinion that the financial cost entailed was far too great to be borne by the local authorities. At the town of Sandown they complained that the action of the sea was assisted by the action of the War Office, which had been carting away tons and tons of the foreshore for the purpose of constructing some forts in the neighbourhood: that had had the effect of greatly weakening the sea defences. Only a short time ago the sea washed away a large part of the road in that locality, and nearly separated the town and foreshore from the other part of the island. Then there was a disaster at Freshwater, where the patriotic ratepayers had raised the funds necessary to repair the sea defences. But matters of this kind could not be left to private individuals or parish authorities. The Isle of Wight authority to deal with this question was the rural district council. That was a comparatively poor body; the rateable value was low, and it was quite impossible for them to deal with this question. He ventured to suggest that it would be possible for a systematic inspection to be made of the coast line, and a schedule might be prepared showing where the sea was doing most damage and where immediate assistance ought to be given. He quite recognised that for the past ten years there had been very little money for this or any other work, but he was sure the right hon. Gentleman would see that it was a matter to be dealt with at the earliest possible moment. He was certain of a sympathetic reply, but he submitted that the House was entitled to more than that. The sea was active, and it was necessary that something should be done at the earliest possible moment. If his suggestion were acted upon and the report sent to the right hon. Gentleman he was sure that the President of the Board 869 of Trade would see the necessity of something being done immediately.
§ MR. BECKETT (Yorkshire, N.R., Whitby)
said he made no apology for adding a few words on this important question. The constituency he represented had perhaps the longest coastline in England, and he would scarcely be performing his duty to the inhabitants of that district if he did not support the Amendment. In the case of waste land and agricultural land the damage was serious enough, and he was fully aware of the enormous cost which would be entailed by a proper system of sea defence in such cases. That cost had been estimated by eminent authorities to reach no less a figure than £25,000 per mile. In addition to that a charge at the lowest estimate of 10 per cent. on that amount would be necessary to provide for interest on the borrowed money and the cost of up-keep. But there was a far more serious side to this question. He spoke now of the case of numerous small fishing villages, whose houses were being gradually swept away and whose inhabitants were poor men who had a hard struggle to live. These men had to fight the sea to earn their daily bread and to contend with the same element in order to prevent their very dwellings from being engulfed. Fashionable watering-places had many rich visitors in their seasons who contributed to the funds subscribed by local effort for defraying the cost of sea defence; but it was a very different thing in the case of small fishing villages where the rate assessment added little to the local revenue, and where such defence as they could make against the encroachments of the sea had to come out of private pockets. He knew of one small village which had spent £5,000, provided by private persons, during the past twelve years in sea defence. He supported the idea that urban and district councils should be assisted to borrow money on easier terms for providing against sea encroachments. At present where the district councils took any steps in the matter they had to petition the Local Government Board for sanction to borrow money. Then the Local Government Board sent down an inspector to report. If the inspector 870 reported favourably the council had to go into the open market and borrow the money on the best terms they could obtain for ten or fifteen years. That term was too short, and the burdens were too heavy. In the case of other public works the Public Works Loans Commission advanced the money at a rate not exceeding 3½ per cent. and the term for repayment ran up to fifty years. The Local Government Board should take into consideration whether they could not make arrangements to enable urban and district councils to borrow money on the same conditions. He wished to emphasise what had fallen from the hon. Member who moved the Amendment. He had no desire to make this a Party question. He admitted its difficulty, and, although the cost might be high, that was rather an additional reason for inducing the Government to find a proper solution of the problem. His Majesty's Ministers had announced their intention of providing the cost of repatriating the Chinese who had not left their homes unwillingly. Surely it was not too much to ask them to do something for those Englishmen who did not desire to leave their homes, but whose homes showed an undesirable tendency to leave them.
§ MR. H. J. TENNANT (Berwickshire)
said he had to thank the hon. Member for Holderness for having brought this very important matter before the Government. The seconder of the Amendment had spoken about permanent defensive works having been erected on various parts of our coasts. They had, unfortunately, not been permanent. The truth was that many of those works had been badly engineered, and almost invited the sea to knock them down. He agreed with the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment that one of the most important subjects to be considered by the House would be the question of finding employment for those unfortunate people who could not find it for themselves; and he imagined that Parliament could engage in no better work than in organising employment to make good the erosion of our sea coasts. He noticed that Lord Rayleish had made a proposal to build up defences against sea encroachments on the Essex 871 coast, which he was glad to see the Central Body for the unemployed in London had accepted. He represented a seaboard constituency where funds had been provided by private subscription for defence against sea erosion, because all the money which could be raised by the rates had to be devoted to harbour construction and other purposes. He did not ask the Government to give money for sea defence, but he hoped they would endeavour with the aid of the Local Government Board so to organise the Central Relief Fund which had been subscribed for the unemployed that it might be utilised for works to provide against sea encroachments. He believed if that were done, and if the local authorities were allowed to raise money on such terms as had been already advocated, a work of great utility would be accomplished.
§ SIR A. ACLAND-HOOD (Somerset, Wellington)
said that this was a question which deeply affected his constituency. The whole of the northern boundary was washed by the Bristol Channel with a 34-foot rise of tide, and exposed to westerly gales and heavy seas. He perfectly agreed that these sometimes prevented Welshmen from coming over to endeavour to alienate his supporters, but he would rather fight their opinions than fight against the sea. The coast line in his division was composed partly of crumbling cliff, but the real defence against sea encroachment was the shingle. That shingle was always moving from west to east, although they were able to keep it up by means of groins. Some of the owners of the foreshore, however, allowed the shingle to be carried over to Wales, as had been done near Bridgwater. He believed that the Board of Trade could, on application, prevent the removal of the shingle. He knew that in the case of his own property he was successful in preventing it. The question was whether district councils could apply to the Board of Trade to grant a prohibition order to the foreshores of a district council lying further to the west over which they themselves had no jurisdiction. The prohibition should be extended to the whole line of coast in danger by sea encroachment. He asked the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade whether he would 872 consider the question of appointing a small departmental committee to consider the whole matter, to take expert advice, and, having got that advice, would he on the application of any recognised local authority, be it county council or district council, send down an official of the Board of Trade to make inquiry and deal with particular local divisions. It might be said that what was a most excellent plan of sea defence in one case was useless in another, and that was why so much money had been lost along the coast. If the House could have some assurance, such as had been suggested, from the President of the Board of Trade, they would be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. H. BEAUMONT (Sussex, Eastbourne)
said he hoped on rising for the first time to address the House to receive its kindly forbearance. He asked this for two reasons; first, because he did not intend to inflict upon the House a lengthy speech, and second, because he was speaking in the interests of his constituents, to whom this was a matter of great importance. He should like to emphasize all that had been said by his hon. friend the Member for Holderness, and to back up the speech of the Member for Isle of Wight. He submitted that this was a question of as much importance to those who lived inland as to those who lived by the sea shore. Therefore, it was a national matter, and he appealed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give money for the erection of sea defences, so that the whole expense should pot be thrown on the local bodies.
§ MR. SUMMERBELL (Sunderland)
said he wished to give a few facts to show the ravages which had been made by the sea in his own district. During the past ten years the sea cliffs had vanished to the extent of between twenty and thirty feet, and the beach had been lowered to the extent of ten feet, so that the sewers had been injured by the inrush of the sea, involving repairs which had cost considerable sums of money. Groins had been put up, and a seawall built, but during the past four years these had been seriously damaged, and further sums of money 873 would have to be spent upon them. On the south side of the town which he represented there was formerly a splendid stretch of sand where the inhabitants used to enjoy themselves, but that had gone. He would not urge that the money of the country should be expended for the purpose of preserving the land of private landowners from sea encroachment. Far from it; but there was a duty on the Government to prevent some of the things which had already been indicated. The lowering of the beach had been brought about by the taking away of sand and stone for building purposes. These materials had been removed because the Government had permitted the landowners to have a particular right to the beach. If the Government could not recall the concessions already made, he trusted that they would not renew the permission to carry away sand, shingle and stones, from the foreshores, a permission which had been availed of in some cases to the extent of 500 tons per week. As to the unemployed problem, that was a question which must receive immediate attention Numbers of men who were unemployed to-day might be employed on this work by the Government, and it would be a benefit to the nation before many years had passed away.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon District)
I agree that this is a question of importance and urgency. I also agree with my hon. friend opposite that this is not a Party question, but then hon. Members opposite never raised it when they were in office. There is no doubt that some districts have suffered very considerably from the encroachments of the sea, although in other parts the sea is retiring from the old coast line. Unquestionably, coast defence is one of the most important subjects for the consideration of any Government. One town in my own constituency has suffered very severely. It is very difficult for a locality with a small population and low rateable value to protect the coast properly without increasing the burdens of the ratepayers beyond an extent which can be borne. Therefore, I think this is a question of national interest. The right hon Baronet has asked for protection from the political currents that flowed into his district from the direction 874 of Wales. I think the right hon. Gentleman has shown that he is well able to protect himself. There remains the question of the removal of sand and shingle which left the land unprotected at Bridgewater and elsewhere. I promise to look into that matter. In fact, the policy of the Board of Trade in recent years has I been to refuse permits to individuals to remove sand and shingle from the shore. When the House comes to consider on a large scale this matter of protecting our coasts it resolves itself, as nearly all questions do, into a question of money. Suggestions have come from all parts of the House to subsidise local authorities from the Imperial Exchequer in regard to this and many other matters. But this Government, as the hon. Member for Thanet has said, is in its infancy or still in its swaddling clothes, and their moneybox is not very full at this moment. We have not the money to spend on all those schemes on which we would like to spend money. I would remind hon. Members that the Government, has been asked to repeal the coal tax. Next, to throw the whole burden of education upon the taxes—which would mean a trifle of about £7,000,000. Then someone has suggested old age pensions. That is only another £26,000,000. Other suggestions are that light dues and high roads should be put on the taxes. This runs up to just a trifling sum of £50,000,000. These things show how difficult the problem is. Nevertheless, the Government recognise the importance of this matter, and they agree tint the case is one for inquiry. A good many suggestions—some valuable suggestions—as to inquiry, inspection, and the employment of engineers of experience have been thrown out in the course of debate. These suggestions ought to be inquired into. The Government have decided to have an inquiry in the form of a Royal Commission, which will extend not merely to coast defence, but to two or three other kindred subjects—such as waste lands and probably afforestation. The Government recognise the urgency of these questions and propose to appoint a Commission at an early date to inquire into the matter. I do not think anything is to be gained by very hasty action. After all, the sea has been at work for a good 875 many centuries, and I do not think it will act in such a way as to render precipitate action necessary. It is not for the purpose of putting off action that I make this proposal, but rather that we may devise what action shall be taken.
§ MR. AKERS-DOUGLAS (Kent, S. Augustine's)
I do not think we can complain of the tone which has been taken by the President of the Board of Trade. I represent a constituency which has a large seaboard. At St. Margaret's Bay the local authority has requested the Local Government Board to advance money in order to protect the bay from the ravages of the sea, and they have also subscribed liberally of their own money. In a matter of this sort I think some greater liberality might be shown than is now shown with regard to the length of time during which loans are repayable. I associate myself with the request that the Board of Trade should send competent engineers to advise localities. The right hon. Gentleman said that the matter resolved itself into a question of money. I think this question of the defence of the sea coast might receive a little more attention than many of the other claims put forward. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that he is going to grant an inquiry into the subject, but I hope he will not associate too many subject? and that the first consideration will be given to this question of the erosion of the coast. I think we have got as much as we are likely to get from the Government considering the difficulties of the case, and I think my hon. friend might be satisfied with the assurance he has received, that the subject will be dealt with by inquiry without delay.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. JOHN BURNS,) Battersea
Before the Amendment is withdrawn I should like to address one or two observations to the House from the point of view of the Department for which I happen to be responsible in this House. All I can say is that so far as the facilitation of public inquiry is concerned, the Local Government Board will do its best in that direction. The question of long 876 or short periods for the repayment of loans is a very serious one, and one the Department would have to go into very carefully. I have nothing to add to what my right hon. friend has said, except that, so far as my Department is concerned, it will render the Board of Trade the sympathetic co-operation which such an important subject demands.
§ MR. MCVEIGH (Donegal, E.)
said that with regard to private rights in foreshores he had known of many cases in which rights had been conferred upon individuals. Lord Annesley had for many years past to his knowledge been selling sand at 6d. a load from a foreshore with which he was acquainted, and the Crown actually proceeded to make an arrangement with Lord Annesley giving him rights in that foreshore. He had however got a clause inserted in the Act which prevented Lord Annesley from removing sand except at one point. He thought the Commission ought to have power to investigate the whole matter of the Board of Trade giving private property in foreshores to individuals. The second point he wished to put was whether the Commission would apply to Ireland which he urged it should do.
MR. STANLEY WILSON (Yorkshire, E.R., Holderness)
said that after the sympathetic reply of the right hon. Gentleman he would ask leave to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ MR. CLAUDE HAY (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
rose to move an Amendment expressing regret that no remedy had bean proposed to prevent the great want of employment which now existed. Speaking for a constituency which had many rich, but many more poor of the working class within its boundaries, he felt he would betray those who sent him to the House of Commons unless he entered a protest against the unruffled optimism of His Majesty's Government in regard to the trade of the country. We were told in the gracious Speech to congratulate ourselves upon the increase of our exports and imports as indicating 877 the sound and progressive condition of our industrial position. But it was somewhat remarkable that while the gracious Speech recorded the fact that there had been an increase of our exports and imports, not a syllable had fallen in this House or elsewhere from the Government to show sympathy with or any intention to remove, the anxieties and misery from which the unemployed suffered. On the contrary, any executive act of the present Administration had been rather directed to a different purpose. In the Return compiled by the President of the Local Government Board one could see only one intention and that was to alienate sympathy from the unemployed and avert executive action. If that statement was thought to be too strong, he was quite prepared to water it down so as to describe the Return as designed to create the impression that pauperism and unemployment were not so bad as some people thought. It was not his business to defend the Return, but what it showed was that the cost of the pauper was greater now than it was in 1849. It showed also that the number of outdoor paupers had actually and comparatively declined since 1849. But anybody who had the slightest acquaintance with the Poor Law system inaugurated sixty years ago could have guessed that fact. The Returns of unemployment, such as they were, were sufficient for his case, and he would quote from those statements the steady increase of adult able-bodied indoor paupers from .8 per thousand in 1874 to 1.1 per thousand in 1900 and 1.3 per thousand in 1905. Outdoor relief (able-bodied) had dropped from 11.7 per thousand in 1849 to 2.1 per thousand in 1905. Anybody, however, who had given any attention to the question knew that the system which in 1849 was slowly getting to work was bound to reduce the outdoor class. That was its great principle. The figures proved that persons who in 1849 were considered suitable for relief were not now considered suitable. What was the condition of these persons to-day? The figures provided no evidence that these persons were flourishing citizens. It was notorious that for some years past the vagrant class had been increasing. In short, the Return amounted to a declaration that after sixty years of free imports, cheap 878 food, big loaves, trade union wages, temperance movements and reform, we were as we were in the matter of genuine poverty among the able-bodied. Indeed, we were probably worse, seeing that the 1.3 of able - bodied indoor paupers per thousand in 1905 was the outcome of a more rigorous system than the 1.5 per thousand of 1849. He denied that the figures as to imports and exports indicated that our industries were in a sound and progressive condition. Taking Trade Union figures, the statistics of the Statutory Unemployment Committees, and the results of independent researches into the social condition of the people, they showed that the state of our trade was far from satisfactory. Our foreign trade, they were told, had shown an increase. But had the wages of our workmen increased in proportion? That, was the real test, not what profit the trader got, but what wages the British workman got, and how many workmen got no wages at all. The Board of Trade Labour Gazette proved that one out of every twenty trade unionists could not find work in England or Scotland; and if that was so, what must be the condition of unskilled and unorganised labour, and this was what the Government called a sound and satisfactory state of things! There was, in connection with this subject, a useful, but much-derided, Act of Parliament—the Unemployed Act. At least it enabled us to form some estimate of unemployment, though any estimate so formed must fall short of the truth. According to the Board of Trade Labour Gazette, taking London alone, 42,093 persons had been registered as unemployed in the London area. Of these, 8,072 had been given employment-relief at wages barely sufficient to keep body and soul together. What had become of the other 34,000, who had not obtained employment relief? They had been left to starve or were forced into pauperism. In the year in which they were told to congratulate themselves upon the exceptional prosperity of British trade some 34,000 persons most of them willing wage-earners, not wastrels or ne'er-do-wells, were left to starve or go into the workhouses. Whilst there was no suggestion of a remedy for this evil from the Ministerial side of the House, at least they on the 879 Opposition side could claim to have a definite remedy. Unionists believed that a defensive tariff would enormously mitigate the evils of unemployment. Hon. Gentlemen opposite denounced tariff reform, but he believed he would live to see a repetition of what occurred in the first half of last century in regard to the Corn Laws, and that those who now opposed fiscal reform would be the very men to bring it in. There was another Party on the benches near him, the Labour Party, which had a remedy. It was simple and drastic—the re-adjustment of the relations between Labour and Capital. He believed that Unionists and those of the Labour Party would come to recognise that the policies of tariff reform and social reform were closely related—were, indeed, the counterpart of each other, and that what was wanted was more regulation of our foreign and home trade. That must make social reform and fiscal reform go hand in hand. They would get no remedy for the unemployed problem unless it was approached in the right spirit. He believed the President of the Local Government Board and his colleagues would never solve the problem so long as they gazed complacently at Blue books while the people perished, and offered figures and Returns to starving men. The Government did not even handle their own figures properly. They imagined that the increase of imports and the increase of exports according to recent Returns showed an equally satisfactory position. The most significant feature of these trade Returns was that the imports exceeded the exports. Manufactured imports meant less work for the British workman. The excess of imports over exports meant a dead loss to the workmen of this country. The Free Traders declared that the excess of imports represented interest on our foreign investments abroad. Yes, while the rich man derived his profit from abroad, the poor man was unemployed at home.
§ MR. CLAUDE HAY
said he would give the opinion of a writer who he thought would meet with respect. A Socialist 880 writer, Mr. R. B. Suthers, in last week's Clarion said—If the capitalists invest abroad, their capital will find employment for the foreigner, (or the co'onist), and the interest on the investments comes home in the form of goods and may throw British workmen out of employment.That was why they said a defensive tariff would enormously mitigate the evils of unemployment. The Government, they knew, would not regard a defensive tariff as a solution of the unemployed problem or as conducing to the general improvement of our trade; on the contrary, they thought our present trade system was perfect. What was the Government's alternative remedy to remove the evils of unemployment? Were they prepared to follow the lines laid down by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil? He saw no indication of it. The only crumb that could be gathered from the Government was in the last paragraph of the Speech from the Throne in a suggested amendment of the Unemployed Act. Those who were in the last Parliament knew that the rank and file, as well as the leaders of the then Opposition described that measure as a mere tinkering with a great subject. If an Amendment, poked away in the general list of measures which might or might not be dealt with, was their solution of the unemployed problem, then the House could form an accurate measure of the Government's sympathy with the unemployed struggling poor of this country. But there might be some promise in the record of the President of the Local Government Board. On examining that record he was bound to say that it was far from re-assuring. [Laughter.] That laughter showed that the memory of the House, as of the public, was short. When the right hon. Gentleman was one of the Unemployed Committee of 1893 he opposed the proposal of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil that Government grants should be given to local authorities for relief works, the right hon. Gentleman then declaring that "such a policy would debauch workers for a generation." On the same Committee the President of the Local Government Board took the view, which was supported by the present Prime Minister, that those compelled to seek employment relief in times of exceptional distress should be deprived of their votes. Some 881 would say he had quoted from the salad days of the right hon. Gentleman, to he would now take his actions since he had become a Minister. Almost his first act was to inform a deputation of the London unemployed that it was only reasonable that workmen employed under the Act should receive less than the standard rate of wages. [Cries of "No."] All that he could say was that the words were taken from The Times report. If the right hon. Gentleman did not say that those who claimed such relief under the Act were to receive less than the standard rate of wages, did he declare they should receive the standard rate of wages, and if he did not say ei her of those things, what did he say? He also wanted to know how the right hon. Gentleman could reconcile his statement that no man was worth more than £500 a year with the fact that he took £2,000 per annum as President of the Local Government Board in order not to become a blackleg. [Cries of "Withdraw."]
§ MR. CROOKS
asked if the words which he overheard the hon. Gentleman say, "I will go on speaking till all is blue" were strictly Parliamentary.
§ MR. CLAUDE HAY
again endeavoured to address the House, but there were further cries of "Withdraw," and the hon. Member then appealed to the Chair.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must remind hon. Gentlemen that by making use of this form of preventing an hon. Member from speaking they are using rather a dangerous weapon which may be used against themselves. If the hon. Member for Hoxton had said anything which was unparliamentary I should have called upon him to withdraw it. I understand that the expression he used was a quotation and was not an original observation. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will explain.
§ MR. CLAUDE HAY
said the observation he made was taken from a report which he read in a newspaper of a declaration made by the President of the Local Government Board. The state- 882 ment he quoted was that the right hon. Gentleman took a salary of £2,000 as President of the Local Government Board because he would not be a blackleg, although he had declared no man was worth more than £500 a year. If he had misrepresented the right hon. Gentleman of course he would be most ready to apologise as he had no desire to make any personal observation. But he claimed he had quoted his words accurately. He had known the right hon. Gentleman for more than twenty years and it was not his desire to try to make capital out of anything of a personal character. He wanted to show that the right hon. Gentleman's public speeches did not convey any confidence to those who took an interest in the unemployed problem. The next step that the right hon. Gentleman took on acceding to office, was when the Tottenham local authority applied for sanction to employ the unemployed upon a swimming bath. The right hon. Gentleman refused official sanction to the arrangement. [Cries of "No."] Then he should be glad to be corrected by the right hon. Gentleman. Again, the actual word the right hon. Gentleman used to the Lambeth Guardians, who desired to acquire land for a farm colony, were—The history of previous experience does not warrant the assumption that the proposal of the guardians is likely to be attended with that measure of success as would justify the large expenditure it would involve.This tenderness for the interests of the ratepayers' pockets was a new feature in the right hon. Gentleman's character. He would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the expenditure of public money for farm colonies for the unemployed was more profitable than running empty steamboats upon the Thames. Either the words of the right hon. Gentleman meant nothing, or they meant that he was against farm colonies altogether. The right hon. Gentleman could un-questionably claim that he had more drastic and heroic remedies for unemployment before the recent election. In his election address the right hon. Gentleman used the words—A legal eight hours day is the best means of securing work for all.883 He was not quoting from the right hon. Gentleman's revolutionary days, but from the time when he was a Cabinet Minister, and no Cabinet Minister surely would deceive his constituents by advocating that which he believed his colleagues would not allow him to introduce. There was nothing in the King's Speech about an eight hours day, and the House had a right to know whether it was part of the programme of His Majesty's Government or not. When a Minister of the Crown defined an eight hours day as the best means of providing work for all, and there were in London 40,000 men registered as unemployed, of whom 34,000 had received no work by employment relief, but were sent into pauperism or had to starve, the House had a right to know whether the statement of the right hon. Gentleman to his constituents was a mere attempt to get votes, or whether it was part of the policy of the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member. On his side of the House they were satisfied that all was not well with British trade and that all could not be well so long as the bitter cry of the workless workman confronted and shamed His Majesty's Ministers who tried to deceive the nation by cries of Chinese slavery and yet left the workmen of our country to starve. He begged to move.
At the end of the Question to add the words, 'But humbly to represent that whilst Your Majesty records with satisfaction the fact that the imports and exports of the country show a steady and accelerating increase, there is widespread misery among the labouring classes due to want of employment, and this House regrets that no remedy has been proposed in Your Majesty's gracious Speech to prevent the great want of employment which exists."—Mr. Claude Hay.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words "be there added."
MR. G. H.ROBERTS (Norwich)
said that they of the Labour Party were keenly 884 alive to the problem of the unemployed, but they were not going to be a party to making the matter a peg on which to hang fiscal reform. They had a lively recollection of the fight that arose when the controversy was raised by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, and the suggestion of old age pensions was tacked to it so as to make fiscal reform attractive to the working classes of the country. The Labour representatives were well aware of the fact that unemployment was not peculiar to a free trade country, but was even more widely prevalent in a protectionist country. They were also aware that the largest unemployed army of workers in the world was Coxey's army in the United States. The Labour Party were glad to note that it was the intention of His Majesty's Ministers to introduce a Bill dealing with this subject in due course, and whilst they did not desire to embarrass the Government, they hoped no undue delay would be allowed. He entirely dissociated himself from the remarks of the previous speaker. He did not think anything was to be gained for the cause of the unemployed by making personal attacks upon the President of the Local Government Board. He thought it was bad policy to exploit the poverty of the masses in order to display vindictiveness towards a right hon. Gentleman whom they were pleased to know came from the class they were associated with, for they were glad to know that a member of the working class community was considered to be of sufficient fitness and capacity to occupy a seat in the Cabinet of the nation. During the election campaign, not merely for political purposes, they attempted to prove that unemployment would always be with them so long as industries were unregulated and disorganised as they were to-day. He went so far as to submit that while profit-making was the great end of those engaged in industry, so long would it be that large masses of their fellow men would be begging others to permit them to toil and be denied the possibility of utilising their labour to the best advantage. The Labour Members had affirmed that an eight hours day was necessary. At the present time there were railway servants 885 working twice eight hours per day, and they contended that these long hours were wrong and were one of the great causes of unemployment. If the proposals of the Government took the form of doing anything to regulate the hours of industry, then the Labour Party would be for giving them their wholehearted support. He hoped that when the Government drafted their Bill it would not follow the lines laid down by the late Government, under which so many inquisitorial questions, repugnant to the unemployed section of the community, had to be put. The Labour Party hoped that the fact of a man being out of work and willing to work would be a sufficient qualification for work being found for him. He hoped that the principle of fair wages would be constantly kept in view by the Government in all their proposals. He claimed that low wage; were to-day largely the cause of unemployment. How fiscal reform was going to remedy this they had no evidence to prove to their satisfaction. He knew that their trades unions had had to fight for every concession which had been made. He claimed, on behalf of those organisations, that, by increasing the wages of the working classes, they had enhanced their consuming power and in that way they had created an extra demand for labour and had to that extent alleviated the severity of the unemployed problem. They claimed that any remedy must have this end in view. They wanted a just and equitable distribution of the wealth of this country, so that no man woman, or child would be denied the right to exercise to the full the consuming power which was their inherent right. He believed that the Liberal Party were keenly concerned in this problem, but in any case the Labour Party did no intend to allow the problem to be exploited in the interest of fiscal legerdemain. They were willing to wait for the 886 Government proposals, having confidence in the fact that after what had been said they would be able to diagnose the desires and needs of the people, and he hoped those proposals would be of a tangible character and calculated to achieve the ends which they mutually had in view.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. JOHN BURNS) Battersea
The hon. Member for Hoxton has placed on the notice Paper an Amendment in which he expresses regret that the Government is unconcerned with the widespread misery and destitution due to the want of employment. If the hon. Gentleman had confined himself to his Amendment, and to the scope that Amendment would have given him for a useful, impersonal, and practical speech, he might have added to a rather slender Parliamentary reputation. But the hon. Gentleman has used the opportunity, which might have been used in the interest of the poor and for the benefit of the unemployed, for the purpose of instructing and advising the Government, for wasting the time of the House with a réchauffé weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable references to the President of the Local Government Board. To notice them would be to dignify them; to reply to them would give them a substantiality which they lack; and the hon. Member will pardon me if I do not indulge in that recrimination that his attack might provoke—an attack which he must have founded on statements in newspapers, as ignorant of my past record on this subject as the hon. Member himself. But the Government has no right to pass over what is substantial in the hon. Gentleman's remarks. The most substantial suggestion is that the Government display unruffled optimism about the condition both of trade and of the unemployed. If that be true—and it is not altogether true—that optimism is 887 shared by the overwhelming majority of the electorate of this kingdom, for they share the view that our exports are good and are increasing, that our exports are large and are improving. Curiously, in the very year that the hon. Gentleman and his tariff reform friends described England as a dying country with vanishing trade and disappearing industries, the heads of those industries stood up and unhesitatingly gave the retort courteous that they had an answer to every one of those statements. The hon. Member proceeded from his misrepresentation of imports and exports to the Return which, at the request of some hon. Members, I issued as a command Paper the other day. I am the more justified in issuing that Return when I find men who should know better telling the country that there are a million able-bodied men in our workhouses. I have a right to point out that that statement is inaccurate, being 8,223 per cent. wrong. Instead of a million able-bodied paupers there are less than 9,000 all told. The hon. Member suggested that that return was compiled to alienate sympathy from the unemployed. It is a remarkable fact that it was compiled mainly at the instigation of those social students who build upon fact so as to enable them to get a correct representation of the problem with which they have to deal. I will not allow any Member or any right hon. Gentleman, however important a posision he may occupy in public life, to impugn, without repudiation, the figures issued by our disinterested, neutral, impartial, and well-informed Civil servants, who in these matters are beyond fear and above reproach. What the hon. Member should have done, and has failed to do, is to show in what particular the Return is inaccurate, in what respect it has been cooked. Pending such proof, the Return issued under the signature of the distinguished head of the Local Government Board, Sir Samuel Provis, holds the field in spite of the grotesque insinuations of the hon. Member for Hoxton It 888 has been suggested that 1849 was a significant year with which to begin the Return. There was no choice. It is a curious coincidence that the first reliable Poor Law Return synchronises with the beginning of the free trade era. That is neither my fault nor the fault of the late Mr. Richard Cobden; and instead of its being a subject of reproach to the country that, whilst pauperism, indoor and outdoor, has diminished, the cost of maintaining paupers has increased, it is a subject for congratulation, because it shows that under free trade the Poor Law has been humanised, the workhouse is not the Bastille it used to be, and the hospitals of the old days—the free hospitals outside—are in no sense comparable with the Poor Law infirmaries of to-day, in which the treatment of patients is as good as they can get in the average general hospital supported by voluntary contributions. The fact is that the misery of mankind is not increasing. The sympathy of mankind is expanding, and in no respect is it better shown than in the kindly, humanitarian way in which in recent years the poor in workhouses and infirmaries have been treated. I admit with regret that the number of vagrants is increasing. But that is mainly due to mistaken and indiscriminate charity. Since taking my present office, it has been part of my duty in earning this £2,000 a year to make inquiries into this question, and whilst the hon. Member opposite, perhaps, has been otherwise more pleasantly and, probably, more profitably engaged, I have, in the "wee sma' hours ayont the twal," between twelve and five in the morning, been under Waterloo arch and in places where the poor congregate, endeavouring to obtain some insight into the means by which their lot can be ameliorated, and their numbers reduced. Then the hon. Member for Hoxton asked why I had not given any explanation of the Return we have issued in regard to the number of 889 able-bodied men who have been relieved by local authorities other than Poor Law guardians. There is only one reason, and it is that last year the figures were given in two reports, which are accessible to the hon. Member, as he would have known if he had given as much attention to this subject as he has to studying the interesting details of my autobiography. The number of men relieved by means of relief work by the local authorities last year was about 20,000. It is true, I regret to say, that pauperism to-day is higher than it was some years ago. There are 105,000 more indoor and outdoor paupers in England to-day than five years ago. Why? Because we have been wasting our substance on riotous living. There are 24,000 more indoor and outdoor paupers in London at this moment than five years ago. Why? Because in the last ten years£670,000,000, which, should have been spent on reproductive and remunerative works for our skilled and unskilled labourers, has been spent on fireworks in South Africa and other extravagant and futile expenditure for the delectation of mafficking Imperialists, and I must frankly say that the exhibition is not worth the money that has been spent upon it. I have one illustration of that point. I notice that the Irish Members are very properly asking for the amelioration of the lot of the labourers in Ireland. In twenty-eight years private enterprise and State effort has built 25,000 cottages for the Irish people, and those cottages have only cost the sum of money which the last Government spent on chasing the Mad Mullah in Somaliland. If that £4,500,000 had been spent in Ireland even as a free gift, Irish labourers would not have been coming into England as they are to-day and competing with English labourers. Irish bricklayers would not have been competing in the labour market, and that money would have been much more profitably employed. The hon. Member has made a statement 890 which, so far as it affects me, I brush aside. But he has made a reflection on the authors of the last Act and on the Labour Members who watched the progress of the Measure last session. The hon. Member has accused me of suggesting that the men who were employed on relief works set up under the Unemployed Workmen Act should be satisfied with less than the fair or current rate of wages. He ought to know that that statement is far from true. On the contrary, the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil was a member of a deputation, which included the Bishop of Stepney and the Rev. Russell Wakefield, to the Local Government Board; and he will, I am sure, confirm my statement that we insisted upon the current rate of wages being paid; and we properly insisted, as I ever shall insist, so long as I hold my present office, that for relief works under the Unemployed Workmen Act there must always be an incentive for the workmen to resume their normal industrial employment, but that that incentive should take the form not of lower wages per hour, but of fewer hours per day or fewer days per week, so that a man would have an opportunity of looking for his usual and natural employment. It is true that in 1893 and 1894 I said—and I have not changed my opinion materially—that it was a mistake for the Imperal Government to give localities doles and grants indiscriminately except with adequate supervision and control of the expenditure, which is very difficult with relief works. I said that in 1894, and what I have said I have said and adhere to. No doubt I have made a similar remark to that quoted by the hon. Member—that certain men are not worth more than £500 a year. I must have had the hon Member for Hoxton in my mind. As to the Tottenham case which has been quoted, Tottenham applied for a loan of £3,000 for certain recreation-ground work for the unemployed, and my predecessor facilitated the loan. The work was carried out in a way that indicated 891 lack of proper supervision, and there was a loss of £1,000. Tottenham asked that the period of repayment of the loss should be the same as for the loan—viz. twenty-five years. The right hon. Gentleman opposite refused, and I have adhered to that decision. As to the question of the Lambeth farm colony, my withers are unwrung on that question. If the hon. Member knew the facts, instead of disagreeing with me he would rather praise my action. I am bound to subordinate my personal views on many subjects to my official responsibility as guardian of the ratepayers' purse; and I intend to sink the private in the public good. I am not going to allow land agents and others who have got sour and relatively useless lands, unsuitable for farming and agricultural purposes, to palm that land off on innocent town boards of guardians at two or three times the price that it was sold at a short time ago. Therefore, I think I deserve eulogy rather than blame, and I can assure the hon. Member that if he knew as much about that particular colony as I do, he perhaps would have been a little more severe on that district than even I have been. The hon. Member has made a number of silly statements which have been the vogue of ignorant ournalists of the Yellow Press brand during the last ten years. Nearly all those allegations have been the subject of investigation at a trial at the Old Bailey lasting for twenty-one days. On that occasion the hon. and learned Member for the City of London pursued me with a speech which was one of the ablest I have ever heard against myself. Yet the jury acquitted me, and no one rejoiced at the verdict more than the distinguished advocate opposed to me. Since that time how things have changed! Twenty years ago I was answering these allegations in the dock at the Old Bailey-Poetic justice, through the good faith and kindness of my fellow countrymen, has now placed on me the responsibility of 892 showing my fellow working-men a quick road out of the crooked path in which many of them have to live, move, and have their being. Curiously, I have with me the very handbill which I handed to the hon. and learned Gentleman twenty years ago. I would ask the House to note the economic soundness and the moderation of our claim in those days as in the present. We asked the Government to relax the severity of the outdoor relief test for able-bodied men. That I have had the proud privilege of doing myself. We asked public bodies to start works at reasonable rates of wages. That is being done, and has been done. We asked the Metropolitan Board of Works to begin public works and build artisans' dwellings. That has since been done to the extent that we have now forty estates in London with 100,000 county council tenants living in them, as against none ten years ago. We asked for the reduction of hours of labour in Government factories to eight hours a day, and I did my best personally to prevail on the present Prime Minister when he was Secretary for War to carry that most useful reform into practice. The next modest thing was that no firm contracting with the Government should pay less than the lowest trade union rate of wages. We asked that a Bill should be introduced reducing the hours of labour on railways, and I am glad to say that has been done, although I think we have not gone far enough. The tramway workers for whom I also pleaded have had a considerable reduction of hours of labour. Last but not least in this modest programme was the call made on the Government, which I understand the Government is not indisposed to agree to, for an international conference of all civilised commercial nations to consider the industrial questions of child labour, the labour of women, work in dangerous trades and a maximum working day. For advocating these modest and moderate instalments 893 of justice the hon. Member tried to make out that we had done some very dreadful things. Sane men do not do dreadful things. England is—A land of just and old renownWhere Freedom slowly broadens downFrom precedent to precedent.But "slowly" should be eliminated and "quickly" substituted. Now I must for a moment deal with the allegations of widespread misery before I conclude. It is not true that it prevails to the extent which has been stated. I am not going to shelter myself behind figures and percentages. So long as there is one bona fide man or woman, through no fault of his or her own, out of employment, it ought to be the subject of the legitimate concern of every citizen and every Minister. On this subject my convictions are obligations, and as soon as they can be converted into political duty and administrative acts we shall lose no opportunity in so converting them. But you do not improve matters by exaggerating the distress. In 1894 seven per cent. of trade unionists were out of work; in 1904 the figure was 6 per cent.; and in 1905 it was 4 per cent.—a considerable diminution; and I am glad to inform the House that, in the judgment of those experts and specialists who are in a position to know, there is every reason to believe that 1906, 1907, and 1908 will, with the exception of the building trade, probably be the best three years for employment and industry during the last thirty years. My next point is briefly to deal with what has been called the "widespread misery" of the unemployed as registered by the unemployed district committees. And here I must ask that the facts shall be allowed to temper the statement of the hon. Member. There are ninety distress committees throughout the kingdom. Eight only in Scotland have asked for grants from the Queen's Unemployed Fund, five only from Wales, and practically there has been no demand from Ireland until the other day, when the 894 Committee did their best to satisfy Ireland's demand for a share. The hon. Member himself admitted that under the distress committees 8,000 workmen in London are kept going.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
It is not the fault of the committees nor of the Government that the proportion to the number unemployed is so small. It is due to the fact that it is a new organisation and that the committees have great difficulty in doing their work. Hon Members who go further than I do on this unemployed question must admit that, so far as the Local Government Board are concerned, they have stimulated these distress committees to get to work and have supplied them with funds. We have revised the inquisitorial character of the inquiries, and we have made regulations under which these distress committees can do their work. So much for the criticism of the hon. Member. The only thing I have now to do is just briefly to tell the House whore this unemployed question is as raised in the Amendment. At the present moment—and the House must be told this, because these are significant facts which must influence any President of the Local Government Board or Government—we have a Royal Commission sitting on the Poor Law, and, under the second term of their reference, they are to inquire into the various moans outside the Poor Law for meeting distress arising from want of employment during periods of industrial depression. Beyond that, the Commission will have to consider the Unemployed Workmen Act—its object and its scope. The Vagrancy Committee, also dealing with another aspect of the unemployed problem, has concluded its labours, and a valuable and interesting report will be in the hands of Members next week. We have a Small Holdings 895 Committee dealing with a not unimportant phase of the unemployed problem. I believe we shall have great difficulty in potting town dwellers back to the land. It will be more easy to prevent people from coming to the towns, and the Government have wisely decided, as has been announced to-night by the President of the Board of Trade, to institute a Committee that shall be short, sharp, practical and businesslike, to take into consideration the questions of afforestation, the reclamation of waste lands, coast protection, coast erosion, and so forth. I can only say that so far as our Department is able to facilitate that work we shall do our very best. One other point I think it is right to mention to the House. My distinguished colleague the Secretary of State for War has, at the request of those who know this unemployment question well, done a very sensible and practical thing—he is going to give twenty battalions of Militia their training in the winter and during the slackest period of their year. I believe the whole of the Militia might receive their training at the periods which synchronizes with the slackest period of their normal unemployment. Miners, who are busiest in winter, might receive their training in June and July, while, on the other hand, bricklayers' labourers, and men of that class, who have a slack time in winter, might receive their training at that season. But, perhaps, better than all I have mentioned—and I hope the House will pardon me for doing it—is that I have called into conference at the Local Government Board a number of the largest employers of casual labour in this country, those who employ men at intermittent work, to see whether, by appealing to them to set their own house in order, they cannot on their own initiative, and by consultation with each other, mitigate the precariousness of dock, gas-work, and brickfield labour. The hon. Member says that whatever 896 you do you will not seriously affect the problem of the unemployed unless you deal with the question of tariff reform. Two and a half years ago when this question of tariff reform was first brought forward I ventured to say that the agitation and its authors would be "snowed in." My prediction has come true. Not only has the tariff reform Party been "snowed under," but an avalanche has hit them in the midriff. To paraphrase that Americanism, "The subsequent proceedings interest us no more." I venture to say that I have one remedy for unemployment. I believe that what this country wants is immunity from war. I believe that industry is hungering for peace, and that commerce wants economy and retrenchment in every department, and above all, hon. Members must not forget which trades had the largest amount of unemployment. The cotton trade had never had such a good year. The shipbuilding trade last year excelled even its own splendid annals of prosperity-Iron and steel, engineering and machinery, have reached a record in the very years when we were told that the undertaker or the broker's man was to visit them. The trade which has the largest number of unemployed is the building trade. Five years before the war there were only 2 per cent. in that trade out of work, but that percentage is now six times larger. There are no foreigners in the building trade. It is not touched or affected in the least by foreign competition. If the tariff reform proposals were introduced, and if materials were taxed on coming into the country, it would be worse for the building trade. There is simply one reason why the builders are out of work. Since the war the rate of interest on money for private enterprise has risen from 2 per cent. to 3½, 4, and 5 per cent. Let me "bovrilise" these facts. Five years before the war there were 1,012 private Bills got through the House of Commons, 897 Many of these meant the expenditure of £10,000,000, £15,000,000 or £20,000,000 on gas works, electric lighting, tramways, housing, and municipal undertakings. Since the war dear money has prevailed, and local authorities have had high rates. They have withheld the promotion of public works which would otherwise have given employment to a large number of men. The result has been that the number of men unemployed in the building trade has been considerably increased. I am glad to say that the building trade is improving. That improvement will go on as money becomes cheap and as the general trade of the country improves. I beg the House to assist in providing real remedies, but not the economic quackeries that are often suggested, not fiscal fallacies, where the remedy would be worse than the disease, not the proposals of visionary politicians which would sap the independence of the people, postpone permanent reform, and do damage both to the community and the individual by proceeding on the unsound economic lines which these pernicious remedies too often take. The greatest means for the improvement of trade is that in the next twenty years we should not have fourteen wars and expeditions as we had in the last ton years. What we have to do is not to spend so much money on wasteful expenditure, abroad, but to concentrate our efforts on remunerative expenditure at home; help industries in their natural expansion so that they can absorb what are now displaced. What we have clearly to recognise is that it is not sufficient to provide men with irregular work; that it is not sufficient to provide transient relief works. I believe that the best remedy you can provide for unskilled labour, apart from giving steady work, is to see that the wages paid are such that the workman would have a margin wherewith to insure against unemployment. Less money should be wasted on drinking 898 and betting, and wiser provision should be made for the exercise of true providence in the best sense of the word. These are only some out of many of the suggestions that might be made for the betterment of the unemployed. If time permited, and if this were the occasion, I could go into more of the things which the Government have in contemplation. There is no royal road to economic reform or social revolution. The remedies for the unemployed are as numerous as the causes are multifarious. It is the business of the Government to take occasion by the hand, and to help the unemployed whenever that is possible. So far the Government have lost no opportunity of helping the unemployed on every possible occasion, as the several measures in the King's Speech indicate, and I sincerely regret that the time of the House in the debate on the King's Speech should have been more or less wasted, as it has been, in the discussion of this subject to-night.
I trust that I have dealt with the Amendment to the satisfaction of the House generally. I hope I have done it in a tone and temper that have commended my observations to the House. I thank the House for having listened to me so kindly. I would be inhuman if I did not say that I thank the House from the bottom of my heart for enabling me, the first of the ancient lowly, to stand at this box after twenty years to repeat in the same form, and to commend to the House of Commons, what in the old dark days of the unemployed I pressed on the public attention with much less notice. To-night I speak under circumstances and with an environment which are more congenial to me than in the days when I had to appear in the dock of the Old Bailey, where I first met the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the City of London.
§ MR. COURTHOPE (Sussex, Rye)
said the President of the Local Government 899 Board had given an outline of some of the questions with which the Government proposed to deal in connection with the unemployed problem. He mentioned small holdings, and it was to that subject that he himself desired to refer. The question of unemployment was closely tied up with the agricultural question, and he was glad to know that the Government proposals included the remedy of bringing the people back to the land. In endeavouring to find a remedy for the exodus from the rural districts, it was well to look for a moment to the cause of it. It was said during the election, and since then in this House, that the people had been driven from the land by the wickedness of the landlords. He submitted that that was not so. He maintained that they must look further than the landlords for the cause of agricultural depression. To adopt any drastic system of taking people back from the towns to the land, without providing any profitable employment for them, would be a failure. It would be putting the cart before the horse. The people who were brought back to the land must be enabled to cultivate it profitably. Something must be done to revive the agricultural industry. One of the reasons why the agricultural industry required reviving was that we had not produced agricultural commodities sufficiently, and that we had imported too much. Why was it that we imported annually 7,500,000 bushels of onions, between 3,500,000 and 10,000,000 cwts. of potatoes, and £5,000,000 worth of fruit? In January this year we imported 30,000 cwts. of foreign hops. He mentioned fruit and hops because he believed the cultivation of these products required a greater amount of labour than any other cultivation that could be named. One of the best methods, in his opinion, that the Government could adopt in order to bring the people back to the land was to do something to encourage the fruit industry and the 900 hop industry. It was said that the hop and fruit growers wanted protection. What they wanted was to be able to enter our markets with their produce on the same terms as foreigners entered with their produce. Give them fair trade and their farmers would be able to compete. Something should be done for the hop and fruit industry, for if the farmers and fruit growers had fair play, or real free trade, they could meet any competition in the world. We imported too much, and produced too little, and no one would suggest that that was a good thing for our working classes. He hoped that this question of the right of entering foreign markets would be considered by even this Free Trade Government. The present Government, above all others, ought to deal with the question of "back to the land," and the easiest way of doing so would be by reviving our great national industry.
§ MR. HUNT (Shropshire, Ludlow)
said he could not quite agree with the right hon. the President of the Local Government Board in his remarks about the fireworks in South Africa. He would remind the right hon. Gentleman that these fireworks had been caused by the invasion of our country by the Boers and by their insulting ultimatum. If the right hon. Gentleman looked back in history he would see that no great nation had ever been able to go on for any great length of time without a big war. The right hon. Gentleman had also said that fiscal reform was practically dead and buried. He begged to differ from him entirely. They were told quite recently by Lord Avebury and by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil that, in spite of booming trade, unemployment was getting worse and worse. The Member for Merthyr Tydvil said that the misery caused by want of work was very terrible and continuous, so that the booming trade did not seem to have 901 done the working people very much good. [Cries of "Divide."] He did not come to the House with the intention of speaking, but he would ask the right hon. Gentleman what he proposed to do in this case? The First Lord of the Admiralty had much work to do for the British Navy, but the Government contractors, Messrs. Jackson, told them that they were going to buy till the granite they required for the Keyham Harbour Works in Norway because they could get it cheaper there than here, and that the reason of that was because the Norwegian workman got only about half the wages the British workman required. An hon. Gentleman had said that the British Government should be a model employer, and should pay the union rate of wages; but, he asked, did they insist on the foreign employer of labour paying the same rate of wages as here? And if not, how were they going to give employment to the British workman if they got goods from foreign countries at cheaper rates than they could be obtained at here? Take the wool industry. The tax in America on woollen goods was £94 for every £100 worth. The consequence was that America kept its own market to itself, and sent its surplus goods to this country free and sold them at cost price, or sometimes at less than cost price. While imports from this country were heavily taxed—Lord Kelvin said at about the rate of 12½ per cent.—the Americans sent their goods over here without paying a halfpenny for their admission. Therefore we were practically paying the Americans £10 or £12 upon every £100 of goods received. That was the way in which it appeared to him. He thought at all events that it was very well worth the while of those who represented labour to look very closely into the matter in order to see whether it was not possible that those who believed in free imports were wrong and that the whole of the rest of the civilised world right.
902 Question put, "To add at the end of the Address, 'But humbly to represent that, whilst Your Majesty records with satisfaction the fact that the imports and exports of the country show a steady and accelerating increase, there is widespread misery among the labouring classes due to want of employment, and this House regrets that no remedy has boon proposed in Your Majesty's gracious Speech to prevent the great want of employment which exists.'"
§ Question negatived, and Main Question again proposed.
§ COLONEL LOCKWOOD (Essex, Epping)
said he had to move an Amendment to the Address in regard to throwing the cost of the maintenance of the public roads upon the Imperial Exchequer. He was bringing the subject forward in accordance with a promise which he made in his election address. [MINISTERIAL Laughter.] Evidently, from those cheers, hon. Members opposite were astonished at any one endeavouring to redeem promises given at the election. The reason he had interested himself in the matter was that if his suggestion were adopted the main roads of England would be kept in a better condition and the ratepayers in the country districts would be materially relieved. The main roads of England were daily becoming more used, and although they were better than in days gone by they left a good deal to be desired. He thought the system in France was one which might be adopted with great advantage to ourselves. There were national roads supported by the State and other roads in the maintenance of which the State assisted. Under these circumstances the roads in France left but little to be desired. This subject had already engaged the attention of several Commissions, and the Local Taxation Commission of 1900 recommended that one half of the 903 expense of the national roads should be borne by the Imperial Exchequer. Two secretaries of the Treasury concurred in that view, and there were also references made to the subject by the Committee on Highways, which reported in 1903. He was afraid that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not be able to give him a very sympathetic answer, but he had no doubt that the President of the Local Government Board would give the matter his attention, as the question was of the utmost importance in the rural districts.
At the end of the Question, to add the words:—'But humbly regret that no mention is made of any arrangement for making the maintenance of public roads a charge on the Imperial Exchequer.'"—(Colonel Lockwood.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. ASQUITH,) Fifeshire, E.
I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that this is a matter which we cannot well deal with until we come to consider the question of local taxation, and I promise to consider the matter then.
§ COLONEL LOCKWOOD
intimated that in view of the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman he would withdraw his Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.904
Resolved, "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
§ "We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
§ To be presented by Privy Councillors and Members of His Majesty's Household.