HC Deb 24 March 1908 vol 186 cc1324-35
MR. GOULDING (Worcester)

said that he did not know whether, having regard to the hour, hon. Members would desire him to proceed. [Cries of "Go on."] Very well; in that case he would move: "That this House, regarding with anxiety the increase of unemployment among the working classes, is of opinion that with a view to its diminution such a reform of our fiscal system should be adopted as would check unfair competition, lead to a reduction in the hostile tariffs of foreign countries, provide a basis for mutual preference between the Mother country and the Colonies, and increase the demand for labour at home." He thought that no apology was necessary for bringing this subject before the House again, because in a time of record exports and imports the problem of unemployment was acute and the gravity of the question could not be ignored. A Liberal morning paper, the Daily News, had made the following statement— Men who never walk in unemployed processions, men who would scorn to register at the town hall, men who would rather die than accept the hospitality of the guardians of the poor, are to-day to the number of hundreds of thousands seeking employment. In support of this view lot them consider the statistics with regard to emigration. Ten years ago our emigration was 60,000; in 1906 it had risen to 195,000; and lest year it was 240,000. In Germany, with a population 50 per cent. greater, emigration was but a fraction of what it was here. Yet formerly the emigration in both countries was about the same. In Germany, with an altered fiscal system, and a population increasing at a greater rate than here, the emigration was stationary, and ranged from 25,000 to 30,000 a year. In this country last year four out of every hundred in skilled trades were unemployed, against one per hundred in Germany. At the present time our average had risen to six, compared with two or two and a half in Germany. We had a far larger proportion out of work in the unskilled trades, but if only the same proportion were taken there could not be less than 600,000. The future held out a prospect of an increase of the number of people engaged in casual work—the most unsatisfactory of all. Mr. Sadler said that British parents were less inclined than ever to apprentice their boys because trades changed so frequently that there was no permanency of em- ployment. [A Voice: "Machinery."] No, it was not machinery, but unfair competition. A few years ago they were told that this country had fallen behind in commercial enterprise because the people lacked technical education. Now, however, large sums had been expended to make our technical schools efficient, but what was the use of that if, when the pupils had learned their crafts, there was no work for them? They were in the position of the owner of the horse who received a bill from the veterinary surgeon: "To curing your horse until he died, £2 10s." The evil of unemployment existed; it was pressing, chronic, and increasing. The Labour Socialist Party had put forward their cure in two Bills this session, the "Right-to-Work" Bill, now known as the "Will-not-Work" Bill, and the Bill to limit employment in any trade to eight hours—a proposal so riddled by objections in the discussion that the Leader of the Party last Wednesday desired to withdraw the Bill, and dare not face the ordeal of a division. But what had the Government done? They had been two years in office with a Labour Member at the head of the Local Government Board. [MINISTERIAL Cheers.] Yes, hon. Members opposite cheered him now.


They do not cheer him in Battersea.


said that the Government had not even sketched out the general lines of a policy to deal with the problem. Not having a policy of their own, this Government of Royal Commissions might doubtless have appointed a further Commission, but in their mental destitution they postponed all action. They waited in the hope that a Commission appointed by the late Government to inquire into the Poor Law system, and to report on the treatment of the aged poor, the infirm, the unworkables, and tramps, might suggest how work was to be found for willing, able workmen seeking work to-day. What a mockery it all was! The Secretary to the Local Government Board came forward with the proposal that women should be turned out of the industrial life of the country, without any regard to the number of homes that would be deprived of the breadwinner if such a cruel policy were carried out. It would be interesting to note how the Under-Secretary for the Colonies treated this proposal of his colleague when he returned to Lancashire, if prophecy was true, for re-election in the near future. The President of the Board of Trade admitted that we were sick, or going to be sick, so he would summon all the captains of industry to confer on the condition of the nation, but they must leave their fiscal notions on the door-mat. In other words, the surgeons were to be summoned, but they must leave their operating instruments outside. Yet in his Patents Act the right hon. Gentleman had prohibited all competition from outside in certain trades, and made possible monopolies, while all that tariff reformers desired was the imposition of a tariff to safeguard national industries from unfair competition. What was the lesson that had been taught in recent times? If in a period of booming trade there was this unemployment, what would be the position when we witnessed bad trade, and the lean years were on us? If work would not go round for the people seeking employment in time of boom, what would be the case in time of trade depression? Was there no remedy possible but the enforced and increased emigration of some of the most promising of our working people? He believed that there was. When we adopted free trade we had no rivals to fear. To-day the matter was different, and we could no longer continue with impunity to give our competitors the immense advantage of free access to our markets, and at the same time endure every restriction they chose to impose against our goods desiring to enter their markets. Tariff reformers did not say that all unemployment was due to unfair competition and hostile tariffs, but they did say that on the evidence of employers and workmen a great part was due to these causes, and they proposed by tariffs to remedy what was possible.

MR. VIVIAN (Birkenhead)

Will the hon. Gentleman explain what unfair competition there is in the building trade, which employs 1,000,000 hands?


said that if the hon. Member would wait he would come to the trades in a moment. Did the hon. Member know the amount of goods produced for the building trade under sweated conditions? Last year we imported into this country £150,000,000 worth of manufactured goods, and some £80,000,000 must have been spent on labour. It was considered that a portion of those goods could be equally well made in this country, and that reasonable security would attract capital here which was now invested in foreign lands by our own people. Let them take the case of iron and steel. Did anyone suggest that that trade had not been injured? Fifteen years ago we were first in the production of steel and and iron, five years ago we had fallen to second place, and to-day we held a bad third. The United States and Germany had both passed us. We were under no disadvantage in regard to supply of material, the skill of our workmen, or the efficiency of our methods. We had only one advantage. We had the advantage of having the best coal produced anywhere at our very door. We started the competition at the top of the world; the position had been wrested from us by a deliberate policy of securing the large market at home first, and then dumping their surplus here in our open markets. To-day ship plates were offered in our markets at a price at which we could not produce them, and we were threatened with further disaster. Then with regard to the silk trade, in almost every branch of that industry there was less employment. Mills were closed at Macclesfield, Nottingham, Derby, Manchester, and London, Firms who formerly weaved silk goods now simply were makers up of German, Swiss, and Italian manufactures. The trades that had been killed or crippled were known to all. [An HON. MEMBER: What trades? How many?] The hon. Member knew well enough. He was not going to be drawn aside by side issues. If he wanted more information he could get it in the Budget debates—at any rate Members on the Unionist side of the House would raise these matters on all possible occasions. He heard last week of the case of a manufacturer in the Midlands who until recently employed several hundred hands in his factory. He had ceased to manufacture, and he was now simply a buyer and seller, and the men had been dismissed. What were the facts? That man had as a manufacturer to face the keenest competition, and ultimately similar goods were sold in the markets he supplied at actually cost price. On inquiry he found that they were made in Germany. On communicating with this German rival, he found that the price was to be still further reduced, but that if he cared to do so the German would let him have what he wanted for sale at present price. He consulted his trade-unionist workmen to learn if they would be prepared, by taking reduced wages, to join him in fighting against the German. They rightly declined, seeing no limit to what this might entail, as security against unfair competition did not exist. The manufacturer, as a consequence, came to terms with the German and converted himself into a buyer and seller, and thus made his profit while he was relieved of his responsibility as an employer. But if he was going on with his trade it was the intention of the German firm to sell the goods which he manufactured below cost price. [MINISTERIAL Cries of "What goods?" "What trade?"] Hon. Members opposite would like to indulge in inquisitorial business, but he was not going to submit to it. Had hon. Gentlemen opposite such a high opinion of the Members of this House as to believe that a Member would get up and state a thing which to his own knowledge was untrue? [Renewed cries of "Name," and "What goods?"] In spite of the interruption he would continue the argument. This manufacturer came to his workmen and told them what was the deal proposed by the German manufacturer, and asked his workmen if they and their trade union would stand in with him in the competition with the German manufacturer by taking reduced wages. [Renewed interruption and cries of "Where," and "Name."] The workmen rightly declined to do so, because they had no security whatever as regarded their future liabilities, and there would be no safeguard for their trade, and their wages would be permanently reduced. What happened? The manufacturer as a consequence came to terms with the German. [An HON. MEMBER: He never did; and renewed cries of "Name," and "What goods?" "hat trade?"] He declined to give the information, and dismissed the observation of the hon. Gentleman opposite as a specimen of good manners of the party which contained a great number of Gentlemen who were not English five years ago. [Renewed interruption, and MINISTERIAL ironical cries of "Manners."] This gentleman had ceased to be a manufacturer. [MINISTERIAL cries of "Of what?"] had turned his factory into a warehouse, had become a buyer and a seller, and was making his profit while his employees were scattered abroad. [Renewed cries of "What goods?" "What trade?"]


I would not interrupt, but of course, at this hour there will be no opportunity for reply. I therefore think we are entitled to ask the hon. Member, not with a view to identification, but of testing the effect on the whole trade, what was the particular class of goods? There may be special reasons why this gentleman gave up his factory.


said that the gentleman was a manufacturer of lamp-holders. [MINISTERIAL laughter.] He dared say that hon. Gentlemen who laughed would much prefer that those lamp-holders should be manufactured in Germany. At any rate, 400 hands who were getting a living in manufacturing those goods were now dispersed abroad. [Cries of "Where?"] What he was asking the Party opposite, who were champions of Free Trade, was, what was to happen to the workmen who were thrown out of employment? They knew that Germany and the United States were largely increasing their productive capacity, and they were casting on these shores their surplus goods which they could not get rid of at home. The position was entirely different from what it was sixty years ago. They wanted to meet these altered conditions with a complete change in our fiscal system—broadening the basis of taxation—safeguarding national industries against unfair competition, giving us the means to negotiate with, foreign countries, and providing the basis for mutual trade advantages within the Empire, and supporting our best customers. He desired to deal with one point alone. All parties were alarmed at the naval policy which had been promulgated by Germany, whose strength lay in this condition of unemployment of our people. If the German naval policy was persisted in a vast expenditure would be imposed on this country, for both parties in the State were agreed on the maintenance of the two-Power standard. We had at present no effective means of getting Germany to re-consider her policy. But supposing we had a tariff? Did hon. Members think for one moment that Germany, sending the greatest portion of her exports to this country, would not hesitate if we had the power by levying a tax on her goods entering this country to raise the money for the extra ships which her mad policy forced upon us. The Member for Glasgow in his Amendment rightly stated that the greatest obstacle that could be erected against the policy of the Labour Socialist Party was the policy of tariff reform linked with Imperialism, and he readily understood their position. How were the Government meeting the Socialists? The Bills they had proposed this session if passed must increase the number of the unemployed, and were mainly concerned with party politics. The President of the Local Government Board might raise laughter in the House about expeditions to soup kitchens, but wretched men and women outside seeking employment in order that they might buy bread would take a different view. The writing was on the wall, and whenever opportunity was afforded them the electors would in his opinion declare for a policy of tariff reform as alone likely to give more employment, and at the same time, defeat the dangerous policy of Socialists. He begged to move.

*MR. FLETCHER (Hampstead)

in seconding the Resolution, saw that wherever he went, he found there was a feeling amongst the artizan classes of the intense unpopularity of the Government. He had said to them "Where are your leaders? Why do you not tell them what you have been telling me, so that they might put pressure on the Government?" When Cardinal Manning, before he was a teetotaler, explained to an audience that owing to the weakness of his digestion he was obliged to take a little stimulant, somebody said "Change your doctor." Cardinal Manning did so with success. To the artizan classes of this country who wanted work he gave the same advice "Change your leaders," and there would be fewer men out of work. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget speech spoke for more than two-and-a half hours without mentioning the unemployed, and in the King's Speech there was not a word about unemployment. What the Government had done had been to increase unemployment. Although when in Opposition they had denounced doles, they now relied upon doles. They denounced the Agricultural Rates Act with bitterness as a dole, but they had not been in office two or three months before they commenced doles. They had given a dole of £25,000 to necessitous school areas and a dole of £200,000 to the unemployed, which was to be repeated this year. They were also feeding their small holders with doles. Their Small Holdings Act would be an absolute failure. What the Government should do was to put a small duty on hops. If they did not put a duty on imported foreign hops there was not a county in England interested in hop growing who would not discard the Liberal candidates at the next general election. Small duties such as he advocated were the only means of enabling men without capital to make a living upon the small holdings which had been provided by the Government. There would be no real danger in these duties and there would be no real increase of cost or very little to the consumer, because production would be stimulated by them and many thousands of young men would be able to put money in their pockets if the duties were imposed. Surely it was better to pay a little more for their goods and provide employment for thousands of their fellow countrymen than to pay a little less and be obliged to devote the difference to the relief of pauperism. He begged to second.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House, regarding with anxiety the increase of unemployment among the working classes, is of opinion that with a view to its diminution such a reform of our fiscal system should be adopted as would check unfair competition, lead to a reduction in the hostile tariffs of foreign countries, provide a basis for mutual preference between the Mother Country and the Colonies, and increase the demand for labour at home."—(Mr. Goulding.)


I have only a few minutes in which to reply on this subject and, therefore, I cannot hope to follow the hon. Gentlemen who moved and seconded the Amendment in their observations, but there are just one or two things I should like to say. After listening to their speeches any one who knew nothing at all about the condition either here or in foreign countries would come to the conclusion that this was the only country where there was any unemployment. In this country we have 100,000 men out of work according to the hon. Member. [Cries of "Six hundred thousand."]


was understood to say that he took the figure 600,000, proportionately, from the Returns of the skilled trades.


That shows the loose way in which tariff reform statistics are prepared. Of course, nothing of the kind can be done. We have the statistics of the building trade and the shipbuilding trade and both are subject to fluctuations in every country, and nothing we do can prevent violent fluctuations in those trades. But, to take such trades as agricultural labourers and those engaged in transport, the fluctuations are very small. Therefore, when the hon. Member takes such a case as the building trade and tries to draw a general inference from it, he shows that he has not studied the elements of the problem he proposes to treat in this sweeping fashion. Let us take what happens in Germany. If the hon. Member will look at the Report issued by his own Government five years ago, he will find that in Berlin alone there were 93,000 people practically out of work in 1901. In London, if one takes the proportion to population, what should we have? We should have 240,000 persons practically in the same position. Will any one tell me that in 1901 or in the present year there are 240,000 people in London out of work who are capable of working? No answer. In Berlin at the present moment there are 45,000 men out of work. That is the result of investigation.

MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley

Whose investigation.


An investigation by the officials of the Board of Trade, which I will lay on the Table in a very short time. Let us take what is happening in America, a tariff country. This is the result of the investigation of The Times—surely not very partial to the free trade case— In New York there are 34 per cent. of workmen unemployed. There are some hopeful signs in other industrial centres, but on a conservative estimate, taking the country throughout, from one-quarter to one-third of those usually employed in all trades and industries are at the present moment paid off. Why does not the hon. Member say that? To tell the workmen out of work in this country that they are out of work because we have no tariff, knowing at the same time that in one of the highest tariff countries one-third or one-quarter are out of work—wilfully, deliberately—I will not say with knowledge, but it ought to be knowledge—withholding these relevant and important facts from people who must always be trembling in any country from fear of losing their employment, is unfair, dishonest. The hon. Member of all things in the world chose shipbuilding. His speech is the speech he has delivered on fifty tariff reform platforms where there was no one to reply. Did he ever inform his audience what the shipbuilding proportions are? Take last year. [The right hon. Gentleman, was interrupted at this point by loud Opposition cries of "Peckham," "Resign," "This is an answer to your figures," "You will be unemployed directly," and "Free trade is dead," accompanied by loud Opposition cheers.]


Order, order.


I am not disposed to complain of the interruption. I have been through that stage myself. I am afraid I have taken part in similar demonstrations. [MINISTERIALIST cries: Not on beer.] If hon. Members will allow roe to proceed, I was dealing with shipbuilding, when a result apparently came in which, I think, has reference to another trade, and a much less beneficial one, certainly having nothing to do with water. Let us look at the figures of last year. ["Let us look at the figures of to-night."] I have only three or four minutes, and I do not care how bye-elections are decided if we are allowed to state the whole facts. What are the facts? Last year we built 1,600,000 tons in our yards—in this broken-down country that cannot provide employment. Take all the shipbuilding yards in the world, including the yards where they build for the lakes of America, where we cannot get a ship in. All the rest of the world's shipbuilding put together comes only to 1,170,000 tons. Let the hon. Member tell his audiences that we are maintaining our supremacy. The hon. Member quoted building. Why is the building trade bad? Because money is dearer. Why is money dearer? Because hon. and right hon. Gentlemen spent £220,000,000 on the South African War—[Renewed interruption.] I have a suggestion to make to hon. Members. They have made their speeches. There has been no opportunity of reply. This is a first-class matter. On Tuesday night a second Motion is to be moved from our side. I suggest that the debate shall be renewed then. In the meantime I will not prevent the House from coming to a division.


I hope the House will allow me to say a word. I understand the right hon. Gentleman, who has just spoken, has made an offer——

And it being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Tuesday next.