HC Deb 18 March 1910 vol 15 cc710-33

I desire to avail myself of the opportunity afforded by this Report stage to offer some observations on the administration of the Labour Exchanges, and a few remarks also with regard to the condition of the unemployed and the working of the distress committees. During the last General Election we heard a great deal about the unemployed, and whatever may have been the leading issue in that contest it cannot be denied that in every constituency the question of unemployment had a leading place. In the discussions in this House it is to be hoped that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who took their part in the controversy during the election will exhibit a corresponding interest in seeking a solution of the unemployed difficulty. The Labour Exchanges have only recently been established, and they ought not to be subject to severe criticism in this very early stage of their experimental work. At the same time, faults which are provable ought to be pointed out, as they might be remedied. The opening of these exchanges was almost simultaneous throughout the country, and the newspapers provided us with scores of photographs, showing, I believe, in some cases thousands of men assembled outside, in order to prove the degree of unemployment and consequent distress and suffering. The Labour party are wishful to see the success of the exchanges for the particular purpose for which they were created. We never believed that they would do much to actually provide work. We believe, however, that they will do a great deal to direct workers to the place where work exists, and that they will tend to lessen the degradation that is involved in a man's travelling about from place to place.

We were informed when the Labour Exchanges Bill was under the consideration of the House that the business of the exchanges themselves would be largely a matter of the regulations under the various clauses of the measure then under consideration. Those regulations have recently been issued, and I thank the right hon. Gentleman for supplying me with a copy in order that I might see exactly what the1 position was. I do not allege that we have any very large number of faults to find with the terms of the regulations, but there are two or three points which I wish to submit to the attention of the President of the Board of Trade. One clause in the regulations declares that any association of employers or workmen may find at a Labour Exchange a statement with regard to the existence of a strike or lookout affecting the trade in a particular district. That statement is only to be in force for seven days from the date of its being filed, and must be renewed from time to time. I should like to point out that this matter of filing particulars or information as to strikes has not been made an obligation upon those who are involved in these troubles. We think it essential that it ought not to be left to the discretion or will of either the employer on the one hand or the workers' organisation upon the other. The obligation should be upon both, and we have to be more strict than the regulations have so far made them. I come across a regulation relating to agreements between associations of workmen and employers with regard to conditions of labour and rates of pay. The regulation says:— Mutual arrangements between associations of employers and workmen may, with the consent of the two parties, be placed with the Labour Exchanges, and documents so filed shall be open to inspection upon application. I cannot find in any other part of the regulations explanations as to the meaning of that concluding statement. To whom will these documents be available? Will the workmen applying for a situation at the Exchange, and being offered one, be able to apply then for permission to see these agreements so filed, and will he have an opportunity of doing so?

The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Buxton)



That makes that point clear, but a more important question in the regulations, to my mind still requiring some explanation, is that with regard to trade disputes. I have examined the statements given to this House by the right hon. Gentleman, who is now the Home Secretary as to what the purpose and intention of the Government was in regard to trade disputes, and the House was assured by him that neither party to the dispute would be aided in the struggle. Where there is a struggle with regard to wages it is obvious that there is a dispute, and also, on the other hand, it is equally obvious where the employers lock out a body of men there is really no question as to whether a dispute exists or not in those cases. It is patent to all concerned. But our experience in regard to labour questions shows that on very many occasions the employers effect a reduction of wages by a piecemeal process without any evidence of the dispute existing. Now, supposing an employer had a workman who was receiving 30s. a week, and if he left the employment or was dispensed with he was replaced by the employer engaging a man at 28s. a week; thereby the employer would effect a reduction in his wages. I would like to know whether in that case Labour Exchanges could or would be used for the purpose of effecting the ends of the employer by this piecemeal reduction brought about in this way, and I can assure the House that these reductions are very extensive and very serious indeed in the case of a large number of bonâ-fide labouring men who have not the defensive powers or the means of organisation belonging to the better-paid class of men. Another point of the regulations is as to whether the right hon. Gentleman would under no circumstances admit so far as he could prevent it the use of these Labour Exchanges for helping employers of labour to engage nonunion workmen in preference to trade unionists. I have here, for instance, a communication which reached me only this morning to the effect that a workman applied to a Labour Exchange at Clapham and asked for his name to be placed on the lists. He was asked if he was a trade unionist. Another member in this same neighbourhood—he is connected with the Wandsworth Trade and Labour Council—relates that he had exactly the same experience, and also stated that there is an advertisement of work shown in the window of this Labour Exchange for a brick burner, and the advertisement declares that a non-unionist would be preferred.


It is distinctly improper on the part of the manager to ask a man whether he is a trade unionist or a non-unionist. It is not his business at all, and I have stopped questions of that effect being asked.


I am very glad to hear that statement from the right hon. Gentleman, and I should like to ask whether the windows may be used for advertisements for non-union workmen for certain employers of labour. A further aspect of this matter was the subject of a question to the right hon. Gentleman a day or two ago, and generally I gathered from his answers that his Department was only wishful to maintain a neutral position as to these matters between employers and employed, but I put it to him that if the effect of these Labour Exchanges is to supply non-union labour to employers and to stipulate for nonunion labour—if that is the effect of the administration, it cannot be said that the Labour Exchanges are maintaining a neutral attitude towards the two sides. The particulars that I have in a case show that a particular firm, the Leadhill Company, Limited, near Glasgow, has for long had a continued dispute between itself and its men because it insists on demanding that the men shall absolutely forfeit the elementary right, which workmen generally in this country possess, of being and remaining members of unions if they so desire to do. Here are the terms of the agreement, as it is called, which this firm insists upon the workmen signing as a condition of employment:— The workman will faithfully and diligently employ himself at the mines of the company and guard and defend its property from spoil, waste, and injury. He will be submissive to and obey orders given to him by those in authority at the mines. He is not to he a member of any trade union and will not join any such union while in the service of the Company. If the said so and so shall at any time refuse to perform or comply with any of the conditions of this agreement, he shall be liable to be dismissed, and to forfeit all sums of money which may be due v him by the company in the name of wages or otherwise. One need not go back to the discussion which occupied the time of this House so often during the days of our Chinese labour Debates, but I do not think that anyone then alleged that the men who were imported into South Africa were placed under more stringent or degrading conditions and terms of service than this firm has sought to impose on its men. We do not wish to apply too strong terms of criticism in this early stage of the work of these exchanges. We look forward, indeed, to the exchanges becoming most important centres of helpfulness to the industrial population of the country, so that we are waiting, not merely with interest, but with concern, for the promised pronouncements on those other subjects of industrial legislation which form the material for speeches in this House and in the country. I do not know whether it is too early to ask the right hon. Gentleman how soon he may be able to place before us the main points of the proposals with respect to unemployed insurance. We are, of course, now engaged throughout the country in the experimental work of regulating the wages of the sweated workers in the various trades affected by the wages boards, and we are wishful to make these exchanges as early as possible more than mere signposts for the men who are out of work. They ought to be centres for giving any beneficial form of State assistance to the working classes of this country.

I wish also to submit a few points with regard to distress committees, and the general position of that large number of working men who at this moment are unemployed. We have all been pleased recently to observe some improvement in the condition of the labour market, and it may be that the tendency is in the right direction. But supposing in the next month or two, what we can hardly suppose with confidence, that the number of unemployed now in the country will be diminished by one-half, there would still be over 2½ per cent, of unemployed and a great unemployed problem for the House to concern itself with. The prospects are not sufficiently hopeful to cause us to believe that no exceptional or special effort is required during the course of this year on the part of the right hon. Gentleman who is at the head of the Local Government Board. Now I find that a number of the distress committees are forming the impression that not only has their glory departed, but that their task is completed by the establishment of the Labour Exchanges. That is, I think, a great mistake on the part of these distress committees, and I should like to know if adequate steps have been taken to prevent this mistaken conclusion. I have seen resolutions in the Press in the case of certain towns intimating that these distress committees would be kept open for a short time, but indicating the intention to close them up on the assumption that the unemployed classes were being provided for in other ways. The outlook does not justify any attitude of non-interference with regard to this difficulty on the part of the distress committees. I find from the figures available for the area covered by the Central (Unemployed) Body in London, that the situation is almost as bad now as it was when the most extreme steps were taken by the right hon. Gentleman. In Stepney the figures I have show that in the five months from September to February, 1,654 men applied for work, 85 per cent, of whom were declared to be fit for labour. Only 345 were found any employment whatever.

We have heard some hon. Gentlemen in the House, and in the country, offer as one solution of the unemployed problem, facilities for emigration. Even these, it appears, have almost entirely broken down. Of 130 persons registered as wishful to emigrate who applied for the facilities which are assumed to exist, only six emigrated, the remainder, I am assured, being rejected or not being provided for because they could not give the necessary security for the repayment of expenses. I think there are few working men in this country who are wishful to leave its shores who are in a position to give guarantees in regard to the payment of money. Men and women who are able to raise sums of money, who can, in a sense, procure for themselves credit, are usually wishful to provide for themselves without leaving their own land.

I want, also, to put to the right hon. Gentleman the complete figures, as I have them, for the whole area covered by the Central (Unemployed) Body. Roughly, I find that there were 45,000 persons registered, only 6,000 of whom were found any employment whatever. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman has also observed that so acute is unemployment in certain provincial centres that demonstrations are organised in some of them, Manchester, for instance, and I observe that a few days ago a deputation, consisting almost entirely of unemployed workmen, visited the Lord Mayor of Salford to place the distress of the unemployed of the district before him. We have, so far, received no intimation, no hint of an encouraging character whatever, with regard to the further provisions which will have to be made, I assume, if the difficulty is to be met. We have questioned the right hon. Gentleman as to his intentions about a further grant of money. It may be that the time has not arrived for him to make an announcement, but I think we ought to have some assurance that it is not intended to discontinue the sums of money which have been previously provided to some small extent, at any rate, to meet the distress of the unemployed. We were fortified by promises from this side of the House during the last Session of Parliament, and again especially during the election contest we have heard a good deal about the millions which were to be spent upon the unemployed. I saw announced this morning the intention of spending somewhere about £8,000,000 to meet the difficulties of the unemployed classes. The distresses of the unemployed are themselves too keen to justify this deception, which is practised for mere vote-catching purposes. If we really mean to deal with the unemployed we should lose no time in doing 60. Starving men cannot possibly wait. The money, of course, has not been provided, and all manner of reasons are given as to why more money has not yet been offered. But if it be true that obstruction is placed in another place on any of the intentions of the Government with regard to the providing of money for the purposes of social reform, that, I think, would justify the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in even providing more money by such means as he was able on a former occasion to provide it, and, therefore, to escape any check or obstruction which the House of Lords might have placed upon their intentions. In addition I would say that the money which has been provided, in my judgment, has not been fairly distributed, and the men have not been allowed to continue in employment after a period of sixteen weeks, though individual cases are known where extreme distress was suffered by the men with families. The regulations are so drawn that at the end of sixteen weeks they must cease the employment. Most of these men are not able, after a short interval, to obtain any work for themselves in the ordinary private market, and I think a little more leniency should be shown in regard to men whose circumstances are really distressful. When they are turned away from the work provided for them they cannot possibly hope to find employment in the ordinary private market.

I have here particulars of an undertaking which, if sanctioned by the Local Government Board, would have provided work for some hundreds of men. That work was of the nature which we have always understood the Government are willing to provide. The Herne Bay Urban District Council submitted some time ago to the Central (Unemployed) Body particulars with regard to certain constructive work, and supplied also the necessary information as to their own intention. The report said that the council had spent considerable sums at various times in sea defence works, and only as recently as last month they were called upon to repair damage done to their seawalls by the storm experienced at that time. It is anticipated that, if the proposed work should be carried out, the danger of the sea being able to destroy the coast defence will have been greatly diminished and an effectual barrier to further erosion provided.

The Council report:— Originally a bay existed at this portion of the const, but owing to the destructive and erosive influence of the sea, the headlands were washed away, and a danger now exists of the land on which the town is situated becoming a peninsula, by reason of the inroads of the sea on the unprotected eastern and western boundaries. The cliffs more immediately concerned with this proposed work are principally composed of loamy soil with clay substrata, and owing to the constant percolation of surface water through the ground and to the action of the waves at the base, they are constantly crumbling away and falling into the sea in a detrited condition. The work when completed would not only ensure a certain immunity from the erosive effects of the sea, but would provide a promenade at the base of the cliff. The council are willing to pay for all materials, allow their surveyor to give the necessary expert supervision, and provide an experienced man to supervise the work of pile driving, and they are willing to provide the halls, for the accommodation of the men. The Central (Unemployed) Body made the following statement:— The committee are of opinion that the work is essentially of an unskilled character, consisting chiefly of the cutting away of earth. The one advantage in this particular class of work is the ease with which same, can be measured up, and the efforts of the various gangs checked, which, in the opinion of the committee, is very necessary when dealing with unemployed labour. The particulars were duly forwarded to the right hon. Gentleman, and his Department has thought fit to absolutely refuse to give any encouragement to this scheme or to offer any monetary assistance with the view to its completion. The Central (Unemployed) Body, on 26th January this year, sent to the Local Government Board the following letter:— The Central Body at their meeting held on Friday last had under consideration your letter of the 10th inst., intimating that the Board could not see their way to make a grant in respect to the above proposed scheme of work, and will be glad if the Board will be good enough to state the reasons which Jed to the rejection of the scheme. In view of the suitability of the proposed work and of the difficulty experienced in providing schemes of public and substantial utility, the Central Body would urge the Board again to consider the proposals and to make a grant in order to enable the work to be commenced this season. The reply of the Local Government Board was:— I am directed to state that owing to the amount of money already advanced out, of the Parliamentary grant to the Central Body for works in or about the neighbourhood of London, and the sums which will be required to bring the works to a conclusion, the Board is not prepared to make a grant in aid of this scheme. We may take it that they were not able to assist in that particular instance because there was not money for the purpose, but the Herne Bay Council offered special opportunities for employment of that class which so largely composed the unemployed, and here we were assured that there is not enough money to meet the demands which were reasonably made upon it. I think, therefore, we are entitled to have some additional information why such schemes of public usefulness and substantial utility are not encouraged and assisted by the Local Government Board. It may be that in the course of the discussion we shall be told that the solution of these problems does not at all lie in State aid of this character, and that by other means industrial difficulty can be met and the problem of the unemployed solved. May I mention to the House that I recently for myself sought information, as to the condition of unemployment in Berlin, and that the secretary of the General Federation of Trade Unionists in Berlin answered me by saying:— The number of unemployed at this moment in Berlin is 50,000 alone, and the trade union and official returns of the respective unemployed offices show that they have on the average five applications for every job for every skilled man, and that there was more than double that number in the case of unskilled workers. The cost of living has become dearer and dearer in recent years owing to ever increasing duties.? That is the latest available information as to the conditon of things prevailing in Berlin, and that is why we press on the attention of the House the need of direct State action with respect to those who are absolutely unable to find work in the ordinary private market. Our schemes or suggestions are so frequently described as impracticable and on wrong lines that I think the time has arrived when we are entitled to call upon others in different parts of this House to submit their schemes. We have, so far, had no alternative schemes capable of immediate application, and capable of effecting what we desire, in response to the various suggestions and plans which those who are associated with the party for whom I speak have from time to time submitted to this House.

There is another point with reference to men who are found work through a Labour Exchange but have to travel from, that town to another. This question is of interest in many individual cases, a few of which have come under my own personal observation. The regulations, as I understand them, now provide that some small sum may be lent to a man who has to be sent from one town to another in the event of employment being got for him. When we were discussing the subject last year certainly I was under the impression that when in a given case work was found for a man, and it was essential to send that man a railway journey, the money should be provided for the purpose of that journey. And I recollect certain hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House offering objection to it upon those grounds. But eventually the main provisions of the Labour Exchange Bill were unanimously agreed to by this House, and not very strongly objected to in the other. We now find that where any money is advanced, and where a man is assisted to get to his place of employment, it is only paid over after assurances are secured that he will repay it. It is not given as assistance to help him to a place of employment but as a loan. A letter indicating the condition of the average man who has to be so assisted I found in a Manchester paper—the "Daily Dispatch "—only a few days ago. It was written by a workman who had himself been affected in this way; and this letter written in plain working-folks terms is an indication of the trouble that a skilled workman has to take in connection with long spells of idleness. He said:— I received a postcard on Saturday from the Lever Street Exchange requesting me to attend on Monday. I did, and received a green card, and was sent off to an agent and got the job to start this morning. I had been out of work four months. I have had to pawn everything I possessed, even my tools of trade. I am a bricklayer. I keep myself in food and lodgings. I stated my erase to my prospective employer, and told him I should be very grateful if he could see his way to help me. He told me that this was not a loan, office. I returned to the Labour Exchange and told the manager, but, got no satisfaction, and I suppose it would be the same way anywhere else. How do they expect any man who has been out of work for any length of time to manage? There is the question of board and lodging for at least a week to consider, besides, as in my case, the provision of necessary tools. The workman's name is attached to that letter. It is one of the distressing cries that working folk have to use in order to attract attention to their grievances. I found that when the right hon. Gentleman, who is now Home Secretary, was referring to this question of monetary assistance and the paying of expenses in the case of men suffering under exceptional difficulties, he said" in many cases travelling expenses even to the Colonies are advanced, not merely by way of loan, but by way of gift"; and if it be that you can under the circumstances provide money as gifts to carry men to other lands, it is not too much for us to ask that where in extreme cases men have to be assisted with railway expenses those railway expenses should be not the shadow, but the substance of assistance, and that they should not be asked to pay them.


May I ask my hon. Friend whether the Home Secretary was speaking of something which had occurred in the past, and not of what was contemplated by the Act?


My impression is that the right hon. Gentleman, in the course of his speech from which I quoted, justified the proposal to provide money to carry men from one place to another. The impression left on my mind was that the money was to be given in the way of State assistance to men who had been invited to record their names in a State office. But for the time being I feel more interested to hear from the right hon. Gentleman something in regard to the thousands of men who are now out of work in different parts of the country than even in the more efficient management of the Labour Exchanges. On the most modest estimate I should say there are not less than a quarter of a million of men out of employment at the present moment. The last return shows in the case of those trades which make returns to the Board of Trade that the number out of employment amounts to a little more than 5 per cent. On a reasonable and defensible estimate the number out of work is not less than a quarter of a million, and, in view of all that has been said in the way of party promises to deal with the problem of the unemployed, it rests with those now in power to apply a remedy to the evils which arise from the present condition of unemployment.


I do not desire to approach the question of Labour Exchanges in either a partisan or controversial spirit. On the contrary, I congratulate the Government on their having established them. I believe they are doing a very good work I can only speak for the constituency which I represent, where Labour Exchanges are becoming better known and better appreciated. For instance, a very large railway company which usually keeps a number of men seeking employment outside its gates every morning, now goes to the Labour Exchange instead for its hands, and I believe it gets a better class of men than it formerly obtained. Trade union officials also are now pointing out the value of these Labour Exchanges, for they are beginning to realise that, whereas they had a number of unemployed on their books, the exchanges now find for them situations such as they can accept. The point I wish to urge on the President of the Board of Trade has not been raised by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Clynes), that is the question of child labour. The hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald), about ten days ago, on the question of the condition of workmen in Woolwich Arsenal, said one of the most pernicious influences in our industrial life was the habit which some employers have of taking boys and girls as soon as they have left school, giving them no mental or moral training which will enable them to be independent wage earners, and then turning them into the streets at the age of seventeen or nineteen and entirely washing their hands of responsibility. No doubt that is becoming a growing evil, thanks to the specialising of machinery, and I believe it is an established fact that about 90 per cent, of the unemployed owe their condition to the fact that they have worked in early youth in industries of that kind. What is the attitude of the Labour Exchanges towards this problem. As far as I can make out that attitude the official view is entirely impartial and immoral. The Labour Exchange is bound to supply applications to the demands for both the unjust employer and the just employer, the bad employer as well as the good. That is a state of things which I do not think ought to be. We are spending a great deal of money on those Labour Exchanges, and I do not think they ought to be used to subsidise the exploitation of the rising generation, and I do not think this expensive machinery ought to be used to increase the number of unemployed, and so increase the eventual burden on the taxpayers' shoulders. Another point I urge on the consideration of the President of the Board of Trade is that there is an excellent institution in London called the Apprenticeship and Skilled Employment Associa- tion, which is doing really splendid work in getting in touch with boys and girls as they leave school and finding skilled employment for them. That association has only been in existence for about three years, but has already done a great amount of useful work. They have acquired a great deal of specialised information, and have got together a band of most devoted workers. I am very much afraid what is going to happen is that the steamroller of the Labour Exchanges is going to pass over these associations and squeeze them out. I hope that will not be so. I hope room will be found for this Apprenticeship, and Skilled Employment Association. What I would suggest is that the labour should be divided, and that the question of finding work for the unskilled labourers should be undertaken by the Labour Exchanges, and the duty of finding employment in skilled occupations should be given over to those associations wherever those associations are strongly established. If the President of the Board of Trade will kindly consider those two questions sympathetically and considerately, I shall be very grateful.


I am very glad of this opportunity of laying before the President of the Board of Trade the points regarding the action of the Glasgow Labour Bureau upon the Leadhills strike and lockout. It appears to me that, under the circumstances I am about to point out, it is very necessary that the Board of Trade should reconsider their regulations. Theoretically, I am bound to admit, that the regulations which they have already put forward appear to be the very acme of impartiality, but practically they have been found, in this particular instance at any rate, to work to the detriment of the men who are on strike. The regulation appears to be or works out in this way: The manager of the bureau reads out, or allows the men to read out, certain statements of the case for both sides which have been made. He asks the men to decide whether, after they read the statements of the case in dispute for both sides, they will take employment, and he asks them to decide impartially. I beg to submit that it is impossible for working men out of employment to regard these cases impartially. The Board of Trade apparently leaves out of account the great necessity of the unemployed man to get employment, and to leave out of account everything that necessity means with regard to the man's family, with regard to rent that may be due, or with regard to the impending necessity for supplying his family with food. There must be, especially in bad times, an overwhelming anxiety on the part of unemployed men to get employment, and they will never be able under these regulations to consider impartially the whole circumstances of the case. Everything inclines them to have a bias towards accepting work. If this took place to a very large extent the Labour Bureaux would become factories for black-legs and the Labour party would live to regret their establishment. That is the general state of the case.

Perhaps I may be allowed to go into a particular case—that referred to by the Vice-Chairman of the Labour party, and which happens to be in my own Constituency. Some months ago the hon. Member for West Ham succeeded in persuading a number of miners at Leadhills to joint his union. After a little time they approached their employers for an advance of wages. Their request was refused, and after some negotiations they withdrew their demand. But they found then that the employers would not engage them on the old terms, or indeed at all, as long as they belonged to any union whatever. There were other conditions equally obnoxious, to which the Vice-Chairman of the Labour party has referred. As an old employer of labour, who has employed some thousands of men, I consider those conditions so humiliating that no man of self-respect, unless he was forced to do so by hunger or distress, could accept them. As a matter of fact, these men were to be punished for having joined a trade union. Another fact to be remembered in this case is that there are only 160 men involved in the dispute. They work in an isolated spot in South Lanark. The village of Leadhills is, I believe, the highest inhabited village in Scotland. These men and their forbears have been there for generation upon generation, for hundreds of years, before the directors of this mining company were born. They will not leave their village unless they are forced to. They own their houses and the bit of land at the back of them. After eighteen or twenty weeks' lockout they are exceedingly anxious to get back to work, even on the old terms; but now these humiliating terms are placed before them, and the Labour Bureau at Glasgow steps in and sends down fourteen men to take the places of some of those who are out. Had these men been resident at Leadhills, had they known all the circumstances, the hardships involved, and the humiliating conditions, they would probably never have gone down. But they have to remember that their fares were paid there and back; probably they were told that they would be isolated, and everything of that kind was done. I only ask the President of the Board of Trade to consider whether what I have said is not likely to ensue—that is that if that regulation is continued and men are sent to a village, not near Glasgow, but sixty miles away. If it had been 160 miles away it would have been even worse, because men at Glasgow have not the knowledge of the local conditions there. Men were sent, I say, to fill those positions in Leadhills, where in reality they are blacklegs. I do not want to labour the point unduly. I have always been in favour of Labour Bureaux. I believe they do a great deal of good. I believe they will bring together men who want work and the men who want workers; but I believe that this regulation will act detrimentally to all concerned. I anxiously ask the President of the Board of Trade to reconsider that particular regulation.


I think that of all the points that have been raised with regard to the registration of Labour Exchanges this point is one where, I take it, the Board of Trade has a policy, which is likely to be even more successful than the German policy—if they are able to carry out, as I believe they will do, their policy of impartiality. It is, of course, impossible for a great Government Department, handling any local machinery such as these Labour Exchanges are, to arrive immediately at the golden mean between employer and employed. I have no doubt whatever—I say it in the humble capacity of an observer from a distance of what went on under the late President of the Board of Trade— that the President of the Board of Trade of today will carry out successfully the policy which his predecessor sketched. Though, I say, in the course of administration—and I think lion. Members below the Gangway will agree with me—it is a matter of considerable difficulty to find what I have called the golden mean between the interests of employers and employed, yet a Government Department, directed by such an individual as the President of the Board of Trade of to-day, and with the goodwill of this House, which it undoubtedly possesses, has a great chance to carry out a great policy.

The policy of Labour Exchanges is undoubtedly only the first step in the whole Question of dealing with the industrial situation which has arisen in late years. And I should like to hear something from the President of the Board of Trade in answer to the words which have fallen from the hon. Gentleman the Member for North-East Manchester as to the lines on which his policy in the future is to be carried out. We have made, as I think we all agree, a very hopeful beginning in the foundation and administration of Labour Exchanges on a national basis. As I think we must all be agreed there is a much deeper question involved, and the Labour Exchanges, valuable as they me in their own way, can only operate, in the first place, as an easier means of communication between employer and employed; and, in the second place, as a valuable centre of social investigation, where all the various problems which lead to unemployment may be handled.

I, for one, in my humble way, believe that the policy of Labour Exchanges gives us this, and I am a firm supporter of the Government policy in that respect. That policy is only a first step, I hope, in the industrial policy of the future. I should like to hear something today, if only a vague outline, from the President of the Board of Trade as to what line he proposes to take in carrying out some industrial improvements against the various industrial risks to which the working men of this country are exposed. Other countries have gone ahead in that direction, but no country has really made a national effort to deal with the problem as a whole. Unemployment is as acute and severe in this country as in any other. I grant my hon. Friends opposite any advantage which they may gain from that admission. After all, we know perfectly well that the roots of unemployment lie very far below the fiscal system of this country or any other country, whether that system be Free Trade or Protection, and as this is an international question, I think we might very well lead the way in dealing with on a courageous national basis. So far as I am able to gather, the Imperial Government of Germany have met the various demands from various quarters of the German communities with a non-pos-sumus because each different locality in that great empire has adopted different methods for dealing with that great problem, and they have not yet provided any single method as successful. After a close study of the methods adopted both by the Government and the municipalities in Germany and elsewhere we might get very considerable material gathered together to form a basis on which we might proceed in this country. I personally, and I am sure everybody in every quarter of the House will welcome today a declaration from the President of the Board of Trade that there is some hope in the immediate future of adopting a national system of industrial insurance.


I will deal, in the first place, with the speech of my hon. Friend who has just sat down, and also with the speech which has been made by my hon. Friend who first spoke. They want to know, apart from the question of Labour Exchanges, what is the policy of the Government with regard to the question of unemployment. No one dealing with the question of Labour Exchanges has ever said they were more than a modest though practical attempt to deal with the first stage of the question of unemployment. It is necessary that the matter of organisation should be dealt with as the foundation for almost any treatment of the question of unemployment, and that that certainly is not the final desire of this Government, and I am sure I may say of any British Government. My hon. Friend asks what is the policy of the Government in regard to this matter. The policy of the Government in this matter has, I think, been sketched out on more than one occasion by the Prime Minister. What he has said, what his colleagues have said, and what I should certainly like to repeat is this. The policy was founded, if I may say so, in the first place—largely founded and dependent upon—the Budget, because for the first time we had financial proposals which, in our opinion, followed on the right and proper lines in regard to taxation, and which provided a large number of millions of money for social reform and for old age pensions. It has been pointed out more than once by the Prime Minister that the object of raising these large sums was to endeavour to place the taxation of the country upon an elastic basis, and thus to have at our disposal increasingly large sums in successive years for the reason that for various social reforms we should require very large sums of money. Roughly, I think it was estimated that the Labour Exchanges would cost about £200,000, that the experimental insurance against unemployment would cost £1,250,000, and that to deal experimentally with invalidity and death we should need £2,000,000 or £3,000,000. There was also the question of the Development Fund, which in itself is expected to do something in the direction of keeping people on the soil and keeping them out of the ranks of unemployment. We all recognise the difficulties of the political and Parliamentary situation, and I can only say to my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Manchester (Mr. Clynes), that a Bill dealing with insurance against unemployment has already been prepared, and it only depends upon circumstances here whether we shall be able to proceed with it at an early date. It is also dependent to a large extent upon the question of dealing with invalidity and death, because these are all subjects which go together, and it may be found better to deal with them as a whole or piecemeal; but whatever be the way in which these questions are ultimately dealt with, the first step to lay a foundation is the establishment of Labour Exchanges, and the other questions of unemployment insurance, invalidity and death are only another part of that programme. Of course, one portion of the programme will be in the hands of my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board, and he will deal drastically with the whole question of the Poor Law. Those four things are bound together, and although you cannot deal with them all at once, they will form part of the policy of the Government for the future, if we have the good fortune to retain the confidence of the country.

So far as the general Debate has gone, it is very gratifying to the Board of Trade— and I am sure it is gratifying to the Home Secretary, who, after all, is the author and founder of Labour Exchanges—to find that the Exchanges are meeting with friendly approval on the part of all sections of the community, because it is quite clear that unless they receive friendly assistance from all quarters, and unless the mode in which they are managed receives the confidence of both employers and workmen, Labour Exchanges cannot be a success. It is gratifying to those interested in their success to feel that there is a real and honest desire on the part of all sections of this House to give a fair opportunity to see whether they are going to be successful or not. Allow me to thank hon. Members for the friendly terms in which they have spoken about them. I welcome criticism upon this question be cause Labour Exchanges are entirely experimental. The Board of Trade do not profess to be heaven-born, and any action they take will always be subject to amendment. They will always be ready to take into account such criticism as may be made upon this question. I do not propose to follow my hon. Friend in the detailed criticism which he has made this afternoon, for the reason I have already given, that the matter is experimental. All these points to which he has referred are receiving our attention. We are giving them the utmost consideration with a view to making the Labour Exchanges the success we all desire. He criticised the regulations to a certain extent, and said they are not fully explanatory. I think he has forgotten that they are statutory regulations and there fore must be short and bald; but they are added to and supplemented by instructions of the Board of Trade to the managers of the various Labour Exchanges. I will ask him to believe that we are dealing, not only with statutory regulations, but also with commonsense instructions, which we hope may, as far as possible, remove such difficulties as may have occurred. My hon. Friend the Member for South Lanark (Sir Walter Menzies) mentioned a particular case. I do not propose to go into the merits of that case, because I do not think it is altogether germane, and it would lead me off the main point, but there is one thing I should like to contradict. He said these men who are taken by the employers have had their expenses paid. That is not so, for this good reason—


Not paid by the exchange.


It is specifically and very properly laid down that money shall not be advanced towards sending a man to a place in any case of dispute, or in any case where the current rate of wages is not being paid. Therefore, so far as that is concerned, that statement is without foundation. May I say, with regard to travelling expenses, that, whatever may be the rights of the case, we have no option in regard to the matter at present, because the Act of Parliament specifically says these advances are only to be made by way of loan and where work is actually found. That went through the House of Commons without any proposed amendment, and my hon. Friend must, therefore, take it that for the time being we are only acting under statute with regard to that matter. With regard to these regulations, we are anxious to make them a success. They are in no sense of the term regulations of the Medes and Persians. They are open to amendment, so far as a consideration of them shows amendment is required. All the various points which have been brought up this afternoon, and which are very often brought up by correspondence, will receive the greatest attention. There has not been time yet, in the great pressure of work in starting the Labour Exchanges, to create the advisory committees which are to consist of equal numbers of representatives of the men and of the employers, but we look to them very much for assistance on these difficult questions which arise in connection with the exchanges.

I think the House may desire that I should give them a few figures to show how far these Labour Exchanges have already been a success. I ventured, when Members were good enough to ask me questions about it, to deprecate giving figures at a very early date, or indeed giving them in reply to questions, because it appeared to me they would not give the real facts of the case, and, at all events, might be misleading. I can assure hon. Members on this side of the House that there is no desire to keep anything back or to conceal the figures connected with the Labour Exchanges. What we want to arrive at are the actual facts which will give us knowledge as to how far these Labour Exchanges are being a success or a failure. I said the other day that they were making a promising beginning, and I am glad to say that is so. They have now been working from five to five and a half weeks. Some eighty have been working during the bulk of that time, and there are now about 100 of these exchanges in working order. Before I give the figures, I want to say that, although the figures I can give are a fair sample of the work of the exchanges at the moment, still they have not yet got into a working condition. The managers and others in them have not had a fair opportunity, owing to the pressure of registrations at the beginning, of bringing the exchanges to the notice of employers.

Therefore such figures as I give must be taken with that discount. The total number who have registered from the beginning is 270,000. At the present moment there are on the register 104,000. That looks as if there had been a great diminution in the number on the register. It is true from one point of view—namely, that a considerable number who registered at the beginning did not reregister. Men who were on the old distress committee registers were to a large extent men who really were not suitable for the particular class of work which we hoped to bring under the Labour Exchanges, and after practically finding that there was no opening for them they gave up registering. That accounts for a considerable number. Again, the total figure I gave represents a considerable number of duplicates. Men not unnaturally registered at two or three exchanges, with the hope of getting a better opportunity of the work. That, as far as we can judge, has now practically ceased, and men now only register at the exchange likely to be most useful. You must not, therefore, take it that the 270,000 represents individuals. But a more satisfactory feature is that out of this reduced number a very large number have been put in the way of finding work. A very considerable number of those who have ceased to register have found work for themselves, and we have evidence of that, inasmuch as they have returned through the post their registration cards. That is the satisfactory feature in the reduction of numbers. The live register now totals 104,000. The number of vacancies notified to us in five weeks, roughly speaking, was 32,500. Of these 19,942 have been filled.


About 7 per cent.


My hon. Friend must take the live register as representing those who really utilise the Labour Exchanges. One reason why more of the vacancies were not filled was that we were extremely anxious only to recommend men to places likely to be suitable for them. We did not wish to send unsuitable men—men who would not do justice to the Labour Exchanges. I think the House will agree that these figures are satisfactory from the point of view of a first start of the Labour Exchanges, and I am glad to think that many municipalities and Government Departments and others are taking the matter up and doing their best to bring about a satisfactory result. I would appeal to this House to regard the matter as a whole, and to give the fullest opportunity for success by allowing criticism for a time to be in abeyance with the view of enabling us to deal with the matter from the public point of view to the best possible advantage of the Labour Exchanges. There are two points in connection with it to which I will refer. The Noble Lord asked what we were doing about juvenile applicants, and said that he was afraid we were not going to look after them properly. He asked, moreover, what we were going to do about these voluntary associations which dealt with them. We have issued special rules in consultation with the Education Department to deal with questions of juvenile labour, and we should welcome the co-operation of these voluntary associations, many of which have done very valuable work.


May I ask when the right hon. Gentleman intends to begin giving a record and returns of the results of these Labour Exchanges?


In the next number of the "Labour Gazette" I shall present the figures. It is a little difficult to know what is the best way of dealing with them. We want to give information as to the trades affected, and the next "Labour Gazette" will include these returns, and they will then be published periodically.

I am very much obliged to the House for listening to me on this matter, and I wish to express my gratification at feeling that there is a general desire on all hands to give this experiment a fair trial, and make it a real success. It may lead to the very remarkable success which has attended the experiment in Germany, and these exchanges really may in time become National Labour Exchanges, in which the whole of the employment on both sides comes under the purview of the exchanges, and under the purview of the State. I now beg to appeal to the House to take this Vote on Account, as there are one or two other Orders which we wish to dispose of.


I do not wish to delay the proceedings, but I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman one question. I interrupted him by saying that the number of men who found employment was about 7 per cent., and the right hon. Gentleman said I had no business to talk about the number who applied for work being 270,000 and then saying the percentage of those who found work was 7 per cent., or whatever it might be, but that I should take the number on the register. That is what I understood him to say. For the life of me I cannot see why. I think he is wrong. I do not make these observations in a critical manner.


There are many duplicates in the 270,000.


Yes; there are certainly a number of duplicates, but the right hon. Gentleman did not say how many.


I cannot say, but a very large number.


I was answering an interruption from behind the right hon. Gentleman. I do not see how anybody can tell what the duplicates are. What you have to consider in ascertaining how many men have found places out of those who applied is to take the total number of men applying, and the total was 270,000. The fact that there are now 104,000 on the register has nothing to do with the number of people who applied. As far as I can make out, about 8½ per cent, have found places.


I wanted to point out that 270,000 is really not the figure you ought to take into account in considering this matter. What you want to take into account is what we call the live register. Those who are remaining and re-registering, if necessary, are really those who are applying, and in the bulk of the cases are suitable persons.


That is a question I cannot go into, because I am not one of the officials, and I do not know how they came to have accepted people who ought not to have been accepted. But the fact remains that 270,000 people registered, and only 20,000 have found employment. The right hon. Gentleman omitted to tell us what the cost of these Exchanges had been and how many officials it took to obtain employment for these 20,000 people. That is a very important item.


It is all issued in the White Paper.


Then apparently £131,000 will be applied for the Labour Exchanges, and all they have done is to supply work for 20,000. [Several HON. MEMBERS: "In five and a half weeks."] Yes, but hon. Members below the Gangway rather smile at that suggestion. They know perfectly well that in the five and a half weeks there has been a considerable increase in trade. I do not know whether the Home Secretary cheers. I did not say it was due to his action. It is due to the fact that even this country suffering under the dead-weight of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, has managed to survive and put a little life into itself at last, possibly ii the hope that within five or six weeks right hon. Gentlemen will be adorning another sphere.


rose in hi place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put;" but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question. Debate resumed:—

And, it being Five of the clock, Mr. SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15, to put forthwith the Question necessary to dispose of the Report of the Vote.

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.