§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Address, to add, at the end:—
"But humbly represent to Your Majesty that this House regrets that, having regard 45 to the existing industrial unrest arising from a deplorable insufficiency of wages, which has persisted notwithstanding a great expansion of national wealth, and a considerable increase in the cost of living, Your Majesty's Gracious Speech contains no specific mention of legislation securing a minimum living wage and for preventing a continuance of such unequal division of the fruits of industry by the nationalisation of railways, mines, and other monopolies."
The gracious Speech from the Throne, which was read yesterday, is one of unusual importance, not only in home affairs, but also in foreign affairs. It is my intention to draw the attention of the House particularly to the state of labour unrest existing, not only in this country, but in every industrial country in the world. Curiously enough it is in the two most protected countries where it has reached its most critical manifestation. In America at the present moment that unrest is taking the form of outrages which fortunately this country is free from. In Germany the poverty which has been caused by Protection and Tariff Reform has been so oppressive that the party which is most committed to upset that policy is now the strongest in the German Reichstag. I do not know if it is for that reason that the right hon. Gentleman in his speech yesterday made no mention of his old love. He performed some very grievous acts of commission, for one of which I see he has to do penance this morning. After all I think that was one of those mistakes which the cleverest may commit in an unguarded moment.
But there was an act of omission for which I venture to say the right hon. Gentleman can offer no apology and make no explanation to his sorrowful followers at this moment. There was not a single tear dropped over that empty grave where all our ruined industries lie. He did not give us a single figure about our trade returns. Perhaps he is going to explain that that matter is in charge of some Member on his back benches. By that is he going to ask us to assume that that is the only social reform item on the Conservative programme? I was under the impression, when the right hon. Gentleman came to lead the party opposite, that the one cause in which he was interested, the one cause to which he was going to give the whole of his enthusiasm—which is boundless—and the whole of his heart—which is exceedingly active—was the cause of Tariff Reform. Lo, and behold, the very first 46 speech with which the right hon. Gentleman delighted us yesterday has not in it a sentence, a word, a comma, which suggests that Tariff Reform is burning and blazing, even if hidden, in his heart! I congratulate him all the more on his discretion. There is one characteristic which, if tradition is right—and tradition is not always right—which he and I hold in common, and that is the characteristic of discretion, there on account, more or less, of a common Scottish ancestry. I am bound to say that the right hon. Gentleman showed it in an exceedingly conspicuous way yesterday in refraining from saying a single word about Tariff Reform. The fact of the matter is that in dealing with labour unrest the only influence that Tariff Reform can have is to make it worse. Therefore I shall say no more about that. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] Well, in that far-off and dim event of the Member on the back bench, according to our newspapers, getting up to move this very interesting Amendment, perhaps I may make an explanation such as the Leader of the Opposition has himself had to make this morning. But for the moment I shall leave the question there.
There is another theory about this labour unrest which has been accorded a fairly prominent position in our newspapers. A certain railway director, who is also an hon. Member of this House in addressing his shareholders the other day, said thathe deplored the labour unrest, which was sedulously fostered by mischievous people whose sole desire seemed to be to undermine the honesty, morality, and sense of duty of the labouring population.After that he appealed to his Christianity. I am rather inclined to agree with that statement. I think that the labour unrest has been sedulously fostered by mischievous people. I think that those mischievous people have been acting apparently—not perhaps consciously—as if their sole desire was to undermine the honesty, morality, and sense of duty of the labouring population. But those people are railway directors—who want to get porters at 17s. 6d. per week, and who, when we tell the men that they should not work for anything under 25s. or 30s. appeal to our common Christianity to get them out of their economic difficulties. The fact of the matter is—and I think this House ought really to recognise it, and busy itself in finding some way out of the difficulty—as stated in my Amendment: the fundamental cause of labour unrest is low wages—[An HON. 47 MEMBER: "No."]—and those low wages you will find everywhere where combinations of labour are weak. You will find it in Free Trade countries. You will find it in protected countries. The higher the protection the worse the condition of labour. What is more: under high protection you develop a kind of class consciousness of a most aggressive character, because you have an open demonstration of a small class, a handful of men with certain narrow economic interests, controlling the legislature. That demonstration convinces the great mass of the working classes that the only opportunity of getting redress for their grievances is to resort to force. Therefore you get those things in America to which I have already referred. The fundamental fact that we have to face here is something like this: that there are 2,000,000 families now in this country with an income of about £45 per annum. As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade said the other day, in replying to the Motion by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich (Mr. Crooks), 60 per cent. of the wage-earners—of whom they have particulars in the Department—and he said they had particulars of 7,300,000–60 per cent. have incomes of less than 30s. per week. I imagine, although he did not say so, that that is their income when they are working. If so, you have to take off an appreciable percentage to get at the net income. Take the other case: between 1901 and 1911 we have had according to the Board of Trade Returns, a drop of £57,500 per week in wages. The Board of Trade, in the "Labour Gazette" for January, makes this very interesting statement:—The rise in the cost of many articles of food which has been going on for some years, was for a time accentuated by the summer drought. At the same time, the upward movement in wages has not yet become very marked.[Cheers.] Why those cheers from the benches opposite? I was always under the impression that one of the stock arguments of Tariff Reformers was that when prices rose wages naturally rose at the same time. I can very well understand why hon. Members object to this statement from the "Labour Gazette," but I am amazed that they should be so ill acquainted with their own position that they actually cheer an argument which is most effective against their policy. At any rate, we now have the admission, punctuated by the cheers of the Opposition, that prices can rise, and actually do rise, as a matter of experience, and wages do not rise in 48 consequence. But this question is not merely a matter of wages, but a matter of the general condition of labour. In this connection may I draw attention to the Government's own responsibility, and I will do so by instancing a case which affects my own Constituency at the present moment. The War Office is responsible for giving out contracts, and a part of those contracts go to the constituency which I represent. They have discovered a method of saving 3d. on a particular article of the wearing apparel which they supply to their soldiers, and by getting the cheaper article, which comes out at something less than 3d. compared with the dearer article, they are supplanting men who are getting £2 a week by women who are earning 25s. a week. This means that in order to save 3d. they are practically saying to the married women in Leicester, "We will make it easy for you to get work, but exceedingly difficult for your husbands to get work." Although men and masters, employers and employed, at the present moment are combined in opposition to the Government policy, nevertheless the tenders are out, and the consequences will be as I have described. We shall hear more about this question when the proper time comes. I mention this instance because I want the House to appreciate that our case is not merely one of wages, but the general depreciation of labour, the supplanting of workers by the employment of cheaper methods at ill-paid wages, and substituting disorganised and low-paid labour for organised and highly paid labour. That has been going on for so many years, and to such a large extent, that many of us are getting alarmed as to the results of it.
The small increases in wages which have occurred in certain places must be carefully examined. We hear a good deal about labour unrest from hostile critics—the sort of thing I have already quoted from a speech by an hon. Member of this House who is a railway director. Supposing you have men forming deputations to their employers asking for an advance of wages, and it is refused, and, after the men have struck work, the employers immediately yield, and give the advance demanded—I put to hon. Members, as reasonable beings, what would be the conclusion in such a case? Would you not say that the only successful method of getting wages increased was to strike? If employers, with profits and resources in their possession which would enable them to increase wages, decline to submit to the 49 peaceful process of conciliation and arbitration, and keep the money in their pockets; and if, when faced with a strike, they yield, that is simply an invitation to every trade in the country to copy that process. I will prove it by a single instance. I find that in 1910, in the transport trades, as classified by the Board of Trade, wages were increased by the sum of £341 per week in the gross, and 3,900 people were affected. In 1911, owing to strikes, that £341 per week increase became £12,270 per week, and the number of people affected rose from 3,900 to 77,000.
You cannot shut your eyes to the moral to be drawn from that state of things. As a matter of fact, it is because those men are demanding to see something better and are beginning to appreciate that width of life we all like—that enormous and unfulfilled possibility of the human mind acting in a state of freedom—that you are hearing now not the calm counsels of men who can sit and hold on, but the hasty, angry, enraged counsels of men who have got nothing to hold on to. Along with that unfortunate condition we have a very serious rise in prices, and the reason for that rise is perfectly obvious. The only thing we can say about that is that we congratulate ourselves upon the fact that we did not have Tariff Reform in 1906. If we had had Tariff Reform either in the shape of ordinary protection, known in Australia as American protection, or Imperial preference, which would have limited our corn-growing fields, then, bad as prices are now, they would have been very much worse under those circumstances. As an illustration of how prices rise, I am sure every hon. Member is familiar with what happened in the coal trade recently. A strike was threatened. Within a few hours the newspapers came out with paragraphs that the strike might come on, and we had to pay 3s., 4s., and 5s. extra per ton for our coals. That coal did not cost one brass farthing more to produce than it did before the strike was threatened, and prices were not raised against the middleman. The rise in prices was simply owing to the operation of a coal ring in London, and the consumers in London are at the mercy of two or three gentlemen who put their heads together and conspire to raise the price of coal, and therefore it is that the Government look supinely on allowing these sort of things to be done, and if the Opposition were in power they would not look supinely on; they would only endeavour to multiply the cases where such monopolies could be 50 created, and consequently increase the opportunities for exploiting the people.
These are the two main reasons from which our troubles spring. There are other secondary considerations. I have mentioned them in this House before, and I do not propose to take up time going over them again, but everyone who has gone about the country amongst the working men during the recess must have felt that there is a strange lack of confidence about in everything that is reasonable. I never make a point of merely saying things that suit me here. You go to any crowd of workmen now and ask them to submit their case to conciliation and arbitration, and they say, "We have been cheated so often we will not do it again." In 1906, and before, my colleagues and myself went all over the country and said "A strike is an antiquated weapon which involves suffering and pain and trouble, and in the end the side that is right does not win. Trust the House of Commons! Build up a political party!" They did; they adopted conciliation. As a matter of fact, between the years when we were telling them to build up this party and the delivery of the Osborne Judgment conciliation was tried as it never was before. We did more by that propaganda than anything that was ever done before to persuade the workman to put his case in writing, to lay it on a table, to argue it out in reason, and that he was going to get more by that method than any other he might adopt. But no sooner had we got him persuaded that peaceful methods were right than conciliation was smashed by the railway directors, and Parliamentary methods were smashed by lawyers giving decisions that might or might not have been good law, but was exceedingly bad common sense and exceedingly bad and false history. As a matter of fact it is the red-tape of the lawyer that stands side by side with the red flag of the syndicatist—the two things are absolutely the same. The type of mind that gave that decision, and that regarded that type of labour combination from the merely static and legal point of view is what has whistled up the very worst elements inside the labour movement at the present time; and so long as that judgment remains so long will the unrest and lack of confidence in civil and peaceful methods remain in the minds of the very best men in the trade union movement. We submit in the Amendment I have moved that there must be some national minimum wage. I was one of those 51 who approached this in a very chary and in a very sceptical frame of mind. It is one of those experiments in social questions which will have to be adopted carefully and scientifically, and it is one of those problems that is very difficult to understand except by watching its operations; but there it is practically by the consent of both sides of the House, because hon. Members opposite are just as responsible for this experiment as hon. Members upon this side. Practically, then, with the consent of both sides of the House, we have embarked upon the experiment of the minimum wage, enforced by what is practically an Act of Parliament, we have established commissioners; the commissioners have power to declare what the minimum wage is, and any one who does not carry out that declaration of the Commissioners is liable to fine and imprisonment, as a judge may decide. There we have begun, and must go on. There is not a single person in this House who will rise and argue against it, unless perhaps the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury). There is no one who will get up and say that industry ought to be carried on under conditions which mean that the lives of the people working in it are kept so low that they are not in a full state of efficiency; in other words, you can only carry on industry if you make the living minimum wage a first charge. I do not know whether the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) has gone so far under the influence of the atmosphere of this House since 1906 as to accept that. Perhaps not, but I think everybody else in this House does. If you are going to carry on industry you must do it under this one condition, that the men and the women working it ought to have a wage that will enable them to live by their labour—that is a minimum living wage—and consequently in theory I assume we are all in favour of it. But it is just under conditions where labour is lowest where labour is weakest and less able to enforce its claims upon unwilling employers that this problem of the living wage has got to be solved, and if consequently we are agreed with it, but admit the difficulties of enforcing it, we are bound to say legislation must come in, at any rate in the lower grades and the less satisfactory and weakest industries. Legislation has to come; it has to embody the moral requirements which nobody can resist, and the time has come when we 52 ought to translate these abstract moral propositions into effective Acts of Parliament, and that is the idea we had in mind in drafting the middle part of the Amendment I am now moving.
Finally, we refer to nationalisation. I am not going to go into the details of railway nationalisation and mines nationalisation because there is something far more imperative in these matters than mere figure details, and that is economic necessity. We have come to a time now when we must nationalise these monopolies. You cannot deal with the coal ring by rules and regulations; they tried to do it in Germany. There was a very remarkable experiment, semi-voluntary and semi-national, in connection with the Rhenish mines in Westphalia by which they tried to regulate the price of coal in Germany, and upon the committee of which the German Government has an official representative. That could not be carried out here. The moment you get hold of these monopolies then you get open the door for nationalisation, and nobody can stop it. It will go on from stage to stage until at last you get to the end of the journey. When we raise wages we do not mean that the consumer should pay those wages except in certain circumstances. If the consumer is not paying enough to bear a decent wage he ought to pay enough and have the price raised against him, and take the result. Wages were raised as a result of the railway strike, and the charge to the users of the railways was raised. Then take the Insurance Act: The Chancellor of the Exchequer has in his speeches in the country stated over and over again that the 3d. or 4d. that the employer has to pay is not to come out of the profits but to go into the cost of production, to be borne by the consumer; but that surely is an exceedingly unsatisfactory arrangement. So long as you have a class of the community sharing in the national wealth without giving national service then you ought to economise by clearing out this class and making your community a service-giving community. A service-getting class is parasitical. The intention of this House in passing legislation of a social reform character is not to increase the cost of living on the part of the consumer, but is to get some of the profits that ought not to go into private pockets, because they are communal profits for the purpose of improving the conditions and the lot of those at the lower end of the social scale.
53 These are, very generally, the ideas that we have in mind in moving this Resolution. This labour unrest is a matter that cannot be elbowed out of this Session. There may be important political questions, very important questions that have to be dealt with; but labour unrest must be dealt with by this House. This House cannot afford to shut its eyes to it; and, if it tried, it would not be allowed to do so. Both outside and inside, this House will hear voices explaining and expressing what labour unrest means, asking for legislation, asking for administrative interference, the intention of which will be to do justice to men who are not economically strong enough to see justice is done to them themselves; and that must be the intention of this House more and more. We cannot possibly allow capital and labour simply to fight out their own battles, we, standing on one side, looking on. We are too fond of imagining there are two sides only to a dispute. There are three sides to every dispute; there is the side of capital, there is the side of labour, and there is the side of the general community; and the general community has no business to allow capital and labour, fighting their battles themselves, to elbow them out of consideration. We are bound to take upon ourselves our responsibility; and, if capital is wrong, we must enforce right upon it. At the same time, and I do not hesitate to say, if labour is wrong, then we must do the same. [An HON. MEMBER: "Impossible."] That is another matter. If labour cannot be wrong, I am all the more safe in making my admission. But I come back to the statement I make. This House must less and less be content to regard the struggle between capital and labour as a struggle between two parties, because it is always and must inevitably always be a struggle between three parties; and this House and its officers, this Government and its administration, must represent the third party, the general public.
Moreover, from the point of view of fair play labour struggling with capital is always at a disadvantage. They do not occupy the same footing. Capital has occupied a position that labour has not got; and, if they are left alone, capital combined, capital organized, capital speaking through one or two men, in nine cases out of ten, irrespective of the justice that is behind the matter, can beat labour now; and therefore labour is fully entitled to insist upon its rights in coming here and being represented here, 54 and in asking the House of Commons to readjust the inequality that exists between it and capital in all the struggles that it undertakes. Then, finally, we cannot allow an increase of wages to be merely the means of a further exploitation of the general public. Those who own monopolies can pay wages and make profits—extra profits—on the increased wages they are compelled to pay. We are simply playing a fool's game at social reform if we allow this to go on; and this House must see to it that the State in interfering acquires that economic power which enables it to make social reform a reality. We are not going to improve matters by anything which merely means robbing Peter to pay Paul, especially when Peter and Paul are one and the same person. Accordingly, we are opposed to all those extraordinary propositions for increasing the cost of living in order to improve the conditions of the people, known as Tariff Reform. We are opposed to that attitude of negative acquiescence which allows these battles to rage outside without this House taking much interest in them. We are moving this Resolution, because we believe this House must take part in those matters, and because we are perfectly convinced the year is going to be a troublesome year, full of trials and difficulties, and the sooner this House makes up its mind to play a manful and useful part in those struggles the better it will be for everyone concerned and the nation at large.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I rise to second this Amendment.
I submit to the House adequate reasons for moving the Amendment will be found in the gracious Speech from the Throne. Labour unrest, as we term it, secures an important place in that Speech, but when we come to examine it we are driven to a very disappointing conclusion. The Speech from the Throne merely repeats the most commonplace opinions that are expressed by all parties and by all classes of men in all quarters of the country. The Speech viewswith grave concern the prospect of disputes between employers and workmen.Then apparently the Government considers it sufficient merely to express the pious hope thata reasonable spirit may prevail on both sides and avoid developments that would seriously affect the trade of the country and the welfare of My people.That, to us, is not government; it is running away from government. It is not 55 recognising a situation and attempting to deal with it. It is merely looking at it in the face and passing on. Our Amendment, therefore, is designed to fasten upon the Government the responsibility which all Governments must accept, not only of recognising the state of things, but of providing the necessary means for fairly and adequately dealing with them. The country has been in a state of revolt; property and life have been menaced; there have been exhibitions of poverty, of suffering, and of wrong the like of which have never been previously revealed to this country, and, in face of all these startling facts, the Government comes forward now to express the hope that both sides will act in a reasonable spirit and avoid developments that will seriously affect the trade of the country and the welfare of the people. I would ask the House to consider what is the most outstanding and arresting fact in connection with the Labour unrest? It is that it has taken place during a time not of acute unemployment, not when there were 10 per cent. and 11 per cent. of skilled working men on the books of the unemployed, but during a time when the percentage of unemployed was as low as it has been for many years past, during a time when trade had increased in volume enormously and in value very greatly. All ordinary causes that operate to create unrest and to create a sense of dissatisfaction and revolt among the wage-earning classes, all these things were absent. We had a state of industrial prosperity, a state sometimes described by us as a condition of trade boom. There were few people out of work, and employers were increasing their profits to a greater degree than before. Naturally, then, the wage-earning classes sought, by peaceful means and by businesslike approach to their employers, to acquire a share of this additional national prosperity. Memorials and petitions, approaches to employers, and conferences were tried, and those of us who had something to do with the inside management of trade unions know what extensive attempts were made to arrive at a settlement day by day. In those trade unions where sometimes the labour unrest was most violently disclosed, every precaution was taken by the advisers of the men to secure a satisfactory settlement on peaceful lines. Those who were responsible for defending the interests of seamen and firemen, carters and lorrymen, and men who do the hard and dangerous 56 labour in and about the docks of this country, did not merely fling their demands in the faces of employers and say, "If they are not conceded we will call the men out," but for long months they were patiently appealing and labouring to arrange terms—indeed, they spent many months in the attempt to secure merely the privilege of discussing with the employers the claims which were so strongly forced upon them. But on each and every occasion a deaf ear was turned to all these appeals. Every effort was made to prevent a settlement being arrived at, and the employers went to the extent even of preventing collective bargaining. They would not have it, and, as far as they possibly could, they ignored the trade unions and took every precaution to suppress them where possible.
Naturally, then, in this state of boom, when trade was being carried on at high profits, the men who failed by peaceful measures to get justice, determined to secure it by other means, and a state of revolt, accompanied by extensive strikes, resulted. The Government at that time seemed to think that its duty was sufficiently discharged by the adoption of repressive measures—by seeing that life and property were protected by invoking the forces of the law. But the inevitable result of calling in the forces of the law is merely to strengthen the employers' side. It is the inevitable result of the importation of the police and military into these quarrels. We submit to the House that the business of the Government in times of such unrest is more than a mere police business, and that we ought to take steps to see that just wages and fair terms of service are secured to the wage-earning population instead of merely expressing pious opinions in the Speech from the Throne at the beginning of a new Session of Parliament. "The welfare of the people," spoken of in the Speech from the Throne, cannot be secured by leaving settlement between employers and workers to private arrangement. The Government has already stepped in in the case of the sweated trades of our country. In the case of some of those sweated trades it took many years of patient work to impress the well-meaning among our countrymen and to stir up their sympathy. It took years to secure the passing of a law to prevent the payment of sweating wages, such as 2d. or 2½d. per hour to women at Cradley Heath for doing hard work in a laborious and unhealthy occupation. The welfare of the people must be secured by 57 process of government in establishing a just and adequate wage, seeing that this cannot be secured by private bargaining.
A Member of the Government, the hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Masterman), said some months ago, towards the close of one of the worst periods of this labour unrest, that the exposure of the conditions under which men and women were working was worth all the trouble through which the country had gone. He referred to the fact that van boys and carters had gone back contentedly to work after securing a fourteen-hour day. Their appeal for overtime rates only after working on normal wages for fourteen hours had been conceded. He referred to the girl mothers of Birmingham who were living in a new earth because their wages had been raised from 7s. to 8s. a week. If Members of the Government can state these facts on public platforms they may be certain it is their duty to give expression to their convictions, and thus prevent long hours and low wages together with the social and industrial degradation that inevitably follow in their train. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, who moved the Amendment, referred to the fact that the state of low wages was very general among the industrial population. May I refer to another side of the case—the ever-increasing income of the non-producing classes of the country. I do not wish to trouble the House with figures, but, as I understand, those supplied by the Government returns, and as I understand the speeches of Chancellors of the Exchequer of the past few years the position is this: The increase in the average income per person among the well-to-do classes coming under Income Tax conditions has in the course of ten years been £160 per year; that is to say, ten years ago the average income was £840, and now it is over £1,000—an increase representing hundreds of millions sterling a year enjoyed by a class which is not a working class, however else you may describe it.
Ministers of the Crown cannot parade these figures on platforms, as they sometimes do, and picture conditions of extreme poverty and extremely undesirable wealth without finding themselves faced with some of the consequences of that increase in the incomes of the well-to-do. You have had a virtual decrease in the incomes of the wage-earning population. While here and there there has been some addition in the way of a slight advance in wages of from 58 1s. 6d. to 2s. 6d. a week, that increase has been more than counterbalanced by the upward tendency of prices, which falls only with any degree of severity on the poorer classes. Those whose incomes are measured by a certain number of pounds per week do not feel the increase in the cost of coal, bread and meat, and other necessaries of life in the same way as do the vast majority of the wage-earning population, to whom the increase means the loss of whatever margin of comfort, not to say luxury, which they may have been enjoying. When we discussed in this House some time last year the subject of the minimum wage, the spokesman for the Government told us how enormous was the number of persons who were paid less than 30s. a week. I remember that he mentioned there were seven and a-half millions of persons employed at less than 30s. a week. That means that you have seven and a-half million people who simply cannot fulfil the ordinary expectations of civilised life, who cannot meet the obligations imposed upon them, and who cannot provide themselves with good homes or with opportunities of outlook for themselves or their children. When you have that fact, together with the fact of this enormous and ever-increasing growth in the incomes of the better-to-do class, I say the duty of the Government is not merely to face the facts and pass on but to insist upon the use of the law and the operations of Parliament to secure by one means or the other the necessary standard of existence for the most useful section of our population.
Say the very worst against those who have taken the worst part in what we call the labour unrest, and the worst is sufficiently answered by the fact that the class which does the hardest work and faces the greatest dangers, the class which is most despised and ignored when it tries by peaceful means to get better payment, is the class which above all classes we can least do without. It is the most indispensable class. It is unfortunately the class that can only show its real worth to the country when it does no work at all. Let these men go on quietly with their work they are little thought of. The severity of the sack is unknown to people who have not experienced it. Those who have not felt what is to many a kind of social sentence of death would be more moved by the dismissal of these common working men if they themselves had had the experience of men who are badly paid, overworked, and brutally treated, and who 59 are really degraded by their conditions of service when they are going on with their work. They are fully justified in using the extremest measures that can be resorted to in order to secure what they cannot secure at all by peaceful measures. We have heard how intensely some people feel on some questions, and when people feel strongly extreme measures are understood to be excused. Indeed, in this House we have seen exhibitions of violence and disorder that I daresay have done something to lead other people outside this House to imitate them. We recently heard in several parts of Ulster of what would be done if the ordinary operations of the law were employed to bring about certain changes in the method of government. I can assure this House that men who have been abused and lowly paid for years and years, and who have tried all the peaceful measures of appeal that can be resorted to, are beginning to feel strongly, and are beginning to feel that they, of all classes, have the fullest justification for using any weapon that can be used in order to secure a standard of living fit for human being.
The agitators in this period of unrest have been condemned, especially by many hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House. I gather there are two statements, which are mutually destructive, levelled against the agitator. One is that he has no influence, that he has lost his authority, that great numbers of men have thrown him aside and are working without him; and the other is that there would be peace and friendly relations between masters and the men if it were not that the agitator was always leading these men into disorder. The fact is that in the greatest centres of trouble, London, Hull, Manchester, and so on, there were men who for years have been outside the sphere of any appeal of the agitator. Trade unions are the subject of something like discipline, of the processes of order, of method and reasoned appeal, but if the employers of great influence and position in this country persist in decrying the agitator as a wicked and designing person who merely wants to foster trouble between the employer and the employed, then if the power of the agitator and of the trade unions is weakened, that employer has no right to turn round and say that the agitator is the cause of the disorder, and that there would be contentment in the country if it were not for the trouble he was causing. I ask the attention of the House, that daily 60 begins its business with all the solemnity of prayer, to the outspoken and emphatic statements of very many of the highest Church dignitaries that we have in the land to-day. I will not quote or name them; their utterances are the common property of us all. They tell you that it is not sufficient to merely hope for a condition of peace between masters and men; they tell you, as we tell you, that you must look for the causes of this unrest, that you must look at the real sources from which these things spring, and, above all, that it is the duty and the business of this House to deal with causes that provoke and compel disorder, and to cope with those causes by the means of legislation. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer, perhaps more than any man in history, has directed public attention to these extremes of riches and poverty. Before I close I want to quote what he said in his speech some time ago at Birmingham. He said:—The protection of property in this country is the most perfect machine ever devised by the human brain. The guardians of property patrol every street, and if the transgressor eludes their vigilance he is pursued to the ends of the earth.Then he goes on to give a comparison between how well property is safeguarded and protected by the law and the law as regards the conditions and social welfare of the people. He says:—But compare that with the way in which the Public Health Acts and the Housing Acts are administered in this country. We have had Public Health Acts in this country for years and years, long before I was born, and that is getting a long time ago. Now you have Housing Acts on the tatute Book, and yet there is no city or town, nay, not a village, but you have got the reek of insanitary property.4.0 P.M.
That reek will remain, and all that it means will remain, unless the workman is properly treated in the workshop. Send the man out of the gates and he will go to a slum. There you will have ill-health and disease. He has not sufficient food or food of proper quality. He is badly clothed. He is unsightly, without means, a penalty upon the community in every way. Poverty is the most costly thing that any community could permit. It does not pay a country to keep the people poor. Any general impoverishment of large masses of the people is bound to cause other forms of danger, and compels you to pay a much larger doctor's bill and police bill and asylum bill and workhouse bill than otherwise would have to be paid. So that low wages are the first cause of slums. Give your workmen money wherewith to live in a better home, and they will naturally desire to have a better home. It 61 is no answer to say that if workmen get more they will spend it upon vice, gambling, and drink, for the fact is that it is the better-paid classes of our population who spend least in this way, and most of those who reproach them have less cause to level the finger of scorn at them for any vices of that kind. Lastly, may I draw the attention of the House to the recent testimony of the Chief Medical Officer of the Board of Education in respect to the way in which Parliament continues to ignore the position of the children. Says this medical officer:—Every step in the direction of making and keeping the children healthy is a step towards diminishing the prevalence, and lightening the burden, of disease for the adult, and a relatively small rise in the standard of child health may represent a proportionately large gain in the physical health, capacity and energy of the people as a whole. As a general proposition, it may be said that a State cannot effectively insure itself against disease unless it begins with its children.Those are sentiments, I am certain, which all Members of the House will endorse, but something more than sentiment is needed. Throughout all last Session Members on these benches repeatedly appealed to hon. Gentlemen of all parties to allow a little measure to go through which would guarantee meals to hungry children during the period of enforced school holidays, and each time we were met with the same resistance, so that if we are genuine in our professions of sympathy for the innocent and suffering children let us at least go to the extent of opening freely the gates through which this little Bill can pass, and guarantee food to the starving children of our country. We say then the Government is not facing the issue; it is closing its eyes to it, and we support this Amendment declaring that unrest is due, to insufficient wages, and, for myself, I say that pending the abolition of these monopolies referred to in our Amendment, my fervent hope is that unrest will continue and the display of revolt will remain until justice is done.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment did not touch upon the last subject of the Motion before us at all, or perhaps in a very vague manner, with regard to the nationalisation of railways. The hon. Member (Mr. Clynes) never alluded to it at all until he got to the last sentence of his speech. When I saw the very important Amendment which the hon. Gentleman put down, and which covers a great multitude of issues—because the hon. Gentleman desires to nationalise the railways, the mines, and other monopolies—it reminded me of the Development Bill, which, amongst other things, 62 was going to provide for the development of the United Kingdom, a magnificent subject, and the hon. Member opposite, apparently raised to the skies by the publication of the magnificent projects of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, now intends to nationalise railways, mines, and other monopolies, so that nothing is to be left out which by any possible means can be considered to be a monopoly. What arguments did the hon. Member put forward, in order to justify these propositions? He began by a long speech upon Protection. He taunted my right hon. Friend (Mr. Bonar Law) with having said nothing in his speech yesterday about Protection. But what had that got to do with the nationalisation of railways, mines, or other monopolies, or with the question of the lowness of wages, because the hon. Member went on to tell us that it was in protected countries that wages were low, and that if we had Protection in this country wages would be still lower than they are. Therefore I fail to see what the object of that speech was unless it was rather to gloss over the difficulties, and to make remarks which would be cheered by hon. Members on his side. Then the hon. Member said that low wages are the cause of labour unrest. Are not the coal miners one of the best paid classes of labourers—if they call themselves labourers—not only in this country, but in any other country? I leave out America for the moment.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
The reason why there is unrest among coal miners is that there are specially low-paid men among them, and it is for the levelling up of those specially low-paid men that the whole agitation has been started.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I think there are different opinions upon that. I fancy if a coalowner was asked he would say there are no specially low-paid men amongst the miners. [An. HON. MEMBER: "They admit it."] Taking the miners as a class there can be no question that they are not low-paid men, or that at present the greatest unrest is amongst the miners who are the highest paid labourers in the United Kingdom. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] The hon. Member went on to say that in highly-protected countries the labour of the workman was worse than in Free Trade countries, and he cited America. As far as my information goes, wages in America are certainly higher than they are here, and they are higher in America than in any 63 other country in the world. He went on to say, quite correctly, that during the last few years there had been a great drop in wages, but that is owing to the policy of the party opposite. It is owing to Free Trade. It is owing to the Socialistic speeches and the Socialistic programmes which have been brought forward, strongly supported by hon. Members below the Gangway, and half-heartedly supported by hon. Members above the Gangway. Then he went on to say he understood that my right hon. Friend (Mr. Bonar Law) had always held that wages rise when prices rise. I am perfectly content to leave my right hon. Friend to fight his own battles, and I am quite certain he will, to use perhaps rather a slang phrase, come out on top. But I wish to say a few words on that question myself. Prices may rise and wages may still fall. Prices may rise because the means of production are stopped, and consequently there are not so many goods to be sold while the demand continues, and the wages may fall because the men are not required to produce goods which are not in existence, and that is exactly what is taking place at present. Trade is going abroad, and the demand for labour is not so great, and prices are rising in consequence. One reason of the rise in prices is the Coal Mines Eight Hours Act. We said it would have that effect, and we were derided, and told we were quite wrong and knew nothing whatever about it, but it has raised the price of coal. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] Because so much coal has not been produced, and because it has cost more to produce it. The result has been that the industries which are dependent upon coal have had to pay more for their coal, and have had to charge more for what they sell. There is another cause. The strike in Liverpool raised the wages of the seamen and dockers, and of all people connected with transport and the docks. The consequence of that was that freights were raised and the consumer had to pay an increased price. That will always follow. If you raise wages artificially, by force, you are bound to raise the costs of what those wages produce, and the result, of course, will be that the consuming classes will have to pay more than they had to pay before the rise in wages, and consequently no one is benefited.
Then the hon. Member waxed very eloquent over the fact that the coal rings had raised the price of coal by three or four shillings a ton during the last few weeks 64 when a strike was contemplated. They raised the price because the demand was greater than the supply, and prices will always be controlled by supply and demand. The demand being greater than the supply, the retail dealers, finding a great number of people wanting to buy what they have got, naturally put the price of the article up, and the hon. Member and his friend are trying to do exactly the same thing for the workmen, because what they have to sell is their labour. They are trying to put the price of labour up, and when someone else tries to put up the price of what he has to sell the hon. Member says something ought to be done to prohibit this extremely wicked proceeding. The hon. Member went on to say that coal mines must be nationalised because you could not do away with the coal ring, but earlier in his speech he had attacked the Government, and the War Office in particular, for endeavouring to save threepence, I think he said by purchasing something in his constituency. I believe it was a question of using women's instead of men's labour. If the Government do this sort of thing in the constituency of the hon. Member—I think it is very likely they will be rather careful of interfering with the constituency of the hon. Member, knowing the position he occupies below the Gangway—if they save threepence in this way, what safeguard has he that they themselves, if they are going to be retail sellers of coal under nationalisation of coal mining, will not do exactly the same thing and take a higher price for what they have to sell? I think the hon. Member, if he was going to make the height of human bliss and the sole opportunity of human prosperity the nationalisation and management of the means of production and distribution by the Government, he should not have commenced his speech by an attack on the Government for attempting to save threepences. The hon. Member went on to say that the intention of social reform in this House was not to increase the cost to the consumer, but to take money out of the pocket of capital and put it into the pocket of labour. I do not say that these are his words, but that is the idea he intended to convey. But where is this money to come from? It will not drop from the skies. It must come from somewhere, and if it does not come out of the pocket of the consumer it must come out of the pocket of capital. And that is where the hon. Gentleman is making a great mistake. He and his friends are apparently 65 under the impression that the ordinary capitalist is very wealthy and successful, and that there is money which can be taken out of his pocket without raising prices unduly, and which can be put into the pocket of someone else. I do not know what the percentage upon capital as a whole is in this country. An hon. Friend beside me tells me that he does not think it is much more than 5 per cent. or 6 per cent. If that is so, there is no very great margin for the transference of money from the pocket of one class to the pocket of another. The hon. Gentleman, who seconded the Amendment (Mr. Clynes) talked about the great rise in the incomes of the well-to-do, as evidenced by the Income Tax returns. Surely the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that these figures should be considered in view of the fact that during the last ten years great pressure has been put by the Income Tax collectors on the whole community to pay Income Tax, and that large numbers who did not make full returns before are making full returns now. [Laughter.] I do not know why hon. Gentlemen opposite laugh. I am stating an absolute fact.
§ Mr. CLYNES
May I ask the hon. Baronet whether he has observed that the increase in incomes was noticed before the putting on of the pressure to which he has alluded took place?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman when, in his opinion, the pressure began. I say it took place ten years ago. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire (Mr. Austen Chamberlain) was the first Chancellor of the Exchequer to commence that operation, and his example has been followed by the present occupant of the office. I do not think the hon. Member's figures went beyond ten years. Neither the Mover nor the Seconder of the Amendment said anything at all about the nationalisation of mines or railways. I want to say one or two words on that question. I wondered this afternoon, when thinking over what sort of speech the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) would make, how he would get over the fact that the capital invested in the railways of this country is, roughly speaking, about 1,300 million pounds, or nearly twice the amount of the funded National Debt, which amounts to 708 million pounds. How would he get over that fact? It would be very difficult for any country to obtain that amount of money without depressing their funds to a very 66 great extent. With Consols at their present price, it would be suicidal to attempt to raise 1,300 millions sterling. The average return, on railway capital at the present moment is about 3¾ per cent. Has the hon. Member ever thought that it is impossible to raise money for Irish land purchase except at a price which yields something like 3⅜ per cent? Therefore the margin, supposing it could be done, between what the railway stocks yield and the return on the money raised for the purchase of Irish land, is extremely small.
I think the hon. Gentleman will admit that if you attempted to raise a loan of 1,300 millions you would have to pay a very much higher rate, and therefore any margin which you would get to increase wages, which I suppose is at the bottom of the hon. Gentleman's mind, would be very small indeed. He may say, "We will give the owners of railways Consols." But you have got to give them the same income from Consols as they are receiving at the present time on their stocks, unless you say to them, "You have no business to hold railway stocks," and take them away. But if you do that, you have no margin, and if you throw an enormous mass of stock on the market, it must further depreciate the credit of the country, which—I am not now making any party attack—for whatever reason, is in a very serious position, and requires investigation. Therefore I think I have shown that it is absolutely impossible from the receipts of the railways to give any increase to the workers on railways at the present moment. I presume the hon. Member might say, "Very well, there will be a deficit on working on the railways, and we will take that deficit out of the pockets of the ratepayers and taxpayers." What would the taxpayers say to that? There, again, the hon. Member must remember that if you have to find money, you have to get it somewhere. These reasons seem to me almost insurmountable. They presented themselves to my mind, and I thought that the hon. Gentleman would at any rate make some effort to show that his scheme was feasible. He has made no effort of any sort or kind. Neither has the Seconder of the Amendment tried to show that the scheme is feasible.
That only deals with one branch of the question, but what about the nationalisation of the mines of the country? I do not know the value of the mines of this country, but I suppose it is something enormous. I am sure the hon. Gentleman does 67 not propose to expropriate the mine-owners. If he is going to take over the railways, where is he going to find the money for the nationalisation of the mines? The amount required must be many hundreds of millions. Where is that to be found? Then we have still to deal with the "other monopolies." I do not know what the other monoplies are. But as the hon. Member called railways "monopolies," though they have to compete with municipal tramways, cheap shipping, motor cars and vans, and all the varied competition which now goes on, I presume he would call every means of production in the country a monopoly. Practically it comes to this, that in his opinion every means of production should be taken over and managed by the State and by hon. Members below the Gangway. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about land?"] Yes, there is the question of land. I have left land out. I have got accustomed to all sorts of extraordinary proposals. There is the proposal to take land over as well as railways, mines, and every other means of production. I should like to ask the hon. Member for Leicester whether he thinks that the management of nationalised concerns is going to be very profitable either to the State or to the people who use the particular article produced or managed. A few days ago Lord Devonport—not a benighted Tory, but a prominent member of the party opposite who formerly graced that Front Bench—wrote to the papers to say that the telephone service was so bad since it was taken over by the State that it was utterly impossible for the business of the country to be carried on with any advantage, and yet within a few days of the publication of that letter the hon. Gentleman comes here and proposes that much greater and more complicated concerns should be taken over by the State. The unfortunate travellers on our railways would be left, as they are in France, with trains which never keep time, and which often run off the line—railways on which strikes still continue. We know that strikes have not been prevented by the nationalisation of railways in France and other countries. I presume this is not a serious Amendment. It is brought forward in order to show that the Labour party in the House are alive to the interests of their constituents. It is not a dangerous Amendment, because the Labour party know perfectly well that if they summon up courage to go to a division the vast majority of hon. Members on 68 this side will support the Government. Therefore they are killing two birds with one stone. They are showing their devotedness to the Labour party and their supreme disregard of the interests of the Government, knowing perfectly well that nothing whatever is going to result from their action. That being the case, I do not think it is necessary for me to prolong my remarks, and accordingly I conclude by expressing the conviction that nothing whatever is going to result from the discussion we have had this afternoon.
§ Mr. ROBERT HARCOURT
I disapprove entirely of any unrest and disorder, and I disapprove of it just as much as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson). This is not, of course, a discussion to-day on Tariff Reform, and I do not suppose that I should be permitted, now that this Amendment has been moved, to comment upon the general observations that fell from the hon. Member for Leicester at the beginning of his speech. I desire to associate myself with his remark that labour unrest is common to all countries of the world. I think one of the most interesting pieces of news in the papers for many weeks past was a Reuter's message from the other side of the Atlantic. I shall quote it from the "Daily Chronicle" in these terms:—In a message to Congress President Taft asks for an appropriation to enable him to invite Foreign Governments to an International Conference on the cost of living. He points out the need of an inquiry on industrial relations.I think that disposes absolutely of the theory or all sufficiency of a 10 per cent. duty which is so dear to the heart of the Leader of the Opposition. If I may refer for a moment to the two points that were taken by the hon. Member for Leicester I believe, and I am very sorry to have to say so, that he is absolutely right on the point of fact when he asserts that the working man is beginning to lose all his confidence in the executive Government. I do not mean this Government but any Government, and I do not mean all workmen. But I think it has got to be recognised, and we have got to recognise it in a serious spirit. In my Constituency the other day I had long conversations with workers in the factories. I think that they are absolutely wrong on, some masters and I hope so, but it is a fact you cannot get away from. You do get a great deal of argument from the workmen which I believe is entirely ill-founded and on which it is extremely difficult to convince them. They are beginning, as the hon. 69 Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) said to have some distrust in Parliamentary action, though why that is supposed to tell against His Majesty's Government and not against the party below the Gangway I really cannot quite understand. As the hon. Member's Amendment only appeared upon the Order Paper this morning, I had no opportunity, as in the case of a similar Amendment last year, of putting down at any rate an alternative Amendment. I am one of those who agree with a great deal of the arguments used by the hon. Member, but do not associate themselves entirely with the terms of the Motion, and I hope that I shall not be guilty of infliction upon the House for having to read another possible Amendment. I do not propose to move it, because one is most anxious not to do anything to interfere with an important debate, but if I had had an opportunity of putting down an Amendment I should like to leave out all words after "that" and insert instead thereof—Having regard to existing industrial unrest arising in many cases from long hours, low wages, and casual employment, early steps should be taken for regularising the national demand for labour between good seasons and bad seasons, good years and bad years of trade, for shortening the hours of transport workers and for considering to what further trades or branches of trades the provisions of the Trade Boards Act could now properly be extended. Further, that a national and, if possible, an international inquiry should take place into the causes of the rise in prices and the alleged fall in real wages, and that proposals should be submitted for the uninterrupted and indispensable provision of transport facilities of coal for national purposes without prejudicing the case of those employed in the railways and mines.It is probable, I admit, that that possibly begs many questions, and on the latter portion of the argument I do not think that you can possibly discuss the question of the coal strike. That remains, I think, for the executive Government alone; but I think that hon. Members are not well advised in confining the terms of their Motion entirely to low wages. They talk of the insufficiency of wages. I think that there is a little insufficiency in their own description, because after all the wage per hour in some trades may compare very favourably with 70 the wages in other trades, and yet the hours in those trades may be, and often are, disgracefully long. I remember hearing a deputation from one of the important trade unions in my own industrial Constituency, the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants. Though they were perfectly acquainted with all these facts they did not select as the point to bring before me the lowness of wages but the length of the hours. They asked for an eight hours' day. I have said over and over again in this House, and I have said it in my maiden speech, and I venture to repeat it now, that one of the first things which we ought to deal with which are contained in the Minority Report of the Poor Law Commission is to diminish the hours of labour for all transport workers. Even the Minority Report does not venture to go so far as forty-eight hours, but it does suggest a lowering of hours to sixty a week for transport workers, these including trams as well—which are a matter of interest in connection with the combine, of which we see discussions in the newspapers now—and carters, among whom there has been great unrest recently.
That would have, of course, a real effect in bringing about increased employment, because if you diminish what you may call hours of attendance of signalmen and other railwaymen you must obviously take on more men. I do not see why the terms of the Motion do not include also some reference to the evils of casual employment. Surely that should be mentioned as well. Surely persistent effort should be made through the Labour Exchanges and the beneficent presence of individualist anarchistic employers to get rid of the comfortable surplus which is always waiting at the door in good times and in bad times to drain the stagnant pool of labour and make some effort to see that you give six days' work to one man rather than one day's work to six men; and to recognise also that you must, of course, assume some responsibility for dealing with the residuum very much as we have taken a pledge to deal eventually with the deposit contributors a year or two hence, either by a frank State subsidy or by maintenance under some form of training, if only physical, as an alternative to a Poor Law which nobody now believes in, and which is only respectable, as many other things are respectable, because it has been condemned whole-heartedly by a Royal Commission.
The terms of the Amendment speak of demanding the enactment of a legal minimum wage, and I confess I was rather 71 surprised when I read it in the paper this morning. But hon. Gentlemen have since recognised the fact that you have already got the principle of a minimum wage existing in this country. You have got it in the Trade Boards Act, the revolutionary principle of which sets up the doctrine, not of a minimum wage fixed by the State, by the House of Commons, but by a board upon which both sides are represented who have an interest in not putting upon the trade more than the trade can bear. I think we may very possibly say in connection with an Amendment like this, "Let us have an extension of legislation of this kind; leave it free to the House of Commons to decide, and then use the whole forces of the State to level up the bad employer to the level of the good." I hope I may be permitted to say one word on what is called the regularising of the national demand for labour. We have discussed it often in this House, and I hope that the Government by this time are doing something in this direction. You have an enormous number of things: for instance, in my own Constituency standard pipes of all kinds which are ordered by Government Departments in years of good trade and in years of bad trade. Surely it ought to be possible to see that you order more of these standard products in the years of bad trade, rather than in years of good trade when trade is booming and there is a large number of private orders. A very interesting article appeared in a paper called "The Crusade," the organ of those who favour the Minority Report of the Poor Law Commission, by a gentleman well acquainted with the details of the woollen trade, showing how in that one trade you may, as he says, smooth out the unemployment question.
There is another point. It is a small one, though I believe it could be made of enormous importance. I hope that we shall have this Session an opportunity of considering very fully the operations of the Development Board. I believe that a very great deal can be done, and should be done, by administrative action in which this Government has, I think, distinctly shone, and as the hon. Baronet who spoke last said, you have a very advanced principle. But you have got to take account of the state of trade and the labour market at the time, a mandate to the Development Commissioners that I think should be Very widely interpreted. But, after all, the main point is this, with regard to 72 measures like the Trade Boards Act and the Development Act, that it is really no use in passing these red-flag measures and in passing them not only with the unanimous consent of all parties in this House, but with the assent of another place, unless you are going to use them to the full limit of their capacity. When there is a landslide on a railway line and a train comes along with these third-class passengers of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, packed with poor humanity, which can barely afford the excursion fare, when you have got a red flag of this kind, a flag of safety, do not button it up in your pocket with the order from the Paymaster-General and let the train go on to its destruction, but let us use it freely. Let us use our legislation and the wide discretionary power which the Board of Trade have got, which is the nearest approach to what we hope to obtain some day, a Minister of Labour; and as strongly as any Labour Member, I do venture to say this: Let us for God's sake do something before the millennium of 1st July, when the Insurance Act comes into operation, as to the cost of living.
I remember that about the time of the first of the last two General Elections, at the end of 1909, the Board of Trade brought out a Blue Book intended mainly to deal with the controversy as between Free Trade and Protection, but which contains most important figures, which, I think, fully bear out a large number of the arguments which were submitted by the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway, and show in fact a fall in the rate of real wages. I remember perfectly well quoting those figures upon a public platform, and a lady in the audience, a supporter of my own party, came to me afterwards, and said, "Even if those things are true, why do you tell the working classes? It is a dangerous piece of knowledge to put into their hands." But unfortunately, or rather fortunately as I believe, the working classes already have that knowledge from bitter experience, and even if you wish to deceive them you could not do it. I thoroughly agree with the statement in an article which I read the other day by my hon. Friend the Member for East Northants (Mr. Chiozza Money) that no settlement of these disputes ought to be welcomed if the result should be to permit the under-payment of labour. I have referred to the action of President Taft, and I hope that His Majesty's Government will take note of it, because I think that that is a more vitally important fact even than a proposal of arbitration between the 73 United States and Great Britain. We do want arbitration, we want arbitration between two nations, but we want arbitration between the two great nations which are described by Mr. Disraeli in his novel of "Sybil" as the nation of the rich and the nation of the poor.
§ Mr. COOPER
I think I am not alone in finding some difficulty in forming an opinion as to whether the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down is going to support the Motion of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) and oppose his own party, or whether he is going to maintain, an isolated position when we go to the Division Lobby. It was my intention to move an Amendment to the Amendment before the House for the purpose of enabling myself first, and I believe many other Members on these benches, to take a share with the leaders of the Labour party in forcing the Government to do what they ought to have done last year, and what they refused to do, namely, to deal with this question of a genuine grievance of the working classes—the grievance of increased burdens whilst their earning capacity is not in increased in proportion, and, in fact, according to the authority on the benches opposite, has really, on the whole, depreciated. I listened to the speeches of the two hon. Gentlemen who moved and seconded this Resolution, and when I saw that their purpose was not to get some practical remedy to remove this grievance of the workpeople, but merely to try and put forward their theoretical policy of Socialism, I felt it was impossible for me to make any attempt to come to their rescue. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I think it is the view of some of us on these benches that they will make very poor progress on this occasion in their advocacy of a policy of Socialism. Knowing well their purpose, I am the more surprised at the moderation of the wording of their Amendment. But when we reflect that the Labour party are to-day—as they have been certainly for the last year—sacrificing the principles for which they stand before the people of the country in order to support the policy that emanates from by far the largest section of the rich and the greedy capitalists, against whom the hon. Member for Leicester spoke so severely—when we reflect that they are engaged in that process to-day, we can well understand that in moving a Resolution of this nature it is necessary for them to deal with it in 74 a very gingerly manner, and not to run the slightest risk of upsetting their capitalist friends.
The Government themselves recognise the gravity of the question to which this Amendment refers, because in the Speech from the Throne, after dealing with foreign politics, in the very first item in domestic policy to which they refer are the difficulties between employers and workmen, and all they do in that paragraph is to express the pious trust that these difficulties are going to be removed. It was natural that we should look to these two hon. Gentlemen who moved and seconded this Amendment for some indication of the practical remedy they were going to put before the House, and by which these great difficulties might be got over. We find that after expressing their opinion of the gravity of this question, the Government are content to leave it alone and to offer to us in this country, and to offer it to the people who are suffering under this deplorable insufficiency of wages and the increased cost of living, policies like Home Rule and the Disestablishment of the Welsh Church—measures which, to adopt an expression recently used by the First Lord of the Admiralty, are to the people of this country far more in the nature of political luxuries than of political necessities. I hope, in the few words I want to put before the House, that I may be able to go one step further than the two hon. Gentlemen opposite in trying to point out some directions at least in which progress can be made, and could be made to-day by this Government if they would only take this question in hand. I think it is an undisputed fact that the people of this country to-day are suffering increased burdens, partly as the result of an increased national expenditure—for the sake of my argument let me say expenditure in every sense of the word wise; nevertheless, they have to bear their share of this increased expenditure, while, as we all know, they are suffering from this increased cost of living, and their means of meeting this increased expenditure, that is, their earning capacity, is practically stationary. It was on the first day of the Autumn Session, the 24th October, that I had a question down to the Prime Minister—first, as to the appointment by the Government of a Commission to inquire into the reason why the cost of food had increased in price; and, secondly, for the purpose of trying to ascertain what steps could be taken to effect some reduction.
75 The reply I got from the Prime Minister to that question was that there would be no time during the Autumn Session to deal with this subject—only the increased cost of living—which affected most of the people of this country. The Government then had no time whatever to deal with a matter of that nature. Later on, on pressing it further, we had the promise of the Government that a Departmental inquiry would be made into the matter. A Departmental inquiry is a pure waste of time. They are only going to tell us what is the price of bacon and so forth, and what are the rents in some of the large towns of this country—information which many of us have in our possession at the present time. What we want to get at is why the increased prices have been brought about, and how they can be dealt with. Three weeks ago we read in the papers that the Canadian Government had appointed a Commission with the identical purpose for which I ask that a Commission should be appointed. My desire therefore to have an inquiry into the question of the rise in the cost of living cannot be considered a very impractical one. The hon. Member for Leicester made reference, and for all I know a very correct reference, to one of the reasons that had brought about the increase in the cost of coal, namely, that it was owing to a coal ring in London. I am sure the hon. Member for Leicester equally knows that one of the great reasons why we have got increased prices in the cost of food is due to a similar reason. One illustration why I think a Government inquiry on the lines I suggest would do some good to the people of this country may be gathered from the cost of butter. Butter recently has increased very much in price. It is public knowledge that a large proportion of the supply that came from New Zealand was held up in the factories whilst a ring put up their prices to the people of this country.
If the Government go into the various items of food and show up facts like that to which I have referred, I believe they would move public feeling so strongly that it would very soon lead to drastic proposals for preventing these causes of increased cost of food in the future. Turning from the increased cost of living to the subject of wages, it is a fact that an enormous number of people in this country are receiving wages for a full week's work upon which we know that they cannot possibly live with any reasonable degree of comfort. 76 We were told by the hon. Member for Leicester that there are 2,000,000 families involved in this question, and two or three years ago the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) said that this represented over ten million souls whose wages were under 20s. a week. Lest the impression should be left on the minds of hon. Members that anything less than 20s. is very seldom paid in this country, let me say that there are hundreds of thousands, if not a million or more men in this country, who are earning less than 17s. 6d. per week—men of twenty-one years of age and over, for I am speaking of grown-up people. Men are cleaning engines now for one of the great railways—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]—Yes, even after the increase of wages that has taken place—and are not getting more than 16s. a week. Personally, when I meet these cases in moving about daily, I feel that it is impossible for us not to feel that this is a question which is one of the most pressing we have to deal with in this country. When we come to the methods by which these low and starvation wages may be dealt with, we are faced by the Labour party who are ready with their Socialistic doctrine of a 30s. minimum wage, or else they are to get nothing at all. The question of a minimum wage of 30s. has played a very great part in the present difficulty, and I would remind the House of the Motion that was brought forward on the 25th April last by the hon. Member for Woolwich, and which was supported by the Labour party. The Motion was referred to by the hon. Member for Leicester, and he took the trouble to read a quotation from the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade who replied late in the afternoon on behalf of the Government. But the hon. Member for Leicester in giving the quotation just gave that part which suited his purposes, and I should like to ask him why he did not go a step further and deal with the very broad expression of opinion that was given us then on behalf of the Government, as to why it was impossible for them to consider any such proposal. The words of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade were—Any considerable or certain increase in the rate of wages must increase the cost of production and dislocate labour. The increase in the cost of production will invite foreign competition.5.0 P.M.
Dislocation of labour and increase of foreign competition constituted the excuse of the Government on that occasion why they were not prepared to move in any
77 way—though backed up by their own supporters—to get a minimum wage of 30s. There is a very important aspect of this question that was omitted by the hon. Gentleman, and I do not think I have ever heard it referred to in this House when subjects of a similar nature have been under discussion. The first principle in the cheapness of the cost of production is not wages; the first principle is the regular output of a factory conducted in an economical manner. If that be not true, I would ask hon. Members how it is that there are so many articles manufactured cheaper, we will say in the United States, where the wages are from two and a-half to two and three-quarter times larger than they are in this country. Take typewriters. It is impossible for anybody in this country to make them at the same price at which the Americans put them on the market, although where we only pay £1 a week in wages in this country, in America they pay 50s. and 55s. a week for the same work. The only reason we cannot do it is because when the factory is started there is no regularity of output. Holding that view encourages me all the more in the statement that by a judicious regulation of industrial circumstances in this country it is possible to considerably increase the wages we are paying to day without materially, if at all, injuring the industry of the country. I would like on this question of the minimum wage to remind the Labour party of what, I feel sure, they do not pay sufficient attention to. They advocate it, as we well remember, in this House, and we know that at a meeting on Tuesday they put it first on the list of Motions that they are going to press again on this House if they get the opportunity. We find the Labour party speaking in this House and speaking in the country two totally different and opposite people. I will just read what the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) thinks about the 30s. minimum wage when he is speaking in the country, and when he is speaking to a body of Socialists. After supporting his party here in Parliament he went in July to Bradford, and he was there down to second a resolution demanding the establishment of a general minimum wage of 30s.If it were put forward as a proposal to press upon the Legislature of the country as an immediate and a practical demand then he was afraid his enthusiasm would be somewhat modified. To establish a 30s. minimum would require not £150,000,000 per year, but at least double that amount. Suppose Parliament were to pass a Bill enacting a 30s. minimum wage, what would 78 happen in the greatest of their industries, the cotton trade? Within a week every cotton mill in Lancashire would be closed.I would like to ask is the one purport of the Labour Members in bringing forward and pressing this question of a 30s. minimum wage for the purpose of closing every factory where the people they profess to support are engaged, and from which they are now deriving their weekly wages. Continuing, and I want to point this out because it is very relevant to any remedy we may be seeking for to deal with this difficulty of lower wages, the hon. Member for Blackburn said:—The average wage of adults in the cotton trade was estimated at 24s., and an increase of 6s. per week would take away far more than the whole of the profit of the cotton trade. If they had a self-contained market, if they were protected by tariffs, the case would be entirely different.In justice to the hon. Member I must complete the quotation—But they had to remember that the Lancashire cotton trade existed to the extent of at least four-fifths of its bulk upon foreign markets.That is the complete and fair quotation I think. I am not going to turn this Debate into the question of Tariff Reform and Free Trade, but I think hon. Members opposite will allow me to point out that the moral from that quotation is that, just as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade in April last told us, the great difficulty of making any increase to-day upon the present rate of wages is on account of the fear of increased importation of foreign-made goods with which we have to compete. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."]. That is unquestionable, and I go a step further and point this out to hon. Members below the Gangway opposite. There have been certain increases in certain trades recently. The dockers came out on strike last June, and that was followed by the carriers in various towns, and it ended up with the railway men in August, while we are now face to face with the grievances, and at the bottom, in my opinion, just grievances, that have got to be met in the case of the miners. Every one of those industries where those better wages have been obtained are all free from foreign competition. Why is it that we are making no advance in wages except in those particular industries, and one other which is also virtually free from foreign competition, namely, the printing trade. There was a strike early last year, I think, and an increase of wages in that trade. In all other directions you cannot get your increase of wages. A strike like that of the engineers some time ago failed for the sole reason that the industry and the 79 employers and the capitalists were independent of the labour of the engineers. They could get what they wanted elsewhere. It is not so with the railway men. They cannot. This principle is a dangerous one to follow far. The principle of improving the wages of only one or two sections is dangerous for this reason, that the increased wages that have been obtained, as the hon. Member for the City of London pointed out in the case of the docker, and it is equally true of the railway men, has the result of injuring other sections of workpeople.
The present Chancellor of the Exchequer stated to a deputation last August that if it was necessary for the Government to repeal the Act that bound the railway companies not to exceed certain rates he would recommend the Government to do so. What does that mean? It simply means that the rates must be increased and—I do not think that this point will generally be disputed—that any increase in wages in those industries means increased rates and cost to the consumer. In any increase thus caused you must remember that the increase is on the masses of the people of this country as well as on the rich, and in proportion to their income I venture to state that the burden of this increased cost of living is more severe on the poorest of the working classes than it is on the well-to-do. Therefore, for that reason, I say that it is dangerous to go too far in assisting forward one section, and that only a small section of the working people, unless you can adopt means at the same time to help along the twelve or fifteen or eighteen millions who cannot to-day get that increase and that benefit. I do hope we shall get some opportunity later on of really debating the possible means by which the burdens of the people in this country can be lightened without have the element of Socialism which the hon. Member for Leicester puts forward as the only possible remedy. I would like to remind hon. Members opposite below the Gangway that in my opinion the Labour party in this country are making the greatest mistake of their lives, for the simple reason that holding the Socialist doctrine and believing, no doubt, in the ulterior objects of their party, they to-day say, "We will have the whole or nothing." The week before last I was in Germany, and I was with some of the leaders of the Socialistic Democratic Party. I questioned them on how far they went in proposing 80 this 30s. minimum, and proposals of that kind, and they said at once it would not do, it would injure their Fatherland, it would injure their industries, and by injuring their industries it would injure them. A hundred years hence they might hope to get it, but to-day, they said, "We ask what we know we can get," The day the Labour party take that view in dealing with employers and industry generally there will come about a very different sentiment from that which exists to-day.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) and the hon. Member who spoke last both rather doubted whether we meant anything by our Amendment, and have said that we know perfectly well that hon. Members on their side will vote with the Government. I would like to suggest to them that if they really believe what they say that they might just as well abstain altogether and leave us to fight the matter out with the Government, It appears to me that they are very anxious to support the Government, but we cannot help it if our arguments do not go home and convince them. Therefore whatever blame there is in this matter does not attach to us. I speak, I am certain, for everyone of my colleagues in saying that we put this down for the express purpose of ventilating first of all the unrest in the labour world, and secondly to definitely put before the House what our proposals are for dealing with it. Hon. Members opposite say that we would be satisfied with nothing short of everything that we ask for. We are accused outside occasionally from the other side of the House with being much too moderate and being much too satisfied with small things. I do not think myself that we have erred on the side of being too extreme, but on an occasion like this, when we are debating the reply to the King's Speech, this is the only opportunity we have of stating fully what we believe to be the real remedy for the distress that prevails outside. This House has ever since the industrial era supported, as we understand it to-day, the man who spoke for ideals and who spoke for bigger things than they could get at the moment. Amongst those men was the late Mr. John Fielden, Member for Oldham. I would like to read something which he said, since I think it is very applicable to the present day, because he had a very uphill fight to convince the Legislature of his day that even the Factory Acts, which everyone of us 81 bless to-day, were necessary. This is what he said:—There is no natural cause for our distresses. We have fertile land, the finest herds and flocks in the world, and the most skilful husbandmen; we have fine rivers and ports, and shipping unequalled; and our ingenuity and industry have given us manufactures with which to complete those blessings … I would cast manufactures to the winds rather than see workpeople enslaved, maimed, vitiated, and broken in constitution and in heart.Those were the sentiments which a Member of this House gave expression to something like fifty years ago. I would like, in a very humble way, to repeat them to the House to-night, and to say that I think this House ought to consider the grievances and the wrongs of its constituents. No one, I suppose, here will really argue that this is a question of Free Trade or Tariff Reform. No one here, I think, will deny that there is poverty in the United States, unrelieved and unredeemed in New York, to which our poverty is in some respects quite a plaything. No one will deny that this same problem of poverty and distress exists in Germany, and in every other civilised country of the world. Nor will anyone deny that in these days men and women are learning to read and to calculate and to get a better comprehension of the things affecting their lives than ever before. When Mr. Robert Lowe said in this House, "After giving the suffrage to the working men, you must educate your masters," he said something which was very true; but I doubt whether any of those who heard him understood what the statement really meant to the people to whom the words applied. You have educated the working men; by passing education laws you have given the people power to read and to think. I am very sorry that the hon. Member for East Northants (Mr. Chiozza Money) is not taking part in this Debate, because we all owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude for the manner in which he has collected statistics showing how wealth has increased in this country. It is no use the hon. Baronet telling us that wealth has not increased largely. Standing outside yesterday watching the procession, I was in a group of miners. One of them laughingly said, "Where does the money all come from?" Another gave the answer, "As we say in Lancashire, it all comes off the back of the pig." That really meant that in the last resort it came from the men and women who do the toil of the world.
Hon. Members from Ireland have taught me, whether they know it or not, more Socialism than anything else I have ever 82 read or heard since I have had anything to do with public life. Right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Benches have taught me how to deal with poverty and destitution. I have heard Irish Members picturing the poverty and misery of the Irish peasantry; they have put their finger on the spot when they have attributed it to absentee landlords draining rent from the unhappy peasants of the country. Both aides have been obliged, because of the economic condition of Ireland, to pledge the credit of this country to the tune of millions for the purpose of redressing that wrong. No one stood up and said that you must introduce Tariff Reform into Ireland to save the Irish peasants. You have had to get rid of the Irish landlord from the back of the Irish peasant, and to a very large extent you have done it. Why cannot the men who saw that they must legislate in that way for the Irish people see that in this country the cause of the poverty is not the recklessness of the working men; it is not the laziness of the working women; it is not that they do not do enough work, but that when they have done their work they are not allowed to reap the results of their labour. There are between them and that which they produce a certain number of people who take portions of the results of their labour in the shape of rent, dividends, and profit. You may argue about this for year after year, but in the last resort you must go to the bedrock of the business. I have here a pamphlet which I wish every Member in the House would read. It is full of human documents collected, not by a rabid person, but by an intellectual woman who has devoted herself to investigations amongst the poor. The hon. Baronet talks in a light-hearted fashion about the poor. He is probably as kind-hearted as anybody in the House, but somehow he does not seem able to get right down to the real facts of life amongst the poor. The hon. Baronet is interested in railways. I will give the case of a railwayman. The pamphlet is written by Mrs. Pember Reeves, of the Fabian Society, and she gives chapter and verse for every case investigated. Here is the budget of Mrs. X. Her husband is a railway carriage washer, earning 18s. for a six days' week, and 21s. every other week when he works seven days. He pays his wife all that he earns. Apparently he is a teetotaller and non-smoker, like myself, and does not waste any of his money on those luxuries that most men think are necessaries. There are three children. This is how the 21s. is 83 spent. Rent, 7s.; clothing club (two weeks), 1s. 2d.; insurance (two weeks), 1s. 6d.; coal and wood, 1s. 7d.; coke, 3d.; gas, 10d.; soap, soda, etc., 5d.; matches, 1d.; blacklead and blacking, 1d.; balance for food for five persons, 8s. 1d. I want the hon. Baronet to get down to that.
I do not stand here as a man who has had a lot of hardship in life. Once in my life I was out of work—not in this country, but in Australia—and I know what it is to feel that the money I had was gradually running out. But I have never had to live on any such money as this, and my mother never had to, or probably I should not have the kind of frame that I possess. Can anyone say that the items I have read out are luxuries? Will anyone deny the need of soap, blacklead, or insurance I Will anyone say that 7s. for rent is too much? As a matter of fact, it is too much; but will anyone deny that it is impossible to get accommodation for a wife and three children for less than 7s.? That being so, will anyone contend that 8s. 1d. is a proper amount for the food of five persons? I am not talking here in any superior fashion, but I know perfectly well it costs me considerably more than that. But here is a family of five persons who have to live seven days a week on that sum. The money is laid out as follows: Eleven loaves, 2s 7d.; quartern of flour, 5½d.; meat, 1s. 10d. Sometimes we are told that our people ought to be vegetarians; 1s. 10d. a week for meat brings them very near to that. Potatoes and greens, 9½d.; ½ lb. butter, 6d.; jam, 3d.; 6 ozs. tea, 6d. Remember the duty on that tea. Two pounds sugar, 4d.; tin of milk, 4d.; cocoa, 4d.; suet, 2d. There is not a drop of fresh milk, only a tin of condensed. How do you expect to bring up an Imperial race or to have a strong nation on that kind of food? One of the reasons I have come to this House is that I am appalled at the physical deterioration of the people amongst whom I live. Every day of my life I come in contact with families like those referred to in this pamphlet. We are not raising this question merely for the purpose of an academic discussion. We want the facts of life to be burnt into the mind of every Member of this House. Take another case, that of a Lambeth worker, a horsekeeper, earning 25s. a week. He gives his wife 23s. They have had six children, three of whom have died. He spends only 6s. 6d. on rent, but Mrs. Pember Reeves contends that the reason the three children have died is that too little was spent on rent. 84 The parents have economised at the cost of cubic space. The following is the budget of this family: Rent, 6s. 6d.; insurance, 10d.; coal, 1s. 6d.; lamp oil, 5d.; boots, 1s. 6½d.; soap and soda, 4½d.; wood, 2d.; leaving for food 11s. 8½d. This balance is laid out as follows: Eleven loaves, 2s. 6¼d.; meat, 3s. 11d.; potatoes, 10d.; vegetables, 2½d.; margarine and jam, 9d.; tea, 8d.; two tins of milk, 6d.; sugar, 4½d.; flour, 3d.; bacon and fish, 11d.; rice, 3d.; suet, 2¼d.; herbs, 4d. There are about twenty budgets in this pamphlet, and in not one of them is anything put down for fresh milk. Everyone who has children knows that children to be healthy absolutely need milk every day, and that tinned milk does not give anything like the nourishment that fresh milk does.
All these budgets refer to working class families. I want Tariff Reformers and all who are deaf to our propositions to remember that these cases are all of men in regular work. They show that the reward of industry for six or seven days a week for a man with a wife and three or four children is that they have from 10s. to 12s. to spend on food. That fact alone ought to make this House realise that, instead of attempting to soothe the unrest, if we want our constituents really to be better off, we ought to be out amongst them fomenting the unrest and stirring them up to revolt against these conditions. The hon. Baronet said that on railways in France and other countries there still were strikes, that the railways were badly managed, and so on. Let us not argue about what happens in France; let us look nearer home. Whatever may be said about municipal enterprise, whatever may be the arguments for and against it, the fact stands out that wherever a municipality has taken over a monopoly it has always given better terms to its men and also to the consumers of the article produced. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] Yes. I will give a case which is right before our eyes. If Members go out on the Terrace they will see going across Westminster Bridge the magnificent trams of the London County Council. That tramway system used to be owned and controlled by a company that paid very large dividends indeed. At that time we had no halfpenny fares and very few 1d. fares. The result was that for years London was behind every other town in the means of communication. It is very often said that these enterprises are on the rates, that they have the rates behind them. The 85 London County Council trams have never cost the ratepayers a single penny. Each year they pay off so much of their debt. Each year they pay so much for renewals. Each year they pay money for interest. Each year they are adding to a special reserve fund which at the present moment amounts to some hundreds of thousands of pounds. That is money which can be used, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham (Mr. Hayes Fisher) said at the county council, this year or next year for bettering the conditions of labour, or for giving to the travelling public better and cheaper facilities for travelling. What has happened during all those years that we have been running those trams? Our fares are infinitely cheaper. The wages of the men are something like 20 per cent. better than ever before. The hours of labour are lower than ever before. Can any one here say that that condition of things can be applied to any private enterprise? Can any one point to any industry and say the same?
The complaint of hon. Members this afternoon is that because the men have had more money the railway companies have to charge more; and because the men have had less hours the monopoly that employs them will have to charge the consumer more! I say that that has never applied where the municipality has come in and taken over a monopoly. We need not go to France or Germany for examples of this. Here, in the City of London, we can see the principle that we are contending for being worked out under our eyes. Instead of the London County Council tramways being run to earn a dividend or a profit, the primary object is that they shall perform a social service for the whole of the community. The interest we are paying is strictly limited. In something like twenty or thirty years we shall have paid off the whole of our debt, and we shall have a tramway system absolutely free from debt. We shall then run it purely and simply as a service.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The hon. Member for Mile End says that the time will be much longer than twenty or thirty years. You can take fifty years if you like, for my point is that there will come a day when you will have no debt at all upon the trams. They will be the property of the 86 whole people, and you will have a better service even than at the present moment, and the men will have better conditions.
What we want is nationalisation. We want that principle applied to railways and to mines. Think for a moment of the people whom some of us represent; whom the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mile End represents, whom I represent in Bow and Bromley. They buy their coals by hundredweights, quarter hundredweights, and even in lesser quantities. What has happened during the last few months? The mere threat of a coal strike has sent coals up 4s., 5s., and 6s. a ton. Can anyone here say that if the State owned the coal mines the threat of a strike would have enabled any set of private people in London to put up the price of coal as it has been put up of late? We would have had a separate Minister in charge here, and we could have prevented him doing anything of the kind. No miner has been paid any more for getting the coal. The railway man has not been paid more for carrying it. Nor have the men who take it from the carts to the cellars, or hawk it in the streets got a farthing more. Where has the money gone? To make, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, those who are rich richer. We, at any rate, are out to say definitely that we want the coalminer to be free from the iniquity of carrying on his back the man who draws mining rents and royalties from his labour. I wish the right hon. Baronet would allow his mind to have free play. Why is it he and his friends object to strikes? Is it not because they are then not earning dividends or profits?
What happened during the railway strike? Immediatey it was over the "Daily Mail" came out with a column showing the loss in profits and dividends. What did that prove? It proved what I have said on a hundred platforms, that when labour leaves off working, not merely labour goes without, but that dividends and profit stop at the same time. We contend that industry in this country ought to be organised not with regard to profits, but with regard to the interests of the workers. I see the Noble Lord opposite (Lord Hugh Cecil) is interested. I want to quote to him some people whom he has got a very great respect for. I refer to the pan-Anglican Congress in London. The Noble Lord is an excellent theologian, and he is an excellent politician, if he will allow me to say so. And some of the 87 bishops, with all the defects of their education and upbringing, are decent economists also. Bishop Gore, I think, is an excellent one. But I do not want to quote him singly. I want to quote the whole bench. I am quite sure that the Noble Lord does not in any way want to disparage the intellect of the Archbishop of York. They met together at Lambeth. They discussed social problems. They discussed the condition of the working people. What did they say? They came to this unanimous conclusion:—That the labourer, the workman and his wife and children, should and ought to be, from every point of view of Christianity and national morals, the first charge upon industry.The right hon. Baronet is a good Churchman. You will hear him later in Debates on the Church. Is he going to get up and say, in respect of the railway carriage washer and his wife and children, that their upkeep, and the keeping of them in a standard of health and efficiency, that their cost of maintenance should be a first charge on the industry that the man works in? Of course he is not. You pay more in dividends now than in wages. The Noble Lord believes in the equal value of each human life in the community. I want to appeal to him whether the sort of thing I have quoted shows that society is recognising the equal value of a large number in the community? It is doing no such thing. What we are working for, what we are asking this House for—and I am not asking hon. Members to accept Socialism holus bolus—is that the working people, the collier in the mines—who takes his life in his hands every time he goes down, and who encounters dangers which no soldier has to encounter—the woman who works in the factory—and is often sweated there—the man who drives in the street, the docker, and the stevedore should have their right recognised to as full a life as we ask for ourselves. I want that we should recognise that their wives and children should have as full a life as we ask for ours. You cannot get that if the worker has to carry too many people on his back. John Ruskin noted this point in "Unto this Last." You cannot get the things that I want for the people if out of the labour of the miner, say, the Noble Lord or some other person receives 6d. or 1s. from every skip of coal. The miner and the landlord cannot both have that shilling.
Therefore I say that this House has got to see that the working people of this 88 country are awaking to the fact that they are the producers of all that we and others consume. We all in this House, as well as others, are in one way or another on the backs of the people. I am not satisfied about it myself. If £400 a year is a good minimum wage for me I want the working people to demand at least an equal minimum wage for themselves. The people who produce are the people who ought to have it more than anybody else, and it is because I feel that that I am glad to be here this afternoon and to have the privilege of supporting our Amendment. Every man who thinks well of his country will, I hope, support it too. Hon. Members have heard something about syndicalism. I have been all my life working amongst the people of various degrees. For twenty years I have been a Poor Law guardian. I have supported measures for the feeding of the children, and for doing this, that, and the other for the working classes. I do not want any longer to stand out for mere tinkering with these questions. I feel more sick every day. I do not like to see the children separated like the sheep and the goats, one little set having to have communal meals and the others going to their homes. I want to see each working class child having his food with his mother and with the family. I want to see the time when the charity that we have in these matters will be a thing of the past. I do not mean the charity that helps to bear one another's burdens in time of distress, but I mean the charity that gives to make up for robbery.
You cannot have a strong democracy unless the people are going to be free to develop themselves. No people can be free who are living under present conditions. You talk of syndicalism. Let this House remember that if it refuses to deal with the wrongs of the people; if even it is powerless to deal with them; that there is nothing else for the people to do but to attend to the matter outside this House. For my part, while this House refuses to deal with this social problem, I am going to join with all men outside who will join with me in doing what we can to stir up and foment revolt against these revolting conditions. I am going to do all that one man can do to make the poor hate poverty, to make them hate their poverty—never mind about hating their social conditions. I do not want them to hate the rich, but to hate the idea that they and their children should live under these conditions. If they get a good hatred of these conditions into their minds they will 89 use the better combination which you use. They will bind themselves together in their unions; then in their federations of unions. Finally they will capture this House, not to palliate their misery, but to destroy the profit-mongering system which makes them poor and a few people rich.
§ Mr. E. JARDINE
All sections of this House are equally in sympathy with the hon. Member who has just sat down in a wish to raise the level of the working classes. That sympathy is not at all a monopoly of the Labour benches; others feel that the working classes should not be in the miserable condition in which they are to-day. And those of us who study—and all sections of the House do study—how to lift up those people know we cannot have a strong and stable State unless their condition is better, and their condition cannot be bettered merely by strong and impassioned speeches. Their condition depends not only upon their own character for industry and thrift, but also upon the character of the whole of the people of the nation, and it is to lift up them noble qualities, of the people that all of us wish and that is our endeavour. The Mover of the Amendment twitted my right hon. Friend and Leader at not having mentioned Tariff Reform in his speech yesterday. May I quote from the speech my right hon. Friend made at Leeds. He said:—In my belief the greatest of all social reforms would be to raise the level of wages in this country, and in that way not so much to help the working classes directly as to put them in a position of helping themselves.We are quite in accord with the Mover of the Amendment in so far as the first part of his Motion goes. We all deplore the existing unrest and the deplorable deficiency of labour, but there was no remedy suggested by the Mover or Seconder of the Amendment, or by hon. Gentlemen who supported them on the opposite side of the House. There is no remedy except that of elevating those people, making them more thrifty and more capable. The last speaker referred to the improved conditions of labour and of workers under municipal government. I think it is admitted that the conditions of those people have improved. Their hours have been shortened, and when I ventured to interrupt the hon. Gentleman it was not in reference to that part of the statement, but where he said they were giving better value. Those of us in this House who conduct industrial undertakings, and who at the same 90 time know how they are conducted by municipalities—
§ Mr. LANSBURY
What I meant to say was that the cost of the commodities supplied to the consumer was not raised.
§ Mr. JARDINE
Those of us who conduct industrial undertakings and also know how they are conducted under municipalities, and know how the members of these municipalities have their hearts and sympathies enlarged in view of the November municipal elections, will agree that in effect, taking practically the whole of the municipal government and management including Government workshops, that the work could be done more cheaply than it is done to-day if conducted by private individuals or companies. The difference is not simply a difference in wages to the wage-earners, whom the municipality pays, it is the infinitely greater amount of waste under socialistic government. I should like to give my friends on the Labour benches, who are just as earnest as the rest of the House in their endeavour to improve the conditions of the labourer, and who honestly believe Socialism would improve their conditions, one or two instances that came under my own experience as illustration of what would happen under Socialism, whether it is a question of the working of the mines or industrial undertakings which I presume will follow. The illustration I gave is one where there were six men employed in a gang at 30s. a week each; it was a piecework job. One man took the profit on the job after paying these men 30s. a week. He took £4 or £5 a week. That was obviously unfair, and an early opportunity was taken—I cannot give the reason—I believe it was really because the man had no time to spend the money in working hours—to remedy that state of affairs. These men were approached, and it was stated to them, "You are going to work for yourselves. You are not going to have this middle man over you, and you should all considerably improve your position because you will be able to divide the whole wage amount amongst yourselves." This was pure Socialism. What was the result? No. 1 man was considerably better than No. 2, but at the end of the week they divided equally. No. 1 man found he could produce twice as much as No. 2, and he soon resolved, as he was only receiving the same amount as No. 2, that he was not going to produce twice as much, and so he lowered his output. No. 2 man then found he was working twice as 91 hard as No. 1, although really he was only producing the same amount, so No. 2 slacked off. Then No. 1 had to come down to the level of No. 2, and, to cut a long story short, that gang of men, under a leader who was taking a profit, earned £12 a week, but in less than six months' time, under no leader, they were only earning £9 a week, and that would be the effect of Socialism generally.
Another point that was not touched upon and which, I think, will be admitted, is that whilst we are subjected to unrestricted and untaxed foreign competition the price of the articles are fixed not by the bloated capitalist in England, living on the sweat of the worker's brow, but by the foreigner, and that price being fixed by the foreigner, and I defy anyone to deny it, the amount that is left for wages is also fixed by the foreigner, and, therefore, you cannot have what we all want and cry out for, that is to say, improved wages of the people, to give them a better chance of rising in life, to give them all the necessaries and some of the luxuries of life. These things cannot be done while any Government or any country permits the selling price of its articles to be fixed by the foreigner, and, secondly, and what is of much greater importance, which permits that our people should be degraded to accept the same wages that the least paid foreigner on the earth, whether black man, yellow or white man, receives. Nothing that Trade Unions can do, and nothing that this Parliament can do, can possibly uplift our people, and give them a reasonable chance in the sun, unless they are protected from that unfair, that untaxed foreigner, competition.
I take it, as that is not challenged, that it is not denied. [Laughter.] I do not want to labour the point, which is this, that is, in articles which the foreigner delivers to this country the price is fixed by the foreigner, then the wages for producing that article are also fixed by the foreigner, and the only effect of socialistic legislation, and the only effect of Acts passed with the best intentions by this Parliament in the fostering of uneconomic conditions is simply to destroy industry and to hamper and degrade labour. I take the example of the sweated industry. No one can complain of a measure of that character. No one would have the moral courage to get up and oppose it, but the effect of it, as it applies to Nottingham, is this: It is admitted there that the wages fixed by the Board are fair and reasonable, 92 but those of us who know something of agricultural life found, when we went to the people in the villages, that trade could not go to the country villages because it would take one or two generations to train these people up to be equal in skill with the people of the cities, and the effect of that and of all such legislation is, not in exceptional cases as in this instance, but in many other cases, to do a considerable amount of harm. The statement was made that if we had nationalised coal mines-there would have been no increase in the price of coal in London recently. Surely the hon. Gentleman who stated that was aware that even if the mines were nationalised, in case of a shortage the man who owned the coal in London would get the best price, and the price of coal would have gone up just now.
The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) referred to the conditions in America, and I understood him to say that these conditions were worse in highly-protected countries than here. Those of us who have been to America and have studied the conditions of labour in America, and who have studied the report issued by the Government will find the conditions in that highly protected country are infinitely better for the workers than in this country. The general improvement of the condition of the workers is, we all feel, absolutely necessary. Everyone is sympathetic with that. If we were only able to awaken hon. Members below the Gangway opposite to the necessity for protecting what they produce as well as their wages then they would have a real opportunity of taking a fair share out of the good things of this world, and the good things of this world are limited. If there is any Socialistic scheme brought forward which increases these difficulties and the cost of our raw material or of our labour, whilst permitting foreign goods to come free into this country, then I say you are but hurting labour, you are destroying industry, and you are making more ghastly that running sore of unemployment which is the curse of our country. What we want is to create more employment. It is not low wages so much as want of work. It is more employment that is needed, and which we must have, in order to improve the position of our workers, and it is not by Socialism but by Tariff Reform that that increased employment will ever be obtained.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MARTIN
Hon. Gentlemen opposite contend that if wages increase, prices 93 must necessarily go up. That might be an answer to one part of the Amendment, but when the question is considered as a whole, it will be found that the Amendment makes it impossible for the employer to raise wages because the employer would be the State. The hon. Baronet opposite suggested it was quite impossible for this country to buy up all the railways on account of the immense sum of money involved, and he stated that the amount of capital invested in railways in Great Britain and the United Kingdom was £1,300,000,000. That is not an accurate statement. It is true that the railway companies have issued stock to the extent of £1,300,000,000, but I assume that the Leader of the Labour party, in putting forward this Amendment, intends that if the country takes over the railways, the people will pay for those railways, not the amount of the stock, but what those railways are actually worth. In other words, when the country comes to buy the railways, the water contained in the railway stock would be carefully squeezed out before the money is paid over. If that point is considered then the difficulty which the hon. Baronet has raised with regard to the question of finance will entirely disappear. The revenue from the railways in the United Kingdom in 1910 amounted to about £47,000,000. It would cost this country, in view of the fact that we can borrow at 3¼ per cent., an annual expenditure of £37,000,000, so that on the actual returns of to-day there would be a net profit to the community of £10,000,000.
The hon. Baronet made a somewhat nasty and unfair attack upon the Labour party, and suggested that this Motion means nothing, and is simply an endeavour on the part of the members of the Labour party to put themselves right with their constituencies. The history of the Labour party in this House does not justify any such suggestion, because the measures they have brought forward have on many occasions been adopted by the Government and placed on the Statute Book. Those measures have not only been adopted by a Liberal Government, but have been put forward prominently as part of the assets of the Conservative party. Would old age pensions ever have been placed upon the Statute Book without the assistance of the Labour party? Old age pensions are not only part of the political platform of the Government of the day, but they have also been adopted as part of the policy of the Conservative party. I 94 think the history of old age pensions will be repeated with regard to the nationalisation of railways, and in time this great movement will be adopted by the Liberal party, and a measure dealing with it will be placed upon the Statute Book; and no doubt very soon afterwards the same policy will be adopted by the Conservative party in this country. I support entirely the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Leicester. I approach this question, however, from a somewhat different standpoint than that which has been adopted by the speaker who has preceded me. I do not support it because it proposes to assist the working classes of the community. I think this is a proposal which ought to be supported not only by the workers, but by every citizen in the country. We vote very large sums of money every year for the Navy to protect this country. We say that we must have a Navy sufficiently strong to protect this country, no matter what it costs. We also vote large sums of money for education. We say that it does not make any difference what it costs, we must educate the people for the safety of the State.
I suggest that the condition of affairs put forward here to-night concerning the hundreds and thousands of people who are working on our railways for sums less than any man ought to be called upon to support a family with, is a national matter in which every citizen is interested. The same reason which induces us to raise these large sums for the Navy and for education ought to induce us to do something to change the condition of affairs which has been described to-night, so that every citizen and every workman will be able to support himself and his family in decency. The Empire cannot be considered safe if you have people living under the conditions which have just been alluded to by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley, and I join with the hon. Member when he says that he wishes to see the working people despise their conditions. I want to see every citizen in the country, rich or poor, despise the unfortunate condition in which the working people of this country are placed. Instances have been given by several speakers. It has been said that the wages paid by some of the railway companies in the United Kingdom are not sufficient for the workmen to live upon, and no answer has been made to that argument, and the hon. Baronet opposite has not denied it. The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley has given several instances of what these men get and what 95 they have to do with it. I will give a typical instance. I represent a very poor district, in which a large number of electors and the inhabitants are railway employés. I read in a local newspaper the report of an inquest at which it was stated that death was due to general waste and bad assimilation of food. The husband of the deceased woman was a railway porter, and the foreman of the jury asked if his wages were sufficient to allow him to provide proper nourishment for his wife during her confinement. He replied that his wages were 16s. per week, that he had to pay 5d. to his club, and 3s. house rent, which left him 12s. 7d. to keep himself, his wife, and three children. Several of the jurymen remarked that it was impossible for a man to give his wife proper nourishment on 12s. 7d. per week. The deputy-coroner admitted that that was a very small sum upon which to keep a wife and family, but he said he was afraid that that was a question which was out of their jurisdiction. It is quite true that a coroner's jury have no jurisdiction to deal with circumstances such as these, but this House has jurisdiction in this matter, and in my opinion the only way to raise the condition of these workers is to hand over the railways to the State.
The wages of a fireman on the railways of the United Kingdom are, on the average, 26s. per week, while an engine-driver gets about 36s. a week. In Canada, where I may say, incidentally, the rates for passenger and goods traffic are much less than they are here, a fireman gets £18 a month. The average upon the Canadian Pacific Railway is £18 a month for firemen, and some of them are able to earn £32 a month. On the same railway an engine-driver receives on an average £25 a month, and many of them receive as much as £50 a month. I think that shows that railway companies can afford to pay better wages which will allow the workers a chance of bringing up their families in decency. When the trouble with the railway companies occurred in London last summer the companies applied to the Government. They said, "Supposing, in order to settle this strike, we find it necessary to increase the wages of our men, will the Government allow us to make a similar increase in our charges for freight and traffic?" and the Government answered, "Yes." I think in that matter the Government are deserving of a great deal of blame. Besides the argument that the State should take over the railways on 96 account of the miserable wages paid to the employés, there is also another reason which has not been mentioned, and that is that the present rates are too high, and the trade of the country cannot afford to pay them. The rates exacted by the railway companies of this country for both passenger and goods traffic are double what they are in Germany. Not only are the rates here very high, and higher than in any other country, but our railway companies are in the habit—and there is no law to restrain them—of giving a preferential rate to foreign produce as against the produce of this country. I have some figures here with which I will illustrate that. A ton of apples to be hauled from Cuxtom to London costs £1 4s. 1d., whilst the same ton of apples can be brought from California, 7,000 or 8,000 miles away, to London for 15s. 8d. [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes, a shipload."] But look at the distance. [HON. MEMBEKS: "It comes by water."] That does not matter. Take Belgium. You can bring iron 100 miles by railway to the sea coast, and then the cost of bringing it to London is less than the railway companies of this country charge for the same iron coming from Staffordshire to London. The cost of a ton of eggs from Normandy to London is 16s. 8d.; from Denmark to London, £1 4s.; from Russia to London, £1 2s.; and from Galway to London, £4 14s. It is so all the way through, and I say it is a matter of great importance to the country, not only that we should take the railways over for the reasons put forward by the Mover of the Amendment, but in order that we may also lower the rates.
It may be said: How is it going to be done? How can you pay better wages and also decrease the rates without going into bankruptcy? There are three ways in which I believe it can be done. It is well known and attested to by large employers of labour that, if employés get their wages increased so as to be able to live in decency and comfort, they are able to do a great deal more work for their employers. How can a man, such as I have referred to, with a wife and two children and not enough to nourish them, do effective work for a railway company? I know at the present time railway employés do all they possibly can for their wages, and I am not suggesting they do not work as hard as they can, but how can a man, when he is half-starved, when he knows his wife and children are starving at home, and when he knows the State has to give his children meals at 97 school in order that they may become good citizens, do his work effectively? If the State owned the railways, great economies could be made. Most of the railways pay 6, 7, and 8 per cent. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] I saw a statement the other day of the different dividends paid, and those were the rates. The hon. Baronet by including the water among the shares said they only paid 3¾ per cent., but at any late they get a great deal more than the percentage for which the country can borrow money. The hon. Baronet said if the country attempted to borrow the money it would destroy the credit of the country, but it is not a question of the country borrowing money to carry on a great war. If you borrow money on the railways, you have the railways at the back of that money, so there is no loss of credit to the country whatever. A private individual could borrow money if he had security behind him. There would therefore be no possibility of affecting the credit of the country. I am told there are in the United Kingdom 217 different railway companies with their boards of directors receiving large fees, and in addition to that there is the senseless competition of Tunning expensive passenger trains beyond the necessities of the country. All this would be done away with, and it is estimated by competent authorities that a saving of £14,000,000 a year could be made if the railways were taken over by the country.
There is one other way in which this deficiency could be met, and that is by taxation. If it is necessary in order that the working men of the country should have a decent amount to live upon so as to be able to perform their duties as citizens, I say you would be quite justified in taxing the general community which, under the present circumstances, practically comes down to taxing the rich. It is not necessary to suggest to the present Chancellor of the Exchequer how to get money for the purposes of social reform. The Liberal party stands for social reform. The Liberal party also admits you cannot have social reform in the country without paying for it, and that the proper people to pay for it are those who have become rich through the condition of the country, and who are most interested in having the country prosperous in the future. It can only be made prosperous by having all the citizens of the country in a decent condition to live. We heard a great deal last Session from the Opposition about the 98 failure of the Land Taxes. They complained that the Land Taxes had not been effective and had not brought in as great a revenue as was anticipated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Surely that can be easily remedied. If the Land Taxes are not sufficiently productive of revenue, it must arise from the fact that they are not sufficiently high. The Chancellor of the Exchequer charges a halfpenny in the £ on unproductive land. There is no other country in the world where unproductive land gets off as lightly. In Canada unproductive land is charged at from 4d. to 5d. in the £. That is one way in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer could raise the necessary money to make up the amount. I have great pleasure in supporting the Amendment, not from the standpoint of socialism, because I am not a Socialist, but from the standpoint of Liberalism, from the standpoint of carrying out the Liberal platform, which means that the whole energies of the party are to be devoted to questions of social reform. I say there is no social reform so urgent as this which is calculated to raise the general standing of the working men of the country.