Mr. EDMUND HARVEY
I beg to move, "That this House, while welcoming the decision of the Government to extend the provisions of Part II. of the National Insurance Act to other trades than those now insured against Unemployment, and trusting that this may be done without delay, recognises that other measures must be taken to deal with recurring periods of trade depression, as well as with chronic under-employment, and with the case of those Unemployed who are temporarily or permanently unfit for ordinary remunerative work, and accordingly urges that, while trade is still good, further provision should be made for the planning of public work, whether municipal or national, so as to regularise the demand for labour, as well as for the organisation, maintenance, and aid of graded training institutions and other agencies."
In calling attention to the inadequacy of existing provisions for dealing with the problems of unemployment, and moving this Motion, I do not wish to apologise to the House for turning its attention to a theme so different from that which we have been discussing to-day, for I believe that the peaceful settlement of that great issue which the great majority of this House desire to achieve, may be made more easy if we can realise that there are problems of vast importance to the whole country on which good men of all parties have a substantial measure of 1128 agreement; and if, to-night, this House is able to endorse this Motion, I think we shall be able to show it to the country, in order to encourage the Government to go forward in dealing with one of the greatest problems of our time. I think it was Lord Morley who once said that we could count a day ill spent in which no thought was given to the poor. I am afraid we all of us must feel that our time must stand condemned by that high test, and perhaps Parliament as a whole must feel that judgment. Yet we do know that Parliament does care for this great problem—increasingly care for it. It is encouraging that there has been on all sides so much convergence of opinion during recent years as to the methods to be adopted in approaching the problem. I am quite aware that many in this House may be dissatisfied with the contents of my Motion, because they feel that they are inadequate. I can feel that to some extent myself, but I have endeavoured to frame a Motion which will provide the greatest common measure of agreement amongst social reformers of all schools on that great question. It may be said, why are we dealing with this now? I think a moment's consideration will show that the present, while we are still in years of trade prosperity as a nation, is just the time when we should approach this problem. We should not leave it to the time of acute depression, when hasty remedies, ill considered, are snatched at in the despair of the moment.
We have to remember that during these prosperous years, when the increasing trade returns are satisfactory, there remains always a constant residuum of misery, which is a constant reproach to our civilisation. We ought never to be content while there are in our midst so many permanently unemployed. Therefore, 1129 I think that if we can pass this Resolution to-night, while we are still in the midst of prosperous years, we can encourage the Government to go forward to the lean years, which we know must be coming, with well-conceived plans. I am aware too that a vast problem like this cannot be met by one remedy. It is too great for any one proposal to meet, and it is one which needs the co-operation of all Government Departments, the best thought of the State, the best endeavour of private initiative, and of religious and moral agencies, if it is to be solved. We ought, I think, before the House turns to actual proposals for the future, to consider for a moment how we have attempted to deal with the problem in the past. We must all admit that the old method of the Poor Law has broken down. I think that is common ground in all schools of thought. The Majority and Minority alike feel that the Poor Law, as we now have it, is totally unsatisfactory as a means of dealing with the problem of unemployment. It is something to have that negative agreement amongst us. I think we should feel grateful for the experiment which was made during the last years of the late Government—an experiment which began with the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Strand Division (Mr. Long), the scheme which led up to the Unemployed Workmen Act of 1905. I speak with some special interest of that, because I have had the privilege of serving as a member of the Central (Unemployed) Body and also as a member of the Distress Committee.
I think that experiment was useful both for what it shows could be done and what it shows could not be done, but it was distinctly put forward as an experiment and not as permanent legislation. It was limited to three years originally, and I think it is some reproach to this House that year by year it has allowed the Act to be renewed, for the most part silently, in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, although we knew that it was only an experiment. I think if we look at it closely we shall all agree that the system of relief works which it encouraged was unsatisfactory. They were a pis aller, and we ought to have something better. The relief works in London on which unemployed were set to work in parks was preceded by an arrangement which involved the dismissal of ordinary workpeople who would have been engaged upon that work. That was a ludicrous attempt to deal with the problem. I think, too, that we have all learnt 1130 a painful lesson as to the attempt to deal with the problem of coast erosion in hurriedly undertaken relief works. The experiment at Fambridge did not encourage work of that kind organised in the way that it was. But, on the other hand, there were points of the Act which were extremely useful, and some of which have already led to a wide extension for the nation as a whole. The Labour Exchanges began under that Act, and the work of emigration, also done under that Act, however limited, has, at any rate, been good in its effect on individuals. Yet although it is useful to the individual benefited, it is a confession of failure for the nation as a whole that we have got to get rid of persons who cannot find work here and are yet capable of doing good work as citizens in the Colonies.
There were two other experiments undertaken under the Act. One was that of workrooms for women in London. They met with very severe criticism, and some of it economically perhaps sound, and yet they were undoubtedly the only other alternatives to the Poor Law. They did provide work under proper conditions, and not degrading conditions, for poor women who ought not to have been driven to the refuge of the Poor Law, which was the only other alternative, except that of private charity. There was a most interesting experiment at the Hollesley Bay Farm Colony. That, again, has been very much criticised. Part of the criticisms were due, not to the management of the colony, but to the limitations of the Act. It was intended originally that the men taken there should be trained to work as small holders and also, in some cases, for emigration, but the Act prevented them staying for more than sixteen weeks. It was not found possible, as hon. Members who are familiar with the work of agriculture will understand, in most cases to train men adequately, or anything like adequately, in that period. It was through no fault of the colony that failure occurred. As far as certain cases were concerned, very useful results were achieved in training for emigration. In almost all cases there was a remarkable result in the improvement of physique in the men who went there. They went there underfed and injured in morale, and regular employment, fresh air, and wholesome diet made a very great difference to those men. On the other hand, there were defects, inherent also in the Act, which necessarily prevented their training being 1131 what one would have liked it to have been. It was not found possible to provide adequate technical training.
I think in some ways life was perhaps a little too easy in that it might have been better for the men if a course of work could have been arranged in addition to the manual work out of doors. Worst of all, I think, when cases occurred of slackness or of lack of discipline, the only penalty that was possible was a penalty that fell, not on the men themselves, but on their wives and families. The only penalty was to send a man away back to his home in London, and that penalty fell heaviest on the innocent wife and family. That, I think, must be clearly a case to be remedied in future. We have not stopped fortunately at the Unemployed Workmen Act. I think we must in approaching this problem recognise some of the other steps that have been taken since the Act was passed, and notably the Labour Exchange Act and the Act providing for unemployment insurance. The House all welcomed two weeks ago the admirable statement of the President of the Board of Trade in response to a universal demand from all quarters that there should be an extension of the provisions for unemployment insurance to other trades not at present insured. We were very grateful for his sympathetic speech and for the attitude of the Government which he represents, and I think to-night, although I do not want to enlarge on it, we ought to reaffirm the decision come to on the Resolution moved by the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. A. Henderson), and urge the Government to go forward now. This is not a small matter, because we know that the whole actuarial basis of the scheme for unemployment insurance is based on the insurance beginning while trade is still good. Therefore if there is to be an extension of this Act during the next six or seven years, it must be made now if it is to be actuarially sound. We ask therefore that the Government should be bold and should enlarge the Act as far as it is possible in these years of prosperity. I know that it will be very difficult to enlarge it to other trades in a few years time, until the cycle of prosperity has come round again.
I mention in this Motion the grave problem of under-employment. We can never neglect that when we are dealing with the question of unemployment. We believe that the machinery of the Labour 1132 Exchanges in the years to come will help by the readjustment of labour to lessen that problem, but it is one which has to be faced by our Statesmen, and as to which we look to the Government for guidance. Then we have to deal also with the question of trade cycles, and seasonal, and especially cyclical aspects of trades, which we can hardly prevent, but the hardship of which we believe to some extent, by wise foresight, can be mitigated. Here, again, I think we must express our indebtedness to the action in past years of the President of the Board of Trade. He was one of the first, I believe, to recognise the importance to the Nation of wise foresight in the planning of municipal and national work in time of prosperity, so that we should not put forward all that work while trade was good, but reserve necessary work for the season of depression. In connection with this let me read to the House an extract from the evidence given by Mr. Bowley to the Poor Law Commission. It puts better and in fewer words than I could the whole statement of the case:—In round numbers it may be estimated that 200,000 or fewer able-bodied adult males are out of work from non-seasonal causes one year with another, and have no sufficient resources, and that this number fluctuates between 100,000 in the best year and 300,000 in the worst. … There is consequently need in the worst year for wages to the extent of £10,000,000 to bring it to a level with the best, so far as those men are concerned; for the whole of the last ten years £40,000,000 would have sufficed. The annual wages bill of the country is estimated at £700,000,000. … Is it possible for the Government and other public bodies who employ labour in large quantities to counteract the industrial ebb and flow of demand by inducing a complementary flow and ebb; by withdrawing part of their demand when industry needs all the labour it can get, and increasing the demand when industry is slack? To have a useful effect, this alteration would have to be commensurate with the stun named above (£40,000,000 in ten years).Surely that is a problem which ought to be capable of solution by us as a nation. When we remember that £150,000,000 is spent annually in public works and services, excluding pensions and interest on debt, it ought to be possible by wise adjustment to meet the demands made in that statement by Professor Bowley. When we see the example set by the great Government Departments in this matter, I think we shall feel that as a nation we are to blame. In the two great spending Departments of the Army and Navy there is a constant demand, roughly speaking, regular from year to year. It ought surely to be possible for those Departments to arrange the work in such a way as to meet the cyclical need and, to some extent, the seasonal depression also. It would be a very great help 1133 to industry if that could be done. In the giving of orders for clothing and boots, and the new works of construction by the great Departments, both the cyclical and the seasonal periods should be considered. But the matter concerns other Departments also. The construction of new post offices in different parts of the country is always going on, and, as far as we can see, without any relation whatever to the seasonal or cyclical changes of trade.
Another great Department which is expanding under the care of the President of the Board of Trade is that of the Labour Exchanges. I am glad to say that hitherto in years of prosperity very little has been done to provide permanent accommodation, but I hope that during the years of prosperity sites may be chosen and plans made for suitable buildings, if we are to have, as I hope we may, Labour Exchanges which shall be centres for trade union activities, as well as for their own work, providing, at nominal charges, meeting places for working people, friendly societies, and trade unions, as in Germany. When we get large public works undertaken to meet that need, it will be for the benefit of the whole nation, and they might be constructed in seasons of distress, unemployment, and trade depression. There are also the great Government Offices shortly to be put up in Whitehall. While the plans may be hastened forward now, the actual construction can be postponed until times of greater need. The Local Government Board has done much in the past to stimulate public opinion in this direction. It has issued circulars in times of depression, pointing out the need for this action on the part of municipal authorities. I would ask that they should go a step further. Municipal authorities look to the guidance of the Government, and if we could have a regular demand made upon municipal authorities by the Local Government Board for the planning of work with this end in view, we should do a great deal; and if, in addition to that, the Local Government Board would issue year by year a separate Report—it might be very small, simply a few pages— stating how municipal authorities throughout the country had been making these plans for work, and what steps had been taken, we should be bringing into force the greatest of all engines—the force of public opinion—to urge local authorities onward to do their duty in this respect.
1134 I come now to the last part of the Resolution, which, unlike the earlier parts, can be met in large measure only by legislation. It can, however, to some extent, be met even now. If legislation is to be satisfactory, it should be based on careful preparation by an Interdepartmental Committee. Any system of graded institutions and colonies touches not only one Department, but a number of Departments in the State. It must necessarily deal with the great problem of vagrancy, which is a Home Office question. It must deal with the products of our prison system. It must deal with the products of our existing workhouse system, which we hope to see replaced by something better. It must also be in touch with the authorities of the Board of Trade. I hope, therefore, that in the preparation of legislation, some such Interdepartmental Committee or Commission may be got to work. We have already before us many suggestions. My hon. Friend the Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. R. Harcourt) and my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie) have brought in measures of a far-reaching character on this subject. It may not be possible at present for the Government to go to any extent as far as those Bills suggest. But there are certain measures which command almost universal assent, and I think that to that extent we may demand early action.
It seems to be agreed that, sooner or later, we must have some form of detention colonies for dealing with the most difficult case of those, whom I am 10th to call unemployable, who come under the existing vagrancy law. It is very easy for us to deal with these unhappy products of our present civilisation in a selfish spirit. I do not want to see them dealt with merely in a spirit which would sweep our streets clean of sights which distress the feelings of the comfortable and well-to-do. We owe a debt to these men, even when we may feel that there is moral wrong which has brought them to the position which they now hold. We must not shut them up in a place like Merxplas, in Belgium, leaving them to themselves in a penal institution which is almost an Inferno. We want an institution which shall be in the true sense of the word a Purgatorio, with a way up to the highest place of all, with a door always open leading upwards. Although there may be detention for a time, it must only be with the object of reform.
1135 The experience of Belgium shows that small colonies, even of this class, must be better than larger ones. We do not want to see a place like Merxplas with 6,000 inhabitants. I would rather see places like the smaller Swiss and German colonies. I hope we may not content ourselves with the discussion of this very difficult problem, but that we shall also affirm the need for a system of graded training institutions which will be necessary as the stagnant pool of labour becomes clearer under the action of the Labour Exchanges. As casual labour is to some extent decasualised there will be a large residuum left which will have to be dealt with in one way or another. These men deserve to have honourable training, with no stigma attaching to it, given under conditions which demand and expect the best. The training institutions which one would like to see must be of a variety of types to suit differing needs. We shall have to have a great deal of experiment before we can arrive at a satisfactory system. But there are obviously certain things which they can do. A great number of our under-employed and unemployed labourers at one time possessed industrial skill. Graded institutions might aid such men to re-acquire the skill which they once possessed. It might also aid men who had specialised in some department of work which had become obsolete owing to trade changes to learn some other branch of a trade that they had really made their own in the past and which was slipping from them. Apart from these questions, and these special cases of readaptation to industrial environment, training institutions might fit everyone who went into them to be more adaptable and more alert, and might give back the stamina and strength some of these men had lost. I hope, also, that we shall have in the future a system of rural colonies and agencies.
Foreign experience has shown us that this can be useful, at least to a limited extent. British experience in voluntary experiments has shown the same thing. We have, unfortunately, too few of them, and they are very inadequately supported. The Salvation Army made their experiment at Hadleigh. The Christian Union for Social Service has made theirs at Lingfield and Wallingford. I believe the Church Army has a small experiment, and there are other agencies, churches, and societies that I believe would come forward to under- 1136 take a work of this kind if they could get some encouragement and some more adequate financial aid than is at present forth-coming. I would ask the President of the Local Government Board if it would not be possible for him, even now, without waiting for a new Bill which would, I know, be requisite before the State could undertake institutions of this kind itself, to make provision for a Grant-in-Aid, this year, if possible, for institutions of this kind, which might begin with a small sum, but which would be extremely useful as an experiment. I hope when he considers a Bill to deal with this question, he will consider the possibility of a half-way house between a State Detention Colony and the present Voluntary Colonies. It ought to be possible for men of weak will who have sunk and gone under in the industrial struggle to he willing to place themselves under voluntary guardianship for a limited period. That is already being done with success in the case of inebriates asylums. There are many cases of men unemployed who have gone under, who recognise their own moral weakness, and in their better moments will be anxious to be thus under restraint to a limited extent in order to recover their morale. I think that ought to be possible under a voluntary system of colonies.
Before concluding, I should perhaps say a word as to the financial possibilities involved. I believe that the average cost in British prisons at present is something like £23 per inmate. In convict prisons it is £27 per head. Our small British colonies for the unemployed are a lot more expensive. Hadleigh, I think, costs £48 per inmate per annum. Although I believe Lingfield is less expensive, it is still more expensive than the prison. But these experiments have only been working a comparatively short time, and under very unfavourable condition. They have had, when supported by Poor Law guardians, very inadequate Grants paid to them on behalf of the inmates. The foreign colonies, which have been working much longer, have been able to reduce the expenditure to a remarkable extent. I believe the average cost of administration at Merxplas, which is very largely self-contained, is £9 per head, and the German colony costs about £10 per head. This is reduced by the average earnings of the inmates to £6 per head. It ought, therefore, to be possible in the future, under wise management, to have a very economical system of colonies. They will always cost 1137 something to the State—and I think they should! We have to remember that the men who are there would be costing something anyhow. In the worst cases they would be preying upon the community as vagrants; in the case of the unhappy unemployed person, who is unemployed through no fault of his own, there is a constant indirect charge upon the State. If through his unemployment he sinks clown into crime or goes ultimately to the hospital with disease, he is a further charge on the State. It would be a wise economy on the part of the community to prevent this.
Finally, I think we ought to ask the President to encourage voluntary effort in this work, because it would enlist new forces of enthusiasm in aid of the very poorest in the community. I believe that the churches of this country would come forth and take up this work, and that men outside the churches would band themselves together for it, too. If this work is to be done well, it depends upon getting the very best men and the very best women to give themselves to it. It would be worth while making a generous Grant in order that you might have not only efficient administration in Colonies like these, but an admirable educational work done there too. It would be a very great thing for the State if we could re-enlist in its service, and in the service of the whole community, those noble religious forces which in the Middle Ages expressed themselves in various guilds and in the furtherance of works of mercy. We want to get the same spirit showing itself in caring for, in colonies and institutions, the unemployed and the unemployable, and those who through no fault of their own, through sickness, blindness, and accident, are unable to make their own way in the battle of life.
§ Mr. EDWARD WOOD
I beg to second the Motion.
In view of the extremely interesting and exhaustive way in which the Mover has dealt with the question, and in view of the limited time available, I do not wish to take up more than a few minutes. The first matter to which the Mover directs the attention of the House is the extension of some of the provisions of Part II. of the National Insurance Act dealing with unemployment. On this matter I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give the House and the country some definite information. 1138 There is, I believe, a more or less general impression in the country that, on the whole, Part II. of the Insurance Act is working extremely well and is a great practical success. If that is so, and I am not challenging it, we shall all be delighted. The only point I wish to put to the right hon. Gentleman is this, that there is a certain amount of uneasiness and uncertainty as to some of the finances of the compulsory parts of Part II. in the compulsorily insured trades. I am going to deal with some figures for which I do not vouch, but I will give the source, and I will ask the right hon. Gentleman if they are anything approximate to what would be the correct figures given by his Department. I happened to see these figures published in an issue of the "New Statesman." I had not an opportunity of testing these figures as to whether they are accurate or not. The administrative expenses of Part II. were there set out as £530,000 a year, and the sum estimated to be paid in unemployment benefit was £800,000 a year. If these figures are approximately correct, it does seem to me to be an enormous proportion to spend upon administrative expenses as compared with that spent in unemployment benefit. It works out, as those interested in mathematics will see, at 1s. for the workmen and 8d. for the official. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell me these figures are mistaken. I only ask the right hon. Gentleman for information.
One other point I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman is with regard to the extension of Part II. of the Act. As the House will be aware, extension can be made in one or two ways. You can either bring more trades within the scope of the compulsorily insured trades or you can extend and improve the conditions under which non-compulsory insured trades receive benefit in the working of that part of the Act. I venture to think that there is nothing at all of substantial doubt in the financial soundness of the compulsory side of the scheme, and the right hon. Gentleman may be well advised to consider whether it would not be better to have extension in the way of enlarging the provisions for non-compulsorily insured trades under Section 106. Now I turn to one or two other points. The hon. Member who moved this Motion drew our attention to the two divisions into which this Motion actually falls—namely, first of all, temporary employment, and, secondly, chronic unemployment. I do not wish to recover 1139 the ground over which the hon. Member moved beyond saying this, that in dealing with temporary employment I suspect that whatever we do we shall have to admit that until the end of time some measure of unemployment is inevitable. In fact, you may liken industry to a long column of troops on the march, in which whatever care those in front may take those behind will be exposed to jars and jolts. In the same way we shall always be exposed to those jars and jolts in the way of unemployment, and therefore we reformers should not be deterred if our efforts are not altogether successful.
It is important, whatever we do, we should bear in mind our reform should, as far as possible, be built upon a permanent basis rather than upon a makeshift basis, of such a makeshift basis character where those relief works to which the hon. Member referred are made necessary, and may again become necessary, in times of crisis. They are generally—I would almost say always so—undesirable. I think in a great many parts of the country they assist in the more efficient classification of those who come under them than in other directions. The hon. Member also dealt with the question of the regularisation of labour. I will not follow that ground beyond saying this, that I am convinced—and a mere cursory study of the material will convince anybody else—whether you take a national Department, as the hon. Member did, or whether you take, as the President of the Board of of Trade has done, departments under local authorities, or whether you take what is so often referred to in these Debates, namely, the work of Crown Agents for Crown Colonies, there is an enormous amount to be done in the way of spreading your demands from the years in which trade is booming in order to safeguard yourself in the years in which trade is falling off. I think you could extend that principle rather further. I believe there is a considerable amount of work that can also be done by private business and private individuals. I believe landlords in the country if they were to set their minds to it, could make their contribution by reserving a certain amount of work to be done in winter rather than in summer. So much for the principle, and for the practice in the way in which progress could be made and work extended. One word about the second question, namely, that of chronic under- 1140 employment. I should be the last to minimise all that has been done, and is done, in the direction of attacking the problem from the side of the child. In no problem is it, I think, so very true to say that the child is father to the man than in this problem, and hon. Members will at once have present to their minds a great many instances of examples of what I have in my mind when I say we should attack that problem from the side of the child. But to deal with it from the side of the man is, if not so easy, more pressing, and it is from that point of view we must ask the right hon. Gentleman to give us, if he would, some information when he comes to reply.
I believe everybody, or at any rate most of us, who study this question, are beginning to be convinced that the only way in which we can deal with what I may call the decasualisation of labour is to check the influx of labour into trades already overstocked. It has been done, as hon. Members know, in large degrees in one or two instances already in this country, and the more especially in Liverpool and Manchester, and also, I think, Goole. In these instances, I believe I am right in saying it was done by a voluntary arrangement between employers and employed under the instruction of a Government Department. We would ask that that should be carried, if possible, even further. I make this suggestion, which, as far as I know, has not been made before, and which I should like to see developed. I have always thought you might do something in a small way for one department of your unemployment in this way. In so far as the stock of unemployment is contributed to by discharged soldiers, would it not be possible to make an arrangement on a territorial basis with employers by inviting them to give an undertaking to keep a certain number of regular places in their work for discharged soldiers, and if they were willing to do that—which, of course, would not be an economic arrangement, inasmuch as the discharged soldiers would hardly be skilled men—you should recognise it by a countervailing advantage through taxation or in some other way. I only throw that out as a suggestion to be tried upon an entirely voluntary basis, because it seems to me to accord with what must be the main principle of this question, namely, that you will attack this problem best if you attack it indirectly. I wish to say a word or two about the 1141 last part of the hon. Member's Motion, namely, the aid of graded training institutions. Hon. Members will recollect that these are the kind of places referred to in the Report issued by some hon. Friends of mine on these benches who for some time sat in Committee under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend beside me, which reported last year or the year before. The hon. Member began by saying that the Poor Law in this respect had largely broken down, that relief works had largely proved unsatisfactory, and that they were driven to the conclusion that for the solution of this problem you require training institutions carefully graded. Not the least advantage of this system was that you would be able to discriminate between the various classes of individuals you had to handle. Whilst feeling in sympathy with that recommendation, I emphasise the extreme necessity of caution and moving slowly in this matter. If you do not I think you will run great danger of your administration being broken down in the matter of selection, and that would be jeopardising the whole scheme. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider very carefully the request which has been made by the hon. Member opposite who asked—and I should like to support his demand—that we might have an Interdepartmental Committee appointed to consider this question and to make a Report as to what work can be done and done at once. I know that there are many other interesting matters engaging the attention of Parliament, but if I am to believe what I read in the papers I notice that the Chancellor of the Exchequer only last Saturday week, speaking at Huddersfield, said thathis heart was more moved by the needs of the dockers at Wapping than the imaginary grievances in other parts of the United Kingdom in Ulster.The Chancellor of the Exchequer thinks that the needs of the dockers are more important, and if he holds that view we shall not be asking the Government to do more than they have declared themselves willing to do if we invite them to put those professions into practice and give the House to-night some earnest of their intention by the announcement that the Government are prepared to do what the hon. Member has asked for.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
There are one or two points of primary importance which have been raised in this Debate. The hon. Member who has just sat down will excuse 1142 me for saying that his suggestion in regard to the Territorials and discharged soldiers does not touch the unemployed question, because, if the Territorial or the retired soldier gets a job, some civilian must be left out. May I point out that the question of unemployment is again becoming universal, and at the present time it is becoming acute in a good many countries, more especially in Germany, America, and Canada. I mention that fact lest there should be any hon. Members still inclined to tell us that some kind of Tariff Reform will in any way even modify the problem of unemployment. The question of detention colonies for those who have lost the desire for work has been raised, and it has been suggested that they should live at the expense of the community. I suggest the President of the Local Government Board that he should not spend too much time or money on that plan. If the genuine unemployed can be adequately cared for, the vagrant will practically die out, and to deal with this question in a subsidiary way might prevent a great deal of good being done in other directions. The number of men and women who can be trained in these colonies is always bound to be limited, and I hope more attention will be paid to the great public works of reclamation than to the establishment of these labour colonies. I would remind the President of the Local Government Board that in this matter he is not now left to his own unaided resources. The Development Commissioners have very large powers and they have large sums of public money at their disposal. I endorse all that has been said about the allocation of work in order to provide some of it for the lean years as well as for the fat years. The Development Commissioners have been specially empowered by a part of the Clause in the Act to arrange their great schemes for reclamation and so on, so as to be most active when unemployment is scarce and trade is bad.
The problem of unemployment cuts deeper than these suggested remedies would seem to indicate. I have no objection at all to an Interdepartmental Committee to investigate the question once more and to suggest remedies, but, until we get some Department of the Government other than the Poor Law authorities—and let me remark, in passing, that the Local Government Board have very great powers, not only under the modern Act, but under the old Act of Elizabeth, which 1143 I understand is still operative—by the creation of a Ministry of Labour, part of whose responsible duties would be to deal with this question and make provision against unemployment, we shall not really solve the problem. An eight-hours working day would tend to absorb a very large proportion of surplus labour, and to that extent prevent unemployment becoming acute. Higher wages would prevent unemployment by creating in the market a greater demand for that which is made, and thereby finding employment. The better organisation of unskilled labour would also have its effect. Last, but not least, there is the establishment of the principle of the right to work. We on these benches claim that the competent worker, who through no fault of his own is deprived of the opportunity of earning his livelihood, has as much right to claim either work of maintenance at the hands of the State as any high paid officer of the Civil Service. I hope the President of the Local Government Board, in replying to the Debate, will not leave out of account those causes which go deeper than those which have been suggested. Although these remedies cannot be enforced without legislation, still, in view of the fact that unemployment is bound to come, and come speedily, either by legislation or by prearrangement, something effective should be done to prevent the recurrence of former scandals of tens of thousands of able-bodied men and women suffering hunger and want through lack of honest employment.
§ The PRESIDENT of the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Herbert Samuel)
The hon. Member, who has made good use of the opportunity which has fallen to him to bring this matter before the House, has directed our attention to a subject less exciting indeed than those which have absorbed us during the last few days, but in my view certainly not less important. I think that three preliminary propositions of a negative character can be established. The first is that the old comfortable doctrine that if a man is unemployed it is somehow or other generally through his own fault is not tenable. The governing classes used always readily to assume that a man who was out of work was out either because he was indolent or had some physical, mental, or moral defect. That is disproved by one very simple fact which has been revealed by the collection of statistics in recent years, and it is 1144 this: In times of bad trade, perhaps 8 per cent. of the working-classes may be unemployed. When good trade comes only 2 per cent. are unemployed. If all the 8 per cent, were unemployed through their own fault in times of bad trade, how is it that, as a matter of fact, 6 per cent. out of 8 per cent. are employed when trade is good? Mr. Seebohm Rowntree and Mr. Lasker, who recently made a detailed study of this problem as it presented itself in the city of York, found when they made their examination, in June, 1910, that there were in that town, out of a population of 82,000, no less than 1,278 persons unemployed at a moment which was not at all one of trade depression, and after examining each of those cases, they came to the conclusion that fully one-half of those persons were not in any way disqualified for employment on account of any personal defect. That is the first negative conclusion from which we must start. These men who are unemployed in a time of great trade depression, it may be due to world-wide causes over which they have no more control than a man has control over the lightning that strikes him, or over the earthquake that destroys his house, are not in any degree, the great majority of them, to be blamed for the circumstances in which they find themselves. I grant they may be the least efficient of the working-classes, because obviously they are the first to be dismissed, but it does not follow that they are unemployable.
The second conclusion to which we are forced is that it is folly to leave the treatment of this question to the moment when the actual need has arisen. In early days it was regarded as a question which occurred from time to time, and which should attract the attention of Parliament and of public men when it occurred. As soon as trade was depressed the men were unemployed in thousands and tens of thousands, processions marched through the streets, riots perhaps took place, and then only was public opinion stirred, soup kitchens were opened, stoneyards began by Boards of Guardians, and hurriedly all sorts of inefficient and ill-considered relief schemes were started. The whole question was treated on each occasion as though it were unprecedented, and as though once over it was not bound to recur. In these days we must adopt a wiser course.
The third consideration I would suggest to the House is that the right remedy for 1145 unemployment is certainly not State-aided emigration. That, of course, would be the easiest remedy. To say, "Here are these men who are out of work, and here are vast empty spaces in different parts of the world, let us put the labour that is excessive here into those other areas where it is needed." That is the easiest course, but those who advocate it forget that in times of good trade almost all these men are needed, and that when times of good trade come round, if you have disposed elsewhere of a large part of your deserving enterprising population, the economic resources of your country are so much the poorer. If it were right and practicable to emigrate the idle, the drunken, the dissolute, the feeble-minded, or the inefficient, then, indeed, from our own selfish point of view nothing could be better, but obviously that would be an injustice to the countries to which these persons were sent which they would not for a moment tolerate. Those whom it is suggested should emigrate are, in fact, men and women in the prime of life, the most enterprising, healthy, honest, sober, and industrious of our population, and I have yet to learn that it is any service to any nation under any circumstances to exile from its own shores persons belonging to that class of population. I think what Swift said long ago is very true—that to suggest emigration as a cure for want of work is like cutting off a man's feet because he has got no shoes.
The Government and this House would have been very much to blame if, during the years that have gone by, they had not recognised these facts, and had not taken steps to deal with the problem. During the eight years that the present Administration has held office many things have in fact, been done. The first measure, which was an emergency measure and the least satisfactory of all, was that this House was asked to vote a sum of money to assist the working of the Unemployed Workmen's Act, which the previous Government had placed on the Statute Book, but which was not provided by them with any funds; and year to year ever since sums varying from £100,000 to £300,000 have been voted by Parliament to distress committees in various parts of the country, and to the Central (Unemployed) Body in London, for carrying out relief works and similar enterprises. I agree with the hon. Gentleman who moved the Resolution that these relief works are better than nothing, but they are 1146 perhaps the least satisfactory of all forms of dealing with this problem. We find in many places the same men come back year after year and avail themselves of the opportunity for work, and it becomes, in fact, almost regular winter employment for a considerable body of people. The Majority of the Royal Commission on Poor Law condemned this system in almost uncompromising terms. At the same time it is true that, in default of other measures, this is far better than the Poor Law, and those men and women who have given useful service to distress committees and to the Central (Unemployed) Body in London have done good work for the class in whose interest they were acting.
Secondly, there came the establishment of Labour Exchanges throughout the country, a simple piece of social machinery which enabled men to ascertain whether work existed in their own towns or in what direction it was to be found. It did not create new work, but it lubricated the industrial machine, and it is important that that machine should be properly lubricated. At the present time the Labour Exchanges are finding work every day, on an average, for no fewer than 3,000 people—a total not far short of 1,003,000 per year. Next there came the Insurance Act—the second part dealing with insurance against unemployment, which has been spoken of tonight on both sides of the House in terms of commendation. Two and a quarter million of workpeople are insured against unemployment under the Act, and at the present time, a time of good trade, unemployment benefit is being paid out at the rate of £800,000 per year. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion drew attention to the fact that the cost of administration was very high in proportion to the sums paid out. It is not, however, a fair test to compare your cost of administration with the sum actually being paid out in a time of good trade. You should compare it with the premiums received, as, in another year, the trade may be exceedingly bad, and the amount of unemployed benefit to be paid out greatly increased; consequently your expenditure might be raised fourfold in a single year, while your cost of administration would remain practically the same, and the percentage which the hon. Member quoted, if it were correct, would be reduced by three-fourths in that single year. Therefore, it is obvious that your proper test must be a comparison of working expenses with receipts, and the 1147 figure which the hon. Member gave is not one that should be accepted by the House. Further, it should be remembered—
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
Not the amount of premiums, but the percentage of the cost of administration to receipts. It is in the neighbourhood of 20 per cent. Let it be remembered that this is a new enterprise, and that the Department which the Board of Trade has had to set on foot is, to a very large extent, a fresh organisation, so there is a prospect that in future years these expenses may, perhaps, be reduced. Let this also be borne in mind, that the machinery which has now been established is capable of dealing with a much larger number of persons than has yet been brought within Part II. of the Insurance Act, and that as the Act is extended and a larger body of work-people is covered by its provisions, so the percentage of cost of administration to receipts will, it is anticipated, be lowered. My right hon. Friend intends in the near future to extend considerably, by Orders of the Board of Trade, as he has power to do, the area covered by this Act, and I believe he is now engaged upon the preparation of certain Orders dealing with particular trades for that purpose. Let it be observed that in addition to the £800,000 a year, which is now being paid out in benefits at this time of good trade, the fund has been able to accumulate no less than £2,800,000, which is there ready to be released when bad times come and the need for further unemployment benefit is felt.
My hon. Friend who moved the Motion laid great stress on the necessity for a proper system of industrial training, and suggested a scheme of farm colonies. I propose to speak later on in respect to farm colonies. Let me say at the outset that I am inclined to think, and I believe he will agree with me, that important as these farm colonies may perhaps be for the training of the inefficient, it is much more important to secure such training for young people as will from the beginning prevent them from becoming inefficient and falling into the class to which he has specially alluded. Particularly is it necessary to deal in every way possible with what are known as "blind alley" employments. The most conspicuous 1148 offender in that respect was the State, for the Post Office used to employ a staff of about 14,000 boy messengers and used to dismiss 4,000 a year when they reached the age of sixteen, and, although they had during the two years they were with the Post Office an excellent training in discipline and habits of tidiness, punctuality, and so forth, they had no industrial training which would fit them for any skilled trade and which would secure to them a livelihood during the later years of their lives. I had the privilege, when I was at the Post Office, of redeeming the Department from that reproach. A Standing Committee which I appointed, under the very able chairmanship of Sir Matthew Nathan, worked at this question with the utmost assiduity and great skill. The Committee had the advantage of including my hon. Friend the Member for West Leeds, who moved this Motion, and they found remedies—the details are too numerous for me to explain to-night—on various lines for this defect in our organisation, and at the present time no boy messenger has to be dismissed for the reason that no work can be found for him in the Post Office. Again, we established in the Post Office for these boys compulsory continuation classes, which they have to attend as a condition of their employment, and which, if they desire later on to leave the Post Office, or even if they remain in the Post Office, as most of them do, would stand them in good service later on in life. The after-care committees which have been established in so many towns under the auspices of the education authorities are also a great use in that they give advice and guidance to parents of the boys and girls when they leave school, and enable juvenile labour to be directed into better employment than that which they would otherwise perhaps enter.
There is a Bill now before the House, the Employment of Children Bill, which has analogous objects, and which, I trust, may be passed into law. These methods by which society in various ways is seeking to Prevent young people of the working-classes from falling into the ranks of the inefficients are better means of dealing with unemployment than any measure, no matter how philanthropic or well devised, which aims at rescuing the adult inefficient after he has fallen into that class. Still, the farm colonies have their utility. I have had an opportunity at various times of visiting most of them. 1149 I have seen them almost all except Hollesley Bay, about which we used to hear much from my right hon. Friend (Mr. Burns). Merxplas has been, I think, rather unfairly described as a purgatory or worse. That Colony contains some 5,000 men. They are all men who have been committed there for their second or third offence of vagrancy. The institution is conducted with most remarkable economy. I was greatly struck by that. It costs 9d. per day per man, and about one-fourth of that is recovered from the profits of their labour. Their labour, however, I was told, is only on the average worth about one-third of that of an ordinary workman. It takes three colonists to do the work of an independent labourer. The buildings, and even the machinery employed there have been erected or made by the inmates. Large areas of heath land have been reclaimed. The regime is a severe one. It is intended to be a deterrent, but at the same time, and this is a most important fact in connection with Merxplas, almost all the men who have been detained there, even if they have been there for months or for a year or more, almost always come back to the colony, and practically none are ever restored to the ordinary industrial life of Belgium. The reason for that mainly is that they are almost all physical or mental degenerates and, as the director of the institution said to me, you cannot make a strong will in a man who has got a weak will. No amount of training will ever enable you to do that. These are mainly weak-willed persons who are incapable of steady continuous application and industry, and who sooner or later fall back into some institution.
In Germany most of the labour colonies are filled with men who have been once or oftener in prison, with the result that the respectable workmen, I believe, will not go to the German labour colonies because they are the resort of men who have a bad character. The institution at Wallingford, under the auspices of the Union for Christian Social Service, is doing, I believe, excellent work. Many boards of guardians, with the sanction of the Local Government Board, send men there and pay for them at the rate of 10s. 6d. per week, and I believe much good is done to them. My own view is that it is better that these institutions should not be officialised. I think they will effect more good if they are voluntary institutions supervised 1150 by persons filled with that enthusiasm and zeal which come from philanthropic motive, and they would be of more value if they are continued on that basis than if they were placed under any official auspices. I agree with the hon. Member (Mr. Keir Hardie) that useful as they may be, valuable as their results in many cases are to individuals, they can never touch the mass of the unemployed, and therefore cannot be regarded as a solution, though they may in many cases be a palliative of unemployment. Let this be remembered also, that if all these measures were carried to their furthest point, still, when trade depression comes, you would have unemployment. If every workman in the country was well trained, if everyone was absolutely sober and industrious, and if you carried to the furthest point your measures for training youth, mentally and industrially, still, when times of trade depression came, you would find unemployment in the form either of short time, or of lessening of work. Therefore I have come to the conclusion that the most valuable expedient of all is that upon which hon. Members have laid much stress, and very properly, that every effort should be made by the State and the local authorities to equalise work, and to lessen the curves of seasonal and cyclical depressions.
To a great extent that is already done voluntarily by individuals. There are numbers of workpeople, of course, who, having in view the effect of seasons upon their trades, combine two trades. You have men who work in brickworks in summer and in gasworks in winter. You have the town of Luton, for example, which was formerly devoted almost entirely to the manufacture of straw hats, and there was considerable seasonal depression every year. You have now in that town the introduction of the industry of manufacturing felt hats, and the operatives who are engaged in these kindred trades are now employed all the year round. The most extreme instance of this tendency is that of Italian labourers, who, for a time leave their own country, go to South America—to the Argentine—to reap the harvest there, and then come back to resume their work in Italy. It is desirable that the State and the local authorities, so far as possible, should endeavour to regulate employment so as to give the largest opportunities of employment when the ordinary industries are slack. My right hon. Friend and predecessor 1151 (Mr. Burns), who has taken so keen an interest, as the House and country know, in this matter, never lost any opportunity of impressing upon the local authorities with whom the Local Government Board is in contact the desirability of taking this course. There are two authorities which are in a particularly favourable position in this regard. There is the Road Board. When Parliament passed the Development and Road Improvement Fund Act in 1909 it enacted as follows:—In approving, executing, or making advances in respect of the execution of any work under this Act involving the employment of labour on a considerable scale, regard shall be had so far as is reasonably practicable to the general state and prospects of employment.That is precisely the principle for which hon. Members have been pleading to-night. The Road Board has during the course of its existence received a total income of about £4,000,000. It has set aside specifically for this very purpose a sum of £700,000, which it expects to be able shortly to increase to £1,000,000
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
Wherever there is need for new roads and road improvements. This money for the time being is lent on short loans, and it will be available at brief notice. The road authorities have been encouraged to prepare now schemes which are not of an urgent character, so that they may be ready with their proposals when depression comes to provide relief by means of this accumulated fund. Then the Development Board have also taken similar action. A large part of their income is spent on such matters as agricultural education and research, which does not involve considerable employment of labour, and which must be carried on, year in and year out, without very much variation. But the Development Commissioners, I am informed, have deliberately abstained from pressing on such works as harbours, land reclamation, afforestation, and so forth, in order that the plans that have been proposed to them should be put in operation during a period of trade slackness, and they have made it a condition of any grants for afforestation that have so far been made, and they will make it a similar condition in future, that the working plans for afforestation 1152 shall provide for variations in the extent of the operations to be carried on in the planting and cutting of timber according to the state of the labour market.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
Yes. There are a number which are in a very advanced state, and they are preparing also a chart of the whole country, showing the reclaimable land on which labour might usefully be spent in order that local authorities, should they wish to employ labour in times of trade depression, may have indicated to them where in their districts the labour may be most profitably employed.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
Yes. They are accumulating now a fund which I trust will reach at no distant date a sum of about £1,000,000, which can be released also in times of depression. So that the House can see that there will be available, when bad time does really come, £1,000,000 from the Road Board, about £1,000,000 in the hands of the Development Commissioners for work, and in addition about £3,000,000 in the Insurance Fund for distribution among those who are unemployed. And all this money will not only directly benefit those who are unemployed, or will seek relief from the Insurance Fund, but will percolate throughout the whole of the community, and so relieve the seriousness of the trade depression that may occur. Of course, for the workers in many trades these methods are not suitable. The textile operatives in Lancashire, for example, would prefer the method usual in the county of working a shorter time, when trade depression comes, to being offered an opportunity of land reclamation, or any such labour of a character to which they are totally unaccustomed. But this method of providing for works to be put into operation when the right moment arrives, is the best of all methods for dealing with unemployment. There is no pauperisation about it. It does not lead to a slackening of personal effort. It does not involve the provision of made work which must be to some extent, economically wasteful. The men are employed in ordinary conditions, to a great extent with their usual employers, and at work to which they are accustomed, and 1153 work which is of economic value to the country as a whole.
I think that we ought to concentrate so far as possible on singling out industries that can be expanded and contracted as the general industries contract or expand, on what might be called buffer industries, the elasticity of which will be of value in times of trade depression. The State, it has been suggested, can in other directions, through the ordinary State Departments, do more than it is now doing. When I was at the Post Office I made careful inquiry into this matter, and I found that in fact the curve of employment during the winter went up and not down, and more men were employed in construction work throughout the country. I am not speaking of the building of post offices, which is the work of the Office of Works, but the erection of telephone and telegraph lines and the laying of underground cables, which went on to a greater extent in the winter than in the summer. The reason very often is that the Department is anxious to get this work finished within the financial year, and very often finds that it is somewhat in arrear when October or November comes, and therefore it comes to take on more labour. There are other reasons also.
With regard to the building of post offices, it is difficult to postpone such buildings to times of trade depression, because, as a rule, they are only erected when really urgently required. It should be remembered, also, that the sites are frequently of very great value, and that it would not be a proper course to wait three or four years for a period of trade depression before a new post office is built. But I think it very possible that there may be directions in which the great spending departments might use the opportunity to equalise the giving of work over a series of years; and the Government have already decided to take the course which has been urged upon them this evening by the hon. Member who moved the Resolution, namely, to make a detailed inquiry, covering all the Departments concerned, into the practicability of postponing works until a period of trade depression comes, and to equalise the work in the winter as compared with the summer. The Treasury, as the Prime Minister some time ago undertook, are now appointing a Committee, the terms of reference to which will be somewhat as follows:—To consider 1154 whether any, and if so, what steps might be taken with a view to regularising the total demand for labour from year to year in different seasons by adjusting the distribution of public works conducted or given out by public Departments or by local authorities, with reference to the state of employment in particular trades from time to time. I hope that will meet the views of my hon. Friends. So far as this evening's discussion is concerned, I trust the House will pass my hon. Friend's Resolution, as it is an indication of a desirable line of action to secure the solution of a problem which has long engaged the attention of Parliament.
§ Mr. PETO
It is not my intention to move the Amendment which stands in my name on the Paper, urging that the Government should impose a moderate tariff on imported manufactured goods. It has been intimated by Mr. Speaker that it would not be fair to switch off the discussion this evening from the more direct matter which is contained in the terms of the Resolution. I wish to devote myself exclusively to the terms of the Motion, but, at the same time, I would like to call attention to the fact that we have had an allusion to the subject of my Amendment from the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie). It was an exceedingly unfair allusion. The statement contained in the hon. Member's speech is, to the best of my belief and the best of the information which may be in the possession of any hon. Member of this House, absolutely without foundation, namely, that there is a greater amount of unemployment in Canada, Germany, and the United States of America than there is in this country at the present time.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
May I say that I had the figures, but in order to save the time of the House, I did not state them, they are, however, in my possession now.
§ Mr. PETO
I should like to refer to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board. The first part of it was concerned in showing to the House that everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. The Post Office, the Department over which the right hon. Gentleman lately presided, at any rate is absolutely guiltless in the matter of unemployment or blind-alley employment, or matters of that kind. The major part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was concerned with what is included in the 1155 terms of this Resolution and the various proposals which it indicates for dealing with the problem of unemployment. If I may use a homely expression, it is spreading the existing amount of butter thinner over the same amount of bread. I have heard it stated that the greatest benefactor of a country is the man who will make two blades of grass grow where one grew before; and I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that when he next addresses himself to this subject of unemployment for any of the great Departments of the State, the greatest benefactor would be the man who made two jobs where one existed before, and not the Gentleman who proposes, like the Member for Merthyr Tydvil, an eight-hours day, which may be succeeded by a six-hours day and four-hours day, so as to constantly handicap productive trades of this country more and more, in order to employ our unemployed working classes who now emigrate from this country by hundreds of thousands per year.
Last year 302,000 persons emigrated from this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] I am glad to say, since hon. Members ask me, that out of that number 222,000 emigrated to various areas within the British Empire where they could find employment which they could not find here. That may be a very high commendation of the employment in other and more enlightened parts of the British Empire, but I do not think it is a very high commendation of the system which exists in this country which permits such a state of affairs where that is the only effective remedy we have for un-employment at the present time. The hon. Member for West Leeds (Mr. Edmund Harvey) frankly admitted that relief works were a pis aller. Every hon. Member who has spoken has spoken to the same effect, and I think it is very remarkable in a Debate of this kind, expressly raised on such an important issue, that every Member who has addressed the House from either side could only damn his own recommendations with the very faintest of possible praise, and really from some quarters it seemed as if they did not praise, but condemned the proposals they put down in the Resolution as being effective. I do not think some of the remedies which the hon. Member suggested ought even to be characterised as a pis aller. He suggested, in this connection, the principle of making further provision for planning public 1156 works so as to regularise the demand for labour by postponing work which could be executed during periods of trade depression. The question of post office buildings has been adequately dealt with, and I refrain from any comment, but the hon. Member also suggested that orders for boots might be postponed from one period to another—
Mr. EDMUND HARVEY
When I was speaking of that, all that I was referring to was seasonal fluctuation.
§ Mr. PETO
I accept the hon. Member's correction, but, as I understood it, he was dealing with the terms of the Resolution, which states that further provision should be made for the planning of public work, whether municipal or national, so as to regularise the demand for labour. That, of course, is a broad principle which would deal in the terms of the Resolution with a trade which is meeting with recurring periods of depression. So I understood the hon. Member, but I understand from him now that he was dealing with the subject of seasonable unemployment, which, I suppose, is intended to be confined to the periods of a single year. The hon. Member for Merthyr says that the problem of unemployment cuts deeper than the remedies suggested. There is a very great truth in that remark, which will meet with acceptance in every quarter of the House. I suggest that the remedies proposed in this Resolution are, even after the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman, proved to be absolutely inadequate. It is true that the Resolution mentions chronic under-employment. I do not think that the statistics referred to by the right hon. Gentleman adequately represent the amount of unemployment. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of 8 per cent. in periods of extreme trade depression and 2 per cent. in periods of good trade. Those are trade union figures published in the "Board of Trade Gazette," and they do not at all indicate the amount of unemployment in the country. We have another measure of unemployment since the inauguration of National Insurance. We know what is the percentage of insured workers apart from the trade unions which make returns. I find that for the month of January last, whereas the trade union figure is 2.6, the figure in respect of insured workers is 5.5, or double as much as the trade union figure, what the House should bear in mind is that it is not even the general trade union figure, but simply a figure relating to those trade unions 1157 which pay unemployment benefit. There are no figures available in regard to the percentage of unemployment amongst casual workers or non-organised labour. We know that, generally speaking, it cannot be in the mouth of hon. Members opposite to contend anything else, because they advocate—and, I think, rightly—the organisation of labour amongst other things to defend themselves precisely against this particular evil of unemployment. Of course there is a far better percentage of employment amongst organised labour than amongst unorganised and casual labour. The real problem is that of chronic under-employment, which has no relation to the problem of seasonal unemployment, or occasional unemployment depending on trade depression. I would only say that the whole of these suggested remedies do absolutely nothing to increase the net aggregate amount of employment in the country.
The trade union policy, so far from doing anything to meet that problem, has a serious deleterious effect upon employment. Take the case of the building trade. Any policy which limits the output of labour as a part of the fundamental policy, which underlies the system, must diminish the demand for labour, for the reason that it must increase, and increase artificially the cost of every article produced—not only the palace and the warehouse, but also the houses of the poorer classes. It goes round and round in a vicious circle, so that the more the natural output is restricted the less the demand for the labour will be. Therefore for the hon. Gentleman the Member for Merthyr Tydvil to speak of a compulsory eight hours' day obviously will still further limit labour, because the limitation of output has not been found to be efficient in that direction. Instead, therefore, of this being a measure to meet this question of unemployment it is bound to aggravate it, to cause the loss of trade and, consequently, loss of employment. The Labour Exchanges have been referred to. They do not, as the right hon. Gentleman candidly admitted, produce a single additional job. They do nothing to increase employment except the reflex action they have by bringing employer and employed together. So far as they do that, to use the words of the right hon. Gentleman, they lubricate industries, and to that extent they are to the good. But it is only reflex action, and I would call attention to the fact that, so far as last year is 1158 concerned—and it is a very important figure to bear in mind in considering this question—there were individual and separate applications to the number of 1,877,000. Out of that number only 656,000 persons—not, as the right hon. Gentleman said, approaching 1,000,000—or very little more than one in three of the applicants were found employment. Let the House remark that that was in a period when we are told the trade of this country was in a state of unbounded prosperity. If in that state of trade our Labour Exchanges could only find a job of some sort for one applicant out of three, I ask the House whether it is not a very much more serious problem than indicated by the trades union figures which are given month by month in the "Board of Trade Gazette"?
Distress committees obviously have had nothing to do with the question of unemployment. They do not find any additional jobs. In 1912, the last year of which we have complete figures, only 24,000 were found employment, and 4,200 were, through the distress committees, assisted to emigrate. The only effective agency now in force in this country—and it is not referred to in the Resolution—is emigration. The right hon. Gentleman said that he did not believe in State-aided emigration. We have no need to spend money on State-aided emigration when we have 302,000 people going out of the country and paying their own expenses during a period of trade boom when everyone is supposed to be going on hummingly, and everybody is supposed to be employed. That is the bald fact, and it is a disgrace to the trade system of this country that it should be so year after year, during a period of trade boom, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer getting up and congratulating himself, the House, and the country on the fact that trade is booming, that Income Tax returns show an increase, and that he has got a surplus in his Budget. All the time there is this great leakage of the best of our working classes, both agricultural and industrial! I do not think it is creditable to the general trade policy of the party opposite that they should allow this Resolution to be brought forward dealing with this grave problem and suggest nothing more, as a method of meeting it, than the planning of public works to regularise the demand for labour, and the provision of graded training institutions.
§ Resolved, "That this [...]use, while welcoming the decision of the Government to extend the provisions of Part II. of the National Insurance Act to other trades than those now insured against unemployment, and trusting that this may be done without delay, recognises that other measures must be taken to deal with recurring periods of trade depression, as well as with chronic under-employment, and with the case of those unemployed who are temporarily or permanently unfit for ordinary remunerative work, and accordingly urges that, while trade is still good, further provision should be made for the planning of public work, whether municipal or national, so as to regularise the demand for labour, as well as for the organisation, maintenance, and aid of graded training institutions and other agencies."