HC Deb 18 August 1919 vol 119 cc1998-9

The other branch of this problem to which we have given consideration is that of unemployment. Unemployment, I am afraid, is as inevitable as bad seasons, and it is the nightmare of every worker's life. When it comes, large numbers pass immediately from comparative plenty to penury, and the mere prospect of it frightens the workman. When that time comes, he should not be left to the humiliating expedient of soup tickets, which reveal the extent of the suffering, without sensibly alleviating it. We have already established unemployment benefit for certain precarious trades, and we recently extended the application of its provisions. But the amount is hopelessly inadequate, and the trades which it covers are only a percentage of those engaged in industry in this country.

The industry of the country as a whole ought to protect its workers against the prospect of this terrible calamity. There are many ways of dealing with it. There is the way in which it is dealt with in the cotton industry, which, whenever there is a bad time coming, makes arrangements for short time, in order to avoid dismissals. But if dismissals come, men who are pre- pared to work ought not to suffer starvation, and there must be an allowance. Until something be done I am afraid it is idle to go to the workers, and try to convince them of the fallacy of the doctrine that less work means more employment. Fear is fatal to reason, and you must remove that apprehension in the mind of the worker before you can convince him of the danger of the course to which many are now endeavouring to entice him. I am sorry that up to the present on this subject of unemployment, we have failed to secure agreement among the members of the Joint Committee of the National Industrial Conference. I am not sure that the division is one between employer and employed. It is rather a difficulty of trades. I am not persuaded that we can succeed in getting agreement. It is a question of workers in trades where unemployment is comparatively small helping the workers in trades where unemployment is a larger element. It is an appeal to the solidarity of labour, and that is an appeal that certainly ought not to fall on deaf ears. It may be the duty of the Government, in the event of complete failure of agreement among the industries, to put forward proposals in the name of the whole community.

With regard to improvements in the social conditions of Labour generally, Parliament this year has been busy and has passed a Housing Act, an Act for the purchase and acquisition of land, and an Act to enable those who are setting up houses also to provide transit for the worker to and from his work. One of the difficulties of providing houses is that you have no sites in the cities. You have, therefore, to take the worker out into the country if you are going to get houses fit for his accommodation. In order to do that, you must have some means of carrying him back and forward from his work, and I trust the combination of the Housing Act, the Land Acquisition Act and the Ministry of Transport Act will have the effect of solving this problem. I shall be very surprised if, when the House meet, we are not able to report, in spite of the fact that these Bills have only just become Acts of Parliament, very substantial progress on the lines of providing housing accommodation for the working classes of this country.