§ Mr. BRACE
I beg to move, at the end of the Address, to add the words,But regrets the absence of any mention of definite proposals for dealing with the present causes of industrial unrest and for securing, as regards wages and working hours, conditions of labour that will establish a higher standard of life and social well-being for the people.In moving this Motion on behalf of the Labour party I do so without any apology at all. I very much regret the imperative necessity which has caused us to place on the Order Paper a Motion of this character. There can be no doubt among Members in this House, and certainly no doubt among 326 the people of the country, that this Island home of ours is face to face with a very serious situation in consequence of industrial unrest. That being so, one is taken aback, and taken back indeed very seriously, when we find nothing of a direct character in the Gracious Speech from the Throne dealing with this very vital and very serious problem. I think that it is true that there are people, members of our trade unions, men who take a leading part in our trade unions, who indulge in threats. But this House will make a mistake if it allows itself to believe that it is these people's conduct alone that has brought the country to this stage of industrial unrest, that has made it necessary for the Labour party to table this Motion and raise a discussion upon it. Because of this I was surpised that the Prime Minister dwelt almost wholly upon this phase of the labour industrial problem. He never attempted to deal with what after all are root difficulties, and if the Prime Minister and the Government desire to allay the unrest that is in the country it will be essential on their part not alone to protest against any endeavour on the part of a minority of trade unionists to stampede organised labour into disastrous action, but to go to the root of the matter with a view to bringing about a remedy for the solution of the problem.
A large number of the advocates of the recent down tools strikes are strong trade unionists. They are strong supporters of trade unionism, and, given a reasonable chance, they favour the settlement of industrial disputes by negotiation rather than by stoppages; of work. They are highly educated and, through the special advantages which our system of free education and technical schools and secondary schools has given, they are very much better educated than their fathers, and, through this education, they have received a vision, fortified by knowledge, not only as to the use of man, but as to the dignity of man, and they will not be content, indeed they will not tolerate, conditions of employment and of life such as their fathers endured as ordinary conditions of their existence. It was never more clear than it is to-day that you cannot educate men and then enslave them or partially enslave them. We shall, therefore, be much more helpful, in these days of stress and trial, if we apply ourselves to discovering the fundamental causes of this industrial unrest and then courageously apply the remedy.
327 The settlement of industrial disputes by negotiation and reconciliation has failed, not because the principle is wrong or unsound, but because the machinery is so faulty and incomplete as to make it a physical impossibility to secure equal justice for the workers, and the delay in arriving by negotiation at a settlement of serious disputes has driven almost to despair the most enthusiastic supporters of settlement by negotiation. This being the case, is it to be wondered at that bodies of workmen are ready to listen to the advocates of the sudden lightning stoppage policy? Who has given them more encouragement to pursue that policy than some employers, and is the Government itself entirely free from having given encouragement to the operation of that policy? If the down-tools policy is to be discredited as a vicious and unprofitable weapon, employers of labour, and the Government, must make it their habit to concede the reasonable demands of their workmen before and not after a stoppage of work has taken place.
Has it not been the experience during recent years that, while responsible trade union leaders have been negotiating over long periods, endeavouring to arrive at a settlement by the constitutional method of negotiation, only to have to report failure at the end, that a few days' strike by the advocates of what is known as "a direct action policy" have secured concessions, either from the employers themselves or through the interposition of the Government, which were refused to the trade union leaders? If that be the case, and it is, is it surprising that the "direct-action" or "down-tool" policy finds supporters among the working classes? In face of such experiences as old-established trade union leaders have received in failing to settle and get reasonable concessions of grievances, it would he little short of a miracle if the "down-tool" policy failed to win approval among the masses of the workers. To concede terms after a stoppage which were refused to the official trade union leaders by negotiation before a stoppage is more than a blunder—it is a crime against the workman and against the State. If you are going to find the real causes for industrial unrest, then I am bound to place on record that not a little of the responsibility of this 328 unrest is the failure to give to the respon trade union officials such settlement by negotiation as they were entitled to receive on behalf of the workmen they represent.
There is an idea abroad that if we had in this country a system of compulsory arbitration we should have the machinery necessary not only to solve industrial unrest, but to arrange a fair and equitable method of settling disputes between capital and labour. I hope the Government will not have in its mind to introduce any such measure as compulsory arbitration. Organised labour has declared on more than one occasion that it cannot have compulsory arbitration as a system for settling disputes. Organised labour opposed compulsory arbitration because the scheme does not contain within itself a basis which would ensure equitable treatment for employers and employed. Consequently organised labour places on one side compulsory arbitration as a system for settling disputes as an impracticable proposal which they cannot accept. Organised labour stands strongly in favour of the settlement of disputes by conciliation and negotiation. I have always been strongly in favour of conciliation boards, and while we shall level some criticism at the Government I think the Government would have cause to complain about the Labour party if the Labour party did not bring to the common stock its contribution towards the solution of this matter. Therefore, while we criticise the Government for not having introduced into the King's Speech direct provisions for dealing with this industrial unrest, I hope our criticisms will be of a helpful character. Consequently my submission is that trade unions can only exist upon a basis of collective bargaining. Collective bargaining, to be most effective, must have some kind of instrument for negotiation between employers and workmen. While we turn down compulsory arbitration as an impracticable and impossible proposition, I do submit that in a scheme of conciliation boards with an independent conciliator chairman, with limited power, we have the fabric on which we may build a very effective instrument for dealing with this industrial unrest by negotiation and a settlement of grievances.
It is not a difficult thing to settle a general wage question for an industry. 329 The real cause of industrial unrest which this country is at present suffering from is the cumulative effect of a multiplicity of small grievances of individual workmen which have not been redressed, rather than a grievance of a great wage question. In connection with the wage question, if you turn to the mining industry you find we have there conciliation boards, that have effectively, for many years, dealt with the general wage question. There the chairman is limited in his power. He has not the power of an arbitrator. His power is confined to giving a casting vote for or against a distinct proposal. I stand wholly in favour of that in preference to any varying power given to any chairman. By compelling applicant parties, whether for an advance or for a reduction, to be responsible themselves for their original demands the very operation places on the people who know best and have most knowledge of the industry what they think is a reasonable demand to make, and consequently, when the employer knows that if he asks for 10 per cent. reduction in wages he must prove his full right to his 10 per cent. reduction or get nothing. When workmen know that if they make an application for 10 per cent. advance in wages they must show their full right to it or get nothing, because the independent conciliator chairman has no power to vary. I assure you from experience it makes us careful to keep our application well within what have ought to have I stand for that as a general proposition; but the remarkable fact is that while employers of labour will agree to the appointment of an independent conciliator chairman for settling the general wage question, when they are asked to appoint an independent conciliator chairman for the settlement of disputes in connection with their own individual concerns, they have, up to this moment, declined to accept any such proposal or any such principle. I would like to impress the mind of the Prime Minister and the Government with this fact, that if this industrial unrest is to be dealt with satisfactorily then the individual workman must feel that he is safe to have the protection under the machinery which will be treated for the settlement of disputes by negotiation as between the trade union and the employer or the employers' organisation.
The employers are guilty of many flings, but they are guilty of a very 330 short-sighted policy in their treatment of their workmen in their individual concerns. You could not have a great upheaval such as this industrial unrest demonstrates unless behind it there was a tremendous driving power of grievances among the individual men. What are the experiences which many leaders of organised labour have? The employer claims the right to vary the terms of contract for individual workmen and does vary it. In the daily operations of the concern the manager can alter a man's terms of contract and say, "These are your terms. If you are aggrieved then you must go to your board to have it settled." I say with all gravity that nothing more that I know of than that has been the reason for creating this reservoir of unrest which men of anarchical tendencies have been able to use in connection with these lightning strikes which we have complained about and which we are asking this House to deal with. How can you expect intelligent workmen, educated workmen, men who know something of economic law and of the rights of man in this age, to sit down quietly and see their employer varying the terms of a contract when they possess no such power? If they want to vary the terms, even for an individual, they must go to the board. Therefore, while I am advocating conciliation boards for industries as one of the best solutions I know of for dealing with these industrial problems, it must carry with it the hall mark that neither employer or workman can have the right to vary the conditions of employment without an appeal to the board and without getting the consent of the board.
I stand strongly in favour of dividing up the great industries into accessible areas with independent chairmen, which will enable disputes no be dealt with quickly, because I know of nothing more irritating than for men who have grievances to have to wait month after month and then get no settlement in the end. Take the South Wales coalfield, of which I can speak with knowledge. In connection with the South Wales coalfield there is a general conciliation board for settling general wages. I should hope that there should be one general board for settling the wages of the entire mining industry of the United Kingdom. But in connection with the collieries, although the board, under its regulations, will hear disputes on points between employers and workmen, and appoint one employer and 331 one workman, or two employers and two workmen, in order to negotiate a settlement, yet if those parties fail to mutually agree there is no independent conciliatory chairman to come in in that district, and the only alternative left to the workmen is either to go on without their grievances being redressed or to go out on strike. While we turn down compulsory arbitration as a system for negotiating disputes between capital and labour I commend to the Government the proposal for appointing conciliation boards, with independent chairman of limited power, but the boards must operate not alone for general wages disputes, but for individual disputes, quickly, promptly, and satisfactorily, as between employers and employed. Of course, no disputes can be avoided unless there is a spirit on both sides to avoid difficulties. One of the sad things to reflect upon at this moment in British public life and industrial life is that both employers and employed have lost confidence in each other. How can we restore confidence? I am not quite sure that they have not lost confidence in Governments. How can we restore confidence? We are a law-abiding people. We desire to advance our social programme of reforms by evolution rather than by revolution; but if our people are to have confidence created as between their employers and themselves, and as between the Government and the people, then the Government indeed must not deal in generalities, but must endeavour to deal in a root manner with what after all is a root problem.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is a most enthusiastic land reformer. I looked through the King's Speech to see what kind of proposal and programme he is introducing to deal with the land. What is the use of talking about reforming agriculture unless the nation is going to get control of the land? Land is the basis of all human activity. Without the control of land, and indeed without land, we as a people perish, and must perish. I remember being enthused in my early Parliamentary days by the speeches of my right hon. Friend in connection with land questions, and now the Labour party are waiting for him to redeem his early programme. We thought that in his great social programme, for which he appealed to the country and got such a sweeping majority, that at last we should be receiving in his first King's Speech declarations 332 that we were face to face with the settlement of the land question and a scheme of land nationalisation. It is no use talking about a great housing scheme unless you first settle the land question. I am certain that, with the best intentions in the world, the Government will find itself right up against difficulties nearly insurmountable unless they first settle the land question by getting control of the land. The Labour party say, and they desire me to say in no uncertain language, that if the industrial unrest is to be solved, then the Government will need to get down to the root of the matter, and one of the first items touching the root of the problem is to settle the land question and the nationalisation of the land. The human heart is most deceptive in its love of power. Those who control the land control the lives and destinies of peoples, and inasmuch as all the people must have land to live, we say let the Government give an earnest of its social programme to the people of this country by getting hold of this very instrument upon which they must all live, and that will be one of the most encouraging signs which we could have, and one of the greatest driving forces which you could give to reasonable moderate-minded men for appealing to the mass of the people to trust the Government and give them time to solve these great problems. I shall listen with interest to my right hon. Friend's reply as to how he proposes to deal with the land question, inasmuch as without real success on the land question there is little hope that he can deal with the great housing question.
In addition to nationalising land, if you are going to deal with this industrial unrest at the root, you must nationalise railways and you must nationalise mines. If my right hon. Friend can say to-day when he makes his speech that it is part of the Government policy to nationalise the mines of this country he will go a long way to helping the moderate men in the Miners' Federation of Great Britain to ease the situation. How can the Government deal with what after all is private property, technically, such as the collieries? The real suspicion behind the miners is this, that when they are asked to wait they think they are asked to wait for the advantage not of the State, but of the colliery owners. Therefore, if the Prime Minister wants to take a long step forward to case the mining situation, let him make the declaration this afternoon that it is the policy of his Government to 333 here and now declare in favour of a scheme of nationalisation of mines. No one knows better than my colleagues who sit around me the value of coal in these days. Surely if coal is of such vital necessity to this industrial and commercial people it ought to be under the control of the Government rather than under the control of private people! Therefore we put our proposal forward for the nationalisation of land, railways, and mines, not as any kind of Socialistic idea, but as a plain business proposition to business people. Until this question is settled there is going to be serious industrial unrest. How can you deal successfully with the colliery owners over any of these matters under pressure? Is it fair to them to deal with them and to bring pressure on them when it is their own private property? Surely the better thing is to buy them out. Take the whole of the property for the State, and what is now a speculative industry would become a sound investing industry, holding State securities. I cannot help hearing interruptions. Our difficulty is this that your inquiries take so long a time. When we talk about inquiries we are talking about something that delays. I will deal with inquiries a little later on, when I come to the question of wages.
We found ourselves upon the demand that it is in the interests of the State that the mines of this country shall belong to the State and shall be controlled and managed by the State. How are you going to have great electric power schemes unless you get control of the mines? If the State is to have the opportunity for dealing in a large and national way with the proposed power and light of the future then it must, first get hold of the mines us the foundation rock upon which to do so. May I say in connection with the very serious mining crimes that if the Prime Minister can tell us that he is prepared to nationalise the mines of this country it will enable us to make an appeal to the miners in a very much different manner from what we shall have to do if the mines are to continue as the property of private owners. To appeal to workmen in the name of the State is to touch them in their most vital spot, their native patriotism. If you would allow us to appeal to the workmen to withhold doing anything in the form of the industrial action policy because it was the property of the State and on behalf of the State, we should be able to be 334 infinitely more effective than any appeal that can be made to them if the concerns are to be allowed to continue in the hands of and under Show control of private individuals. The Government has a splendid opportunity to show to the miners that they are really in earnest for direct reform.
The miners propose that they shall have a Mining Bill in this Session of Parliament to give them a six-hour shift instead of an eight-hour shift. That demand is put forward with great earnestness and much seriousness. The miners think that the time has come when six hours is a sufficient working shift for men who are engaged at this grave, dull, monotonous, arduous industry, for the mining industry is a highly dangerous industry. No matter what you do it will always be a dangerous industry. Winning coal is a war on nature. You have to fight nature every time and every time you attack her she will strike back. The record of the loss of life and injury to limb, year after year, in the mines of the United Kingdom, despite ail the skill of this country, is an appalling record. The very last report presented by the Chief Inspector of Mines declared that there were 1,408 fatal accidents in and about the mines and quarries, causing the loss of 1,451 lives. Of these accidents 1,355, causing the loss of 1,395 lives, happened in mines, and as if that were not sufficient the Chief Inspector puts in this paragraph, "The year was happily marked by the absence of any great disaster." No civilised State has a right to send men into a danger zone of that character for a moment longer than is absolutely necessary for the national welfare. It is as cruel to send miners into the mine for a longer time than is absolutely necessary is it would be for a general to send his troops into No Man's Land without reason. When we make the appeal that we shall have a six-hours' shift we base that appeal upon a high humanitarian ground and upon the right of men who risk so much to have at least the most favoured treatment that a civilised State can give them. I appeal to my right hen. Friend the Prime Minister to make it quite clear as to where he stands on this question, because it is a very serious proposal put forward by the Minors' Federation of Great Britain, and it is part of the programme which he will be asked to discuss. It would be a short Bill, and it could be 335 done in an afternoon. All that we should want would be to move to delete eight and put in six, and I am certain that if this House of Commons see this problem as my colleagues and myself see it we should have no difficulty in prevailing upon the House to give this Six Hours' Miners Bill a first place in this new Session of Parliament.
In addition to that the miners are asking for an amendment to the Minimum Wage Act. These are all root grievances which must be redressed if there is to be peace. The Minimum Wage Act was an experiment. I recall many of the speeches made in this House against that Act when it was introduced, but it has been found in practice to be a most useful instrument for the avoiding of difficulties between employers and employed. It is, however, incomplete, and it is unjust, and therefore we ask for an amendment of the Minimum Wage Act. There is a Section in that Act which says that the independent chairman, in fixing the minimum wage of each class, must have regard to the wages of that class. Unfortunately, almost every independent chairman in the land misdirected himself upon that and gave a minimum wage below the average earnings of the class. The Miners' Federation say this, and say it properly, that the Minimum Wage Act ought to be amended to read that the average rate of wages in a class shall be the average earnings for that class. There is nothing very startling about it. It is only asking the House of Commons to say in direct language that the minimum wage shall be the average of the class. If my right hon. Friend today will give us a clear promise that the mines shall be nationalised, that the Eight Hours Act shall be amended, and that the Minimum Wage Act shall be amended, it will, I am certain, encourage the Miners' Federation of Great Britain to [Hon. Members: "Oh, oh!"] It is a powerful body, a body that must be dealt with quite seriously. If these demands are just, they must be granted. I quite agree that they must be argued, and I am endeavouring to put the case here this afternoon. I believe not only that the case is arguable, but that it is a very just case, and I say to the Prime Minister, in view of the great coal crisis that we are faced with, that this is the time of all times to deal in a root manner with root problems. It is because I think 336 it is only tinkering with this industrial unrest to set up committees and machinery for dealing with the matter that I venture to invite him to give us a declaration on the nationalisation of mines, on the amendment of the Eight Hours Act, and on the amendment of the Minimum Wage Act.
I was very impressed by the Prime Minister's declaration that we must have some regard to the cost of production in this country. Unless we have, we shall disable ourselves in competition in the neutral markets. I am quite aware that economic murder means economic suicide, and that we cannot damage our industries without damaging ourselves, but if the League of Nations is to be effective the League of Nations will do a great deal through the establishment of an international labour charter to correct any disadvantages which the industrial life of Britain may suffer in competition with the other countries of the world. Organised labour in Britain cannot be expected to take a low standard of life for the sake of international competition, and I hope that it will not be asked to do that. I hope it will be made clear that so far as we are concerned we are going to make use of all the power that the League of Nations can give to us by the creation of the international labour charter, under which uniform conditions will prevail in the industrial world, whether the workmen be upon the Continent or in this country. No one knows better than the leaders of organised labour in this country that the real test of the prosperity of an industry is its output or production. I wish the employers recognised that also. [Hon. Members: "They do!"] No; for if the employers recognised that they would be much more wary before they reduced workmen's wages because they were earning good money. What is our experience? In this great scientific age, when some genius discovers a scientific instrument for production, the employer introduces it into his undertaking, as he has a right to do, but if he finds in practice that the workmen by the use of that machine or instrument are able to earn a very big wage he does not content himself with the profit that he is going to make by his increased output, but he reduces the workmen's wages, and thereby the workmen are discouraged from giving output or production. If we are going to deal with this question of industrial unrest, and if this nation is to have the highest production 337 that it is possible for us co-operatively to produce, then the employers must worry much less about high wages and short hours. They must not, indeed, make the mistake of thinking that low wages and long hours mean prosperity. Rather must they concentrate upon production and upon output, and if in the operation they are able to give to the workmen high wages and short hours, then we shall be able to solve part of this problem of industrial unrest at the very root. It is because the Labour party finds no provision in the King's Speech for dealing in any direct manner with these problems at the root that we have placed this Motion down on the Paper. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister may be asking for time. The workmen's experience in the past has been this: They have been in no undue hurry, but their patience has been exploited. If the Prime Minister suggests the setting up of any machinery, is he prepared to make the result of the inquiry and the decision of that machinery retrospective—dating back? That is very important. Workmen as a rule do not object to inquiry and investigation, but they will not be consenting parties to the setting up of an inquiry which is going to delay a settlement, and therefore if the Prime Minister can make it clear that in any proposal he is going to make the inquiry will date back and that it will be made retrospective, that, I assure him, will be a point of influence on the minds of those who have these problems to deal with.
The Prime Minister made a very serious and grave attack upon those workmen who have been leading the policy of direct industrial action and causing lightning strikes. May I tell the House of Commons that the trade unions of this country are in favour of constitutional action. We are here as no advocates or supporters of the policy of down tools. No one realises more clearly than ourselves that that is a policy of disaster. While I have always been an advocate of the right of workmen to strike, I have always held that the workmen's right to strike must always be given to them because it is the only weapon that places them at last upon an equal platform for negotiating purposes with their employers. I have always said that strikes, like war, must be a last desperate resort. But I do hope the Prime Minister, in addition to condemning the down-tools policy, or the direct action policy, which means stoppage without notice, will not forget that the workmen 338 are being incensed in this country by reading, as my right hon. Friend said last, night in his speech, of profits made in many instances, and on purpose to put himself right with the British working classes it will be essential for the Prime Minister not only to condemn the unwisdom of the policy of down tools or lighting strikes, but also the injustice of anything in the shape of the profiteering which has been experienced in recent years. The workmen look to the Prime Minister to be just and fair in his criticism and they will not consider that his criticism is just if on the one hand he condemns in a wholesale manner the working classes and has no word of complaint to make about people who by their conduct and the enormous profits they have made during recent years have given great driving power to those who have been advocating strikes rather than negotiations between employers and employed. I venture to submit to the House of Commons that this Session of Parliament ought to be a Session set apart for legislation of a purely social and industrial character, and it is because the Prime Minister and his Government have made no provision in the King's Speech for giving us any direct legislation that it has been ray duty to move on behalf of the Labour party this Motion, which, if necessary will be carried to a Division.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
In seconding this Amendment, I recognise that the problem and the time are far too serious to attempt any debating points, either from this side or that. I would be tempted to criticise at some length the Prime Minister's speech on Tuesday, but I feel I shall be acting with the sense of the House if I recognise straight away that mere debating points are useless at a time of crisis, and I have no hesitation in saying, with a full sense of responsibility, that, serious as has been the industrial trouble in the past, the difficulty with the miners, the railwaymen, and the transport workers at this moment is so serious that this country may be plunged at any moment in one of the greatest, industrial upheavals that it has ever known. There, I approach the question in that spirit, and with a genuine desire to contribute something towards the solution. It is useless for any Labour leader to get up in this House and utter mere platitudes because it pleases the House. That neither helps the Government nor helps the cause.
339 In approaching the question, I lay down two general propositions. The first is, that however strong the trade union movement may be—and it is strong—however powerful the trade union movement is—and it is powerful—it is not stronger, more powerful or more important than the State as a whole. In other words, whilst we must be prepared to fight and defend our rights as trade unionists and workers, we can only defend those rights when they are consistent with, and in harmony with, our position as citizens of the State as a whole. That is the first proposition I make. The second one is, that we have no right to substitute industrial action for our political disappointments. We may disagree with the verdict of the electors. I disagree. But we are compelled to accept that verdict in any democratic government. Whilst I would have no hesitation in leading a strike for political or industrial freedom, I would not strike at any time, or lead a strike, against the considered judgment and decision of the people as a whole. The Prime Minister in his speech laid down what, in his opinion, were the causes of industrial unrest, with many of which I agree. He said unemployment was one, and he accurately depicted the horror and dread of unemployment, not always, be it observed, because of sufferings to the man himself, for the working classes of this country will often themselves bear any trial, but it is the fear and terror of what becomes of their family that haunts them more than anything else. The Prime Minister perhaps was not aware, when be talked about the fear of unemployment, that at this very moment there are a million men and women out of work. On the 16th January this year there were 537,000 men drawing unemployed pay, and at this very moment there are over 430,000 women. After four years of war, when these men and women have sacrificed what they have sacrificed, worked as they have worked, can you wonder at the feeling of horror that exists when there is a million of them out of work within a few months after the Armistice was declared?
In that connection, unfair advantage is being taken. Let me give one simple illustration. The unemployed benefit of the Government is a certain amount. Often employment is offered at considerably less than the unemployed pay, or, in 340 other words, a sweated rate, and I have cases here which, if they are challenged, I can give to the House—scores of cases where young women have been offered half the amount in wages that they are receiving in unemployed pay, and then, because they refuse to work under these sweated conditions, their unemployed pay is stopped. No one can pretend that the Prime Minister is responsible for that because obviously he knows nothing about it, but someone must be responsible. The Government must be responsible. When men and women realise this and tell their friends, can you wonder at the discontent and unrest that exist? But the most significant omission from the Prime Minister's causes of unrest was that of profiteering. I us examine the mind of the working man and woman standing last year in queues waiting for margarine—[An HoN. Member: "Four hours!"]—and finding the price of margarine going up and up. Then the chairman of the Maypole Dairy Company comes to his shareholders and says, "I am pleased to declare a dividend of 225 per cent." That is £2 5s. on every £1. Now what I would put to the Prime Minister is this: When the working classes read that, can you wonder that they are in revolt? That is the kind of thing that causes discontent. Can you wonder at the state of Lancashire? For two years the Lancashire cotton trade was on short time. For two years the Lancashire cotton operatives were earning less than they ever earned before, and yet, during that period of short time, last year the average profits in the cotton trade in Lancashire were not only higher, but were equal to 45 per cent. on the total subscribed capital. The working classes, I submit, are entitled to draw their own deductions from that fact
Therefore I want to submit to the Government that they themselves must firmly face the fact, and say that, so far as the Bolshevik on the one side is concerned, they will look upon him as an enemy to the State, but equally they must be prepared to say that the profiteer who will take advantage of the nation's difficulties is equally dangerous to the community. In other words, the balance of the Government must not be a bias on one side or the other, but must be fair as between both parties in this particular connection. I would therefore suggest that the Government should first recognise that there 341 is too much secrecy in dealing with disputes. I would infinitely prefer the facts of every dispute to be published, because, after all, the British public when inconvenienced are entitled to know who is responsible. The British public when they are being held up are entitled to know who is responsible. The British public have a peculiar sense of trying always to be fair with all parties, but they cannot be fair unless they know the facts, and I would strongly urge that the Government must insist in all these cases on full publicity on both sides. It must not be a statement in behalf of the employers; it must not be a statement on behalf of the Government, but it must be a statement equal and fair to all sides, regardless of who they are. Secondly, I submit that they should themselves insist upon the immediate putting into operation of what is called the Whitley Report.
Let me now try to point out to the House for a moment the different circumstances under which we are living to-day. When I myself worked on the railways, the railway companies did not even recognise the right of a trade union leader. Less than four years ago the railway employés were not allowed to discuss with the employer the kind of clothes they were to wear, although they were compelled to wear them, because it was held they were matters of management and discipline. The working classes to-day ought at least to have a share and a voice in the affairs that concern their daily life. I believe it is a good thing for the employer to have the benefit of the experience and the every-day knowledge of his own workmen. I believe it is a good thing for the workmen to have the benefit of the experience of the employer. That is why to-day we as a trade union are insisting upon at least making some claim for a share in what is called the management and control of our daily affairs. If I were asked to put my finger on one spot more than another that is a cause of the unrest, I would say it is the spirit in which concessions are given. Let me give an illustration. The forty-seven hours came into operation on 1st January. It was recognised, after negotiation, that forty-seven hours was a fair thing; but the very day and hour it came into operation, before the worker had been consulted or was able to ask anything about it, a notice was posted that the five minutes which had been allowed for forty years to all men at 342 six o'clock in the morning or one o'clock to wash their hands was to be immediately taken away. What was the impression created? It was as if you had been conceded £1 and someone was determined to make it 19s. 11¾d. That is the kind of thing that spoils the affair and creates in the mind of the worker the suspicion that he is always being "done down." You will never solve this problem until you restore confidence between both sides. My difficulty has always been, not so much to defend an agreement, as to convince my side that we were not being had by the other. Until you remove that kind of thing you will never touch the root of this problem. Let me give one other illustration.
The forty-eight hours was conceded. For years there had been an allowance of fifteen minutes for the men to take a meal within eight and a half hours. Hon. Members of this House know that London last week was held up by a strike, a dispute, and inconvenience was caused because this miserable fifteen minutes to have a bit of food was taken away immediately the concession was made. What I do submit to employers themselves as well as to the Government is that it is this kind of spirit that destroys, and lenders good feeling absolutely impossible. Let me point to one other factor—that is, the delay in settling disputes. When I tell this House that there has never been an industrial strike yet in which the men went back to work on the same issue on which they came out they will, I trust, understand the situation. It is one thing to get the men out on strike; it is an entirely different matter to get them back. Immediately they are out new issues crop up which render the position almost impossible. What is the situation even in the railway world to-day! This morning—and the public will have to know it sooner or later, so I may as well say it now—this morning my own executive were faced seriously with what happened yesterday—the House may as well know the facts.
On 6th December last we made an agreement with the Government. Part of that agreement was that we should settle the hours question, and that all remaining matters should be immediately investigated by a committee. That, I repeat, was an agreement arrived at or, 6th December of last year. Some railwaymen said, "No, we ought to have the lot." I said, "That is unreasonable'. There are 343 difficulties which have to be considered. The Government are prepared to consider them; are prepared to investigate the matter. At least give them a chance." On that plea they agreed to wait. Yesterday we met. We met, be it observed, when the whole of the railwaymen in the country were expecting a settlement. Imagine our amazement when yesterday afternoon we were solemnly told that only eight days ago were the railway companies even informed that they were to have any voice in the business at all. They said frankly to us, "We are not prepared with our case; it is too difficult at this moment, and it has to be investigated." These are the kind of things which cause trouble. One member of my executive, a man who gave three boys to the War, and who last year would have gone himself to the War, and would have shot any man who obstructed, got up indignant at our meeting this morning, and said, "I would strike to-night against this treatment." What is the real explanation of it? After all, the Government must answer. The Prime Minister is aware that in December the Secretary of State for War made a speech at Dundee, and intimated, for the first time, that it was the Cabinet's decision to nationalise the railways. For fifteen months I had been a member of a committee appointed by the Government. Railway managers were on it, and Government officials. The first intimation we knew of the decision of the Government in this matter was the speech of the Secretary for War at Dundee. The railway companies were alarmed. They said, and rightly said: "After all we are the trustees for £1,350,000,000 of capital, and surely on the glib statement of a Minister we ought not to hand over this property without knowing something about it." The result was when we asked them to negotiate with us they immediately said: "We do not know anything about the matter, we are not responsible, and you must go to the people who are responsible." Therefore I say what the Government have to do in this matter is to clearly recognise that when a responsible Minister makes a statement it must be the considered policy of the Government. I draw a moral from it, namely, that so far as industrial disputes are concerned the quicker they are handled the better for all concerned
I come to another point. It is one of those things where again the Government 344 are not exempt from blame. My right hon. Friend beside me pointed out with eloquent force that for two years—for four years as a matter of fact—those who wanted to strike had always been able to prove that their weapon was more effective than ours. I have stood, and stand to-day, for conciliation. I believe that the best means of settling industrial disputes is around a table. But when the working classes are enabled to point out that they only get their demands by striking, it renders the position of those of us who stand for conciliation very difficult indeed. I would put this proposition to the Government. If the demand of any section, whether it be railway men or miners, is in the considered judgment of the Government wrong on Thursday, it cannot be right on Friday merely because the men have struck. Naturally the very impression created by the method is, first, that the Government are not fair to the case of the men, or, secondly, that the Government do not know their duty and do not know how to govern. Therefore I say, and say it with a full sense of deep responsibility, that those of us who have stood for conciliation have found ourselves in a very difficult position owing to the policy which has been adopted in recent years. I frankly admit that one of the problems that we have to face is the unfortunate belief that there is an unlimited amount of wealth in the country. The war is largely responsible for that. It is no use disguising the fact that large numbers of the working classes, who were told that it was impossible to concede a few millions to old age pensions or social reform and found money poured lavishly without stint for years, have got the impression that there is an unlimited amount of wealth in the country.
I know, and know well, that Russia is the best answer to that fallacy. I know that normal wages are to-day a hundred times higher in some parts of Russia than they were three years ago. The spending power of those wages, however, is even less than it was before. So far as we, the workers, are concerned, it is not the amount of money we receive that matters, but the spending capacity of the money. Recognising that, I want the Government clearly to keep in mind that the present basis of the currency, and the artificial nature of the currency, the present inflation, are all things that must tend to unrest, because if the working classes get an advance of 5s. to-day and in a few weeks 345 time find the cost of living going up 6s., they feel that they have merely got it into their hands with someone always waiting to take advantage of the situation. My last point is that I want the Government not to consider the interests of the big trade unions alone. I know all too well that it would be within the power of my union and myself to force conditions that would be suitable to many people, but which the weaker section of the community could never obtain. I recognise that this would be wrong. I never hesitated all through the time I was negotiating the War bonus to admit it was the most vicious system imaginable, because the old age pensioner, the widow, and all those people who did not have a powerful union to back them up, suffered. Surely, if the eight-hour day, or a maximum working day of six hours or any other is given because of the power and influence of one trade union to force it, the Government ought to recognise their obligation and legalise it by establishing it for all industries! If it is possible for a trade union to force by its power and influence a minimum wage, is it too much to expect that the Government would recognise their obligation to the State as a whole? I believe that these are the best ways of meeting this problem. I am sure the Prime Minister will agree, if we are to have trouble, it is much better for the whole position to be focussed in this House of Commons. I at least want to bring it within this atmosphere. I want this House of Commons to face the situation, and I would therefore say to the Government, first—you yourselves should give the utmost publicity to every side of the case, and deal with the reactionary as you would the Bolshevists, and recognise that you must not rule out a case because it appears unreasonable. Your duty is to be firm, and you cannot be firm unless you are just, and you cannot be just until you have examined carefully and dispassionately every claim. I would say to employers—recognise the changed circumstances; recognise that the working classes are no longer going to be treated as "Hewers of wood and drawers of water." Recognise that all glasses have unstintingly given of their lives and treasure during the last four years. A country that can produce the heroism and sacrifice that we have produced ought to is made a country worth living in for such men and women. I believe, Sir, that the next few months 346 will be our dangerous period. I believe the next few months is the transition period between what I call abnormal and normal conditions, and I believe it will be the testing time. I want the Government to recognise their responsibilities by being as fair to the worker, and no fairer, than they are to the employer. I want them to recognise that they were returned to power to create a new England, and it is up to them to see that they redeem their pledges. I also want the working classes to realise first that if there is a genuine attempt to redress their grievances, if there is a spirit of toleration and earnestness on the part of employers, they have to recognise their responsibilities as well. If that spirit that has carried us through the anxious period of four years can only last for a few months, I at least will not be apprehensive of the future, whatever it may be.
§ Major TRYON
The House will welcome the speeches of the two right hon. Gentlemen who have spoken for the Labour party, because both of them are men who take a moderate and a wise view. I think, however, it is exceedingly unwise, at a time like the present, to omit to state that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Abertillery was not long ago the special Labour adviser of the Home Office upon these questions. Perhaps it is very modest of the Labour party not to mention that at a past period when things went wrong it was a member of the Labour party who was the special Minister appointed to deal with Labour questions. Therefore, I feel if the right hon. Gentleman brings this forward it is in a sense an attack upon himself and some of his colleagues. I want to say how much I sympathse with a great deal that has been said by the two previous speakers, and I am not here to make a party speech. I realise what an extremely strong point the right hon. Gentleman opposite made when he said that it is the greatest possible mistake to give after a strike what you might have a few hours before given by negotiation. I agree with every word of that statement, and I agree that we must seek a way out of Labour troubles by conciliation and peaceful methods. I think, however, when the country reads this Amendment that it will not have the effect which the two right hon. Gentlemen who have spoken seek to get from it. This is a new Parliament, and the country expects a great deal from it, and yet the first act of the Labour party is not to help 347 the Government but to pass a strong, and I think, an absolutely unjust criticism upon the proposals of the Prime Minister. This Amendment says:But regrets the absence of any mention of definite proposals for dealing with the present causes of industrial unrest.Have hon. Members read the King's Speech, for there I find definite proposals? It says:
§ That the gifts of leisure and prosperity may be more generally shared throughout the community is My ardent desire.
§ That is exactly what hon. Members are asking for. [An Hon. Member: "It is a pious opinion!"] Then there is a passage which says:
§ You will be asked to consider measures for effecting a speedy increase on a large scale in the housing accommodation of the people.
§ Are the Labour party prepared to say that that has nothing to do with unrest? I think there ought to be a speedy scheme for better housing, and it is doing great harm in the country when the people read the Debate to find that the first thing they will read from the Labour party is a sweeping condemnation of the whole programme of the Government. I think, in their own interests and the interests of those they represent, the Labour party would have been better advised in saying, "These are things we can help the Government with. This is a proposal for better housing, and we will help you because you are trying to deal with unemployment.'' It is absolutely inaccurate to say that the King's Speech, as is stated in the Amendment, provides no means for dealing with unrest. I come forward as a strong supporter of the proposals of the Government and I regret that the Labour party should have made such an unjust attack. What we want is conciliation, negotiation, and a settlement of disputes peacefully, but there happens to be another body in the country who do not want them, and who are doing their best to create disturbances and bring ruin to the country in order to build up their new schemes
§ You bring up an Amendment put forward by the Labour party suggesting that the Government schemes are all nonsense and that there is nothing in them, and that is unjust to the Prime Minister and to the House, and it is a course which is likely to cause unrest in 348 the country. I think the Labour party would have been better advised if they had said, "These are things we will come forward and help the Government to pass," instead of saying, "There is nothing in the King's Speech dealing with unrest." What are the dangers Can anyone doubt them? We are faced with two alternatives—one is a solution by law, order, and Parliamentary action, and the other, is a most dangerous alternative. This Amendment discredits Parliament and the programme of the Government, and to my mind it encourages extreme courses. We have already seen one of the most unfortunate instances in our history, that of the police strike. We have seen electricians turning out lights at the Albert Hall. Proposals have been made to build great power houses from which electricity will bring light and power into our towns and villages. The extremists look on these centres as future political power houses. They propose to use them to coerce the country, to cut off the current, and by force to compel England to adopt a policy that England has just rejected at the General Election. We are not going to give way to that. I claim for Parliament that our work here should have a fair hearing and a fair opportunity, and this Amendment is not giving Parliament a fair opportunity. We have heard of proposals that the land should be nationalised, but that means that the returned soldier would never have a chance of owning the land of his country. [Hon. Members: "Oh, oh!" and laughter.] Hon. Members laugh, but that shows that they do not understand their own proposals, and it seems to me a pity that they do not understand them. If you nationalise the land, of course nobody can own it, and the soldiers coming from the War who desire to own land will be obliged to go to Canada and Australia, where they encourage the private ownership of land. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nobody owns it now!"]
§ I am not surprised to find that hon. Members opposite do not like discussion of their own proposals, and I do not wonder at it. The Labour programme was put before the country at the last General Election, and a prominent part of it was the nationalisation of the land, and there was also an unlimited promise of everything to everybody. I have heard of £3 per week promised in agricultural districts and £6 a week for shop assistants in the towns, and how is all that to be 349 raised? They suggest it should be raised by taxing the land. You begin by abolishing the land owners and then you propose to tax them, and now the party which holds out these wild promises claim that there is unrest. With all these political dangers for the nation ahead of us I am astonished that the Labour party has not said to the Government, "We will help to get these things, and we will not discourage the whole of your proposals at the very beginning of a now Parliament." I do not think the nation realises how much is at stake. For hundreds of years this country has governed itself and has succeeded as no other Government has done.
§ There are people in this country who want to discredit Parliament and run it down before it has been heard. A few people in the Press try to discredit all Members of Parliament before this Assembly has had an opportunity of carrying out its promises. Personally, I would welcome help from the Labour party in order to see these things carried out. In conclusion, I have only one or two suggestions to make. When these programmes are put forward by the miners I should like to see exactly what they are and what they are going to cost and how far they can be met. I should also like to know whether the people are going to be better or worse off after there has been a great rise in the price of coal, or whether a rise can be avoided in any way by better machinery. But, above all, let us have publicity. Nothing could be better when there is a dispute than that the great jury of the whole nation should try it. Then let us try and raise the wages and standard of some of those who are not able to strike. I notice that the Labour party put up two men to advocate the cause, one for the biggest vote and the other who represents the union where there is the second largest block of votes. There are people, however, who cannot get higher wages by strikes, and I hope there are many who prefer not to strike. I would, therefore, join the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby in advocating tie claims of many men who are far worse off owing to the increased cost of living and who deserve consideration from the State. I wish we could get some balance of the fair and just rewards of labour—better wages, shorter hours and cheapness—and then, having got it, I should like to see the whole energies of the nation devoted towards organising the production of the nation as a whole on a planned scale, in order to make those 350 wages when the men have got them better and better by reason of their ever-increasing purchasing power.
§ Mr. SIMM
It is not my intention in rising for the first time in this House to offer any criticisms on the speeches which have been made by the Mover and Seconder of this Amendment. I want to do a somewhat bold thing. I want to contradict the Prime Minister. Yesterday it was advanced, and it has been advanced again to-day, that the unrest in the labour world is due to-unemployment. I suggest to the Prime Minister that he is wrong for once. Where is the unrest manifest? In the first place, in the coal trade. Does he suggest that there is grave danger of unemployment in the coal trade? In the second place, there is unrest among railwaymen. Again, does he suggest that there is danger of unemployment among railwaymen? Thirdly, there is unrest among shipyard workers. Does he suggest that there is danger of unemployment among shipyard workers? All these industries ate busy. All the coal that we can get for the next fifty year? is already mortgaged, and ships are wanted in abundance for a very long time to come. There is no danger of unemployment so far as the railways are concerned. We must, therefore, look elsewhere for the causes of discontent. Is it the outcome of social conditions? Is it the outcome of economic pressure, or is it a condition of mind produced by something from outside these things altogether? I am disposed to believe that it is a condition of mind. A friend of mine came back from Petrograd about four months ago. He was in gaol in Moscow five months ago, and he is very lucky to be here now. He told me that when the Spanish influenza was prevalent in this country the Bolshevists in Petrograd assured him that Bolshevism was the Eastern influenza and would spread all over Europe. In some measure the late Government are to blame, because two-years ago they sent from this country to Russia a member of the Government who got slightly infected with influenza of that order. Mr. Arthur Henderson, who wanted. I believe, to be the Government himself, failing to put the world right from Petrograd, is now trying to put the world right from somewhere else.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace) laid it down that there must be some great force behind all this unrest. I happen to have been 351 a trade unionist for nearly thirty years, and I spent the first eighteen years of my life in a miner's cottage. I have lived all my life among working people, and I challenge anyone—and I have many Friends upon the other side of the House—to demonstrate or to prove where meetings have been held in the country in support of the programmes that are being placed before the Government and the nation. Yesterday we had a telegram sent from one great organised body to another organised body sitting at Southport. The Transport Workers said, "We, the railwaymen, the miners, and the transport workers combined, would be irresistible." I suggest that there is a very great danger there, and it is well that the Labour party, which is really on its trial, should mark what is transpiring. If certain things transpire in this country, it is because they have failed in their work. Mr. Keir Hardie was an old friend of mine, and he taught the doctrine that if you want to mend conditions it is not by strikes, but by means of Parliamentary power. What is transpiring now? There is growing up a force which is demanding direct action. The Parliamentary method, they say, is far too slow, and things cannot be done in that way. It is up to the Labour party to demonstrate that the method which brought them here is not an impossible road to a solution of our difficulty. I go further and say that if those who believe in direct action are the heads of the Miners' Federation, the railway workers, or the transport workers, and they are responsible for making war upon society by calling men out, they will be just as responsible for the miseries which ensue as the Kaiser is responsible for the miseries brought upon the world by the war of the past four years. The leaders of the Labour party ought to exercise the utmost power they have got to keep things steady.
This Amendment contends that the Government are making no definite proposals to meet our requirements. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby very properly pointed out that wages do not cover everything. We often say that good health is the richest of all possessions, and so it is. The Government propose to make provision for good health. A good house to live in is surely a valuable thing in the way of a fuller life. The Government propose to deal 352 with that. Further, we have proposals for land settlement. Probably we are hoping for far too much from that. The Prime Minister before now has pointed out that in the course of this War we have done a very wonderful thing. We are producing now nearly four-fifths of our needs. If we multiply that we shall soon become an exporting nation. I believe in the fullest possible use of the land of our own country, but I beg the Government to keep their minds upon one thing not in the Gracious Speech, and that is a larger and fuller use of the wonderful resources of our Colonies. One cannot walk through London without meeting young men who have come from outlying lands to help the Mother Country in France and elsewhere. They may admire London, and they may see the relics and antiquities of this country, but ask them if they desire to remain here and not one in a thousand will say "Yes." They all want to go back to the larger freedom that the Colonies give them. There are some causes of unrest in our social system, and we can never get a perfect system, but we have now the most advanced programme of social reconstruction ever placed before this House of Parliament. Much has been done in the past few years, and much can be done, not by strikes, but be co-operation, in the next four years.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I have been asked on behalf of the small group of Independent Liberals to which I belong to say a few words on this subject. I have one preliminary thought very strong in my mind, and it is that the House has a very great deal to congratulate itself upon in having as leaders of the Labour party such admirable spokesmen as the right hon. Gentlemen who have addressed the House from this bench in the last few days. As long as labour is led by men of that kind, and as long as they are returned to this House to voice labour, the task of the Government in dealing with labour matters ought to be very much facilitated. I cannot forget that the Prime Minister did his very best at the election to make it impossible for those men to be returned. The position produced by the action of the Government in the election has made matters very much more difficult for them in dealing with labour unrest than they would have been if the Government had been otherwise guided. I happen to enjoy the friendship of several members on the workers' side of the Agricultural 353 Wages Board, of which I am a member, and even before the election they were certain that the date at which the election was thrust upon the country, and the circumstances of the election, would make it more difficult for them to restrain the violent elements in their unions than if the election had taken place at a time at which they would have considered it much more fair to consult the country. The election was run more and more on stunts, such as making Germany pay for the War and no Conscription—one of which the Government know that they cannot enforce and the other of which they will not enforce. That, unhappily, produced a feeling of irritation, exasperation, and unrest, which was increased when the Prime Minster made his tremendous onslaught on labour and labour leaders just before the poll. His Government has been guilty of what must appear to be a breach of faith to labour in having no representative of organised labour at the Peace Conference in Paris. Therefore it seems to me that under the circumstances in which this Parliament has been returned there is a very special duty resting on the Government to devise a positive policy for avoiding the industrial unrest we are now liable to, and for putting that policy in the forefront of their programme this Session. That is emphasised by the composition of the House at the present time. The Labour party and the small party of Independent Liberals to which I belong are extraordinarily unrepresented in view of the votes cast in their favour, and at a time when you have undoubtedly a vast majority of the thinking working men caring more intensely about the actual carrying into practice of the doctrines of the League of Nations than any other matter concerned with foreign affairs. We have seen in the last few days the very eloquent and fine tributes to the principle of the League of Nations uttered by the Prime Minister absolutely received in silence by the occupants of the benches behind him.
The Prime Minister the day before yesterday went into be causes of the unemployment which already exists and which no doubt we shall feel more definitely when the present scale of unemployment donations comes to an end. He said that one essential of unemployment was lack of confidence, and he put as a second cause of the unemployment that we shall not be able in our great industries to restore full employment if cost remain as high as it is 354 at the present time. He said truly that we had before the War something like a thousand million pounds employed in our export trade, that that trade was conducted very often on a narrow margin of profit, a small change one way or the other might give the trade to someone else, and that if the trade went to other quarters hundreds of thousands of men would suffer and very bad unemployment would prevail. The right hon. Gentleman proceeded to concentrate on one factor, which I suggest is not the only factor of the possible high cost of production, namely, the increase of wages. I want this afternoon to draw attention to two other factors in high cost which the right hon. Gentleman did not refer to, but which I think are very pertinent to the present position.
In the first place, there is this fact that in certain industries the Government is undoubtedly preventing imports which would otherwise take place and for which there is shipping available, so as to give certain sets of employers a chance of keeping up the prices of the goods they have to sell. It was, I believe, recently decided that the only things in regard to which there could be relaxations in the matter of import into this country were lawn mowers, and then someone went to the proper Department of State with the suggestion that he did not want them brought in as he was making them himself, and he wanted to be treated as other people were being treated in the matter of the prohibition of imports. It was explained to him that nobody at the Department knew there was anyone interested in lawn mowers, and, therefore, it seemed to them that no harm could be caused by allowing them to come in freely. If they had known that anybody would be interfered with in selling his lawn mowers at high prices it would never have been suggested that lawn mowers should be allow to come in from outside. That is a matter which ought to be investigated and fully reported upon, Undoubtedly it is the general feeling that by the prohibition, of foreign trade prices are being unnecessarily kept up in the interests of small special rings of manufacturers in this country.
Then there is a more serious point. The Government seems, quite naturally to desire not to lose money on their war purchases. No one, of course, disputes that the Government had during the War to make contracts for the purchase of 355 goods in advance, as they could not take the risk of not having the necessary supplies of food and materials for munitions and other industries in this country. Of course, enormous stocks are left on their hands, and the question is how those stocks are to be worked off. The principle which seems to be followed at the present time is that the Government must keep up the prices of the stocks they hold in order not to incur loss in disposing of what is left on their hands. I believe that that doctrine as a whole is fundamentally wrong. It would be far better to come to the country with a clear confession of the position and say, "It is necessary for us to lose, it may be, from £10,000,000 to £50,000,000 on certain transactions in regard to which we had to take risks while the War was on. Loss is inevitable, but let us cut that loss rather than try to keep up prices indefinitely to the general consumer and so restrict the development of trade and employment in this country."
There were several instances given in a very interesting letter from my late colleague, Mr. Runciman, which appeared in the "Times'' this morning and which shows that if there were open markets it would be possible to sell tea at 4d. per lb. less than is now charged for it, that the farmers would be able to get maize at 40s. per ton instead of 70s., that wheat prices would be brought down 28s. Then there was a speech by the Governor of the Gas Light and Coke Co. in which it was pointed out that the artificial keeping up of shipping freights by the Government on coal which is necessary for the making of gas was responsible for keeping up the price of gas to the hundreds of thousands of consumers of gas in the Metropolis who depend upon it for cooking and for other purpses. The question of linseed oil and petroleum would also bear looking into in the same connection. I think it would be much better to cut the loss and let prices come down than to keep up prices in order that the Departments interested should not lose. It may be asked what would be the effect on the Exchequer Would it not be very serious? I am reminded of a saying uttered by Mr. Gladstone many years ago when somebody asked him what would happen if the country were made sober and there was no revenue from drink. His reply was. "Give mp a sober and prosperous country, and I shall have no difficulty in finding revenue from taxation in order to 356 finance the public services." I believe that if we show the population, and the working classes especially, that there is a real turn in the level of prices in the direction of coming down to more normal conditions, it will do far more to restore confidence, and to restore employment and prosperity than is likely to be effected on the other side by the fear of industrial unrest. There are now many hundreds of thousands of people who have denied themselves during the War and have not purchased clothes. They found it very costly and thought it was patriotic not to purchase new clothing during the War. Now they are faced apparently with an indefinite continuation of the high prices of clothing. I believe the Government have purchased the whole of the wool crop now coming into this country, as well as that which will come in in 1920, and will come on to the markets in 1920 and 1921. Are we to pay a higher price quite indefinitely for another couple of years for our clothing because the Government has made war purchases of Australian wool, no doubt at a very high price, and refuse to cut the loss and to let manufacturers get on with their ordinary business?
There is another important point which has been made to-day. In the Prime Minister's speech the other day—I hope it will not be the case this evening—no mention was made of profiteering. There would be, of course, no point whatever in liberating the goods which the Government holds unless at the same time measures can be taken to prevent great firms from continuing to make the enormous special profits which seem to have been undoubtedly made during the War. The Government is perhaps so much a profiteer itself that it has a certain fellow-feeling with other profiteers. There is no doubt at all you will not be able in any sort of way to convince labour of the soundness of the arguments used by the Prime Minister unless this question of profiteering is dealt with. The right hon. Gentleman said that the shortening of hours combined with the reduction of output, while maintaining wages at the same level, must put up prices, and that high prices were the most fruitful cause of unemployment. That is true as an economic argument, of course, but it is only true in an atmosphere where the economic argument applies. There are dozens of instances which working men know perfectly well, where there is 357 now, and apparently will be for the future, no free play for economic forces. Already twice this Session reference has been made to the profits made by Messrs. Coats. And I say seriously to the Government that as long as workers have cases of this kind before them they simply will not believe that in obtaining shorter hours for themselves they will increase the price of the product they are concerned in producing, and decrease employment owing to the decrease in purchasing power of other people. Coats's declared a dividend of 30 per cent. after paying Excess Profits Duty, and carried forward a sum equivalent to another 30 per cent. for another year. The workers are bound to believe that if they succeed in getting Messrs. Coats to employ two shifts instead of one, or three instead of two, or four shifts of six hours instead of three shifts of eight hours, there will be no increase whatever in the price of the product, and consequently no diminution of employment. It is clear in that instance, as well as in others, that the price fixed bears no relation whatever to the cost of production or of labour. These people undoubtedly fix their own price at the highest rate which they think the public will pay, and if workers succeed in cutting the hours down it will not make any difference in the price to the consuming public. It seems to be an essential point of the policy which I hope the Prime Minister will unfold this afternoon and put before the nation, that when dealing with industrial unrest profiteering must be definitely dealt with. Instances of this kind which working men know perfectly well ought henceforward to be made absolutely impossible of occurrence.
§ Sir HILDRED CARLILE
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he is aware that the profits made by Messrs. Coats in the United Kingdom are a very small proportion indeed of the whole of their profits, and that consequently the figures he has quoted are no guide at all?
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. ACLAND
The profits made elsewhere must then be worse. I am not saying that Coats's are not worse profiteers perhaps in other countries than here. It is not the only case. There is the case of margarine and the Maypole Company. It is perfectly well known that enormous profiteering has been going on and will keep on going on. It is no use trying to persuade the working classes that the arguments they are following are unsound 358 and uneconomic unless the Government can really tackle that question. I have had some connection with working people in agriculture and so on, and I have had connection with farmers and been on all sorts of Committees. I know that they do not mind being less well treated than they think they should be so long as they know that others are being treated in the same way. What produces the feeling of unrest and disquiet is that other people are being allowed, to do a certain thing which they are not being allowed to do. I happened to be chairman of the Forage Committee which had to fix the prices for farmers hay, and I know that the farmers did not mind being "jewed" over their hay so long as they knew that others were being "jewed" over it too. Although they were getting very fair prices that is what produced a feeling of unrest. It is quite impossible to expect working men not to grasp for the highest wages they possibly can so long as they know that the employing firms are getting enormous profits and that no proper steps are being taken against them on that account.
§ Mr. ACLAND
Quite so. It is absolutely human nature. They do want to be profiteers, too, in many cases. Therefore I say you must deal with the worst cases of profiteering by the big firms if you are to deal with the profiteering which undoubtedly certain classes of the working men will wish to indulge in so long as they see it going on in other classes on a far huger scale than anything they dare contemplate for themselves. Reference wan allowed to the Mover of the Amendment to the land question. I want to make only one observation about that, namely, that it is rather ominous and is a effuse which may well contribute to our industrial unrest that we do not find in the Gracious Speech any reference to a proposal which, as it seems to me, must underline all the proposals connected with the land that are mentioned in the Speech, a proposal with regard to a change in the basis of the compulsory acquisition of land. I believe that that underlies housing, that it underlies land settlement, that it underlies reclamation and that it underlies forestry. Unless you can sweep away altogether the old basis of the Land Clauses Consolidation Acts as the basis 359 upon which land shall be acquired compulsorily for public purposes, you will never be able to get these great industries and reforms set up at a price which will be fair to the people. I know that this is a matter on which many working men who have worked on local bodies feel strongly. They have found by sad experience that when a public body has had to get land for some public purpose the rates have had to be burdened two, three and four times as much as there is just need for. They are watching and looking for this change, and the fact that it is not mentioned in the Speech is rather ominous in that connection.
Another point worth thinking of, and which I hope will be examined by the body which is going into this question on behalf of the Government, is that undoubtedly industrial unrest is due very often to the men not getting sufficient holidays to enjoy the leisure they are now getting properly educated to enjoy. I have never been able to understand the reason why it is always held that the brain worker needs at least a fortnight or a month or six weeks or eight weeks' holiday in the year, while the manual labourer hardly needs any at all. For instance, it is only this week that at last we are introducing into agriculture the habit of the Saturday half-holiday. I believe that many strikes are due to the fact that men are restless because they are tired. They strike very often simply to get a bit of a holiday. I believe that if employers generally would recognise that the workers who work for them with their hands need holidays and are quite as worthy of holidays as any other worker, or as they themselves, who would always regard themselves as extremely badly treated if they could not get their six or eight weeks away in the summer months, there would be more human feeling shown in industry and a great deal less of the feeling that the manual worker is still to be treated merely as part of the machinery of industry and not as a human being having his own wants and needs just as much as the employer.
Another suggestion I would make is that there should be in all these dealings with labour a much better system of publicity on the part of the Government than there is at the present time. I believe that if we were now to decide to spend, say, a hundred thousand pounds on a proper 360 system of publicity on these matters, it would be a sum far better spent than some of the millions which have been spent on publicity during the War. We want to know far more than we know at present the real facts, say, about the cost of living. On the Agricultural Wages Board, where this matter comes up constantly, we cannot get at the facts. The workers always have one set of figures given by the Board of Trade and the employers always have another set of figures given by the Board of Trade. There is very little guidance and we have to go into the whole thing de novo ourselves. I therefore commend the suggestion that far more information should be given to the public of facts such as the cost of living, and that far more information should be given to the public about the actual facts of these industrial disputes. One read the papers during the recent tube strike and found it extremely difficult to find out what the real facts were. The Board of Trade published one agreement which seemed to show that the men were entirely wrong, and two or three days afterwards another version was published which put a different complexion on the matter. A publicity department connected with the Labour Ministry, giving full and impartial information on the facts, would do a great deal of good in the restless situation we are now in. Another suggestion I would make is with regard to the delays which the right hon. Gentlemen preceding me both emphasised—delays in settling disputes and having them dealt with by the Government. There is an impression in the country now that very little can be done or is done by this Government without the direct action of the Prime Minister. I do not say that he encourages that suggestion; I do not think he does. But one sees in the Press constantly the suggestion that nothing can be done so long as the Prime Minister is in Paris, and that when he comes back everything will be put right. That is hopeless. We know that he is doing most splendid work on behalf of the country in Paris and that he ought to get back to that work and continue it. I believe that a good deal of the unrest might disappear if it were known that he was perfectly willing to delegate full powers to other people while he is absent from England on peace work, and that there was a Committee of the Cabinet definitely entrusted with power to act and to act quickly, in his absence, and which would publish from day to day their 361 decisions in those matters that must come before them I do not think he would lose in the least by that. Anything that can be done to give greater publicity and greater expedition to the decisions of the Government will be a great gain at the present time. We are glad that the Prime Minister is going to speak on this subject. I am certainly one of those who agree with those who moved and seconded the Amendment that more specificmention night have been made of the very definite proposals which undoubtedly the Government must make if this industrial unrest is to be allayed, and I for one shall divide in favour of this Amendment, and shall accompany them into the Lobby.
§ Mr. SEXTON
I wish to follow the ordinary custom that new Members should appeal for the indulgence of the House. I am afraid I have incautiously infringed some of the privileges of the House, and I trust, therefore, that if I should again incautiously stray from the path of Parliamentary virtue I shall have your assistance, Sir, and hour guiding hand to get me back to it. I have listened to this discussion with considerable interest. As an interested onlooker for many years I have often felt an irresistible desire to shiver a lance with some of the doughty champions in this Chamber. I find myself now, after five Parliamentary attempts, present and taking part in the game. The discussion of this subject seems to have taken a peculiar turn. With the exception of the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment, all the speeches have dealt entirely with the question as if it were a mere passing event. I shall endeavour to prove that this is an altogether mistaken idea, that it is not a made passing event at all, but that it is the accumulated wrongs of half a century that are finding vent in these labour disputes to-day. It is true that the War, with its associations and its intensity, has undoubtedly intensified the spirit of the people. There has been great strain upon the community, and there has also been a great strain upon those of us who, like myself, were compelled by sheer force of circumstances the support war, of which we had previously abhorred the very mention. I was born a Radical. It was bred in the bone. My great-grandfather was hung from the shafts of a cart in the '98 rebellion. Up to the very eve of the War I was anti-war, anti-big Navy, anti anything for the destruction of life, but I was 362 in the House and heard Sir Edward Grey make his statement, and from that moment I thanked God we had a big Navy. Since then I have, taken, I hope, one man's part in endeavouring to bring this War to a successful issue, and, in the words of the Prime Minister, to make the world safe for democracy. I trust they have. I hope the world is safe for democracy. Our next task ought to be to endeavour to make democracy safe for the world. There is some danger that that will not be so, and I am just as anxious for the one as for the other.
May I say something about causes and effects of the existing unrest. We have been subject to attacks from constituted authority, from King and Parliament down to trade unionism, from men whom, fanatical though they may be, I am prepared to credit with perfect honesty. I know some of them—the John Macleans and the Gallagers. They are honest fanatics. They are wrong, absolutely wrong, but our social conditions are responsible for it as much as anything else. My quarrel with them is that they would up-root constitutional society and constitutional methods with an alternative which will make the cure exceedingly worse than the disease. Supposing they were successful, what are they going to put in the place of organised trade unionism? To be permanently successful they must either set up the same kind of machine they are now so vigorously denouncing or drift into anarchy or dictatorship. The last phase would be worse than the first, for the mob which they style democracy is a bigger tyrant and a greater despot than the capitalist system. Therefore, when we hear these people talking about breaking up constituted authority, when we hear them indulging in beautiful perorations about liberty, equality, and fraternity, we want to know how they are going to carry them out without some system of organisation of a responsible character. There never can, in my opinion, be absolute equality. There can be equality of opportunity, but there will always be an aristocracy—not a hereditary aristocracy, but an aristocracy of intellect which will rule in spite of all. Although these men may be very heroic, the singing of the "Red Flag" and "England arise, the long, long night is over," and the carrying of resolutions that the time has now arrived is not going to settle the social question. You want something more sub- 363 stantial than that. I am proud to see the attitude that is taken up by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Thomas). I do not think these people see what they are up against. They are up against a system which is the growth of centuries, managed by men with private enterprise in their very blood, for it becomes hereditary, practically speaking. The system may be wrong. That it is wrong I admit. But it has been constitutionally created, and wrong can only be righted in a constitutional manner. That its application is cruel I admit, but it is scientifically administered for its own benefit whore the cruelty of the democracy is only directed against itself and is absolutely ignorant and unconscious of what it is doing.
I have heard many statements made here as to the cause of the unrest. I listened to the Prime Minister's speech, and, like an hon. Member opposite, I am afraid I must contradict him. He told us it was not very easy to find the real causes of the unrest. I should like to take him back with me for a few years in history. We are told we must be constitutional. I agree. I am a constitutionalist, and I am anxious to help constitutionally. The unrest to-day is not a question of days. It is a question of years, and Parliament must accept its share of the responsibility. Let us take, for instance, the Trade Union Act. It was originally created, I believe, as the result of the Chartist movement. It was alleged to be for the benefit of trade unionism, but under it the employer could obtain for 1s. a return of the finances of every trade union in the country and could know exactly how the workmen's organisation, stood at the end of the year. I admit it gave us the right to strike against injustice, but then along came the iniquitous Taff Vale decision, which took from us the right to strike. We were then told by Parliament and by Law Court that we must not act unconstitutionally, and we took their advice and attempted to set up a political Labour party. Then along came the Osborne Judgment and deprived us of the privilege of creating a political Labour party. Luckily it has not succeeded. The evidence on these benches is quite eloquent in that respect, and I hope to live to see in the next Parliament an overflow even from these benches. From the industrial point of view, again, we have first of all the Employers Liability Act, which was supposed to compensate workmen for injury, but before a workman 364 could secure compensation he had to prove patent defect in the employer's machinery or orders given by a responsible person, and under that Act not 5 per cent. of the accidents were ever entitled to claim compensation. One of the Clauses stated that if we did not give notice to the employer within six weeks our case was prejudiced and we were out of court. May I give my own personal experience? I was injured and the front of my face was smashed in by defective machinery. I was unconscious in the hospital on and off for over six weeks. I appealed to the employer at the end of the six weeks, and the Act of Parliament was thrown in my face. I was too late and I was out of court and, having no trade union behind me, I was compelled to accept employment at 1s. 6d. a day less than I previously got. I went to work, working night and day—broken time—a casual labourer. I happened to earn 15s. and when I went to draw my 15s. I found half-a-crown stopped out of it for the cab which took me to the hospital when I was smashed by the defective machinery of a good, kind, Christian employer. Things like that frequently occur. We have the Workmen's Compensation Act, which is a marvel of legal legislative ingenuity how not to do anything. The first Compensation Act we had stated that an injured man was entitled to 50 per cent. of the amount he earned in the firmunder which he was injured, and that was interpreted to the casual labourer that although he might work for two employers, the first employer for five days in the week and the second employer on the last day of the week, if he was injured en the last day of the week he was only entitled to 50 per cent. of the wages for the one day, instead of 50 per cent. of the six days' wages. Take, again, the question of accidents on docks. The dock labourer and the casual labourer of this country owe a deep debt of gratitude to the hon. Gentleman for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. O'Connor) for the magnificent work he did in this House on their behalf. I want to give one or two examples. Through the presence of vested interests in the House of Commons when the extension of the Factory Acts took place, the word "ship" was deliberately left out of the Factory Act, and when the Workmen's Compensation Act came to be applied, it was found that a ship was not a factory. At any rate, it was not a factory unless it was tied alongside the quay, and 365 only that side of the ship which was tied to the quay was a factory. The other side was not a factory. The result was that when a man was killed on the factory side of the ship by a sling of goods that come from the non-factory side of the ship, there was no compensation allowed. The man who was driving the winch, working for both sides of the ship, in one case had his finger smashed and he got compensation, but on the other side a man lifting the sling from the off side which was not a factory had his arm torn out and got no compensation. I can remember the hon. Member for the Scotland Division in Committee putting the case of the winch man and saying that for the purposes of this Act he would have to be split down the middle and one side would be a factory and the other would not be a factory. All these things have been going on for years, and accumulations like these are really responsible for the iron having entered these men's souls and making them despise constitutional laws and prefer unconstitutional laws. Then we had the question of too old at forty. A men would not be employed if he was over forty for fear the employer would have to pay compensation. Again, we had in 1907 a non-contentious Bill laid upon the Table of this House which would have given the piece-worker, the casual labourer, the legal right to demand documentary evidence of the number of tons he had handled during the day. From that day to this we have never heard a word about that Bill.
I listened very patiently to what the Prime Minister said in respect of the fear of unemployment. He told the House that during the War there was no unemployment, and there was no fear of future unemployment. But we have unemployment, and the Government themselves have acknowledged that there is unemployment by plying unemployment benefit for thirteen weeks. That is one of the ways of not doing things at all. A few weeks ago I know that there were men who were in receipt of unemployment benefit and who, owing to the action of a few men, were automatically put out of work. The unemployment benefit received by these men amounted to as much as 36s. a week, and there were three times as many men put out of work by the action of the few men than there were men on strike. The irony of the whole business was that the men who were 366 receiving Government unemployed pay were paying a levy to keep the other fellows out on strike. If that is not an example of attempting to feed a dog on his own tail, I do not know what is. The fear of unemployment is a real one. Those of us who have had to suffer from it know how great it is. We were told by the Prime Minister that force would be put down with a strong hand. I regret very much that he used any language that would appear to be in the nature of a threat, and I suggest to him that it was very regrettable that that statement was made in the House, for it will have an effect opposite to the one which was intended by a statement of that character. I want to quote his words if I can: "Anyone who attempts to drive unfair bargains with the community will be fought vigorously by the Government." Like my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast (Mr. Devlin), I would ask, Why was not that principle applied to gentlemen who now hold high offices in the confidence of the Government? Will he apply the same principle to the men who are holding up the nation by making unfair bargains with the community? We were told in a burst of generosity by the Prime Minister that there was great progress in the housing question—that a magnificent number of doors and windows had already been purchased. What is consolation! But we cannot live in doors and windows. We want houses to accompany them. The men who are holding up the housing problem of this country to-day, and who are making excessively bad bargains for the community, but good bargains for themselves, are the men who monopolise the land of this country and make the housing question difficult. I wonder if the Prime Minister will apply his principles to gentlemen of this character!
This industrial unrest is not a passing phase; it is the accumulated wrongs of half a century, wrongs which are being exploited, I admit by those whom you call the Bolsheviks of trade unionism. The Government has a great opportunity, and I hope they will the advantage of it. It is no use to say that these things existed before. We know they existed. That reminds me that quotations from eminent men seem to be fashionable, and particularly from Americans. May I be permitted to give a quotation from the "Pious Editor's Creed," by Russell Lowell, as a reply to those men who say that these 367 things have gone on in the past and that they have been created by custom. Russell Lowell says:Oh, Lord and Master, not ours the guilt;We build but as our fathers built,Behold Thine images how they standSovereign and sole throughout the land.Then Christ sought out an artisan,A stunted, hungry, haggard man,And a motherless girl, whose fingers thinPushed from her feebly, want and sin.These, set He, in the midst of them,And, as they turned back their garments hem,For fear of defilement, 'Lo,' said He,'These are the images you have made of me.'The Government has an excellent opportunity, and there is not a man on this side of the House who will not help the Government to carry out the promises made by the Prime Minister. In the words of an old, reverend, dead-and-gone Parliamentarian who stood at that dispatch box many years ago, "The flowing tide is with us"; but I would respectfully remind the Prime Minister that there is more than one tide in the twenty-four hours. The tide may change. It may ebb and flow and the next flow may not be as favourable. Let him take the opportunity now at hand, and if he does he will find no greater supporters than the men on this side of the House who wish, in his own words, "to make this nation a nation fit for heroes to live in."
§ Mr. REMER
May I crave the usual indulgence as a new Member if I break any of the honoured traditions of this House? May I also state the pleasure it gives me to follow my old townsman, the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Sexton), who has shown, as every Liverpool man knows, such a fine spirit throughout the War in helping his country in every way he possibly could. He has mentioned that he had had five fights before he obtained a seat in this House. I have obtained one by my first fight and the only similarity between the two positions is that we both had to leave our native city in order to obtain a seat. I should like to say, first of all, that I am speaking now as an employer of labour. I must confess that my first reason for becoming a Parliamentary candidate was because I thought it a vital necessity to the country that employers of labour should come to this House and state their views on labour questions. I have come because I think it the duty of business men to come—not because I have very much time to spare from my business—to 368 state business men's reasons on the leading topics of the day. The term "business man" includes, or should include, every wage-earner in the country. Just as I claim to be a working man, having to work as hard for my living as most people, so I think every wage-earner should be educated in the fundamental truth that he is as vitally interested in the success of industry as anyone else. On that ground I think it the duty of wage-earners to think earnestly before they deal strenuously with the affairs of industry.
Before I proceed to refer to two or three of the questions which have been discussed by Members of the Labour party in this House I should like to say a few words to those employers of labour who, I think, are sitting on my right hand. It is absolutely necessary that they should learn their lessons also. We must recognise the fact that if the employers of labour had done their duty in the past trade unionism would never have existed. We must realise the fact that the labour agitator thrives on the parsimonious employer. I am quite sure that we all realise that the days of sweating and of low wages are gone for ever, and that we must pay our working men well, generously and honourably. I would go a little further and say to any employer of labour that anyone who pays his workmen badly is a fool. It is not a paying proposition. He will lose money by it. Therefore you are not paying your workmen high wages with a philanthropic object. You are simply following out what is really a paying proposition. I listened on Tuesday, yesterday, and to-day to the speeches delivered, in the hope of receiving some intelligent guidance from representatives of labour as to what is going to be a solution of this labour unrest. I have listened to platitudes and generalities, but not one word have I listened to which I could really say has been any solution whatever of the great problem with which we are faced. I listened to, and I have since read, the speech which was made by the Leader of the Opposition on the day of the opening of Parliament, and I may read one statement which he made:We have reached a stage when the working classes of this country will refuse any longer to continue to be treated as cogs in the machinery for mere profit-making purposes.We are all cogs in the profit-making machinery, and I claim that it is the duty of all of us, employers and employed, to be cogs in that great profit-making 369 machinery, which is another way of adding wealth to this country. Not one speech has been made which has given any intelligent solution of the problems in front of us.
The right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) told us that there were a million men out of employment. He did not tell us, nor did he suggest, how we were to find employment for these men. He told us a long story about the Maypole Dairy Company, and the profits which they have made out of margarine. He told us, what is well known to Lancashire people, of the profits made by cotton manufacturers. That does not do any good. It only causes doubts in the minds of the working men. Personally I do not mind admitting that I have made good profits during the War.[An Hon. Member: "Shame!"] I will say this to Labour Members opposite. Everyone of my workpeople knows it, and everyone of my workpeople shares in the profits which I have made. I have at my works a profit-sharing scheme, and a percentage of my profits is distributed among my workpeople. I am absolutely convinced that one solution of this great problem lies in a national scheme of profit-sharing on a national basis. I go further than that. I am in favour of a scheme of that kind being made compulsory throughout the country. I think that on these lines we have one real solution, at any rate, of the great problem which we all desire to solve.
There is one item in the programme which was put before the electors at the last General Election, on which the Prime Minister pledged himself. That was the encouragement of production. I think that he has also said that in order to solve Labour unrest we must do the best which is possible for us to encourage production. The best way of doing that is to give every possible encouragement to employers of labour, and to people who are in business. I am sure that if we give encouragement such as they never had in the past to our manufacturers it will lead not only to higher wages, but it will lead also to decent conditions and happy surroundings. I feel very strongly, as every Member of this House must feel, upon the housing problem, but it is worse than useless to start schemes of this kind unless we are prepared to give encouragement to our manufacturers, so that they will be able to find employment for the workers and pay them decent wages. So 370 far as past Governments are concerned we are suffering, more than from, anything else in this country, from the parsimony of our ancestors. The parsimony of our ancestors was surely embedded very deeply in the hearts of most Government officials, and very deeply in the hearts of the Treasury, who do not seem to be very liberal in giving encouragement to manufacturers or even to working men, as far as that is concerned. I had the pleasure not many days ago of having an interview over a business transaction with the son of the present Prime Minister. He told me a story which I think will impress the House more than anything else as showing the way manufacturers are discouraged in every possible way in this country. He told me that when he visited South America or Mexico, in every town and city into which he went the British Consul, if he was not a German was at any rate a clerk in a German's office. That is a most ridiculous state of affairs. I have no doubt that Major Lloyd George has told the Prime Minister of the fact, and I am quite sure that such a state of affairs will not be tolerated in this country in future.
The second great reform which is required in this country is improved and cheaper transit by road, rail and canal. I am glad to say that on this question the Labour party, so far as the district which I represent is concerned, have associated themselves with other parties, and we are trying to do what is possible to improve the transit facilities in Staffordshire and Cheshire. I am glad, to hear that to-morrow a conference is being held at Stoke-on-Trent at which Unionists, Liberals and labour representatives will try to ascertain what is possible to improve the shocking state of affairs which exists in that portion of the country. I do not quite agree with the Prime Minister's statement, that because the profits of the railway companies had been £50,000,000 in pre-war days, and labour had since gone up by £90,000,000, therefore there must be a deficit of £40,000,000. I do not admit that cheap labour necessarily lowers cost of production. I saw in "The Times" of yesterday a letter which stated that high wages mean higher production, and it was stated also in that letter that that was an elementary principle of political economy. I do not know whether it is elementary or advanced. I am quite prepared to admit that I know nothing about political economy, but I will say this, that it is a 371 very remarkable fact that Henry Ford, who pays the highest wages in the world, produces the cheapest motor-cars. I am quite sure that in the long ran the highest wages are the cheapest wages, as they lead to the cheapest production.
As an illustration, to prove that I am not wrong, the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Sexton) knows as well as anyone else the conditions of labour in our local docks, and he can confirm my statement. The local docks and the Garston Docks are not under the same management. One is under the local Harbour Board, and the other is under the London and North-Western Railway. In pre-War days the wages of the local men were 6s. per day and the wages at Garston Docks were 4s. a day. You would say that the Garston Docks were run cheaper than the Mersey Docks. That was not so. I know from actual experience that the men we had under the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board were the cheapest men by a long way. They got through, three times as much work. If you are going to get the best skill and the best workmen, you must pay the best wages possible, which has never been done by the London and North-Western Railway Company. If business men are going to find employment for their workmen, the best way of increasing production is to remove the restrictions which exist on trade. It is not a good thing that restrictions should continue which interfere with business in the many ways in which they do. I know something of the working of Government Departments during the War, and I am quite sure that they have been very expensive and have not added to the wealth or profit of the country. In fact, one of the controllers with whom I am associated has told me that his control has resulted in a loss. That was only tolerated because of the exigencies of war. We have to realise that the trade which we are going to have in the near future is a very different trade from that which we have had during the past three and a half years. We hope we are going to start exporting to the world. I would ask the House to think whether we find that our business men, in trying to find employment for the working classes, are fit to compete in the world's commerce. I beg to submit that the workshops of Britain to-day are in a higher state of efficiency than they have ever been in 372 the history of this country; that the mechanics are more skilled than they have ever been; and that the finances of our factories is much sounder than it has been for many years. I would ask you to think what do we like. I am quite sure we like the power to buy our raw material in the best market. I have spoken to many men who sell raw material, and they all tell me the same thing, that if they were allowed to import at the present time they could import, owing to the reduced rates of freight, at a very much lower rate than the controllers are selling, and it is the essence of folly for the Government to keep the prices too high.
I think it was the right hon. Member for Platting who wanted to know what was being done with the shipyards and shipping and with the other Government organisations which have gone up during the War. I do not know what is the intention of the Government so far as that matter is concerned, and I can only tell the House what is being done at the present time by the Controller of Timber Supplies, with whom I am associated in business, with a number of saw mills which exist in this country. He told me, and I think it a very wise decision—I had an interview with him not very long ago—that he was going to sell these saw mills to the various traders at reasonable prices. But he made a very vital stipulation, which I think every employer of labour will agree is vital, that these saw mills must be carried on, and must not be closed down; but that they must continue to find employment for the working classes. I ask the House to think how it is possible for an employer of labour to carry on these factories if, as has been suggested from the benches opposite, imported goods are allowed to come in to compete and to wipe out all the profits which anybody could possibly make in this country. I suggest that here, in the restriction of imports, either by taxation or restriction, is one of the ways in which you can best find employment for the manufactories of this country. I am a very strong Tariff Reformer and always have been, and I think that herein a strong tariff is one of the ways in which the Government could enable the factories of this country to find employment for the working classes. I may say, in passing, that some mention has been made of the Whit- 373 ley Report and the Whitley Councils. In the Saw Mills Council, of which I am not a member, I have been told that the employers put it to the labour representatives whether they were in favour of imported manufactured timber coming into this country to compete with their sawmills and throw men out of employment. The reply was that they were going to take Jolly good care that it did not come in. The House can rely on it that these Whitley Councils will be a very fertile ground for education for some of those labour people who stated, in their manifestoes at the last General Election, that they were in favour of universal Free Trade. I should like to say, definitely, that I am absolutely opposed to any form of State trading. I think it does not, as has been suggested, result in making a profit for the nation. What it results in is in making losses for the nation. I have seen some of the accounts of some of the State trading organisations which have gone on during the War, and fire still going on, and I know that they have resulted in grevous losses to the nation. They were necessary for the exigencies of the War, and we could not have done without them, but I am quite sure that the losses incurred are sufficient proof to this House that State trading is a very bad proposition.
I think there is another solution to all this labour unrest which has not been put forward anywhere. I do not think that anyone will forget the wave of patriotism which passed over the country during the last week of the General Election. That wave of patriotism was a tribute to the personality of the Prime Minister. I would like to suggest that that wave of patriotism could be repeated in another form. If there is one thing which we lack very much in this country at the present time, I think it is that we lack in religious life. I think it is a most deplorable thing that when we go to churches or chapels, to whichever we may go, we find empty buildings. I am not posing from a, religious point of view, but I think it is a bad thing for the nation. I would seriously suggest that the man who could rouse patriotic fervour could rouse religious fervour, and I would say that that man could teach, as I am quite sure the Prime Minister could teach, that our duty towards humanity means something higher than mere wages and mere profits, and that it means that we must treat our fellow countrymen better and have a higher standard of every kind.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW (Leader of the House)
The Prime Minister intended to take part in this Debate himself. But he has been engaged in very important work, and, in addition to that, much as he was interested in the Debate to which he has listened, his view is that in principle it is not possible for him to add I anything to what was said on Tuesday, and he has left it to me, as representing the Government, to deal with this Debate. I should have been glad, for no one recognises the importance of it more than I do, if I had had longer time to think of the line which I should take to-day. But, after all, this is a subject which has been filling all our minds, and I do not think there is anyone who, during the last two or three weeks, has had more reason to have his mind directed upon this subject than I have. If I may say so, and I think it Is not out of place to say it, one of the difficulties of the present situation, for which no one is responsible, is that, by who necessity of the case, our Government must be divided. The great War is over, the Peace Conference is sitting, and it is obvious that if it is possible the head of the Government must be there; but at the same time the Government must be carried on at home. That adds much to the difficulties, and, indeed, it would be an almost impossible position if those who represented him hero did not know that when they act, as they must, on their own responsibility, they can rely on the support of the head of the Government. We have listened to-day to a very interesting Debate. This is a now Parliament, and I think, taking it all round the Debates show a new spirit. I certainly take the view that the speeches of my light hon. Friends who moved and seconded this Amendment expressed very clearly the point of view for which those who sit on those benches stand, and showed at the same time are alisation of the actual position of the country, and a sense of responsibility for which I, as representing the Government, am grateful. But I venture to say that I think it is a pity that they have thought it necessary to move this Amendment. Not that I do not think that good is done by the Debate, but I would venture to express the hope that it will not be pressed to a Division.
I say that for this reason. We are face to face, as everyone knows, with a very difficult industrial position, and I think it would be a good thing if it were not shown that the very important body of opinion represented on those benches has already 375 come to the conclusion, without giving us much time, that the Government is not doing its best to deal with this difficult question. I cannot go much into detail, but the ground of complaint in the Amendment is that we have done practically nothing, not to deal with general social problems, but on questions of hours of labour and of wages. I do not think that is the case. We have not had much time. I would remind the House that one of the latest acts of the last Parliament was that this Government passed a Bill to fix wages at the present level for six months. A proposal of that kind I do not think had ever been made in the world before. It is an immense step in the direction of trying to prevent the evils which must come from the change of industry at the end of the War. That step was taken, and I should like every section of the House to keep it in their minds, by the Government with the full approval of the House of Commons, and, I venture to say, with the approval not only of Labour representatives, but with the approval of employers. For I should like the House to believe, as I do, that however great may be the difference between the two sections, that however much one or the other may be to blame, there never has been a time in our history when the whole community, and even employers as a whole, were more ready to agree with us, and with everyone in this House, that the men who are working in our factories and working in every form of manual labour, are entitled to a bigger share of the profits of that labour than they have got in the past, and that there is a real desire to give them as large a share as can be without drying up the productivity of the industries.
So much for that. But there is another thing which my right hon. Friends the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace) and the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) dealt with, and that is the wages for the class that cannot protect itself by its big organisation. We have tried to deal with that. We have passed the Trade Boards Bill, and the Ministry of Labour has for a long time been really working hard to try to get organisations started which will enable a reasonable wage to be given to the same classes of people who, by the Minimum Wages Act, were recognised as being unable to protect themselves in that way. Well, that has been done. Now take the hours of labour. In the first place, the Government by giving an 376 eight-hours day on the railways which they control have taken an immense step forward, I remember very well the time when Mr. Richard Bell took part in the discussions in this House when some hon. Members looked forward to the time of a universal eight-hours day, and this is really an immense step forward. That is not all. The Government, through the Ministry of Labour, have been doing everything in their power that can be done by the Government in these big trades to get the lead given by the Government followed in other directions. The result of that is that already agreements have actuary been signed in many big trades in this country as to the hours of labour between employers and employed. That applies to more than 3,500,000 men, and negotiations at the same time are going on dealing with the larger bodies. In face of all this I do not think it is fair to the Government to suggest that in the short time we have been in office we have neglected what is one of the duties of the Government and one of the greatest problems we have to face.
Let me come to the general question of labour unrest. Everyone has his own version as to the cause of that unrest. With most of those put forward I am in agreement, but I would like to say at once that, however much importance may be attached to any one of those causes, there is a much bigger rock at the bottom of them than any particular cause, and this is a view which I have already expressed, namely, that labour wants a larger share of the good things which are to be obtained in this world. That is at the bottom of it. But leaving that aside for a moment, let us consider what some of the other causes are. I have had to consider this during some partial strikes which have taken place, and I thought that those were due to the relaxation of the strain of four and a half years of war, and I think everyone will agree that that was an element in them. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) made one observation with which I entirely agree, and it is this: Could anything be more foolish than to yield something to a strike after two or three days which you refused before the strike took place? We are all agreed upon that. One of the causes of these partial strikes is due to circumstances arising out of the War. It is all very well for us now to say that the Government yielded too easily during the War. If you are to judge 377 properly in cases of that kind you must put your minds back to the conditions which prevailed at the time, and you must realise that we were fighting for our lives. Steps, of course, were taken at that time which could not reasonably be taken perhaps in time of peace. As a result of that I think that many of those engaged is labour organisations had the idea that all they had to do was to strike and that the Government would at once step in and that at all events they would get something as the result of the strike. I am sure my right hon. Friend will agree that that is an idea which has at once to be put down.
There is another cause. Both my right hon. Friends opposite spoke a great deal about profiteering, as did my right hon. Friend the late Food Controller. I think we have all recognised that one of the most fruitful sources, I will not say altogether of unrest, but one of the things on which those causes which encouraged unrest were imposed, was this question of profiteering. I do not suggest for a moment that there was not a great deal of it and there may not be a great deal of it now, but I do say with absolute certainty that there was no tenderness shown to profiteering by the Government, and that there was never in the world's history such determined efforts as we made to put down profiteering of all kinds in this country. I was rather surprised to hear my right hon. Friend, who was himself Food Controller, speak of this profiteering as if it were something we could have prevented.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I said it was because of the unnatural conditions on which trade was conducted in war-time.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I did not intend to say anything controversial, but there was no Department which made more determined efforts in that direction than the Department with which my right hon. Friend was connected, in his own time as well as in the time of Lord Rhondda. They were not unsuccessful, and if you compare during the War or even at this moment the prices of the food materials controlled by the Government and the prices of the same article in any neutral country or in the countries of any of our Allies, you will see to what an extent we did succeed in putting down profiteering. I go far further than that. The Government have controlled a very large part of the industry of 378 this country. That was done very largely by the Ministry of Munitions. At a very early stage in that Ministry—I think it was begun by Sir Hardman Lever, who is now Financial Secretary to the Treasury—we had the costing system instituted, as a result of which prices were kept down by the Government to a reasonable figure, having regard to the cost of production. That affected materials, not only required for Government use, but also articles used for general commercial purposes. Then we had the Excess Profits Duty. Nobody will pretend that that was a tax which was in itself sufficient to prevent undue profiteering against the community. You can imagine, for instance, particular articles which are practically a monopoly. If these be a monopoly, then if you put on Excess Profits Duty all that happens is that the price is raised to give the producer the same profit, as if there were no Excess Profit Duty. We did not rely on that alone. We relied on controlling and fixing prices as well, and, taking it all over, there were very few articles on which there was so great a monopoly that the prices could be moved up and down in that way. I venture to say to the House that that was a tremendous weapon against profiteering. It not only gave the State an immense amount of revenue, but it had the effect of preventing to a large extent people making unreasonable profits. I can look at these things I hope not only as a member of the Government, but from a common-sense point of view. That is one of the slips which new Members will be pleased to see can be made by a very old one. What I mean is, I look at it from a business point of view. People point to the enormous dividends which are being paid, and to profits which are being made. I would ask the House to consider this aspect of the question. It is necessary to keep up production. If you are to keep up production to the full yon must pay a price which will enable the average factory to keep up its output. It follows inevitably that a factory which either by specially good machinery or by special skill can produce the same article at something below the average price, then that company will, in spite of the Excess Profits Tax, make very large profits which could easily be used in that way, although the average price was a reasonable price under ordinary circumstances. We say on that, while we want to stop profiteering it really is not the business of 379 anyone who is looking at this question from the national point of view to aggravate and exaggerate the conditions.
§ Mr. THOMAS
Does my right hon. Friend suggest by his definition that profiteering such as I have indicated was the exception and not the rule, because I desire to point out that taking shipping, steel, coal, railways, and cotton, there was an increase, and a substantial increase, amounting in the main to a hundred per cent. on the dividends as a whole and not isolated cases?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I am afraid I should not like to argue about a statement of that kind on the spur of the moment. I think he is wrong, but I should like my right hon. Friend to realise this, that undoubtedly, owing to the excess profits, and to the fact that the manufacturers have to give so much of their profits to the State, they are left in many cases with an absence of working capital, which is going to be a real danger, while it must be remembered they are in competition with manufacturers in other countries who have not been subjected to such a tax. There is another cause of this unrest. I must say I was surprised to hear a statement made by the Prime Minister the other day, and which seemed to me to be very elementary, challenged, namely, that if you shorten the hours with the same wage and do not get more output the cost of production must go up, so that that of itself will cause unemployment. It is no good telling the working man that, if he has got it into his mind that the Government have been spending seven or eight millions a day on war, and why can they not spend a few hundred thousand pounds on improving their conditions. That idea is not confined to the working man. When I was at the Treasury I found every sort of claim being put forward on the same basis. It is almost useless to point out to people of that kind that those seven or eight millions were largely borrowed money. I for one have never tried, either at election time or any other time, to make our countrymen believe that a big expenditure of borrowed money, which created such an appearance of general prosperity, will not, sooner or later, have to be paid for. I am going to deal with two kinds of industrial disputes. Those with which I had to deal while the Prime Minister was in Paris were, in the 380 main, strikes by particular members of trade unions without the sanction of the leaders. I am sure we are all agreed that that sort of thing is fatal, and that in that way you will never get any possibility of bettering conditions for the workmen. How is that to be remedied! I am sure of this, and I say it to the employers as well as to workmen, that you will never get it remedied by trying to do away with trade unions and to destroy their power. It is not in that way you will get it remedied, because you must leave the min the main, to work out their own salvation, and in my belief, perhaps right hon. Gentlemen opposite will forgive me for saying it, that largely depends on the leaders. Some of the leaders of the trade unions have shown a splendid courage, but they have got to carry it still further. They have got to say to their unions, "You have the machinery to change us, but while we are there we have been appointed by you to represent you, and if you do not allow us to represent you you must get someone else." That is elementary.
We are all agreed about these unauthorised strikes, I think, but now I come to the more serious kind of strike, the kind of strike with which we are perhaps threatened now. My right hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace) dwelt a good deal, in regard to the coal trade, on the point of view that if it were nationalised the employés would feel that they were not working for private interests, but in the public statement issued on behalf of the Government we have said we are perfectly ready to have that question, too, inquired into on its merits. My right hon. Friend Bays, "Well, but inquiry takes time." Of course it does, but if he belonged to another profession I do not think he would say that a man ought to be hung right away because it would take time to give him a trial. This is an immense problem, and it is really not a question of Conservatives, or Liberals, or Labour, or anything else—it is a question of trying to get the arrangement that will be best for the State in the long run. You cannot arrive at that in a moment. The right hon. Gentleman made another remark, with which I entirely agree, when he said that working men disliked inquiries because they often meant putting off what they thought just demands. I dare say that has happened in the past; but was there ever a case where real, careful, 381 thoughtful consideration was more required that a case like this? I am quite ready to say to the right hon. Gentleman now, on behalf of the Government, that so far as making retrospective any award which would ultimately be made is concerned, it would be perfectly fair, and we would be perfectly ready to do it, so far as that goes. But look at it from a bigger point of view. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas), speaking of his own union, said that they were so strong that they could get terms which they would think right but which other people less strongly represented could not obtain. Yes, but it goes a great deal further than that. It is not merely that they can get terms which cannot be secured by other workmen in a less favourable position, but the terms which they get would very largely be at the expense of these other workmen. That is something we have to keep in mind.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I did not notice it, but I am sure if he says so he did. I do not put our case one iota stronger than it was put by the right hon. Gentleman, who said that any trade union with that power must recollect that after all they have to use whatever power they have not for the good of their union but as parts of a great community. I do not put it higher than that. That is the principle on which we ought to go. I am not going into details of disputes which may never happen, but take the coal industry. Surely before you agree to any change which would on the face of it mean an immense increase in the cost of production you have got to consider what effect that will have, not merely on stopping the export of coal, which will affect the miners directly, but the effect it would have on every other industry as well, and in making the condition of the people generally infinitely worse than it was. It is the same in regard to the railways. An hon. Friend behind me made an interesting speech in which he said he did not agree that the figures the Prime Minister gave were accurate in regard to the great deficit on the railways. Ultimately, perhaps, I hope that better hours of labour and better pay may mean that with a smaller number of men the work may be able to be done, but in the meantime the figures given by the Prime Minister were not problematical but actual. That is the deficit at the present moment. How is it to be made up?
§ Mr. THOMAS
It is only fair that the public should know that the figures which the Prime Minister gave he gave to me as well at a deputation it Downing Street. I was able to controvert them then, and I challenge them now, so that the public may know perfectly well that I do not admit them in the least. I not only speak as the head of the union but as a member of the Committee appointed by the Government to go into the figures. I do not accept those figures, and I shall be able to prove, when the time comes, that they are not accurate.
§ Mr. THOMAS
Do not hit the House misunderstand. A strike may be involved in this, and I am not merely trying to debate. If hon. Members do not understand the position outside, my right hon. Friend does, and he does not desire any statement of his to aggravate the position. We have never opposed are inquiry, so that, whatever may be applicable to the miners, we have cover opposed an inquiry.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I quite accept that, but my right hon. Friend meat remember that I was dealing both with his industry and with the coal industry. We haves got to consider not merely, so far is the mining industry alone is concerned, the effect of limiting the amount of coal, but we have to consider the effect on every industry alone every man who works in that industry. You must do the same with the railways, and that is all I say. The right hon. Member for Derby said the railways had the power to do this. I am going to travel on rather difficult ground, and I do not want to say anything that could seem to be provocative in the slightest degree. That is the last thing I wish to do. The right hon. Gentleman says they can get what they want. I draw, and I think the public draws, a great distinction between industrial disputes which try to get better conditions for the men by affecting the employers directly in the way of limiting their profits and disputes which aim at getting the same result by inflicting hardships on the community. I am sure the whole House will agree that there is a great difference. There are many new Members on those benches, and I hope they will give us, who very often will differ from them, an opportunity of understanding their point of view. I quite recognise what a representative of one of 383 these unions will say in answer to this. He will say, "That is all very true, but look at the struggle workmen have had to make to get their trade unions recognised in any way, to get any result from their attempt to get better conditions." He will say, "A partial strike always fails, and it is only by combination we can hope to succeed. We are pressing just demands." There is a great deal in that, but there is something in the other side, too. If a strike is really in its essence directed, not against the employer, but against the community, then, in the long run—I say this without any hesitation—it is public opinion that will decide, and in a case of that kind the Government must defend the community, and if they fail to do so somebody else must take their place. I hope there is nothing provocative in what I have said. I hope not, and with this I must conclude.
Among the causes of unrest everyone admits that there is a considerable element of people not who can cause it, but who, when it is started, fan it and inflame it and use it to the utmost for revolutionary purposes. Everyone admits that, but I think at bottom the strongest feeling of those who may be engaged in these strikes is the dread of unemployment and the belief that the way to avoid unemployment is to work shorter hours and all the rest of it, which really means a diminished output. We are going to have an, anxious time, and one of my hon. Friends said that the next six months will be a most critical time. I am sure of it. We shall have an anxious time, but I think we shall come through, and I do not forget—and I am sure no Member of this House forgets—that the men who perhaps may seem to be taking action against the whole interests of the community are the same men whose courage and steadfastness, with that of the other members of the community, enabled us to win the War. But I do say this, that one of the things which I thought would happen as a result of the War—and I think it is true—is that the great majority of the trade union leader shave recognised that that old idea of improving the conditions of workmen by doing less work is really fatal to the workmen as well as to the State. My right hon. Friend referred to employers who, when they get new machinery, are not content with the larger profit which the machinery itself gives, but immediately try to cut down the wages 384 because the men are making a little more. Nothing, to my mind, could be more fatal or more shortsighted I believe, in some respects the Americana work far shorter hours—some of them—with far higher wages, and are able to produce more cheaply, not only because the employers do not grudge the workers higher wages, but because the workmen think only of getting higher wages and they do the work.
In that spirit we shall come through. I do not think, looking at it as calmly as I can, that if we keep our heads there is a great danger of serious unemployment. Take, for instance, the miners. There is an almost unlimited amount of coal, and I believe there will be found work for every miner either immediately or almost immediately. The ravages of war have left tremendous gaps. For years to come the demand for commodities of all kinds will go a long way to prevent this danger of unemployment. That is certain. The only changes as I see them are, on the one hand, a lack of financial credit, and that is essential to business on a great scale, and it depends on the feeling everywhere in the country that money is something that you have got to look upon almost as the blood of the nation. The one other danger—and I say this with a pretty firm belief that I am right—is that employers, partly through the conditions of the War. are afraid to engage in new enterprises from the fear that is natural and inevitable that the present level of prices may collapse, and that they may be left with the materials produced at the higher cost. They have got to take their courage in their hands, but I can say to the House and to hon. Gentlemen on that Bench opposite that if you want to accentuate that fear, apart altogether from the question of shorter hours, the one way to do it most effectually is to give the impression that you are going to have labour unrest month after month in this country.
§ Major HARRY BARNES
A right hon. Gentleman who spoke to-night described himself as a member of a small band of Independent Liberals. If that description is right, I should rightly describe myself as one of a large band of Dependent Liberals. I am not ashamed of that description; I admit my dependence. I am dependent on that quality which has been described by the Mover and Seconder of this Amendment as the 385 quality needed above all others to solve the present position—the quality of confidence. I am dependent in my confidence in the Prime Minister and the Leader of this House, and those, associated with us here believe that there does exist a genuine desire in this House to settle the problems presented before us by the hon. Members who form the Labour party. They have asked you to restore confidence in the country. I would suggest to them that example is better than precept, and that they can do nothing more to restore time confidence of the workers of this country than by showing their confidence at the present time in the Government. They can set an example if they will to night by withdrawing this Amendment, in which I do not believe they can persist after the speech to which we have just listened—a speech which breathed in every note of it the desire to come to a settlement which will be best for every interest and every class in this country. I would ask the hon. Gentlemen who sit on my right to have confidence in the Government, to have confidence in this House, and to believe that upon these benches sit men who, whatever they may call themselves, are here really with only one desire, and that is the desire for the welfare of the people of this country.
This House, I believe, has been described by some as a tied House. I think a better description of it would be that it is a free House. There appears to be some idea that the Coalition have pooled the liabilities of the Tory and Liberal parties and taken them over. That, I think, is entirely wrong. We start with a clean sheet. No doubt we shall accumulate our own indebtedness in time, but I believe the great quality of this House is that we come here with free and open minds, not prejudiced by anything that has taken place in the past, and open to consider every problem presented to us, with only one desire, and that is to settle it in the best interests of this country. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby gave us an extraordinarily vivid glimpse of what he called the working-class mind, and I should like in a word or two to give him what I think may be a glimpse not only of my own mind, but that of hon. Members of this House who have been listening to him. I think he will agree that whenever in his speech—and no one can speak too highly of the moderateness of that speech and the 386 temper he displayed—the brought before the House a case of individual hardship, it was met at once with a sympathetic response. Whilst that is perfectly true, I think that at present at the back of all our minds is the feeling that the whole spirit and temper of labour in this country is not represented by the speeches to which we have listened to-night. There is this sinister spectre of what has been called the "Triple Alliance," and we feel, although the spirit displayed in this House has been admirable, that there is in the background this combination of great labour interests whose actions are not considered with regard to the general welfare of the country, but only with regard to the interests of those powerful labour sections. I think the right hon. Member for Derby and his colleagues will judge better the feeling of the House if they remember that fact.
Something has been said—and I think very rightly said—about profiteering. There is no doubt that cases such as that mentioned with regard to margarine do impress the working people of this country, but I think the Government must be given credit for what they have done in that direction. As a new Member of the House, it appears to me the Government have got a pretty tough job in front of them. Whatever they do is sure to be wrong. On the one hand they are asked by commercial men to relieve industry, trade and commerce of control. When they do that, then they are net by gentlemen, like Sir Leo Chiozza Money, who say they are letting loose the sharks upon the community. So that whatever they do they are wrong. I was particularly struck by two things which came out over and over again both in the speech of the Mover and of the Seconder of this Amendment—first of all the admission that the industrial unrest in this country is not so much a question of wages, not so much a question of hours, as an accumulation of individual grievances. We had that most vivid picture of the individual having him own particular contract set aside by the manager and the owners, and the wrong, hardship and outrage on manhood and dignity which is engendered and accumulated in individuals, and which wan put before us as being one of the principal causes of industrial unrest. The other thing was the insistence on delay as being one of the principal evils, because delay breeds 387 discontent and discontent disaster. I think it is in one sense true that employers have to bear a large share of the blame with regard to delay. I think it is equally true that the workers have to bear their share. But is it not true that there is also something in the organisation of their unions which must be looked to? Is it not clear that in their great dream of federating unions together until they reach this great federation which is going to impose its own will upon the community, that they have too great centralisation? They have denied to their own people the freedom their people are asking for. It is almost incredible the situation which existed in this country the other day. On the Clyde you had a great dispute. There were labour men of capacity and power, and on the other side there were the local authorities—men who have probably as much capacity as any men in this country—and there they stood watching each other, unable to settle because hundreds of miles away another set of men had the affair in hand. Surely something must be wrong there—that disputes which arise on the Clyde, cannot be settled on the Clyde, that disputes which arise in Belfast cannot be settled in Belfast, and that disputes which Arise in London have to distract the attention of the Prime Minister in Paris! There are men in this House with large undertakings, and I imagine they would think their business inefficiently conducted if they were continually distracted by the fear of having to settle disputes which have arisen in the first place between the office boy and the typist.
It appears to me that this question of industrial unrest is something like fire or disease which starts in a very small way, and which, if taken and isolated, can be kept down. It appears to me that what is wanted is decentralisation in the trade union organisation and in the administration of government. Things want to be settled on the spot. That is the real cause of the trouble inside the unions. It is no use pooh-poohing the question of the workshop steward and treating him as a Bolshevik. It is not true. What has given the workshop steward his place and power is the fact that men on the spot want to settle things on the spot, and I think the gentlemen who form the Labour party could contribute nothing more effective to the settlement of industrial unrest in this 388 country than by taking in hand the organisation of their own unions. I say that, holding the belief at the same time that there is no institutions in the world, after our own Parliamentary institution, of which we have more reason to be proud than the trade union institutions in this country. Whenever men in any part of the world have combined together to act for political purposes they have modelled their institutions upon the House of Commons, and wherever men in any part of the world have combined to improve their social conditions they have modelled their institutions upon the pattern of the British trade union, and I think we may be proud of them. It seems to me to be a dramatic situation in our national history that at this time those two great institutions represented in this House do appear at this moment to be coming into conflict. If they actually do come into conflict, nothing more disastrous has happened or could happen in the history of this country. We have at the present time the greatest opportunity we are ever likely to have to settle this great controversy, which must be settled, and one can only hope that the spirit which has been exhibited in the speeches of the Mover and Seconder, and in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, may animate us all here to-night, and that the result of his appeal will be that Gentlemen who sit here on my right will not pursue this Amendment to a Division.
I would like to say one word more on the question of the nationalisation of railways. The necessity for inquiry has been pointed out. Can the gentlemen who form the Labour party honestly tell us here that the railway men really do want to become the servants of the State. Do they really want to have all the railways put under national control? Is there no division of opinion? Is it felt that there is no other alternative between private ownership and State ownership? There is a very large body of opinion growing up that there is some other course that may be taken, one that appeals to me more strongly than ever. That is matter for an inquiry. That inquiry has been offered. It is an earnest of the Government's intentions. I would say that no better service to this country could be rendered by hon. Gentlemen who sit upon the benches here to my right than, under the circumstances, withdrawing their Amendment.
§ Mr. NEIL M'LEAN
The Leader of the House, in replying to the discussion, and in stating the position on behalf of the Government in regard to the Amendment put forward by the Labour party, made one or two rather significant statements and admissions. He said that the main cause, in his opinion, of industrial unrest was that labour wanted a larger share than they had had hitherto of the good things if life. We agree that that is the main cause. That cause has been fostered in the labour movement, not by men who have been described by some who have taken part in this Debate as Bolshevists. The feeling has been fostered in the labour movement, by men like the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister himself, in going round the country and painting wonderful pictures and describing glorious visions that the people night have in their lives if only they would follow him, and vote him into power to bring about that new world. Another point that has been made was that the workers, if they are going to have fewer hours of labour and more wages, must not restrict output. I should like to ask the Leader of the House: Is restrict on of output only in be criminal when it is done by workmen m a factory. Is it only criminal in the case of working men if they feel that they are working too hard and as a consequence are likely to be unemployed very soon, to consider the situation, and take action; or is, it to be criminal also when we find huge manufacturing firms closing down their plant or joining as combines with other firms, and so having certain plants closed down and pays 5 per cent. dividend to the shareholders of those, plants, so that the steel plates, required for building ships will be restricted in output and consequently higher prices received by the shareholders in the steel companies? By the restriction of output in the one case dividends and larger profits are paid out of the other and the profits very largely increased. We have found that that exists on the Clyde—where all the labour troubles are supposed to come from. It is not so very many years ago that we found on the Clyde men out of the workshops and shipyards walking the streets idle one or two days a week, not because there was no work for them to do in the yards, but because the steel company of Scotland had closed down one of its steel foundries in. order to restrict output. By this restriction employers themselves were compelled 390 to bring plates from Germany. Then we had the cry about dumping and the necessity for Tariff Reform. The working man is not the only one who goes in for restriction of output. If it is to be criminal on the part of one, and if the working man is to be criticised, then his employer also must be criticised, and also be placed under the power of the Government, when he, in his turn, seeks restriction of output for his own particular benefit.
There was one significant part of the speech of the Leader of the House which was, I think, really an echo of the Prime Minister. That is where he said that if any section of the community is going to hold up the community the Government must stand behind the community and defend it. What is the community? If the men feel of come to the conclusion that they will not go on strike because of the interests the community, they will soon find another feeling growing up on the part of the employers all over the country, which is that they are refusing them their demands because they are not going out on think through their interest as members of the community. If the community itself is not going to regard the interests of the men who are working at these industries, then the men of these industries must only concern themselves with their own interests, and must fight, regardless of the interests of the community. We are hearing talk at the present time of a new work fit for heroes to live in, fit for the men who come back from the front. These, it is said, are going into a new world. In spite of this we find at the present time that there is in employment all over the country. We and engineering and shipbuilding employers immediately after the War entering into an agreement between themselves and the shipbuilding workers, after a period during which they have been told that this War had opened the eyes of the people of this country, and that never again would we have class hatred that formerly existed. But what has happened?
The very moment that the agreement to which I refer had been signed it was practically torn up as a scrap of paper by the shipbuilding employers. Notwithstanding their grievances the men never went out during the period of they war. To-day there are men working on the Wear earning wages and working under protest which are from ten to fifteen shillings a week less than they earned before the War 391 closed. Does that confirm the new spirit which is going to dominate this earth? Is that the new spirit which is growing up in this country? Is this what we were told by the Prime Minister, and also by other people during the War period, was going to happen? Then men on the Front Bench talk about unofficial strikes and unconstitutional action! Can hon. Members wonder that these men turn round and say that if the employers break their agreement that that agreement no longer exists between the employers and the unions, and that consequently they are going to take what action they like? If the employers break an agreement first, then no one can accuse the working men of tearing the agreement to shreds, and coming out upon an unofficial strike.
What has happened on the Clyde? A dispute has arisen in consequence of a demand for a shorter working week. The Government were invited to intervene but refused. They, however, told the Lord Provost that they would send sufficient force to carry out law and order. But law and order was never threatened. The men who were out upon strike were out with a legitimate demand. Fifteen trade unions had balloted upon the matter and had agreed. The Scottish Trade Union Congress, representative of all the workers of Scotland, had endorsed the movement. Yet we are told that it was an unofficial movement. The workers were bludgeoned down in their own streets. When they arrived in the Square to receive the governmental reply from the Lord Provost they were bludgeoned before the reply had been handed to their deputation. Can anyone wonder that the men are feeling embittered! Talk about unconstitutional action. Why, there was no occasion for Bolshevism to come to Glasgow from Russia. We had a speech at Glasgow delivered not by J. Maclean, or by others of the same class, but delivered by another man who occupied the bench opposite in front of me. We have had a speech of this character delivered in Glasgow:And now I want to say this for the benefit of the Lord Advocate. I want to tell him that so far as I am concerned, here within his jurisdiction, I advise my fellow countrymen to resist to the end, even if it comes to using violence. I tell him more than that. I advise my fellow countrymen, even although it may never be necessary—and please God it never may be necessary to use them—to arm themselves as well as they can to beat back anybody who dares to filch from them the elementary rights of their citizenship. I tell him something more. I tell him 392 that if any violence arises out of my speeches, he need not trouble himself about humble working men. He can come to me as the responsible author.Who used these words? The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Belfast (Sir E. Carson). These words were used in Glasgow. If they were used without being put down with all the powers of the Crown being invoked against the speaker, can you wonder that humble working men take his advice in the very city where that advice was given? You did not bludgeon the right hon. Gentleman when he used those words. There war a body of police present, not to arrest the right hon. Gentleman, but to escort him to the station. There was a body of police that bludgeoned down the men who demonstrated in George Square a week last Friday. You find that all over, and you ask: "Why are there unofficial strikes?" You ask why the workmen are embittered. Can you wonder that they are embittered? They see these things going on, and they say that there is still one law for the rich and another for the poor.
We are going to alter that condition of affairs. We are going to change these things. These are partly the causes of this industrial unrest. What is the cure? We are twitted with not having given any cure. We have moved. We have a cure. Merely employment in the factories is not going to absorb all the unemployed. The Speech of His Majesty spoke about bringing the people back to the land. How are you going to get the land now? The Prime Minister has left off his land campaign. He no longer gets choirs going around the country singing: "God gave the land to the people." That has ceased to be the anthem of the right hon. Gentleman who is now Prime Minister. But it is still the anthem of the Labour party. One of our demands is, the land for the people. Not by taxation. Not even by confiscation. We shall demand the production of the title deeds from those who claim to be the owners of the land. I venture to suggest that so far, at least, as Scotland is concerned, 50 per cent. of the land is held without any title deeds to be shown for it. Industrial unrest is not a frame of mind. It is caused by the conditions Sunder which the people are living. There is the fear of unemployment. There is the growth and development amongst themselves. I submit that unless you are prepared to tackle these problems, not from the point of view of the use of physical force upon them when the workers de- 393 mand these conditions, but by treating these things in the spirit that will make for the betterment of this country you will be doing wrong. Unless what I suggest is done there, will be a still graver problem than at present confronts you in industrial unrest. We have been told by the Leader of the House that there never was a time when employers were more prepared to give their workers a bigger share. From that it might be taken that the workers were receiving larger wages to-day than in the past. In some places that, of course, may be so, but in other places it is quite untrue. Here is another reason for the industrial unrest we find. When workers read a letter of this description from the secretary of the Cooks and Stewards and realise this truth, they will Ask, "Is this the reconstruction promised by the Government during the last few days of the War?" The letter is as follows:The action of the owners of the Brocklebank Line, who last week paid off the British crew of the steamship "Malancha," to give place to a crew of Asiatics, is scandalous. The report was brought to the Glasgow office of the Cooks and Stewards Union by two members of the late crew and may be relied on as accurate. This is one of the sacrifices that our merchant seamen have to make for Imperialism. It gives patriotic British shipowners the opportunity of kicking them out of employment to make way for cheap foreign labour. Here are the respective wages of the members of the kitchen staffs. In the old crew the British chief cook was paid £20 per month and the Asiatic chief cook £5 per month; the second British cook was paid £15 per month and the Asiatic £2 10s.; the third British cook £14 per month and the Asiatic £1; the assistant British cooks £13 per month and the Asiatic 10s. per month.The letter is signed by the secretary of the National Union of Ship Stewards. When working men read this kind of letter only a few days after the Armistice has been signed, when they realise what the shipowners are doing to their merchant seamen whom they had in their ships, realising as they do that the British merchant seaman was the only one who should steer or guide his ship through the perils of the sea, and that those seamen are now thrown out of employment and Asiatics employed in their place at a lower wage, what will they think? The workmen on the Clyde realise what it means to the British section of the crew of that ship who are out of employment, and they say, "This is some of the reconstruction that our British employers are going to bring about in this country, and if that is reconstruction, then we, on 394 our part, are going to demand from the Government, who appealed for our votes, that this country, which was to be made a country fit for heroes to live in, shall also be made a "country fit for heroes to work in." Therefore, we shall demand from the Government that they shall put on the Statute Book Rules and Acts of Parliament which will bring about in this country a new world which we as workers demand as a right.
§ Mr. SEDDON
I had no intention of taking part in this Debate, except for a remark which fell from the lips of the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. sexton). Since then I have listened to the last speaker, and I think there are some things that must be said because, after all, if I understand the right hon. Gentlemen opposite aright, they have brought forward this Resolution with a definite idea, and that is to prevent anything in the nature of social disorder and industrial chaos, and from their point of view the Resolution has been put-down at least to emphasise to the Government and to the country that we are passing through a very critical period at the present time. The hon. Member for St. Helens, speaking of that element in the Labour movement which is revolutionary, said they were honest fanatics, and while he disagreed with them he assumed that because they were honest, whatever they said and whatever they did, if it was not justified, at least it could be condoned. I happen to have in my pocket the charge made against the man who has be referred to,—that is John Maclean. He received five years' penal servitude, and to hear the last hon. Member who spoke you would imagine that he was speaking for those who are angels of light, whose feelings were those of brotherhood, and that the only disturbing force that is going to bring unrest in this country was the vicious and brutal capitalist. I want to read to the House the charge upon which this man was sent to prison. [An Hon. Member: "Who framed the charge?"] The shorthand notes were taken and they were not repudiated by the person who was being tried, who rather made a glory of what he had said. Speaking to the people, he said:The workers should take control of the Glasgow City Chamber, the Post Office, banks and newspaper offices, food stores, and the ships on the Clyde. They should seize the coal mines, and police offices and put the police inside the 395 gaols, and the Lord Provost, and they should be held as hostages for the safety of the Revolutionary Committee, and unless the Government follow the example of the Russian Revolutionists the workmen should down tools and compel the farmers to produce food for the workers, and if they fail to do so their farms should be burned.''Now is there an hon. Member opposite who will endorse statements like that? No, Sir; but during the recent General Election the man who made that statement was brought out of prison, and he was permitted by the Labour party funds to fight an election in Glasgow against one of the most honourable right hon. Gentlemen in the House, the Member for Gorbals Division (Mr. G. Barnes). This man was accepted by the Labour party as an official Labour candidate, and I say, with regret and with no feeling, that much of the industrial unrest we have at present is because the Labour party has refused to deal with anarchy inside the trade union movement at the present moment. It is perfectly true that we are at a very dangerous period in the industrial relationships of this country. I agree just as strongly as hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House that the social wrongs that existed in pre-war days were a disgrace to civilisation and to this country. I go further and say that by their sacrifices in this great struggle British labour who answered the call of the country and shed their blood—yea, rivers of blood, have been drawn from the veins and from the bodies of the workers of this country—have earned for themselves and their children a larger share of the things that come from labour; and I stand with the Labour party in demanding not only that the fighter and the fighter's children, but that the whole of the workers of this country shall be admitted through legislation and by orderly government to a higher standard of comfort than was ever possible for the great teeming millions of this country in days gone by.
I want to point out what is wrong at the present time. There are bad employers, and, I am sorry to say, there are workmen whose philosophy is based upon pure hatred. They have conceived the idea that the bourgeoisie is their enemy, that the employer is a danger to the State, and that only they themselves are entitled to live in this country and to control everything so far as industry or the life of the nation is concerned. I believe that in this country there are men who belong to the 396 middle classes whose hearts are just as deeply stirred with pity for the sufferings of the people as any man who claims to belong to labour. I believe that this War has tempered and toned some of the feelings that existed in pre-war days. I think it was the Leader of the House who said that there was a better feeling on the part of employers towards the working people. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds is successfully engaged in bringing employers and workmen together under what is known as the Whitley Scheme, and I want to say, in passing, that it will be the verdict of history that the deliberations over which you presided with such patience and skill and sagacity, and that the findings of that Committee which bears your name, constitute one of the great landmarks in the industrial life of this country. The Whitley Commission can be made an efficient instrument for cordial relationships between capital and labour, and not only can it be made an efficient instrument for the purpose, but it can give to each side a better understanding that they are brothers and men, although one may stand for capital and the other may stand for labour. After all, we have not only to carry the debt that has arisen from the War. We have got to do something more, we have to remember that while we were spending our strength and our money formidable competitors in other parts of the world were able to keep their factories going and create huge fortunes that have put them in a very strong and privileged position. If this country is to be torn by industrial strife and other countries, who are formidable competitors, are to escape, then I say that what has been won by the sword, what has been bought at the price of flesh and blood, will be lost, and this country will be in a position that will be a disgrace to her if after the sacrifice that has been made we permit it to take place.
I hope that my hon. and right hon. Friends who have great power in the trade union movement—there is my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester (Mr. Clynes), who in labour councils expresses in weighty sentences words of wisdom and of common sense—will assert their power of authority inside the trade union movement. I want them to understand that no human agency for progress and liberty can succeed if it is based upon hatred, whether of one section of the community or of another. I want them to understand that although Labour 397 has rights there are other rights, and to see to it that the undoubted power that they possess is used to compel the rank and file to submit to the discipline and to the rules which they themselves create and make. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down excused the unofficial strike. He said, "Can you wonder, if there are wrongs on one side, that the workmen commit a wrong on the other side?" I do wonder. I say that it is pure anarchy, and means the destruction of the trade union movement. The great bulwark, the great sheet-anchor of the Labour movement must be its organisations and trades unions, and, if you allow your Bolsheviks and your anarchists to destroy the power of your trade union leaders, then you destroy your trade union organisations, and when you do that you destroy the power of collective bargaining and put the workers back a hundred years instead of leading them forward, which I believe is the object of this Amendment.
In conclusion, I want to appeal to all sections of the House. By common sense and by an understanding of the wrongs and the rights on the side of labour we can attain to a better position than existed before the War. We have also to remember that we are citizens of this community as well as trade unionists. I want to remind the House of the words of warning uttered by the Leader of the Opposition. What is going to be the effect upon other workers of the demands that are being made at the present time? I want to make one suggestion with regard to those demands which have been made. I happen to know the life of a miner, having lived amongst them practically all my life. The miners' life is laborious, and it is dangerous. He is entitled to all the leisure and all he can get for the services which he gives to the community as a miner in the bowels of the earth, but I am sure, if they knew that a six-hour day and a 30 per cent. increase were going to injure the trade of the country and simply mean an El Dorado for one month and disaster afterwards, that the sterling common sense of that body of workers would make them prepared to reconsider their decision. If the coal trade and the trade of the country can stand the six-hour day, then by all means let the miners have a six-hour day. If the engineering trade ran stand a forty-hour week, then let them have a forty-hour week. If the transport trade can sand a forty-four-hour week, then let them have a forty-four-hour week. 398 But before any step is taken which may be fatal to the industry and the workers as well, I make the suggestion to the Government that they appeal to the great trade unions to enter into a conference and examine the six-hour clay in the light of the life of the nation and it effect upon our industry. I would suggest the same with regard to all other questions. Establish a Commission for the particular trades and the particular grievances, and let it be understood that it is going to be a thorough examination and that all the cards are going to be put upon the table. I believe that would be one means of tiding over this period which is dangerous. Then when we have passed this critical period we shall be able by the application of common sense to build a new order in our industrial life, where every worker shall be secure not only in employment but in the full fruits of his labour, to which every worker is entitled.
§ Sir R. COOPER
I have felt very much in agreement with the Amendment of the Labour party, because we all have known for some time, and most of the Government Department have had only too overwhelming knowledge, of the feeling of anxiety and unrest which was latent in the ranks of labour and which would assuredly sooner or later break out. I was impressed with the speech of they Leader of the House to-night and the very forcible and reasoned appeal he made to labour to give the Government and the country a chance at this very critical moment of transition—critical quite as much in the interests of those who labour as of any other class—in order that we may get over that period and return to more normal conditions before any great upheaval or upset in the industrial and labour life of these country takes place. I confess I have been crying for some considerable time to take a special interest in this problem. When I listened to the speeches of the right hon. Gentlemen who moved and seconded this Amendment I found there was a very great deal indeed that they said with which I am in agreement. But there was one most dangerous statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace), perhaps the most dangerous I have heard in this House for a considerable time. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that the cost of production was a matter of grave concern even to labour as well as to the industrial interests of this country. 399 But, he added, "We need not give too much attention to that at the present moment, as it will be taken care of by the League of Nations." I profoundly hope the right hon. Gentleman will, before he ventures thus to mislead many people who rely upon his advice, seriously consider this point. If he is right and sincere in what he said, if he believes that the people can trust to the League of Nations to see them through any danger that may be awaiting them in connection with the problem of the cost of production, then I ask him why he will not equally relegate to the League of Nations all those matters which we are discussing to-night, and which are a source of very great anxiety to us. There is no difference between them.
I venture to think that those who speak of trusting the League of Nations cannot realise the problem we are discussing here. We are threatened at this moment with the danger of a big strike in connection with the mining industry, and it is absurd for any person to attempt to lightly dismiss what is the real foundation as I think, of this great problem, and to say that it can be relegated to the League of Nations. I felt sympathy with this Amendment because I really believe with the experience of the War, and I can claim that I have had a little experience in connection with labour problems in Government administration, the time has come when the Government could have foreshadowed in the Speech from the Throne a minimum wage for all industries throughout the country. I believe that is coming very quickly indeed. I believe that the experience gained by Government officials throughout the Departments would, if collected and examined, show that we can now safely contemplate the putting into effect by Statute a legal minimum wage in all the industries of the country. This great problem of labour unrest so widely touches every aspect of our national life that it is not to be wondered at that nearly every speaker here and outside this House attaches more importance to one matter rather than another as being, in his judgment, the real root cause of it, I am not going to hesitate to express what I really think is the fundamental difficulty around which employers are all the time revolving without actually grappling with it, and which also the Labour party have failed to realise. It is impossible for anyone who has a knowledge of industry and 400 world trading to think that every increase of wages, every attempt to cut down hours, every attempt to improve the conditions of labour, can be carried through if you are to have no regard whatever to output and the cost of production. There comes a point where, if industry is forced too far in this direction, there are going to be no wages and no employment. The point I want to make is really this, that at this very moment labour is, in some trades, officially supporting a ca' canny policy—a policy of going slow. They are talking of restricted output and trying to spread employment in the hope of absorbing the large number of people already out of employment and those who are going to be demobilised. That is an absolute fallacy on which labour is working. You cannot follow that policy and at the same time get higher rates of wages, better hours, and those improved conditions which labour is right in striving for, and which in other conditions I do not hesitate to say might be secured.
The Leader of the House made reference particularly to the circumstances of labour output in the United States. As I mentioned in the House some time ago, I have the advantage of manufacuring, both in the United States and in this country at the present time, the same kind of article, and therefore I am in a position to give a concrete example as my reason for saying that Labour is wrong in its policy of restricting output, and that it cannot get what it is asking for if it is going to follow its present misguided policy. Now in the States workmen will strike and actually have struck because an employer was not efficient, because his works are not efficiently managed and because he has not the most up-to-date machinery. The workers say, "If you do not give us as efficient machinery as is to be found in other mills we cannot earn the same amount per week," In the United States the policy of Labour is this, we want limited hours—they are in fact limited to eight hours—we insist on getting short hours, we insist on good conditions, we want high pay, but when we have got these things we will put our goodwill into the industry and we will help it to succeed, because the more it succeeds the greater will be the demand for labour and the greater the margin for increased wages. That policy is sound in practice, because, at the present time, working in that country under those conditions, although by 401 law we are restricted to eight hours work per day, and although we are paying higher wages than in this country, we find that the cost per article in the United States is positively less than it is in this country, I urge with all the force at my command that it is no use employers or workpeople relying upon conciliation boards to deal with difficulties when they have arisen, or the Whitley Report, or the National Alliance, or all these organisations that are waiting to take up these labour difficulties is and when they arise. That is working from hand to mouth, never getting rid of the root-cause of the trouble. The day labour says, "If you will play the game with us, give us that better life, and give it whole-heartedly; make it as big as circumstances permit," we will at once do everything in our power to assist in what is necessary.
§ Sir R. COOPER
May I remind my night hon. Friend that I have advocated what I am saying in this House to-night before now, but I have not had very much encouragement. I hope he is not going to find fault with one engaged in the capacity of employer, and who speaks because of his practical knowledge and experience in other countries under different conditions, and who is able to indicate what can be done if only Labour would consider the stopping of the "ca' canny" policy and the policy of restricted output.
§ Sir R. COOPER
I cannot argue that to-night. If I am wrong, I shall be extremely glad if any hon. Member above the Gangway would be good enough to spare a few minutes in trying to put me right after war is. I am perfectly convinced that, in spite of what they say, what I am advocating is right, that the cost of production in what labour has in its own interests to study. In the great struggle for the world's markets, which is just beginning, we depend upon competition and competitive prices. If we cannot compete with other countries like the United States, which have not a tithe of the burden on their industries which this country has to carry, where shall we stand? The burden in Britain is a War Debt of £8,000,000,000, two thousand millions of which we owe on external 402 trade. We have yet to face a Budget of £600,000,000—I am not sure that it will not reach £700,000,000, We can only carry that burden and pay our debts in proportion as we increase our wealth production. We cannot increase our wealth production unless we secure a very large share of the overseas markets of the world. That is the problem we have to meet. At the present moment we suffer at the hands of the United States, notably in South America and China. Even in Belgium we are suffering very badly. I personally hold the Government very largely to blame because they have no industrial policy and because they are not doing all in their power to help industry get going to produce the goods and to get its shave of overseas trade. On the other hand, as I insinuated at Question Time to-day, the Government is licensing the dumping of foreign-made goods in this country. That is competing with our own manufactures. Some of the goods—I am referring particularly to lamps, globes, and gas mantles—are coming through Holland from Germany into this country to-day. A policy of that nature is sheer suicide for this country. If this country does suffer industrially, I am quite sure my right hon. Friends on the Front Opposition Bench will not deny that labour will have to suffer along with all other sections of the community.
What I have in my mind is this. I believe that now employers have become very widely organised in this country, just as labour is and has been for a considerable time on its side very widely organised, the time has come when each body, separately at first, should consider what are the demands, the rights, and the duties, and what is the minimum we must put up. Then let us have an industrial labour conference between representatives of the two bodies, to see whether we cannot between us find an improved system and an improved policy which in going to carry the great burden which the nation has to carry, that in going to support industry, and that is going to find the only possible way in which the members of the Labour party can secure those better conditions of wages and of rest for which they are properly fighting. I am convinced that until these problems of output and cost of production as stated both by employers and by labour are settled there is not a very bright outlook for the future. I say this as an employer. My right hon. Friend the Member for 403 Abertillery (Mr. Brace) was quite right when he said to-night that the trouble of the past and of the present as to output is that employers, generally speaking, have never failed to take opportunities of cutting down rates. Of course that was practised very widely years ago, and it was the reason that drove labour to what is called the "ca' canny" policy. If there are employers at the present time who have had honourable agreements with labour and have broken them, there is no punishment too severe for any employer who does break for his own sordid end an agreement once made with labour. I hope the hon. Member for the Govan Division of Glasgow (Mr. Neil M'Lean) who referred to this matter, will be good enough to give me a real illustration of a firm that had an agreement which was deliberately broken. I would join with him in doing everything I could to bring such employers to book, for there is nothing more disastrous to this country than the narrow-minded, pettifogging policy that used to be adopted years ago rather widely, and which exists to some extent at the present time. I only hope and trust that labour will give a little closer consideration at once to this question of unrestricted output and to the question of the cost of production, because the future of labour, like the future of every other class in the country, depends very largely indeed upon a proper, sound and lasting solution of this great problem.
§ 9.0 P.M.
Mr. T. THOMSON
Whilst it is perfectly true that the King's most Gracious Speech refers in general terms to matters of social reconstruction it seems to one who is a new Member, unaccustomed to the ways of the House, unfortunate that in response to the weighty appeal made by the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment, no further details should have been given as to the general outline of some of those measures of social reconstruction.
Let me illustrate the point by one case, that of housing. We are promised in the King's Speech a measure of housing reform. We have had on the Statute Book for many years, as all those who have been at all interested in local government well know, a number of housing measures. The difficulty that we are up against in the administration of those housing measures has been that every time the cost of the land has been of such a character 404 that it is impossible for any municipality, no matter how progressive, to carry out these measures without a large burden on the rates. The consequence is, to those interested in local affairs, that unless the State were to give power to localities to acquire land at a cost more nearly approaching the rateable value no real, sound housing measures could be carried out. It is most unfortunate that in the reply which we have had from the Leader of the House he could do no more than say that there was nothing the Prime Minister had to add to what he had previously said. If he could have assured us that the Prime Minister still adhered to that radical programme of land reform with which he was so closely associated in pre-war days, it would have been, I am sure, some satisfaction to those who are most anxious to see an end to that social unrest, which is due in a measure to defective housing, and we should have felt that there was a reasonable chance of social reconstruction on broad and real lines being carried out. It is perhaps not improper to refer to the Committee of Inquiry which was instituted by the Prime Minister himself four years ago when, even before the War, there was a shortage of something like 500,000 houses in the working class areas of this land. That number to-day is immeasurably increased, and unless the local authorities have the power to acquire land, especially in towns, land which has increased in value either owing to the growth of the town itself, to its industries, or to its enterprise, at something like its rateable or its agricultural value, these programmes of social reconstruction based on housing will be held up because of the large cost. I am perfectly aware that the Local Government Board has promised to relieve localities of the greater part of the burden which will be laid upon them, but we have been reminded of the need for national economy, and surely the Government will carry out that principle of national economy by seeing that municipalities and localities that require land are able to get it for housing and other public purposes at something less than that tremendous price, that artificial value, which is asked for. The locality which I represent has been engaged in the last fourteen years in trying to improve the houses in its neighbourhood and we have been up against the cost every time. We are up against the cost of compensation for slum owners, which makes for social 405 unrest, and we are up against the cost of land, really of Agricultural value, which had to be bought for ten times that value because the locality happened to require it for a school or for the housing of the working classes, and it is to be regretted that it is impossible for the Government to give some assurance that their social reconstruction based on their housing measures does not contain some drastic means of dealing with land reform on lines whereby the cost to the locality, and the cost to the nation, would not be increased by these artificial values which have grown up, made by the locality itself. Therefore, unless same assurance is given, I feel bound to support this Amendment, hoping that it may possibly encourage the Government, if the Amend-
§ ment is pressed, to see to it that their programme of social reconstruction is on drastic, radical lines, and that the burden on the country, requiring land for housing and other purposes, is not made greater because of exorbitant prices paid to the landlords.
§ Question put, "That the words, 'But regrets the absence of any mention of definite proposals for dealing with the present causes of industrial unrest and for securing, as regards wages and working, hours, conditions of labour that will establish a higher standard of life and social well-being for the people.' be there added."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 59; Noes, 311.407
|Division No. 1.]||AYES.||[9.3 p.m.|
|Abraham, Rt. Hon. W.||Grundy, T. W.||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Francis Dyko||Harbison, T. J. S.||Sexton, James|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. William||Hartshorn, V.||Shaw, Tom (Preston)|
|Arnold, Sydney||Hayday, A.||Short, A. (Wednesbury)|
|Bell, James (Ormskirk)||Hirst, G. H.||Sitch, T. H.|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Hogge, J. M.||Smith, Capt. A. (Nelson and Colne)|
|Brace, Rt. Hon. William||Irving, Dan||Smith, W. (Wellingborough)|
|Bromfield, W.||Jones, J. (Silvertown)||Swan, J. E. C.|
|Cairns, John||Kenyon, Barnet||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)|
|Carter, W. (Mansfield)||Lunn, William||Thomas, Brig-Gen. Sir O. (Anglesey)|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R.||M'Lean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Crooks, Rt. Hon. William||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Davis, Alfred (Clitheroe)||O'Connor, T. P.||Tootill, Robert|
|Davison, J. E. (Smethwick)||O'Grady, James||Walsh, S. (Ince, Lances.)|
|Devlin, Joseph||Onions, Alfred||Waterson, A. E.|
|Donnelly, P.||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Wedgwood, Col. Josiah C.|
|Edwards, C. (Bedwellty)||Redmond, Captain William A.||White, Charles F. (Derby, W.)|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Richards, Rt. Hon. Thomas||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. T. Wilson and Mr. Frederick Hall.|
|Glanville, Harold James||Richardson, R. (Houghton)|
|Graham, W. (Edinburgh)||Roberts, F. O. (W. Bromwich)|
|Griffiths, T. (Pontypool)||Rose, Frank H.|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Cockerill, Brig.-Gen. G. H.|
|Adkins, Sir W. Ryland D.||Brassey, H. C. L.||Collins, Col. G. P. (Greenock)|
|Allen, Major W. J.||Breese, Major C. E.||Colvin, Brig.-Gen. R. B.|
|Amery, Lieut.-Col. L. C. M. S.||Bridgeman, William Clive||Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J.|
|Archdale, Lt. Edward M.||Brittain, Sir Harry E.||Coote, Colin R. (Isle of Ely)|
|Armitage, Robert||Britton, G. B.||Cory, Sir Clifford John (St. Ives)|
|Baird, Major John Lawrence||Broad, Thomas Tucker||Cory, J. H. (Cardiff)|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Brotherton, Col. Sir E. A.||Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Univ.)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Brown, T. W. (Down, N.)||Cozens-Hardy, W. H.|
|Banner, Sir J. S. Harmood-||Buchanan, Lieut.-Col. A. L. H.||Craig, Capt. C. (Antrim)|
|Barker, Major R.||Buckley, Lt.-Col. A.||Craig, Col. Sir James (Down, Mid.)|
|Barnes, Major H. (Newcastle, E.)||Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Craig, Lt.-Com. N. (Isle of Thanet)|
|Barnett, Captain Richard W.||Burdon, Col. Rowland||Craik, Rt. Hon, Sir Henry|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Burn, Col. C. R. (Torquay)||Curzon, Commander Viscount|
|Barrand, A. R.||Burn, T. H. (Belfast)||Dalziol, Davison (Brixton)|
|Barrie, C. C.||Campbell, J. G. D.||Davidson, Major-Genaral J. H.|
|Beckett, Major Hon. Gervase||Carew, Charles R. S. (Tiverton)||Davies, A. (Lincoln)|
|Bell, Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)||Carlife, Sir Edward Hildred||Davies, Sir Joseph (Crewe)|
|Benn, Sir Arthur S. (Plymouth)||Carr, W. T.||Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)|
|Bennett, T. J.||Casey, T. W.||Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington)|
|Betterton, H. B.||Cautley, Henry Strother||Denison-Pender, Captain J.|
|Bigland, Alfred||Cayzer, Major H. R.||Dennis, J. W.|
|Birchall, Major J. D.||Cecil, Rt. Hon. Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Denniss, Edmund R. B.|
|Blades, Sir George R.||Chadwick, R. Burton||Dixon, Captain H.|
|Blake, Sir Francis Douglas||Chamberlain, N. (Birm., Ladywood)||Dockrell, Sir M.|
|Blane, T. A.||Cheyne, Sir William Watson||Donald, T.|
|Boles, Col. Fortasque||Chilcott, Lieut.-Com, H. W. S.||Doyle, N. Gratton|
|Boscawen, Sir Arthur Griffith||Clay, Capt. H. H. Spender||Edge, Captain William|
|Borwick, Major O. G.||Clough, R.||Edwards, A. C. (East Ham, S.)|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. W. E.||Cobb, Sir Cyril||Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon)|
|Elliott, Capt. W. E. (Lanark)||Lioyd, George Butler||Renwick, G.|
|Falcon, Captain M.||Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (Hunt'don)||Richardson, Albion (Peckham)|
|Falle, Sir Bertram Godfray||Long, Rt. Hon. Walter||Richardson, Alex. (Gravesend)|
|Farquharson, Major A. C.||Lonsdale, James R.||Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)|
|Fell, Sir Arthur||Lorden, John William||Rodger, A. K.|
|Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue||Lort-Williams, J.||Rogers, Sir Hallewell|
|Forestier-Walker, L.||Loseby, Captain C. E.||Roundell, Lt.-Col. R. F.|
|Foxcroft, Captain C.||Lowther, Major C. (Cumberland, N.)||Rowlands, James|
|France, Gerald Ashburner||Lyle, C. E.||Samuel, A. M. (Farnham, Surrey)|
|Fraser, Sir Keith||Lyle-Samuel, A. L.||Samuel, S. (Wandsworth, Putney)|
|Gange, E. S.||Lynn, R. J.||Samuels, Rt. Hon. A. W. (Dublin Univ.)|
|Ganzoni, Captain F. C.||Lyon, L.||Sanders, Colonel Robert Arthur|
|Gardiner, J. (Perth)||M'Callum, Sir John M.||Scott, A. M. (Glas., Bridgeton)|
|Gardner, E. (Berks., Windsor)||M'Donald, Dr. B. F. P. (Wallasey)||Scott, Leslie (Liverpool, Exchange)|
|Geddes, Sir A. C. (Basingstoke)||M'Donald, D. H. (Bothwell, Lanark)||Seager, Sir William|
|Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||M'Guffin, Samuel||Seddon, J. A.|
|Gilbert, James Daniel||M'Laren, R. (Lanark, N.)||Seely, Maj.-Gen. Rt. Hon. John|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. John||M'Lean, Lt.-Col. C. W. W. (Brigg)||Shaw, Hon. A. (Kilmarnock)|
|Glyn, Major R.||Macmaster, Donald||Shaw, Capt. W. T. (Forfar)|
|Goff, Sir R. Park||McMicking, Major Gilbert||Shortt, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Gould, J. C.||McNeill, Ronald (Canterbury)||Simm, Col. M. T.|
|Grant, James Augustus||Macquisten, F. A.||Smithers, Alfred W.|
|Grayson, Lieut-Col. H. M.||Maddocks, Henry||Sprot, Col. Sir Alexander|
|Green, A. (Derby)||Magnus, Sir Philip||Stanier, Capt. Sir Beville|
|Green, J. F. (Leicester)||Mallalieu, Frederick William||Stanley, Major Hon. George (Preston)|
|Greenwood, Col. Sir Hamar||Malone, Col. C. L. (Leyton, E.)||Stanton, Charles Butt|
|Greer, Harry||Malone, Major P. (Tottenham, S.)||Steel, Major S. Strang|
|Gregory, Holman||Marriott, John Arthur R.||Stephenson, Col. H. K.|
|Greig, Col. James William||Martin, A. E.||Stevens, Marshall|
|Griggs, Sir Peter||Mason, Robert||Stewart, Gershom|
|Gritten, W. G. Howard||Mitchell, W. Lane-||Sturrock, J. Leng-|
|Guest, Major O. (Leices., Loughb'ro'.)||Moles, Thomas||Sugden, W. H.|
|Hacking, Captain D. H.||Molson, Major John Elsdale||Sutherland, Sir William|
|Hallwood, A.||Moore, Maj.-Gen. Sir Newton J.||Sykes, Sir C. (Huddersfield)|
|Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir Fred (Dulwich)||Morden, Col. H. Grant||Talbot, G. A. (Hemel Hempstead)|
|Hamilton, Major C. G. C.||Moreing, captain Algernon H.||Taylor, J. (Dumbarton)|
|Harris, Sir H. P.||Morison, T. B. (Inverness)||Terrell, G. (Chippenham, Wilts.)|
|Haslam, Lewis||Morris, Richard||Terrell, Capt. R. (Henley, Oxford)|
|Henderson, Major V. L.||Morrison, H. (Salisbury)||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, S.)|
|Hennessy, Major G.||Mosley, Oswald||Tickler, Thomas George|
|Henry, Sir Charles S. (Salop)||Murchison, C. K.||Townley, Maximillian G.|
|Henry, Denis S. (Londonderry, S.)||Murray, Major Hon. A. C. (Aberdeen)||Tryon, Major George Clement|
|Herbert, Col. Hon. A. (Yeovil)||Murray, Major C. D. (Edinburgh, S.)||Vickers, D.|
|Herbert, Dennis (Hertford)||Murray, Hon. G. (St. Rollox)||Waddington, R.|
|Hewart, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon||Murray, William (Dumfries)||Walker, Col. William Hall|
|Hickman, Brig.-Gen. Thomas E.||Nall, Major Joseph||Wallace, J.|
|Higham, C. F.||Neal, Arthur||Walton, J. (York. Don Valley)|
|Hilder, Lieut.-Col. F.||Nelson, R. F. W. R.||Ward, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)|
|Hinds, John||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. (Exeter)||Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)|
|Hoare, Lt.-Col. Sir Samuel J. G.||Nicholson, R. (Doncaster)||Wardle, George J.|
|Hood, Joseph||Nield, Sir Herbert||Warner, Sir T. Courtenay T.|
|Hope, Lt.-Col. Sir J. (Midlothian)||Norris, Colonel Sir Henry G.||Wheler, Col. Granville C. H.|
|Hopkinson, A. (Mossley)||Palmer, G. M. (Jarrow)||Whitla, Sir William|
|Hughes, Spencer Leigh||Palmer, Brig.-Gen. G (Westbury)||Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.|
|Hunter, Gen. Sir A. (Lancaster)||Parker, James||Wigan, Brig.-Gen. John Tyson|
|Hurd, P. A.||Parkinson, Albert L. (Blackpool)||Wild, Sir Ernest Edward|
|Illingworth, Rt. Hon. Albert H.||Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike||Williams, Lt.-Com. C. (Tavistock)|
|Inskip, T. W. H.||Pennefather, De Fonblanque||Williams, Col. P. (Middlesbrough)|
|Jackson, Lieut.-Col. Hon. F. S. (York)||Percy, Charles||Williams, Lt.-Col. Sir R. (Banbury)|
|Jameson, Major J. G.||Perring, William George||Williams, T. J. (Swansea, E.)|
|Jephcott, A. R.||Pickering, Col. Emil W.||Wilson, Daniel M. (Down, W.)|
|Jesson, C.||Pilditch, Sir Philip||Wilson, Col. Leslie (Reading)|
|Johnson, L. S.||Pinkham, Col. Charles||Wilson, Col. M, (Richmond, Yorks.)|
|Johnstone, J.||Pratt, John William||Wilson-Fox, Henry|
|Jones, Sir Evan (Pembroke)||Prescott, Major W. H.||Wood, Major Hon. E. (Ripon)|
|Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Pretyman, Rt. Hon. Ernest G.||Woods, Sir Robert|
|Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen)||Pulley, Charles Thornton||Woolcock, W. J. U.|
|Jones, Wm. Kennedy (Hornsey)||Purchase, H. G.||Worsfold, T. Cato|
|Kellaway, Frederick George||Raeburn, Sir William||Yeo, Sir Alfred William|
|Kerr-Smiley, Major P.||Ramsden, G. T.||Young, Sir F. W. (Swindon)|
|King, Com. Douglas||Raper, A. Baldwin||Young, William (Perth and Kinross)|
|Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Raw, Lt.-Col. Dr. N.|
|Knights, Capt. H.||Rees, Sir J. D.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Lord|
|Law, A. J. (Rochdale)||Remer, J. B.||Edmund Talbot and Capt. Guest.|
|Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Glasgow)|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question again postpond.