§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ A good many of us recognise that, for some years, this nation has been passing through a period which, we hope, we shall never experience again—
Major C. LOWTHER
On a point of Order. Is not this Bill out of order, seeing that it imposes a charge on the subject?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That relates to the expenses of the Ministry of Labour. If the Bill passes its Second Reading, Clause 11 cannot be taken in Committee until a Resolution of the House has been obtained. There is nothing to prevent the Second Reading of the Bill being taken, provided that, at a later stage, a Committee is set up to pass a Resolution empowering these expenses to be met.
§ Mr. WATERSON
I was drawing the attention of the House to the fact that during the past four and a half years boys and young men who are to be the future citizens and the future leaders of all ranks and shades of opinion have been fighting in order that this country shall be made freer and happier, that they may have a better life, and also enjoy the fruits of this earth. I contend that, as far as the Government is responsible, something should be done to ensure these boys and young men a proper return for the labour and sacrifices they have so handsomely made. One of the greatest dreads of the working classes is the question of unemployment. It has for years hung above the heads of the working man like a dark cloud, which at any moment might burst, with the result that he would be thrown on the streets. One of the dreads we have to-day is the epidemic of influenza. The problems of sickness and disease have all been faced by our great medical men, and, let it be said to their credit, they have, in a most remarkable fashion, coped with 2404 them and have done yeomen's service to the people of the country. Thousands and hundreds of thousands of pounds have been spent upon research work, and naturally one of the greatest difficulties has been to decide upon the right course to adopt in order that, out of that research work, the people of the country may gain a benefit which will be helpful to their day and generation. But this question of unemployment to my mind is something greater than many of the things I have mentioned. It is, I repeat, like a great cloud hanging over the lives of the toiling masses of this country, and when one gets the experience which many of us on these benches have had, not to have received a living wage for many years—and if I may be allowed to say in this House with all due respect that one never knew until the last three or four years what it was to enjoy an income of more than 24s. a week with which to maintain a wife and family. When that is recognised, then it can be understood what the fear of unemployment meant to a man, and how he dreaded the day when his employer would, owing to slackness of contracts, dispense with his services and he would be thrown on the streets in order to seek some other avenue of employment.
We have thought of these consequences, and as far as Members on this bench are concerned we feel that, after the four and a half years' of sacrifice which the working classes have given to this country, it is the duty of the Government to see that some means are devised so that in the future those who have made these sacrifices shall never be compelled to have recourse to those avenues which have led to the workhouse and to the Poor Law system in days gone by. It has been suggested that State employment will be a good thing. I agree that it would be right to establish some means to prevent what has usually been very obvious—the following of a period of employment by unemployment. Our experience in the working-class movement has shown me that whenever we have enjoyed six or eight years of full time, and even overtime, that has been followed by a period of unemployment. Under the abnormal conditions through which we are passing, I venture to submit that it is our bounden duty, in the interests of the State and in the interests of the Empire, to see that our country is prosperous in every sense, and that there is brought into the cottage homes of the people that contentment and 2405 happiness which they ought to enjoy. Recently a question was put with reference to the state of unemployment, and it was asked how many were in receipt of the donations granted by the State. For the week ending 7th March there were 234,402 men, 27,366 boys, almost half a million of women and 34,398 girls. A total of 992,232—in other words, 230 per 10,000 of the population of the United Kingdom. I submit that for two reasons the Government itself cannot go on giving donations of this character. The first is from the financial aspect. It will have a tendency to drive this country into complete bankruptcy and the State itself therefore cannot go on paying out these donations week by week. From the second point of view, to a large degree, it will have a tendency, if I may use the word in the absence of a better term, to demoralise the people and will make them feel that the Government should give them gold when they are on the streets unemployed. In my opinion, the Government should set up some machinery which will provide them with employment and make them in dependent beings. We must be prepared, however, to face the facts of the situation, and those facts are exceedingly serious—more serious than any hon. Members recognise.
No one would be prepared to dispute the fact that trade is dislocated and that business men on the whole decline to accelerate or to put fire and enthusiasm into their business until things become somewhat more normal and steady. Some imagine that great housing and town planning schemes will solve the problem. While that will have a tendency to help the prevention of unemployment, it will not entirely solve it. It will not go to the root of this enormous problem, which is daily sapping the very life-blood of the nation. Never in the history of our country have men and women been more affected by unemployment than they are to-day. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, in reply to a question on the 12th March, stated that the rough estimate for the week ending 8th March was for men and boys a Grant of£620,000, and for women and girls£580,000. Does any hon. Member imagine that we can go on giving what I consider to be doles of charity? We cannot go on like this for long without finding ourselves in serious financial difficulties. The mere giving away of this dole of charity is nothing more or less than lopping branches 2406 off a tree which will only break forth again and the difficulties will become more acute and severe. Instead of cutting the root of the evil, the Government at present have only felt the necessity of lopping off the branches and leaving the tree to start afresh. Some of us who frequently come in contact with the people from day to day know to some extent the feelings of the men and women who are receiving this money. While to a large degree they are receiving it, they would be more prepared to have employment which would give them individual liberty and that independence which I believe lies deep in the heart of every true British citizen. Honest work should be found for them and a reasonable pay given in return for that work, certainly not less than the standard minimum. Hon. Members must realise that Tommy and Jack who have been fighting nobly for their country have a claim upon the Government to ensure that when they return to civil life there will be employment waiting for them to enable them to take up the routine of ordinary civil life.
I am not unmindful, neither are we on these benches, nor do I suppose is any Member of the House, of the fact of Part II. of the Insurance Act. Men receive their out-of-work pay but that does not bring us any nearer to the root of the problem. It merely touches the fringe. The real thing held out for us in the distance we are not able to grasp. We go for the substance, but by the Government's policy we merely grasp the shadow. The Government's obvious duty is by some legislative means, by a central authority in this country assisted by all the localities and the urban authorities, to prevent this unemployment which is serious to-day, and is growing more serious as the weeks go on. Labour Exchanges may try to find a new job for the man who is unemployed and who registers. If you come under Part II. of that great Act you may get a few shillings a week, which will be about sufficient to find you enough bread for the week. I want particularly, however, to draw the attention of the House to those who are not insured. There are many hundreds of thousands of them. In their case the town council or the local distress committee may—in many forms of our legislation Governments in the past, rightly or wrongly, wrongly from a point of view of many of us, inserted the word "may" when it should have been "shall," and gave an option to the local authorities 2407 to do what they think is right and proper in the matter—give at any rate a few days' relief work. What has that meant? I know two particular cases of men who were clerks. Owing to the dislocation of trade there was no work and they were dismissed. There was no work for them to do and they could not get any. Hundreds of men were walking the streets anxious to get something which would enable them to purchase the ordinary necessities of life. These two clerks were among them. They were set to stone-breaking. Can anyone imagine the feelings of these men, who had never experienced manual toil of that description, and the under mining of their physical condition by the abnormal work to which they were set?
In this Bill we make one or two suggestions that will remove anomalies of that character? By setting up the machinery contained in the Bill there is ample scope to see that certain measures shall be taken which will benefit every individual, be he clerk, road-sweeper, vehicle worker, or whatever capacity in life he may fill, so that, in one way or other there will be relief for the unemployed, just as there is for fever or tuberculosis. Strange to say, nothing has been done to prevent unemployment happening. There lies the very root of the trouble. It is easy when unemployment is here to try to do something. I submit that the Government should do something to so arrange matters in the life of the nation, and keep in constant touch with the local authorities so as to arrange large town-planning schemes, housing schemes, and the rest of it in order to allay the difficulty, and so that when periods of slackness in the various trades come, those who are unemployed should be allocated to industries in which they would be able to work, and these men should never have to make recourse to the Government for grants in the nature of doles of charity. Very few, speaking generally, have ever thought of unemployment, but it is the men who have a vision of the future, who have to shape not only their own destinies, but play their parts as prominent citizens in the country, who feel that something should be done to prevent unemployment, which will probably be rampant in this country in the early future. One Prime Minister speaking in this House said:The problem is one of the greatest magnitude and of the greatest urgency.2408 Just as those words were true when they were spoken, so to-day the problem is one of great magnitude and extreme urgency. I want to impress upon the House the need of doing something in the direction of saving people from distress and poverty which they so much resent and so much fear.
I submit also that by a policy of co-ordination and co-operation between local authorities and this national assembly through the Ministry of Labour something can be done. Under Clause 4 we have local authorities regulating their schemes, in conjunction with the Minister, for dealing with the position of those who are likely to be unemployed as the result of the termination of contracts. It is regularisation of labour that the country is in need of, which will keep labour up and down the country constant and steady, which will not have great masses of men working overtime night after night, which they do not desire—they only do it for the convenience of their employers—and by this Bill we shall to a large extent keep labour constant and steady instead of having the periods of overwork and unemployment that we have experienced. The Labour Exchanges are not used as much as they might be, and the Bill contains Clauses that deal with that situation. It provides for compulsory orders to use the Exchanges, and why not? I agree that the Government cannot entirely, by any Act it may pass, see that every individual in the community is constantly at work. History repeats itself, and I suppose there will be ups and downs in foreign trade and even variations in the demands of private customers, but we can assist the labour market materially and advantageously by regularisation of the work to a large extent and see that continuity of employment prevails. The Government and the municipalities give out large contracts, and by proper arrangement between the Ministry of Labour and the Central Authority in London, working in harmony with the local councils and the rest of them, things can be so arranged that when there is a possibility of unemployment in one particular district the local authority can be instructed by the Central Authorities to get on with work essential for the life of the nation just when that period of unemployment is likely to come and so save the situation.
Clause 10, which some may say is contentious, deals with those in industry who 2409 cannot go on in their old trade. I well remember spending just over a month after a long illness in a convalescent home, and I saw men who had been in the prime of life engaged in the wheels of industry in order to get an existence who had become almost total wrecks as far as their physical powers were concerned. It was absolutely impossible for them to go back to their industry. They had not the ability or the capacity to take up certain occupations, and in many cases the opportunity did not present itself. But there are many men who have passed through longer periods of illness who could be made useful in the service of the community after a period spent in training establishments and institutions set up by the Government. We have seen men who have been maimed in the War. The Government has felt the necessity of doing something for them and all credit to the Government for doing it. We ought also to adopt a similar policy in the industrial arena, and give these men who have been wrecked in some sense an opportunity for gaining that independence that is so much at the heart of every true British citizen. This Clause deals with that, and no doubt I shall receive from hon. Members opposite the criticism that probably they imagine I deserve.
Part II. of the Bill deals with local authorities. Objection has been expressed in this House to the adoption toy the Government of the principle of centralisation. Whilst we shall give all necessary powers to the Ministry of Labour in this Bill, we also give local autonomy to the local councils and the district committees. The only thing is that the central authority in London shall see that the work is carried out on a satisfactory basis and one that will be helpful to the State as a whole. Every council of every borough or urban district council with 20,000 inhabitants or more is compelled by the Bill to set tip machinery. I submit that the figure of 20,000 is a sufficient number. Some may say that 50,000 ought to be the number. Where you get a population of 20,000 you will get, even in cases like that, periods of unemployment. In the work of this committee, which will be elected from the employers, from those who will be co-opted on the committee and from the employés in equal share, you will get varying opinions which will be helpful for the working of the Act. The work of this committee, with its local autonomy, can do much; with its local knowledge 2410 and intimate work, so far as the district is concerned, it can so regulate the work as to cause the least amount of unemployment. One recognises that casual labour means—and the workers know it too well—sweated trades, increasing evils, constant irritation, and, above all, national unrest amongst the workers.
The air this week is full of electricity. Men are appealing to their organisations through inquiries to the Government, and a statement was made in this House last night with reference to one section of these men who are appealing for national control and national ownership of industries. Men and women are appealing for living wages. All these things are looming in the air, and as hon. Members came to the House to-day they saw on the placards "The Fateful Day!" I submit that if the Government in the past had done something for the prevention of unemployment they would have solved to a large degree many of the difficulties that to-day are confronting them. The Governments in the past have too long neglected these important factors that materially affect the lives of the common people, the toiling masses, and I say definitely that the unrest in the country which we have seen to a large degree in the last two years, at any rate, cannot cease until the workers of the world have the right to live in decency and comfort without the fear of unemployment hanging over their heads. When this great dread of unemployment is taken from above them, when their thoughts and their minds are in such a state that they are enabled to enjoy and to grasp those larger things of life which ought to be theirs, and to enjoy with heart and with pleasure the recreation and the education which the State has given to them by legislation, but which, owing to their economic position, they have failed to secure to their advantage—when these things are removed from above their heads the working classes of the country will feel that their situation is one of security, and whilst they will have a position of security we shall also have added to the prosperity of the Empire as a whole.
The greatness of any nation, I care not what nation it may be, is not measured by the great ships and the splendid works of engineering. It is not measured by the splendid and gallant men who man those vessels and take them to sea. It is not measured by the Armies that we have, or by the hundreds of thousands and the 2411 millions of men who were called to the Colours during the War. Nor is the greatness of a nation measured by the traditions of this Assembly. The greatness of a nation is measured fully, wisely, and well by the happiness and the contentment in the homes of the common people.
§ Mr. DAN IRVING
In the first instance, in supporting this Motion, I want to recall to the minds of hon. Members that from the opening day of this Session we have had very many speeches dealing with an extraordinarily great variety of subjects, and a very large proportion of the speeches, whatever the subject may have been, have reverted in some form or other to the industrial unrest and social discontent that is seething like a mad whirlpool around us. I cannot say that the Labour party are putting forth this Bill as a panacea for all the ills of our social and industrial life, but I do urge and ask for serious consideration of it, quite apart from the majority which the Government may have, because of the seriousness of the situation, and because I challenge them to find any other method of allaying the unrest than along the lines that are in the main put forth from these benches. It has already been demonstrated over and over again in this House, by the example that we have had set before us during the last few weeks, that we are right. Measures are being passed on lines that we from the Labour point of view have been urging for at any rate a generation, and which hon. Members opposite have been contesting for an equally long period, but to-day, under the stress of circumstances, they are compelled by their action to admit that their past contentions were utterly wrong and that ours were right.
The principle of this Bill would make it impossible for an able, intelligent individual to stand forth in a community professedly civilised and professedly organised capable of producing things which they need for themselves and their wives and children, and finding no man willing to hire them, not because they are incapable of producing wealth, but because the man to whom they are appealing for a job sees no prospect of making profit out of their bones. That is a situation which not merely incites but stimulates unrest, and which ought to so do, until such a thing is no longer possible in a society which calls itself civilised.
2412 If the principle of this Bill be passed into law it would remove unrest from countless working-class homes, and I would say to those who perhaps contemptuously use the term, that from our point of view it is a very much wider term than they are prepared to give to it. I would also urge upon them that the manufacturer or the millionaire of to-day may, in the person of their children, be members of that same working class to-morrow. If they considered the interests of the State prior to their own commercial interests they would realise that something of comfort and ease might prevail in their minds did they know that the future benefit and welfare of their children when they were dead and gone rested not upon evanescent riches which they hand to them; but on the fact that the society should be so organised that men and women willing to render service would be certain of the opportunity so to do with the resultant economic arrangement that all would be provided with a decent form of livelihood. That is an object far worthier than merely building up huge sums of wealth about which we boast to the ends of the earth, forgetting that at the same time side by side with these great riches there is a mass of festering poverty and disease arising out of that poverty which is a disgrace to any nation that desires to see sound citizenship. If passed, this measure would carry in an indirect sense happiness, peace of mind and resultant social content into millions of working-class homes, because it would forever, at any rate so far as any small measure of reform is concerned, remove the haunting fear of unemployment from those homes, with its attendant ills of poverty and lowered vitality arising out of it, which have embittered men's minds. This arises from the feeling which I, in conjunction with my fellows, have had thousands of times, the embittered feeling of knowing the honest intent with which one faced the world, with a desire to do one's duty in the world, and yet to know from the mere material point of view of the ordinary necessaries of life, not merely that the unemployed man but the man in employment has up to the present not been able to provide those things for the necessities of his family. To remove that haunting fear, which has had a blighting influence upon working-class life for generations, would be a measure of which the Government ought to be proud if it is sufficiently wise to try to realise it in legislation.
2413 During the past week I have been very quiet but not at all unobservant, and I have noticed on the opposite benches, and on both sides below the Gangway, that we have had very many, almost too many, expressions of the desire of hon. Members to do something for the working classes, and when even by implication those of us on this side may have expressed the possibility of suspicion in our minds as to their sincerity they waxed very indignant, and they have urged that they, too, are representative of the working classes of this country. I admit that they are here obviously because many working-class votes have been cast for them, but after all they are not working-class votes in the sense that we understand. There are still numbers of the working classes who are being fooled by the two capitalist parties, Liberal and Tory, to cast their votes obviously against their own interests in this House. But that which cannot be claimed for any other party in this House is that we, and we alone, represent the organised political opinion of the organised political working-class forces in this country. Hon. Members behind the Government are very much more numerous, as we on the other hand are very much fewer, not in consequence of the millions of votes that were cast, but despite them; or, in other words, because of an antiquated and unjust form of electoral arrangement which makes it possible for the Government to have an overwhelming majority which the votes cast for them would not give them any just right to, and which has equally deprived us of a considerable amount of support from these benches that ought to have been filled, under any sort of just system of representation, by many more Labour Members than there are. All I can say of that system is that its utter condemnation, from the point of view of common sense and justice, is observed in the results which are possible to accrue from it which we have seen. Long before I came here many of us have realised that this kind of thing has been going on, and we have striven, in season and out of season, to get some form of electoral arrangement under which the votes cast at elections should find equivalent representation inside the House; and when we reflect that during all those periods of agitation for that end, on our part in the main, the hon. Members who wish to do as good, or at least say so, have been persistently voting against it, then is it 2414 any wonder, even if the suspicion be unjust, that at least such suspicion should exist in our minds?
We have heard a great deal about fighting for freedom and to make the world a place where free men can live as free men. I would ask hon. Members to try to realise how impossible freedom is in a country where the great mass of the population are dependent upon a smaller class for their means of livelihood. Is a man free when he dare not express his political and social convictions publicly for fear that he may lose, at the hands of his employer, who thinks otherwise, his right to maintain his livelihood? Much more so from the industrial point of view is a man free when, if he dare to lead a strike against unjust conditions of employment, as he considers them and has a right to consider them, merely because he has helped to conduct that strike, and when, in the main, he has been among the most able and conscientious and honest of workmen, that being the reason why he rises to the position of leader in the strike, it is possible for his employer, having beaten his men as he generally has done in the past, but fortunately as he is not quite easily able to do to-day, is a man free when after so having carried out his duties to his fellows he may not merely be boycotted from that particular employment, but his home may be broken up and he and his dependants, and even his remote relatives, driven completely out of a town, and in some instances I have known them driven by the despair at their position to commit suicide and to take their wives and children along with them?
Of course it may be said, and probably with truth at any rate to some extent, those conditions have passed away. I am thankful that they have, but I am not here to thank those whom hon. Gentlemen on the other side represent, because there are no thanks due to them. Casting my mind back over the history of trade organisations from the working-class point of view, I have been thinking, with every desire to give credit where credit may be due, and I have failed utterly to find one single instance where any considerable modification has been volunteered by the capitalist class, whereas the overwhelming part of the amendments which have come about have been wrung from them by the forces of organised labour, very much to their distaste and their dislike. Now while hon. Members seem most desirous of doing good to us they want to do good to 2415 us particularly in their own way. I remember many years ago listening to a conversation in a tramcar between an aged couple who had been out, apparently, on a private expedition to purchase a present for a son or daughter—I do not know which. They ultimately decided upon a picture, and they afterwards expressed strong indignation that having spent a considerable amount of trouble to find a picture which suited themselves, the people to whom they offered it did not seem to appreciate the gift. That is exactly the position of hon. Members opposite with regard to us. We have heard something from the people on the other side about the alarming amount of money we are paying for out-of-work donation.
We of the Labour party have never asked for that. It has been given to us despite our wish; not that I want to repudiate it at the present moment. It is necessarily based on the fact that for generations every Government has refused to organise the condition of affairs, and that out-of-work donation is due to the failure to provide useful employment. It is not what we have asked for. What we have asked for is in the main what is contained, and what we still ask for, in this Bill. I am wondering how much longer these people who are anxious to do good to us will refuse. We have had experience of these questions which they have not had. I speak from fifty years of bitter experience in my own life in home, in factory, and in workshop. I am wondering if they will realise, apart from their battalions, that we too have to live in this country, and are prepared to make it not a bad place to live in, and they too would have to suffer from evil. If they do, they will find that the future prospects of life for the great mass of the people will be brighter than they have been in the past. During this time, as far as I have been able to observe, whilst giving any credit to them they like to claim for sincerity, the great mistake of the Government, and it is not a trivial one, is that to a large extent they ignore the views of those who sit on this side of the House.
Take the question of housing. For fifty years I have been agitating for better conditions of working class life. Fifty years ago housing was a vital and imminent question and fifty years later, instead of 2416 having solved it, the position is even worse than it was fifty years ago. If that is not progressing backwards it is at any rate like the crab, progressing sideways and getting nowhere. I suggest that much of the trouble with which the Government are faced to-day is in consequence of the fact that they and those who preceded them for that fifty years promised pretty nearly everything which they are promising the people to-day. With fifty years of promises and practically no performance is it any wonder that a very large proportion of men, fired with their new strength and vigour born of organisation, have conceived the idea that, by what is known as direct action, they may force from the powers that be, in a very much shorter time than that, and in a much shorter time than one could hope from Parliamentary methods, what they seek. The only wonder to me is that any of us should believe in Parliament alone. The only thing that retains my belief in it as an effective weapon is the fact that I have never known the capitalist and land lord classes to desert it, and I find they are not willing to go out of it even to-day. I have some respect for their business capacity, and if it was a good institution for them it could be made a better one for us. No one can claim that we represent vested interests or have the desire to amass great riches. The Labour party stands for the ideal commonwealth, which, while it may dispossess the idle rich, as it ought to do, will make it impossible for people to live in idleness while those who produce by their work have to live under such conditions. Every time hon. Members vote us down by the great majority to which they have no just right they are increasing the number of those people outside who believe in direct action. Direct action is conceived perhaps from immediate results. When you come to consider the world-wide upheaval and unrest expressing itself in the fullest terms in revolutionary action in all parts of the world any sane man, bending his mind to the thought of the present, must realise that action, commenced in quite an innocent way, may be like a match applied to a powder magazine—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I must remind the hon. Member that he has not yet approached the Clauses of the Bill, and is talking at large. If he expects me to confine other 2417 hon. Members to what is contained in the Bill, I must ask him to set a better example.
§ Mr. IRVING
I submit to the correction, and I think a good many other people and I deserve it. I was pleading mainly for the principle of the Bill. As to the Sections of the Bill, I am not particularly concerned. I would say to the Government with both hands, take the principle of the Bill—modify the Clauses how you choose, so long as you retain the principle. There is a proposal to transfer all powers to the Ministry of Labour of the various bodies which now deal, or profess to deal, with the question of unemployment. During the last week or two we have heard in able speeches from the Government Benches as to the gathering of the threads of different authorities dealing with health and with ways and communications. Surely that is not less but even more necessary in the case of the proposals contained in this Bill. I have been a member of a distress committee for thirty years. I listened to my hon. Friends opposite, showing in one respect how clerks were put to store work and the result. I am speaking for a weaving centre. In the early days, when we tried to do something, we set weavers to break stones to make roads. It is no exaggeration to say I have seen many scores of men whose hands were brought to such a condition by one week of such employment that if they were offered a job at their own occupation the following week it would have taken a fortnight before their hands got back to the condition for the employment they had to follow. Now, in conclusion, Sir, I would ask the Government, as I said already, to try if they may not favourably consider the principle of this Bill. Just as surely as to-morrow follows to-day, the day will come, if not in my time, when the condition of this House, so far as numbers are concerned, will be completely reversed. I know it. I feel it in my inmost being, and I would suggest to them it is not a bad social investment that they may in these days, when the opportunity is reserved to them, create a spirit of kindly general treatment of the subjects brought forward from the Labour point of view to somewhat tinge the bitterness which may otherwise animate the rulers of to-morrow if it is to be nothing but a fight from beginning to end. If we are to obtain nothing but what we possess the power to 2418 wrest from them, then they cannot blame us if those of them who are living in that day find perhaps they receive less consideration than they have been prepared to offer to us at the present time.
§ Major LOWTHER
I rise in no spirit of opposition to the principle of this Bill, and with many of the remarks that fell from the lips of the hon. Member for Burnley and Kettering I am in entire agreement. I would favour a Bill of a similar kind which might prevent poverty or a Bill which would prevent crime. Both these things should be prevented. To prevent such things is a fine idea, but how is it going to work out in practice? They are all parts of modern civilisation. As far as this Bill is concerned, I think hon. Members have got out of step. There is an old saying that one's coat must be cut according to one's cloth, and in looking at this Bill I find it bristles through and through with additional expenditure. Clause 10 and Clause 18 foreshadow any amount of additional expenditure and I waited in vain for the hon. Members who have just spoken to give this House some sort of estimate as to what additional burdens this would mean upon the tax-payer, and the ratepayer generally. Day after day we have come down to this House and schemes have been put before us which entail more and more burdens upon the taxpayer. Nobody here could be entirely ignorant of the state of the financial position of this country. We are already called upon to meet liabilities which a few years ago would have been entirely unheard of and would have been pronounced as entirely ruinous. But instead of waiting for measures such as these until we have a Bill we can properly afford, they are pressed upon us at the present moment and pressed upon us in such a way that if passed they would entail enormous additional expenditure, whereas at the present moment we do not know where to turn to meet our actual liabilities. It is a grave position, and I venture to think that hon. Members, by using some of the arguments that they have, such as that Members on this side of the House are not in sympathy with the principles which they brought forward—by using such arguments as that they are not, indeed, helping their cause, but they are apt to retard it. But as far as I myself am concerned, I would assure them of my sincerity in the belief in the principles underlying this Bill, but I do think that before we can put these princi- 2419 ples into practical operation we must see how we stand. We must see that we have the money to put them into operation in an effective manner. Last night those of us who were present in the House heard an announcement which foreshadowed a large additional expenditure, but we resigned ourselves to it because it was inevitable. We cannot go on and on day after day resigning ourselves to further commitments of this enormous character. We must draw the line somewhere, and surely the time has now arrived when we should draw the line and when we should say quite clearly and quite firmly we have got a lot of expense to meet. We have incurred liabilities which we must meet, and we are going to meet these liabilities before we embark on additional expenditure.
§ Mr. JESSON
I am in the deepest sympathy with the question of unemployment. I also endorse everything hon. Members have said with regard to the horrors of unemployment for these poor unfortunate people who have to suffer. I also share with them the keenest desire to find a remedy for this terrible diseased but my only difficulty is I have to part company with them as to what that remedy is to be. As I understand the hon. Gentleman, they want public authorities to start works on purpose to employ the people that are unemployed. In other words, they want the public authorities to start competing with other firms in industry. I served upon the London Unemployment Committee for some considerable time, and I gave it up because I realised it was an impossible position for a man who held my views to be taking part in that work. What we were doing, as far as unemployment was concerned, was exactly what was described by the hon. Member for Burnley, we were putting them to impossible tasks, tasks which they were unfitted for, but even in doing that we were competing with other people who were already employed in these industries. As I understand the hon. Gentlemen opposite, they are believers in unlimited competition. I give a reason for that statement. At the last Trade Union Congress a resolution was passed in favour of Free Trade. My point is that it is this unlimited competition which has caused the unemployment in this country and every other country. This resolution was passed by a large majority, and I remember the hon. Member for Preston speaking to that resolution and describing the beauties of unlimited competition.
§ Mr. T. SHAW
May I ask the hon. Member opposite to quote my words? I never said those words at any time or anywhere.
§ Mr. JESSON
The hon. Gentleman was talking about the value of Free Trade. Free Trade to me means unlimited competition. It means the old laissez faire school of philosophy of "every man for himself and the devil take the hind most. "It means, also, that if another country produces goods cheaper than you can produce them yourselves that country must have the trade, no matter what happens to your people here. That is unlimited competition, and I object to unlimited competition. I object to competition at all. I believe that most of the people who talk about healthy competition and all that kind of thing spend most of their days in trying to get away from it. Some time ago there was a distinguished lord in another place who was making a great point of Free Trade and unlimited competition and what it meant as far as employment in this country was concerned. One day a certain daily newspaper drew the veil aside and discovered his lordship in consultation with his confrères in the soap building business trying to eliminate competition as far as that particular industry was concerned. Obviously, if there were any values in competition at all, his lordship was quite prepared to let the other fellow have the benefit of them, but was quite willing to eliminate competition as far as the soap business was concerned. My view is that the only way you are going to solve this problem is by the recommendations of the Whitley Report, which mean co-operation. Speaking for my party, we have our views as to the way this question can be solved, and we believe it is the only way that it can be solved, and that is not by the nationalisation of all the means of production, distribution, and exchange, as I used to believe in pre-war days. I have thrown, that overboard now, and I admit it.
§ Mr. JESSON
If you have the nationalisation of means of production, distribution and exchange, my suggestion is that you have not got the bureaucrats in Whitehall who can successfully manage the business. What I want to see is a combination of the State, the employers, and the workers, and that is going to find favour with the workers of this country 2421 more than anything else. The last speaker said he spoke for the workers so far as his views were concerned, but my difficulty is that the views of the workers that he represents are not the views of the workers that I represent.
§ Mr. IRVING
I said nothing of the sort. I said we were the only party who spoke for organised political labour.
§ Mr. JESSON
I represent a working-class constituency which is composed very largely of trade unionists, and they have sent me, by a large majority, over all my other opponents combined. As to the State competing with private enterprise, my experience is that the workers do not want it, and they resent it very much when it is put to them. Let me give my own personal experience. Thirteen years ago I was elected as a Labour member on the London County Council. At that particular time the council had a works department, which was set up on purpose to break a ring of contractors—at least, that was the suggestion. That works department was doing a magnificent work, and everyone in it had ideal conditions of employment, but at the election of 1907 a great agitation was started against that works department, and the electors of London, largely working classes, sent back an overwhelming majority to destroy that department. Some of us were not satisfied, and we thought that in 1910 they would reverse the policy, but they did not, and in 1913 some of us who believed in the works department still hung on to the idea that it would be possible to re-establish it. I personally made a great point of it in my own election address, and I was advised by some of my own Labour friends not to make such a fuss of it, but to get rid of it. I took no notice, and the result was that I got the lowest majority I have ever had on the council, and the people who were opposed to the works department were passed with a greater majority than ever. The suggestion in this Bill is that public authorities should set up works to deal with unemployment. The objections to this particular point were these. Certain workers said to me that they objected to the works department of the London County Council because it 2422 set up a favoured set of workers who did not care a hang for anybody else, because they were doing all right themselves. That was true, because the majority of them left their trade unions as soon as they got this or that particular job. Trade unionists came to me who were concerned in the building trade, and said they were employed by their employers as trade unionists, and they said, "You are advocating the handing over of public work to a department where nearly all the workers are non-unionists, and that work, we contend, should go to firms who employ trade unionists." That was the argument used by the workers of London. Therefore, whatever the hon Member's views are concerning the Burnley workers, they certainly are not the views of the London workers.
Our suggestion for dealing with this question of unemployment is a totally different one altogether. As I pointed out the other night, we want to see the Whitley Report recommendations set up. We want to see an increase of production on purpose to get us out of our present-day poverty. We want to see the workers co-operating with the employers, and we want to see the employers and the workers having the assistance and co-operation of the State. We want to see these three working together, and again, as I pointed out the other night, we want to see the first charge on the cost of production to be a generous living wage for the workers; the second, to be the ordinary establishment charges; and the third, to be a fair rate of interest for the people who put up the money, and after that all profits to be divided between the State, in lieu of taxation, the employers, or rather the people who put up the money, and the workers, from the managing director downwards. That is our solution. Everyone then would have an incentive to produce more, and not only that, when you get that position in existence, you can reduce your hours of labour very considerably. I believe that Lord Leverhulme is right when he says we can have a six-hours day. I want to see a six-hours day, but you can only get it by the co-operation we are suggesting here now. Not only that, you will not only increase employment that way, but you will increase it in other ways as well. If the workers can get a six-hours day, what will it mean as far as employment is concerned? At once new industries will spring into existence. 2423 No one can put a limit to the brain of the inventor. I have often given the illustration of the bicycle industry. That was an industry that sprang from one man's idea or hobby. We had the hobby horse, which became the velocipede, the velocipede became the spider bicycle, the spider bicycle became the safety bicycle, and the whole thing has gone on until to-day you have got an industry finding employment for hundreds of thousands of people. That is an industry that is catering for the pleasures of the people. Take another industry. Flying is only in its infancy. Can anyone put a limit to it and say what that is going to be? That industry in a few years' time is going to find employment for hundreds of thousands of people. Wireless telegraphy is another industry only in its infancy, and the cinematograph industry, which scarcely existed twenty years ago, is to-day, it is no exaggeration to say, finding employment for millions of people in different parts of the world. And so that kind of thing is bound to go on. As soon as people get leisure, the first thing that they want is pleasure, and that is going to find enormous avenues of employment in other directions. We suggest that that is the better way of finding a solution for unemployment. The workers will not have public bodies competing against private employment on the lines suggested by this Bill.
We in our little group yield to none in our desire to see this unemployment problem settled. Our only difficulty is that we cannot fall into line with hon. Gentlemen opposite, because they are not united or agreed upon what they want. It is a most remarkable thing to hear one hon. Gentleman after another on the other side getting up and contradicting each other when dealing with labour problems. They say that they represent the workers. Our view is that we represent the workers just as much as they do. The only difference between us is that they are not united on a single political question, whereas we in our little group are. We know exactly what we want. [Laughter.] That laughter does not worry me a little. I would remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that they do not speak for all the organised workers. I would remind them that out of five million organised workers only about two million are affiliated to their party. There are three million who are not affiliated to their party and many of them 2424 very much resent their ideas and their views on politics. That is obvious. Not only that, but at least 70 per cent. of the people whom they are supposed to represent in their trade unions never voted either for or against joining their party. The people about whom we are concerned are the whole of the people of the country—we believe in democracy—whether they are trade unionists or non-trade unionists. I want to see, under the Whitley Report recommendation, every worker in his trade union and every employer in his association. Those working together will in my opinion bring about a better era of prosperity than this world has ever seen. In addition, that is the only way the Government are going to find the huge sums of money that are necessary to pay for this war and the upkeep of the country at the present time.
§ Mr. T. SHAW
May I at the outset make a personal statement. The language attributed to me by the hon. Gentleman opposite was never used by me, and I expected either proof of the statement or a withdrawal.
§ Mr. SHAW
I will not pursue the matter. The reporters will record what was said. I now turn to the Bill, and I assure the hon. Member opposite that either he or myself is mistaken as to its contents. He seems to assume that this Bill provides for the setting up of State enterprises in competition with private enterprises. I suggest that no part of the Bill does any such thing, and that his desire to enlighten the Members of the Labour party as to their true position has caused him to forget the Bill, and to give a lecture that was quite needed, but which did not touch the Bill. I want to deal with the argument in favour of increased production, because in the counties of Lancashire and Cheshire there are at the present time 211,000 persons, with no employment to go to, and without a chance of producing anything. Will the hon. Member kindly explain how increased production is going to find these people work. Throughout the country we have somewhere in the region of one million unemployed persons who ought to be producing something useful for the State. What are all the fine theories when confronted with this fact, that people are there unemployed, and that the State is paying huge 2425 sums of money when we need many things for the people that these persons who are unemployed could produce. There is no machinery to bring the worker who could produce and the people who desire the goods together so as to promote production. That is the problem.
We suggest that the worst thing that any Government can do is to neglect this feature of our social life. There is nothing which leads to degeneracy more quickly than idleness. You find that in all scales. You find divorce and drugs at one end and degeneracy at the other. The problem is how to give every man and woman willing to work the opportunity of working, and of producing things for the State, or of improving the amenities of the people, and we suggest that the Ministry of Labour should co-ordinate the functions of all the Departments which deal with unemployment so that their schemes may be seen as a whole by one Ministry with a Minister definitely responsible to this House if he fails to carry out his duties to the satisfaction of the House. None of us minimise the difficulties of the task. No man in his senses would deny that the difficulties are enormous. But what are difficulties for except to be surmounted. Surely the best thing to do is at once to lay down a scheme, and, if it is criticised and a better scheme can be found, let us accept it. Everybody admits the problem; everybody admits the degeneracy; everybody admits that the more articles that can be produced for the people of the country the better the people will be. We have in this problem of unemployment phenomena which occurred before the War in normal times when as the result of over-production we had unemployment. Was unemployment owing to the lack of production? Why, the warehouses were chock-full of goods and the people were walking the streets. Was the unemployment in the boot trade at Northampton due to the fact that the warehouses did not produce enough? Why, the warehouses were chock-full of goods. These phenomena are evident to every social student. Strange to say, you find unemployment as the result of over-production, and you find people suffering because they cannot buy simply owing to the fact that too many goods have been produced.
These things, of course, may be explained by political economists. I am not a political economist, neither am I a psychologist, but I know from actual per- 2426 sonal and bitter experience what unemployment means. I know how it saps the fibre of the working man. I say this is not a matter in which we ought to debate whether or not our respective parties are best. The matter to be debated is how this great social evil can be cured. We say that, in our opinion, this is the best method we know for curing it: to get the whole question of unemployment under one authority; to encourage both national and local authorities so to distribute their work as to provide work in those seasons of the year when general slackness takes place; to develop the resources of the country in afforestation, reclamation of foreshores, and in the shape of a dozen different things which have been proposed for over twenty years. We urge the doing of all these things in order that workpeople who desire to work may be used for the benefit of the nation and themselves: so we will get the best results out of the people of the country.
§ Mr. HALLAS
I would bespeak the courtesy of the House in my maiden speech. I desire to say that I very heartily give this Bill my blessing for what that blessing may be worth. Before the War, what the working classes suffered from principally was under-employment, unemployment, and badly-paid employment. I take it that the purpose of this Bill is to put an end to that great trouble of unemployment, under-employment, and underpaid employment. Before the War, for some sixty or seventy years, we had periodical booms and slumps occurring every seven or ten years. This Bill, I take it, intends to do something towards stabilising labour and preventing the suffering which always followed slumps in trade. For many years social reformers have realised that the only way to stabilise trade was to have large works proceeding into which labour can flow and from which labour can ebb, so that when trade is bad, owing to slumps in industry, men can work on such undertakings as the draining of the fens, the stopping of coast erosion, and large dock, harbour, and canal works, road, and afforestation schemes. One Royal Commission after another has recommended that such schemes as these shall be taken charge of by Government Departments for the purpose of stabilising labour and putting an end to the troubles and suffering arising from recurring slumps. We cannot expect to have in this country the conditions 2427 about which we spoke in our election addresses, and that so often have been referred to by Ministers of the Government as ideals and objects of the programme they had in view—we cannot, I say, expect that state of things to be brought into being if a quarter of the working classes suffer from casual and underpaid employment. It should be possible to arrange that seasonal workers are drafted from one occupation to another in such a way that there shall be continuity of employment for that large body of men and women who hitherto have been only casually employed. I should like to refer to a remark made by the hon. Member who has just spoken with respect to the glutted stocks of textile and other goods in various parts of the country, while at the same time there was great unemployment.
Is not the real solution of that state of things, which has too often occurred, not reduction or change in the procedure of production, so much as an increase in the opportunities for consumption? We have never yet in this country developed our home markets. We have our eyes upon the ends of the earth, anxious indeed to export as much as possible—and rightly so—but the time must come when it will be a good business proposition also to give some attention to the home market. If all our people were well-clad, well-shod, properly fed, and properly housed there would be no dearth of work as to the whole of this country, and the slumps that would come would not recur at so frequent intervals, and would be more easily controlled. I do, however, submit that the essence of this Bill should commend itself to every Member of the House. In Clause 4 the suggestion is to maintain at an approximately constant level the national aggregate demand for labour, both by private employers and by the public Departments. The conception of the Bill is good. It is, I believe, capable of materialisation; and it would be a disgrace to this House if we were to have to admit, either by open statement or by our apathetic attitude towards this Bill, that this, the most powerful and wealthy nation and Empire of history, cannot find employment for our workers, and that casual employment, underpaid employment and unemployment have to continue. It is because I think that this Bill contains suggestions and opens the door 2428 towards the remedying of these evils from which we were suffering before the War that I give it my support.
§ Mr. SEXTON
I hope I may be excused if I take this opportunity, as a new Member, of regretting the apparent apathy of Members of the House to a Bill of such an important character. The question of unemployment is the social cancer of our existing conditions, and one would have thought, after the expressions day by day and night after night by the Members of this House of their interest in the working classes, that we should have had a better attendance in the House at an important discussion of this character. I want to suggest that this cancer of unemployment is the bedrock of our unrest and labour troubles in this country to-day, and the environment arising from unemployment is largely responsible for the feeling today that Parliament is useless, and that the only weapon that can be used is revolution. As a constitutionalist, I oppose such an idea. I want to call the attention of the House to pre-war conditions. Those of us who casually used to stray around the Thames Embankment at a time when we boasted of being the most prosperous, and richest community in the world, were face to face every night with God's hungry specimens of humanity sleeping on the benches in all conditions of weather—strong men capable of doing useful productive work, but denied the opportunity. Take the contrast at the present time. The Government are subscribing over£1,000,000 a week towards people who are unemployed, and yet we hear Members of this House seriously suggesting that this Bill has a tendency to inflict a penalty on the Treasury for unemployment which will be unproductive. Even admitting that possibly there may be some danger of that, but I want hon. Members who think that to compare the enormous expenses of to-day, even from an unproductive point of view, with the possibility of what it would cost the State to keep them employed in some kind of employment. I have yet to learn that the Bill suggests the employing of men in unproductive employment.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Jesson) spoke about the creation of new industries such as wireless telegraphy and flying. I suggest that all his ideas seem to be in the air all the time. Now the Bill does not suggest anything of the kind. If the hon 2429 Gentleman will read the Bill he will see that it proposes to give power to the Government and to local authorities to use whatever power they can in providing employment for the people who are out of work. The hon. Member opposite endeavoured to make a point of the fact that we on these benches did not represent more than one-half of the organised labour of the country. May I point out that the Trade Union Congress itself, which represents the organised labour of the country, has more than twice or three times endorsed the principle of this Bill, and they represent 4,500,000 organised workers. Therefore the hon. Member's argument that we do not represent the voice of organised labour is not strictly accurate. The Trade Union Congress has endorsed this Bill. I would not suggest any plan which would mean unproductive employment as the solution, because that, to use a well-known phrase, is economically unsound. I suggest that there is a method by which this can be avoided, and no plan or no scheme short of the absolute abolition of land monopoly will clear out the unemployed problem.
I want to call attention to the undeveloped resources of this country, and I want to deal with the root of the problem of unemployment. In the United Kingdom alone out of 77,000,000 acres of land, I think, 44,000,000 acres only are absolutely in use. Under pre-war conditions only 11,000,000 acres were under cultivation, although since then there has been a substantial increase. Every activity, both rural and urban, adds to the value of the land of this country. Out of the 77,000,000 acres of land in this country I think I am correct in stating that there are 44,000,000 acres actually in active use to-day. If I may be excused an illustration I will take the hon. Member opposite to a very remote period of history. The land of this country to-day—and I am speaking of the United Kingdom—is practically owned by 1,000,000 people, and that is a very generous estimate of the inhabitants, and this is out of a population of 45,000,000 people. Now that is not exactly according to Genesis. I know it is a very long cry from Genesis to now. I do not know whether hon. Members are well acquainted with Biblical history, but the gist of what I want to say is this, that at the beginning of the world when God made man and placed him upon the earth, he told him to: 2430Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air.Well, he went and he multiplied, and there are more of us here to-day than when Adam and Eve first entered the Garden of Eden. But if we take stock to-day we find there is something radically wrong with the position. The 77,000,000 acres ought to belong to 45,000,000 people, but we find that they are owned by about 1,000,000 people who dictate their own terms to the 45,000,000 people. The result is that the land is held up, production is limited, and industry is hampered. There is not a factory, not a town, nor a city, nor an urban district to-day that is not hampered by this question of land monopoly. The only root remedy for relieving unemployment to-day is to shift this old man of the sea, or rather this old man of the land, off the back of industry. If some radical change were created in the condition of land monopoly to-day; if land were free in the market, there would be no, or very little, unemployment. When the hon. Gentleman opposite twits us with having our eyes on the ends of the earth, my reply is that our eyes are not on the ends of the earth, but they are on the earth that belongs to the people of this country, and I hope they will stay there until this evil of unemployment is removed.
§ 2.0 P.M.
§ Sir JOHN BUTCHER
Like every Member who has addressed the House to-day, I am entirely in sympathy with the objects which the supporters of this Bill have in view. It is impossible to exaggerate to anyone who has had any experience of the matter, the appalling miseries of unemployment, and the consequent degradation of the people, and the absolute necessity for finding a remedy for these evils. I also agree with what hon. Members have said, not only as to the inadequacy, but the actual mischief, in some cases, of some of the existing modes of dealing with unemployment. The out-of-work donation system, I think we all agree, is capable of being abused, has been abused, and does not improve the moral of the people. It may be necessary as a temporary measure, but we cannot accept it as part of our permanent policy. Again, the provisions in the Insurance Act are inadequate to deal with this evil. I confess I approach this Bill with the utmost sympathy, but, on reading the provisions, I cannot bring myself to believe that this Bill, if passed 2431 into law, would adequately deal with this evil. I find it vague. I find that there is a certainty of large expenditure, and only a possibility of productive work coming from it. Take, for instance, Clause 16 of the Bill, which imposes upon county councils and borough councils the duty of providing employment and maintenance for unemployed persons until the Minister of Labour deals with such questions. Then the councils are told that they must make provision to ensure that the applicant and those legally dependent upon him shall have "such maintenance as the medical officer of health of the council may certify to be necessary." It goes on to say: "The duty of the council," and so on. That is excellent, but where is that work to be found, and what is the character of the work? Is work to be manufactured for this excellent purpose? If not, what is the nature of the work to be found? I grant you, if there is useful work to be done, let it by all means be done, but to impose a duty upon these councils to find work, without any regard to the character of the work, or where useful work can be found, is really a danger to the public interest. Then I look at Clause 18 to find where the money is to come from to enable councils to carry out these duties, and the answer is that a penny in the pound may come from the local rates, and all the rest of the expenditure, however great, regardless of any limit, is to be found by the State. I confess I do not think that is a useful mode of meeting great and undoubted evils. The hon. Member who has just spoken, to whom we all have listened with pleasure and interest, and none the less on account of the touch of humour which characterises his speeches, pointed to the undoubted fact that one of the causes of the industrial unrest at this moment is unemployment, and the dread of unemployment. But is it not equally true to say that one of the main causes of unemployment at this moment is the industrial unrest itself? That industrial unrest breeds distrust, destroys confidence, paralyses enterprise, and in that way prevents the employment which we desire. Therefore, I venture to think, if we want to look at this subject from the broadest aspect, it is our duty to see how we can remove this industrial unrest, create confidence, promote enterprise, and in that way supply, not casual or 2432 occasional employment, but normal, useful employment, which will enable us to supply the markets of this country with the articles it requires, and enable us to export articles to other countries which they require.
I do not suppose it would be in order in this Debate to go at any great length into the modes by which we could remove industrial unrest, but, as an alternative to the proposal of this Bill, I think it is fair to point out, very shortly, one or two methods by means of which we can deal with this industrial unrest. In the first place, speaking for myself, I can well understand that one of the causes of that unrest is the horror and disgust which the people of this country feel about the profiteering which has taken place during the War, and I would do anything which is in the power of the State, by fixing prices, by charging Excess Profits Duty—if that is a better method—to prevent that profiteering which has not only thrown great and undeserved burdens on the consumer, but which, I think, has justly created great industrial discontent and unrest. That is one method of dealing with it. Another method, I believe, has the sympathies of everyone in this House, not only of Members sitting on those benches who profess to represent organised Labour, but Members like my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, who also represents Labour, and of all of us in this House who, in our several ways, claim to represent Labour, and, I venture to think, do represent Labour, and desire to do our best in the interests of Labour as much as any Member in this House. We all realise this: Labour is not a machine. Perhaps in the middle of the last century it was sometimes regarded as a machine—a money-making machine. Commercial profits were regarded as the end of life; the methods by which those profits were obtained were little thought of To-day we all realise that Labour consists of human beings—men and women—and that their interests must be regarded in every activity of commerce and industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow pointed out that one of the best ways by which we can remove unrest and create employment is by a large adoption of the method of Whitley Councils, by which the workers and the employers can co-operate for ensuring better conditions of labour, and more contentment in the workshops and factories of the country.
2433 I go further and I say that there is in this country at the present moment not only a desire but a determination that in the future the working classes shall have a fuller share of the profits of their labour, consistently, of course, with due regard to the capital which enables that Labour to work, and that they shall have, too, more leisure for the cultivation of the abilties which they possess, and that there shall be a betterment of the conditions of their life as regards housing and as regards all those amenities which go to make life worth living. By working in this way I venture to think we shall go a long distance towards removing that industrial unrest which is a foundation of the lack of employment in Lancashire and elsewhere, and which causes manufacturers to remain in a state of uncertainty, because they are not able to tell where they will be in the next few months. We had a remarkable example yesterday of what full, impartial, and careful consideration can do in the way of removing industrial difficulties. We had the announcement of the issue of the report of the Coal Commission and of the steps to be taken by the Government. There was in that announcement no lack of appreciation, either on the part of the Government or of the House, of the position of Labour, and if we follow up that spirit and concede Labour its just demands we shall, I believe, remove that unrest and go much further in the direction of setting up good, useful, normal employment, thereby taking away that spectre of unrest which has made such great in roads on the comfort, contentment, and prosperity of the people.
§ Mr. NEIL M'LEAN
I am glad to think that the Debate so far upon this Bill has been of a very sympathetic character, and I trust that the sympathy which has been expressed in all parts of the House with the principles embodied in the measure will be translated in the Division Lobby, if this Motion is forced to a Division, and will receive as full translation by acceptance on the part of the Government of the principles we are advocating. We have been told by some of the speakers that what is wanted is more production on the part of the worker. Now I speak for a large section of a large industrial community where there are thousands of men and women who are unable to find employment to produce anything, to say nothing of producing more than they had 2434 previously been in the habit of producing. They cannot, in fact, find employment. They cannot discover anyone who will take them into their factories or work shops. We are constantly being told that more production is required and yet we have the fact of the existing stagnation of trade due to the inability of people to get employment. Undoubtedly, throughout this country there are large bodies of men and women idle through no fault of their own. These people ought not to be penalised because they happen to have been born in a country that will not provide employment for them. The only logical answer to the fact that these people are employed and to the contention that the State has no right to provide work for them would be the establishment of the old principle of the lethal chamber, and no one, of course, would suggest such a thing as that to-day. Carlyle put the point truly when he said that the man or woman—the human being—standing erect with its marvellous head and brains, with its dexterous fingers, could surely produce more than was sufficient to provide not only the commodities he required for himself, but also those things which were required for his wife and family. We have been told by the hon. Member for Walthamstow that we are trying to set up State competition with traders who are already engaged in production—that we wish the local authorities to compete with those traders. I want to suggest to the hon. Member, however, that if the great captains of industry, as we call them in this country, cannot organise industry in a direction that will enable it to give full employment to those who desire it, then some other methods must be adopted by the country, through Parliament or through the local authorities, to provide employment for those who wish to find it. This Bill, which the hon. Member condemned, has that for one of its prinriples—
§ Mr. M'LEAN
All sorts of work. We do not define any particular kind of employment that the local authorities shall provide. That is a matter which can be debated in Committee, and I hope that my hon. Friend will vote for the Bill now he is made acquainted with its real object. 2435 We have been twitted from those benches with contradicting each other, but we have also had the spectacle to-day of the hon. Member opposite being contradicted by one of his own party.
§ Mr. M'LEAN
And I am afraid we also may object to some of your methods. What we wish adopted in the House to-day is the principle that it is the right of the community that the State, and by the State we mean the power reposed in this House by the nation, should look after the welfare of the nation. It is all very well to talk about building good houses, but if the people whom we put into those houses cannot find employment and are unable to bring home the wages which will enable them to purchase the necessaries of life so as to secure comfort and health, then your houses are going to be of no use; they will simply constitute a tragedy, so far as the people whom you put into them are concerned. We have just had a speech from the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Sexton), in which he discussed possible solutions of the land problem. The land question is one of those which lie at the root of unemployment, but there are other problems which we must keep in mind, and one of those problems is the duty of the Government to apply itself more religiously to the task of finding useful work for those at present out of employment. We have been told of the large number of people who are now in receipt of the unemployment donation. Why cannot the Government, instead of paying unemployment donations, find out a class of work which these people who are unemployed can be put to, instead of wasting their time hanging about the Labour Exchanges waiting to sign the unemployment book in order to qualify for the out-of-work grant? Why cannot the Government, instead of handing over this£1,000,000 weekly merely in return for signatures to a book, augment that sum and place in useful employment the people whom they are paying, the results of which employment can be sold by the Government at a sufficiently high profit to enable them to recoup themselves for the money spent? In the language of an old statesman, you arepaying the people to dig holes and fill them up again.2436 These people who are signing the books do not want to draw money merely for that. Every Member of this House is receiving, like myself, letters every day from men and women who are signing these unemployment books, asking if anything can be done in the way of finding them useful employment, so that they can say they are really living as men and women and doing their duty by the community. We know that this is not being found. One hon. Member said that the industrial unrest is causing certain captains of industry to hesitate about embarking in new industries. [An Hon. Member: "Hear, hear!"] Another hon. Member agrees. There may be something in that, but bear in mind that the very commencement of the industrial unrest was the unemployment which occurred immediately after the Armistice was signed. There you have cause and effect, and effect reacting back on cause and creating fresh causes. That is the vicious circle in which our system is moving, merely because the Government will not take their courage in their hands and go in for fresh endeavours to provide for the people those things which the people demand, namely, those sorts of employment which will enable them to have the dignity of free men and free women.
I do not know what attitude the Government intend to take up on this Bill. I sincerely hope, in the face of the large unemployment question, they are not going to reject the principle of this Bill. When we had great numbers of unemployed throughout the country, the only solution suggested under the old Government methods, and that local authorities suggested, was stone-breaking and the opening of soup kitchens for the distressed. Those things are no longer accepted by the people. They want neither soup kitchens nor the breaking of stones. The people outside are not asking for charity from the Government. They believe, with Carlyle, that they are capable of producing, if given the opportunity, more than is sufficient to provide themselves, with a healthy and happy life, and they are demanding from the Government, as the people responsible for looking after the destinies of the nation, and as the men in whose hands have been placed all the responsibilities of conducting the nation in the best interests of the whole population, that the Government shall give them, not charity, but the right to earn their own living in a free country.
The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Robert Home)
I confess I find myself in some difficulty with regard to this Bill. It was only printed yesterday. I saw it for the first time last night. It contains a very ambitious and far reaching scheme designed to prevent unemployment. It covers the activities, of many Government Departments, and before any conclusion can be come to upon a large number of the Clauses it would be necessary not only to have a consultation between these Government Departments, but an elaborate investigation into the activities of each in the separate spheres which come under the purview of this Bill. Accordingly I cannot confess to the House that I am in a position to deal with this scheme as I would have liked to deal with it. Indeed, I say at the outset that it would be quite impossible, during the short period which has been at my disposal, and looking at the fact that my duties at the present time and those of other Government Departments are multifarious and anxious, for the Government to have come to-day ready to support a Bill of this far reaching and important character. I should not like, however, to leave the matter there without expressing some opinion upon the provisions which are embodied in this measure. I should like first to express my complete accord with the sentiments which were expressed by the Mover and Seconder of the Second Reading of this Bill. There is no factor in our present system of life which is more distressing than that of unemployment, and if anybody can show me a means by which a panacea can be found for that great evil, if it is reasonable at all and will not involve still greater evils, then he will have my most ardent support.
The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Irving) asked us to give him and those who act with him credit for a desire to build the State upon a proper and true foundation. I do give him that credit. I refuse it to none on the benches opposite, but I ask them to give us credit for an equally ardent desire to settle our present industrial difficulties and to bring the condition of industry into a state of peace and harmony. Reference was made to the present state of unemployment in this country, and, indeed, the figures of the number of people at present in receipt of unemployment donation are very grave and disquieting. The hon. Member for Burnley stated that the Labour party had 2438 never wished for the unemployment donation—indeed, as I understood him, he thought that we would have been better without it. [Hon. Members: "No!"] If I misunderstood him, then I withdraw that; but at least he said they had never wished for it.
§ Sir R. HORNE
Then let me put it thus, that they had never wished for it, but they had wished for something which was represented by the provisions of this Bill. The hon. Member for Burnley said that he was not familiar with the Clauses of the Bill. I think that explains why he was unaware that the provisions of the Bill itself are exactly on the lines of what the Government is at present doing, and, indeed, they make permanent the system which the hon. Member for Burnley deplores. If you look at Clause 16, Sub-section (2), of the Bill you will find it provides that it shall be the duty of unemployment committees which are to be set up under the local authorities to do one of two things in the case of unemployment, either to provide a person who is out of work with suitable employment under the provisions of the Bill, or to provide him and his dependants with maintenance sufficient to maintain him in a state of physical efficiency. The reason why people are unemployed to-day, and are in receipt of the unemployment donation, is because work cannot be provided for them, and therefore the first part of the Clause becomes operative. You are immediately driven to the alternative, which is to provide these people and their dependants with suitable maintenance, and accordingly what the hon. Member (Mr. Irving)seeks to do by this Bill is to render perpetual a temporary system which he at present deplores. I agree with him when he said that we could not, and we must not, if we did not wish to demoralise the State, perpetuate the system of unemployment donation, and accordingly I look with considerable anxiety to the provisions of this Clause, and at the moment, agreeing with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member, I should find it impossible to give it my support.
There is another reason why I think the Government to-day must find it impossible to support the Clauses of this measure. An industrial Conference was recently called to consider in some detail the present state of disquiet in industrial life. 2439 One of the results of that Conference was that certain Committees were set up to deal with particular topics. One of these Committees has as its specific duty to suggest what should be done to deal permanently with the question of unemployment in the country. Its discussions are going on from day to day, and we look with great hope for their result, but until it reports it would be obviously improper for the Government to pre-judge the question which has been committed to it, and to come to any definite conclusion. Accordingly, with regard to these Clauses dealing with the alleged prevention of unemployment, the Government is not in a position at this time to give them their support.
There are other provisions in the measure which are more fruitful. It is suggested in several of the Clauses that means should be taken by the Government to regularise the work of the country. It is pointed out that the great Government Departments and local government authorities are from time to time giving out great works which require to be performed in the country. The suggestion of the Bill is that the Ministry of Labour should communicate with each of these Government Departments to arrange if possible that the contracts should be placed so as to suit the conditions of industry from time to time. That is to say, you would so arrange the placing of your contracts that they would operate in the seasons when private enterprise is slack. That is a matter which the Ministry of Labour is already dealing with. For many weeks the Government Departments have had before them the necessity of giving immediate contracts to the industries which at present show the largest number of unemployed. The setting up of the Ministry of Supply, which has become the centre from which nearly all Government contracts are sent out, will also we think help in this regard because it is possible, when you have all these matters in the hands of one Minister, so to arrange the placing of the contracts that, taking a large view of the work which he is able to give out, he will be able to distribute it in such a way as to ensure employment in slack seasons when people in this country are in general under-employed. But it does not require any Government measure to bring that about. I could have understood a Bill for that purpose if it provided that every Government Department must 2440 take its orders from the Ministry of Labour to place contracts, but I do not think that would be a very sound measure. When it only provides that the Minister of Labour shall communicate with the various Government Departments, any legislative enactment is entirely unnecessary for the purpose, and I am in a position to assure the House that its provisions are already being carried out.
There are only two other matters in the measure to which I need refer. It is proposed to transfer a large number of the duties of other Departments to the Ministry of Labour, and in particular duties which at present are performed by the Local Government Board, by the Board of Trade, and by the Home Office. The duties of the Local Government Board which it is proposed to transfer are those connected with the Poor Law, and it is provided in Clause 2 that the Ministry of Labour shall take over the relief of the able-bodied poor, including workmen in distress, and vagrants, and the duties of boards of guardians. That may be right or not. I am not in a position, for the reasons I have told the House, to say whether that is a wise measure or not. But it is perfectly obvious that it requires a great deal of discussion with the Local Government Board before the Government could agree to any such powers being transferred. In answer to a question only a few days ago, the Local Government Board gave the House some indication of their reorganising the system in connection with Poor Law relief. Under these conditions, I am certain the House will not expect me to give any opinion at present as to the measures which should in future be taken as between the Ministry of Labour and the Local Government Board. Similarly, in the case of the Board of Trade, it is proposed that the Ministry of Labour should take over the duties of the investigations which have to be made in connection with boiler explosions, railways, merchant shipping, notice of accidents, and the Railways Employment Act. Again, without pronouncing any opinion upon these matters, although it is perfectly certain with regard to what is proposed in relation to the Mercantile Marine, it would be quite impossible to divide up the duties of the Board of Trade and commit some of them to the Ministry of Labour and retain others in the Board of Trade—without pronouncing any opinion upon that, it is perfectly clear that the Govern- 2441 ment cannot support at this short notice a measure in these terms. With regard to the Home Office, the proposal of the Bill is that factory and coal-mines inspection should be taken over by the Ministry of Labour, and also that the Ministry of Labour should perform all the duties of the Home Office in regard to aliens. There may be a case, and I think probably in future there will be a case, for the Ministry taking over factory inspection, and perhaps also coal-mines inspection, though that is more difficult, but in the meantime it would be impossible to commit oneself to any conclusion upon that topic. Certainly in regard to aliens it is perfectly plain that the duty of deciding who shall be admitted to this country as aliens, and who shall be excluded from it, is a business with which the Ministry of Labour ought to have nothing whatsoever to do. These are the main provisions of the Bill.
There are certain other provisions with which I am entirely in sympathy. It is proposed, for example, that in certain employment where labour is apt to become decasualised, there being no central mechanism which can deal with it, that labour should only be taken on through the Employment Exchanges. I think it is very likely that we should get considerable opposition from some of the trade unions upon this matter, and perhaps also from employers because there has been a certain view taken of the Employment Exchanges in the past which, whether it was justified or not in the past, is not justified to-day—at least I hope it is not justified. However, I think a great deal might be done to prevent decasualisation of labour if we had in connection with certain trades some such system as the Bill suggests. Again, in the matter of training it is proposed that people who are out of employment might have an opportunity of training given to them by the Government. We are having some experience of that matter at the present time in the training of discharged soldiers, and when we have discovered from experience, exactly what the benefits are which we realise by that system we shall be in a position to forma conclusive opinion as to what may be done in relation to the unemployed.
I am sure the House will realise the position in which the Government stands to-day in regard to this measure. It is called the Prevention of Unemployment Bill. If it prevented unemployment, if 2442 we thought there was a reasonable hope that this Bill would prevent unemployment, it would have our full and ardent support, but at the present time the Government is investigating, through the Committees I have described, the very problem which this Bill sets itself up to tackle. Therefore, if we are not in a position to support this Bill, it is not because we do not desire to take every reasonable measure to prevent unemployment, but because we think that this Bill is not well designed for that purpose. Accordingly I have to state on behalf of the Government that, with every good will in the world to take every measure with the same object in view as those who promote this Bill, the Government is unable to give this particular measure their support.
Mr. A. DAVIS
The reception that this Bill has had has been rather of a mixed kind. In some quarters of the House it has received whole-hearted support, and in others half-hearted support, or opposition. I think I am right in saying that at any rate the right hon. Gentleman subscribes to one of its main principles. The principal propositions of this Bill are twofold. The first is that the Government should utilise all its powers to co-ordinate and compel local authorities to assist in avoiding unemployment. With that particular part of the Bill I believe the right hon. Gentleman is in agreement. It is when we come to the second Clause that the whole opposition is shown. The second principle of the Bill provides for maintenance during a period of enforced idleness. I submit that that is a reasonable demand. If our economic system is of such a character that it cannot find employment for its citizens, then it is the duty of the Government to provide maintenance for its citizens during that period of enforced idleness. If this were a passing phase of our industrial and social system we should not be so much concerned, but all students of economics and of social science know particularly well that this thing is bound to operate in a competitive system of industry and a competitive system of society similar to the one under which we live. It is on account of that inevitability and the unemployment surplus in such a system that we desire to get on record the right of a man to maintenance if he is willing to work but cannot get employment. The probabilities of unemployment in the most acute stage are more likely to develop in the near future than they have done 2443 during the past history of this matter. That may be an alarmist view. It may be looked upon as a sort of exaggeration of conjecture, but I want to read an extract from the "Times" of 28th September, of a speech delivered by a Noble Lord who I believe is the chairman of the John Brown Shipbuilding Company, Limited. He said:It might interest them—he was addressing the shareholders—to learn what the working men of the country at large were doing. They had strikes and disputes, far too many of them, he admitted, but there was a brighter side to it. If they took the nation as a whole its man-power in production had increased by 30 per cent. over that in normal times"—I want to emphasise that particular part—though with 30 per cent. less male population to do it. Those were, at any rate, very remarkable figures. With regard to coal, the country was producing within 10 per cent of its pre-war standard, although tens of thousands of miners had gone to the front. Although it was regrettable that the miners were not working all the time they might be expected to, the output per man in the collieries was greater than it was before the War. With regard to pig iron, the output was normal in spite of the depletion of men; and in regard to steel, they were actually turning out 20 per cent. more than the pre-war standard. These were fairly encouraging figures from the point of view of the development of the country.That means that on the pre-war basis of production you can produce sufficient to supply all the home markets and all the foreign markets and still have a surplus of 30 per cent., which is equivalent to saying that, with all the millions of men away, with the available power that we had in our possession at the time we were capable of producing 30 per cent. more than we did in pre-war times. It means that private enterprise, for the purpose of absorbing the whole of this available labour supply, will have to change entirely its mode of business and procedure, and we are afraid that as private enterprise has failed in the past to absorb the unemployed element, so it will be when these changed conditions come round. The point that I want to emphasise principally is this, that unless the Government do take steps to deal with this possible contingency the country will be thrown into such a state of desuetude and poverty that the germs of revolution may develop. I want them to realise that it is impossible out of the present competitive system to absorb the unemployed.
We further desire that the Government should accept the principle, that if a man 2444 through, no fault of his own is forced into a state of unemployment he should receive maintenance during the period of idleness. In all essentials this Bill is representative of St. Paul's dictum. I remember one of the greatest luminaries perhaps of the Church many years ago speaking at a Church Congress in Manchester, the late Venerable Archdeacon Wilson, and he said that St. Paul's dictum, "He who will not work, neither shall he eat," carries with it the very converse axiom that "he who is willing to work shall eat." That is what we want you to insert in this Bill. We want you to accept the responsibility of recognising that if a man is willing to work, and he cannot find employment, the onus is upon the Government, in some shape or form, to meet his maintenance during the period of enforced idleness. The Government have insistently and regularly advocated the principle of intensive production to meet the financial difficulties of the times. What can be more farcical than an unemployed problem, in view of the demand for intensive production? So long as human needs are not supplied there is employment to be given. So long as any child, woman, or man is in lack of material things of life there is employment to be found; and the War has demonstrated, perhaps as it was never demonstrated before, that if you give the people facility, give them access to raw material, they will be in a position to produce not only a sufficiency of the things that are necessary for human use, but an amplitude. I want the Government not to bland for vested interests, whether they be the landed monopolists or otherwise, and that, if they be the barrier that comes between the available labour supply and the raw material for the purpose of supplying that human need, that barrier must be removed. That is our position. We ask the Government, pending the realisation of normal times and the general improvement of the basis of society while these problems confront us, to accept this Bill, particularly that Clause which says that if a man is unable to get employment through no fault of his own, he shall receive maintenance during his periods of enforced idleness.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I regret the intimation which my right hon. Friend has given that he does not intend, so far as he is concerned, to allow a Second Reading of this Bill. I intend to vote for it, because the principle of the Bill is a perfectly 2445 sound one—the co-ordination of the various agencies which are attempting, most ineffectively at the present moment, to deal with what must become a vast and increasing problem of our industrial difficulties. My hon. Friend who has just spoken, rather suggested that the principle, that the State should see that the person who is out of work through no fault of his own, should be maintained, is a new one, but it is not. It was laid down as long ago as the 13th of Elizabeth—I forget the chapter. That principle is envisaged in the whole of our legislation, but the maintenance of a person who cannot find work has been thrown largely upon that now discredited agency the Poor Law authorities. When I say "discredited agency "I do not wish for a moment to suggest that the Poor Law authorities have not done, and are not doing, most valuable work. Still, I should have hoped that the Government might have let this measure have a Second Reading. I quite admit, as far as I have been able to see it—and my hon. Friend must excuse me for saying so—that it bears every evidence of being hastily and crudely drawn. That is no doubt due to the fact that we did not know that there was going to be a private Members' day, or what would be the result of the ballot, and probably the measure was rather hastily drawn up. It is quite clear the principle is sound. It would have been very efficacious to have had this measure dealt with in Committee upstairs, and I do not think myself as time goes on that the House will find itself very overburdened with work. I shall vote for this measure on the ground, as I have said, that the principle is perfectly sound, and that is the co-ordination and further development of the principle expressly implied by our legislation of the maintenance of the unemployed by the State. I think it would have been a very excellent idea to have allowed the question to go upstairs.
§ 3.0. P.M.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
This Bill is called a Bill for the prevention of unemployment. I think everybody here realises that if unemployment were prevented a great deal more than unemployment would be affected in this country. Unemployment is the basis of our existing social order. I have heard it said that it is impossible for the engineering trade to flourish in this country without a margin of 5 per cent unemployment. Indeed, if there were not unemployed men how could 2446 labour be obtained at such ridiculously cheap prices? It is the presence of the unemployed men outside the gates that keeps down the wages in spite of the strongest trade unions, and it is the presence of the unemployed men wandering from door to door looking for work that has caused the exploitation of labour throughout the world. Therefore if we could deal with the unemployed evil great indeed would be the benefit to the whole of the community, not perhaps the whole of it, but to those people who produce the wealth of the world. I believe at the present time that it is going to be more and more realised that the great cause of unrest in this country is not poverty but a sense of injustice and of slavery among the working classes. Therefore it is of vital importance that we in this House should apply our minds to the problem of getting rid of the evil and not merely of dealing with the results of an unjust system. This Bill is, I think, a mere palliative. It is clearly meant to help a man to tide over the difficult time when he is looking for a job, and it is from that point of view we have to examine the provisions of the Bill. The first part of the Bill deals with the taking over by the Ministry of Labour of the powers which are at present exercised by other Government Departments. I do not think that that needs any criticism on my part, except to say that I believe at present the least efficient of all the Government Departments is the Department of Labour. I should mention that the new Minister has, of course, only recently taken office. The first part of the Bill also deals with the question of seasonal unemployment, and it is provided that the Government are to take steps to see that wherever possible Government money is spent when there is considerable unemployment and not at times when full employment is available. That I must say generally means that the Government is having its work done in an uneconomic way and at a time when labour is not so productive as at other times. I do not think the first part of the Bill needs much defence or much criticism. It seems obvious that if you have an ideal Department of Labour that such a Department would be the best to deal with all questions of unemployment. The serious Clauses of this Bill are Clauses 10 and 16. In Clause 10 it is proposed that the Minister of Labour is to take powers to establish 2447 receiving-houses for temporary accommodation and residential and training establishments. I am not particularly enamoured of this Clause. I think what we really have got to see is that any establishment like that does not tend to enslave those who become subject to this form of relief. I have the greatest possible suspicion of bureaucracy with training establishments throughout the country. I have a grave suspicion that these training establishments will be run with what is called a labour test, and it is almost impossible to run them without a labour test. When you have a labour test, and the support of a man and his wife and family dependent on whether he passes the labour test or not, you are verging uncomfortably close to indentured labour, which is a condition of labour we do not want to see re-established in the civilised world. It is to be observed that in these establishments the man is not to be paid a wage which bears any comparison with the work he does. Whether he works well or badly, all he gets for himself and his family is maintenance. I prefer a system under which every worker should have a full reward for his labour, and not receive simply sufficient to keep him alive. We do not want these training establishments with one eye or both eyes directed towards supplying capital with efficient cheap labour. What we want to see is that the men who are driven into the unemployed markets are kept men and not turned into machines. Clause 16 deals with the duties of the local authorities, who are to see that any man out of work is provided with work by a local authority or passed on to the training establishments. Let me call special attention to this provision. Employment may be offered at a wage and hours of labour not lower than those commonly obtaining for such employment within the area of the local body. For instance, if a skilled engineer is offered work as a labourer and refuses because the wages are not perhaps half the standard rate of that of an engineer he is precluded from receiving any assistance during his unemployment. We have seen in the last two or three months when people were demobilised and were out of work for other reasons, they did not refuse any work offered to them, but in many cases, certainly in three cases which came to my personal knowledge, people were offered work in a trade which 2448 was not their own, and was less well paid and away from their homes, and if this is going to be the test in this Bill, it will tend to a State-owned and State-controlled working class which I for one very much dislike.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I think the hon. Member has omitted to notice that it is suggested in this Bill that the work to be provided must be suitable, and the same applies to what is going on to-day.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Yes, it must be suitable, and if that applies today we will have the same system under the Bill.
§ Sir R. HORNE
Of course there must be exceptions to the rule, but suitable employment must, as far as possible, be offered.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Of course the word "suitable" is capable of many readings. It may mean employment in a trade other than a man's own trade, or may mean offering unskilled work to a, skilled man. I do not think you want to jump at every Bill simply because it labels itself as a Bill to prevent unemployment, and as a measure for the welfare of the working classes. I want hon. Members to look at it and see whether in the guise of offering benefits to the working classes it has elements of bureaucracy and coercion. There is a tendency, unfortunately, to turn men into machines in the developments of the modern labour situation. I ask Members to realise what these proposals might mean to the whole of the labour world. The hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. A. Davis) pointed out that this Bill did not cover the whole matter. I believe that people will come to realise what the present situation is. On one side of a brick wall you find a man who is anxious, willing, and able to work, and on the other side you find the raw materials with which alone he can go to work—the land, the mills, and the other works. The obvious way is to break down the barrier which separates him from that raw material. I had an experience soon after the South African War of bringing the unemployed into touch with raw material. We were then faced with the same problem of unemployment, which we shall have to face within the next six months under the present system. I was the magistrate at Ermelo, and we had in that district a number of men, such as Colonials and Boers, going back to their own place. It 2449 was a blessed country in which there was no Poor Law and no workhouses, and anybody who could not find work and keep himself, had nowhere to go but to go to gaol. There was a quantity of coal and about 5,000 acres of town lands. I was resident magistrate, but I did not know much about the law. I knew that nobody claimed this land. There was this open access to the coal; you could go to the hillside and take it. I told these men who were unemployed, that if any of them would take twenty-five acres and make a house for himself he could do so, and I saw that they were provided with seeds, and they managed to settle down upon the land. There was no rent and no taxes to pay. Everything they produced was their own property. They were not robbed by anyone; there was no capitalist there to rob them. They worked there for two years, and the unemployment difficulty was solved and we got cheap vegetables and cheap coal. Then the employers came, and said, "How is Ermelo to be reconstructed and how are its industries to be boomed? How are we going to solve it when the unskilled labourer wants£1 a day?" I said, "I was sorry." I found that the men would not work for masters for less than they could get when working for themselves. Some of them would not work for masters even if they got more than double, because they were willing to make a sacrifice of wages to preserve their liberty.
That was an instance of an experience in which the barrier was broken down between the unemployed and the materials to do their work, and it required no special legislation and no grants. The same thing would happen here if the barrier could be broken down. I want everyone to realise that when you see a vacant plot of land, either in London or in the country, it means that a man must be out of work, because he should be engaged on that land building houses or doing other work, and men are out of work in the building trade. We want to deal with everything that prevents the producer from getting access to the raw material and to deal with the law which says that a man who has land and does not use it shall be protected. If land was taken as it was for allotments, the law would protect the vested interests of the landowner. We do not say a man has no right to private property, but we do say that a man who holds land and prevents other people from using it should not receive 2450 benefits from the State and should pay rates and taxes whether he uses it or not. There is sufficient raw material, agricultural land, coal, and other material to supply employment for everybody who wants to work in producing them and working them up into the finished article; but you have the system of landlord-made law which prevents the people from having, access to these materials. Suppose we were able to send a deputation to the High Court of Heaven to represent the poverty and misery arising out of unemployment. What answer would he get? "Are not many of the lands and mines, not in use, and could they not be used for the employment of labour?" What answer should we make? "We know well we have sufficient raw materials, but these materials are blocked and clogged up in consequence of the law which prevents people from getting access to them and by the existence of a system of private property, which brings about much of this poverty and slavery."
§ Sir W. RAEBURN
I am not going to follow the hon. Member who has just spoken. I have been accustomed to meetings where irrelevancy is put down very quickly, and I am not going to take up the time of this Assembly by talking irrelevancy. I would recommend the hon. Member, if he wants the doctrines that he has been preaching carried out, namely, that each man should be his own employer, to read the history of the Lane Expedition from Australia to Argentine.
§ Sir W. RAEBURN
It is no use anyone on this side saying they have any sympathy with the working classes, because it seems as if that were a monopoly of the other side. All I can say is that I have probably done as much in my days for the working classes as any Member on the other side of the House, and I would like hon. Members of this House to understand that employers of labour are not only out for profit. We do not conduct our business simply for pounds, shillings, and pence. We have a much greater pride in the conducting of our industry than that. I am a member of a great trade of this country whose services to the country have not been as well recognised in some parts of this House as they ought to have been. I speak as a shipowner. We have had a great deal said about profiteering. 2451 but at the present time I myself am continuing in that trade not because I am looking out for the pounds, shilling, and pence, but because I believe it to be a trade necessary to this country, and I am not going to throw away the experience of a lifetime now to take my ease when I see the country so much needing the services of those who have been accustomed to doing their best for it all the years of their lives. Now, in regard to this question of unemployment, it is a very strange thing that at the present time there are any number of employers looking for more men to do their work. My great difficulty at the moment is to get men, and not to find work for them. I do not know, but I suppose in a period of demobilisation and in the aftermath of a great war like this, there must be patience exercised on all sides. You cannot begin to find places for every man who comes forward immediately he does come forward. I do not understand the demobilisation scheme, but it seems to me that there are many men being demobilised for whom it is difficult to find places and that there are a great many who are being kept in the Army who have places in employment crying out for them. That is not a thing that the private employer can control. It is a very difficult thing for the Government, and I believe they are trying to do their best. The great cry is for the Government to find employment. May I tell my hon. Friends opposite that one of the reasons it is so difficult to get employment just now is this very unrest that they are talking about. Take shipbuilding. At the present time many of us are anxious to get out large orders for building, but what is the position? You cannot get any shipbuilder to give you any fixed price for their ships as they used to do. They say they will contract on one condition only, and that is time and line and a certain percentage. They say that at the present moment they really do not know what coal is going to cost them or what steel is going to cost, and they do not know whether the men will insist on a forty-hour week. How is it possible for anyone to place an order under circumstances like that? Then again, we have got to contend with the whole world. There is tonnage being built in Japan and in America, and if we were to order tonnage at the present time we do not know what the cost would be, and after we had got them it would be impossible to run them without 2452 a serious loss. I have passed through many periods and very few of prosperity, but a great many of adversity. When freights are poor—[An HON. MEMBER: "When!"]
The hon. Member who says "when" cannot know very much about it, for they are very seldom good. The general state of the shipping trade was such for years and years that it was considered one of the very worst investments in the country. I once went to the Leader of this House and asked him to take shares in a shipping concern, and he said "Shipping is the worst investment in Great Britain. "I am only mentioning this to show that when freights are bad ships are laid up and men are out of employment. An hon. Member said that the warehouses of Manchester were full of goods and that overproduction was an evil.
§ Sir W. RAEBURN
The reason why we are not getting rid of even what we are producing is because other nations are able to supply the wants of the world at lower prices than we can. The other day a well-known firm in Glasgow had an order from Australia for a very large quantity of plates and angles. They sent out a reply to that inquiry, and the answer they got back was, "We have placed the contract at the same price in Australia as you are asking for it delivered on board in Glasgow." The order was lost; ergo some unemployment over that. Take coal. My own firm about a month ago wanted to fix a steamer with a cargo of 6,000 tons of coal for the Argentine, but the reply came that the order had been fixed at 20s. a ton less. The hon. Gentleman opposite talked as if the Government should provide employment and pay employment. Suppose all the dividends that have been declared in this country during the last year were taken and divided amongst the working classes, it would not give those classes as much advance in wages as they have got in the case of one single strike. But would there be any profit at all to divide if the Government were the traders, and manufacturers, and ship owners? I venture to say that instead of there being a profit the taxpayer would have had to pay the lot. I am sure my right hon. Friend the Minister for Labour is a man whom no man need envy. He has a gigantic task before him, and I believe that night and day he is labouring to do his very best to remedy the evils that 2453 this Bill seeks to remedy, but which, if passed, it would never remedy. But by the methods that he has adopted I believe, in the course of time, a very great deal can be done. But there is no doubt that this country is in a very difficult and anxious position at the present time. We have got creditors all over the world, and there is only one way that can make us as a nation retrieve the losses we have made, and keep the rank we have always had amongst the nations of the world, and that is by getting more work out of the working hours of the day. I hope my hon. Friends on the other side, who speak quite plainly to us, will pardon me if I say it was quite notorious for a long time before the War that the ca' canny policy was advocated by a great many of the Labour leaders, and it has been carried out. I have the testimony of one of the largest employers of labour—a man well known in this House, and who has done good work during the War. About two years ago, when a great delegation came to see over his works, he showed what could be done in production. He said, "We have got in our employment now a very large number of women. They had not been in our works a week before they turned out three times the work that had been turned out before."
As to sweating, there is no one who would be more against sweating anybody than I am. I have never had a six, seven or eight hours' day all the days of my life, and the great captains of industry are not the idle rich, but they are, many of them, men who have risen from the ranks, and have begun this world with just as little as the poorest man in this House. Yet,
§ by their industry, by their enterprise, and by their assiduity and concentration of mind on their work, they have achieved immense success in this world and in their work. Let any Member here go through such works as those of Fairfield's or John Brown and Company. Look what the invention of men's minds has done to give labour the chance of work! Look at the splendid organisation! Is this all to be scrapped and done by the State? You make the greatest mistake in the world when you suggest getting the State to take the industries out of the hands of what you call capitalists. You are only going in a few years to lead this country and the Empire to absolute ruin. I say that what is going to get rid of unemployment, so far as that is possible, is not class jealousy or preaching nationalisation. It is the employer and the employed putting their heads together, and trying to work harmoniously. I do not know what employers some hon. Members have come across, but I am mixing both with working men and employers, and I see a great deal of very good will between them and among them, and I hope that, instead of anything being done to injure that good will, we shall co-operate, as we are trying to do through these industrial councils. I believe good can come out of these conferences that are now going on; I have come from one to-day, where there is the best hope of achieving the end hon. Members wish, rather than through a Bill which is, I believe, inherently mischievous.
§ Question put, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 56; Noes, 108.2455
|Division No. 15.]||AYES.||[3.30 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. William||Hallas, E.||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Barnes, Major H. (Newcastle, E.)||Hayday, A.||Sexton, James|
|Bell, James (Ormskirk)||Hirst, G. H.||Shaw, Hon. A. (Kilmarnock)|
|Benn, Capt. W. (Leith)||Holmes, J. S.||Shaw, Tom (Preston)|
|Brace, Rt. Hon. William||Irving, Dan||Short, A. (Wednesbury)|
|Broad, Thomas Tucker||Johnstone, J.||Smith, Capt. A. (Nelson and Colne)|
|Brown, J. (Ayr and Bute)||Jones, J. (Silvertown)||Smith, W. (Wellingborough)|
|Carter, W. (Mansfield)||Kiley, James Daniel||Spencer, George A.|
|Cowan, Sir W. (Aberdeen and Kinc.)||Lunn, William||Spoor, B. G.|
|Crooks, Rt. Hon. William||Maclean, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (Midlothian)||Swan, J. E. C.|
|Davies, Alfred (Ciltheroe)||M'Lean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Taylor, J. W. (Chester-le-Street)|
|Davison, J. E. (Smethwick)||Morgan, Major D. Watts||Thomas, Brig.-Gen. Sir O. (Anglesey)|
|Devlin, Joseph||Murray, Dr. D. (Western Isles)||Tootill, Robert|
|Edwards, C. (Bedwellty)||Onions, Alfred||Waterson, A. E.|
|Edwards, J. H. (Glam., Neath)||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Wedgwood, Col. Josiah C.|
|Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Redmond, Captain William A.||Wignall, James|
|Graham, W. (Edinburgh)||Rees, Captain J. Tudor (Barnstaple)|
|Green, A. (Derby)||Richards, Rt. Hon. Thomas||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr.|
|Griffiths, T. (Pontypool)||Richardson, R. (Houghton)||Tyson Wilson and Mr. Frederick|
|Grundy, T. W.||Rose, Frank H.||Hall.|
|Adair, Rear-Admiral||Archdale, Edward M.||Baldwin, Stanley|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Bagley, Captain E. A.||Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir F. G.|
|Banner, Sir J. S. Harmood||Hilder, Lieut.-Col. F.||Norris, Colonel Sir Henry G.|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Hopkins, J. W. W.||Parker, James|
|Benn, Sir Arthur S. (Plymouth)||Home, Sir Robert (Hillhead)||Pinkham, Lieut.-Col. Charles|
|Bennett, T. J.||Hunter, Gen. Sir A. (Lancaster)||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Assheton|
|Borwick, Major G. O.||Hurd, P. A.||Pretyman, Rt. Hon. Ernest G.|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. W. E.||Jesson, C.||Purchase, H. G.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Raeburn, Sir William|
|Breese, Major C. E.||Joynson-Hicks, William||Raw, Lt.-Col. Dr. N.|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Kerr-Smiley, Major P.||Reid, D. D.|
|Buckley, Lt.-Col. A.||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Richardson, Alex. (Gravesend)|
|Burdon, Col. Rowland||Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Glasgow)||Roberts, Sir S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)|
|Burn, Col. C. R. (Torquay)||Lewis, T. A. (Pontypridd, Glam.)||Roundell, Lt.-Col. R. F.|
|Burn, T. H. (Belfast)||Lindsay, William Arthur||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Norwood)|
|Campbell, J. G. D.||Lloyd, George Butler||Sprot, Col. Sir Alexander|
|Carew, Charles R. S. (Tiverton)||Locker-Lampson G. (Wood Green)||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (Ashton)|
|Chadwick, R. Burton||Lonsdale, James R.||Stewart, Gershom|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Lorden, John William||Sturrock, J. Leng-|
|Coote, W. (Tyrone, S.)||Lort-Williams, J.||Sutherland, Sir William|
|Craig, Capt. C.(Antrim)||Loseby, Captain C. E.||Sykes, Sir C. (Huddersfield)|
|Croft, Brig.-Gen. Henry Page||Lowther, Major C. (Cumberland, N.)||Talbot, Rt. Hon. Lord E. (Chichester)|
|Davies, M. Vaughan- (Cardigan)||M'Guffin, Samuel||Talbot, G. A (Hemel Hempstead)|
|Dixon, Captain H.||M'Lean, Lt.-Col. C. W. W. (Brigg)||Terrell, G. (Chippenham, Wilts.)|
|Dockrell, Sir M.||Macmaster, Donald||Tryon, Major George Clement|
|Donald, T.||Magnus, Sir Philip||Ward-Jackson, Major C. L.|
|Eyres-Monsell, Com.||Moles, Thomas||Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)|
|Farquharson, Major A. C.||Molson, Major John Elsdale||Wardle, George J.|
|Fell, Sir Arthur||Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. C. T.||Weigall, Lt.-Col. W. E. G. A.|
|Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Moreing, Captain Algernon H.||Wigan, Brig.-Gen. John Tyson|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. John||Morrison-Bell, Major A. C.||Wilson, Daniel M. (Down, W.)|
|Gould, J. C.||Mosley, Oswald||Woods, Sir Robert|
|Gretton, Col. John||Murchison, C. K.||Yate, Col. Charles Edward|
|Guest, Capt. Hon. F. E. (Dorset, E.)||Murray, Lt.-Col. Hon. A. C. (Aberdeen)||Younger, Sir George|
|Hambro, Angus Valdemar||Murray, Major C. D. (Edinburgh, S.)|
|Hennessy, Major G.||Murray, John (Leeds, W.)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr.|
|Herbert, Dennis (Hertford)||Nicholson, W. (Petersfield)||Pratt and Lieut.-Col. Stanley.|
Bill read a second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.