§ Mr. HOGGE
On Monday afternoon of this week a large procession of discharged men met outside the House of Commons in order to bring before the attention of the House certain grievances which they felt ought to be brought to our notice, and in the course of incidental circumstances attached to all public demonstrations, coming into conflict with the police, there were certain disturbances with which I am certain most of us are more or less familiar. On that point I do not want to raise any question at all. After all, the psychology of a crowd is a curious study, and if you get some 10,000 to 15,000 discharged men stopped in their progress to this House, whether they have a right to come here or not, and getting into conflict with the police, then certain circumstances ensue which are natural to such an operation, and I do not want to take up the time of the House discussing those incidental happenings. I wish to try, if I can, to concentrate our attention upon the causes underlying the need for any kind of action of that sort on the part of the discharged men. I am perfectly certain that the House will agree that those discharged men did not commit a breach of the peace simply for the fun of doing it, and that there were, as I hope to prove, certain very substantial reasons which actuated the men in the steps which they took.
I can give the House a short narrative of what led up to this position. Earlier on the Monday a deputation of an organisation which is quite well known in the country, and which has a membership of over 1,000,000 discharged and demobilised men, waited on the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Wardle). So far they have been unable to see my right hon. Friend (Sir R. Home), owing to the pressure of other business. They do not complain about that. I am only interpolating that to remind the House that my right hon. Friend did not 1266 see them personally, and his capable Under-Secretary was called upon to deal with the question. The House will understand the position much better if I give them a summary of the points made to my hon. Friend. The first of the points dealt with the appeal of the Prime Minister to employers of labour, asking them to do all in their power to secure employment for those men, and the men reminded my hon. friend that, for whatever reason—I am not stopping to discuss that—the appeal of the Prime Minister has been more or less a complete failure. The response of the employers of labour to the Prime Minister's appeal has been practically nil—at any rate, if not quite nil it has been a very small contribution towards the solution of the difficulty. The second point, raised by those men was the question of what is popularly known as the Rother ford scheme. That is the scheme by which employers of labour will take into their employ, pro rata, a number of disabled men in proportion to the total of employés at their works. The third point raised was the promise of the Ministry itself to erect and control factories where light employment could be found, particularly for disabled men. The fourth point was the question of training in all its various aspects. The fifth point was the number of Service men who were unemployed, and in connection with that, what the deputation wanted to know was the schemes of public importance that were coming into immediate operation, the steps that were being taken to expedite works of public importance throughout the country, the view of the Ministry with regard to the continued employment of women in what were men's occupations, the question as to how far married men who were disabled could be sent away from their own homes to other parts of the country to obtain employment. The sixth point raised was the question of the permanent employment of ex-Service men in Government and controlled factories. The seventh point was the contractual obligations of employers who has promised their men. that, if they joined the Colours, their posts would be kept open for them, and the men drew the attention of the Ministry of Labour to the fact that there had been a great discrepancy between the promise and the performance. And the eighth and last point was the question of preference for ex-Service men now employed in Government Departments, particularly men in the-Ministry of Pensions.
1267 The House will agree that the subject matter of that deputation was not only of interest to discharged men as a whole, but to every Minister who is interested in fulfilling the obligations not only of the Government—because, after all, I am quite free to admit that these obligations are not merely Government obligations, but are national obligations. Everyone of us, what ever his politics, is pledged up to the hilt to see that the bill which those men have rendered to us for their sacrifices is receipted. And I should be the last person to suggest that in this discussion, which I hope will result in some good to these men, there should be any party discussion. I want, if it is possible for a hardened politician like myself, to throw off all party. I want to deal with it from the point of view that we all, as Members of this House, are anxious to fulfil our obligations, and, if we can, to stop the repetition of what happened the other day outside this House. I hope that I may keep the introductory remarks on that level, and that everybody will do the same. I have no political animus in the matter.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I have no objection to my hon. Friend's remembering, if he does not become vocal. It is quite true that the demonstration in London was the one which we had experience of, but it was only one of a great number held all over the country. I would like, in discussing this, to remind my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, and also my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, whom we are glad to have with us listening to the Debate, that there are other deep-seated forces which are contributing to the unrest among discharged and demobilised men. Let me run over one or two of those contributory causes, which, I think, every Member of the House will agree are very real. Take, first of all, what I may call the minor grievances of these men. There is the grievance associated with demobilisation. We have heard in Question and Answer to-day references to the fact—every Member of this House knows it—that one feels it almost hopeless to approach the War Office just now on questions of demobilisation. We merely get 1268 the usual phrases, which might as well be printed and hung up in the Lobbies. "Owing to the exigencies of military service," it is practically no use approaching them on this matter. These men feel, as is perfectly natural, that they went into the Army through medical boards with a celerity which is incomparable with the delay which takes place in getting them out of the Army, in getting their demobilisation accounts settled with their paymaster, and in receiving their War Service gratuity. It is perfectly natural for a man to say, "In the first place, when you wanted me to fight, you had no difficulty about it; you could provide all the facilities, and I was in the Army before I knew where I was. Now that you are getting rid of me I have the utmost difficulty in getting the things which you say I am entitled to." That is a very large contributory cause of the discontent which prompts such demonstrations as we had hero the other day. A second minor grievance, which I think is worth recording, is as to the amount of the War Service gratuity which is paid to a man on demobilisation. Assuming that a man has served four years—which is a large asumption, most men having served less than that—and assuming that there are no deductions for Service gratuity under the famous 1117/1914, his War Service gratuity is £23. As compared with that figure, the Government is offering a Bounty of £50 to men who re-engage in the Army of Occupation. The average man who has fought throughout the last four years—and many of them have been demobilised with wound stripes—is actually in the position of getting less than half the money—he having fought—than the man who has re-engaged in the Army of Occupation, and will probably not have any fighting to do. That, again, is a large contributory cause to these men's discontent.
The second general heading is the question of housing as it affects the discharged men. There is no doubt that there is tremendous discontent among discharged and demobilised men on account of the fact that they cannot get a roof over their heads, or, if and when they can, it is a very unsatisfactory roof. I have here a dossier of over a thousand cases collected here in London, every one of which is guaranteed and the original of every one of which I can produce if my right hon. Friend wants it. I want to rend only two of those letters in order that the House 1269 may realise what is at the bottom of this discontent. Here is a letter which a mother writes:We live in two rooms behind a fish shop and there are nine of us. My son is home for two months' leave——that is prior to going into the Army of Occupation—and it is hard lines he has to sleep out. I have to keep on stamping on the floor to keep the rats away from the bed where my boy sleeps. We have tried high and low and cannot get a house.A more extraordinary letter relates to the question of the amount of the War Service gratuity. This man says:I am one of the poor devils that is now paying for his patriotism by having two rooms. I have been looking for a flat since January last and offered my full gratuity to get a place, hut all the agents tell me that is not enough. I am told that very large sums are offered.He says now—I do not quote this by way of a threat, but because I think it will be of interest to the House:I am out for Bolshevism if a move is not got on soon and some of the West End houses are turned into flats at a reasonable figure.That also is a contributory cause to the discontent among large bodies of discharged men, and I could at the same time provide my right hon. Friend with a list of empty houses—very large houses—in various pans of London, which could be easily made into accessible flats for these people at a very moderate cost. I myself live in a suburb of London, and I have spoken more than once to the Minister of Reconstruction about the facilities that exist in London alone in the way of large derelict houses which will never again be occupied by people who can afford to occupy a house of that size, but which could easily at any moment be converted, without any expenditure of bricks and that kind of thing. The work could be got on with at once, and, if taken in hand, would make a substantial contribution towards the solution of that problem.
The third point which contributes to the discontent is the existence of the Civil Liabilities Committee and the inadequacy of the provision that is made by the Government through the Civil Liabilities Committee, which is now under the charge of my right hon. Friend, for men coming back from service who want to re-establish themselves in business. I do not know if Members of this House have made themselves familiar with the form which is first of all required to be filled up before a man can get any assistance at all. It is 1270 Resettlement form A. It is obtainable at any post office, and I invite Members of this House to ask at the post office on their way home for a copy. It consists of several pages of the most inquisitorial questions that were ever addressed to anybody, and which have to be answered before application can even be made for a grant for restarting in business. The maximum grant, as the House knows—it is never given—is £104.
§ Mr. HOGGE
The hon. Member suggests that I have been paid. I am never afraid to meet any accusation which is made either in the House or outside it. If my hon. Friend can prove to anybody that I made a single halfpenny out of this War in any service that I have given to discharged men or to serving men, I will pay his election expenses for the remainder of his political career.
§ Mr. STANTON
On a point of Order. Given an opportunity, I hope I may be able to prove what I have said without my hon. Friend's volunteering to pay my election expenses, which I hope I shall be able to meet, and upon which I hope I may be able to succeed. I am prepared to prove that my hon. Friend has been very well paid for any services he rendered.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
These questions have nothing whatever to do with the Debate. They are merely personal questions. Surely, at a time like this, we should devote our attention to the really serious topic, and leave personal questions for a time when we have more leisure.
§ Mr. STANTON
There is no time like the present for dealing with humbug. I am as much in favour of wounded soldiers and discharged men as anyone. I am pre pared to prove——
§ Mr. HOGGE
I shall confine my attention to the subject we are discussing, but incidentally I may say that if the hon. Gentleman cares to say that outside, he will have a writ for libel served upon him within twelve hours.
I am dealing with the form which these men have to fill up, and I say that it is an extravagant form altogether. These men ought to get, and get speedily, the relief which they are entitled to. On that point it may be rather interesting for the House to understand what actually happens, and for that purpose I will give a summary of a letter written by an officer. We so frequently talk of this matter in terms of men rather than of officers, and I should like the House to listen, if they will, to my summary of this letter from an officer in Liverpool, who attempted to get help through the Civil Liabilities Committee. He went to France in December, 1917. He was wounded, and was in hospital until August, 1918. He never received any money from the Government in the way of wound gratuity, but applied for training through the Appointments Department as a motor engineer. That did not come to anything, and he was advised to turn from the occupation of motor engineering to that of a dental mechanic, but found that that also was overrun, and he was subsequently sent to the Reliance Works at Chester, where he was supposed to get occupation. After all that effort, which took some months, he found that he was to work at that place for two months or more, and if he proved suitable at the end of that time he would become a representative, travelling Europe in order to sell motor cars. His wage in the meantime would be 16s. per week, out of which he was to board and lodge himself in the town of Chester. That is the life story of an officer discharged without a wound gratuity—first, motor engineering, then dental mechanism, and thirdly, the Reliance Works.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
Surely any man under training by the Appointments Department would get the allowance of 33s. per week?
§ Mr. HOGGE
This was an officer, not a man. Whatever happened, there is the experience of that officer. It may be right or it may be wrong, but, even assuming for a moment that my hon. and gallant Friend's remark is correct, that man is added to the common crowd with that at the back of his mind. That contributes to the discontent. There is a more serious letter to which I will draw attention. This letter is dated 17th May, 1919. It comes from the Ministry of Labour, of which my right hon. Friend is the chief. It is from one of the branches, of which I will give him particulars later. This is a man who writes about training, and the reply from the Ministry of Labour is as follows:Dear Sir,—In reply to your letter I have to inform you that up to the present there are no schemes for the training of ex-soldiers and sailors under the Ministry of Labour. The Ministry of Pensions have various schemes for training disabled soldiers and sailors. If yon are disabled, therefore, apply to your local War Pensions Committee.My right hon. Friend will agree that, as a matter of fact, he has training schemes, and that they are in operation. Here, in spite of that, one of his own officers, giving information in a letter, says that these schemes are not in operation. It is another contributory cause to the discontent which exists.
On the general question of unemployment, I think the House ought to realise the extent of the problem. I do not know whether we all understand that at this moment, whatever the cost may be, there are 408,000—the last figure which my hon. Friend has—disabled and discharged men out of work, in spite of all the promises given to them by the nation, in spite of everything that has been achieved since the Armistice. This is the very month when the period of the twenty-six weeks' unemployment pay begins to come to an end—I do not say it finishes entirely this month. A great number of men have reached the limit to which they can draw their unemployed pay. They are among that 408,000. They ask themselves quite fairly, I think, what is going to happen to them. Four hundred and eight thousand is part of the total figure of 1,008,192 unemployed for the same date, so you can see what an enormous proportion it is of the total unemployment in the country. It is interesting to look at the analysis of those figures. I have heard a very great deal, for instance, about building and the necessity for houses. I have got the 1273 figures here for seven of the chief industries of the country. There are 60,495 men out of work, not necessarily all discharged men, in the building trade. That is 10 per cent. of the total number. In shipbuilding there are 15,000, in engineering 140,000, in transport 120,000, in mines 16,000, in the textile industries 72,000, and in general labourers' work practically 150,000. With these facts in mind as contributory causes to unemployment these men went to see my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Wardle). I have here a transcript of the shorthand note of the interview which took place with him. I do not wish to do him an injustice, but I will give the part of my hon. Friend's reply which disappointed both the deputation which waited on him and those who waited to bear the result of the deputation. The Secretary of the Federation said:Your whole answer to this point is that you are relying upon the re-starting of trade and industries re-asserting themselves.To that the hon. Member replied:That is the fact. I have not finished; I am only dealing with one thing at once.It is only fair to say of my hon. Friend that he did deal with other things. He went on:I say for the first part we are relying upon that, and that is the reason the donation pay is given. The Government wish to give the industry a chance to re-assert itself and I say it has made wonderful progress and the re-absorption has been very great. Then there is the question of the housing, which I believe the Government intend to press on, and it will not be their fault if the houses are not built within a reasonable time from now. Then, as you are aware, as soon as the Electricity Bill is through they propose to start on some big electric superpower stations, and that will be a big work for the building trade, and then there is other work they intend to put in hand as soon as the Ministry of Ways and Communications has been formed.If all that is done, eventually there will be work, but obviously it does not provide work now.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Mr. Wardle)
Does my hon. Friend suggest——
§ Mr. HOGGE
I was quite fair. I have the full shorthand note here, but I quoted that part of his reply which contributed to the men's feeling that they were not getting satisfaction. I have not the whole transcript here; it takes time to get these things typed out, and I have only a part typed. He said with regard to this point 1274 that the men would require to wait a very considerable time before their unemployment would be absorbed in the revival of trade.
§ Mr. WARDLE
That is exactly the point to which I wish to draw attention. I did not say they would have to wait a considerable time. I pointed out that £6,500,000 had been granted by the Road Board for work to start immediately, and that therefore there was some opportunity for immediate work. But with regard to the other questions, I quite agree that I did tell the deputation the truth—that these other things must wait.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I did not want to do my hon. Friend an injustice. We all want to contribute what we can to the solution of this problem. In addition to what he said here in the portion I have read, he pointed out that £6,500,000 would be available for immediate work by the Road Board. What does my hon. Friend mean by "immediate"? Is that to-morrow, is it next week or next month? Have the Road Board to make plans as to how they are to spend the £6,500,000 before they employ the labour required? It is the kind of thing that cannot be done to-morrow, and the fact remains that 400,000 discharged men are not working, and are not wishing to draw unemployed pay, preferring productive work instead. After all, supposing my hon. Friend promises £6,500,000 from the Road Board, that is a fleabite in the problem which faces him and us in trying to. provide for these men. It is only fair that, having made that case, which I think I have made as moderately as I can, and having pointed out what are contributory causes of discontent, one should attempt as far as one is able to suggest what might be done. The first thing I suggest might be done is that immediately local authorities ought to be encouraged to speed up the work at their doors. I know that there is a difficulty there, and I am prepared to face it. I know one city council at the moment which would get on with a very considerable part of its work if it were not for the fact that materials are so expensive, and that they are afraid to meet the ratepayers and to put up the rates of the locality. Up to a day or two ago the nation and the Government spent £20,000,000 in unemployed pay for no work, and I want to suggest to my right hon. Friend and the Government, would it not be better to spend the £20,000,000 in 1275 a subsidy to the local authorities to carry on the work at their doors and to assist them in meeting the increased cost of material in that particular work. We want productive work, and £20,000,000 is a large sum of money. If it is, for instance, a question of the difference in price between setts now and in 1913, a contribution towards that, if the municipality would carry the wages, is an indication of the kind of thing one has in one's mind.
The second suggestion I want to make is this, that we should get to the bottom of our Labour Exchange difficulties. Employers of labour continually tell you that they cannot get men from the Labour Exchanges. Men tell you that they cannot get employment from the Labour Exchanges. The exchange system in theory is excellent. It rather occurred to me to suggest that the time is opportune, not for a formal committee, not for one of your upstairs committees, a select committee or things of that kind, but for a small business committee of this House, and that on that committee there might be some of the men who demonstrated outride the House of Commons. Carry them with you, take some of the responsible discharged men themselves. Take the chairman of the Federation, who is a discharged soldier, take a representative of the Comrades, get them to come on that committee, and to see where exactly it is that the Labour Exchanges break down in forming a nexus between the unemployed and the man who wants men in his particular trade. I throw that suggestion out for what it is worth. It seems ridiculous that we should go on with a system which has been in operation for many years and in which you hear that criticism on both sides. What is it that is preventing these two things from being brough into contact?
The third suggestion I make is with regard to housing. After all, we have got to do the things which are obvious first, and particularly in a city like London with a very small expenditure, but expenditure which would employ a considerable number of men, you could readjust many dwellings into comfortable houses. We have been reading in the Press, for instance, of how members of the Royal Family have been going through London into what are called byeways, and have been rather struck with the nature of the 1276 property that exists in London. Those of us who ride on the top of buses notice as we go along a large number of houses which are derelict for want of a little attention. I came in along Kennington Road to-day, and I am sure along it there are from thirty to fifty houses, large buildings untenanted, which with very little amount of work would, at any rate, provide accommodation for men who at the present moment object, when they get an offer of training or employment, to leave their wives and families and go somewhere else for training. If that were done, it would materially help to ease the situation.
The fourth point is one which used to concern the Ministry of Pensions itself but which now concerns the Ministry of Labour, and it is that it would be infinitely better if it could be arranged, and I think some effort should be made to bring it about, to have training schemes as far as possible at home, and by that I mean that the men ought to be able to reside in their homes. Men ought not to be asked, as is sometimes the case, to go, say, from Manchester to Leeds or from Newcastle to York, or something like that in order to get a training which will enable them to take up some employment. Lastly, I refer to another suggestion, and that is the question of preferential employment for these men in Government offices. I take the Ministry of Pensions itself, which is familiar to Members of this House, and I will guarantee to say that if a census were taken to-morrow of the employés of the Pensions Ministry, of whom there are from 6,000 to 7,000 at least, not 10 per cent. of them are men who have been discharged or disabled, and a large number of them are men who have been transferred from other Government Departments into those posts. I do honestly think that we ought to mean what we say, and the pressure of this House ought to be brought to bear upon Government Departments to act on it. I am not going to speculate in the last words of my speech in any way that will put the Debate on. a false level. I think I am expressing-everybody's view when I say that everybody in the House would be glad to work together and co-operate in solving this question. If this question becomes political it is going to be hopeless. Personally. I have no desire that it should, and I have taken action which I think proves to my own friends in the House at any rate I have no political ambitions with regard to- 1277 what has happened in the past or what may happen in the future. I want us to be in a position to say that this House of Commons, which, whether under Coalition or any other form of Government, saw the War through and called upon these men to serve, is not going to be found lacking in tackling the difficulties which present themselves and in establishing these men securely in life. I would be well content if all of us laying out heads together and resolving to work together in co-operation will achieve this. I am certain we can if we wish. If we did, there would be an end to the causes which promoted the demonstration we had round this House on Monday, and instead of dealing with men who feel discontented we would have the satisfaction which come involuntarily from having attempted to do our duty and from the feeling that we had at length achieved it.
§ Mr. AUSTIN HOPKINSON
This House has heard the views of the "soldier's friend." So perhaps it would now like to hear the "brutal and licentious" soldier himself. I hope hon. Members will be patient with me, though I am no orator, because my position, formerly as a private soldier in the ranks of the Army, and now as a member of the Discharged Soldiers' Federation, throws upon me a duty which I fee] bound to endeavour to discharge. Only this morning I withdrew my nomination to the presidency of the federation, because I feel I can be of more use to it as an ordinary member than in an official position. Just as in the War there came a crisis in the affairs of this country when nothing but the complete self-sacrifice of individuals, without regard to expediency or common-sense could save the situation, so now, in the affairs of this federation the crisis can only be passed if some. of us go back into the ranks. It is well that members should know what the federation is and what is its policy. At the moment it has no policy, it is in a whirl of excitement, and for the moment the tail is wagging the dog. But I have sufficient faith in the good sense of my comrades to believe that they will soon restore the normal position, which is that of the dog sitting on its tail. It is now a huge, shapeless, menacing mass, without policy and without ideals, a prey to ambitious politicians, and on the verge of a collapse into anarchy. Its membership is supposed to be about 2,000,000, but no one knows what proportion of that number 1278 take any interest whatsoever in their association. Members are constantly dropping out and new members joining. The whole thing is chaotic and, I do not say this lightly, the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) is responsible for the present pitiable state of affairs. He is infinitely cleverer than us soldiers and has, therefore, an altogether disproportionate influence upon the policy of the federation. Members will forgive me if I speak with some feeling, for after all, there is some excuse. The federation might, and should, have been a great and beneficial body. It should have been run by soldiers for soldiers' without regard to the selfish interests of professional politicians. It might have had the confidence of the Pensions Ministry, the Labour Ministry, and the War Office. It might have swept away the shadow of Conscription by making possible the finest voluntary Army the world has ever seen. It might have used its power to help in the administration of the Departments concerned, and eventually it might have become the strong and silent guardian of the interests of the soldier, looking after him while he serves, and receiving him back to a place in the ranks of labour when his time with the Army is finished. Above all, it might have saved that antagonism between the ex-soldier and civilian labour which is now imminent. But the political factor has ruined it. May I appeal to the Member for East Edinburgh to consider whether he really is fitted to deal with a mass of ex-soldiers of whom many have most bitter grievances.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
The hon. Member is still an honorary member of the federation—an honorary life member. What I am referring to is not the present situation so much as the past, because it is the policy of the hon. Member for East Edinburgh in the past which has brought us to our present position.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Is it fair to use us in the way he has done hitherto I fully admit that he is vir propositi tenax—his tenacity is beyond dispute—it is his purpose which makes us soldiers uncomfortable. But, to return to the immediate crisis, you may take it from me that the part of the federation which for the moment has the upper hand means to cause trouble, and, if it can, very serious trouble within the next few days. Remember that, although those who are at the back of the present movement are acting from ulterior motives of a selfish nature, yet a vast number of ex-soldiers are suffering from very grave and real grievances. They had been fed to expect a time of great prosperity and comfort; they come back actually to a country in which industry is almost at a standstill. There is no work for a number of them. There is work for others, but trade union restrictions prevent their benefiting by it. I do hope that hon. Members on the Labour Benches will really set themselves to think how they can help to absorb our soldiers into industry. They can really solve the whole problem if only they approach it in the right spirit, willing to sacrifice their special interests for the good of the commonwealth. They will agree with me that a split between organised Labour and the ex-soldier would be disastrous to all. I beg, therefore, that they will endeavour to override vested interests and give us that help which they, more than any other section of the community, have the power to give. To employers of labour I would also appeal for help towards a solution of our troubles. I am an employer myself, and have done what little I could to assist in this matter. But one cannot serve one's country and accumulate wealth at the same time, so I am unable to do what I might have done five years ago. But you, whose wealth has increased during the War, can you not sacrifice a little of it I Can you not stand the loss of employing inefficient labour for a little time? Can you not help to bear the burden which is rapidly becoming too heavy for people like myself? This War, this great crusade for an ideal, appears to have left the world deprived of all ideals. We soldiers went to battle against materialism, and now we find our country far deeper in materialism than it has ever been. One device of government after another is tried, one trick after another, to dodge inevitable consequences. But 1280 always we return to the same point—there is no prosperity but that we make for ourselves and no happiness without self-sacrifice. I must beg the House to forgive me for straying into the abstract. I do not do so by choice and publicly to give vent to idealistic sentiment is repugnant to me, as to all soldiers. But I am convinced that even a humble individual like myself may possibly be of some; use when trouble comes.
Colonel L. WARD
I rise to intervene in this Debate, and in doing so I address the House for the first time. If it were not that I am pledged up to my eyes, I may say, on a subject like this, I would much rather remain silent. I ask for that patience and tolerance which it is customary to extend to a new Member. I intervene in the Debate for a reason that was mentioned by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge), namely, that there are something like 400,000 men at the present moment in receipt of out-of-work donation. I maintain that at least 80 per cent. of those men would much rather be earning their own living than eating the bread of idleness. I may say I am not one of those who at the General Election made extravagant promises on the subject of larger and ever larger pensions. And I am not going to join that competition which the Prime Minister so strongly deprecated to secure ever increasing grants from the National Exchequer, because I do not believe that therein lies the solution of the problem of the discharged soldier and the demobilised man. Furthermore, I believe that too exorbitant demands of that character can only in the long run hamper the cause which we all wish to advance. But I am pledged up to my very eyes to secure these men employment, and hitherto the State has done very little to help them. True, it has placed the Labour Exchanges at their disposal, but with regard to the value of the Labour Exchanges as a means of procuring work, there are certainly two opinions. They have also appealed to employers to find these men work. Although I do not say for a moment that those appeals have fallen upon deaf ears, the fact that there are still 400,000 men seeking jobs shows that at any rate there is still a great deal to be done. I do not suggest for a moment that all these men are good workers. As I said before, possibly 80 per cent. are genuinely on the look-out for work, and of the others a certain percentage, no doubt, would just as soon go on drawing unem- 1281 ployment donation as not, while of the others there are some, no doubt, who are actually unemployable. But we must not forget that for that the State is in a large measure responsible. Three or four years of active service does not as a rule improve a man's value in the labour market. Nobody knows better than I do that the qualities which go to make up a gallant soldier, and the qualities which go to make up a worthy citizen are as diametrically opposite as the two Poles, and probably a great many very excellent soldiers are very indifferent civilians. But that is one of the facts that we must face, and furthermore, the Army, as a general rule, is not a good training for civilian life. I am speaking now of the armies in France. I know nothing of Army conditions anywhere else, and out there it certainly was not a good training for civilian life. Among other things, there was too much waiting about. It could not be helped, I know. It was part of the game, but the fact remains that it was not good for the men. Half one's time over there seemed to be spent in waiting for somebody else to do something. You were either waiting for someone to go, or you were waiting for someone to arrive; you were either waiting for it to get dark, or you were waiting for it to get light; you were either waiting for the enemy's shelling to cease, or you were waiting for our own guns to start; and all that time Tommy sat around, smoked innumerable cigarettes if he was allowed to do so, and cursed his luck. All that sort of thing may be a very excellent training for the gentle art of wasting time, but wasting time is not an asset of any great value in industrial life, except perhaps as a pre-war practice in certain trade unions.
The soldier was not a perfect civilian when he went to France, and he is probably a good deal less perfect now, but for that the State must accept the responsibility. We must remember that he has deteriorated in serving his country on active service, and the employer, when he finds a discharged soldier smoking a cigarette when he ought to be at work must remember that the man learnt that habit serving him in France, or on some other of the numerous fronts; and when Tommy comes into conflict with the police, as he unfortunately did on Monday afternoon, we must remember that we have spent the best part of the last four years inculcating in him the offensive spirit, and if anybody wants to know how apt a pupil 1282 he proved to be I can refer him to the occupants of any of the numerous prisoners of war camps. But it was not the demobilised soldier who caused the disturbance on Monday; at any rate, it was not the soldier that I knew out in France. He, at any rate, had had enough lighting to last him for a lifetime, and all he wanted was to get home. He was quite ready to go back to pre-war conditions of employment if he could only get home. He was not going to hold up the reconstruction of the country by demanding higher wages than the industries of the country could afford. No, it is the man who skulked at home who is responsible for this, the man who sheltered himself behind the white ticket and behind his medical category, and who is now using the demobilised soldier as a stalking horse for his Socialistic and his Bolshevist schemes. That is the man who is responsible for the outbreak that occurred on Monday, and that is the man who is now encouraging the discharged soldier and leading him. on to give all the trouble he possibly can. On the other hand, if I may say so without offence, I think that ever since the demobilisation started some six months ago there has been a lack of sympathy on the part of the Government in dealing with the demobilisation. They have been too official and not sufficiently human. I know it is difficult for a big Government Department to be human, and the bigger that Department grows the less human it tends to become. I know that, and I think a great deal of the difficulty has been that the Government have tried to do this demobilisation on too scientific lines, forgetting that they were dealing with men and not with mere test tubes of chemicals. They have not put enough sympathy into their work, and, again, if I may say so without offence, I think that lack of sympathy is very largely due to the fact that they have lacked knowledge of the conditions under which the men fought out there.
I was just an ordinary Infantry soldier, and it is the cause of the Infantry man that I claim to represent. I know nothing or very little of other branches of the Service, and my experiences were confined to the Western Front, but I am sure hon. Members with Infantry experience will agree with what I say. How many there are in this House I do not know. I could not fail to notice that during the earlier sittings of this House there was a considerable display of khaki uniform upon 1283 the beaches, but in the majority of cases those uniforms were, shall we say, defaced by Staff tabs. Now, driving about France in a Staff car may be magnificent, but it is not war. I know my remarks on this subject are largely actuated by envy, because I am perfectly ready to admit that there were cases when I would cheerfully have given ten years of my life to have been driving about the back areas in a Rolls-Royce car, or even a Ford, in preference to being where I was. But the point I wish to make is this, that those who have only seen this War through the wind screen of an automobile may easily be lacking in sympathy for those who have had a closer and more intimate acquaintance with the Hun; and it is only those who have lived amongst the men in the line, as opposed to only having visited them very occasionally, who can know what a magnificent creature the British private soldier is, and how thoroughly deserving he is of everything we can do for him. Tommy did not have a good time in France, you know. In fact, it is very difficult to make people understand over here how bad a time he really did have, but there is one means by which I usually succeed in making people understand the sort of life he had to load, and that is the fact that the military authorities considered it a severer punishment to send a man to rejoin his unit in the line than it was to sentence him to ten years' penal servitude. One scarcely ever saw a wounded man coming down without a smile on his face, and why did he look so cheerful? Because he was out of it. For a few weeks, at any rate, he would be out of the wet and the cold and the mud, and from my experiences there was mud in Flanders from September until June, and as often as not in July and August as well. For a few weeks he would be warm, and well fed, and well looked after, and safe from the ever menacing presence of death.
I shall never forget an occasion during the winter of 1916-17 when my battalion was holding a line of shell holes to the East of Beaumont Hamel. I hope you will allow me, Sir, to relate this incident as a means of softening the official heart. We were holding, as I say, a shell hole line a short way to the East of Beaumont Hamel. The British position had been successfully advanced two or three days previously, and there had been no time to consolidate the line properly. Per- 1284 haps some hon. Members may never have seen a shell hole which has been organised for defence, so perhaps I may be permitted to describe it. Hon. Members who have served on the Staff of course know that a shell hole is a yawning cavity in the road which holds up their ear and which they curse the Infantry for not having filled in. For the rest, I might explain that any large high explosive shell of a calibre of six inches or over on striking the ground digs a hole six, eight, or even ten feet in depth, and the advantage of using that as a basis for your defensive line is that when in it you are comparatively safe from rifle and machine-gun fire and you stand a much better chance from artillery fire than you would if you were in the open. Having chosen your shell hole, usually by the simple expedient of falling into it in the dark and deciding to stop there, because it seemed safer than it was outside, you next proceeded to organise it for defence. You put up a few strands of barbed wire on the enemy's side, so as to give you a slightly better chance should they attempt to rush you in the dark, you carried up a couple of duck boards, as we called those long wooden gratings, six feet long and eighteen inches wide, and fixed them across the bottom of the hole, and there you stayed, usually three or four of you, a non-commissioned officer and two or three men, and there you waited, possibly twenty-four hours, but probably very much longer. If it came on to rain the water from the surrounding country drained into the shell hole.
You tried to bale it out with a mess-tin or an empty meat-tin. If you worked very hard, perhaps you succeeded, but if it rained at all heavily, the rain usually went over your duck-boards and perhaps they got shifted, and in the end you and your friends and rations were precipated into two or three feet of mud at the bottom of the hole. In the most favourable circumstances, you came out of a position like that soaked to the knees and probably to the waist. That is the sort of line my battalion was holding in the winter of 1916–17. Fortunately, I had sufficient men to relieve the garrison in the shell holes every twenty-four hours, when these men came out soaked to the skin, half-frozen, thoroughly exhausted to the shelter I had to offer them, or some shallow hole scraped in the hill-side, where the men sat and 1285 shivered with a sheet over them to keep oft the frost, because no sooner the sky cleared than the thermometer went down to eight, ten, and even twelve degrees of frost. After twenty-four hours of that kind of rest, they changed places once more with the men in the shell-hole, and so on. That is not an isolated instance, and it is not an exaggerated case. That is the sort of thing that went on in France every night for four long miserable winters, and no one who has not been through the sordid misery of a winter in the trenches can realise what those men had to put up with.
That is why I am appealing to the Government for more human treatment. I just ask that they should sympathise a little with the men, that they should endeavour to be less official and more human. I want them to remember that. I want them to remember, also, that it is much more amusing to stand on an English golf link than to be one of the men crouching along the foot of the Messines Ridge, hungry, cold, and, in some cases almost paralised with terror, waiting for the signal to be given to advance and carry that Ridge, knowing perfectly well the whole time that, should the mines fail in their effect, and should there be an error only of thirty seconds in the barrage, your chance of reaching your objective was absolutely nil, and even at the best, when they had captured and consolidated their position, they would be exposed to counter-attack after counter-attack, bombardment after bombardment, for twenty-four hours at least, and probably for very much longer, during every minute of which they would be exposed to the danger, not so much of death, because that did not matter, but of being mutilated out of all semblance to the human form, and still left living. That is why I appeal to the Government to do all they can. I am not asking for enormous grants, or asking them to spend huge sums of money, but I am just asking them to consider the case of the demobilised man as it comes before them, humanly and sympatheticlly. In endeavouring to put forward the case of demobilised soldiers, I have trespassed much too long on the time of the House—[Hon. Members: "No ! "]—and, in conclusion, I beg to thank you, Sir, and hon. Members for the kindness, for the patience, and the courtesy with which you, Sir, and they have listened to me.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
Before I deal with the questions which underlie the unrest among discharged sailors and soldiers, may I say how much I regret the attack which was made on the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) I The hon. Member for East Edinburgh and myself frequently disagreed in the past on matters of military policy and matters of political importance, but I think it is in the recollection of the House, or it was in the recollection of the last Parliament, that the hon. Member for East Edinburgh was one of the first men in the House of Commons who took up the cudgels on behalf of discharged sailors and soldiers, and therefore, whatever opinions I may have with regard to his federation, I think it is only fair that Members of this House should be informed, and learn, that the hon. Member did all he could for the discharged sailor and soldier, when they were not so much in the limelight. I will only say two things with regard to that unfortunate demonstration on Monday, which was organised by the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers. I feel perfectly sure—and I think I shall carry the House with me when I say—that the vast majority of that organisation are just as good, sound patriots as anyone in the House at this moment. There is in that body, as in all bodies, a certain minority who are out to create disturbance, to ask unreasonable things, and who will have to be dealt with very strongly; but they are largely men who have been led away by people we all know of, who are out to use them for political motives, for Bolshevik motives, and it is up to the Government to see that those people are properly dealt with under the Defence of the Realm. The other point is this: It is unthinkable and impossible that any Government can permit any procession of discharged soldiers or any other body to come down and demonstrate near the House of Commons, as that would do away with the liberty of the House of Commons and democratic Government in this country.
Having dealt with what I consider, after all, are minor subjects connected with to-day's Debate, let me turn to what is really the most important and the only important thing, namely, what are the grievances of discharged men and how can they be remedied I It is far easier to state their grievances than to propose a real and satisfactory remedy, because some of the grievances can only be gradually put 1287 right, when building is taken up, and other matters of trade solve themselves I think the hon. Member for East Edinburgh and the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken—and to whose speech we listened with so much interest—put their finger on the right spot when they said unemployment is the root cause of the trouble at the present moment. When you have 400,000 discharged men unemployed—most of them unemployed because they cannot get employment, although there are a small minority who prefer the out-of-work donation to doing anything—but when you have that situation, you are faced with a position which, unless it is very carefully and tactfully handled, may result—and I think will result—in some of the big towns in very serious civil disturbance, which may even necessitate the intervention of the military. No Member of this House could contemplate such a thing with a light heart. The problem of the partially-disabled man is one which presents the most difficulties. The partially-disabled men who was demobilised during the War, or in the early days of the Armistice, have nearly all been absorbed into light employment, but the fact remains, according to my information, that there are very few light jobs available for the considerable number of partially-disabled men coming into civil life, after being retained in the Army on clerical work, and the great difficulty is to know what to do with them. It is easier to state that difficulty than to suggest a solution, and I do not think I can offer a complete solution, but I do say there are, in many Government Departments, jobs which are now being filled by young women—light jobs, which could be perfectly well filled by disabled or partially-disabled men.
I was down in Durham only last week end, and talked to two or three discharged men employed in the post office. They may be wrong, but I do not think they are. They were intelligent men, and put their case very fairly, and they said that not only are there a considerable number of jobs in the post office which could be filled by partially-disabled men, but that the post office is now taking on girls and training them for those jobs, which could be done by discharged men if they were equally trained. I put that to the Minister of Labour, if he would inquire into that point and see, if that is so, whether the 1288 Post Office cannot be induced to do all they can to employ partially-disabled men. There is a question, which I am sure hon. Members who have spoken in this Debate, and especially the hon. Member for East Edinburgh, would agree with me, is one which is causing a great deal of ill-feeling among discharged men all over the country, and that is, the persistent attempts, and often successful efforts, of the Local War Pensions Commitees to employ as their officials women or men who have not served instead of the discharged men. The House will remember that last year we passed a Bill, which definitely laid down that the Minister of Pensions should make a scheme so that the discharged man and his direct dependents should have a preference in all employment under these Local War Pensions Committees. May I say, in passing, that I personally, and the organisation with which I am connected, have always found the Minister of Pensions, and his Department, most willing and most anxious to help the discharged men in every way? I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colchester (Sir L. Worthington Evans) has fully justified his appointment. He is straining every nerve to help the Pensions Department, and if there are any defects, as, of course, there are in every institution, I am sure every effort is being made to remedy them, and the discharged man, when he puts up his case to that Department, always receives a sympathetic hearing. But there are cases here by the half-dozen which I could quote where the County War Pensions Committee or the Borough War Pensions Committee has, without advertisement, without giving the discharged men any chance, appointed a woman to the post of secretary at a salary of £200, £250, or £300 a year. When the discharged men see those appointments in the papers, they are very indignant, and hold indignation meetings in the locality, and such meetings have always a bad effect. Luckily, when these matters are brought to the attention of the Ministry of Pensions, they are, as far as possible, put right.
I give only one instance. In my own county town, the other night, I was informed that on the Local War Pensions Committee there a woman had been appointed at a salary of £200 a year. I rang up a friend of mine, the chairman of the Local War Pensions Committee, and said, "You are an ex-Service man yourself. 1289 why do you appoint a woman to the post of secretary to the Local War Pensions Committee?" He said, "I have nothing to do with it. The appointment was made by the County Committee sitting at Winchester. We can trace how that came about. The secretary of the County Committee is a woman, and she, apparently, without consulting anyone, has made this appointment." That affects actually a small number of appointments, I agree, but the effect on the locality -and the cause of discontent is widespread. Everybody knows the secretary of the local war pensions committee. The local ex-Service men see this woman there and see that they are being done out of appointments which were expressly reserved to them in Parliament last year.
There is a point to which one would draw the attention of the Government: that is the continuance or otherwise of the "Raafs," "Wrens," and "Waacs." I 'understand that the "Raafs," who are the women's branch of the Air Ministry, are going to be continued for all time. I am quite content to admit that there are many jobs in that Department which can better be performed by women than by men, such as, for instance, the repairing of aeroplane wings. It is quite right that women should do that work. Generally, however, in the War Office and in the War Department, there must be many cases of partially disabled men who could drive motor-cars equally well with the women who we now see driving them about. I cannot see why in this Department men should not be given preference over the women who are still employed there. Never a day passes without I get five or six complaints from discharged ex-officers and men who are being discharged from some Government office while, they say, men who have never served and who sheltered themselves behind the Government certificates during the War are kept on. This is so constant that really it is becoming a public scandal. Let me give an instance of an officer in the Records Office of the Ministry of Aircraft Production—a man who is receiving a salary of £400 a year. He is under notice of discharge. He is to be replaced by a man who has never served, and in the course of two or three months that man is to be succeeded by a woman. I submit, whether the pre-sent officer to whom I am referring is an efficient officer or not—I have no means of judging this, and it may be quite right 1290 to discharge him—in a case of this kind, where a discharged man is to be turned out, another discharged man ought to be put in his place and not a woman. It means that in that well-paid office of £400 a year you are taking the bread out of the mouth of an ex-Service man.
There is another case at the Ministry of Food. There is a Mr. In fell, who is of foreign extraction—though that has nothing to do with the case at the moment. We have been in correspondence for several months in regard to his being kept on there, because he was of military age and never went to the War. He is going to be kept on in a position at the Ministry of Food, while in the same office—and almost, I believe, the same room-there is a Captain Duncan, a discharged officer, whose services are going to be dispensed with. On what ground of justice do you keep on this man of foreign extraction, who has never served in the War, and discharge Captain Duncan, who has served I Surely, in cases of this sort the Government ought to be a model employer. How on earth can they expect private employers to do the right thing when we see on all hands that the Government are doing the sort of thing that they ask private employers not to do? Then there is the question of the North-Eastern Railway. I understand, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that this matter was raised at Question Time to-day. I am sorry to trespass upon the attention of the House, but I do not very often speak. Let me give an instance: It is no use talking in generalities.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
There is the question of the holding of plural appointments, the question of holding two offices, and thereby keeping a discharged man out of a job. Let me read this extract from a letter I have received in reference to this new Ministry of Ways and Communications. My informant says:Many officials and men of the North-Eastern Railway Company avoided military service by being sent 'on loan' to various Government Departments at very great profit to themselves in all cases. Now these self-same men are being sent to Sir Eric Geddes' Ministry of Ways and Communications 'on loan.' That means they have their North-Eastern Railway salaries plus a Ministry salary, termed an 'allowance.' They hold both jobs at the same time.That is, the men who have not served during the War. 1291One man receiving £350 per annum from the company, commences in the Ministry on 1st June at £550, still holding his place at York.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I am not quite clear on that—whether the £550 includes the £350 or not. My point is this: I do not see how it is that you cannot have a discharged officer or man filling one of these jobs, or why you should give two jobs to a man who has never served. My informant continues:From the secretary and solicitor and goods manager downwards there are many cases of these duplicate appointments.The writer sums up in this way:There are hundreds of men capable of taking either jobs; men belonging to other railway companies, and men who have had military service.I may say that my informant himself is an ex-Service man whose services will be dispensed with at the end of this month simply because—well, I do not know—but because those are given appointments there who have never served, and these very largely look after others who also did not serve during the War.
May I draw the attention of the House for one moment to the position of the ex-service men in Ireland. His prospects of employment and of a happy life in many parts of the country are gloomy in the extreme. Remember that every man who went from Ireland was a volunteer! He not only risked his life and limb in fighting for his country, but on his return he risked his popularity in the distirict, and the happiness of his wife and family; also he risked the fact that when he returned in many parts of Ireland he would be accounted an outcast. The Sinn Feiners are running the Employment Exchanges and the local war pensions committees. I do ask the Government—it is not easy, I know—to see if they cannot do something to assure the future of the ex-Service man in Ireland. Remember that in many parts of the country the ex-Service man is the only man you have to rely upon to support the British connection and the British flag. He finds his position very difficult. His loyalty is great, but you can overstrain it. If he goes back to his countryside and finds that the only way to get employment and have a peaceable life is by renouncing his loyal sympathies and becoming an anti-Britisher and a disloyalist, he is almost bound to do so, not 1292 so much for his own sake, but, as may happen in many cases, for the sake of providing for his wife and family. Therefore, I do appeal to the Government to do all they can to look after these discharged ex-Service men in Ireland, especially by giving them employment. If you give him employment you will have half-solved the difficulty of looking after him. One other question of unemployment before I leave it. Why is it necessary to have so many women employed in important positions at the War Office and in other Government Departments? Before the War very few women were employed in the good salaried positions in Government Departments. I have the greatest respect for the intelligence and the excellnt work that has been done by the women. I have not a word to say against it. But surely—and I am sure that the women themselves would be the first to admit it—if you can get a discharged officer or man, especially if he is disabled or has been wounded, to fill these jobs, especially at the War Office, you have no right to fill these places with women.
The sufficiency of the war gratuity was raised by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh. I confess that I think the war gratuity ought to be increased. Going up and down the country and talking to discharged men, there is a very unanimous wish—I quite understand everybody wants more money—but when you consider the comparative value of money at the present time to the time following the South African War, I think it will be found that the war gratuity now payable after this War is not as large in comparison with the gratuity after the South African War. The same thing applies to pensions. They are not adequate, especially in view of the cost of living and the difficulty of finding lodgings at present. We have had some reference to housing. You cannot, of course, build at once all the houses that are needed. We all understand that. The housing question does not only press upon the ex-Service men, but it also presses hardly upon all sections of the population. I put this matter forward for the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman, who will reply: I do think that other things being equal where there are two applicants for one house we should lay down a rule that the ex-Service man should have the preference for these newly-built houses over the man who had not served. Such a rule would not be asking too much. In reference to the disposal of surplus Govern- 1293 ment stores, I would put in a claim for the ex-Service men to have a preference over civilians. The. ex-Service man during the "War has had no opportunity of making big wages or big profits as have so many civilians. Therefore, when it comes to competing in the open market for Government stores he finds himself very often outbid by the rich munition worker who made large sums during the War. I would ask the Government whether they cannot see their way to give a preference in some way to the ex-Service man starting a new life in the purchase of some of these Government stores.
I would only bring forward two more cases, one concerns the Officers' Employment Department. I believe the right hon. Gentleman below me has charge of it. I do not suppose he will claim that that Department is anything but a dismal failure. I understand that 150,000 applications were received for training and employment, and only some 5,000 were satisfied. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh, I am sure, will agree that that is a very deplorable state of affairs. The cost of that Department is very great, and I would like to mention the case of Captain Hark ness, which came before the Appointments Department last October. This case was taken up with a view to obtaining training in poultry farming, and this officer suffered from very severe injuries to his head. Therefore it was essential that all unnecessary worry should be avoided, and the head of the Intelligence Department, at 99, Queen's Gate, was personally interviewed, and he gave an assurance that the case should be dealt with without any delay. Then there was a delay of a fortnight, and even for weeks after that nothing was done. Later Captain Harkness was informed that his papers had been lost. By the end of March of this year again nothing had happened, and this in spite of personal letters addressed to the Minister of Labour on the 1st April, and to the Board of Agriculture on the 22nd May.
Now comes the climax. This morning a communication was received by myself from Captain Harkness to the effect that his papers had been lost for a second time. I think that is really a perfect disgrace. No less than seven and a-half months have been spent by this Department in looking into Captain Harkness' case, and the only thing they have done is to lose two sets 1294 of papers, and this officer is no nearer getting an appointment than he was eight and a half months ago. What has he got to live on? Only his war gratuity, and but for his friends he would have been in the workhouse. There can be no excuse for losing two sets of papers, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will himself look into this matter and see what can be done. We know that this Officers' Employment Department is very expensive, but the Government ought to be able to find employment for these men aft a much quicker rate. In an institution with which I am connected we have found 557 men employment since the 1st January, and surely if that can be done by a private institution it ought to be done by a Government Department. I could give many other instances, but all I want to say is, and I am sure it is the experience of all hon. Members of this House, that 99 per cent. of the discharged men are eminently reasonable beings. They are getting very unrestful and very discouraged because they do not find that the Government or the Departments concerned, with the exception of the Ministry of Pensions, are really carrying out the policy they ought to do. We have had officials spending weeks and months in Paris, and I am sure they could get along very well with a quarter of those people in Paris, and they should have the other three-quarters of the, staff here looking after the soldiers, the sailors, and the airmen.
§ Commander KING
This is the first time I have attempted to address the House, and therefore I ask the indulgence of hon. Members. The subject under discussion is one about which I feel very deeply. I have had the honour during the War of serving with both the Navy and the Army, and therefore I have been in touch with the men of both forces, and both the Services which are being discussed at the present time. I consider that the chief reason for discontent among the demobilised sailors and soldiers is the off-hand and dilatory manner in which many of the Government Departments treat their just claims. I do not think that the Government really take into consideration what these men are, who they are, and what they have done. A previous speaker referred to what these men have done, and I wish I had his eloquence in putting their case before the House. But I should like to 1295 point out that all the men whom we are dealing with under demobilised soldiers and sailors are volunteers. The hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down pointed out to the House that, all Irishmen were volunteers, but the same thing applies to all the men who are entitled to demobilisation in the Army or Navy at the present time, and therefore all the men with whom we are concerned at the present moment are volunteers, because they voluntarily joined the Navy or the Army, and they are entitled to just treatment on those grounds.
I should like to point out the class of men they were. They volunteered from every section of the community and from every walk of life. I remember very well when I was serving with the Royal Naval Division in Gallipoli the drafts of reinforcements we got in the middle part of 1915, and the bulk of them were married men. We were always struck by that fact, for most of the drafts contained perhaps 60 percent. of married men who had sacrificed everything, and who had given up their means of livelihood and left then' wives and children because they felt that they could not remain at home, but must go and do their best for their country. Many of these men were miners, and were getting what in those days was considered a high rate of pay. They were receiving, perhaps, £2, £3, or £4 a week, and they gave it up to take all the risks of war on the mere pittance that was allowed them by the Government.
I maintain that these men are entitled to just treatment now that they have come home. The hon. and gallant Gentleman gave some idea of the work they did over in the trenches. During those two years I was with the Naval Division I was an Infantryman, and I served in that capacity in Antwerp, Egypt, Gallipoli, and France, and I know some of the hardships which those men had to put up with. We know that day after day and month after month those men would be under shell-fire practically within range of the enemy's guns for the whole of that time, and they knew full well that they were face to face with death and might meet it at any moment of the day or night. Those men, in my experience, went through all the hardships and risks with the greatest cheerfulness because they were fighting for their country's 1296 cause as volunteers. They did not mind what they did and they did it with a cheerfulness which was perfectly astounding.
What have they done? I claim that these men are the men who won the War. We have been told of certain Ministers and groups of politicians who have won the War, but it was no politicians who won the War. It was the officers and men of the fighting forces who won the War, in spite of and not because of the politicians. There is not a single Member of this House, inside or outside of it, who had the privilege of fighting alongside the men either of the Navy or the Army, but who are absolutely proud to have been allowed to have any connection with them. They have given not mere lip service but heart worship to these men who have done so valiantly. We have all thought of the lives which these men led before they came out in pre-war times, and we know the hardships which they have had to put up with, and every man alongside of them made up his mind that when the War was over he would do everything he could to see that justice was done to them. Any man who had the privilege of fighting alongside them would have given the shirt off his back to do any one of them any good.
It is not right that the Government should forget what these men have done, and yet what do we find when they come home and have been demobilised? There is great discontent amongst the men who are not demobilised, who are still out there in France, Gallipoli, Egypt, and else where, and who went out in 1914 and 1915, and who are still being retained in the Service either on the cadres of their battalions or looking after a few stores which are not worth the amount of pay given to the men to look after them. Those men, after having done excellent fighting in the Infantry and other branches of the Service, have been transferred to the R.A.M.C. or the R.A.S.C., and other work, and they are being retained while other men with far less service are being released. That is one very great cause of discontent, and if these men are discontented before they come out of the Army, it is much harder to make them contented when they are demobilised.
The right hon. Gentleman went into the details of the causes of complaint in regard to the procession and the meeting on Monday last. I will not go into the details. I think it is universally agreed 1297 that there was good and just cause for the discontent which these men feel. I would only like to put it that these men are not saints. One of the things I have learned from this War is that I became a convert to the belief that crime, as we know it, or as it was before the War, was not inherent in a person. Crime is largely due to superfluous energy, which, if a man has no other proper outlet for it, becomes what we know as crime. Every man who has the energy mentally or bodily, or who has sufficient energy, is a potential criminal. Right hon. Gentlemen who come to this House perhaps by the accident of birth or position, if they did not work off that energy here, under other circumstances might have been criminals. I put it that they have a very grave responsibility at the present time in regard to these large masses of men who are being demobilised. They are being turned adrift without employment. These men have the energy, as has been shown throughout the War, in its very highest form. It is extremely dangerous to allow these energetic men to be roaming about without any proper outlet for their energies. I will only make one suggestion, if I may. There are various groups of Members of the House formed for a variety of purposes. At the present time we have an Army group, an Air Service group, a Navy group, and a Housing group. I think it might be worth while that all Members—and it does not matter whether they are Service Members of Members of the Opposition, or Members of the Labour party—who have this question at heart should become members of a group in this House, not to strengthen the hands of the Government, but to be in a position to think out and discuss the best means of dealing with these men. Such a group would be in a position to keep the Government up to the mark, and see that the Government Departments concerned in the demobilisaton of men do full and proper justice to those who have served their country so faithfully.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I am sure the House will desire me to utter a word of congratulation to the hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down upon his very successful and interesting maiden speech. But perhaps the hon. Member will forgive me if I pass a word of criticism upon it by saying I am quite unable to apply to the Government the doctrine of criminology which he has expounded. The burden of argument in the House this afternoon has 1298 been that the grievances of the soldiers are not likely to be removed until the Government has shown much greater energy, for it is not an excess of energy on the part of the Government which accounts for its crimes in relation to the grievances of the hundreds of thousands of men who have now come back from the War. I should like also to say in relation to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member that his description, like that of other soldiers who have spoken, of what our men have had to endure proves clearly that this manifestation of discontent has close relation to what the men endured and to the sacrifices they made, and is not due in any degree to the mischief of agitators or the energies of any sprinkling of Bolsheviks which may exist in this country. It is no use trying to find excuses for this very real outburst of discontent on the part of such a large number of men. Those of us who have not served in that way and who have only had opportunity to hear at home of the trials of the soldier know quite well that the whole of the experience of modern military life has inevitably altered the attitude of mind of these men towards their country and towards the responsibility of the State. Therefore, we shall not assist each other in finding a solution of these grave problems by making implications either against each other in this House or against certain energetic people outside. The grievance is real, and it is due to the way in which these men are being treated in this country now. Indeed, this phase of the unemployment question to-day is forced upon us by a consciousness on the part of the Government of the reality of these grievances; and any attempt to force this House in the manner in which the discharged soldiers did on Monday would not have driven the Government to consent to such a Debate as this were they not conscious how serious the situation is, and how real the grievances of the men are.
I am certain that the House and the country will look to what the right hon. Gentleman will have to say later in the Debate rather than to anything which anyone else may say, no matter how long the discussion may last. Men are little interested in what we, who have no authority, may be inclined to say by way of criticism of the Labour Minister or of members of the Government in relation to this matter. I. therefore, hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for 1299 Labour will be able to say something to the House much more consoling and much more substantial in what it promises than his colleague the Parliamentary Secretary was able to say to the deputation which met him on Monday last. I have no doubt that the deputation which met him felt not only disappointment, but was incensed almost to encourage some stronger form of protest than they had previously shown in the hope that some further action would be prompted thereby. I agree that so far as my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary could say anything, he has said it; he expressed himself in terms of the greatest sympathy with the deputation. I am sure, too, that the House recognises that those who are at the head of the Ministry of Labour at this moment are not responsible for the situation. I am confident the Minister for Labour would do much more to meet the serious situation if he had power and authority, and it is for those of us who, for the moment, are in the position of critics to urge upon him to insist on his colleagues in the Government facing the realities of the situation.
The Parliamentary Secretry during his speech to the deputation on Monday stated that the Government were of opinion that it would be unwise to pay subsidies to private employers or to enter into competition with private employers by setting up State factories to produce goods of a kind ordinarily produced by the private employer. I take that to be the settled policy of the Government. They think it would be unwise to do either of those two things. But is it wise to leave things as they are? Is it wise to go no further than was indicated in the speech of my hon. Friend on Monday last? Would it not be less unwise to subsidise employers if that were necessary, or even to enter into State competition with employers in the hope of enlarging the opportunities for work which these men are seeking? It would be less unwise to do that than to leave these men so much to chance as they are being left at the present moment. There are many employers who have failed to carry out the assurances which they gave to their men when they left their work to go to the War. I must qualify that statement, of course, by adding that there is a considerable number of employers who have done straightforward, patriotic and manly service for their country by keeping full faith with their men, and according to them the most generous treatment. And inasmuch 1300 as it is the main function of the law to discover the wrongdoer and to apply some correction or punishment, it might well be the business of the Government to identify if possible all those employers who have failed to keep their promises in this regard. Soldiers who have come back naturally look upon the Government as the custodian of the interests and rights which they left behind them when they joined the Army in defence of their country. And in regard to those employers who are not keeping faith with either their country or their former workmen, everything possible should be done to compel them to reinstate the men in their service. Adjustments may be necessary, but on the broad principle I submit the Government could easily exercise a condition of control over any employers as they did while the War was on and for the purpose of war output. It ought not to be too big a job for the Government now to apply a form of control to any such employer, and make him do what morally is his duty, and what be verbally undertook to do when his men left to join the Army.
We are faced with a most humiliating and deplorable situation. We were all saddened by the news of a march upon the House itself by men who hitherto have done their marching for their country under the most arduous and dangerous conditions. It is humiliating to the country to realise that these unemployment processions are largely composed of those men who, when they left their country to go to the War, left good jobs with good wages. There were some 5,000,000 of these men who joined up before any Military Service Act was passed, and many of them abandoned good prospects in order to do so. I am speaking not only of the rank and file of the Army. I speak also of that class of officer, the lieutenant or the captain, who gave up his civil pursuit, with all the advantages of personal ease, and did so in order to lead our men. A very large number of these men have come back and are smarting under the lack of that Government support which has been referred to by some of the Members. Individual cases have been cited, particularly by the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge), but in thousands and thousands of cases there is a feeling of bitter personal experience. Hope deferred maketh the heart sick. It was easy to get men into the Army. They volunteered without loss of time, but they are now smarting because of the delay—the un- 1301 necessary delay which is taking place in the payment of their gratuities. I have had personal knowledge during the past week of a case of an ex-officer, whose gratuity is now more than five months overdue. These things, felt by individuals, talked of amongst friends and neighbours, travel far and create a measure. of real discontent which ultimately falls on the shoulders of my right hon. Friend, whose Department is not in any way to blame for many of these features of the present discontent. These individual cases are numerous enough to require some speeding up. it is no answer to say—if it be said—that the Government is doing all it can. If the staff in any Government Office is not equal to dealing speedily and humanely with these reasonable claims, then there is a large body of unemployed persons who can be called in to deal with them and get them off the books. At least the Government ought to show willingness, and make it impossible for any grievance of this kind to remain, which seems in a sense to indicate almost a callousness, certainly a serious neglect on the part of the Government and only feeds the discontent which already exists. Although we are seeing from week to week some improvement in the direction of taking off the embargoes which have rested upon trade and which have thereby done a great deal to restrict enterprise and the development of industry, I would urge that the right hon. Gentleman should make it definitely part of his policy as Minister of Labour absolutely to sweep away all these restraints which have done a good deal to narrow opportunities for employment. These are grievances felt not merely by the working classes and by the returned soldiers, but by a large number of commercial and business men who, in the uncertainties of the industrial and commercial situation, are not doing what they might individually be able to do to lessen the severity of the unemployment difficulty and to improve the general state of trade in the country.
Let me turn for a moment to what the Government does in cases where it has a real opportunity to lessen the unemployment problem and not only neglects that opportunty, but does a thing which increases it. I have here a report on a gun factory that was in course of erection during the War at Burton-on-Trent. This factory was brought into existence, I am told, about eighteen months ago, and has been in course of erection until quite 1302 recently. The cost, I hear, is something like £1,000,000. Gun-repairing work was going on there for some time with a steady increase in the output, when suddenly, my report says, it was decided to stop work altogether and to use the place as a dumping ground or as a mere storehouse for certain machines. That factory was capable of employing at least 1,500 workers. It would have made, I am told, a splendid motor works. I have information from a competent authority, an experienced man in motor manufacturing, who expresses this opinion:In my opinion it is an ideal works for a. motor repair factory. It is all on the ground floor, the shops are of large area, all big spans; there is a railway siding into the works to-enable the lorries that are unfit to come on their own wheels to be delivered by rail, and there is plenty of room on the land adjoining the works for storing lorries and parts that are unfit for use or repair.In face of that quite valuable opinion, I would like to know whether the Minister of Labour can tell the House why, in this instance, a step has been taken which has increased the number of unemployed in face of the opportunity offered to diminish the number? I have also a case of an opportunity given to the War Office to do its little bit in lessening the number of the unemployed. It is the work of renovating the barracks and married quarters at Aldershot. That work, I am told, is curtailed in consequence of an insufficiency of money, as the report goes. That, I understand, is the reply given by the War Office for the step they have taken. Very little repair work has been done during the War in that particular quarter and there is now certainly much need for it. These instances show that the Government is rather falling back upon a policy of letting time alone afford the country a solution of this problem, when really the case is so urgent that the masses of men and women outside this House will not patiently wait. I submit to the Minister of Labour that the ex-soldier has a special claim, which he is entitled to put even before the claim of the civilian worker, I know that this is challenged by some who regard men as having a right to equal opportunities for earning their daily bread. But let me put the case as I see it. The man who left his work voluntarily, or who was required by the law to join the Army, was a man picked out of many hundreds of thousands of men who still remained at their peaceful pursuits, still earning their 1303 wages, and often good wages in comparison with the pre-war wages. Just as it was right for the Government to call upon that man to face the rigours of the War, that man now regards it as his right to call upon the Government to put him back again in his proper industrial place and give him a sphere for useful civil service. Indeed, he has a claim, by virtue of what he has sacrificed and by virtue of the particular task which as a soldier he faced, that is prior to that of the civilian worker who was not called upon to leave the country at all, but who remained here under comparatively good terms of personal advantage to himself. Any step which the Government can take, even to depart from the ordinary practices and conditions of industrial service, ought to be taken to keep faith with these men and to give them the least of the rewards which any returned soldier has a right to expect, that is, the reward of finding an honourable and useful place in our industrial and social system to earn himself his daily bread.
I should like to express the astonishment with which I heard the speech of my hon. Friend for the Mossley Division of Manchester (Mr. A. Hopkinson), who followed my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge), and levelled, against him an attack which I am sure was a surprise to all of us who recall the extremely useful and, I believe, totally disinterested service which my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh rendered to the cause of the soldier during the years of the last Government. My hon. friend the Member for Mossley has a record him self as a private employer which is among the best. His nobility of motive is known to all who are personally acquainted with him, and I therefore could not understand the fury with which he turned upon the hon. Member for East Edinburgh for having only narrow, personal, or political interests to serve in the interest he has taken in relation to the organisation of the soldiers of this country. I suggest that, subject as we all are to these weaknesses of Debate, this is too high and serious a question for importing into it, to any great degree at any rate, these charges of unworthy motives against any of us. I reject the view that my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh has not as high and worthy a motive in the public service as any other man in this House who may take part in this Debate.
1304 Reference was made—I cannot close without some reference to the point—to trade union regulations or customs being one cause of some of the unemployment which exists. I should like some hon. Member to adduce, either openly in the House or privately, or in any other way, some grounds for this repeated statement. It is not true. I myself, speaking sometimes as the mouthpiece of the least skilled or unskilled workers of this country, have had cause to complain of certain trade union practices and customs which tended to keep the labourer in the position of a labourer and not give him the wider opportunities for individual advancement which ought to be common to all men in all spheres of existence. But I am not in any way aware of a ground of complaint against trade unions in regard to the just and reasonable claims of the soldiers. It is true that trade unions in quite a number of cases have taken steps to defend wage rights, and to prevent employers taking advantage of the labour which has returned from the War, but that is a different thing from alleging that by any measure the trade unions have excluded from employment soldiers who otherwise would have been able to secure it. I reject totally the imputation that trade unionists by their present regulations or customs have done more than to seek to defend the wage standards which, indeed, it is their proper duty to defend. It is only quite recently that the Bill has been introduced to restore to trade unionists their rights as they existed during the course of the War and before it. I suggest that the very delay in introducing that measure has in no small degree irritated and incensed trade unions and made it difficult, if not impossible, for them to make provisions which might further help the peaceful return of the soldier to ordinary peaceful pursuits. In other words, if that Bill had been introduced and passed into law months ago, there would by this time have been opportunity for the trade unions to accommodate workshop conditions to the pressing needs of the soldiers still outside. They have been kept in a state of doubt and uncertainty, and have got into a frame of mind which has made them think that the Government never meant really to restore the trade union privileges or to keep the word which was given to organised labour during the course of the War. We do not want to limit our service to that criticism in regard to this very pressing 1305 problem. We have already made in this and in other Debates suggestions of some substance which can be carried into practical effect. It is about time now that the Government should cease to let this question try to settle itself. It is not the job for time; it is the job of statesmen. Inasmuch as the claim of these men is so well grounded upon the sacrifice and the service which they have rendered, I hope that this House, the country, the employers, and the State Departments will show themselves willing to make any sacrifice to repay the men who have done so much for their country.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir R. Horne)
The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Clynes) has certainly in full measure conformed to the test which the hon. Member (Mr. Hogge) set up in opening this Debate. The hon. Member said he wished to keep it entirely free from political feeling, and that we all might give some helpful contribution towards a solution of this great; question. Every speech that has been delivered has been helpful in some way or another. The Government welcomes help. Personally I am grateful to all hon. Members who have spoken, and I am glad an opportunity is given me to state what the position of the Government is upon this matter. The topic is one of supreme importance. Upon its adequate solution there depends the peaceful readjustment of our social and industrial life and the happiness of the great mass of men whose courage, endurance and patriotism saved the State, and to whom we in our turn owe the best the State can give. While I am sure everyone appreciates the importance of the issue, I am not perfectly certain that all hon. Members who have spoken quite understand the formidable character of the task which is imposed upon the Government in connection with it. If in time of settled peace you had abstracted some millions of men from the industrial life of the country and at the end of six months had proposed to restore them to the industries from which they had been taken, you would have found your task even then one of such difficulty that you could not have compassed it within the space of many months. If you reflect upon the conditions which were created by the War you will see that the difficulties became enormously increased. Nearly all the great industries of the country were turned from the manufacture of articles 1306 of commerce to the production of war material. They became newly equipped. They took in different types of machines. Their shops and factories were converted, to purposes for which they were never intended, and when hostilities ceased it became a matter of urgent necessity to reconvert these shops to the purpose for which they were originally intended. I am sure the House realises that that is a. matter which cannot be accomplished within a short space of time, and that the months which have passed have not, indeed, been too much for the accomplishment of that task.
But I have only half stated the difficulties of this problem. Men manufacture goods not to keep them, but for markets. Our market is the whole habitable globe. Russia is at present in the agonies of a convulsion which make it entirely impossible for us to do any trading with her. All the territories of our enemies are closed to us, and even the countries of our Allies are so busy in performing their readjustments after the War that the normal course of trade has never begun to flow again between us and them, and accordingly the marvel is not that we find a large number of people who cannot obtain a job, but that unemployment has been kept within such narrow proportions. I wonder if the House realises that we have demobilised 2,800,000 soldiers since the Armistice. I wonder if the House appreciates that, for example, in the. month of February men were being demobilised at the rate of 170,000 per week, and in March at the rate of 106,000 per week. Is it conceivable that you could have all these men reabsorbed at once into industry? And yet we have almost accomplished the impossible, for of the men who have come back from the Army, actually 81 percent. have been reabsorbed into industry, and of the other 19 percent some are in a position which makes them quite unfitted for the industry which they previously carried on. It makes it far more difficult for them to get a job. And with regard to some of them, unless human nature has become suddenly angelic, I think it must be true that they are more anxious for a time to draw unemployment donation than to find work. I do not say that applies to many, but of a certain proportion of the remaining 19 percent. that undoubtedly is true. Accordingly, I think the House will agree that that record is. 1307 not one which gives us any reason for despair, though it may give some reason for anxiety.
§ Mr. CLYNES
Can the right hon. Gentleman explain how that figure is arrived at? What are the sources of information upon which it is based?
§ Sir R. HORNE
The sources of information are the numbers which the War Office report to us to be demobilised. Then you deduct from these numbers those whose furlough has not yet expired, and then, of the remainder, who would be either on unemployment donation or in work, you get a total—I am speaking from memory—of 1,700,000, of whom 408,000 arc still out of work. I think the figures are entirely accurate, and the House may accept them with confidence. They show that at least many of the comments which have been made are not entirely justified. I have no doubt it is true that a certain number of employers have not completely conformed to all the pledges which they gave at the beginning of the War, but they cannot be many. Indeed, their number must be infinitesimal, otherwise you would have had a far larger proportion out of work than we find to be the case. You can test it in this way. If you take the number of soldiers who are unemployed as compared with the number of civilians you find the civilians are twice as many as the soldiers—19 percent. of soldiers as against 36 per cent. of civilians—and accordingly it would appear that throughout the country employers have been taking back the soldiers and have been dismissing the civilians in order to give them their places. Further, it has been suggested that in many cases women have been kept on in positions which soldiers have previously held. In regard to that matter, as early as February, I succeeded in making an agreement both with the Employers' Association and the Trade Unions, and a strict code was entered into for the purpose Of arranging how discharges should take place of dilutees in order to make room for the men coming back. As the result of that agreement I do not think I have more than half a dozen cases of complaint where it is suggested employers were failing to keep that bargain. One of the cases, which was not unnatural, occurred in connection with a factory owned by a lady who entirely refused to discharge her women employés. But that is the only serious case we have had. The others have been cases 1308 of very trivial importance, and I therefore think the House is entitled to take it that the returning soldier has been on the whole well treated by the employers, and that his place has been given back to him when he has asked for it.
There are certain other complaints which have been made. It has been complained that Government Departments are slack in dealing with applications to them for necessary aid for returning soldiers and officers. I have no doubt there are cases of that kind. I cannot answer for the individual cases which were cited, because it is obviously impossible to be provided with notes with regard to every person whose name has come before a Government Office, but I can at least give this assurance on the part of the Government that it is anxious that no case of that kind should occur, and that every possible opportunity will be given for redressing the cases which hon. Members can bring before us. With regard to some comments made upon the Appointments Department by the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Lieut.-Colonel Ashley), I should like to utter one word of correction. Instead of there being, as he said, 120,000 applications by officers for training there have been 34,000.
§ Sir R. HORNE
That, again, is an erroneous figure. The number of names on our books to-day seeking employment at the Appointments Department is 10,731. So that I am afraid the figure the hon. and gallant Gentleman has asked for is even worse than the one I was able to give him on the other branch of his complaint.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
The right hon. Gentleman said, on 14th April, that 139,000 applications for training or employment had been received, but he could not state exactly in how many cases they had been successful, but 4,130 had been placed in appointments. I thought, therefore, that if I took the present date in May, and I knew the average number of cases was 200 a week, I should not be wrong in saying there were 150,000 applications and 5.000 placed.
§ Sir R. HORNE
The matter is easily explained. The figures have been somewhat misapprehended. There were applications on the part of 139,000 officers in the period of which I speak for appointments. They were passed through by the Appointments Department to various employers 1309 named in these applications. All we know is that over 100,000 officers have been demobilised, and presumably the officers got the appointments to which they were referred, because, as I have stated, there only remain 10,000 upon our books to-day desiring appointments. I hope that is clear.
§ Sir R. HORNE
The office does not take credit for having obtained all these appointments. I do not claim that the office is doing much more than the work of a post office, although, in many cases, it had to make inquiries; but at least we must do them this justice, that they passed through all these cases, and presumably the appointments have been obtained, judging from the numbers on the books to-day. The hon. Member made certain other complaints which I shall certainly be very glad to look into if he will give me the particulars. Now I come to a much more important matter, and that is, the general remedy for unemployment, which was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Clynes). I gathered that this suggestion was that it was the duty of the Government to provide employment in national factories, and I understood him to ask whether that was the settled policy of the Government. My reply is, that the Government, some months ago, made up its mind quite clearly upon that subject. My right hon. Friend read a passage which seemed to indicate that there was some fear of interference with private enterprise, and that was the cause of delay on the part of the Government. The truth is that the Government was guided in this matter by no other test than this: How shall we best prevent unemployment? That the Government have no prejudice in the matter, the House will readily judge. It is perfectly true that if you ask me whether I am in favour of private enterprise or industry carried on under national control, I should answer that my belief is that in normal circumstances, and in the case of most industries, you will always get better results out of private enterprise than out of national. But we are not in normal circumstances. The circumstances to-day are as abnormal as they were during the War, and the Government which interferes during the War, in order to carry on national factories, was 1310 just as ready to interfere at the present time to carry on national factories if they believed it would prevent unemployment.
I have never heard yet a really practical suggestion as to what we were to do with these national factories. It is perfectly obvious that if you are going to make in these national factories goods which the market wants, you are only making goods which are being made in some other factory at the present time, and you would only find employment in the national factory, and dislocate employment in some other factory. You would do worse than that. So far from preventing unemployment, you would in my judgment increase unemployment, because the fact of the State interfering and carrying on ordinary industry in the country in national factories, would have this result, that the individual trader, who knows that the State will make at any cost and sell at any sacrifice, would know that he had a competitor with whom he could not compete, and you would drive enterprise out of industry. For these reasons, we came deliberately to the conclusion that no advantage would be gained by starting national factories. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the case of the gun factory at Burton-on-Trent. It may very well be that you can make motor cars in that particular factory. In point of fact, that factory is amongst the list of "A" factories, which the Government requires to keep against contingencies, and so far it has only been able to keep it in its own hands for the purpose of a national store, which is much required. The general considerations of which I have spoken have been sufficient to determine the Government action in regard to these national factories.
The hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) made some suggestions for remedies. He asked that the Employment Exchange system should be inquired into by a Committee. At the present time there is a Committee inquiring into the administration of the unemployment donation, which, incidentally, will raise the question of any improvement that can be effected in the mechanism of the Employment Exchanges. But I would beg the House not to run away with the assumption that there are people wanting employés, and employés wanting employers who cannot be got together by the mechanism of the Employment Exchanges. 1311 There is not to-day any large body of vacancies throughout the country. They only amount to 27,000 throughout the country. If you take a great trade like engineering, there are over 100,000 people out of work, and only 2,963 notified vacancies throughout the whole country. As every one knows there is always a floating number of people who are shifting from one job to another and who register their names at the Exchange. Therefore, I do not think that whatever be the result of any committee of inquiry it is going appreciably to affect the great problem with which we are dealing to-day. Another matter with which the hon. Member dealt was the Civil Liabilities Department. I do not suggest that the form which applicants have to fill up is by any means perfect. It may very well be that no form that issues from a Government Department ever is perfect, but this is the form that has been in existence since the Civil Liabilities Department existed. It is the form that was in existence when my hon. Friend was a member of the committee, and so far as I know, he never made any complaint at that time, and he has reserved his criticisms for his speech on the floor of the House.
I turn now to what the Government is in point of fact doing. The request is to provide work. This Government will be providing work within a short time to a greater extent than any Government in this country has ever done. The housing scheme which it has launched involves the building of 100,000 houses in the first twelve months, and 200,000 houses in the second twelve months. I know that this scheme has not gone very far. We are all perfectly well aware of that. To-day there have been approved sites for 76,000 houses, and the matter now rests with the local authorities to get on with the building. My hon. Friend suggested that it was our duty to stir up the local authorities. That suggestion has already been met. A strongly worded circular was issued by the President of the Local Government Board, pointing out the great importance of the building of houses, not only in relation to accommodating the working classes of this country but also in relation to the provision of employment for those who are unemployed. I can only tell my hon. Friend that there is an appreciable change in the amount of unemployment, and I am glad to say that it is on the decrease. During the last week 1312 for which we have figures, the number of unemployed is less than it has been at anytime during the last ten weeks. It is now under the number of a million, over which it stood for some time. In the building trade I notice that in that particular week 5,000 people who have been unemployed have been absorbed into their proper industry. I find a similar decrease in the general labourers who assist in the building trade. While I should be foolish to predict anything too strongly, I do believe that we have reached the turn in this matter, and that the number of unemployed will gradually go down, that the Government schemes will increasingly take up a number of men who to-day can find no job, and that by the end of the summer we shall be in a very different situation from what we are to-day.
Let me refer to another matter. The Road Board has made grants of £7,500,000 already for the repair of roads. Some hon. Members asked whether anything had actually been done on the roads. I am glad to be able to say that in connection with these grants a considerable amount of work has already been begun and that many other schemes are ready to start. You can take my assurance that the Road Board is fully alive to the necessities of the situation, and that they are prepared to use all their energies to get the work carried forward with great expedition, in order to assist us in this matter of unemployment. That does not cover all that is in being or in prospect. Within the last few weeks, in connection with local work, gasworks, waterworks, and so on, schemes have been started costing £2,500,000, and other schemes are already sanctioned costing £15,000,000. Therefore, I think the House will see that the Government is already in the way to providing employment in the most effective way possible. I have heard to-day several hon. Members deprecating useless work. If the unemployment bonus is demoralising, nothing, is more demoralising than useless work. Everybody who has read the history of the revolution in France in 1843 knows the conditions which were created in Paris under the system of the Paris industrial works. Nothing ever so demoralised a population as the useless works started at that time by the French Government, and I hope that under no circumstances shall we ever be induced to take up similar schemes. I only wish to say, in conclusion, that I am grateful to the hon. Members who have spoken for the useful help 1313 they have given to the Government by way of criticism and suggestions. I am perfectly certain that this Debate has been valuable not only to the Government but to the country, and I hope that one of its results will be to enlist the co-operation of every loyal citizen with the Government in pushing on the measures by which schemes may be started and carried through, and which will take up large numbers of the unemployed who at present unfortunately exist in this country.
§ Captain LOSEBY
I am glad that the Government have given this opportunity for the discussion of the relation between the discharged soldier and the State. It will give many of us the opportunity which we have been wanting for some time of unburdening ourselves. The story, in so far as it is a sad story, is a story of that want of imagination which from time immemorial has been characteristic of Government Departments. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Home) has made a strong defence of his own Department. I believe that so far as his Department is concerned he stands in a strong position. I accept everything he says. I think that his Department and his actions have been almost heroic, as I think has the work of other Departments, but I would ask hon. Members to take their minds back to the time of the Armistice, just before the General Election. Bolshevism was rampant in Europe, and the monster was sending out its tentacles to get within its clutches anything good or evil with which it might nurture its vile body. In this country there was a small handful of men who, it was known, had tendencies in that direction. Then it was put to the people of this country, "Which will you have—Government of the people, for the people and by the people, or a bloody tyranny such as has devastated Eastern Europe?" And the reply given was unanimous. There was not a Bolshevist in this country who did not bite the dust. I do not believe that there is a Member of this House to-day worthy of the name. If there is any who has such tendencies, he must have concealed them from the electors, as otherwise he would not be here. Had anyone ventured at the election to talk about indirect government he would not have been returned to this House.
The danger was that the monster of Bolshevism was still alive, and the reasonable thing for the Government to do was to turn to the Army over the seas awaiting 1314 demobilisation, that Army who had proved its courage and its chivalry. The Government should have said, "Whoever else is against us, whoever else has grievances, these men must have none." As reasonable men they had a right to say, "They are going to be to this country the source of the greatest strength, or else we frankly acknowledge that they are potential revolutionists." You must recognise that, having read history and in view of the difficulties of the times. Then came the demobilisation. It was carried out, I acknowledge freely and in spite of any criticisms that are made, on the whole with energy and skill. But in dealing with soldiers the first essential thing is to understand the psychology of soldiers, and it is here that the Government fail. If at the time of the demobilisation the Government had been in a position to say, "The hurt men, the crippled men, your comrades, are receiving not only just treatment but generous treatment. The wounded men, the widows of the men in action, are being looked after as a good father would look after his children. The mothers of men who died are getting generous treatment. The pledges which we made to you when we wanted something are now redeemed when we no longer want anything," then the Government would be in a stronger position than it is to-day.
I do not attack the pensions scheme as a, whole. Most certainly I do not attack the present Minister of Pensions, whom I regard as a gentleman of the widest sympathy and the greatest energy, but I may give some instances of what has occurred. How did you keep your promises, and show imagination and foresight? Soldiers see the widow of a comrade receiving 15s. 6d. per week. The widowed mother of a man who died gallantly fighting is put off with 5s. a week, and—this is the worst thing I have got against the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War—almost with tears in his voice he told us what a splendid thing it was to have 5s. a week for life. That is the kind of thing soldiers see. Again and again, public men in this country said to soldiers when they wanted men that neither they nor those dependent on them would, within reasonable limits, be in a weaker financial position owing to the fact that they had served their country, and you carried out your promise by an alternative pensions scheme, and based your scheme on pre-war earnings. And so you 1315 have a broken pledge, a want of generosity, a want of imagination, and dissatisfaction among the soldiers, and then just a little want of determination.
Would it have been unreasonable for the Minister of Pensions to have taken up this attitude? The Ministry of Pensions was brought into existence by the sorrows of soldiers, and whatever was to be got from it should go back again to soldiers. This is the kind of thing which would have been evidence of sympathy and determination—if it were said that By December, 1920, every man employed in the Ministry of Pensions shall be a discharged soldier, and, if possible, a disabled soldier. Possibly it is a little dramatic, but it is the kind of thing that appeals to the psychology of soldiers. When soldiers see jobs advertised at 25s. a week, and see written underneath, "Preference to be given to discharged soldiers," and at the same time see another advertisement for a job at £750 a year in which not only is there no reference to soldiers, but incidentally in one case it is given to a man whom they knew to be a skrim-shanker, I think that that is a legitimate argument. It indicates the kind of thing that is in my mind. I know the sympathy of every hon. Member towards the soldiers, but I do say that we have possibly not given the full evidence of it that we should have given. We have not impressed the mind of the soldier as we ought to have done.
Just one other case which I think will illustrate my meaning, because I feel very strongly on this matter. I do not think it would have been impracticable to appeal to the great leaders of industry throughout this country to co-operate with the Government in solving this problem. When we realise that if 4 percent. of the men in industry were disabled soldiers employed at the full minimum wage your whole disabled men problem would be solved, I cannot help thinking that we have got a scheme worthy of consideration. My remedy is simply a redemption of pledges. Let the Government look through their files. They fought the War on a sound financial principle. They said, "This War is on. We have got to see it through. We will count the cost afterwards." They were perfectly right. Will not the same thing be said in regard to the men who saved their country? Whenever the Government is in a position to say, "We have searched through our pledges, and there is not one we have not 1316 redeemed," then I think that it will stand in a stronger position before the people. Let me, for fear of being misunderstood, make myself finally clear. I detest and abhor with all my soul any exploitation of the grievances of soldiers. To my mind such a thing as happened on Monday last is detestable. Any exploitation of federations of soldiers would, to my mind, spoil everything. It would spoil their splendid record. I have the greatest possible sympathy with the present Government in its difficulties, and at the present time I am not so much criticising what they have done as what appears to me to be wanting in their mental attitude in regard to this subject.
As a new Member I rise with some diffidence to intervene in this Debate, and I crave your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House. I have the cause of the discharged soldier very much at heart, and I spent last evening with 1,500 discharged soldiers. I heard their grievances at first hand. I went down to speak to them, but they spoke to me instead. I listened to their grievances and answered questions, which was all I was allowed to do, from half-past eight until well after eleven, so that I may claim to know a little of what is in the discharged soldiers' mind at the present time. One hon. Member this afternoon said that the Discharged Soldiers' and Sailors' Federation was on the verge of anarchy and that they did not know what they wanted. The branch that I visited last night knew exactly what it wanted. It wanted work and not unemployment benefit. So far from being in a state of anarchy, they were far more orderly and far more ready to listen to reason than they were when I visited them some six months ago. They recognised, with a few exceptions, that the Government was honestly trying to do its best for them, and the Bolshevist element which had been in existence some six months ago is absolutely non-existent among them to-day. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh gave us a long list of soldiers' grievances. Last night I did not have any long list, but I heard a few individual grievances. There were a few cases of personal hardship. There was great discontent about a soldier's wife who had been evicted from her house, and had received, it was alleged, very harsh and inconsiderate treatment. But they had one 1317 grievance which over-shadowed everything else, and that was that the men wanted the women to give them back the jobs which they laid down when they went to the War. It was suggested by speaker after speaker that women clerks in Government offices who had only been clerks since the War started should stand down and let the discharged soldier come and do the work. It was suggested that women ticket collectors on railways and women who acted as bus and tram conductors, and did many other jobs so well and efficiently during the War, should now hand those jobs back to the men. The discharged soldier thinks that those women should stand down and let him have a chance now. That is what he wants done, and I suggest that there is no finer way in which the women of England can show their gratitude to the soldiers than by voluntarily resigning many of the jobs which they have kept warm for them during the War.
§ Major Sir KEITH FRASER
Like the hon. Member who has just spoken, I have tried to find out at first hand what last Monday's demonstration was, and I talked to a number of men who seemed to have been connected with the meeting in Hyde park. What they told me was rather interesting. I never expected for a moment that there would be many discharged soldiers and sailors looking for employment, and I found that these men were not looking for employment. They could get employment, but at a certain price. It was a question of wages. I have been hoping to find a number of these men corning along to work on the land in Leicestershire, where there is a great shortage of agricultural labourers at the present moment. It is a serious matter for farmers there. People have an idea that Leicestershire is a big farming country—that there are big farmers there—but that is not the case. Ninety percent. of the farmers in Leicestershire farm under 100 acres, and a lot of the land cannot be worked now for want of labour. If the Ministry of Labour would send a few of those 10,000 men down to us in Leicestershire to work on the land, it would be a great help. We cannot get them out of the War Office. They have put Leicestershire under the York Command for the distribution of soldiers to work on the land, but the conditions in Leicestershire are not the same as those in Yorkshire. I was talking to a man who. I think, had a good deal to do with Monday's meeting. He was a young soldier, and what he said about hit the nail on the head. 1318 I said, "You could get as much employment as you wish." He said, "Yes, at £2 a week, but we are not going to work for that." He was not a bad class of man. He said, "I have a wife and two children, and I am not going to work for £2 a week. It is not equal to 18s. before the war." That was the line he took, and it is the line taken by a number of others. They say they must have better wages. If, however, the Government were to insist on a wage of £3 a week—this man said he would not work for less—it would not better the condition of things in the least. It is only making the sovereign of less value. It would not prevent profiteering; in fact, I venture to say there would be more profiteering than ever. The only possible way of meeting this difficulty is to make the sovereign worth more than it is worth at the present moment. I suggest that the Government should do something to stop the profiteering that is going on. We know it is not only the rank and file that suffer, but all classes suffer in the same way. Clothes cost us more—a suit of clothes now costs about £18 and a pair of boots £5; and only the other day, at the Carlton Club, a small portion of whisky cost 3s. 6d. Only the other day a gardener sold some cabbages at 1d. apiece, and those same cabbages were sold in a shop in London for 7d. When soldiers are only getting £2, which is equal to only 18s. before the War, and when they find that prices have gone up to such an extent, I think it is a wonder that there is not more grumbling. It is a wonder that we are not all demonstrating. Probably there is hardly a Member of this House who is not suffering in the same way. I venture to say that the Government should try and cut down the cost of the ordinary necessities of life and make them as cheap as possible. It is for the Government to know how that should be done.
§ Mr. SPENCER
I think that, to those on this side of the House at any rate, the speech delivered by the Minister of Labour was one of the most disappointing and unsatisfactory speeches that has ever been delivered in this House. He commenced by reviewing his difficulties. In the first place, he said that the difficulties had been accentuated by reason of the fact that demobilisation had gone on at such a very rapid rate. One has a right to recall the fact, however, that prophecy after prophecy during the progress of the War was made by Members of this House, or by distinguished statesmen who arc not in this 1319 House, that after the War we were bound to pass through a period of trade depression unless the Government foresaw the possible difficulties and undertook to grapple with them before they arrived. The Government set up I do not know how many Committees of Reconstruction. Those Committees have sat and have been supposed to formulate definite schemes which were to be put into operation as soon as ever war ceased, and it was thought that if those schemes were put into operation we should avoid a great many of the difficulties that we have at the present moment to face. I do not know whether hon. Gentlemen present here today know, but I scarcely know of half a dozen of those schemes that the Government have attempted to put into operation. Whatever difficulties the Government are facing at the present moment owing to demobilisation are difficulties that ought to have been avoided if the Government had had any adequate scheme to put into operation when war ceased. Therefore the Government cannot hide their head in the sand and say that the difficulties we have to face arc such as were not contemplated, because statesmen in this House, or at least members of the Government, had foretold that we were going to have those difficulties, and they set up Committees to formulate schemes to avoid them when they came. Now that they are coming upon us like an avalanche we find that the Government have made no adequate provision to meet them.
Then the Minister told us that, in addition to the difficulties due to demobilisation, there were difficulties due to the fact that we are not able to trade with many of our Allies or with the enemy or with Russia. To whom belongs largely the responsibility for that? Is it not due to the fact that the Government have kept tight the blockade and have refused to allow trade to flow in its natural channel? The remedies that have been suggested from this side of the House, the Minister sought to deal with in a very light-hearted manner. He tried to make out that they were not remedies at all, that there was only a certain amount of work to be done, and that if you transferred that work to national workshops rather than to private enterprise it would not solve the difficulty at all. I would suggest that there is far more work in this country than the Minister is aware of. We all know that many of the goods we require for domestic pur- 1320 poses are not available, or that owing to the general shortage of these things they have reached extortionate prices. The Government are refusing to go into competition with private enterprise, because they are desirous of keeping extortionate prices at their present level. We have been told that if the Government entered into competition with private enterprise and decided to go on irrespective of sacrifice and cost, the consequence would be that the private trader would be driven out. That is a statement made to-day by a responsible Minister, and he draws the deduction that because that would happen we must not enter into competition with private enterprise. What of the people who pay the extortionate price? What of the unemployed and the discharged soldiers? As against private enterprise they are not to be taken into consideration. It is the duty of the Government to consider not only the employing classes, but the needs of the community and the right of the discharged man to employment. In the answer we have had from the Minister this afternoon he has adopted the attitude of Micawber over and over again—something will turn up; it is hoped that in the scheme for building there may be absorbed a great amount of unemployed labour. If that ideal were to fructify to its fullest extent it could absorb only a certain amount, but if the Government had made use of their national factories for the purpose of manufacturing the doors and windows and other materials required for houses they would have taken into employment a far greater number of men. It means that as far as the housing scheme is concerned it is going to be an Eldora do for the private enterprises engaged in the erection of these cottages. Very few men would say that the prices we are to pay for the erection of cottages are inevitable prices. The prices can be lowered if, and only if, the Government enter into competition with private enterprise. But the Government refuse to do that.
It is a very pet argument of many hon. Members that some of the unemployment is due to the fact that the trade unions will not relax their rules in relation to dilutees. It is said that they are keeping men out of employment because their rules are so stringent. There is another side to that question. Very often it is the employing classes that will not take men back again when they come broken and 1321 maimed from the front. I happen to have had some experience of that. I am pleased to say it is not an extensive practice, but here and there one meets with it. Only the other day there was a case in connection with the re-employment of a clerk. He had returned broken from the War. He had been at the colliery two years, but the employer said, "He has been here only six months training, and I cannot give him the same wage as other people." One could enumerate other cases of that character. Men who come back who cannot actually go right away to the coal face and do the task that they did before, there is scarcely any room for. In an industry of that character, especially to the coalfield to which I belong—one of the richest in this country, one that generally speaking, pays the highest dividend—there are cases where employment cannot be found for these men when they come back maimed and broken. This very week one has had to investigate the case of three men having notice to leave. The three men happened to belong to the joiners' and blacksmiths' shop. There were other men making overtime, but they did not desire it, and they begged the company to start a night shift or a supplementary shift so that the three men could continue work rather than be discharged.
§ Major WARD-JACKSON
Will the hon. Member not mention the cases of those other employers who paid the full wages of the workmen from the time they went to the front?
§ Mr. SPENCER
I would not attempt to cast reflect ions on all employers. I am giving a few cases that have come within my own experience
§ Mr. SPENCER
If there are a few cases in one particular district and a few in another, the aggregate may be great. I was mentioning that here you have an employer giving notice to men to leave when other men employed by him wanted overtime stopped so that those under notice could be kept on. These are cases which indicate that unemployment to-day is not always due to the fact that there is a shortage of work.
§ Mr. SPENCER
When the hon. Member gets up to speak he may indicate whether it is due to the rise in the price of coal. The miners are not responsible for the rise. They demanded that there should be strict limitation of prices and that the cost of living should not go up by leaps and bounds. It would have been better if the policy of the Government from the first had been that the whole of the profits made during the War should have gone to the Exchequer. The replies of the Government to the speeches made this afternoon are totally inadequate to meet the present crisis. We do not want doles or charity. What we do require, in a nutshell, is simply this: that the schemes which are supposed to have been thought out by committees in relation to reconstruction should be put into force. The greatest source of employment would have been the land. What has the Government done? The present Prime Minister was a great leader in land reforms and in relation to valuation. But this Government, led by the Prime Minister, has deserted its own policy. It is said that the rich landowners are not to-day demanding their pound of flesh. The Members on these Benches at least say that, had the Government been serious in relation to the discharged soldier they would have had a great land policy for the soldier to have returned to. Building would not have been left to the last ten minutes, and the programme would have been such that a great many of these returning men could have been transferred to the land and provided with houses properly equipped.
§ Mr. WARDLE
I do not intend to follow the hon. Member on all the questions he has raised, but on one or two points I should like to reply at once. First of all, I would say that he is quite incorrect in stating that the Government are not carrying out one by one the plans which they have—plans which Committees of this House and other committees have put before them in regard to reconstruction. Those who think it is possible to get all these schemes carried out in a moment are not living in the ordinary world in which others live.
§ Mr. WARDLE
If I have got wiser it may not prevent the hon. Member also from getting so. I have never held the view that it is possible to create Utopia in. 1323 a day. If hon. Members will reflect upon the number of schemes which the Government have put into operation and the number of Bills which have been brought before the House this Session with a view of carrying out the schemes to which the hon. Member has referred, they will see at once that the Government are attempting to redeem the pledges which they gave.
There is one thing I must say, that neither he nor any Members on that side of the House have any monopoly of the desire to see justice done to discharged soldiers and sailors. [An HON. MEMBER: "We did not claim so."] There was pretty nearly a claim for it. I think in the last speech there was almost a claim for such a monopoly. I know the hon. Member would not put it so high, but in the speech which he made he did almost make that claim. Let me take one case, which is a very ordinary case, and which is very often made. It is said, Why do not the Government turn the national factories into making doors? The Government have ordered bricks and doors, and taken practically all the steps that arc; necessary to get material for the houses which are to be put up. But if they did so, who would be the first to complain if the national factories were to be set up with all kinds of unskilled or semiskilled men to make doors? There would probably be a strike of those who were entitled to say that they ought to be employed in making these doors. There are only so many skilled men in the country, and the amount of joiners out of work at present is not sufficient to warrant putting them at work in national factories making doors. If you go into details, in practically every one of these cases it will be found to be one of the real troubles that there, is not enough of a particular kind of man to do work in factories which would enable the Government to man those factories, and run them in the way suggested. That is one of the practical difficulties.
I really rose not to deal with what has occurred in the Debate to-day, but because I was the person who received the deputation of discharged soldiers and sailors. The hon. Member who introduced this Debate was very fair in what he said with regard to that deputation. He did not quote so far as he might in some respects, but I agree that the limits of time were such that he was quite entitled to take the line he did. I have not a word of complaint to say about it. I do want to 1324 correct one or two misapprehensions that seem to be spread about, and particularly those which appear in this morning's "Daily Herald," and which I think I have a perfect right to correct. One of the deputation which was received by me on Monday made certain complaints to the "Daily Herald" which reflected severely on myself. I do not think anyone in this House who knows me and has known my reputation for many years will ever believe that I attempted to sneer or to receive a deputation of discharged soldiers in an unworthy manner. As a matter of fact, this deputation was received by me, and for three hours I gave them every opportunity to put their case, and if there is anyone who would have received them more sympathetically than I did, I would like to see that person. What does this member of the deputation say? I do not want to characterise it too strongly, but when you read in a newspaper which should have a reputation for accuracy and truth that there were eight members of this deputation and that the deputation was received at the House of Commons, and when, as a matter of fact, the person who makes that statement does not know of how many the deputation consisted or where it was received, then it does not give much for his credibility as a witness. This man does not know the difference between six and eight, and between Montagu House and the House of Commons, and really under those circumstances it is very difficult to treat this matter at all seriously were it not for the fact that it might give a false impression in the country as to my reputation. I feel I have the right to protest against a man who comes on a deputation and then goes outside and makes statements which are certainly not only untrue but as far from the truth as possible. Some of the things which he mentions in his letter were not even mentioned at the deputation and it is very strange that some of the points put by my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh to-day were not matters which the deputation raised in front of me on that occasion. One of the points which was made even in the demonstration in the park when they got outside, strange to say, was not put in front of me, and that was the point that they wanted an increased unemployment donation. It is very difficult to deal with these matters under such circumstances. I would like to say, on behalf of myself, I received this deputation with an entire desire to do jus- 1325 tice to it and to give them all the assistance which I possibly could in securing what they had a right to expect.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh made a suggestion about Converting some of the houses in the London area into residences for poorer people. I think there is a good deal to be said for that, and I will certainly inquire as far as I am concerned if there is any possibility of work of that kind being carried out. Let us come to the real crux, and that is the question whether the Government are to deliberately make work for the settlement of this problem. I said to those men, and I say to the House, that the Government believe that the fructifying of the schemes which are now immediately coming into operation will be such that in a very short time the seriousness of this problem will have decreased to such an extent that the rest of it will be of quite manageable proportions. That was what I said to the deputation, and that is what the Minister said to the House to-day. What is it proposed we should do? If it is not sufficient that we have taken steps which are immediately fructifying, and which we believe will be quicker than anything else to absorb these men who are unemployed, what, then, is it we are to do? If there are other people who are left after those are absorbed, they will be quite a manageable proportion. I do not believe there is any kind of work which can be started quicker than those schemes which the Government are carrying into operation at present. If the local authorities will assist in a much quicker way than they have done, I venture to think this problem will very largely be solved within the next few weeks.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I made a definite suggestion to-day that, instead of spending £20,000,000, which has been paid up to date in unemployment donation, and which is absolutely unproductive, the Ministry of Labour might get our great municipalities up and down the country to start work which they could do, and are afraid to do now because of the cost of materials, by contributing some of that sum of £20,000,000 towards that work, and so occupy these men and distribute it over the country, instead of scattering it as we do to-day.
§ Mr. WARDLE
Surely my hon. Friend will see that that really does not alter the position. In the Housing schemes the 1326 Government are bearing just that part of the expense which is extra over the cost of what it would have been in normal times.
§ Mr. WARDLE
Take the repairing of roads. The Government are doing the same there. They are offering the local authorities money to help them to carry out the repairs because of the extra cost, and they are offering to provide the extra cost if the local authorities will get on with the work at once, that is the stipulation. There is no other kind of work which the hon. Member has suggested. Even the suggestion now does not make it any quicker in operation than the plans which the Government are operating to-day. May I say quite frankly, it is impossible for the Ministry to divert money voted for one purpose, as the hon. Member knows, to another. I still maintain, with all this Debate has revealed, that there has not yet been put forward any more practical suggestion than the work which the Government themselves are carrying out, and I venture to give as a proof of it the actual facts in the industry of the country, and as I told the deputation. Out of 4,500,000 people who have been demobilised either from the Army or some other occupation over 3,500,000 have been reabsorbed in industry. I do not want to deny that the Government should do all it can in every way, but I venture to say that if hon. Members will look at it and if the people will look at it they will agree that the fact that the Government has achieved so much is something which has never been equalled in the history of the world.
§ Major-General Sir NEWTON MOORE
I understand that a large amount of delay in building operations is due to a shortage of raw material in timber and other things. I think, if the Government would take steps to secure freights in order that timber and other raw material might be brought here it might do a great deal to reduce unemployment. Then, again, possibly a large number of men might be employed in reafforestation. This country has been largely divested of timber, and that might afford an avenue of employment for a large number of people. I do not know whether this is a proper time or not for such employment, but it seems to me that it would be preferable to paying men for doing nothing. On one occasion 1327 I had to meet a similar unemployment trouble, and we replanted a lot of wood, with the result that it proved very reproductive and is at present a very big asset. Anyone who has gone through the country recently must have been disturbed to see how the country has been divested of its timber, and it seems to me that there should be some machinery of the Government to take advantage of this unemployment for remunerative work of that kind. It is distressing to see all this unemployment about, and it seems to me that the organisation of the Government does not compare favourably with that of private enterprise. I am associated with an industrial concern where they had 2,500 men at the front, who received a certain allowance right through, and at the present time we have agreed to provide employment for these 2,500 men, which necessitates the discharge of some of those who have been temporarily employed, girls and otherwise. Why cannot the Government do exactly the same in the public Departments? That is all we ask, and the Government can learn something in this matter from private organisations. They might have a Civil Service Commissioner or some official in a Government Department to see it carried out properly. It is no good voicing platitudes here. I think it is the primary duty of this country to look after the soldiers who have been discharged. I speak as a member of the Discharged Soldiers' and Sailors' Federation, and I am in complete accord with what the hon Member who introduced the subject to-day has said, and, although he has been criticised, I must say that I realise that he did very excellent work in the early days of the demobilisation, and I think it is only fair, as a member of a branch consisting of about 1,500 men, to say that those services are appreciated. An hon. Member, who made a maiden speech, and said that he had attended a meeting last night of demobilised men with the object of ascertaining the position, hit the nail on the head, I think. when he said that the women were taking the jobs which should be given to the men. We know that some of our wives have had to sit in registry offices and that not a single girl will come along to take domestic service, and that on the other hand discharged soldiers and sailors will come along asking for domestic service. That is not a proper state of affairs, and what the women of the country have to do is to 1328 honour their obligations and to realise that, as far as the discharged soldier is concerned, he has the first claim on the country and the private individual.
§ Mr. STANTON
We heard something from an hon. Member who hoped nothing would be said to lower the tone of the Debate. I hope nothing I shall say will lower the tone of the Debate, but at the same time I trust that any Debate in this House will always be entirely apart from any humbug. The Speaker has been good enough to rule on one occasion that an hon. Member was justified in calling things by their proper names, and that found general acclamation in the House, and on this occasion I think it is only fair to say that, although it may be polite and nice to say the nicest things, and to create no unnecessary ill-feeling, yet there are times when one must speak out and say what one thinks is right. This evening we have heard statements made to the effect that hon. Members were shocked to learn that there were any charges that the trade unionists wore opposed to the re-employment of our discharged men. I do not think most people are very surprised at that. It is common knowledge to most people that there has been a determined attempt to prevent the re-employment of our boys who went out to fight. The very fact that they volunteered to fight for their country condemns them, in the eyes of a certain section of their fellow trade unionists. The general body of trade unionists arc certainly not of that way of thinking, but that there are a certain number who hold the reins of the trade union movement, and who would practice their Bolshevistic methods of victimising these men who fought for their country is, in my opinion, and I have been a prominent trade unionist and a fighter all my life, a fact that can be substantiated. As one who has supported the Government, not always believing in all they did, or loving them for what they may do, but as one who felt that they had a mighty job to carry through. I have felt it my duty, whatever their shortcomings, to stand by and support them. I have heard and read, and I know many things which to-day have changed my opinions somewhat, but nothing has changed me sufficiently yet to realise that the Government, if they had had the assistance instead of the condemnation of a number of the Members of this House, would not have had a better chance of doing something. 1329 The hon. Member who spoke last for the Government stated that he treated a deputation with courtesy, and knowing him, I venture to say he would not know how to do it otherwise. If anything, he would be more courteous than such a deputation would really deserve, excepting that we should remember that it was formed of our wounded and discharged men, for whom everyone must have consideration, and for whom anyone would put himself out of the way to oblige them.
If the Government are not doing all they can for our wounded and discharged men, it is up to every Member of this House to help them, and to see that they are doing it. These men were our safeguards in the nation's hour of danger, they were the men whose bodies were the bulwarks of our safety, and of the honour and chastity of our women. They prevented the great threat of German militarism overwhelming the world. I think it is our duty to help, to assist, and to cooperate with the Government, and instead of finding fault with what is done by a Minister or a Department, I think the trade unions and the Labour party of this country, who are, in my opinion, no more posted up as to the actual difficulties and troubles of the men than are any other party in this House, should help the Government. If there was less fear of the Bolsheviks, if there was more inclination to do all that is best for the people, I do not think there would be the difficulties that there are just now, but may I say, that in my honest opinion it is because certain people have got hold of the reins of industrial government, and are doing all they can to provide election expenses and to control the whole thing, that our friends on the Labour side and I am speaking very likely most daringly and raking up some little amount of trouble for myself, which I have no fear of, because I believe that speaking the truth you can do it shamelessly and shame the devil. I have no desire to set anyone to a great shame, but I have a desire, as far as I can, to purify the air. I want the Labour party to realise their obligations. They have realised more during this War than they could have done during a hundred years of peace, and is it too much to ask for the co-operation of the people who wield such power in this country, and that they shall realise the difference between serving their people honestly, straight 1330 forwardly, progressively, industrially, and politically, and playing into the hands of Bolsheviks or lending themselves to cries which are anything but patriotic, and which will lead them to a position which will make the position of the people they represent infinitely worse that it ever was before?
We want to help the boys who have fought 'during the War and who have helped to win the War, but I must enter my protest against certain people who never tried to win the War, who did not help anybody to join up in order to save our country, suddenly becoming great patrons and friends of the discharged soldiers and sailors. Now they are using the soldiers and sailors, and the police, too, setting the one lot against the other, and creating that wretched trouble the other evening, hoping and praying for the revolution which some of these people gloriously pray for. It is up to those who are sober-minded and honestly patriotic-some of my hon. Friends are smiling. I wonder whether they at any time dare confess their patriotism, whether they dare admit that they are British, whether they dare admit that it is what our boys fought and died for that they and their children will enjoy in the future? If that is so, and if the Government s shortcomings are so clear, is it not their duty to set around and see how the matter can be improved and amended? If that is so, I would join with them to endeavour to get these conditions bettered, but I am going to do it in a straightforward manner. I propose to do it as a Britisher, to support and back the Government to bring about substantial peace terms in order to glorify the sacrifices our boys have made; and if there are shortcomings on their part, and they forget Torn, Dick, and Harry, who went out to fight, if they are going to pander to your well-organised trade unions, to the detriment of these men who volunteered and fought for their country, then I shall be opposed to you and to the Government. On the other hand, let them play the game, and you play the game, and we shall not disagree very far. I apologise for talking even this length of time, but I feel this Debate would warrant a very much longer period, so that we could say all that we believed, and hang Parliamentary humbug, not merely stating "Let us not say anything to lower the tone of the Debate," and at the same time making untruthful statements which the hon. Member himself 1331 knew were untrue, and wicked, and vile, and liable to create disruption and trouble in the future.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Colonel YATE
The Under-Secretary told us that he thought the fructifying of the Government schemes would absorb all the unemployed labour, but I cannot help thinking that that is rather too optimistic an idea. At any rate, we know that we have at the present moment 480,000 demobilised soldiers out of employment, and we also know that there will be another 600,000 or 800,000 coming back when peace is settled. We know there are only 27,000 vacancies at the present moment registered for employment, and the probability is that the majority of those vacancies are for skilled workers. The soldiers who come back are not for the most part skilled men. Four years in the trenches have not rendered them better skilled, but probably worse, and therefore the only schemes, as the Minister of Labour has put before us to-night, are road-making and housing. Road-making and housing may take a certain number of labourers, but the number for these employments cannot run into many hundreds of thousands, and I do think that something more than that will have to be done to meet what may come upon us before the winter. I was much struck by hearing the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester urging on the Government the necessity of finding more work before the commencement of the next winter. I thought over that, and put down a question asking the Minister in charge whether he would not consider the question of taking up some big national work such as the making of the Forth and Clyde Canal. I only mention that as one work which is very urgently required and very important. The making of the Forth and Clyde Canal would not only mean the digging of the canal—and it is the spade work we require for all these unskilled labourers—but it has also enormous possibilities with it of housing schemes, and town-planning schemes. There is work for everybody upon that. It has been advocated for years and years, and it can be easily started. The Government have an enormous number of huts which will be available very shortly when the Army is demobilised and the camps in England broken up. All these huts could very well be put between the Forth and Clyde and the work easily put in hand before the 1332 winter. The men, with their wives and families, could be housed in those huts, and I do urge the Minister of Labour to take this scheme of the Forth and Clyde Canal into consideration, or any other big scheme by all means, but this does seem to mo a practical scheme, and one which will give much employment. I ask if he will take this into consideration, and see if he cannot get the surveys completed at once and the route settled and put down huts on the route so that men coming from the Army can be given employment there during the coming winter.
§ Mr. HOHLER
I think my right hon. Friend did not fully appreciate the point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge). I cannot help thinking that there were at the outbreak of this War a number of local government schemes, either before the Board or approved by the Board, which were held up as a result of the War—drainage schemes and other schemes of that character—and I think, seeing that the question is one of immediate employment, the records of the Local Government Board office could be examined, and the local authorities could be urged to carry out those schemes with the assistance of the Government, having regard to increased cost. In this way much might be done to assist employment amongst our discharged sailors and soldiers. Then I want to know what is being done by the German prisoners. I myself at Easter saw German prisoners in Sussex engaged in repairing highways. If we are making grants to local authorities to assist them in doing this work, surely we ought to insist that German prisoners are not employed in the work. I ask the same question with regard to agriculture. I have seen in Kent a number of these German prisoners still employed on the land. Why is it our men are not given like opportunities and like facilities? These prisoners are well housed, are driven to and from their work, and I gather that they and the Government between them get the full agricultural rate which is paid to the agricultural labourer. Surely something might be done in that matter for the employment of our discharged sailors and soldiers.
No doubt the greatest question at the moment is that of housing, and I realise that the Government, under the Bills now before the House, are hastening in every way they can the construction and building by local authorities of new houses, but I cannot help thinking that the Government 1333 might assist this question of building so as to enable the soldier to settle in the neighbourhood of his choice, to settle there with his wife, from whom he may have been separated for some years, instead of his having to go and work at a distance from his own home. Private persons know that building must cost them more than it did before the War and that it would scarcely be profitable if yon look at it in the form of interest, and they do not care whether it costs them more or less, but they are confronted by two great difficulties, one material, and the other transport. I suggest to the Minister of Labour that if he could formulate a scheme whereby anybody who, bond fide, proposed to build houses for the working classes, could, through the local authority, make application either for transport in the form of lorries, paying, of course, a proper charge for them, or for timber—of which I understand the Government hold large stocks—of course, paying proper prices, it would enormously help the builders in different parts of the country. The great difficulty is that, until you get to the end of June, at any rate in Kent, there is no stock of bricks to be had at all, and meanwhile all you can build with is concrete. That could be done, but the difficulties are transport, and timber for holding up your walls until the concrete sets. A man who proposes to build two cottages cannot afford to buy this timber, but, if provided at a reasonable rate through the local authority, I believe much might be done to assist this question of the provision of houses, which, to my mind, is a matter largely at the bottom of the whole of this question, and one of the greatest importance. I would ask the Minister now temporarily in charge of the Bill——
§ Notice taken that forty Members were not present; House counted; and forty Members, being found present—
§ Mr. HOHLER
I want to refer to a Department of the Government which is creating a feeling of great discontent amongst the discharged men. The Admiralty always seem to offend with regard to regulations which are thought good for the country generally. For instance, they gave a promise that men who joined up with consent should be reinstated on their return. They have absolutely refused to re-enter men on the ground that they are not taking on any more moulders at the present time. That is a distinct breach of faith on the part of the Admiralty with 1334 regard to an undertaking they gave. The second thing is that men who were brought back from the front, owing to the shortage of shipbuilders, are actually being discharged from the dockyards, and we have before us to-day a Bill to assist employers in employing men who have been invalided in the War. They are absolutely refusing even to examine men who have been invalided in the War. Therefore, in all these respects the Admiralty, which is a great employer in the Government, is guilty of a breach of faith in regard to these men. Criticism has been made of the War Office and their appointments. I only desire to call attention to that to point out to the Government that they ought to see to it that they themselves are not to blame in this matter, because it reflects more than anything that can be done by anyone in this country.
§ Major BARKER
Many hon. Members have suggested that work should be found for men in the workshops in various parts of the country; but at a meeting of soldiers which I attended last Sunday very strong objection was taken to soldiers being sent away from home to work in another town just after they had got home.
§ It being a Quarter past Eight of the clock, further Proceeding was postponed, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 4.