§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The SECRETARY for SCOTLAND (Mr. Munro)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
In dealing with a Bill of this kind the House not infrequently asks, as it is well entitled to do, two questions. The first is, whether there is a grievance to be remedied, and the second is, whether the remedy proposed is an appropriate remedy or is, at any rate, a step in the right direction. With regard to the first question, I apprehend that there can be no doubt at all, for as we stand upon the threshold of the winter months none of us can say that a problem more grave, more urgent, or more menacing than that of unemployment can be conceived.
As dimensions unfortunately are still very large, and despite the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour—and we all know, if I may say so, how unremitting and whole-hearted they are—the fact remains that even at this moment there is a very large number of ex-service men who are still unemployed. Any Government would obviously be lacking in foresight and would be failing in its duty did it not endeavour to grapple with the problem from time to time. Such is the intention of this measure. It is not only a social and economic problem with which we have to deal. It goes much further than that. We have often heard it said that nothing one can do can fully repay the debt we owe to those ex-service men. It is not only trite but true, and surely when an opportunity presents itself of making at least a small payment to account of that debt then we ought to seize the opportunity with both hands. I submit to the House that such an opportunity is afforded to-day in connection with this measure. I do not think then that I need say more with regard to the evil which this measure is designed to alleviate.
If there be a grievance which requires remedy, I next proceed to inquire whether the remedy provided in the Bill is a proper remedy or at least a step in the right direction. I cannot make it too 2146 clear to the House that this Bill docs not and could not profess to solve the problem of unemployment. On the other hand, I do claim that it is a sincere and honest attempt to make a contribution to the solution of that problem. What docs the Bill do? The Bill contains two operative provisions which I shall endeavour to explain as briefly as may be. The first provision enables local authorities and any appropriate Government Department to acquire and enter upon land compulsorily for the purpose of executing works of public utility with a view to finding immediate employment for those who are unemployed. If I am asked what are works of public utility, I would ask the House to be good enough to refer to the definition of these works which is contained in Clause 3, Sub-section (1) of the Bill which is now before the House. These works mean:construction or improvement of roads or other means of transit, the widening or other improvements of waterways, the construction of sewers or waterworks, the reclamation or drainage of land and any work connected with the aforesaid works.
§ Major-General SEELY
Does it include harbours and sea defence works? That does not appear. I presume it does.
§ Mr. MUNRO
That is a legal question on which I should not like to give an answer straight away. I have read the provision, and the words are, "connected with the aforesaid works." I will look into it. I agree it is of great importance. These are the works, roughly speaking, included in the term "public utility." If I am asked what is the appropriate Government Department, I do not know that I can give an exhaustive answer, but I will give an illustrative answer. I should think that in the case of construction and improvement of roads, widening or improvement of waterways, the Ministry of Transport would be the appropriate Department. I have no doubt that if one were dealing with sewers and waterworks the Ministry of Health, and with the reclamation of land the Ministry of Agriculture would be the appropriate Government Department. The House will see that if there is any doubt or difficulty as to which is the appropriate, Government Department, then by Clause 3, Sub-section (2) of the Bill, the Treasury decides the matter. There are many precedents for follow- 2147 ing that course. The Bill then enables public authorities and the appropriate Government Departments to enter compulsorily on land for the purposes I have defined. Then an important question arises. How is the Government Department or the local authority to acquire or enter on possession of the land which is required? The scheme of the Bill is perfectly simple. It is that powers corresponding to those which are enjoyed by the Ministry of Health and which enable the Ministry of Health to enter by compulsion upon land required for housing are conferred by this Bill upon the appropriate Government Department and upon local authorities throughout the land. I do not mean to detain the House by narrating to the House what that procedure is. It is very familiar to every hon. Member in connection with the Housing Bill passed in 1919 That procedure according to my information has been found to work exceedingly well in practice, to function with a reasonable amount of speed and to secure the end desired expeditiously and well.
May I make three observations before I leave this Clause? The first is that powers of compulsion are conferred by this Bill, though I do not by any means suggest that it will be necessary on all occasions to exercise these powers. Practice has taught all of us that if you possess the power of compulsion you may very often be excused from the necessity of using it. The great thing is to possess it. The fact that this power of compulsion is conferred upon the appropriate Government Department and local authorities will result, I hope, in many arrangements being made voluntarily for entering upon the land without the necessity for using this power. But that that power should be conferred is very obvious. If it was necessary to confer that power on the Ministry of Health to deal with the urgent question of housing I should have thought it was even more necessary to confer that power upon Government Departments and local authorities which are called upon to deal with the even more urgent question of unemployment among ex-service men. The vital point with regard to this Clause is that it enables the public department or the local authority to get upon the land at once without any delay. That is the purpose of this Bill. There is no appreci- 2148 able delay in getting on the land, and compensation and all further arrangements can be made at a later stage. The Clause is framed to enable the local authority to secure the land and to get the work put into operation on the land at the earliest possible moment.
It would be a mistake to suppose that we have to wait for the Royal Assent to this Bill in order to start all the operations which are contemplated by it. I will take an example from the Ministry of Transport, and my hon. Friend beside me will correct me if I am wrong. I think I am right in saying that there are schemes, road schemes, which the Ministry of Transport has in hand which it has difficulty in carrying out for the simple reason that you want to sec where you will be at the end of the road as well as at the beginning. Under existing circumstances the Ministry of Transport has found on occasion that there are difficulties ahead of it in regard to the land which it would like to secure in order to complete the roads, but which under existing circumstances cannot be secured expeditiously. These schemes are already in being. I hope the Royal Assent will be given to this Bill at an early date. The Ministry of Transport will then be enabled to carry out and complete these schemes with an expedition which is of importance under existing conditions to-day.
The House will notice that there are two safeguards to the first Clause. It is no doubt a strong Clause. The first of these is that the Clause shall not be put into operation except after a certificate has been granted by the Minister of Labour to the effect that having regard to the exceptional amount of unemployment existing in any area it is desirable that it should be put into operation. The second is to be found in Clause 1, paragraph (b), thatno order authorising the compulsory acquisition of land for any purpose shall be made under any enactment ns applied by this Section, unless fin order authorising the compulsory acquisition of that land for that purpose could have been made under some enactment in force at the commencement of this Act.That means that the power to acquire land is not extended by this Bill. What this Bill is intended to secure and will secure is that operations will be facilitated and very much greater expedition will be secured. That is the 2149 purpose of the Bill. The purpose of the paragraph I have quoted is to make clear that we are not proposing to confer upon the Ministry of Health or any Government Department or any local authority new powers to acquire land, but to ensure that that land shall be secured expeditiously in order to cope with a problem which is exceedingly urgent. That is the first of the two proposals to which I have referred, and I do not propose to say anything further with regard to it.
There is another exceedingly important provision contained in the second Clause, which provides that local authorities may contribute to works of public utility which are being executed outside their own area, and further, that two local authorities may combine in the execution of these works upon terms owhich may be adjusted between them. At present a local authority has no power, as I understand, to contribute to the cost of relief works which may be proceeding in any other local authority's area. Even though unemployment may be rife in area A, the authority in that area has no power to contribute to relief works which would relieve unemployment, if they are in area B. This will enable area A to contribute to relief works in area B, subject to the safeguard that a decision to that effect must receive the approval of the Ministry of Health in England and the Secretary for Scotland and the Board of Health in Scotland. The House will observe it is a permissive Clause, and empowers the local authority to take that course with the authority and confirmation of the Ministry of Health.
Let me give an illustration. I am told, that in the case of the London County Council, which is most willing, I understand, to proceed with works of this kind, a very large number of the works they propose to assist lie outside the County of London, and without some provision like this it would be impossible for them to attain that object. I therefore suggest to the House that the Clause is under the circumstances a reasonable one, seeing it is discretional and subject to the approval of the Ministry of Health. The safeguards there I should have thought were ample. No doubt the Clause may involve an increase in the local rates, but surely we are 2150 entirely outside the ambit of discussions we have recently had in this House with regard to the soaring rates, when we are discussing a question of this kind.
§ Mr. MUNRO
Whether at election times or not, no ratepayer I should think would grudge a rate required to provide employment for ex-service men. Altogether apart from that, may I put it that this is a good investment, even assuming that the rate is raised. The reason I say that is that this rate will relieve the taxpayer of what he might otherwise be called upon to pay in unemployment doles which these unemployed men would be drawing in the area in which they are. More than that, it would relieve the local Poor Law Guardians from the liability which they now incur to provide for those who are destitute and out of work. If I may add this, I would say further: it will relieve the minds of those men who are keen for work and cannot get it, and who are haunted by day and night by the spectre of unemployment. If it relieves the Exchequer, the ratepayers, and the minds of those men to whom we owe so much, then I do venture to say that this proposal is a good investment and may be so regarded with safety by the House of Commons.
§ Mr. WATERSON
May I ask one question. Is it the intention of the Government to recommend the Ministry of Labour to pay what it would have to pay if the man was out of employment, and to hand the 15s. over to the local authorities to assist the rates?
§ Mr. MUNRO
I should not like to answer that question without consulting my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. But I will see that the question is borne in mind, for it is a very important question. This is quite a simple measure, and I venture to think that it will meet the case to some extent, although it does not profess to solve the problem of unemployment. Some hon. Members may think it goes too far. On the other hand others may think it does not go far enough. I venture to think that the Bill is an honest endeavour to steer a middle course between the extremes on both sides, and, as such, I venture to commend it to the House of Commons for Second Reading.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
It is not quite clear in the Bill, and, therefore, may I ask: Is it contemplated to give any sort of Treasury assistance to these local authorities under the Bill?
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
My right hon. Friend has said that the problem with which the country is confronted at the present moment, in the matter of unemployment as it now exists, and as it shortly will be, is a matter very grave and very urgent. I only just say in passing that the unemployment we have and what unemployment we may have is by no means dissociated from the policy pursued at home and abroad by His Majesty's Government, If we were doing, as we might well be doing, sound and proper business with Russia and other countries, and the policy of the Government in regard to extravagance was at once reversed, the necessity for this Bill would not be anything like the proportion it is. Unfortunately, we have to take the consequences of these things as they stand. I agree it is necessary to pass some such measure as this. I only hope that the point put by my right hon. and gallant Friend (Major-General Seely) will be noted, and that the definition of works of public utility will receive the proper consideration of the Government, because my right hon. and gallant Friend reminds me the Government seem to have forgotten the fact that this country is an island, and that the works to be undertaken need by no means be confined to inland portions of the country. The main purpose of the Bill will no doubt be efficiently debated by other speakers on both sides of the House. I conceive it to be my duty to invite the House to pay careeful attention to this, which is one of the very worst examples that oven this Government has yet produced of legislation by reference.
This matter must be one of instant and most careful consideration by nearly all the local authorities in the country. There is no need at all, I suggest, that this should be unduly hurried in the matter of days. There has been ample time, and 2152 there is now ample time for a measure to be laid before the House dealing with the complicated series of a most important problem, in a Bill which is not drawn in the way of this Bill—as I am going to indicate to the House—but is drawn in a manner which will convey on the face of it to any intelligent layman who has had anything to do with local matters, or public affairs, a fair idea of what the Bill means. May I ask the attention of the House for a moment in looking at Clause 1. Very likely many hon. Members have not paid close attention to it as it stands. What Clause 1 says is:Subject as hereinafter provided the enactments relating to the compulsory acquisition of land for the purposes of Part III. of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, by the Minister of Health and local authorities and the enactments relating to entering on land acquired for those purposes shall apply to the compulsory acquisition of land for the purpose of works of public utility.What are these enactments? I have had an opportunity of looking them up. There are three of them. There is the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, the Housing and Town Planning Act, 1909, and the Housing and Town Planning Act, 1919. They follow one after the other. With very great care and particularity they were examined in Committee upstairs and on Report stage in this, House. The most important of these enactments is the Act of 1919. My right hon. Friend has dealt with Section 10 of that Act. It deals with the power of entry upon land—a very necessary power which will come in this Act. But Section 11 also must come into this Act. Section 11 winds up in this way:(4) The Amendments to the said schedule—That is in the Act of 1890—effected by this Act shall apply to that schedule—Therefore the Act of 1919 shall apply to that schedule of 1890as originally enacted but not as applied by any other enactment.meaning thereby, that it should be most carefully safeguarded, and that the powers under Section 11 of the Housing and Town Planning Act, 1919, shall not be applied to any other object without the most careful consideration as to how and in what manner it should be applied. The House, therefore, will see—of which it has had little intimation—the com- 2153 plicated body of statutory mechanism to which I have referred the wording here. There is no schedule to this Bill. There is on indication at all to Members of this House of the Acts and what parts of them apply and what are repealed, if any. It is perfectly clear that part of the Amendment of the law which the House will enact, and which ought to have been in a schedule, is repealed by Subsection (4) of Section 11 of the Housing, Town Planning, etc., Act, 1919, to which I have just referred. It is all very complicated, and will need very careful study. The protest has been raised in the House on more than one occasion that thin is not the way in which legislation should be laid before this House at all. It is impossible for anybody who does not apply himself with concentration, legal knowledge, and public experience, to undertsand what is really meant. I suggest that that is not fair to the House of Commons or to any party.
Acts of Parliament should be drawn in such a way that on the very face of them any person of average intelligence who applied himself to them could, at any rate, understand the drift of what is meant. I will not put it higher. But I defy anyone looking at the Clause to which I have endeavoured to direct the attention of the Committee to get in any way near what will be the real operation of it. Here is another most important matter to bring before the House of Commons. If hon. Members will look they will see that these enactments to which I have referred in Clause 1 are to be so incorporated as if they were herein re-enacted, which—and I do ask the attention of the House to these words—"the necessary adaptations and modifications and with the substitution of the appropriate Government Department," and so on. "With the necessary adaptations and modifications." What does that mean? That these Acts of Parliament to which this Clause refers are to be brought into operation behind this Bill! What are the necessary modifications and adaptations? Who is going to make them? Not this House. We are going to pass the Bill, and the powers that are going to make the adaptations and modifications are in the hands of the Government Departments. They are taking away from us the power to adapt this Act of Parliament; the House is not doing it. If we want to alter an Act of Parlia- 2154 ment this is the place to do it; not in the Government Departments. I say again that this is the worst example of legislation by reference, and it is, I believe, or so it seems to me, part of a deliberate attempt of the executive, and the Departments linked up, to take away power from Parliament. Over and over again we have brought before us Bills which are going to be brought into operation by rules and orders, on which we have the very scantiest parliamentary opportunity of discussion. I take this parliamentary opportunity of lodging this further protest of the strongest kind I can make. I agree that something has got to be done, but the Government have had plenty of time to think it out and there is time now. I hope when the Committee takes up this matter in detail it will try and get this Clause re-drawn in such a way that the normal man, not the expert lawyer, can have some chance of understanding what the particular legislation is. At the risk of wearying the Committee I must, give another instance. My right hon. Friend refers to Sub-clause (b):(b) no order authorising the compulsory acquisition of any land for any purpose shall be made under any enactment as applied by this Section unless an order authorising the compulsory acquisition of that land for that purpose could have been made under "some enactment in force at the commencement of this Act.If we were at war it would be a different thing. I had the privilege during the War of being associated in the work of the Chair in a minor capacity. At that time it was very necessary to have swift legislation, but as far as I can remember there was nothing in the legislation of that time comparable to this. I do hope that the Committee will take some precautions to protect the power of Parliament over legislation laid before it by the Executive at the present moment.
A rather smaller point than the one with which I have been dealing is that the work is to be carried on by substituting "the appropriate Government Department" for the Ministry of Health. You start with the generic term, "Minister of Health," but if he does not happen to be the right one then "the appropriate Government Department." The House really ought to know whither it is going and what are the Government Departments likely to be involved.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I come to Clause 2. I had not had the opportunity to study it with such care as I should have done, but it occurred to me in reading the Clause about an hour ago—I confess for the first time—that there are some financial obligations of very large dimensions which the State is undertaking, and the House ought to know what the cost is likely to be. None of us in this House would grudge the necessary money for dealing with a matter of the most vital urgency, but we ought to know to what we are committing ourselves. This is one of the real duties of the House of Commons. I am certain hon. Members on that side of the House do not dissociate themselves from that doctrine. Can my right hon. Friend give us any idea of what the financial obligations lie behind the immense powers of Clause 2? The whole Bill confers immense sweeping powers, and the House is entitled to know under what existing Acts of Parliament the Government asks the House to give it those powers. I hope the House will insist that when the Bill emerges from the Committee it shall be something fairly readable to the ordinary expert, not a trained lawyer on a particular topic. But although it seems futile, I make my protest against this real attack on the power of the House of Commons over legislation which is constantly going on. Unless we re-assert our power and carry out our duties, I say that for Parliament to invest Departments with such bureaucratic powers will only add to the existing numbers of wholly unnecessary and expensive Government Departments.
§ Sir HENRY HARRIS
I think the all-important question before us is to get the necessary powers for enabling the unemployed to be employed. I have been asked by the London County Council to raise what I think is the very practical point that the powers contained in this Bill are not sufficiently expeditious, and that unless more expeditious powers can be provided it will not be possible for the London County Council to begin its work on arterial roads untl after Christmas. As far as the London County Council is 2156 concerned the position is this. They have approved a considerable number of schemes and are only waiting for the necessary legislation to begin. The Special Committee on unemployment of that body passed the following Resolution, to-day:On the faith of undertakings given by the Government to promote legislation to secure the prompt acquisition of the necessary land, the Council undertake to assist the Government in carrying out its schemes to provide employment by the construction of arterial roads, but the Bill as introduced completely fails to achieve this object, and unless altered radically will render nugatory the Council's desire to proceed with the work in question.That, I think, is a strong Resolution—one which must receive the urgent consideration of the House. When one comes to the procedure under this Bill, which is procedure under the Housing Act, one certainly sees that a very considerable time must elapse before the Council can get possession of any of the land necessary for the scheme, and I understand that it requires these powers in connection with all its schemes. I have here a description of the procedure which is to begone through under this Bill, and it certainly involves a very considerable expenditure of time. In one very simple case in connection with the housing scheme it took 11 or 12 weeks before the Council was in a position to get possession of the land. I think the Government ought to try to devise some simple emergency powers to deal with what is really a serious emergency. Then we should get rid of all this difficulty about legislation by reference, and I hope before the Bill gets to the Committee stage the Government will consider whether they cannot devise some more simple powers which will enable bodies like the London County Council to get in possession of the land and begin the necessary work. At any rate, I hope it will be clearly understood that there is no delay on the part of the London County Council. The work cannot begin until the Government have provided the necessary legislation, and I hope there will be more expeditious procedure than is contained in this Bill.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MORDEN
I am going to support this Bill. I believe, in view of the the large amount of unemployment, it should not be held up as has been suggested. This Bill is another stop-gap measure of which we have had too many this Session, and I deprecate it for that 2157 reason. To-day the labour of every working man and woman should be an asset to this country. This Bill proposes to find employment of a non-productive character, employment that is not going to bring the wealth that is so needed at the present time. We have in this country to depend on the profits of commerce and industry to meet our great debt incurred during the War, and I think that this House should consider very seriously the contributory causes which have made necessary such a Bill as this. I think we must consider in the first place the action of the Treasury, which has had a direct bearing in causing unemployment—I refer to the imposition of the Excess Profits Duty tax. This tax has done more to cause unemployment than any tax that has ever been put on the industry of this country. I believe that originally the Chancellor of the Exchequer was against the tax, but he changed his mind. I am not complaining that he should change his mind, but I regret that when he found out that he had made a mistake the second time he did not have a little more courage and change his mind again. This tax has had the effect of restricting instead of encouraging production in this country. It has prevented capital going into enterprise. The industrial interests of the country have not expanded. They would not take the risks abroad that in ordinary conditions they would take, because the Government took most of the profits and they had to face all the loss. The result has been that production has decreased. It has had an even worse effect than that. It has caused great extravagance in industry. It has hit at the basic principle that is so essential to the success of all industry, and that is economy, which is just as important to the employer as to the employed. Firms have not insisted on the output of their employés as they would have done under normal conditions, because they have had no encouragement to do so, as their increased profits have gone to the Government. That has established a very serious principle. It is impossible for many of our manufacturers to quote fixed prices for goods delivered abroad, with the result that foreign firms with fixed prices have been able to capture the world's markets. Another contributing cause of unemployment is the continual threat of dear 2158 money. Everyone in commercial life knows the stifling effect on trade and commerce that dear money has. We have to-day a Bank Rate of 7 per cent., and threats of an increase. I submit that this is an artificial rate, and money is being freely loaned in Lombard Street at 5½per cent. The result is that every manufacturer and trader is afraid to extend his credit, and it is also forcing well-established industrial firms to pay exorbitant rates for their money. Worse than that, other firms have been unable to obtain money at any rate. It seems to me that the Treasury officials, who live in watertight compartments, and, like moles, cannot see outside, apparently, only consider one thing, and that is how they are going to get so much revenue and what they have to pay out. They never consider for a moment how the money is to be earned from which they get their taxes. Until we get a banker or a financier at the head of the Treasury, a Chancellor of the Exchequer who understands industrial conditions, I am afraid we shall continue to have unemployment Bills in this country. American trade is encouraged and assisted in every way. Only a few weeks ago in New York, a billion dollar fund was provided for the purpose of financing American export trade, and I believe that within the last, two years over three and a half billion dollars have been provided in this way for American foreign trade. I wonder if this House or the country realises the fact that American foreign trade has increased from 2 billion dollars in 1913 to probably 7 billions this year.
While every other country has been supporting and assisting their industries in every way, the Treasury here by their policy are closing down the works of this country and forcing this House to pass an Unemployment Bill to take care of those who otherwise would be employed on work that would be bringing wealth into the country.
Another thing which, I think, has a great effect on unemployment in this country is the high transport rates. I leave railway rates to other hon. Members who have more experience in railway matters. But there is one point on which I can speak with some authority, and that is water transport and harbours and harbour equipment, which are sending up the 2159 cost of raw materials so much that many works have had to close down, and this has caused unemployment. In the leading ports of this country the average discharge per charter party is 500 tons per day. Last summer one of our Canadian ships discharged 13,800 tons of ore in 2¾ hours, and loaded in 23 minutes, yet the other day on the Clyde the best discharge of iron ore was 500 tons a day. The ships coming into our ports are held up for days and weeks at a time, with the result that the cost of freight is doubled and trebled, so that the food of the country is costing that much more, and higher wages must be paid, because you cannot reduce wages until you reduce the cost of living, and the raw material for our manufactories is costing so much that it makes it impossible for many of our industries to compete for foreign trade. Steps, therefore, should be taken at once by the Government to inquire into our harbours, because our ports at the present time are a disgrace to the nation. Take, as an example of the position of unemployment to-day, the iron and steel trade. In 1870 this country had the supremacy of the world in this great basic industry. We produced that year over 286,000 tons, against America's 68,000 tons. What were the figures last year? The United States produced something like 42,000,000 tons. Germany the year before the War produced over 19,000,000 tons, and the output of this country last year was only about 8,000,000 tons. To-day we are not able, owing to the cost of our raw material, to make iron or steel at a price at which we can compete against other countries. Our manufacturers are willing to do it at a loss, to keep the works going. At the same time, we have within our own Empire the greatest deposits of ore in the world, and all the natural resources necessary, provided we instal proper facilities at our ports so that those resources can be brought to this country at a nominal figure. If that is done, I am certain it will have a great effect upon unemployment.
Then the control which is exercised by the Government of so many commodities has had an effect in making necessary the introduction of this Bill. If the Treasury question, the question of transport and the question of control, were looked into by the Government, and if my hon. 2160 Friends on the Labour Benches would use their influence with their unions, it would be a great advantage. I personally have a great belief in the British working man. I believe in his stability, his loyalty, and his skill. Labour has certain members and officials in its ranks who talk a lot, but it is usually the empty cans that make the most noise, and I believe the great bulk of Labour is sound and loyal and able to produce. But Labour understands when its masters understand their business, and when the Government have control of so many businesses they know-that the Government does not know its business. If the Labour unions will relax their rules in connection with ex-service men, and if they know serious efforts are made by the Government and employers, they will also do their share, and will realise that the only economical system in the world is payment by results. Manufacturers in this country to-day, I am sure, are willing to play the game with Labour, and I believe Labour will play the game with them. Therefore, given a banker or a financial man at the head of the Treasury, given Labour making a fair deal with the employer, with the great natural resources of the British Empire, and with control abolished, I am quite certain we will not have again to consider an Unemployment Bill in this House. I would earnestly beg the Government to consider the words which Lord Macaulay uttered in 1830:Our rulers will host promote the interest of the nation by strictly confining themselves to their own legitimate duties, by leaving capital to find its own most lucrative course, commodities their fair price, industry and intelligence their natural reward, idleness and folly their natural punishment; by preserving peace, by protecting property, by diminishing the price of law and by observing the strictest economy in every Department of the State. Let our rulers do this; the people will assuredly do the rest.
§ Mr. W. GRAHAM
May I be allowed to express the pleasure of this side of the House in seeing the Secretary for Scotland in charge of a Government Bill, although I dare say we all regret, from our particular point of view, that it is not a stronger measure which he is promoting at the present time? On the broad facts of unemployment, I think I state the position accurately when I say that, unfortunately, the numbers of unemployed are increasing in the skilled unions, that there is a considerable amount of unemployment among un- 2161 skilled classes, and that, unhappily, a very fair proportion of the 3,000,000 women who entered industry during the War are finding it very hard to obtain an opportunity to earn their living at the present time. These are the facts which confront us in the labour situation. But I personally do not take a gloomy view. I think the arrears of work everywhere are so considerable, and the possibilities of this country are so great, that if only we properly organise our forces, build up our industries, give all sections of the community a fair chance, we can provide a place on remunerative lines for every man, woman, and young person. If that is the basis of our claim, the necessary basis of optimism, in dealing with unemployment, the next question to ask is whether a Bill of this kind is likely to help the solution of the difficulty, or merely to hinder it.
Let me say at once—I may be old-fashioned economically in these ideas—but I have very great hesitation indeed about any Bill which carries on its face the expression "Relief Works." We are all perfectly familiar with the fact that in nine cases out of ten, in the past, relief work has had very little relation to ordinary economic practice of the right kind. They have been stop-gap enterprises in some cases, not necessary to the community in which they were undertaken, and, in many cases, merely adopted in order to provide an excuse for paying certain doles—nothing more than that—to men and women who happened to be out of an occupation for the time being. This Bill proposes easier acquisition of land for public purposes, and certain stops in order that we may more readily embark upon works of public utility, and I think it is only fair to admit that, while we are going to support the Bill, with perhaps a very large measure of criticism, in so far as these works may be necessary and required by the community, perhaps the economic error of this Bill is not so pronounced and so plain as the economic error of many of its predecessors.
That does not rid me of the other difficulty. I am still obliged to ask whether it is necessary or desirable to introduce a Bill which is going to enable us to take certain stops while, at the same time, we know that the local authorities have vast arrears of work to be overtaken. If we require to simplify the procedure regarding the acquisition of land, by all 2162 means do it, and let us take every possible step we can to bring people into association with the raw materials. Let us look at the situation to-day in the average urban or rural authority. There is a vast accumulation of work urgently necessary and of an economic character which requires to be done. The question of roads is mentioned in connection with this Bill. We have town planning schemes under the Housing and Town Planning Act, in which areas have been marked out by the local authorities and in which a great deal of work requires to be done in reconstruction, but we cannot secure the approval of those schemes to enable us to proceed with the work, because there is terrible delay by the public Departments. That is one of the difficulties which surely could be removed, and which, if it had been removed, would have enabled a great deal of work to be undertaken in the average locality, and which would have avoided the necessity for Bills which are not strictly economic in their character. Let me make it plain that it is never to the advantage of labour in this or, indeed, in any other country to support non-economic or uneconomic schemes. After all, they fall with terrible emphasis on the masses of the people, and the great body of the people have to pay for the mischievous enterprise which, in many oases, has been undertaken. I am, therefore, all in favour of trying to give the local authorities a fair chance to overtake work which they must overtake, rather than to embark upon schemes or relief work in this or any other measure.
In the second place we know perfectly well, especially in the large urban areas, that a very large amount of work remains to be overtaken and which is delayed by a few causes. There are certain difficulties regarding labour, and I personally would willingly go a long way to remove them. There are many difficulties regarding high prices which have placed, temporarily, raw materials beyond the reach of local authorities. From investigations it is abundantly clear that prices have been artificially raised against local authorities in many parts of the country simply because they were local authorities, and because they could not enter the market under those conditions of secrecy as regards bargaining open to private individuals. I think it is the duty of the Government to try to do 2163 all in its power to bring down the prices of the raw material, whether in housing or in other enterprises, upon which the local authorities depend. I have no hesitation in saying from the industrial investigations made in recent times that if the local authorities got a fair chance to do the arrears of work which must be done there would be no necessity for this Bill, with the exception perhaps of the provision making land more accessible. I submit that will be the better and more economic course for all concerned.
I do not want to conclude without making one practical suggestion to the Government in dealing with unemployment. We know that they have not handled this situation properly from almost any point of view. The most tragic feature beyond all question is the unemployment of ex-Service men and women because of the sacrifices they have made and of the disablements which in many cases they have incurred. But unemployment spreads beyond them, and I am thinking of all classes in the community. As a plain criticism of the Government policy I would ask, have they presented up to the present time any comprehensive scheme. Does anybody suggest that there is not a tremendous volume of work to be done in Europe, if only we went about it in the proper way. Let me give one or two illustrations. It was pointed out recently in in economic review that Russia alone, if she were again on her legs under some stable Government, could absorb probably not less than £100,000,000 worth of machinery. Amongst the Eastern Powers of Europe there is a very great shortage of raw material, and in Western Europe in the areas recovering from the devastation of the War, they are literally shrieking for many of these commodities which this country can produce, and that is being hindered by a certain failure in response on our part. I do not think personally you can deal with unemployment on broad general principles. I think it would have been far better for the Government to have taken industry by industry and to find out if possible the extent of the demand in any particular industry, and then ascertain, equally definitely, the causes which are hindering our efforts to meet that. Take the great sphere of machinery, engineering and the output of those commodities which are 2164 necessary in the manufacturing enterprises of this and other countries and there is no doubt that a very large market lies at our hands in Europe. If it is hindered by high policy, then let high policy be remedied. If it is hindered by causes of capital and labour in this country, let us face them and find a solution.
If the Government had taken industry by industry on those lines I have no hesitation at all in saying that they could have absorbed all the unemployed quite easily, and the chances are that we might be confronted in this period of post-war shortage with something like the difficulty of obtaining labour, which was true of at least part of our War experience. These reasons lead me to the conclusion that we are only tinkering with unemployment in Bills of this kind. Personally I intend to support this Bill for one plain and simple reason, which I dare say is the reason why the great majority of Members support it, I am going to support it because I shall support anything which will provide work and will help to give people employment and keep them away from starvation and from doles and all manner of mischievous enterprises of that kind. I sincerely trust, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will make a note of this, that this Bill is not going to be used for non-economic schemes, which are going to hinder and delay the local authorities in legitimate enterprises, and which, so far from contributing to the solution of the difficulty, are only going to aggravate it.
§ Major-General SEELY
I tried to shorten discussion on this Bill by asking the Secretary for Scotland why it was that the most urgent of all the arrears of work was omitted from this Bill, namely, all those arrears of work connected with, the sea by which alone we live. Had he said that it was included I should have been surprised, or had he given me any clear indication that it would, I would not detain the House. I think what has probably happened is this, and I shall be corrected by the right hon. Gentleman or by the Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Transport if I am wrong, that in attempting to legislate in a short Bill by reference you have got so tangled up that you cannot do the very thing which is most urgently required. What we want to do is to make up the arrears 2165 of work, to which my hon. Friend has just referred in his very able speech, and what we want to avoid is doing relief works, of which there are many remnants still in existence and which do no good to anybody and bring no revenue to the Exchequer or to the local authority, and which are monuments of folly for the days to come. We want to make up the arrears of work. Where are those arrears most required? Those arrears are to be found all round our coast. It is quite true, as the Prime Minister told us, that we must endeavour to grow more wheat, but the fact remains that we live by the sea and that four-fifths of our imports come over the sea, and everything we can do to facilitate them is worth doing. Every harbour in our country wants dredging, and all round our coasts there are wrecks which impede navigation. In a channel I know very well there are two wrecks in the outer fairway and two in the inner fairway, and that is one of the most important channels in the world. There is not a single part of our coasts where the sea defences have not been neglected owing to the War, and yet under this Bill this most obvious and urgent thing which everyone realises is not included.
Clause 3 says, "the expression 'work of public utility' means the construction or improvement of roads or other means of transit." I fear that sea transit would not be included in that. Then we have "the widening or other improvement of waterways," and I fear that would refer only to inland waterways or, at any rate, inner harbours. There is also mention of "the construction of sewers or waterworks, the reclamation or drainage of land, and any work connected with any of the aforesaid works." I think we must go a little further to find out the reason for this. The local authority is to have power to spend money together with the appropriate Government Department. I fear that the local authorities who deal with our sea defences and harbours and main waterways are not included in the local authorities as meant, and as would be understood, by the drafting of this Bill. I submit that the matter goes further than the objection raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean), who said that this is a bad example of legislation by reference. It is that of course, but I believe that in order to shorten your Bill and legislate by reference you have ex- 2166 cluded the most vital and important of the works which require to be done in order to get this country fully going again. I would urgently ask the Secretary for Scotland to take all this into consideration. I am quite sure that the whole House will agree that if we are to mitigate unemployment and not do foolish things, but only those which are necessary, we must not exclude the most vital of our needs, such as the repairing of our harbours, sea communications, external waterways, and the deepening and straightening of our channels. If these things cannot be done under this Bill then I ask the right hon. Gentleman to introduce such Amendments as will enable the authorities to utilise the surplus labour, which it is feared there will be during the coming months, in this most vital of all our needs.
My hon. Friend (Mr. W. Graham) said he himself would be glad to co-operate in any way in securing that all who want work shall have it. We are told this Bill is to enable ex-service men to obtain employment, and this has been described as the most tragic part of unemployment. It is, however, idle to be blind to the fact that in many cases where work is to be done, even after consultations between trade unionists and the Minister of Labour, the very men who are asked to help are precluded by trade union rules. By every post I received in my official capacity in connection with a position I hold in the Isle of Wight, letters from public authorities, and individual letters pointing out the case of men who want to work, who are on good terms with their fellow men, but who are procluded by the trade union rules. In all that correspondence I do not see the least trace of bitterness or hostility on the part of trade unionists, but the fact is they are simply tied up by their own rules, although they are anxious to help in this matter. If we are going to start works of public utility, may I plead that there should be a frank consultation between the Ministers responsible and the trade union officials, so that these ex-service men shall not be excluded by obsolete trade union rules. With these few remarks I earnestly beg the Secretary for Scotland to make some effort to deal with this most urgent problem.
§ Captain ELLIOT
In connection with this matter I desire to mention one or two points of the greatest importance. 2167 I have much sympathy with what has been said by the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Graham) in his well-informed speech, especially where he protested, in the name of the labouring classes, against any tendency to spend money upon unproductive work. In this Bill we are setting out on a programme of unproductive work, and it seems to me that we run the gravest risk not of mitigating unemployment, but of increasing it. For every pound taken out of the pocket of the private individual in order to put it into unproductive schemes, you cause 30s. worth of unemployment, and you enter upon a vicious circle. I was astonished at the mild reception this Bill has received, when one remembers the vigorous attacks made upon a previous Bill of this character. I do not wish to bring down the thunders of the Conservative revolters upon the head of the Secretary for Scotland, but I am astonished that he has escaped attacks so long from those hon. Members. After all there are productive things that are urgently needed in this country which we desire to possess here and now. I have looked up the work of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland to see what it was he had been asking for recently, and I find that in the House of Commons on the 26th October in reply to a question, he said:There are 32,000 men necessary to complete in a year the 16,000 houses for the tenders which have been approved.That is in Scotland alone. Therefore if the right hon. Gentleman could get ahead with his housing scheme he could employ 32,000 men. I looked to see what he wanted to got ahead with this work, and I find that on the 2nd October, 1920, he said that he was not getting enough cement; he was getting it at the rate of from 300 to 400 tons per week. That is enough for some 2,500 houses, but that is a very great deal short of the number required to employ 32,000 men. The right hon. Gentleman also said that the output of bricks was sufficient for the erection of 3,000 houses in a year, but that is lamentably insufficient for the needs of Scotland. Here is something of which we are in urgent need. Bricks could be put to immediate productive use in the building of houses for the people, and this would reduce expenditure and make labour mobile, because at present it is held up owing to this shortage of hous- 2168 ing accommodation. In place of this, however, we have a proposal to spend money upon roads, the reclamation and drainage of land, and such things, it seems incredible to reflect that at the moment when we are proposing to take the labour of the people of Great Britain and use it on unproductive employment we are at the same time being urged to shut down the building of factories because the bricks are wanted for housing. It would be more sensible that the building of factories should be carried on with the utmost speed, and if there is a shortage of bricks, let us make bricks. Why make roads which nobody wants instead of bricks, for which everybody is clamouring. [HON. MEMBERS:"State Socialism!"] Could there be any worse state of State Socialism than using the labour of the people upon work which they do not want to do, which they have not been trained to do, and which will be useless when it is done. Surely that is the worst form of Socialism you could conceive.
If we could produce things which are wanted by the public, that would be very much better than producing things which are not wanted. There is a very great shortage of building material in the country. I know the Labour party have a simple solution; they say that you should erect State and municipal brick works. That, however, would take a long time. It would take a year or two before those brick works could enter into production, but surely it would not be impossible to get ahead with some constructive scheme for increasing the brick and cement production of this country by increasing the output of existing factories. If local authorities are to be empowered to borrow money for the purpose of making these roads which are enormously expensive and often perfectly useless, why could not this money be used for producing building materials? Some of the roads constructed in Scotland on this principle are now growing grass. At this very moment the shortage of building material is so great that we are proposing to buy cement from Belgium and bricks from Denmark and Denmark is not an Ally but a neutral country. Therefore we are using the taxpayers' money to dump foreign produce into this country at a time when it is being proposed to employ labour on works of public utility such as the construction of sewers, waterworks, the re- 2169 clamation and drainage of land. At a time when you have this shortage, which is so severe and heavy, we are actually proposing to go not even to our Allies but to neutral countries, and use the British taxpayers' money to dump goods here.
I think it would be worth while to utilise some of the credit under this Bill, and some of the financial and labour support proposed under this Bill, to help works of real public utility such as works for the making of bricks. This is not a temporary shortage of bricks, they will be needed in increasing numbers for years to come. If we took every brick made in Scotland, not allowing one for the building of factories or repairs, or any of the multitudinous purposes for which they are needed beyond the erection of houses, we could only build 6,000 houses a year from bricks made in Scotland. There are 900,000 houses in Scotland, and allowing a liberal life of 100 years for a house, that is a wastage of 9,000 houses a year. If we take every brick we make in Scotland, and use them for building houses, we shall still be wasting at the rate of 3,000 houses a year. In spite of this state of things, we propose to use labour and credit, getting people to make roads and doing unnecessary relief work, thus wasting the greatest asset we have in the country, that is the bone, muscle and brain of the people.
It can scarcely be believed that we are suggesting a programme of works of public utility at a time such as this, when the greatest need of the country is houses, and yet these works of public utility do not include either brick works or cement works. It may be said that we in Scotland must buy our bricks from England, but if you use every brick made in England for houses they would only build 125,000 houses in a year, and I understand that estimates have been arranged for 160,000 houses. If every brick made in England is used in building houses, there will still be 35,000 houses which will need to be built out of card-board or paper. [HON. MEMBERS:"What about stone?"] England is not a stone-using country. We in Scotland will buy all the surplus bricks England can send us, but we cannot get enough because Englishmen are now using all their own bricks. Surely the provision of an article like bricks is one of the most useful and practical measures of relief. After all, the making of bricks is by no 2170 means skilled labour, because a great deal of it is already done by female labour.
There is a great shortage of cement, and a good deal of cement is at the present time being exported. I know there are proposals to stop the exportation of cement in order that it can be used for houses. Could anything be more futile than that. You would be cutting down our foreign trade and you would be sending our money to foreign countries, and that would be taking no steps to increase production at home. It has been said that we hope to raise the manufacture of cement in this country by 8 per cent, next year, but that is not nearly enough for the housing schemes which have already been arranged.
I see the Bill is backed by the Minister of Transport—when one considers the burdens that are to be paid upon public authorities under this Bill one may well say that the little finger of the Minister of Transport is likely to be thicker than the loins of the Minister of Health. When there is a thing which is needed, and which can be produced by unskilled labour, surely it is better it should be produced rather than an article such as roads, which are not wanted, which will not be productive, and which, when constructed, will prove vastly expensive, and possibly inefficient. If the Minister in charge will give us some assurance that the definition of "public utility" may be somewhat extended when the Bill comes into Committee, then I think he is more likely to get the support of those who are anxious that the resources of the State should be used for productive rather than unproductive expenditure.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I agree with a great deal of what has been said by the last speaker. I do not think he went so far as to condemn all the categories of the work on which it is proposed to spend money under this Bill. He only referred, I believe, to the expenditure on roads, and he expressed a desire, which is shared by the House, that there should be a real justification for any expenditure in that direction, and proof that it is going to be productive, and not, as has been too often the case in the past, unproductive. I should like to see, among the purposes on which this money is to be spent, reclamation and drainage schemes, and I hope that the Ministers in charge of the 2171 various schemes which are to be promoted will cause to be explored certain schemes lately before the Ministry of Agriculture and the Afforestation Commission with regard to joint schemes of reclamation in different parts of the country. It is desirable to get the Ministry of Agriculture and the Afforestation authorities to work together upon these schemes. There was formerly a scheme for reclamation of land for the joint purposes of agriculture and of forestry on the Bodmin Moors in Cornwall, and it was deferred only owing to the lack of money. It may be that such a scheme could not be made definitely economic in the sense of bringing in a prompt 6 per cent, return on the money expended. But such schemes are economic in the sense that they do transform a country previously desolate, waste and useless, into a country which may become a source of wealth to the community.
When I was in Ireland recently on afforestation business I saw an extraordinary example of that in the South of Ireland where, in the midst of a great stretch of desolate brown hillside land, there was a big patch of green. It was land which had been reclaimed by the Trappist Monks who had set up an institution there. I do not suppose the work was economic in the ordinary sense. It was done by the Brothers themselves who did not receive a market wage for their labour, but still there it was and one suddenly came across a great stretch of country green and productive in the midst of a wide area of brown moorland, and it was supplying food for a community of two or three, hundred persons and for the school they were running, thereby constituting a permanent increase of wealth and prosperity for the community, and yielding food where previously none was produced. I think the same sort of thing in a smaller way perhaps might be done by reclamation schemes of a joint agricultural and afforestry nature on the Bodmin Moors and in other places. Anyone who knows the desperate state of unemployment in Cornwall just now, and how difficult it is for Cornishmen to adapt themselves to the ways of other parts of the country, will, I think, agree as to the desirability of promoting these schemes. In Cornwall the coalminer has killed the tin mines. The price of coal is such that the tin mines cannot now be 2172 worked at a profit, and it is very probable that in a few months many more of them will be closed. Surely that creates a presumption in favour of trying to revive these joint reclamation schemes in that county, and I have only risen in order to make sure that these matters will be explored by the Ministry of Agriculture and by the Afforestry Commission.
§ Mr. JESSON
Although I have hopes of this Bill, I also share the misgivings expressed by the hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. Graham). Some years ago I was a member of the Central Unemployed Body for London. When I read this Bill I was reminded of the schemes which that body had to deal with at that particular time. It was a period when we had no work that we could give out—no work of an economic nature, and what the Committee did was to approach the local authorities in London and inquire of them if they had any work which they could hand over to the Central Unemployed Body. The reply invariably was that they had no work, except such as, could be done by their own ordinary workers in the ordinary way, or by the staffs of their contractors. We pressed them further, and asked if they had any work which was likely to be taken in hand within the next few years. The reply came back that there was certain work that would have to be done in years to come, but that it would still be work which would be done by the ordinary worker in the ordinary way. The Central Unemployed Body suggested that that work should be handed over to them, and, after a great deal of pressure, much of this work was handed over. It was carried out in the most uneconomic manner possible to conceive. Men were put to work for which they were totally unsuited. For instance, an unemployed actor was given heavy work on the land—wheeling earth from one, place to another. When we came to reckon up the cost it was found that the Central Unemployed Body had paid three times more to get this work done than it would have cost if carried out in the ordinary way by the men fitted for it. The Central Unemployed Body only received from the public authorities one-third of the amount they spent; the remaining two-thirds was obtained from the ratepayers through other sources, and it meant that the public authorities were borrowing money to do unnecessary work.
2173 It seems to me that there is a danger in this particular scheme of repeating that kind of thing. As far as I am concerned I hold that there is no way out of the unemployed problem except by the organisation of industry by trades as recommended by the hon. Member for Central Edinburgh. What is the difficulty we are in to-day? We want more wealth produced. What is wealth? Wealth consists of goods and commodities of all kinds—not money. A good many people in the Labour movement today are suggesting that the only solution for unemployment is to decrease the hours of labour, increase wages and restrict production. If that is the solution for unemployment we ought not to stop at a six-hour day. Why not work only one hour a day, or why work at all? Why not have our money sent home to us every week without working at all?
§ Mr. JESSON
I agree that if you can introduce machinery to do work now done by labour it is all to the good of the community. There are some people who say that the only solution is to increase wages and decrease production. Obviously, if that is the case why should we not ask the Government to at once pass a law forbidding any employer to pay any one less than £20 a week? But if we restrict output, I would like to know how a man is going to purchase goods which have not been produced, even if his pockets were bulging with money. Looking at the matter from that point of view, I think everybody should demand an increase in production. If we get that what are we going to do with the extra floods we produce? I have never charged employers of labour with being in business for their health's sake or for purely philanthropic purposes. The employer has to find the money with which to finance production while the goods are being produced. Obviously he must find a market for those goods in order to recoup himself, otherwise he is going to be left with them on his hands. We may then ask ourselves, Where are those markets to be found, and who are the buyers? The answer is that those markets are everywhere, and the buyers are the general public.
2174 If we look into the matter more closely we find that 99 per cent, of the general public are the workers themselves and their dependants; that being the case, it is obvious that we must have some understanding with our employers, who-ever they may be, whether the State or public authorities or private individuals—we must have an understanding with them as to the wages we are to receive for the work we do; otherwise the workers will be unable to buy the goods which their joint labour produces. That brings me to the point mentioned by the hon. Member for Edinburgh. We must have organisation in every industry, and once you got that, once every industry is thoroughly and scientifically organised, we should, I believe, be able to absorb every man and every woman in want of employment in useful and remunerative work. What the world is hungering for at the present time is goods of all kinds, and I thoroughly agree with the last speaker (Captain Elliot) in condemning the unproductiveness of the kind of work suggested in this Bill. We want to utilise capital on productive work. It would simply be wasted, for the time being, at any rate, on the schemes suggested in this Bill. We want to develop our trade organisations. The world is absolutely starving for goods at the present time.
I am going to vote for the Bill, because there may be something useful in it, or, at any rate, something that may be useful later on, although I repeat I have serious misgivings as to what the result is going to be. We have the unemployed with us now and we have to do something for them. As for the problem of unemployment, it seems to me that the cause of it in the past has born not overproduction but under-consumption. In the past, particularly before the War—and the War has altered our outlook a very great deal—in the past what we suffered from was disorganisation in practically every industry. The philosophy of laissez faire in every business led to a position in which every employer tried to get as much work out of the worker as he possibly could for as little wages as possible in return. The result was that the workers did not receive sufficient wages to enable them to purchase the goods which their joint labour produced, and, as a consequence, we had the paradoxical position of men starving 2175 because they had produced too much to eat, and shivering with cold because they had produced too many clothes, and so on all round. Some thorough system of organisation must be applied to every industry before we can solve the problem of unemployment. Organisation is really the key to the future as regards industrial matters. For the time being I shall vote for this measure, but, as I have said, I have very grave misgivings as to what its results will be.
Mr. J. JONES
I cannot speak with the same amount of knowledge of the problem of unemployment as some hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who have spoken before, me. I can only claim that I have walked the streets of this great City for weeks at a stretch looking for someone to employ me, and that was in the days when no one was talking about increased production, and there was no question of want of capital or of a plentiful supply of labour. The economic arguments that we are hearing to-night are simply an attempt on the part of some of our modern politicians to justify their own existence. Unemployment is not a new problem; it is as old as the system under which we are living. I want to re-echo one of the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member who spoke last, when he referred to the fact that the problem was not one of under-employment, but of under-consumption. If the people who produce the work of the nation had the purchasing capacity to buy back the things they produce, there would be no problem of unemployment. I have been out of work when I have had a few pounds in my pocket, and I did not trouble, because I could last as long as my pocket was lined. The only time when unemployment feels bad is when you have nothing to spend. The rich unemployed do not suffer, and they are always out of work. We only discuss the problem in the House of Commons when we have to deal with the poor unemployed—the man who is knocking at the door and only has one thing to sell, that is to say, his labour power, his physical and mental capacity, which he must sell before he can live. Then it becomes a great national and international problem, and we have to have Bills of this character—sticking 2176 plasters on wooden legs, or pills for earthquakes.
What does this Bill say? Whilst ostensibly pretending to deal with the problem of unemployment, it says to the poor, "The poor must keep the poor." It tells the local authorities that they have to borrow money—at what rate of interest? Ask the banker Members of this House and they will probably tell you. I am a member of a local authority as well as a Member of this House, and we have the problem of unemployment brought home to us in a very exemplified form. Ten thousand men and women in our district are clamouring for the local authority to come to their assistance, because they cannot find work in the factories, which are disbanding a large number of their employés. The various people who employ labour find that they cannot go on in the same way as they did during the War. We have a large number of men returned from the Services, and they are clamouring also, because they say that the allowances which they are receiving from the Government are not sufficient to maintain them. They are asking that we shall carry out public works in order to give them an opportunity of maintaining themselves. When we approach those in authority, we are told that they cannot do anything for us except provide machinery whereby we can borrow money—with rates at 22s. 4d. in the £, we can borrow money to find work for our own unemployed. I venture to suggest that that is feeding the dog on its own tail, or parts thereof. So far as trying to deal with the problem of unemployment is concerned, this is a mere patchwork arrangement. I will give the Government credit for good intentions, but I hope they will never reach the place where good intentions generally end.
When we approach the Government in connection with this matter of unemployment, we are told that they are prepared to give assistance in the matter of arterial roads. It is no good talking to the people of, say, West Ham, about reclaiming land, because there is no land there to reclaim; nor about foreshore or afforestation work, which, again, is absolutely impossible for us. We have a big population of unemployed people. All our people are poor people, and therefore the expense becomes a purely local ex- 2177 pense, for which we have to borrow money. Where do we find ourselves when we approach the appropriate Government Department whom we are told to approach under this Bill? They tell us that they cannot give assistance for any kind of work except arterial road work. The roads leading to and from the docks, however, are not considered to be arterial roads, so far as we have decisions up to the present. I hope that that will be altered during the time that this Bill is going through Committee. The consequence is that, although the docks have been improved and the waterways have been improved, the roads are still in the same congested condition in which they were before the establishment of the authority which now controls the waterways and the docks.
The hon. Member opposite referred to bricks and cement. I happen to be a member of a trade union which has in its membership a large proportion of men and women who are employed in the manufacture of bricks and cement. There is no question of trade union rules here. There is no question of men and women being stopped from working in brick works and cement works because of the red-tape regulations of trade unions. I am one of those trade unionists who regret the narrow-mindedness of some trade unionists as much as any member of this House. I believe that the more you perfect the methods of production the better it is for the people as a whole, and I have always advocated that policy whenever I have had the opportunity of doing so. But there is always the fear in the mind of the average trade unionist that if he allows his trade to be flooded, the future is going to be very black for him, and so he establishes rules and regulations which, if it were not for the existence of this very problem, he would be able to relax, and which he would gladly relax. It is the fear of unemployment which makes a large number of trade unions carry on upon their present lines. So far as concerns the manufacture of raw materials for building, however, these things do not apply, because most of the men and women employed in those trades belong to what are called the semiskilled and unskilled sections of labour. There is nothing to stop the further employment of labour here. We are willing to welcome any man or woman 2178 into these particular trades, because we claim that the more people there are at work the better it is for the industry as a whole, and, therefore, in that particular respect those arguments do not at all affect the Members sitting on these Benches.
This Bill, however, places us in this position; With the demands that are being made upon us by 10,000 men and women for employment, even if we started at our council meeting next week, I venture to suggest, although I do not understand the technicalities of the Bill, that, from the standpoint of the time it would take to put it into operation, and judging by our previous experience, it would be at least 12 weeks before we could put a man or woman into work. Then we have to borrow the money, and we shall only be able, of course, to take a small share of the responsibility. Therefore, I hope that during the Committee stage we shall be able so to amend the Bill that it will not merely give the local authorities power to start schemes and ask for the opportunity of borrowing money, but that it will give us some time to enable us to adopt such methods of finding employment as will be really to the advantage of the people in the district. I object altogether to the argument which has been advanced here this afternoon that improvements to roads in congested areas such as the East End of London will not be for the good of trade. One of the greatest difficulties we have had in the development of the trade of London has been the congestion on the roads and in the traffic to and from the docks and the railways. Although we are spending a great deal of public money for the purpose of improving our dock, waterside and river accommodation, we have spent practically nothing upon our roads, and why? Because the road authority, in the main, is a very poor authority, and has not the means to provide the essential methods whereby proper communication may be established. This Bill should be amended in the direction of providing proper Government assistance for that. After all, so far as the East End of London is concerned, you are not dealing with the trade of the East End, but with the trade of Great Britain and of the Empire. Goods are being sent from the London docks to all parts of the world, and surely it is just as essential that the roadways to and from the docks should be fit to 2179 bear the traffic as it is that the docks should be big enough to hold the ships that bring the goods into them.
I therefore support this Bill as a temporary proposition, regretting the fact that the problem of unemployment has not been tackled more from a national point of view. We all regret that. We thought that during the period of the War the great statesmen and geniuses who now conduct our public affairs would have been sitting with towels round their heads, more or less watered, for the purpose of trying to discover means of dealing with these problems, which we all knew would arise as soon as the War was finished. There is not a Member of this House who did not believe that these after-War problems would be pressing upon us, and therefore it ought to have been the duty of real statesmanship to consider what should be done to meet them as they arose. What are we doing now? We are legislating in a panic, because great numbers of men are clamouring all over the country. Town halls are being seized, and we are being threatened. I wish that some of our Cabinet Ministers were sitting upon our local council, and had to meet the deputations that come along. I wish they had to come to our public meetings and hear the wives of men who had been killed, their dependants, and men themselves asking, "After we have fought as we have fought, why are we placed like this?" and asking the local authority to do what they are unable to do. Yet this Bill says to them, "You must keep on patching up in the same old way." We venture to suggest that, while we are supporting this Bill, it is not because we love it, but because we hope to do something to assuage the present situation, hoping that in the future some Government, if not the present one, will tackle the problem of unemployment in reality, and introduce legislation that will really give us an effective means of dealing with it.
§ Mr. BILLING
I oppose this Bill, because I consider that it is a piece of political engineering and official whitewashing to deal with a very acute problem. Unemployment in this country rests in the main with three great industries, namely, those of building, engineering and the production of food. If you 2180 destroy those three industries in this country, practically every other industry automatically goes by the board. It was not my intention to refer intimately to the building problem. Hon. Members may know quite well that during the last two years I have identified myself pretty closely with it. Some might think that that ought to prevent me from addressing the House on that question; others might think that the knowledge which I have gained in my two years' intimate association with the building trade should qualify me to speak on the floor of this House in this connection. Two years ago, on the floor of this House and in the columns of the Press, I advocated with all my power the mass production of houses, and for two reasons. One was that the munition factories, which throughout the country were discharging men—or rather, transferring men from the pay roll of the factory to the pay roll of the unemployment bureau, from where they had produced something to where they were going to produce nothing—that those factories were capable of being transformed into factories producing the essentials of the component parts of standard houses. Instead of that another principle was adopted. The result has been that the Government has created what is an essential and artificial boom in houses, and like all artificial booms it is to-day followed by a real slump. That real slump has been caused by throe things. It has been caused in the main by the Government's own method of dealing with the problem, but the actual method of the downfall has been the two things that their act brought into being.
The artificial boom brought into being two great combines, one great combine of capitalists, who cornered all the essentials of house production immediately they knew the Government were their buyers, and the other a great combine of trade unions who, seeing that there would be a demand for skilled labour in excess of supply, very cleverly engineered a complete corner in building labour. Hon. Members who have studied the question of the rise of building essentials know quite well how it has been engineered. We all know how the cement combine was engineered. We all know how cement was raised from 14s. 9d. to £5 8s. 6d. a ton, which I am paying to-day. Labour has only gone up from 200 to 250 per cent. 2181 There is no reason for cement to have gone up 300 or 400 per cent. We know quite well that there is a combine in cement and we know quite well that cement is being held up for the purposes of this combine and therefore it is hard to blame the trade unions for copying such an admirable example. They see that the capitalists' method of making money is always to keep the supply a little short of the demand, and so long as you can do that he can gradually work up his prices and make a vast fortune. Some of the more intelligent trade union members have tumbled to how this is done and they have pointed out to the workers that so long as you keep the supply of labour in any given trade a little below the de mand you can work a corner in labour, and that is what Labour has been doing, and the result of it is that work is stagnating throughout the country, and instead of reducing unemployment by very substantial figures, they are in the main injuring their own class by their own action. Two years ago if you wanted a bricklayer to build a wall you had one bricklayer, and possibly one or two labourers to help him. Not so to-day. One knows that the leaders tell the men, "See that the skilled men do as little as they possibly can—
§ Mr. BILLING
"And if it is possible to put two skilled men on it instead of one, do it." You can go into carpenters' shops to-day where before the War one labourer would help one skilled man, for example, to put window frames together, but one, joiner will not do it now with one skilled man. Ho wants another to help him.
§ Mr. BILLING
Where you find bricklayers laying bricks or blocks, one will not work by himself with a labourer, but wants another skilled man to help him. By his action in not working by himself hi; is throwing three unskilled men out of, work. Is that the way labour is going to hang together? I know it is unsound politically to attack trade unions. That is why the Government is frightened to do it. If the Government had any courage at all the Bill they would be introducing to-day would be a dilution Bill 2182 and not a relief Bill. I can speak with a certain amount of experience. A fortnight ago a factory in which I am deeply interested was producing good work. To-day we have not a skilled man in our employment, simply because we introduced several ex-officers into the factory to learn the trade. We put them to making bricks. We put them to heavy unskilled work—ex-lieutenant-colonelis of His Majesty's Army shovelling concrete, and shovelling it very well, and learning well. What was the immediate result? The skilled men come and say, "Either these men leave the factory or we do. We will give you till to-night to make up your mind." It was the skilled men who left the factory. To turn these ex-officers and men away at the dictation of a trade union might be commercially sound, but there is no other claim for such action.
Trade unions to-day are being filled with poison, which is going, not only to ruin the commercial life of this country, but to ruin the whole industrial welfare of their own community. In every factory the reason for unemployment can be easily traced. You will find one or two or three in each trade, gradually placed there by that extraordinary organisation which is working from within, bitterly opposed to the best of their leaders, preaching this policy of low production as the solution of all our economic troubles. Where are we going to stop? They have brought it down to 42 hours a week. I do not consider that 42 hours is an honest amount of labour for any man, whether he is working with his brain or his hands, to put in. Next they will bring it down to 30. But if this thing is capable of practice, why not bring it down to none at all? Where should we stand then? Let no one produce anything. That is the one reason why we are in trouble, and the Government is to blame. The Government could deal with the trade unions on this question tomorrow if it had the courage, but in this, as in every problem it has approached, it lacks courage. It stands in the middle of the road and trembles and wobbles and does not know on which side to jump. If there is the fear of a general election, and they think they can rely on the Conservatives, for any reason best known to themselves, they jettison the Conservative interests. Until we get a courageous Government we shall have unemployment and all its necessary ills. The Government has been 2183 promising for two years to make dilution possible. We are still in the same position to-day. The Government should introduce a Bill forthwith telling trade unions that dilution shall be carried out by them, and if they wish to strike against it let them strike now. Let us get that question settled once and for all. What is the good of talking about the manufacture of bricks by unskilled men? The skilled union of bricklayers objects to the type of people who are employed in making those bricks, and they strike work on a job two hundred miles away.
§ Mr. BILLING
If one has to be quite personal, I speak of a factory of which I happen to be Chairman. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name?"] It is a factory in the county of Hertfordshire carrying my own name and it was started for the purpose of mass production of houses. All the skilled men have left that factory because they refuse to train ex-officers and men. We offered wages up to £8 a week, which I think is equal to what a Member of Parliament is entitled to. In nearly every case it was refused. I go to the Ministry of Labour and I say, "I am going to fight these men. I think it is an outrage that trade unions should be able to throw ex-officers and men to starve on the streets because they refuse to allow their trade to be interfered with." The Ministry of Labour says, "For Heaven's sake do not interfere. We are hoping to come to some solution of this matter soon," and for two years they have been flirting with the trade unions and have come to no decision at all and the trade unions calmly ask for a guarantee of five or ten years' full pay, rain or shine, employment or no employment, if they are going to allow anyone else to learn their trade, if they are going to allow ex-soldiers and officers to become apprentices. It is a crime that the Government of an Empire such as this should be browbeaten by a number of trade unionists who are injuring the best interests of their own class. An hon. Member opposite spoke of the production of cement and other bricks. So as to prevent the large body of unskilled labour that will 2184 remain in that factory from being thrown out of work. I offered to make any number of bricks or tiles of any description for any housing scheme that wanted them. If those orders were not given, naturally the unskilled men must be dismissed, and instead of drawing £3 a week for doing honest work they would draw 38s. unemployment dole, which would come out of the rates A very well-known Government Department, which I am quite willing to mention if it is necessary, says, "we are sorry, we could not take one of the bricks which you produced from your factory because it has come to us that your skilled men have struck against the ex-officer and the ex-soldier, and if we use one of your bricks, every job upon which we are engaged, that runs into £3,000,000, would be stopped." Is that courage on the part of the Government? It is playing into the hands of these trade unions who are carrying on that work steadily, but surely, in every factory in the country.
The hon. Member (Mr. Jones) told us that firms were closing down all over the country. They are closing down on account of Government extravagance on one side and stupidity on the other. Excess Profits Duty is responsible for the closing down of half the factories which have closed in the last six months. Can you expect men to-day, with the present unsettled state of labour, to take on large contracts with all the unrest and the ever-intensified risk attaching to vast contracts? If it is a loss they go bankrupt. If it is a great success the Government takes the profit It is unreasonable; to suggest that such a thing can be done. In the last six months I have offered big engineering firms in Birmingham, Manchester and London contracts running into over £100,000. All that I have asked has been a price for the contract. They refused to give a price. These are firms which four months ago were willing to take it on at time and line and 10 per cent. Now they will not give any figure or any time for delivery, because they cannot trust their labour. They never know when their labour is going to strike. They could not have a penalty Clause. They could not give a price for the reason that if your profits are going to be taken as they are made, it does not pay to give a price. You know that at the best you are only to be allowed to make 10 per 2185 cent., therefore you say "I will do it for you at 10 per cent, over cost," safeguarding yourself against subsequent loss. If you give a price something may happen in the industrial position and you find you have lost on the transaction. Therefore no firm of standing will enter into any contract where a firm price is asked. No reasonable person, if they are at all careful, can be expected to give an order for anything unless they know the cost. How can business be conducted on those lines? When a firm places an order for anything they must be able to have arranged their market previously. In order previously to arrange your market you must know what your costs are, and if you cannot get your costs you cannot place your orders, and if you cannot place your orders, you cannot provide employment.
If the Government would abolish the Excess Profits Duty which has proved a criminal failure, and which was only put in as a sop to labour. Does any hon. Member suggest that it was a sop to the capitalists? Was it a sop to the capitalist telling him that he was going to have practically no profits? It was a sop to labour, and labour swallowed it. This Bill is another sop to labour, and they are going to swallow it, but they will be no bettor. If labour thinks that it is going to find salvation in taking in its own washing, then I am very sorry for the intelligence of labour in this country. The Government needs to be a little courageous. There are fine workmen in this country, the finest workmen in the world, and they are not in agreement with the attitude of the trade unions. I have one old carpenter, 60 years of age, who had to leave me. Ho told me he dared not remain with me. For 24 years he had paid into his union £4 a year. He was willing to train ex-service officers and men and he would have worked all night to train them, but he said he dared not do it. There are hundreds and thousands of men in the trade unions to-day who are in the same position. Let me give the Government a bit of advice. Do you know how to deal with trade unions? I will tell you. The trade unions in the past did great work. Were it not for the work of the trade unions in the past labour would be as down-trodden to-day as it was ten years ago; but even good things can go too far, and the action of the trade unions in trespassing into constitutional administration 2186 has gone too far. The better class man in the trade unions have no time for the hot heads who are driving them into one in industrial crisis after another. If they were in the position of—
§ Mr. BILLING
The Government has a perfect right to introduce a Bill to deal with the crisis in the trade union position to-day. Why should it not have something to do with the making of laws which govern the trade unions, which, to a very great extent, have created the position with which we are faced to-day in regard to unemployment. If the Government insisted that a trade unionist should have one vote for every year that he had been a member of his union, you would not have another strike in this country for 10 years. The old workmen who have wives and children and responsibilities do not want strikes. It is the young hot-heads who have been attracted into unions by the still more hot-headed, ignorant leaders, who have bought a 6d. edition of Karl Marx, and have ill-digested it. These hotheads, who think that salvation will come to them by demanding that that which they have never worked for should be divided between them, are in the majority to-day. They are driving the old trade unionist before them because the old man possibly is not an orator, and cannot keep his end up, and is frightened of losing the savings of a lifetime. Can you blame him? The result is that he is rushed into one crisis after another. If the Government laid it down that every trade unionist should have one vote for every year he has been a member of his union, you would not have any industrial crisis in this country for 10 years. You would have the unions throwing open their arms to the ex-service officers and men, and willing to train them, willing to help them to re-establish order, to reestablish the commercial existence of this country, and the commercial fabric of this country which the War has torn asunder. If the Government have not the courage to do that, I suggest that they should state that every member of a trade union who desires to capitalise the sums that he has paid in should be able to go to the nearest post office and capitalise that sum out of a Treasury grant, and let the Trea- 2187 sury reimburse itself from the trade union funds, if necessary by confiscation.
§ Mr. BILLING
You would find that half the men would leave the trade unions to-morrow. That might be an emergency measure. The power of the trade unions of this country to-day is as great for evil as it was for good before the War. I appeal to the Government to take its courage in both hands and to realise that to-day, to-morrow, or the next day, this fight must be a fight to a finish. It is a fight to combat the trade union right to control all industry in this country, a fight against the trade union right to deny to one man the living which it demands for itself. That is the fight which is coming along, and I ask the Government not to delay one moment, but to make up its mind on the policy which it is going to take up. Even if it does lose a seat or two even if it does lose a vote or two—every man who stands up to the trade unions must expect to do that—oven if it does so injure itself, the injury that it will suffer will be nothing compared to the blessing which it will confer upon the trade and commerce of this country.
§ Mr. SEXTON
I have no objection to this Bill. Though somewhat feeble, it is travelling in the right direction. I have, however, a decided objection to any piece of legislation introduced into this House being used as a peg upon which to hang an attack upon organised labour.
§ Mr. SEXTON
We have just listened to a tirade not only against organised trade unions—but against the Government—a tirade of a most extraordinary character, from the Admirable Crichton, the Member for Hertford. This modern Columbus has actually discovered how to treat trade unions. I would advise him not to be too previous in his attempt to do anything of the kind. The whole of his speech has been directed as a tirade against and an attack upon trade unionism. He has condemned them of crimes of which they have never been guilty. What is his 2188 foundation for the charges? His experience is limited to two years, according to his own words, and to seven ex-officers and one old carpenter, 60 years of age. Upon this slender evidence he builds up an infamous attack upon the whole trade union movement. I am sorry he is not present. If he were here, I would take this opportunity of, I trust, convincing him how absurd and ridiculous he is in the eyes of sensible thinking men. He spared nobody. He stated that every factory in the country was infected by the horrible disease of which he complains. The House knows that to-day there are factories crowded, with the walls bursting, with over-production of material, and although the people want that material, those who own the material are holding it up to get their own price, with the result that thousands of men are unemployed. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill said that it was largely intended to relieve the ex-service man. That is a very commendable operation for a very commendable object. Like the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) I am not going to attempt to justify on the part of any trade union or anybody else, any inexcusable action which would prevent ex-service men being employed where there was a dearth of labour in that particular industry. That such things have been done I frankly and freely admit. It is a mistake to do it, but the hon. Member has made a general accusation, directed against the whole of the trade union movement in every factory in the land. Outside of one or two industries the ranks of the unemployed are being increased every day, and it is not only the ex-service man who cannot get a job, but it is the ex-service man who was in a job, who has been thrown out of employment owing to the economic conditions that exist to-day. Now that the hon. Member is present, I hope he will take note of these things.
§ Mr. BILLING
What I said was that labour in the building trade was trying to corner labour, and that in every factory unemployment was taking place on account of the Excess Profits Duty and the desire of the men to reduce output, and thereby, as they thought, to increase employment.
§ Mr. SEXTON
I should be sorry to misrepresent the hon. Member, but I have 2189 a definite recollection that what he said was that the methods of ca' canny, and the practice of reducing output, and the practice of preventing men getting employment, was carried on in every factory in the land.
§ Mr. BILLING
I did not say that the practice of refusing employment to men who served in the Army, but that the practice of ca' canny was being preached by a very small section in every factory, and that in the building trade they had decided to make a corner in labour.
§ Mr. SEXTON
I accept the correction now that it is made, but it was required, for those were not the words which the hon. Gentleman used. That relieves me of the necessity of educating him a little bit more, as I originally intended. The right hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Heading of the Bill spoke sympathetically of the spectre of unemployment which haunts us to-day. It has gone further than haunting. It is here, and we had the awful example only yesterday of answers given by Members of the Government describing the condition of ex-service men who have no employment, and have actually to apply to the workhouse to take them in. Ye Gods! And this is the nation that is supposed to be fit for heroes to live in. Unemployment is here. It is no longer a spectre, but is a body clothed with flesh. This Bill is introduced with the hope of finding employment by one Member of the Government, and we had the awful irony last Monday of another Member of the Government consenting to drop thirteen Clauses of a Bill which would produce employment for men in this country. [HON. MEMBERS:"How?"] We know that the Ministry of Health Bill is having a bad time now, and that it will not come back to us in its original state. It has been shorn of some of its Clauses that would very materially assist employment.
Will this Bill in any way abrogate or abolish the provisions of the Unemployment Act, 1905, which lays down that where work is found for unemployment wages less than the district rates should be paid. Here I am accused by the hon. Member below the Gangway who has discovered a way to deal with trade unionists which, if put into operation, would be very painful for him, but I would like to know, are the wages to be 2190 paid to be less than the district wages in view of the fact that we are dealing with useful productive work? An hon. Member opposite spoke of the enormous cost of local bodies entering into work of this kind as compared with the cost under private enterprise. I admit that that is a fact. I happened to be Chairman of an Unemployment Committee, but the conditions are entirely different to-day. The men employed then were the flotsam and jetsam of the industry, men not physically capable of doing an ordinary day's work. To-day this Bill is meant to provide work for ex-service men. No men are more fit or physically capable of doing that work than the men who have been digging trenches for four years and defending our country against invasion. So the same conditions do not exist as existed then. Therefore I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will pay attention to this point and inform us whether this Bill is to carry with it the conditions of the 1905 Act that less than the district rate is to be paid particularly as the work is going to be of a useful and productive character.
I quite agree with the hon. Member below the Gangway that this is a question not so much of more production as of under-consumption. That is the astounding fact to-day. But there are other men unemployed to-day besides ex-service men. There are ex-service men in employment to-day who are only getting two days a week. Here again is an extraordinary example of the ignorant who talk glibly about trade unions' interference. In my own industry to-day there are six men looking for one man's job. There are ex-service men only getting one or two days' work, men who have been through the whole four years of horrible war. In my own industry, and other industries as well, there are sons of dead soldiers, some of whose bodies were never recovered, who are almost on the verge of starvation for want of employment. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not confine this Bill to the narrow scope of finding employment only for ex-service men. I agree that they should have the first chance, the preference. There are other men, sons of dead soldiers, who have grown up, who have mothers, brothers and sisters depending on them, who require sympathy equally with those who served their country in the War. If employment was found to-day for every 2191 ex-service man, there is a big army of men outside of them who are seeking for work, who are sons of soldiers who have dependants, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not narrow down the application of the Bill. If not, we can apply to the whole position what the Scripture says of the Scribes and Pharisees: "You are like unto the whitened sepulchre, beautiful to look uopn without, but within a thing of dead men's bones.'
§ Mr. JOHNSTONE
I welcome the speech of the right hon. Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) in its comment on the difficulties of a plain person like myself in understanding Acts of Parliament because of the reference to other Acts, but I did not think that our Debate to-day would have gone over the whole scheme of unemployment. In my simple way I assume that this Bill was for the purpose of giving compulsory powers to local authorities for the acquisition of land to carry out works of public utility, not the old relief works on which men were employed on work of no value to the community, but works which the public authorities were intending to do, such as the making of roads and streets, the building of sanatoria, etc., and that these public authorities should have for these works the powers which were given in connection with the housing scheme of entering on land, and compulsorily acquiring land so that they might be facilitated in carrying out those public works at the earliest possible moment. That is the principal feature of the Bill, and I am bound to say, in connection with the housing scheme, that the Acquisition of Land Act has worked very well. I know from my own personal knowledge of many cases in which the local authority were enabled, not by exercising their compulsory powers, but because they had them, to obtain land at a very moderate price, and use it for the purpose of housing schemes. But since the whole question of unemployment has been raised, one might ask why there should be such a great amount of unemployment in the country. We have spent from four to five years in the work of destruction, and one might have thought a couple of years ago that, in view of all the wastage that had taken place during the War, when peace came this country was in for 2192 a period of great employment in making up that wastage.
I have been told that in Germany today people realise so well the tremendous beating they have got and how far they have been crushed out of the world competition that there is a spirit among them to do their very best in order to bring about commercial and industrial prosperity once more But here at home we have had a period of spending extravagantly from the highest to the lowest in the land. The Government has been to blame in not more seriously cutting down drastically and ruthlessly the whole of the public expenditure in the various public departments. The same thing applies to every citizen in the State. We have all been spending far too much and wasting far too much with every kind of extravagance in the pursuit of pleasure and luxury, with the result that we have been spending our resources, and the money that was so plentiful during the War is not now available, and people have not now the same purchasing power today as they had some time ago. The one big factor in unemployment is the gready increased cost of production. Every article we are producing in this country has gone up to an enormous price, with the result that many of them are unsaleable. We have had shorter hours, higher wages and restricted output. In almost every industry where you have had shorter hours and increased wages there has been a greater fall in the output in proportion to the shortening of the hours. The more wages that are paid the less the work done. The consequence of this is that the cost has gone up to such a pitch that the ordinary purchaser cannot afford to buy. Shipbuilders have not been able to give a price to owners who have been ordering ships. The shipbuilder has had no knowledge of what the ship would cost until it was completed. The other day, when a ship was launched on the Clyde, the owner informed the company who had assembled that in former years the cost of it would have been one-fourth of what it had cost to-day. This means an addition to the cost of freights on food and on raw materials, and it has the consequence that we are faced with a dearth of goods in the world and the need for production of every kind of commodity. The cost of producing things, however, has reached such a pitch that the makers cannot sell them, 2193 purchasers cannot buy, and men are thrown out of work.
If this Bill meant that the Government were seeking schemes to start relief works in the old evil sense of the old days I would be opposed to it, but I do not so regard it. It think the Government are quite right to come forward with this Bill and give powers to local authorities to carry out works of public utility for unemployed men, and to give them powers for acquiring land similar to those that have been granted under housing schemes, and that, I understand, is the dominant feature of this Bill. A Member who has left the House suggested to me that I might ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if this was meant to be a permanent or only a temporary Bill, but I assume it is a permanent piece of legislation, meant to stay on the Statute Book, and that when the depression passes and unemployment ceases the Bill will still remain as an Act to be taken advantage of on any future occasion, should it unfortunately arise. Several Members have referred to this as a Bill for the purpose of dealing with ex-soldiers and sailors. I do not assume that it is that. I think the Bill is meant to deal with the whole question of unemployment, whether the men be soldiers or sailors or ordinary persons. I am quite sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will get this Bill, and I am quite sure that the powers sought to be conferred upon local authorities for carrying out work of public utility will be strengthened if they have the power for the compulsory acquisition of land given them in this measure.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of TRANSPORT (Mr. Neal)
I hope it may meet with the general convenience of the House if, at this stage, I venture to add some observations on behalf of the Government, first in acknowledging, cordially and sincerely, the extremely helpful discussion which we have had upon this Bill, and, secondly, in seeking to elucidate those matters which have been raised s being obscure. The temptation to follow the Debate into the economic inquiry as to the causes of unemployment is a great temptation, but I do not intend to yield to it. To inquire into the causes of unemployment is to undertake the task of inquiry into the whole political and 2194 economic situation. I intend to essay the humbler task of dealing with the particular phase of unemployment which is new, and which makes this matter an urgent and a very important one. There is very great danger that we may exaggerate this question of unemployment. The figures as to general unemployment, so far as they are available at the present time, are not alarming. I am informed by the Minister of Labour that before the disturbance in the conditions of employment caused by the coal strike, it was estimated that some 750,000 more persons were employed throughout the United Kingdom than were employed before the War. If you take another view, it is in my opinion a matter for congratulation and thankfulness when we consider the enormous number of ex-service men who have been re-absorbed into industry since demobilisation. Some 4,000,000 to 5,000,000 ex-service men have been replaced, or have found situations, since demobilisation, and the number that is left (again subject to the adjustment of the figure rendered necessary by the temporary disturbance of the coal strike) is something like 200,000. So I submit to the House that, although the problem is one of urgency, it is not one of panic, or for the creation of a general impression that our conditions are such as to cause undue anxiety.
The ex-service man does present a totally new view in unemployment. A large number of men were taken away at the period when they would have commenced their training in industry, and they find themselves back in the homeland without that skill and training which normally would have been theirs. Many of these men are totally different from the old class of the unemployed. The old class was largely composed of the physically unfit, or those who for other reasons were not the most desirable persons to be employed. The ex-service man, ranging up to 26 years, is a man who is fit and who is well-endowed, but yet finds himself to-day without a place in the labour market. The Government recognise that he has a special claim upon the nation, and it is very largely, if not exclusively, because of that, that a Cabinet Committee was appointed some months ago, and has been sitting very continuously, to explore the avenues whereby it may be possible to get rid of 2195 this state of unemployment. The schemes outlined in this Bill are not permanent schemes which we regard as ideal by any means. We want those men trained. We want them, as has been expressed by many hon. Members, absorbed in the great national and normal industries. We look to housing to absorb a great number of those men, and hope that they may be trained and brought into use in connection with the building problem, which is connected with so many of our troubles to-day. But all those matters take time, and although I am very hopeful that we are getting much nearer to a solution of those problems, we cannot afford to lose days, not to say weeks, in dealing with this matter. Let there be no mistake about it. This is only the first instalment of the Government proposal, but it is extremely urgent and extremely important that it should become law at the earliest possible moment.
The right hon. Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) devoted the greater part of his speech to a criticism of the drafting of the Bill. Although I regret that he did not assist us upon the more important problem of the merits of the Bill, I am not oblivious to his criticism of the drafting, and as far as it is possible to deal with it at a later stage his observations shall receive the most careful and cogent attention. In particular, I think it should not be found difficult to schedule in the Bill the Acts of Parliament which are referred to in Clause 1 as "other enactments." He suggested also that words in Clause 1 of the Bill give power for legislation by the Departments. If my right hon. Friend will look at that matter a little more closely he will see that that fear is totally unfounded. The words to which he directed attention werewith the necessary adaptations and modifications.I think if that had boon put in the familiar Latin phrase which all lawyers use and recognise, mutatis mutandis, he would have soon that there was not concealed under these words any sinister design of legislation by bureaucracy instead of by Parliament.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
Will my hon. Friend read his words in—"If those enactments were herein re-enacted mutatis mutandis"?
§ Mr. NEAL
Personally, though speaking subject to further consideration, and consultation with the draughtsmen, I should not object to those words, but I can imagine that the man who is not familiar with our legal jargon might find a greater difficulty in understanding them than the words that are in the Bill. My right hon. Friend raised the question with reference to finance. The advantage of the present schemes, so far as they are being worked out, is that they do not call for any immediate claim upon the Exchequer. The main schemes which are in view are the 90 miles of arterial roads in and around London, and similar schemes which are ripe to be brought into operation wherever they are required in other parts of the country. This is an anticipation of works that have long been thought to be urgently necessary, and we hope we may be able to bear the charges with respect to those works. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ilkeston (General Seely) laid stress as to whether we could enlarge the objects of public utility in the definition clause of the Bill. In particular he called attention to coast works, harbour works, and the like. He will realise that some of them are not works connected with land. This is a Bill which deals with the speedy acquisition of land, and although it may be possible, and I hope will be possible, to enlarge this number of works of public utility within the Bill, there is a practical limitation and a real limitation to dealing with this class of works for existing unemployment, because you have to deal with the unemployment locally. It is no use to the London unemployed, who are not unnaturally pressing for consideration to tell them that somewhere in some district of the country there are other works which can be done, because there will be immediately raised the question of taking people away from their homes, and that would create difficulty.
§ Major-General SEELY
I hope that will not be taken as an answer as to the possibility of enlarging the Bill because there is great unemployment or unemployment is apprehended in many of the great sea ports.
§ Mr. NEAL
I hope my right hon. and gallant Friend will not take my answer as indicating any disinclination to enlarge the scope. I hope he will take it as being a hint as to the practical difficulties of immediately putting into ope- 2197 ration schemes of the nature which he has indicated. Schemes for the immediate relief of unemployment must be local. One of the difficulties to-day is that labour is less mobile than ever it was, largely because of the housing problem. Another difficulty is that there has been a redistribution of labour. You have got new towns created in certain parts of the land round works which were used for the purpose of making munitions, and people are housed there with whom it is difficult to deal in the matter of unemployment. One of the problems we always have to face is that the work must be such as is within the reach of the unemployed. The main schemes for the London district have that advantage Some criticism was directed that arterial roads were not works of general utility. I join issue with that. From the days when Mr. John Burns was President of the Local Government Board and when he established a Committee to consider the question of arterial roads, the matter has been one of the greatest national importance. This work is totally different in kind to the old class of relief work to which many hon. Members referred, which were not of public advantage, which discouraged the men who were called upon to work on them, which were mere makeshift, a waste of money and energy. I hope that in the schemes under this Bill that will be avoided.
A criticism was directed by one of my hon. Friends representing the London County Council with reference to the delay which would occur as to the acquisition of land under the Bill. May I say a word or two with reference to that. The London County Council have in the fullest way risen to a sense of public duty in this matter which is quite praiseworthy. They have undertaken to assist by contributions these great arterial road schemes, and they had made a condition when they gave that consent that they should have legislation to prevent unnecessary delays in taking possession of land which was acquired for the roads. The experience of the Ministry of Health of the procedure which we are incorporating for this purpose is that a limited time is necessary, an average of 28 days. What they really want to know is that the powers are secured by law. The moment they know that there is no reason why they should not proceed with their works. 2198 Before they commence work upon a large road, it is obvious that they want to know that they will not be held up at a given point by a delay of six or eight months while all the legal formalities are carried out with reference to the acquisition of land But local authorities have already acquired a large area of the land required. There are only pieces of land here and there, and if they are satisfied that Parliament has invested them with the powers they need for the acquisition of the remaining land, there seems to be no reason why they should not proceed with their work at once. Another objection was that this Bill had gone too far, but as that has not been elaborated I do not propose to say more about it.
The hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Sexton) asked questions with reference to standard wages. May I say a word about that. The men who have been largely employed on these works are men of good physique and of good character and there is no reason to believe that they are not industrious men who are anxious to do their duty in the national work and there is no intention to cut down reasonable remuneration for the work they do. One other question was raised by the hon. Member for St. Helens as to whether these works were exclusively for ex-service men or whether other citizens would be brought into use. The Government do desire that everyone who is connected with the administration of this problem will deal specially as a special problem with that of the ex-service men. We do regard and the whole country regards these men who have lost their opportunity through their patriotism and their loyalty to the State, we do regard that they shall have preferential treatment. We do not say and we hope no local authority would say that bars the others if and when the opportunity serves for finding them employment.
In conclusion, I would like to emphasise the fact that the real object to be gained is a state of confidence which will enable industry to proceed with its greatest vigour that there may be a maximum amount of employment in our midst. The measures which we are contemplating and submitting have that object in view. The one under the immediate consideration of the House is an emergency Bill, to which I ask the House to give its assent. If hon. Members are now satisfied as to the real merits of this Measure, if the points which 2199 they might raise in further discussion are points which can be dealt with either in the Committee or Report stages of this Bill, we should be grateful if they would give it a Second Reading now.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
On a point of Order. May I call your attention, Mr. Speaker, to Clause 1? My submission is that under the terms of Clause 1 a money Resolution is required for the finance of this Bill, and I found it on the words which are in Clause 1. The first five lines of the Clause give the powers which are in the Acts relating to the housing of the working classes from 1890 to 1919, which, Sir, the House and you will recollect a power to acquire land in a much more summary and business-like fashion than before. Under the Housing Bill, there was a Resolution giving power to the. Executive to finance the acquisition of land which was necessary. Those powers are, by the words of this Clause, brought within the ambit of the authority under this Bill. Sir, I suggest to you that clearly a Government authority is indicated in this Clause in these words. It says:As if those enactments were herein re-enacted with the necessary adaptations and modifications and with the substitution of the appropriate Government Department for the Minister of Health.That, to my mind, clearly indicates that some Government Department is going to operate these powers for the acquisition of land, and will be financed obviously by the Treasury. What my hon. Friend has just said in his speech indicated, in his opinion, as I gather, that for the present no funds from the Exchequer would be used, but in the future funds from the National Exchequer would be brought into operation in connection with the Bill. Whatever that may be, it seems to me that there is clearly indicated the intention of a Government Department to use national funds for the purchase of land for the purposes of this Act. If my assumption is correct, it would seem to me to be necessary that the Government should clothe itself with the usual powers from a Committee of this House and with a money Resolution, if necessary.
§ Mr. MUNRO
I do not know whether I may say a word or two on the point which my right hon. Friend has raised rather late in the day. I suggest to you, 2200 Sir, that the point is clear. If you look at paragraph (b), I think there is a complete answer to my right hon. Friend. It says:No order authorising the compulsory acquisition of any land for any purpose shall be made under any enactment as applied by this Section unless an order authorising the compulsory acquisition of that land for that purpose could have been made under some enactment in force at the commencement of this Act.In other words, nothing can be done in practice under this Bill which could not be done in the way of acquiring land at the commencement of this Act. No new powers to acquire land have been conferred. The only alteration which this Bill makes upon the existing situation is that what formerly could be done, can now be done more quickly. That is my interpretation, which I submit to you of the Subsection I have read, and if that is so, no new charge is laid upon the Exchequer.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The matter, I think, is not very clear in the Bill itself, but, as far as I understand it, the effect of it is this: that the enactments which at present relate to the housing of the working classes, comprising the enactments for the compulsory acquisition of land, and which are in the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, are, by this Act, to be employed for the purpose of the compulsory acquisition of land for purposes of public utility; that is to say, that the money which is at the disposal of a particular Government Department, and which is now applicable to the Housing of the Working Classes Act, will, under this Bill and its enactments, be available for that Department—or other Government Departments, if necessary—not for the purposes of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, but for purposes of public utility. The amount of money we have voted will not be employed for the purposes hitherto specified, but for another purpose which is here stated. There is no fresh money involved, and no demand for fresh money. I do not, therefore, see that the case put by the right hon. Gentleman is made out.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
May I, Sir, submit one other point? As you stated very clearly—and I respectfully agree—while it may be that no new money will be required, money hitherto specifically voted by Parliament to one object, 2201 namely, the purchase of land for houses, is to be devoted without specific Parliamentary authority from that purpose to another purpose; I submit very respect-fully that that change of allocation of the money to another purpose other than that for which it has already been specifically voted requires the authority of another financial Resolution.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
There is no fresh grant of money involved, but, as I understand it, simply that money involved for one purpose is to be devoted by this Bill to this present purpose. That is the specific Parliamentary authority.
§ Mr. WATERSON
I rise for the purpose of making one or two remarks upon Clause 1. I notice that when the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) said that this piece of legislation might be regarded as legislation in panic that hon. Member opposite rather cheered that expression. The present Government, which is at the moment adopting this principle, has had some opportunity since hostilities ceased to bring in a Bill that would have prevented unemployment and saved us from a Bill of this kind. The hon. Gentleman below the Gangway (Mr. Billing) made some very drastic statements, and some certainly of a scurrilous character, to which, at any rate, I feel bound to reply, lie referred to the official whitewashing that this Bill presents. I only want to suggest to the House that there is no individual Member here that can do more official whitewashing than the hon. Gentleman himself. As to his considerable tirade on the courage of the Government it is significant, we consider the Division lists of this House, to see that the hon. Member who takes the opportunity of utilising his sword against the Government for not being sufficiently courageous is, in about 90 per cent, of the Divisions, found with the Government that has not got the courage that he desires it should have. He referred to hotheads. I say to the Government in which he takes particular pride that it is the hotheads that he now condemns who were the very men that saved the country from disaster; now simply to call them hotheads after they have done their work for their country is not playing a fair and honest game.
Let me come to the Bill. The Government, I think, stands self-condemned. It is a year last March since one of the first 2202 private Member's Bill of this House was introduced. That Bill gave the Government the opportunity to deal with the question, and to prevent unemployment. No one imagined that the Bill was an absolute protection, but it did lay down the basis, the fundamental principle, and a definite structure upon which the Government could have built a scheme that would have solved the question with which to-day we are faced. Repeatedly the House has been told that after the War we would have this matter to contend against. The right hon. Gentleman below me (Sir D. Maclean) dealt with the question of Russia. I speak with some experience on this question so far as the unemployed are concerned, that if we can at once open up trade relationships with that great people we shall immediately solve, to a great extent, this question of the unemployed. So far as my constituency is concerned many of the men who are looking for work are engaged in the boot industry. It is not the inland trade but the export trade which has diminished. Owing to our failure to have any common-sense policy in opening up trade relationships, and owing to the Government's attitude, these men find themselves walking the streets week after week with very little to live upon. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir D. Maclean) endeavoured in his opening remarks to try to find, I think, quite honestly, he did find, some objections to the Bill as a whole.
He began by telling us how it would cross with various other statutes and Regulations. I am not here to accompany him in that challenge, but I do submit that the problem before us is so acute, so exacting, so important that this is not the moment to criticise overmuch, so far as any other statutes are concerned, but to endeavour to deal with this accentuated problem which will become more difficult to deal with as the days roll swiftly by. Some hon. Members watched that procession some weeks ago when the deputation went to see the Prime Minister at Downing Street. One will never forget the feeling that came over one to see honest men, even some in frock coats and tall hats, men only anxious to get employment to relieve the anxieties of life, walking there and waiting. To endeavour at this stage to try and raise objections which are merely minor, and matters of detail, to delay until statutes 2203 can be altered, is in my humble judgment not doing what we really ought to do to those who are at present walking the streets. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport gave us some information for which I think the House will feel grateful. He spoke of the Cabinet Committee which was set up a couple of months ago to deal with the question of that new phase of unemployment which has been created by the War.
§ Mr. WATERSON
I accept that. These young men are unskilled, but that is the Government's liability! I want to say that these men were working at the bench serving their apprenticeship. I have one in my own mind at present. I was privileged to have him in my house. In early days he came to me an orphan. I took him in as a friend. That young man was taken from the bench, from his apprenticeship, sent into Flanders, served his country, and now, having returned, finds himself in the ranks of the unskilled workers. To endeavour at this stage to blame the trade unions for all the difficulties that have arisen is not altogether honourable. The Government ought to give these men the opportunity necessary for that full training that they would have had had the War not taken place. As soon as they came back to civil life the Government ought to have appreciated the patriotism of these men, and to have given them the necessary training which they would have got in this country had the War not intervened. If that were done, we could go some way to solve this question of the unskilled man. The Secretary for Scotland in introducing this Bill said, speaking on Clause 1, that the question of compensation for land was a matter of detail. I agree.
§ Mr. WATERSON
I quite agree. That is really what I intended to express, it is a matter of a secondary nature. We want the Bill first, and other things can come afterwards. I suggest when we deal with this matter of compensation, that we should take into consideration, when 2204 paying the money, the question of the rateable value of the land. It is a duty pressed upon the Government upon all hands to economise. We are told that the way in which we are travelling is the way to complete financial bankruptcy. If that be so, I say to the right hon. Gentleman who has introduced this Bill that when this land is taken compensation should be based upon the rateable value of the land. We ought not to have to pay or to pay those extortionate prices demanded from the Government because the Government take over land in the interests of the people. Everyone will admit that there are scores upon scores of places that need to be altered in the interests of public safety. Referring to the question of exceptional employment, I would like to ask if the right hon. Gentleman can give us any estimate or idea of what he would regard as exceptional unemployment? Is it to be on a basis or percentage of the population, or will the local bodies decide this matter? Will Government representatives be sent down to deal with it, or will it be decided upon the number of the men who are upon the Labour Exchange books. This, too, is a serious point.
If this is going to be left entirely to local authorities it is just possible that we might have a local authority that is prejudicial towards the Bill, and we want some safeguard to see that a fair deal is made and that there is an honourable carrying out of this important Bill. As far as relief work is concerned, I think there is more than the matter of arterial roads to be taken into consideration. I have the honour to represent an agricultural district. In the Government's policy of reconstruction, in which they were going to create a land fit for heroes to live in, one of their plans was the advancement of the agricultural industry, and I venture to submit to my right hon. Friend that if we are to develop agriculture upon right lines, we have also got to give the necessary facilities to transport the produce when that produce has been grown, and thousands of these agricultural roads are unfit for modern transport, and to transport all the good things that we should get from the Agriculture Bill when it becomes law. These are one or two thoughts that I felt I ought to express in the interests of the community that I represent, namely, that agricultural areas should have every 2205 facility given to them in order that modern transport can be used; secondly, that the question of compensation for land should be based upon rateable value, for if people are not prepared to pay the necessary rates for the value of the land, that is their responsibility; and, thirdly, that we should do something, not merely in the shape of making larger roads, but to try and set up some relief works that will give facilities for people to work who are engaged in normal circumstances in trades that make them unfit for the hard and laborious work of heaving stones, etc., for the necessary development of our roads.
I am very sorry to stand in the way of the Government getting a division at once, but I am afraid I cannot apologise, as I am the only Irish Member who, as far as I can see, purposes to intervene in this Debate, and I think I am entitled to a few moments of the time of the House in setting forth my opinions in regard to the Bill and the particular industry which interests me and a great many operatives in Ireland. We have reputations in Ireland, good, bad, and indifferent, as I think the House will agree, but I think that the reputation that the Irish linen industry has is a good one, as it is worldwide, and I think it my duty on this occasion to ventilate the position so far as that industry is concerned. We are very proud of that industry. I remember very well when, during the War, I saw some of those marvellous aeroplane fights, I could not help feeling proud of the part of the country to which I belong, because the; workers of my part of the country were able to produce the material by which those aeroplanes were made to fly. I remember once an American individual, who thought he would buck us up a bit by delivering a lecturo out at the front, trying to tell us all that America was going to do, the ships she was building, the men she was sending over, and above all, the Liberty engines of the aeroplanes she was delivering, and again I felt that even the great America could not get very far with her aeroplanes were it not for the operatives of the linen trade of Ulster.
The right hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of this Bill asked the question: "On the question of unemployment, is there a grievance?" So far as our industry is concerned, there is a very 2206 distinct grievance in regard to unemployment, and the question is immediate, because it is practically at this moment a case of starvation for many of the workers in the linen industry, but I regret very much, on perusing this Bill, to find that the Clauses scarcely pretend to deal with unemployment in our industry, and for this reason, that 90 per cent, of the workers in the linen industry are women, and I see that the third Clause of the Bill refers to works of public utility as meaning the construction or improvement of roads or other means of transit, the widening or other improvement of waterways, the construction of sewers or waterworks, etc., so that, so far as our industry is concerned, this Bill will be of very little use. I regret that. Naturally, to some extent, there are a number of men employed in that industry, and I hope so far as they are concerned, at all events, it will prove of benefit, but I would like those who are in charge of this idea of trying to deal with unemployment to try and deal with it in a more wholesale manner than this Bill proposes. I do not intend, in the few minutes at my disposal, to go into the causes of unemployment in Ireland. I largely agree with something that foil from the hon. Member opposite who spoke last (Mr. Waterson), and I say that if you want to improve our industry, get Russia going. To a large extent our supplies for the manufacture of our linen come from Russia, and the sooner we get Russia going, the sooner will we get our supplies of flax in, the sooner we shall get cheaper materials, and the sooner then America, our largest market for this industry, will purchase.
There is another matter I would like to refer to, and that is the question of the ex-service men. Some three or four weeks ago one of the representatives of one of the urban districts wrote to me in connection with employment for ex-service men, and this third Clause of the. Bill practically deals with that subject. They wrote to the Local Govern-Board in Ireland concerning the question, and they also wrote to the Transport Ministry and to the Ministry of Labour, and they were shuttlecocked about between these three Department. The question was with regard to the employment of ex-service men on roads, and the council was prepared to supply all the materials necessary, but they wanted the assistance of the authorities to enable them to pay the wages of these ex-ser- 2207 vice men. Eventually, they had a reply from the Ministry of Transport to the effect that the Ministry of Labour was responsible for supplying the Ministry of Transport with the names of districts where unemployment was most intense, and that this particular district was not one of those on the list, so the matter ended there, but I hope that, with the help of this Bill, that matter will be taken up again and that when I assure the House there is real necessity for this Bill in connection with my constituency and others in Ulster, something will be done to assist them, because, as I say, where the linen industry is concerned, women are largely employed, and this Bill will not help them. Therefore, we must depend on the Government to give all the employment they can to the men of that province.
There is one other matter that I would like to refer to. Some time ago a grant was given for the purpose of widening a bridge over a river in my constituency, and the work is being proceeded with, ex-service men largely being employed, but lately a communication has been received from the authorities by this urban council to the effect that the grant that remains unexpended at the 31st March next will go back to the Treasury. I would like the House to realise what that means. This work is proceeding, and the money cannot all be spent in a week, or in a month, or in three months, or in six months, and the money that is unexpended at the 31st March goes back to the Treasury. Surely there can be some means adopted by way of a credit system by which the money will lie at the credit of the Treasury at the end of that period and still be available for that work. Is it possible that this work must be stopped, and that these ex-soldiers, who are being weekly employed, shall be put out of employment simply because the financial year ends on the 31st March, and there is no other method of dealing with it? I would recommend those who are responsible for the carrying through of this Bill that some other means should lie taken of dealing with unexpended balances when such work is proceeding. T hope this Bill will have a safe passage. It is badly needed, no matter what the causes of unemployment are. We have all our ideas, I presume, as to what are the causes of unemployment, but the great point is that unemployment exists, and 2208 I beg of the Government to proceed as quickly as they can in this matter.
§ Mr. MUNRO rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put accordingly, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.