§ Mr. ADAMSON
I beg to moveThat this House views with regret the growing volume of unemployment, and, recognising the responsibility of the State towards members of the community who are bereft of the means of livelihood, is of opinion that every possible step should be taken to arrest the decline in trade and industry and to provide work or, in default, adequate maintenance for those whose labour is not required in the ordinary market.If all the reports which reach us are true, the problem of unemployment is serious and the situation is becoming desperate. According to the figures that we have already had from certain of the Government Departments, there are no less than 180,000 ex-service men unemployed, and, according to the figures that we have received from other sources, there are at least 30,000 seamen who are unemployed, and there are thousands of engineers, dockers, ship builders, galvanised sheet workers and others who are on the unemployed list. In addition to the wholly unemployed army, there are large numbers in the textile and other industries who are under-employed. This constitutes a situation which I have already described as serious. It is a situation which, to my mind, deserves the serious attention of the Government and of the House. I desire to approach the discussion of the question entirely apart from trying to score debating points or any party advantage. The situation is too serious for any Member of the House to adopt either one or the other course. The danger of such a problem was well illustrated in what took place in Whitehall the other day when the unemployed of 15 London boroughs, headed by the mayors of those boroughs, came to interview the Prime Minister. The situation is one with which neither the Government nor the House can afford to trifle, for this, among other reasons. The post-War unemployment problem is entirely different from the pre-War unemployment problem. The pre-War unemployed army, as a general rule, was an army of broken and disspirited men whom the Government and the employers could in certain respects afford to ignore. The 1116 post-War unemployed army is made up of entirely different material. It is made up of men who have been trained to handle themselves, and who feel, in consequence of having rendered such valuable services to the State, that they have earned a place in the national life and are thereby entitled to share the wealth earned by the united energies of our people.
In addition to that feeling which has been created among them by the value of the services that they have rendered, they were told by the Prime Minister and numerous other people of importance in this country that when the War was over they would be living in a new world. I have sometimes questioned the wisdom of that promise, but it was so frequently given that there can be no denying the effect it had upon the minds of the men and their dependants to whom it was given. They were also told that they were to be audacious in their demands. One can very well understand that men in such a position are not in a mood to be trifled with, and, consequently, the House and the Government will be well-advised to give very serious attention to the problem which is involved in the Resolution that I am now moving. In pre-war days there were employers, politicians, and economists who held the view that a margin of unemployed was necessary. That, in my opinion, was a deplorable doctrine, and was not in keeping either with the ethics of our common Christian faith or with the broad general principles of the moral law itself. If there are still either employers, politicians, or economists who hold that view to-day, all I can say is that, in my opinion, it is a very dangerous view, and one that will constitute a menace to the State itself.
The Labour party hold the opinion that the true solution of the unemployed problem is a national one. It can only be successfully solved by the State itself. It is far too large a question to be taken in hand adequately by our municipalities. One only requires to examine the problem very briefly to be convinced of the impossibility of many of our municipalities tackling and successfully solving it. Personally, I hold the view that the municipalities ought not to be asked to be entirely responsible. I very strongly hold the opinion that it is the inalienable 1117 right of every citizen to look to the State to enable them to take their proper share in providing the things that are essential for the national life and national well-being, and in that way earning their right to share in the wealth created by the united energies of the people. The unemployed are not looking for a dole; they want work. They want their inalienable right to find their niche in the national life recognised, and in the opinion of the party that I represent, that work ought to be found by the Government. The finances necessary to provide that work for the unemployed army ought and could be found by the Government if this matter were tackled in the right way and in earnest.
Not only is that the opinion of the Labour party, but there are other sections of the people of this country who hold opinions of a somewhat similar kind. I find, on reading the Report of the Divisional Committee of the National Industrial Council, a body which sat during 1919, that that committee were unanimously of the view that the provision for maintenance during unemployment should be more adequate and of wider application than is provided in the National Insurance (Unemployment) Act. They think, moreover, that, whatever the basis of the scheme ultimately adopted, it should include provision for underemployment as well as for unemployment. Dealing with the question of providing work, they say that the demand for labour would also be increased by State development of new industries such as afforestation, reclamation of waste lands, development of inland water-ways, and, in agricultural districts, the development of light railways or road transport. These are some of the means which, in the opinion of the Committee, might be adopted to permanently increase the demand for labour. Might I, at this stage, say that it is very regrettable the Government disposed of, in many cases much under the value for which it was bought, a large amount of material which could have been used in development, such as is mentioned in the Report I have just quoted. The trade unionist section of that Committee issued a separate Report, in which they said that the prevention of unemployment and the provision against under employment should be one of the first thoughts of the 1118 Government as soon as the question of industrial reorganisation began to be considered. The workers fully understood that steps were being taken to bring into immediate operation, upon the conclusion of hostilities, a permanent scheme both for the prevention of unemployment, wherever possible, and for the maintenance of the unemployed where this could not be done. They now find that no permanent provision has been made by the Government, and I fear that that is still the position a year after this Report has been issued.
If I am right in assuming that that is the correct position, then it is serious position in which the people of this country find themselves with regard to this very great problem. In addition to the means that might be taken to increase employment set out in the Report of this Committee, there are a considerable number of other methods which, I think, could be adopted by the Government for increasing the-volume of employment. Take one of the principal industries, agriculture. We find in the 61 years from 1851 to 1912, that the number of people engaged in agriculture in this country decreased from 1,376,000 to 671,000—a reduction of 705,000. I am further informed that, during the years 1914 to 1920, there has been a very serious decrease in the number of male persons engaged in agriculture in this country. Surely that is a very fruitful field for investigation, and one that should be examined in all its bearings by the Government, not only from the point of view of providing as much work as possible, but also from the point of view of enabling us to provide as much of the necessaries of life in our own country as we possibly can.
Look at another aspect of the same question. In spite of all the talk of settling our ex-service men on the land, of putting them into smallholdings, I find that between the years 1913 and 1919 the number of acres in England and Wales which were being worked in holdings of between one and five acres showed a decrease of no less than 32,000 acres; between 5 and 20 acres, a decrease of 94,000 acres; and between 20 and 50 acres, a decrease of 5,400 acres. In addition to these two aspects of this very important industry, there are certain other aspects of our national life where I think the Government are to blame in not doing every- 1119 thing they can to find trade and employment for our people. We will take as an example—I am not going into many of the details—the question of our relations with Russia, and also Bulgaria, and other enemy countries. There again, from the point of view of foodstuffs, which it is necessary for us to import, and the amount of stuff in the shape of machinery, boots and clothes that those countries want from us, our policy has been a stupid one, and not one which is likely to stimulate trade and provide employment for our people. There are many other indications which one could give of the steps that could be taken by the Government for stimulating industry and for increasing the volume of employment. I hope that, as the result of the discussion we shall have on this subject to-day, this matter will be more seriously taken in hand by His Majesty's Government than has been the case up to now. As I stated at the beginning of my remarks, this is a question with regard to which I take a very serious view. If the Government and this House do not deal with this question, I believe that we are rapidly reaching a point when those who are involved in all the sacrifices and the sufferings of unemployment will take some steps to deal with it themselves. If we in this House are as strong admirers of constitutional government as we have so often declared ourselves to be, I would suggest we should take time by the forelock, and have this serious problem probed to the bottom, and take steps at the earliest possible moment with a view of finding a satisfactory solution of a grave problem which may menace the stability of the State itself.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Dr. Macnamara)
I am glad this discussion has been initiated. We cannot be better occupied, if I may say so, than in discussing a problem which boars so vitally upon the fortunes of our people, and I cordially agree with my right hon. Friend that this is not an occasion, at any rate, for scoring debating points or seeking party advantage. The Prime Minister stated generally our plans for dealing with unemployment on Tuesday. I shall, I need not say, follow this discussion with the deepest interest, ready to give prompt and careful consideration to any feasible and helpful suggestion that emerges. Let me state the facts as we 1120 know them with regard to the recent course and present state of unemployment. Down to the end of August the employment barometer, according to our returns, stood high, though the presence of a very large number of ex-service men on the unemployed list gave the problem a very special and continuing claim on our thoughts and energies. And as regards the disabled ex-service man, may I be permitted at once to thank so many of my colleagues in this House for their kindly efforts on their behalf during the recess, and to thank no less the Lord-Lieutenants of counties, the Lord Mayors, Mayors, and Chairmen of district council municipalities for their recent special efforts on behalf of the disabled ex-service men. Had the sky remained blue, that part of my commission would, I think, as a result of those efforts, the efforts of Lord Haig and the unstinting support of the Press, have been practically discharged in a fairly short time. As it is, I am faced with a bad set-back. There it is! As I say, down to the end of August employment generally was very good. The percentage of unemployment, according to the figures of the trade unions paying unemployment benefit to their members, at that time was 16 per cent. I will say at once that this figure cannot be taken, and never could be taken, as a complete index of the whole field. I am giving it for the purpose of comparison with previous periods. From that point of view, it is a pretty good test of the course of events. The trade union corresponding figure for July, 1914, was 2 8 per cent. Therefore, compared with pre-War experiences, that figure was very good. As a matter of fact, the average for the 10 years prior to the outbreak of the War, according to trade union unemployment figures, was 4.7. It was as high as 7.8 in 1908; 7.7 in 1909; throughout 1919 it ranged between 16 in September to 3.2 in December, the average for the year being 2.4 per cent. At the end of January of this year—I am following throughout the trade union figures for the moment—it stood at 29 per cent. It got down to 09 per cent. at the end of April, and, as I have said already, at the end of August it was 1.6 per cent. By the end of September it had risen to 22, and by the opening of the coal strike it had risen still higher.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
Yes, before the coal strike, probably to the level of the beginning of the year. Those are the trade union figures given for purposes of comparison between these periods, and subject to the limitations I have stated. In regard to employment exchange registration, taking men and women only, and omitting the boys and girls, the unemployed register stood at 283,058 on 27th August of this year; 313,281 on 24th September, 323,937 on 1st October, and 338,242 on 8th October. These figures again are by no means, and never have been, a true index of the total amount of unemployment. Many men and women have never registered. I simply quote them to show how the barometer is moving. Of course, since my last date, 8th October, with this registration of unemployed at 338,242, the coal strike has disastrously worsened the position every day. Further, prior to the coal strike it is undoubtedly the fact that there has been for some time a growing amount of distress in the poorer parts of London, and in the poorer parts of the great cities, and the problem is accentuated by the fact that it is precisely in those areas that you have the largest number of ex-service men out of work. It is further deeply accentuated by the excessive cost of living, and the increased cost of moving about, even within his own area, in search of work on the part of the unemployed man. Manifestly these things make the position of the unemployed far more acute than before the War. I said that at the end of August the barometer stood high. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Adamaon) now says: Take time by the forelock. Very well! What did we do? Before that date, as a matter of fact on 13th August, the Committee to which I am going to refer later was appointed by the Cabinet. Before that date disquieting indications were reaching us of the probability of a fall. On 13th August the Cabinet—as the House heard on Tuesday from the Prime Minister—appointed a Committee to deal with the question of unemployment, and particularly with the continued presence on the lists of such a large number of ex-service men.
Take time by the forelock! That Committee sat during August and September. The Prime Minister on Tuesday gave the decisions taken on its first Report. In the schemes then announced, preference is to be given to ex-service men. My 1122 right hon. Friend opposite will not object to that! Apart from the tremendous claim the ex-service man has upon us—and to this I do want to call the attention of the House—the unemployment problem as we know it up to the close of last week, would at once be reduced, taking men and women, to less than one-half its then proportions—I mean immediately before the coal strike; and taking men alone, to less than one-third of that proportion—if the ex-service men were provided for. Standing alone that is a very serious statement. It would, however, be very unfair to argue from it—I think my right hon. Friend rather lays some stress upon the proposition—it would be unfair to argue from it that the British people have become unmindful of or ungrateful towards their ex-service men. Five millions of them, and 210,000 officers have been demobilised and returned to civil life. That is a fine achievement. Further, for those who are still unhappily unemployed, roughly £30,000,000 has been provided as an expedient—because I agree it is work they want, and not out-of-work donations. Nearly £2,000,000 has so far been granted for purposes of resettlement by the Civil Liabilities Department, and we are now spending something like £5,000,000 per year on the industrial training of disabled men. We have trained nearly 29,000 disabled men. We have got 25,000 in training, and, further, many young fellows whose apprenticeship was broken in upon by the War have been taken in hand. We have spent nearly £1,000,000 in completing their apprenticeship. We shall have spent, when the job is finished, something like £5,500,000 on the completion of the apprenticeship of young fellows broken in upon by the War.
As a matter of fact, we have completed the interrupted apprenticeship of nearly 12,000 young fellows, and we have 30,000 still completing their apprenticeship. The effect of all this I think no one would desire to minimise. We have spent so far £5,250,000 on land settlement. Before the job is finished, we shall have spent four times that figure. This takes no account of schemes open for officers and men of like educational qualifications. We never can fully requite these men for what they have done for us—I agree? But it would not do to say that we have not done what we could, because that is not the case. However, there 1123 remains this rearguard of 187,000 men and from 12,000 to 15,000 officers still to be provided for. They are upon our lists and upon our consciences, both on this side and that side of the House. The Prime Minister on Tuesday outlined our plans, and, as he said:We shall proceed with our plans to the best of our ability in spite of the strike. But I need not tell the House that the effect of the strike must be not only to add enormously to the number of the unemployed, but to lessen our power to give effect to the schemes already planned.Who are these 187,000 men, and where are they—these ex-service men for whom we are trying to find work? They are, for the greater part—and by now I think I know this problem pretty closely—men who were in their late teens or early twenties when the War broke out. They arc, for the greater part, now roughly from 25 to 30 years of age. They are mostly unskilled and segregated in the artisan parts of London and of the greater provincial cities. They are, to a large extent immobile because of the lack of housing accommodation, and in the areas in which they live the market to which they appeal, the unskilled market, is already pretty full. That is where they are and who they are. Many have been a long time out of work, and everybody knows how demoralising that is. Our programme, preferentially on their behalf, falls into two main sections. On the one hand, we are making an appeal to the building trades to help us to give them a hand, and at the same time to help the country by extending and speeding up housing operations. My right hon. Friend quoted the report of the Provisional Industrial Conference for the Prevention of Unemployment, paragraph (c), page 13. I will quote:Government housing schemes should be pressed forward without delay.He quoted this report with complete approval. May I have his assistance in this matter? My right hon. Friend puts forward as his main proposition that we must "provide work." Again I claim his assistance. That is what we are about to do.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
That is good. That is fine. I should expect all that. During the War, every Member of the 1124 Committee will admit—and we are grateful for it—with the goodwill and accord of the trade unions we got, by a relaxation of the rules and regulations, a tremendous expansion in the output of munitions of war. Surely what trade unionism was prepared to do in defence of its country the building trade will also do in defence of their country's defenders! The enemy of 1914–18 is not, it is true, at our gates. But grave hardships and inconveniences oppress very many of our people, and oppress especially so many of the men who drove the enemy from our gates. They ask to be allowed to help to remove those hardships and inconveniences, and at the same time the men who kept roofs over our heads ask to be allowed to put a roof over their own. There is a serious shortage of skilled labour for building operations.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I did not specially refer to that question, but I hold a statement hero from one of the trade union officials which shows that in the building trade itself there are unemployed.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I shall be glad to give my right hon. Friend the exchange list of our vacancies, and applications for each branch of the building trade.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I have already said that I would like to give the right hon. Gentleman any assistance I can to solve this question. I can give him the figures of the unemployed men in the building industry itself.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I am aware that at the end of a large job in any particular locality there may be men out of work, while at the same time there is plenty of work in other parts of the country, and the men cannot go there for lack of housing accommodation. I do not, however, wish to be drawn into making debating points.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
Surely that is a difficulty which should be solved by the Government. If it is true that these men cannot find employment because of the lack of housing or means of transport, that is a difficulty which the Government should overcome.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I have told the right hon. Gentleman that he may have our list of vacancies and applications taken from the employment register, and hero, and in any other way, his help 1125 and assistance will always be cordially welcomed. It is a fact that there is a considerable shortage of skilled men in the building trade. Building and repairing was at a standstill during the War because many of the men joined the Colours and some of them went off to other work. There are to-day 65,000 less skilled men in the building trade than there were in 1914, and at the same time there is a shortage of 500,000 houses. The building trade can do their country a vital service in this way and they can do it without injury to themselves. I know the haunting anxiety as to possible unemployment, with all its attendant miseries to the wives and children. I am aware that the building trades before the War were badly hit, but does anyone suggest seriously that with six years of arrears there is any prospect of overproduction in this particular field. The building trade really must not let this opportunity to pass to give these men a hand. If they hesitate to take risks. I say that I do not think there are any risks involved. What risks can they take compared with the risks these men took?
As Minister of Labour I am bound to deal fairly and impartially and, I hope, judicially with labour problems, but what do I find here. The negotiations with the building trades to secure an adequate supply of labour for housing have been proceeding with the Minister of Health and my predecessor in the office of Minister of Labour since July, 1919, and no results adequate to the gravity of the situation has yet, so far as I can see, resulted from these prolonged negotiations. I do not know that recriminations help much in these matters. By agreement with the building trade we have been training 4,331 disabled ex-service men to fill the ranks depleted in the way which I have described. We have 771 disabled ex-service men awaiting training and now I am suddenly confronted with the resolution of the National Federation of Building Trade Operatives, passed on September 1st, stating that they will not agree to take any more trainees after the end of September. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!" and "Why?"] I really should like to know what the answer to that question is. It is rather illuminating and it is not precisely the spirit in whch the great majority of the trade unions have met 1126 me in this matter, and to them I am very grateful.
Now I will deal further with the "provide work" policy which was referred to by my right hon. Friend. The other great field of employment is road construction and road maintenance, and the Prime Minister on Tuesday fully outlined our proposals in this direction and stated how we hoped to secure co-operation between the local authorities and the Minister of Transport, and an equitable distribution of the cost between the municipalities and the road fund. There is no need, I think, for me to elaborate the main outlines of these proposals, although if desired, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport will do so. Of these schemes in and around London, seven are proposed by the Ministry of Transport which strikingly meet what I want. Negotiations are now in progress with the London County Council, and I am advised by the Ministry of Transport to whom I am greatly indebted for their great expedition in this business that if the London County Council accept the proposals which are being discussed to-day some work can actually be started next week.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
The proposals are being discussed to-day, but this has nothing to do with the training of these ex-service men. If the negotiations, which have been very rapid and have been carried forward with great expedition are successful, and if those which are now being discussed are agreed to to-day by the London County Council some of this work will begin next week. The Ministry of Transport is getting similarly into touch with local authorities throughout the country. Apart from this second section of road construction and maintenance and apart from housing, I am advised by the Ministry of Health that for some weeks past the engineers and other expert officers employed by the Ministry have been visiting the chief municipalities where there is, or may be, some considerable unemployment in order to take time by the forelock with a view to arranging the programme of necessary public works which these authorities would be prepared to undertake outside the schemes of which I have already spoken. These pro- 1127 grammes have been examined in detail and brought down to date in the principal towns, and I am told that the great local authorities are well advanced with the necessary arrangements. These public works are all outside the operations referred to under the Road Development part of the scheme outlined by the Prime Minister on Tuesday, and, of course, are outside the operations in respect of housing. I know how heavily pressed local authorities are and have been in the matter of housing, and no doubt the road scheme which was described on Tuesday will add to their obligations wherever it may be put into execution, but I am fully assured that so far as they can the local authorities will do whatever is possible to push ahead with the public works schemes to which I have just referred.
I have only two or three more things to which I desire to allude. On the general question of unemployment, and apart from the steps taken to provide for it, outlined by the Prime Minister on Tuesday, I must not sit down without a reference to the widely extended Unemployment Insurance Act, which comes into operation in three weeks' time. Under that Act the number of persons compulsorily covered by insurance against unemployment, with all its paralysing anxieties and hardships, goes up from 4,000,000 to 12,000,000. The unemployment benefit which was originally 7s., and since last year has been 11s. a week for men and women, is now increased to 15s. a week in the case of men and 12s. a week in the case of women. Further, unemployment benefit under the extended Act becomes payable from the fourth day of unemployment instead of from the seventh, as under the previous Acts. Under the new Act provision is also made by which under certain necessary conditions associations of employed persons or approved societies can act as the agents of the Government for administering benefits, provided, amongst other things, that out of their own funds they make the 15s. a week benefit for men up to 20s. and the 12s. a week benefit for women up to 16s. There is also a provision which is one of the most important in this Act, that if there are any bodies of employers and employed who would like between them to do more than this—I hope that there will be many, 1128 and let me lay stress on this point as Minister of Labour—the new Act provides for the setting up of special schemes. As Minister in charge of this Act I shall welcome and give every assistance and encouragement I can to the special scheme policy. I know that a number of industries are at this time actively discussing the matter, and I hope they will pursue it. They cannot, of course, be ready three weeks from now by 8th November when the Act comes into operation, but the Act provides for that. If they are ready by the 4th July, 1921, with their schemes it is provided that they may transfer from the ordinary scheme to the special scheme. This is a very important provision, and I hope the trades who desire to make special schemes will take that step. I have tried to state the position as we have watched it and as we have known it week by week down to the opening of the coal strike. I have tried to show how we turned our energies betimes—and I wish to lay stress on that—to the problem that would confront us after a fall in the barometer. There has been a set-back in employment. I have shown that our plans were ready and capable of prompt application. I have laid stress on the ease of the ex-Service men, not only because of the tremendous claims they have upon us, but also because they form so large a part of the problem which is before us. I share—everybody in this House shares—the anxiety of my right hon. Friend opposite in this problem of unemployment. It is as much our duty as it is his, but whilst it is one thing to table a series of general propositions, it is another thing, and if I may say so, a more useful thing, to hammer out and put into actual operation practicable productive workable ready-use schemes which will directly assist the unemployed. That was our duty. We have done it. We are doing it, and I feel confident we shall have the approval and support of the very great majority of the Members of this House.
§ Mr. G. EDWARDS
I have listened very attentively to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. I am not so much concerned with the description he gave us of the state of unemployment as I am with the fact that there are unemployed and a lack of provision made for them to find employment—especially among ex-Service men. I find that my right hon. Friend is 1129 very anxious to lay the responsibility for the unemployment and the lack of provision for the unemployed upon everyone except the Government. He dealt with the Housing question, and he made a great point of the fact that housing is being delayed in consequence of the conduct of the Trade Unionists in the building industry. But he did not tell the House that the Trade Union workers in the trade offered that if the Government will guarantee there shall be no unemployed in their trade they will remove the restrictions of which he complains. The point I want to come to is this—the delay in erecting houses for ex-Service men and for the working class in this country lies at the door of the Government. What are the facts? I speak with some knowledge. The Minister of Health, or the Government through him, pressed on the local authorities the responsibility of providing houses under the Act, and I say without hesitation that the local authorities—and all credit is due to them—undertook that responsibility. It has become notorious how their action has been defeated. Take my own area.
We decided to erect 350 houses. We prepared our plans and put out our contracts. We erected a number of houses for the working classes. We were told by the Government that in deciding on the rents we were to fix such a rent as we deemed reasonable, according to wages earned in the district. We fixed the rents, as some of us think, rather too high. We had full local knowledge. We said that for a six-roomed house the rent should be £20 per year, with the rates on top of that, and for a five-roomed house £14 per year, plus rates. What did the Minister of Health do? We sent him a return showing that the earnings of the agricultural labourers in the district averaged £2 6s. per week, and those of other classes of workers £3 10s. per week. The Minister came down on top of us and would not sanction the rents we had fixed. He demanded that the local authority should charge a man earning £3 10s. per week £1 per week as rent, and that for the five-roomed house 16s. 6d. per week should be charged. Do the Government imagine that any local authority, with its knowledge of the condition of things, would be content to erect houses and to ask agricultural labourers, with their wives and families, to pay a rent of 16s. 6d. per week out of a wage of £2 6s.? 1130 Do they imagine that any local authority will erect houses for which they are to charge a man earning £3 10s. per week £1 as rent? Do they imagine that out of the wages they are earning the men could pay such high rents as that? If they do, I can only suggest they should experiment on themselves for one month at least. This bombshell was thrown at the local authorities throughout the length and breadth of the country, with the result that they will not touch housing schemes until the Minister of Health abates his demands in this respect. I maintain that the responsibility for the delay in erecting houses falls directly upon the Government, but for whose action house building might have been proceeded with, and the present unemployment would not have grown to the extent it has.
Then there is the question of raw material. The Government were warned in 1918—in the early part of that year—that there would be a terrible shortage of raw material and especially of bricks. Labour Exchanges sent resolution after resolution urging the Government to take steps to reopen the brickfields which had gone into disuse during the War. We were laughed at for our efforts in pointing out that there must be a terrible shortage unless something in this direction was done. Remember, the unskilled men now waiting for training might have been put on this work, and the necessary raw material could have been provided without difficulty. What happened? Those local authorities which had contracts in hand found that the men had to stand idle for the lack of raw material. I was very much interested in a speech made by the Minister of Health in regard to the agricultural industry. I have a knowledge of this industry. I was engaged in it for many years, and I remember the time when there were 950,000 agricultural labourers and others employed on the land. At the present time there are only 550,000 so employed, and yet we have in my own county to-day 500 agricultural labourers standing by for want of work! I heard a question asked of the Minister of Health why this was so. I think I can give the reply. It is largely due to the gambling which is now going on in land. It is also due, in part, to the bad farming which has been prevalent for many years. That is responsible for the great decrease in the 1131 number of men employed on the land. We ask the Government, as far as the land question is concerned, to do what they did during the War, namely, to put into force the compulsory Clauses of the Defence of the Realm Act. We have to-day, I believe, between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000 acres of land out of cultivation. We were told the other day that there were 800,000 acres less under wheat this year, and I believe I am correct in saying that since the Armistice 80,000 acres of land have gone out of cultivation that were brought under cultivation during the War. Why do not the Government put into force the compulsory Clauses, and compel those who call the land theirs to keep it in cultivation? Something has been said about afforestation. In my own county we have something like 3,000 acres of land that is useful for that purpose. I do not say, with my knowledge of agriculture, that all the land is suitable for producing food; I know it is not; but it will produce something that the nation wants. That land is now lying derelict. It is only used as rabbit warrens, because it pays the landlord better to keep it for game preserving than it does to produce things that we want. If the Government would step in, and I appeal to them to do so, they could at once set to work most of this unskilled labour—we are told that it would require no skill—if they would insist upon the use of this land for this purpose. I know that it is suitable for the production of wood, which is greatly needed.
The Government were forewarned of these things. They know that this land is there ready to produce something. Indeed, I would venture to state that there is not an acre of land in this country which will not produce something that the nation needs. All that is necessary is that the people should have an opportunity of getting on the land. With regard to the Land Settlement scheme, as a county councillor I have had something to do with putting this Act into force. What are the facts? We were told that there were £8,000,000 set aside for this purpose. So far as my county council is concerned—and I think we stand second in the country for putting the Small Holdings and Allotments Act into force—we were told that we were to have this money to purchase land. What 1132 does the Land Settlement Act do? It compels us to give inflated prices for the land, and, having given inflated prices—not pre-War value, but war profit value, the price to which it has been run up in the market by the land gamblers—we are compelled to charge these ex-Service men, these heroes who have fought our battles, and who were told by the Prime Minister that they should have a land fit for heroes to live in, where no inhabitants should ever hunger—we have to charge them a rent that we know full well they will never be able to pay and get a living. The Government come along and say: "Yes, we will lend you money, but will charge you 6 per cent. for it," and we have to charge that back to these poor fellows. In my own county we have 500 ex-Service men who cannot get on the land, and we have spent all the money the Government will let us have. I would make an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman opposite and to the Government to take this question seriously. I have spent 50 years of my life trying to upraise my class. I have endeavoured to exercise a moderating influence, and I think that up to the present I have been successful. No one can charge me with being an extremist. I want, however, to point this out to the Government. Our influence over men and women may be lessened when they know that the barns are full and the cupboard is empty. Therefore, I ask them to use all the powers they possess under the Defence of the Realm Act, and to deal at once with this land problem. It can be dealt with at once. Set these men to work. We do not plead for doles; we do not plead for charity. What we say is: "In Heaven's name, find them work!"
I am a little sorry that the hon. Member who has just sat down has imported into this Debate an element of controversy, and has attempted to make those party points which his own leader deprecated. I feel very much tempted to answer him. I understand from my right hon. Friend (Dr. Macnamara) that it is the hon. Member's maiden speech, and had I known that I should not have made that remark. I do not intend to follow him on the line that he took, but rather to continue the Debate in the spirit in which it was opened by the first two speakers. It seems to me that it is probably as well that the Debate has 1133 been opened in that spirit, I take it that the task before us is not so much one of criticism as to what has been done in the past, as of conference as to what it is best to do in the future. One remark which I rather resent was made by the right hon. Gentleman who proposed this Resolution. He seemed to imply that there was a certain number of individuals, or a class, who viewed with indifference, or even with pleasure, the existence of a large body of unemployment—who considered it to be essential to the system. I assure him that I resent being included in that category, and I am sure that every hon. Member of this House will do so likewise. It is perfectly obvious that the question of unemployment is a most vital one, and, to my mind, the solution of it upon reasonable and proper lines is the key to the solution of the far larger problem of industrial peace. I have just been serving upon a Select Committee which has been inquiring into the subject of the employment and training of disabled men, and we found, with reference to those activities of the trade unions which have been mentioned—I do not desire to make any bitter remarks upon that subject, but merely to mention the point—that in many cases the true reason for the attitude of certain isolated sections of the trade unions was this very fear of unemployment, and that, if that couldd be removed, the difficulty would be at an end. That is why it appears to me that this subject is of such very vital importance.
I think it falls into two main divisions. There is, first of all, the problem of getting the right man to do the right job. We have attempted in this country, upon the German model, to face that problem by moans of the system of labour exchanges. I confess that it seems to me—from somewhat cursory inquiry, I admit—that that system is in many respects unsatisfactory, and I would suggest that hon. Members who have not already done so should take a short glance at the system which prevails in Canada. It is extremely instructive and interesting. In Canada there is a system whereby the trade unions really take the place of our labour exchanges. If an employer wants to find a man for a job, he goes to them, and they provide him with a man. That seems to be one of the proper functions of a trade union, and I think it is a system which might be inquired into, and, if possible, extended to this country. 1134 After all, the labour exchanges have fallen into something like disrepute, because employers seem to be under the impression that if they go to a labour exchange the chances are about even that they will got some sort of scallywag Therefore it is imperative upon us to reconsider that side of the unemployment problem which consists in getting the right man for the right job. This question has a further side, which is probably the most important one, and that is in regard to the question of dealing with men who are thrown out of work through the operation of the present industrial system. I am not arguing here whether that system is right or wrong. I know that there are many hon. Members in this House who think it is wrong, but, quite apart from that question, there it is for the time being, and we have to face the facts and try and work out some system whereby we shall avoid the unnecessary suffering—for I believe it to be unnecessary—caused by the system which allows a large number of men and women in this country to exist with only a fortnight between themselves and starvation. After all, the existence of slack times does make comparatively little difference to the capitalist—it may make the difference of 5 per cent. instead of 10 per cent., but if it makes the difference between one meal a day and three, it really does bring home to us how very important this question of unemployment, and of meeting unemployment in slack time, is in the eyes of every working class family.
I am glad that the Debate has not centred upon criticism of what the Government have done or have not done. It seems to me that they have started to deal with this question on the right lines, although their method, perhaps, does not afford a full solution. Much more remains to be done. The question of dealing with unemployment in slack time seems to me to be only soluble by some such co-operative, contributory fund, which shall meet the cases of men who are out of work in slack time. I look forward to the time—I do not know whether I am too optimistic—when every industry shall be self-supporting in the matter of unemployment. As there does undoubtedly exist—hon. Members opposite have made a point of this—a certain duty and responsibility on the part of the State, it is right that the State should contribute to this fund. 1135 I have said before that under the present system, whether it be right or wrong, there are two partners in industry—capital and labour. I hold that both those parties should contribute to such a fund and the State should come in and take its share of responsibility. So you will gradually build up this contributory fund, which I hope to see contributed to by every industry as a whole and applied to every industry as a whole. I look forward to the time when every industry, so far as employment is concerned, shall be a kind of industrial republic. If it were always possible to meet a period of unemployment like the present by palliative measures—and I am sure the Government would agree that all these steps to meet unemployment, excellent as they are, are merely palliative measures, merely ad hoc measures, and one cannot repeat them indefinitely in the future—it would not be a matter of such vital importance. But I suggest that they should consider the extension and application of the system which they have already introduced to deal with these slack times. The agricultural industry is not included in the Unemployment Insurance Act. I should very much like to know why, because, although in the past it is quite true to say there has never been any large volume of unemployment in the agricultural industry, yet in the future I am afraid one must look forward to a certain volume of unemployment in that trade, and it is only right and fair to the agricultural labourer, and if the number of men in the industry is to be kept up it is essential that steps should be taken to protect them against unemployment in precisely the same way as the workers in every other industry. It is not a large charge upon the industry, and it is a small demand to make, and I hope the Government will immediately—because the future winter is likely to be a hard one in the agricultural industry—set to work to see how it will be possible to apply that Act to the agricultural industry as a whole.
Some remarks fell both from the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Resolution and the hon. Member (Mr. Edwards) about the working of the Land Facilities Act. Their experience seems to have been unfortunate, because I represent that county which heads the list with regard to the figures of men who have been put on the land under that Act. I 1136 will tell the House one significant fact which shows what can be done even under this disastrous Act. In my county we have put somewhere between 800 and 900 men on the land, and the cultivation officer of the country has just been round to all the holdings, and assures me that out of the whole number there are only two who have even indifferent crops. All the rest are excellent. That is extraordinarily creditable, and I would impress upon the Government that this is one of the best ways to find employment, to enable a man to have a chance on his own. If he makes a success of it, that is all the more reason why they should go on with it and persevere to the end. I know the hon. Member (Mr. Edwards) has stated that there is a danger of the fund becoming exhausted. This is one part of the policy of the Government which cannot be given up. If the money is exhausted we must have more for this purpose, because it is absolutely essential that it should go on. I would ask those who have listened to me to consider the position in which we now are with regard to this question of unemployment. Upon the solution of this question depends, as I believe, the whole future of industrial peace. The existence and the possibility of unemployment aggravates and irritates the relations between capital and labour to an almost impossible extent, and it is for this House, if we believe in constitutional methods and if we believe this is the highest authority in the land, to settle down and solve this problem with due regard to the future and not concentrate upon approval or disapproval of temporary ad hoc measures such as we have heard about to day. I am not attacking those measures. They are eminently necessary at present, and I hope with the co-operation of both sides in this country we shall be able to do something to bring about the better land which was so lavishly promised and which up to the present has been so inadequately fulfilled.
§ Mr. HODGE
At Question Time on Tuesday the Primo Minister, in answering a question, made a statement with regard to the peculiar wickedness of building trade employés, and he mentioned the fact that there was an opening for ex-service men with iron puddlers, and the deduction was that the wicked trade unions had been the barrier to the employment of these men in that in- 1137 dustry. I challenged the accuracy of his statement, and in return I was challenged to make my indictment on this Debate. I am now going to make it. After Question Time the right hon. Gentleman (Dr. Macnamara) came across the House and told me the fault was not the fault of the Minister of Labour. They had nothing to do with it. I have in my possession correspondence in which not only was the scheme which had been outlined for the training of men in that industry turned down, hut it was on the heading of the Ministry of Labour. In this case the proposal to train ex-service men emanated from the workmen themselves, and they produced a scheme in conjunction with the employers for the purpose of training ex-service men in this employment, which is not only a skilled employment, but one in which the men are highly paid—surely a desirable form of training for ex-service men. We have heard the right hon. Gentleman to-day telling us of the great number of ex-service men who have been trained and the amount of money which has been been spent in training them. The men got into touch with the Yorkshire Division of the Ministry of Labour Training Department, whose headquarters were at the Education Offices, Leeds. The right hon. Gentleman on Tuesday last indicated to me that the Ministry of Labour had nothing to do with it.
§ Mr. HODGE
I was under the impression from the right hon. Gentleman's speech to-day that ex-service men whose apprenticeship had been interrupted, and other men of likely character—1 know of lawyer's clerks who have been sent to Cambridge to become barristers—quite a different thing from being an ordinary solicitor. I also understand that ex-service men have been trained in other occupations than those they were engaged in previous to the War. In this instance the Government complained about trade unions putting up obstacles against men being employed. Here is a trade where after eight weeks men with the necessary physique can become well-paid employés. But the iron puddler is not going to take on an incompetent man. It means that his own work would be very much harder. Hence the reason 1138 of taking in an ex-service man as a third man for eight weeks' training. If the Government paid, as the outlined scheme was, £2 per week to the man, the 29s. unemployed benefit would have ceased and it would have been a paltry payment of 11s. a week the Government would have had to make for the training of these men, and at least a thousand men could have been absorbed at the beginning of this year when the scheme was first put forward, because there was a transition in the trade from twelve to eight hours, and they could have trained these men in a well-paid and skilled employment. So that if the Government are so anxious to do something for ex-service men, when they found not only the workmen but the employers combining together for the purpose of taking these men in, why did the Government stand in the way? To show that something had been done the secretary of our organisation wrote to the Ministry of Labour, after those negotiations had proved abortive and the Treasury had turned down the scheme because it cost money. The Treasury usually turns these things down, but it depends on the Minister as to whether they are turned down or not. Some Ministers can get all they want. We wrote to the Ministry of Labour from our chief office pointing out this scheme, which had been provisionally arranged between the Leeds Branch, the employers and the workmen, and asking, What are the Government doing? What are they going to do? That was on 6th May, and on 7th May they got a very prompt answer. I will not call it a reply:Many thanks for your letter about the question of the iron puddlers. I have already put forward the results of the conversation which I had with you, and I am now sending your letter to the Training Department so that they may have your suggestion before them.We never heard anything more, but we had not forgotten it. On 3rd June we wrote to the Labour Ministry again. On 5th June another prompt reply, stating, "We have placed this matter in the hands of the head of the Training Department." Then we hoar no more about it. We were rather long in taking it up again. We did not write to the Ministry of Labour until 1st September, when we asked, What about it? We got a reply that the person in charge is away, and when he comes 1139 back we will get an answer, and we got a reply on 25th September:I have consulted the Training Department about your letter of September on the subject of ex-service men in the iron puddling trade, and I understand the Government are again considering the question.After the statements I have made and the quotations from these letters, I maintain that the Prime Minister made a wholly unjustifiable attack upon the men engaged in that industry, absolutely unjustifiable. It was a case of the wicked trade unionist seeking to prevent the ex-service men getting into employment.
At the present moment unemployment is rife, and the chances are that it is going to be much worse than it has been. We want new trades introduced into this country. I have suggested to the Government before to-day a method whereby a great number of ex-service men could be employed. There is not a business man in this House but knows that if you want an extension of your telephone you cannot get it. The excuse is that there are no telephonic instruments. Not long after the Armistice, when it was made evident that many munitions factories would not be used on mumtion making again, there was an opportunity of starting a new industry in the production of telephonic apparatus. Our telephonic apparatus comes from Norway, Sweden, or America. The making of this apparatus provides light employment, easily learned. If the ex-service men saved the State, it was the duty of the State to do something for the ex-service men. Why not have taken over one of these factories and equipped it for the manufacture of the nation's own telephonic apparatus? The result of that would have been that to-day thousands of men would have been employed in the production of what at present we have to buy from other countries, and which we cannot get. There is not a business man but who knows full well how he is hampered and harassed in making extensions of his telephonic arrangements, or even in having a broken instrument replaced. The Government ought to direct their attention to the introduction of new industries into this country for the purpose of absorbing the ex-service men. The right hon. Member for Blackfriars (Mr. Barnes) initiated the diamond-cutting industry here, and it has been a magnificent boon to the ex-service men, but that was done 1140 as a result of getting a man with a big heart in that industry to risk his money. That ought not to have been necessary. The State, which these men saved, ought to risk its money in doing something to find them profitable employment.
I was glad that the hon. Member who preceded me suggested that every industry should bear the burden of its own unemployment. That is what we have been preaching from this side of the House for very many years. That is what I have been preaching to the great manufacturers in the iron and steel trade, and I am glad to find that amongst them we are making headway. One of the biggest men in the trade said some months ago that he was doing his best to get all his colleagues converted to the idea that for every ton of steel produced by the firm they should put threepence into a pool, and that there should be a committee of workmen and employers for the purpose of distributing that amount when unemployment came. That would act as a supplement to the unemployment benefit paid by the trade union. In the tinplate trade in South Wales we have had suggestions from one of the biggest men there that they should put into a pool one penny for every box of timplates made, so that when bad times came upon them, the trade, out of this pool, plus the trade union donation, would have a sufficiency to keep the wolf from the door. There is a direction in which the Government might have proceeded, so far as the National Insurance Act was concerned. Probably when that Act comes to he amended they may give my suggestion consideration, so that when the time comes there may be data and public opinion in favour of such a course. What is it that causes the men in the building trade to be, as some people think, so stubborn in taking in dilutees? It is because, previous to the War unemployment in the building trade was, to say the least, terrible. The amount of unemployment in that particular industry was, I may safely say, greater than in any other industry. That is why they are afraid. They fear that if thousands of extra men are taken in now that when the present boom passes their latter condition will be worse than their condition before the War. If we had such a scheme as I have indicated, and which the hon. Gentleman 1141 who preceded me indicated, whereby each trade would bear its own unemployment, there would be no danger and no difficulty in taking in dilutees, and the question of production would then solve itself. Is it not natural that if a man sees his job coming to an end, and there is no chance of another, that he should make it last as long as he can? That is human nature. Assure that man that he is going to have a decent living whether he is working or idle, and then you will get the very best out of him. I hope the Government; will realise that there are new directions in which they ought to proceed for the solution of this great and terrible problem of un-employment.
§ Mr. MYERS
We have had from the Minister of Labour a statement that for some time there has been growing distress in the large towns. If that is so and his Department were cognisant of the fact it is evidence and an indictment against the Government that they have not taken the necessary steps to cope with what they knew was a recognised evil. The problem of unemployment as it was presented to the country up to the end of last week could easily have been foreseen. Members of the Government themselves in the country have committed themselves to public statements that in a very short time after the War serious industrial crises would obtain. The Government were warned by people who were in close contact with industrial organisations that a grave danger was likely to arise in that direction. It was understood at the time that demobilisation took place that the resettlement and reestablishmont of ex-service men into occupations would be recognised and accepted as a national obligation. Despite that, nothing or little has been done by the Government except to call in the aid of the billposter and to post the country appealing for more production. They have given that appeal no backing whatever. They have set up no organised system or method to make the appeal effective. The Government have actually moved in the opposite direction. Government factories have been sold, national factories have been closed and dismantled, and at the present time factories which were set up for the purpose of providing the country with the implements of war are for the most part standing idle when many of them might be utilised for the provision of the necessities of peace time. 1142 While we are entitled to ask the Government to reconcile their well-advertised demand for more production, when they were aware that at the time this demand was being made there was an ever-increasing volume of unemployment. At the time that the Government claimed that more production was necessary, productive efforts in all directions was being permitted to go out of action. There has been some slight attempts made by the Government to cope with this problem. We have heard something about the national roll of employers, and an attempt has been made by circularising employers of labour to absorb ex-service men. The employers have been asked to take ox-service men in the proportion of five per cent. of the total number of their employés.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MYERS
From the figures available I think it is a fact that if 5 per cent. of these discharged men had been absorbed in the proportion I have named, six times more of them would have been in employment than have been taken on by the employers of labour. We have reached such a stage of development in industry that it would be futile to ask employers of labour to go any further in this direction, because even employers of labour cannot take on ex-service men who are disabled or otherwise, when at the same time they are having to dispense, wholly or in part, with their permanent and established employees. Another attempt has been made in the direction of settling ex-service men on the land. Several suggestions have been made on this question already. Here is a field of almost illimitable extent. We have had from the Government Bench the statement that the increased cost of living which is showing itself within the last few days is due very largely to increased prices of eggs, butter and milk. When we are looking for avenues of employment for men who have been following other occupations, skilled or unskilled, we have to discover an avenue of employment which would not come into competition with those people who already have a job. And when we look at the possibilities of the production of these things that I have named we find a tremendous field for operation.
The evidences are all in the direction that the articles of agricultural produce 1143 to which I have referred will not be thrown upon our markets in the days to come to the same extent as previously. We have secured from Scandinavian countries in the days gone by considerable quantities of eggs, butter, and the like. We have sent to those countries our export coal. Whatever the basis of settlement in the coal trade may be, assuming normal conditions, all the developments in the economic world point in the direction of American coal finding its way in much larger quantities than formerly to Scandinavian countries, and if we do not send those people that fuel, that will have a reflex effect upon those commodities which we used to receive from them, and, obviously, the production of poultry, eggs, bacon and butter is a field of industry upon which we can embark extensively in this country, not only by ex-service men, but by the civilian population. I understand that something like 44,000 ex-service men applied for small holdings up to May this year. Twenty-six thousand of these men were considered to be suitable applicants, and approved as such. At that time a little over 5,000 had been provided with the holdings they demanded. There would be some improvement on those figures up to the present. But the men who have been settled on the land are a very small proportion of the numbers who have applied and are considered suitable for that work. I understand that good results have been secured so far as we have gone. If that is so, it is a sound argument for the extension of our activities in that direction.
Something has been said about afforestation. For a number of years, when we have been discussing the question of unemployed, afforestation has been a stock phrase. It is so obvious that it is apt to be overlooked. It was discovered, on the outbreak of the War, that 90 per cent. of the timber we required in this country had to come from overseas, and the result was that young and immature and, to a very large extent, unsuitable timber had to be cut in this country, and that has been done to such an extent that extensive replanting has become necessary. Afforestation is one of those things which are not attractive to private enterprise, because the advantages are too far away, and if our timber supplies are to be retained and developed 1144 it is essentially one of those things on which the Government ought to embark, and it would absorb a tremendous number of unskilled men.
Something has been said about roads—the maintenance of existing roads and the provision of new arterial thoroughfares. A tremendous amount of work is necessary in this direction. The local authorities were urged during the period of the War to economise expenditure, and necessary work in many cases was left undone, and some of that work was the maintenance of roads in a decent state of repair. If we are going to call upon our local authorities to expend at this moment very large sums of money on the maintenance and repair of roads, which have deteriorated so much during the last six years, I am afraid we are going to make a demand which is not likely to be carried out. Local authorities at present are being very hard pressed, in a financial sense. Rises in rates are the order of the day all over the country. These rises in rates are due very largely to conditions which are being imposed upon them by the borrowing policy of the Government. The local debt of the country is now at 6 per cent., in some instances more, where it was originally 2½ and 3 per cent., and the extra call that is made for interest upon loans is having its effect in producing higher rates, and local authorities, like the ordinary individual, have not had mat protection from the profiteer which they ought to have had, and they have to pay a high price for the materials required in their local administrations, and these demands must be met. Suggestions may be sent on to local authorities of a volume of work waiting to be done, but any extra demand made upon local authorities which is going to cost money must have a Government cheque alongside it, or there is very little hope that a decent dinner for an unemployed man is likely to come out of any of these new demands upon local authorities. The roads need to be repaired; new roads need to be made; local authorities will have to secure financial assistance from the Treasury if that work is to be done.
Something has been said as to dilution of labour, and the building trade is at once switched on in this direction. We have been reminded that 5 million ex-service men have been demobilised, and the statistics we secure from trade union sources indicate that, up to the end of 1145 August this year, 4,700,000 of these ex-service men have been absorbed into industry. These men are at present enjoying all the privileges and advantages that trade union organisation can give them, and I think that it is safe to say that industry could not have absorbed that number of men had it not been for the assistance and goodwill of the trade unions of the country. I was rather amused and not a little surprised at the attitude of the Minister of Labour. Ho used to hold a very distinguished position in the teaching profession. We remember him in those days, and we know something of his attitude in respect of dilution. When the Minister of Labour was at the head of the teaching profession he was the great exponent of clearing out of the teaching profession everyone who had not the necessary qualifications of a university badge and the necessary certificate. Every man is entitled to change his mind, even a Minister of Labour; but on this question of dilution of labour in the building trade there is something else that needs to be stated.
This problem of housing is a very serious one. Before we come to a definite conclusion upon this matter it is necessary to know where we are going. Generally speaking, the houses that are being erected to-day are costing in the region of £1,000 per house. I know that there are some under, but there is a great number over that figure. But generally, roughly speaking, it is £1,000 a house. Whether that money is raised by housing bonds or ordinary loan we are entering into an obligation to pay 6 per cent. upon the money that is borrowed, and housing loans are floated for a period of 60 years. If we borrow £1,000 at 6 per cent. for the erection of houses, we shall have repaid in annual sums of sinking fund and interest for a period of 60 years no less, than £3,700. Under the conditions which prevailed in pre-war days we got [...] houses for that figure and better houses into the bargain. The amenities of our houses have been cut down to such an extent that it is very necessary, having regard to what these houses are to be, that we should make the best of them. We have been told in this House that 90 per cent. of the skilled workmen in the building trade have been working on buildings other than houses. Factories, cinemas, shops, and every type of build- 1146 ing have boon able to call upon the skilled labour in the building trade.
These houses at £3,700 per house are a mortgage upon the future labour of the community, and if we are going to have that responsibility imposed upon us we are entitled to claim that the house should have put into it the best labour that is available, and I will be no party as a municipal representative to bringing unskilled labour on to our housing scheme and using the skilled labour available upon places in which bags of wool are going to be stored. There is no equity in that arrangement. Let us have dilution of labour in the building trade. Let us bring in all the men we can to erect houses as rapidly as possible. Let us insure that the best labour that is to be found in the industry is done on those places in which the rising generation will have to live. There is another important factor which appears to have been overlooked by the Minister of Labour. What does he propose to do with those agencies which are at present creating unemployment by artificial methods? I wonder whether the Minister of Labour has read in the newspapers during the last week or two the report of the operations in the cotton trade? We understand that the cotton trade is adopting short time. I have here a report of 100 Lancashire cotton factories, with a paid-up capital of £4,700,000.
§ Mr. MYERS
I want to give the whole truth, and I am giving the facts that are available. The share capital of these 100 companies was £4,700,000, and up to the 30th November of last year for the 12 months they made well over £1,000,000 in profit. These cotton factories, living upon their profits, are to go on short time; but are the people provided with the cotton materials that they require? There ought to be no short time in the cotton trade until the community is adequately supplied with the cotton products it needs. We understand that the stoppage in the cotton trade is not altogether unconnected with a desire to maintain prices and profits. Take another trade. It was reported in the "Times" the other day, that the rubber companies of the country propose 1147 to restrict their output of rubber by 25 per cent. I have here, from the "Economist," a list of just over 100. rubber companies. Last year nearly half of those companies paid in dividends 20 per cent. and over. Dividends of 40 per cent. to 80 per cent. can be counted by the dozen, and in two instances 100 per cent. and 250 per cent. were paid. During the past five years I find there were 26 cases where dividends from 100 per cent. to 300 per cent. were paid. It is the definite policy of these rubber companies to keep down production, to limit supplies, to create unemployment and to maintain prices and profits. Again, we have the tea companies who propose to restrict the quantity of tea this year by 10 per cent. of the average of the last five years, and next year they propose to cut it down 20 per cent. These things are done openly and definitely for the purpose of maintaining prices and profits, and they are creating unemployment all along the line. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not necessarily!"] It is very necessary that the Minister of Labour should tell us the effect that these operations are having, and at the same time indicate to us what is intended to be done towards the checking of such operations. We have organised ca'canny in the commercial world, and the necessary result will be intensification of the unemployment problem.
§ Sir J. HARMOOD-BANNER
Is it not the fact that all these companies are operating in the Malay States, in India, or other distant places, and that they do not affect labour in this country?
§ Mr. MYERS
So far as the rubber companies are concerned, most of them are registered in London, and the most effective answer I can give, without arguing the question, is that the directors of these tea and rubber companies are to be found in this House by the score. If any answer is needed as to what effect the companies' operations are having, I hope that some representatives of the concerns will give the House the benefit of their experiences. I want to deal for a moment with another important aspect of this matter. If we are to tackle the unemployment problem, we should give trade its freedom and, as far as possible, remove all restrictions and obstructions. During last Session there was considerable dis- 1148 cussion in this House as to the relationships of this country with Russia. I believe something was said from the Opposition Benches yesterday about the Government entering into an arrangement or naming a date upon which trade operations could be renewed with that country. We understand that the Russian Empire embraces one-ninth of the entire population of the globe and one-sixth of the entire cultivable area of the globe. Having regard to the trade relationships that existed before the War between England and Russia, that is such an important point that it cannot be ignored. In 1913 Russia sent to this country 7,000,000 lbs. of wool, 5,000,000 cwts. of wheat, 1,374,000,000 eggs, and 78,500,000 lbs. of butter. They are all commodities which are now greatly needed in this country. In return for those products this country sent to Russia £18,000,000 worth of United Kingdom products, over £10,000,000 of which was wholly or mainly manufactured goods. The needs of Russia to-day are clothing, boots and machinery, things which this country could supply. We were told by the Prime Minister that Russia has its corn bins bulging with grain, and those who can speak with any authority confirm the view that these food supplies can be furnished to us in large quantities if trade operations are resumed.
Quite apart from all these questions of providing employment there is another very special aspect of this question, and that is in relation to specialised trade. The doctrine that has been advocated by a right hon. Gentleman is one that may be attractive to the craft industries of the country, but in its wider application it might have some disadvantages. I will leave subsequent speakers to deal with this particular aspect of the matter. It is true that in certain specialised industries there is a large number of men who have given all their lives and training to one particular occupation. Afforestation, small holdings and all those things, to which references have been made, would press very hard upon such men; their adaptability is not sufficiently developed for them to undertake work of such a character, and in such cases any provision for unemployment must necessarily be on a monetary basis. I mention this fact in order to bring out what I believe to be the facts of the case, namely, that the Government are displaying a great deal too much 1149 bias in this direction. The problem of unemploment is not going to be met under any conditions by a mere money payment. The unemployed man requires a money payment if he is out of work, but that is not what he is aiming at. The unemployed man wants a job. When he is unemployed he becomes demoralised, loses his independence, and in a general way the tendency is all in a downward direction.
What has been the accepted attitude of employers on this question? An employer has taken a man into his employ, he has paid him the recognised rate of wages, and he has sold the commodity that that workman has produced, containing a greater volume of labour than that for which he has paid. If the time came when he had no further use for that labour power, that labour power was discarded just as if it was a machine or any other non-human thing. I am ready to agree that nowadays there is a rather better spirit showing itself in the relationship between capital and labour, and I should despair if that were not so. I know employers, both inside and outside this House, who take a much more humane view of the relationship between employer and employed than that which is strictly on a cash basis. The general policy of the Government to-day is a recognition that all it has to do is to permit this freedom of arrangement between employer and employé, and as soon as the labour power is out of action to come along with 10s. or 15s. just to keep the man alive and to keep him on the spot until the employer wants him again.
There is the old doctrine that a margin of unemployment is necessary in our industrial system, that a temporary industrial crisis must come from time to time, and that charity and doles, unemployment benefit and Government donation are to be the beginning and the end of the Government's activity. That is by no means sufficient. A scheme for providing employment has to be brought into being, and the question of the dole should be a secondary consideration after every other field has been explored to its furthest possible limit. In cases where this unemployment benefit has to be paid, and then only under the stress of grim necessity, surely 15s. a week is not enough? I ask hon. Members to compare what it costs to keep a pauper or a lunatic, and when we make that comparison we ought to be ashamed to offer 15s per week to those who are unem- 1150 ployed. The tragedy of unemployment can only be realised by those of us who have experienced it. Most of us on this side at some time or other have walked the streets in search of a job and found it difficult to find one. Those of us who have had that experience will realise the effect that it has in reducing the status of the individual and the sapping of his independence, in addition to all the effects upon the man s wife and family. We have reached this point when a definite declaration has got to be made that if private enterprise fails to make provision giving to every individual the right to exercise his strength and his inclination to provide for his own well-being, then it is the duty and function of the State to see that that provision is made and to harmonise production and distribution and to bring the energy and the needs of the community together. If that is not done, every citizen of the country, able and willing to work, is entitled in lieu of that opportunity of work being provided to have full maintenance to the highest standard of physical and mental efficiency being maintained. Nothing less are we entitled to offer, and anything less we concede will be an encroachment upon the national life of this country.
§ Mr. A. HOPKINSON
I have listened to the greater part of this Debate, and I must say that up to the present it has boon very disappointing indeed. We have had the same old talk from, if I may say so, the same old people. We have had a Minister getting up and telling us what remarkable things his Ministry is doing and how it is facing the situation and how everything is being taken into consideration, and, boiled down, it all comes to the same end, that some dole of some sort is going to be given. The Ministry always regards symptoms and never for a moment regards diseases. In the same way, on the Benches opposite we have had again and again what we have had always before, no practical suggestion of any sort, but a certain amount of invective and long words which do not mean anything, but nothing which could possibly help the country out of the disastrous state of affairs we are in. On an occasion so serious it would be undesirable to wrap up things in the way in which Members are expected to do, so that the truth 1151 cannot appear even by accident. Those of us who have been engaged in industry and have some little experience or knowledge of industry and of the way in which it has been built up think that the present competitive system, with all its faults, has the supreme virtue that it works. We know perfectly well why this winter we are confronted with, perhaps, the very greatest danger that this country has been confronted with even during the last six years. We are confronted with an almost complete break down of industry and privation for a large portion of our people, with nobody able to give any sort of hope of a real and lasting remedy for such a state of affairs. Ministers of the Crown have come forward with proposals to dole out a certain amount of money to produce a certain amount of work, forgetting all the time that every penny which is expended upon unemployment pay and doles means so much less employment for the bulk of the population of this country. Hon. Members opposite are not accustomed to go into practical economics, but deal mostly with theoretical economics. I may say that I was calculating to-day exactly what effect on unemployment is caused by the taxation we have to bear. I estimate, and I think others who have had experience will bear me out, that every £20 per annum which is taken from us in taxation means one less man employed in our business.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
A great proportion of it goes in paying salaries to State officials. My actual experience is that the use of Government Departments to collect money from the pockets of those engaged in industry to dispense it to those who are temporarily unemployed is a fatal policy which can have no ending whatsoever. I notice the Minister of Health present. We have heard a great deal about the housing problem and the possibility of the State providing for a lot of employment in building houses. I should like to tell hon. Members opposite that for every £1,.500 which is taken from me in taxation the Minister, if he is lucky, will some day or other erect one very inferior house. If he leaves me the £1,500 immediately I shall build two excellent houses for the money. On an occasion of this sort and in a crisis of this 1152 sort I do not wish to say anything which could in any way embitter feeling, but one must face the facts. The crisis this winter may be aggravated by, but it is in no way due to the coal strike. The crisis was upon us even if there was no coal strike, and that crisis was absolutely inevitable in view of the policy of the Government for the last ten years. This terrible winter which is confronting us now became inevitable when the Prime Minister started his campaign of the "People's. Budget." In those days some of us will remember people in this country were aroused to a state of enthusiasm by attacks upon a certain section of the population, and attacks of which I believe the author would now perhaps be ashamed. The working classes of this country were told that there was no necessity to work and no necessity for the sweat of their brow, and that the State would provide for everyone's needs.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Men and women are very human, and when they were told these things they believed them, and now we are reaping the result. All of us who are engaged in industry, whether employers or members of trade unions, know that the average amount of work done by the majority of trades is very much less than it used to be six or eight years ago. There are people in this country, and one or two Members of this House, who say that the only salvation for the human race, and the only way of prosperity for the working classes, is to do as little work as they possibly can. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] I am afraid hon. Members who deny that do not read the "Worker's Dreadnought" and other papers. All these are very sad facts, but there they are, and we have to face them. We who are employers of labour and directing industry have got to keep those facts in mind.
Instead of throwing all the blame on the Government let us consider if there is any blame to be laid on ourselves. In a Debate of this sort a Minister of the Crown gets up and says it is not the fault of the Government, and the representatives on the Labour Benches say that the fault is not that of the trade unions, and the employers say it is not their fault, when every single man knows that it is the fault of 1153 all three. As an employer of labour, I do not wish to refer to the faults of the other two people, but merely to refer to faults on the part of myself and my fellow-employers of labour. We know very well that during the period of the War, particularly in my own trade, it was extremely easy for employers of labour to make enormous fortunes with very little trouble and very little encouragement. In the cotton trade it was extremely easy to make very large fortunes. The reason was because there was a shortage of all the main necessities of life, and any employer who was producing any of the necessities could practically charge any price he liked. That is fault number I on the part of the employers. We used to get demands from trade unions to whose membership our employés belonged for advances of wages. We granted those demands, and if the cost of production was put up by granting them we put that cost on the consumer and also an extra little bit for ourselves. We built up a most wonderful system by which the employer does not care twopence whether his men do any work or not. In fact, if he can point out that the cost, owing to these wicked trade unions, has gone up very largely, he can, of course, put on his usual percentage of profit in addition to what he got before, and perhaps put into his pocket £5 instead of £1.
The second fault is this, that we employers have given up any attempt really to direct labour in the way that we should do. It seems to me that the first function of a director of industry is to direct it, that it is quite impossible to carry on any industry, however small and unimportant, without a very strong discipline indeed in that industry, that our function as employers should not be to become rich but rather to direct the labour of those others employed in the industry so as to produce the most beneficial effects for the country at large and, eventually, for the world. In that respect we employers have not done our duty. We have given way to demands which we knew were quite unjustifiable, and we have given way simply because it paid to give way. We have gone on employing men who will not work, gone on paying them high wages, gone on putting the whole burden, as usual, on the consumer, and the result has been that now we find the whole of our trade 1154 is dropping away from us rapidly every week, simply on account of the fact that we have destroyed the real discipline of industry through our own greed during the years when we could satisfy that greed in a way we could never have satisfied it before.
I have pointed out two only of the reasons why I say that we employers are to blame. I should like, however, to point out a third, perhaps rather a minor point, but which concerns only one particular class of employés. We have heard a lot to-night about the unfortunate position of the ex-soldier and how these wicked trade unions are preventing employers from employing them. I say, and I say it from experience, that these wicked trade unions are not preventing employers from employing these men. I employed disabled men on skilled work, and the trade unions came to mo and threatened me, but I am still employing those disabled men, and they did not prevent me. When the employer says he is prevented from employing the ex-service men he is not speaking the truth. He is not being prevented; he is simply being frightened, and nothing else.
I should like, if the House will allow me—and I must admit the House is very indulgent—to make one or two suggestions which I think may at any rate be the basis of Debate to-night instead of the stale old stuff which we have boon hearing for so long. In the first place, how is discipline in industry to be restored? Because that is essential before we can have any real prosperity in this country at all. Our foreign trade is going rapidly. Day by day orders, even for machinery and even for textile goods, in this country are going to our competitors abroad, and the reason is that our cost is so enormous that practically the whole world is unable to pay it. That enormous cost is due largely to the fact that men are not really working. I think that is quite certain from my own experience, not of ray own men, but of other men in the trade.
The question is how to induce men to work. We have had a campaign, originated, I think, by the Ministry of Labour, called the Production Campaign. Various eminent members of the Labour party have had their photographs posted on the walls, together with various wise 1155 words which they thought would go suitably with those photographs. The gist of the whole thing is this, that we cannot have prosperity, either for the nation or for individuals, unless there is more production. That is very simple indeed, but the real difficulty is to find out how we are going to get that production. I have talked this over with many of my own men and with working men employed by others, and the whole trouble really at the bottom of things is this. It is the ordinary human nature of human beings. They say, "We quite understand we should benefit ourselves and our fellow-workers if we produced more, but a fatal thing stands in the way; we shall make the boss a millionaire." It is very foolish, it is very unreasonable, but it is very human, and I do not see any way out of that except by the boss in question making quite certain that whatever the production is he shall not become a millionaire.
I speak hero not altogether without personal experience, inasmuch as, but for the grace of God, I might have been a millionaire myself. It is hardly worth while in these days and with the troubles that are confronting the country to see exactly how much as an employer one can pile up. It is really not good enough, and it is really not worth while. I have had experience myself of making quite certain that under no circumstances shall such an appalling fate overtake me, and there is no question at all that the moral effect, developing very quickly into the material effect, upon my employés has been that their production has increased enormously. Their production at present is on a scale which I believe will surpass that of any engineering works in this country, and I believe that is very largely due to this fact, that they know that however much they produce they do not add to my income. Of course, this seems a very theoretical and high-flown sort of argument, but I challenge those who disagree with me to put before this House any sort of alternative which will induce the working men of this country to put their full efforts into the task of regaining not only our foreign markets but even our home markets. For it seems to me that where we have not made the best in industry of late years has been this, that the employer has never really justified himself in giving orders to his men. If I 1156 can explain myself I will show you what I mean by that. Sooner or later to every employer of any sense comes the question, "What justifies me in taking on this man, in dismissing that man, in settling that man's wages at a high rate, and this man's at a low rate, in insisting upon that man obeying my orders day after day in my works; what is it that, justifies mo in doing so?"
Now under the principles of the old Manchester school that justification was found in the fact that we who were employers had that remarkable faculty of being able to make more money than those we employed, and that was thought to give sufficient justification for one man to control the life of another man, but after a European war I think we shall have to drop that theory altogether, and that to be employers of labour claiming the right to direct and lead other men, we must find some basis to justify us better than the mere fact that our acquisitiveness is rather more effective than that of the men in our employment. Where are we to find that distinction? It seems to me that the only way we can do it is this, that we who are in a position to seize everything that men desire in the way of material wealth must refuse at any rate to seize all that we might. We must put ourselves on a different basis from the men we employ, or else we cannot expect to got discipline from them.
I know very well, from experience in the Army, both as an officer and in the ranks, that you cannot get men, and particularly any Englishmen or Scotsmen, to obey orders unless they have the firm conviction that the man who gives those orders is in some way better than themselves. I will give just a little example, rather an amusing one, of what I mean. I was serving in the ranks in France, and my corporal came to me once and said, "You know, when an officer comes from a good family, or knows his work, or is a gallant fellow, or is even good-looking, it's all right, but when he is none of these things it is perhaps a little bit hard upon us." It was that remark of my corporal that made me think out what is the justification in industry for the position of the employer, and as a result of those thoughts—I may be wrong—I have come to the conclusion that the only thing that can put the employer on that pedestal from which he can give commands with full justification is that he, unlike his men, should not take all that he might.
1157 I have put the thing into practice, and I say, as a matter of experience for about a year, that that is the sort of thing that rather grows upon one. It sounds very terrible at first, the idea of giving up half or three-quarters of one's income. It sounds almost unspeakably terrible at first, but as soon as ever you start doing it it gets easier and easier. There is another thing. If one is fit to be a director of industry, one always has this in reserve. If one is capable to be a director in one's own trade, suppose this passion, this vice, grows upon one until one has got rid of the whole of one's income, if one is fit to be a director one can always start afresh and do it all over again. I have spoken partly in mockery. In fact, I have introduced my profiteering scheme half in mockery, but I suppose there is a certain amount of truth in what is spoken in jest. We have before us at present the prospect of the complete collapse of our present system, a system built up upon the Manchester School of Economics. We have been helped to that position by the policy of His Majesty's Government for 10 years past, and it seems to me that the real trouble is this, that while the Government has tried to be generous, the employer has contented himself with bare cold justice, which is, to my mind, a complete reversal of the real functions of both.
I think it is the business of all Governments to observe rigidly the enonomies of the Manchester School, and that it is the business of employers in industry to observe the rules of economies from a very different standpoint indeed. But this is, I think, what is bringing us to the terrible confusion which confronts us both in politics and in industry—it is the lack of a section or class, both in politics and in industry, which sets a very much higher standard for itself than that of the mob generally. After all, how is there to be any improvement in the affairs of the nation, whether in politics or industry, unless we have leaders of some other sort than self-appointed leaders who became leaders because their ambitions in politics were great, or because their acquisitiveness in industry was great? This, it seems to me, is the whole basis of the principle of aristocracy, which we have lost both in polities and in industry; the principle that there 1158 is no improvement to be got and no happiness to be obtained for the many without the self-sacrifice of the few. This is what wise men for the last 2,000 years have been telling us in every country—that unless you have people ready to give up everything for the common cause the common cause will never advance; at any rate it will never advance in the right direction.
we have listened to a very interesting speech from my hon. Friend who has just sat down. He has spoken as an employer, but I think, from the remarks which he has made, that we must not consider him really as a representative employer. Probably, as he tolls us, he has found it easy to run his business very successfully during the War, and his profit-sharing scheme apparently has given great satisfaction to his workpeople. He has probably paid them more than any of the recognised rates of pay, but we are now on lean times, and we have yet to see how his men and he himself will struggle through the black days that are ahead of trade. The Motion which is before the House deals with the menace of growing unemployment. I also wish to deal with it from the employers' point of view, and I have no hesitation in saying that, in my judgment, the Mover of the Amendment and the other hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who support it in this House are the people really responsible for the present state of affairs. I desire to carry the battle right into their own camp. I think it can be done, and done justly, and that it is a view which should be placed before the House. I need not go back to the period of the War. It is sufficient for my purpose to discuss what has happened since the Armistice. Since that time, there has been a perpetual encouragement to industrial unrest in every part of the country, and we find that that encouragement to a very large extent comes from the trade union leaders [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] One has only to look round to be rather surprised to see that nearly all the trade union leaders to-day are advanced socialists. Their policy is the nationalisation of industry, and in public and in private they advocate the general policy of the socialists. In practically every industry they have advocated the policy of going slowly, with the result that there is hardly an industry—I doubt whether there is an industry—where the output per man 1159 to-day is anything approaching the output before the War. There is no doubt about it. The men could do the work if they were minded to do so, but they are taught, "Do not do it, go slowly. By going slowly you will make more work for others." That is the policy of going slow. They are very definitely advised to demand more money for the smaller amount of work which they produce.
The result of that policy, and of the general policy of unrest, has been to make foreign contracting trade almost an impossibility. No one in this country can contract any distance ahead. He does not know what his labour conditions are going to be; he cannot give a date for delivery; and the result is that our goods are costing a great deal more than they ought to. There are daily instances of men in the great industrial centres—Sheffield and other places—being paid off or lack of orders. In the steel trade, for instance, this is not yet due to the coal strike, it is due to causes which were growing and could be foreseen months ago. Steel to export is costing too much money. You can charge the home consumer what you like for an article as long as there is no foreign competition, but you cannot force the foreigner to pay when he has a cheaper market offered to him. If our workers are determined to demand the maximum pay, and to produce the minimum of material, it must stand to reason that the goods which they are producing will have no chance of a sale in a foreign competitive market. That seems to me to be a deplorable state of affairs, and I think the views I am expressing are those of the great majority of the manufacturers and employers in this country. The great industries are slowly but surely paying off men. This will also ultimately react on the smaller industries, and I am afraid that this winter will see us face to face with a very grave industrial crisis. I will not blame the Labour party or the Socialist party for quite the whole of this state of affairs. I think they are responsible for the greater part of it, but some small measure of responsibility is due to the Government. There is excessive taxation and the Excess Profits Duty can be directly traced as causing unemployment to-day in industry, but in that policy the Government were supported by the Labour party in this House; in fact, the 1160 Labour party here, if I remember aright, a year or so ago wanted to see the Excess Profits Duty fixed at 100 per cent. They thought that by attacking the capitalist class they were going to help the workers. To-day, I think, they are beginning to see the folly of it, and that instead of helping the workers they are hitting the workers, and the workers are losing their jobs; I was very certain, when we had a Debate in the House on the Excess Profits Duty some months ago, that it would react on industry. There is ample evidence that in many directions employers have less of an incentive to extend and develop their business when favourable opportunities offer, with the result that from that cause alone there is less employment today than there might be.
There is another ground for blaming the Government, and that is with regard to the absence of a definite trade policy, which is another contributory cause of unemployment. During the War we were told to capture German trade, and a series of industries was started with the object of capturing that trade. There was a very general idea that those industries would be protected after the War. Today, however, you see direct unemployment being caused by German imports, which are ousting those trades which were started to capture those German trades. There is ample evidence of that. Yet not one word of protest has come from the Labour party, whom one would have thought had the interest of the working man so much at heart. What we really want is a very definite understanding with labour. Unless we have an understanding, and unless the Labour party are prepared to agree to a substantial modification of trade union rules, and particularly of the regulations for restricting output, we shall have a very bad time ahead of us. You cannot do business under present conditions; you cannot sell your goods. You have got to sell your goods, and you do not sell them in this country. We have to import food, and against that food we have to export coal and goods. If our exports are restricted by the outrageous demands which are made for slow production and high prices, then the effect must be that the cost of living, which in all conscience is high enough in this country, will be greatly nereased, and you will have in connection with it an increasing burden of unemployment. I think the time has 1161 come when these facts ought to be understood and be put very plainly to the workers. The Government ought to show courage and determination in dealing with these absurd restrictions imposed by the unions, and particularly by a union like the Builders' Union. The Government ought to grapple with these matters with vigour and determination, but as long as we are simply content to argue them out across the floor of the House, and to allow the workers to imagine that they have grievances against what they call the capitalists and against the Government we shall make no real headway. They have got to understand that the future prosperity of the country depends upon greater production. As a nation we have a heavy burden of debt around our neeks, and there is only one way by which that burden can be handled and made bearable. That is by all of us putting our shoulders to the wheel in our respective spheres and doing the best we can in the direction of advancing the interests of commerce and industry.
§ Major HAMILTON
I have listened with great interest to my hon. Friend opposite, who has given us a most interesting speech on the relations of labour and capital, and I have been studying very carefully the actual words of the Resolution on the Paper. It seems to me that a great many who think as I do on these problems of unemployment—and I think there is no problem more unfortunate facing us during this winter than this—must feel that it is very difficult to vote against the Resolution as put on the Paper. But when you come to analyse the Resolution closely, I think hon. Members will agree with me when I say that it really embodies a blunt socialistic proposal. It practically means that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who have put down their names to this Resolution are asking this House to support the principle, at any rate, of their Right to Work Bill. I am not in favour of that Bill, nor of the principles which underlie that Bill and this Resolution. But of course, there is a great deal in this Resolution with which, I think, every Member of the House will agree. The wording of the Resolution on the Paper saysThis House views with regret the growing volume of unemployment,1162 No one views it with more regret and anxiety than I do. But the next words arerecognising the responsibility of the State towards members of the community who are bereft of the means of livelihood.I am afraid I cannot recognise the responsibility of State funds to maintain those who are bereft of the means of livelihood except in the ordinary way where such maintenance is now given. Later on it says that the State must provide "work or, in default, adequate maintenance." I think that is a very dangerous proposition, and yet I feel, after reading this Resolution several times, that it has been devised—to quote the words which the Prime Minister used yesterday—with great craft by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who put it on the Paper. I can well conceive in my own constituency, for instance, my opponent who is standing against me on behalf of the Labour party issuing posters to say that I voted against a Resolution which regretted the growing volume of unemployment. But I am sure my hon. Friends on the Benches opposite, especially the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Resolution, would very much regret to see such a poster in my constituency, and therefore I feel I should not care to vote directly against this Resolution, at any rate, without speaking on it, because the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Adamson) seems to have shown a certain amount of Scottish astuteness when he drafted this Resolution. I propose, therefore, to move an Amendment to this Resolution, and I have spent a good deal of time in drafting this Amendment, because first of all I thought that the best plan would be merely to omit from this Resolution the words to which I take exception; but, after listening to the excellent and satisfactory speech of the Minister of Labour, I feel that a really strong Resolution of confidence in our present Minister of Labour in this matter would be a very much better plan. I do feel that, after the speech of the Minister of Labour, it would be impossible for even hon Members opposite to vote for the Resolution which they have put down. I do not think that it would be easy for those who usually are associated with me in this House to vote against this Resolution, and I think it will make things easier for them to vote in favour of my Amendment, and I trust they will do so.
1163 I therefore beg to move to leave out the wordsrecognising the responsibility of the State towards members of the community who are bereft of the means of livelihood, is of opinion that every possible step should be taken to arrest the decline in trade and industry and to provide work or, in default, adequate maintenance for those whose labour is not required in the ordinary market,and to add instead thereof the wordsespecially the continued presence on the lists of the unemployed of such a large number of ex-service men. It has heard with satisfaction the statement regarding the steps already taken by the Government to provide work for the unemployed, is glad to know that in three weeks' time a widely extended Insurance Act comes into operation, and is confident that the Government will continue to explore all practicable means of dealing with the situation.In listening to the speeches which have been made on this Resolution, one or two special points have occurred to me. There are two questions I would like to put to the Minister of Labour. The first question touches a point on which I always feel very deeply, and that is the question of those men—disabled men especially—who have been trained by the State to take up either a new industry or a different industry from that which they were in before the War. I know that there are many men whose period of training must be just now, or in the next few weeks, coming to an end, and they will then ordinarily be put into industry as improvers. But, threatened as we are with strikes and reduced employment in every direction, it appears to me it will be most difficult for the Minister of Labour to find employers to take these partially trained men as improvers, and I want to ask, are these men, most of whom are disabled men, going to be thrown into the streets because the Minister of Labour cannot find them work? I would like to know whether the Government have taken into consideration the very exceptional position of those men who have been trained at the State's expense and are now ready to go into an employment? If there is no employment for them, due to no fault of theirs, I do hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give us some assurance that the Government are going to look after them.
The other question I want to put to put to the right hon. Gentleman is this: I understand from his speech that negotiations with the Building Trades Union 1164 started in July, 1919, and here we are now in October, 1920, and still these negotiations, he tells us, have produced no fruit. I remember the Prime Minister, at a critical time in our history, saying that the Government were very often too late. We really must do something about this building trade position, and although the right hon. Gentleman told us that the Government were going to take action, he did not tell us definitely that, regardless of the trade union position in the building trade, the Government intend to appeal to the country to give them their confidence and to support, if necessary, building for ex-service men, so as to give us more houses at once, and so as to get some of the unemployed ex-service men into work. I feel most deeply that the solution of the unemployed question at the moment very largely lies with the building trade. We are starved for houses. We were told by the hon. Member for South Norfolk, I think, in his maiden speech, that large numbers of agricultural labourers were out of work in one part of the country, while there was work for them in another part to which they could not go on account of the lack of houses, and we heard the same statement from the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Resolution. He interrupted the Minister of Labour by pointing out that there were actually in the building trade men out of work, and yet we all know that the building trade in nearly every district in the country is starved for labour.
If we can, by the co-operation of the skilled trades in the building trade, absorb a very large number of the unemployed, it means that in every direction trade will improve. We shall have more business in the making of window frames, glass, and fire-grates. Plumbers will be employed, and bell hangers. More drains will be wanted, more tiles, more slates, everything—which will improve our industry throughout the country by a demand for those products. There is nothing which can improve the general industry of the country more promptly than a real effort in the next few months to get on with this building, which is not wasting money, for the houses are badly wanted in every direction. I will only add that I do feel the only solution of unemployment in this country is increased production on every hand. If we can get brick-setters to set 1,000 bricks a day instead of 350, the demand for 1165 bricks will go up, and the complaint which we heard from an hon. Member opposite, that old brick-yards are shut down, will no longer be made, for they will soon open up again, and bricks will be produced, provided the demand is there for them. Production, that is, really putting in a fair day's work for a fair day's wage—if we can get that principle preached throughout the country, unemployment will be solved, and I am sure the Government will do all they can to support that principle to help industry in the country, and so to solve this problem.
§ Mr. PERRING
I beg to second the Amendment. I entirely endorse all that has been said by the hon. and gallant Member who moved the Amendment. I do not propose to travel over the ground he has covered, but to confine myself generally to the last sentence in the Amendment, which says "that the Government will continue to explore all practicable means of dealing with the situation." While we welcome the proposals of the Government, and while we must sincerely deplore and regret that the Members on the opposite side of the House have not given expression to their satisfaction, or expressed their desire heartily to co-operate and assist, which would, I think, have given satisfaction to the unemployed, I feel that we are more concerned with the future even than the present. The proposals of the Government will, in some degree, solve temporarily the present difficulties, if we are fortunate enough to escape from a long strike in the coal industry. But I do feel that the root causes of our unsatisfactory state in the industrial world are far wider than can be shown by merely discussing, as we have heard to-day, the unsound or unsatisfactory relationship which exists between employer and employed.
We have got to realise that our industrial system has against it foreign competition. In view of the adverse exchange and the world causes which are operating we shall be well advised to urge upon the Government the taking of such steps as are necessary, and, in my judgment, a bold course in regard to the training of men. There is a general opinion—and I believe it is justified by the facts—that there is a shortage of skilled men in all the trades of this country. When you look at the Board of Trade Returns you sometimes feel elated with the enormous 1166 volume of trade which those figures represent, but when you come to analyse the figures you find the real volume of trade less than it was before the War. While we have enjoyed some degree of prosperity since the Armistice, as shown by the figures of the Minister of Labour in regard to unemployment, it has been, in my judgment, in some degree at least, an artificial condition of things, because the world's demands have been such that whatever was produced was without any difficulty absorbed. We are now, however, reaching a period of competitive conditions in the markets of the world. The condition to which the hon. Member below the Gangway referred, the hon. Gentleman who wanted to give away his fortune and work for nothing, is fast coming to an end.
Employers may have given advances in wages very willingly to avoid disputes during the past 18 months, but they have reached a period when they have to compete in the world's markets. That brings me to the point of cheap production. Though it has been a bugbear in the minds of the working classes that production means unemployment, I think most of the men are now beginning to realise that that is a false theory. We have to realise, if we are to enjoy the export trade that is so essential to our well-being, and to minimise to the greatest possible extent our unemployment, that we have to produce on competitive terms, to go out into the world and to get our trade to its proper condition we have to see that we have to produce cheaper than we are doing to-day. But the adverse exchange has the effect of increasing the cost of living, and this latter necessarily means increased wages. Again, this indirectly increases the cost of production. Not only does the cost of food operate to raise the cost of production in this country, but the cost of the raw material affected by the exchange is operating in the same direction. These two causes, operating together, will in the very near future, unless some change takes place in the relationship of employers and employed, have the effect of restricting our export trade in competition with America and other countries. Therefore I would have rejoiced if I could feel that the hon. Gentleman sitting on the Opposition Bench had given expression this afternoon to the determination not only to co-operate with the 1167 Minister of Labour in his temporary schemes, but that he and his colleagues had given some indication of an attempt to grapple with the root causes. What are these?
We have been told this afternoon that it is quite reasonable that men should work "slow" because of the fear of unemployment. If they are going to continue to work slow in the competitive industrial warfare that we may expect in the near future it must follow that working slow will increase the cost of production and thereby increase unemployment. That being so, I think hon. Members on the opposite Benches must view with concern the tendency amongst the working classes not to produce to the maximum of their ability and with due regard to their own interests. A right hon. Gentleman, speaking from the front Bench opposite this afternoon and interested in the steel trade, might have informed us, probably from his own knowledge, why it is that in this current year in the steel trade it is estimated that we shall only produce a little over our pre-war tonnage of finished steel. America has gone ahead to the extent of 45 per cent. in finished steel over her pre-war production. Why? What does that indicate? It indicates to me—and I should like to hear from the opposite side of the House the views of hon. Members—that dear coal is playing a very great part in the steel industry. The Americans with their cheap coal are going to beat us in our own market if we are not very careful. Therefore it is all-important that we should, apart from other considerations, cheapen the cost of coal, and so have increased output for the increased cost of coal means a reduction in the steel and many key industries, and great industries in this country depend upon steel.
We have to have steel produced at the lowest possible price to compete with Germany and if we are to hold our own in the American market. In view of what I have said in regard to the adverse exchange and how it operates to increase the cost of production, it is greatly important that some other factors should be brought into our industrial life to counteract the effect of the high cost due to the adverse exchange. There is only one way that I can see which will produce that result, and that is more hearty co-operation between employers and employed in endeavouring to solve 1168 the problem instead of the condition from which we are now suffering, friction that is created and enmity and animosity fostered by setting employer against employed. We shall never solve our industrial problems and never get contentment and high production if all over the country there is a tendency to discredit the employer as though his interests were not bound up with the interests of the employé. For this reason I do hope the Government will take a bold step in respect to the ex-soldier. Although the Leader of the Labour party this afternoon said that he would give hearty support to the Minister of Labour we do not know whether he spoke for himself, or whether he spoke for his party, or for the trade union movement. I do hope that if it ultimately turns out that the trade union movement is not going heartily to co-operate with the Government the Government will take a bold lead and endeavour to do without the trade union movement, and to find employment for these men by some other direct means. Otherwise I see no hope of permanence because these schemes are temporary, I see no hope of permanent improvement in this matter of unemployment. We have so many unskilled people in the country. It has already been said we have 60,000 odd less people in the building trade. In many other trades there are less, due to causes connected with the War, and we cannot, so far as I am able to judge, maintain our high output at a low cost unless we have the highest skill obtainable for these skilled trades. In view of what has been said, and of what is more or less common knowledge, in regard to the absence of skilled men in many of our trades, I do hope the Government will consider, not only the question of the training of disabled men, but the training of other men. If certain trades, like the engineers, are going to place a limit—I do not think that has been disputed—upon the number of people employed in their trade, and raise objections to young men going into the trade and completing their apprenticeships broken by the War, or having got over a certain age are barred according to engineering or other trade rules, I sincerely hope the Government will take not only a bold line in this matter, but will not hesitate to start a campaign to educate the people of this country as to what are the true things 1169 which are producing unemployment. By that means, and by that means alone, public opinion will be brought to bear, and by that means we shall probably secure the relaxation of trade union rules which are at the moment having such an unfortunate effect in connection with unemployment.
The iron puddlers were referred to this afternoon. We ought to have an explanation from the Government of this matter. It has been said that owing to the delay and dilatory conduct of some Government Department a large number of those men have lost employment. That is an important statement. If it is true the Minister of Labour, I think, ought to tell us that without any delay he will endeavour to remedy that short-sightedness and neglect. If a particular trade or union are willing to meet the Government it ought never to be allowed to come out that they were willing to give employment and that the Government, either from some neglect or something else on their part failed to take advantage of it. I therefore sincerely hope the Minister of Labour will give us some little more enlightenment on this matter and tell the House that any offer that comes from a trade union in this direction will not only be welcomed, but that they will use any means in their power to secure the employment of these men; to assist in the training of these men by financial help. They are talking of doling out millions of money for unemployment, but it appears to me, and I think it must to everybody else, that that money, or a portion of it, would be far better spent in training these men for an important trade, which training will have the effect ultimately of giving employment to unskilled men.
I should like to ask the Minister a question in regard to the schemes to which reference has been made. I am speaking of road transport. One of the great obstacles that I see—I may be labouring under a mistake—is the charge coming on the local authorities. I want to urge that, in view of the statement that the Ministry of Transport have in their minds a four years' programme, to be commenced in the very near future, and knowing, as we do, that about £8,000,000 a year will be derived from the petrol tax, and it is foreshadowed that this will be a contribution towards the programme, that it should eventuate. The Ministry ought to advance money to the local authorities on the 1170 anticipated receipts of the four years. That is to say, they ought to let them have the money on loan and in anticipation of the income which they will derive over the four years, and by this means assist the local authorities to carry out these schemes. The feeling is that you are going to inflict a very severe burden on the already over-burdened ratepayer. I do not think the ratepayers ought to bear that burden. Many ratepayers are also tax-payers, but if you pass this on to the taxpayers you spread the net far wider, and bring into it people who would otherwise escape. For this reason I think we ought to have some explanation as to the projected financial arrangements which govern these schemes of road improvement. For my part, as a local administrator—and I imagine others here are in a similar position—I should resent very strongly the burden, or the main portion of this unemployment burden, being thrown on the local rates. It would only be a portion of the local authorities who would boar the burden, whereas if you throw it on the taxpayer it will be spread over the whole of the country more equitably than if thrown on London, or just upon those localities where the roads are being made. I hope before the Debate closes we shall have some enlightenment on this question, so that it cannot afterwards be said that we have failed in our duty in securing from the Government an equitable financial arrangement with regard to these schemes.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I cannot presume at this stage to intervene for more than a second or two. All I wish to do is to reply to two questions which have been put to me. I will answer one of them, and the other will be answered by my colleague who represents the Ministry of Transport. I have been asked what we are going to do in regard to those ex-service men who have been trained in our instructional factories after their instructional period comes to an end. It is quite true that during the coal strike we shall have great difficulty in finding them employment, and I have been asked if we are going to turn these men out into the streets during this emergency. I can relieve anxiety upon that point. We certainly shall not do that, but we shall continue their instruction beyond the specified period until the crisis is over.
I do not think it is of any great consequence whether the House 1171 votes for this Resolution or the Amendment which has been proposed, because unemploment will continue. No concrete suggestion to meet this difficulty has been contained in any of the speeches to which we have listened. I want to get back to the root causes of unemployment. I want the House and the people outside to understand that unemployment is part of the class struggle between two sets of human beings whose aims and ideals are diametrically opposite. The struggle in the coal mining prices is only an example of the struggle between Capital and Labour. You may call the coal strike a political or an economic struggle, but I would like to sink these differences about two shillings a day, and if you are going to strike, then do it on some great fundamental political issue. I cannot imagine that those who are calling a general strike in the coal industry are of opinion that all it means is simply an additional two shillings a day. We know that two shillings a day will have no effect whatever upon the coal miners, because as soon as it has been granted it will be taken off in the cost of living, railway travelling and other things. So long as the present capitalistic system goes on it does not matter whether you increase wages by 2s. or 45s.
Whenever we talk about unemployment it would be as well to regard it in connection with the general industrial situation. The two shillings demand is only a fraction of the demand that the miners are entitled to having regard to the price of coal There is a great insurmountable gulf between the people who do the work in the mines and take the risks, often leaving behind widows and orphans and those who sit at home, and who without any labour of any kind get a large proportion of the profits. There is a great gulf between them, and it is this system which produces unemployment. You have to have a great reserve of unemployment to keep the capitalistic system going. One hon. Member said that he was not in favour of doles to the working classes, but I cannot help looking round on the other side and noticing the people who are supporting him, for they are those who have made great profits out of the War.
We sent out working men to France, Mesopotamia and Gallipoli and made all sorts of vague prophesies whilst others 1172 sat at home amassing large fortunes. Many people started during the War with comparatively small incomes, and they now possess comfortable fortunes and are sitting in smug contentment trying to continue this system. Not content with bleeding the workers during the War they are now trying to bleed them in the mines and in every other form of industrial life. I cannot imagine the Labour party plunging the country into a crisis such as this and saying that they are doing it for anything so childish as 2s. a day. I cannot imagine that they would take the step they have taken without having in mind a desire to bring down the present Government, and transfer the power of the Government to those who are leading the strike. If that is not their intention and desire then I hope they will call their strike off at the earliest possible moment.
In considering the present crisis it is a good thing to recollect during the War the promises which were made to the people who were sent out as to the conditions they would enjoy when they came back. There were some people who were rather unpopular then who warned the working classes of the conditions they would find after the War. Those people were hounded down at public meetings throughout the length and breadth of the country by infuriated mobs stirred up by biassed organs of the Press. It is rather instructive to notice to-day that those people were right. The people who warned the country of the disaster and poverty and the privations that would ensue to the working classes whether German or British were right, because the working classes are now in the soup. It is a pity more people did not realise that.
When I hear hon. Members saying that they are not in favour of any change, and that they want the present system to go on, I am convinced that they have never felt the pinch of hunger. I am convinced that they do not understand the cruelty of cutting a man off from his source of income. I am convinced that they have never known the mental rackings of anxiety and fear arising from insecure employment. They have not experienced the tramp of a man looking for a job only to see the notice on the door of the works, "No hands required." They have not had to undergo the experience of seeing the home conveyed in 1173 instalments to the establishment which has three balls over it. We have to try to bring these people to a little more humanity and realisation of human nature. There is too much bigoted pigheaded selfishness amongst those who represent the employing classes.
I listened with a certain amount of interest to the statement made by one hon. Member who said that he had read the "Daily Herald" and the "Workers' Dreadnought." He seemed to go a long way in our direction, but really he is absolutely the exception which proves the rule. I do not think there is a single employer who is going to follow his advice. We have to realise that times are changing and the working classes are not going to remain doped by such pictures and accounts of football matches and racing as appear in the "Daily Sketch" and the "Daily Mirror." A great number of people come to see me in the House of Commons. To-day two or three unemployed came to see me in the House, and they were actually stopped, or attempts were made to stop them coming into the House, because they had not got collars on and were thought to look not quite respectable. I do not blame the police for doing their duty, but this shows a distinctly class feeling between these poor people and those who carry out the mandates of the employers. Because a man cannot afford a collar or a razor he is to be trodden down and under by a pseudo-military system.
I much regret the tone which has been taken up by my hon. Friend opposite, because, not only inside this House, but also outside there is real evidence that the present widespread unemployment is welcomed by the capitalistic class. The right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Front Bench are merely the puppets of the Federation of British Industries, who issued a statement the other day in regard to wages and prices, in which they saidThe working classes cannot expect any improvement in their standard of living. There is indeed some risk to fear a reduction of it.In the "Weekly Dispatch" of the 3rd October, Lord Aberconway, who happens to be a captain of industry with an extensive interest in the coal and steel industry and in shipbuilding, saidThis unemployment will tend to reduce labour costs to a very reasonable level.1174 If they state these things openly how much more are they scheming behind the scenes to keep the working classes down, to maintain these great reserves of unemployment, to keep the labour army outside the dock gates and the labour exchanges? What is the good of coming here and passing resolutions as long as you keep going the old system which makes it essential to have a reserve of unemployed labour with all the miseries, privations and poverty which unemployment entails? What are they doing behind the scenes with their Cossacks and their troops whom they are prepared to use at the very first chance against the working classes? The question is this: Is capitalism to gain a fresh lease of life at the expense of multiplied unemployed among the working classes, or are we to build up a new social system which will abolish unemployment? People may not be ready yet for the change; the masses may be prepared to continue to tolerate the present system, if they are so afraid of their own strength; but I tell the House that the working classes have the strength numerically in this country, and it is only a matter of time when they will decide to use it—it will, I hope, be in my generation—still, if they are doubtful of their ability to carry on industry for their own good, and not simply for the good of the small minority of people which contributes nothing towards it, then we shall have to wait a short time. It will not, however, be very long.
Unemployment is the logical development of the present capitalist system, which cannot do better even if its supporters want to. It is absurd to have tinkering schemes brought down to this House by both sides. It can only be patchwork. The capitalist system may be patched here and there in order to keep it propped up, but you cannot deal with unemployment in that way. You cannot deal with it unless you deal with the root causes and abolish the system on which it depends. In the course of this Debate this evening there has not been a single constructive suggestion from anyone in this House. A dole here, an extra insurance grant there, that is all we are offered. What are these doles? If capitalism cannot maintain itself without unemployment, if it cannot prevent itself collapsing without unemployment, then I hope it will collapse very soon, and any 1175 assistance which I can give it in that direction will be given gladly. I thought when this Debate started there might be some more suggestions with regard to unemployment from this side of the House, but with hardly one exception I have been disappointed. I would have thought that Members of this House who are supposed to represent the working-class population would have had some ideas for dealing with unemployment. But when you read the speeches of the prominent Members of that party you can only come to one conclusion, and that is that they are the lackeys of the capitalist class. It is rather an anomaly to hear hon. Members coming down here complaining of unemployment, when you have only to go into the great railway stations or into the country and see their pictures disfiguring the scenery. These people have been used by the capitalistic class to call upon workmen for more production. We know that the resolutions they propose are as nothing in the penance which they are paying for the services they have rendered to that class for some months past. The speeches which representatives of the Labour party are making now show the way in which they approach the question of unemployment. The right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas), speaking the other day at the New Cross Empire, saidLet us make a supreme effort to rind the only safe road to success—confidence in each other.If that is his solution I cannot understand it. What does he mean by "confidence in each other"? Confidence in what? Does it mean the confidence of the working classes in those who are bleeding them of their wealth? Are railwaymen or miners to have confidence in the people who are bleeding them of two-thirds of what they produce—and that roughly is the amount of money which goes in dividends. Speaking later the same right hon. Gentleman said—and I think it will be admitted he is the foremost spokesman of the Labour partyThe problems ahead will only be solved by all parties recognising that there are two sides to the question.They are to recognise that there is an employer's class of parasite—the class which we are out to eliminate—and the party here which is supposed to represent the under dog, the working class, the wealth producers, the people who suffer 1176 from unemployment, from low wages, from war, and from international tumult, tells us we are to recognise their side of the case. Does not that show the futility of hon. Members' suggestions. Which side does the right hon. Gentleman mean? Is it the side of the Secretary for War, with his militarism, his Cossacks and his troops in Whitehall and elsewhere, or is it the side over here which is leading the working classes into the hands of the employers? When I see suggestions concerning Industrial Courts and Whitley Councils I am reminded of the old story of the hon and the lamb, and when I hear people suggesting that the lamb can lie down with the hon without lying inside the lion I am driven to the conclusion that these people are trying to imagine absolute impossibilities.
I have seen in the Press in the last few days great appeals to refer this industrial question to the House of Commons. I must say that when a trade union striking for an economic wage suggests that they should convert their demands into a political issue, they are always met by abuse and criticism from the capitalistic Press. Yet when the crisis was developing in the coal industry the whole capitalistic Press was in favour of transferring the coal question to the House of Commons. We are told that this is the institution best fitted to deal with it. It is a Party machine supposed to be elected by the people. If people think that a Debate in the House of Commons is likely to produce any useful result in regard to unemployment, they are greatly mistaken. How can people believe that the House is a great impartial tribunal, democratically elected and quite able to give a judicial decision on these matters? I want to call attention to the fact that during the whole course of this Debate there have not been present at any time more than 40 or 50 Members. I hope the people of this country will realise that. Here we have a House of 707 Members, or, minus the Sinn Feiners, over 600, and when a question affecting 338,817 people out of work, according to the registers, and many tens of thousands more not registered, when a vital question of this nature affecting the homes of 400,000 people is under Debate, only 40 or 50 Members are found willing to be present!
§ Sir E. HUME-WILLIAMS
I can assure the hon. Member I have been in the House 1177 practically the whole of the Debate and he is quite wrong in the figures he has given. A very much larger number of Members has been present on both sides.
If I had wanted to interrupt the Debate, I would have called a count. I should be inclined to say I had over-estimated the number. People out side must be beginning to lose faith in this institution. They would do so still more if they could see the number of hon. Members present durng the Debates, and the number who are outside this Chamber, while this question of unemployment is being threshed out by Parliament. They imagine that this institution really represents them. It does nothing of the kind. It is not a working-class house, it is a capitalistic talking house, and the working classes are only admitted on sufferance. What happens at a General Election? Do the working classes send people here who will deal with industrial questions and social questions in their interests? Nothing of the kind. And why not? Because the masses of the working classes of this country are in the grip of the capitalist class which gives them dope by means of the capitalistic Press. I do not blame them. It is part of the system under which they are brought up, a system of race meetings, football matches, betting and Royal shows. At an election, instead of voting for less unemployment, instead of voting for a changed system, instead of voting for better houses, the capitalistic Press, paid by hon. Members opposite, paid by the employers, is put up to draw a red herring across the trail, and so, instead of voting for better houses and bettor conditions, instead of voting for a system which will obviate unemployment, they vote for hanging the Kaiser, or making Germany pay, or something of that sort. They do not see all the humbug and the mockery which goes on inside this institution. They do not see how questions are burked, how direct answers are never given, how Debates are often closured, how difficult it is for speeches to be reported, and how speeches which are antagonistic to the employing classes are never reported by the Press; how they are always misconstructed; how they are always cut about, altered, misrepresented, and the parts which are antagonistic to the other side are left out. Let me develop that a little further. There are some people who are misguided 1178 enough to imagine that you can alter the present condition of society in this country through the House of Commons. I think we are agreed that if we are going to eliminate unemployment—and that is what we are really after this evening—we must change the present conditions of society. How is that going to be done? Is it going to be done by the Parliamentary machine? Go into Whitehall; look at the Departments which have to deal with the government of this country. Nearly every Department in Whitehall is a capitalistic Department. Go to the Ministry of Labour; go to the Board of Education; go to all these Departments. They are all Departments which are running this country in the interests of the capitalists against the interests of the workers. Look at the Board of Education. The Board of Education is a Department which teaches people subservience to the old idea of two classes. It teaches the subservience of one class which works to another class which does not work. You find this in the first line of the child's first copybook; you find it in the history books; you find it in all the instruction books. Look at the histories. You find in your history books a long line of kings, queens, princes, and so on. I just give this example because it is an instance of the system under which we are living, and which we have to change root and branch, from the top to the bottom, if we are really going to eliminate these evils, of which unemployment is one of the greatest.
We have had to-night a few feeble attempts to bolster up the capitalist system. The Minister of Labour took great credit to himself for suggesting the idea of the construction of roads by the unemployed. One of the great needs of this country is export trade. You cannot export roads. Roads will not improve the condition of this country so far as national trade is concerned. One of the fundamental causes of this unemployment is the fact that we have broken up the whole of Europe. We have cut up Germany, we have cut up Austria, we have cut up Hungary; we have refused to allow trade to flow normally. What is more important, we have refused to make peace with Russia. People talk hero about unemployment, and they come down here with an idea of a twopenny- 1179 halfpenny dole—some idea of starting a State factory for the manufacture of roads; but these figures will give some idea of the trade with Russia before the War. The imports into the United Kingdom in 1913 were £40,270,539, and the exports to Russia were £27,693,953. Today, allowing for the increase on pre-War prices, we can say that the imports from Russia would amount to £120,811,617 and the exports to Russia from this country to just over £83,000,000. The whole export trade of Russia with the rest of the world amounted in 1913 to over £150,000,000. At present prices, that would mean that the export trade of Russia would be £450,000,000, while her import trade would be £387,000,000. You cannot cut oft a country with imports and exports amounting to £400,000,000 each without plunging the whole of Europe into desolation. It is very largely, if not primarily, due to the refusal of the bond-holders to make peace with Russia. I have said something about the bondholders before—the bond-holders who support the Government. It is really their refusal to make peace with Russia which is one of the prime causes of this unemployment.
There can be no end to unemployment until there is an end to the present system, until we bring down the capitalist system in this country. We have to pull down this old system of society, which allows 85 per cent. of the population to work for the remaining 15 per cent., which allows the great majority of the people to toil and slave, in insecurity and poverty and misery, for the remaining 15 per cent. We have to pull down this old system, and plant a new and better tree in its place. We have to pull down these old, shaky edifices, which have proved in times gone by, and are proving again now, by the increase of unemployment, that they are quite unfitted to deal with the needs of mankind in this country to-day. There is only one solution. Industry as a whole must be run for the good of the multitude of the people—for the common good, and not simply for the selfish interests of a few private individuals. It is no good tinkering with it any longer; it is no good wasting time in debates, resolutions, divisions, and so on. Industry has to be changed fundamentally; it has to be run by the masses in the interest of the masses, and on no other system. Call it 1180 socialism, call it communism, call it whatever you like, that is the only solution for the question of unemployment which we have before us. There is evidence, I thank God, that the people in this country are rising. There is evidence all over Great Britain that the workers are realising that this is the real and the only solution of the difficulties under which they have suffered and are suffering. We are now at the beginning of one of the last phases in the evolution of the human race. As the barons checked the absolutism of the monarch, as in a later phase the bourgeoisie checked the power of the barons, so, now, the working class is rising up to check the power of the bourgeoisie. I hope that, at a not too far distant time, we shall see changes in the industrial and social machinery of this country, when the wealth-producing plants, and all those institutions which produce the means of bettering humanity and of equitably meeting its needs, are controlled by the masses of the people in the interests of the masses of the people, and not for the sake of a few profiteers and self-seeking parasites.
§ Mr. SUGDEN
I regret that in the annals of this House there will be inscribed those phrases which we have just heard from the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. I regret more especially that they should have come from the lips of a soldier. In these anxious days, in these days which are equally as heroic, although, mayhap, apparently prosaic, as the days of the trouble that we have passed through, I regret that an hon. Member of this House should give voice to those sentiments, which mean not only disruption but national death. We are met here to-night, hon. and gallant Gentlemen from all sections of patriotic and decisive thought and mind, to put forward such a system that all sections of the community may rise to the full stature and dignity of manhood by means of labour and by means of such sufficient opportunities as shall be given to each section of the community. It is by the bread-and-butter existence of the community that we now are to consolidate and make sound and pure the great sacred sacrifice that the men of the war days have given, the 800,000 men whose silent tramp, tramp, tramp, we have listened to, and it is in the prosaic days of industry and labour that that sacrifice 1181 is to be consummated and made fruitful. I repeat, therefore, I regret deeply that there will be inscribed in the annals of this House such a speech as we have listened to.
We are gathered together to consider distinctly how and in what fashion we can still further increase and help the right hon. Gentleman who so fully controls the Ministry of Labour. During the last two months, while this House has been in Recess, it has been my privilege to travel in five European countries. I have had opportunities of intermixing with, and ascertaining the considered judgment of, every type of human strata in those countries, and without exception, differing in economic policy though many of these sections of the community may be, I have hoard on every hand expressions of admiration and praise of the splendid fashion in which the Government and the people of this country have settled down to ordinary civilian life once more. 4,700,000 fighting men have been once more settled into peaceable work in such occupations as give an opportunity for the enlargement of character and for patriotism equal to that which our brothers and comrades showed in the war days. On every hand in these European countries have I heard these opinions from men who differ from us in matters of economic policy, which proved its sincerity by their declared intentions to endeavour to copy our methods of dealing with unemployment. The problem we have to face is the exact and proper bearing of the employer and the employed, and also the system whereby the two shall work together in comradeship and camaraderie for the efficient progress of the nation.
In some fashion the Government itself holds some responsibility for certain types of the unemployment which have obtained. The question of taxation has had a dominant bearing on this matter—the question of, shall I say, the lack of expert knowledge in regard to the movements, laws and usages governing finance. I must apologise for repeating a statement I have made before in this House, but it is so important to my mind that I must repeat it—the statement that no body of men, either from the section of the workers some of whose representatives sit on Opposition Benches, nor yet from the highest financial section, none of the existing Government Depart- 1182 ments, correctly forecasted and foretold the financial position and the bearing of finance during the war days or since. That to my mind is something sad to confess, but we must face the fact. The Government, together with other sections of the community, have made mistakes, and I affirm they most certainly made a mistake when they utilised one type of taxation which comes under the heading of the Excess Profits Duty. I speak distinctly for industries which have more cooperation between the workers and the employers than any other industries in the country, namely, the cotton and wool industries. And if the Government had given an opportunity for the great cotton industry and the great woollen industry to face the severe and low price of labour which obtains in other lands, we should have been able not only to absorb more workers, but we should have been able to put into the coffers of the Exchequer those necessary funds which are essential if the proper social development which the Government has in mind is to be carried forward to its full and complete fruition, nor should we have been to the same extent in the very difficult financial and economic position which we now are. I suggest further that the high cost of money and the lack of co-ordination, the general obtaining of loans—local, county, territorial and national—has had a most distinctly adverse effect and bearing upon trade and industry and has led to a certain section of unemployment, which would not have obtained if that type of borrowing had been more efficiently organised, and if the Chancellor had permitted some few of us, not myself perhaps, but those of great experience in the industrial parts of Lancashire, who have more especially a long and expert experience of the delicacy of financial operations, and their bearing on trade, industry and the well-being of the people. They have great knowledge of the finance of these great industrial areas, and could suggest to him means whereby loans en bloc would have been acquired at less cost than they were obtained.
There are other sections which must be considered. I regret that the Minister for Education is not here. It is unfortunate that we have not followed more on the lines of university education in respect to industry, as 1183 they have in the United States of America. There we understand and know, that it is essential for a business man to study, both academically and practically, all the conditions of business organisation and academic considerations in respect to industry and finance. It is not to the best interests of the country that with all the great opportunities which have been presented to this land, and with all the great opportunities which are presented to both classes and masses by the great Fisher Act, we have not yet attained in our method of education to the systems which conjoin together to produce enlargement of character and its application moral, social and vitally also in economic life, for that is really what education means. We have not taken industry and commerce into our calculations and considerations, but simply the immediate necessity of bread and butter getting and not the future in its fullest sense; and I suggest that this Government ought most certainly to consider the question of national finance and the connection of industrial finance and international finance as a vital and bearing consideration in our great seats of learning.
I must also give consideration to the fact that there is a danger of the ca' canny amongst the employers. I am here to speak the facts as they appear to mo to be honourable and true, and I must admit that when one perhaps minor section of the community of industry has taken a different point of view from another, it has sometimes allowed to enter its ranks some unworthy example who has adopted this method of commercial guerilla warfare, and I regret that in the conditions in which we now are, there should be a danger of embitterment between one section of the community and another. I regret that the ca' canny attitude should be considered by some of the employing classes, copied, it must be admitted, from some in the workers' ranks. I am going to pay my tribute to the organised system, which we understand by the trade unions and to the splendid opportunity which it has made for the men and the women labour of the country to associate themselves together in such fashion as shall make bargaining a true and honour- 1184 able method of procedure in regard to commerce.
I regret that we have not gone forward with the system to further co-partnership so that indeed the trade unions might be represented on our boards of directors; but this must be in their pure form to protect and assist labour, and not to misuse their privileges purely for party political purposes alone. The employés must be taken into our confidence and be given every opportunity of commercial, economic, and financial education in respect of the trades which go to make up our great industrial life. Something can and must be said in regard to the illogical and improper considerations which are put before us by some of the unfortunate speeches as the one to which hon. Members have just listened, and I suggest that if we accept the irrational, revolutionary and untried systems and theories which are propagated by certain hon. Gentlemen, we shall make a great mistake from the national point of view. On the other hand, if we endeavour to make it possible for a fuller advance in commercial and industrial life, and in the great citizenship of our Empire by conjoining employer and employed, we shall make for progress much greater than that which obtained in the early Victorian days. It is by bread and butter that we have today to ascend to the full extent and enlargement of national life, and I affirm, I hope without being objectionable, that those hon. Gentlemen who proclaim distinctly irrational and un-thought-out schemes of finance, and the application of finance in industry, would do far better to consider comradeship and co-partnerhip rather than the antagonism which is sometimes propagated by the extreme right and the extreme left of that section of thought which sit on Opposition Benches here.
There is undoubtedly much unrest in connection with labour in this country at the present time, and it is our privilege and our responsibility to support the Government in removing as far as possible the cause of the unrest; but when the right hon. Gentleman from the Front Opposition Bench (Mr. Hodge) tells us that, working or idle, a man must live and must have his place or position, I join issue. I make my bow to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hodge) who made 1185 that assertion in acknowledgment of his great knowledge and his great application in the steel labour life, but carried to its logical conclusion that system means revolution and ruin. The man who labours must have his place and position. The man who works must have his opportunity in life, and must have facilities to obtain work, or if an injured soldier, sailor, or airman, work he can accomplish. But to tell me that, working or idle, he should live as a parasite on the nation is quite wrong, and I will not support such a movement.
§ Mr. SUGDEN
When I ask for a fuller training and for the broadening of economic life in respect of the employing classes, I also advocate that the employes should have the same opportunity, and be put in a position to know the exact bearing of their class and of their part in the industrial structure of the nation. For often great lack of knowledge obtains by members of the Labour party thereon. For example, one hon. Member (Mr. Myers) whom I am pleased to see in his place whilst I reply, quoted figures in support of what he suggested was the extortionate profits gained in the cotton mills of this country. I have in my possession a summary of 35 years profit and Joss taken from the records of Somerset House for the years 1884 to 1918 of these cotton mills. The hon. Gentleman suggested that these profits were calculated upon the share capital alone. I interrupted him, I hope respectfully, and suggested that if he desired to take a perfect and equitable survey of the profits of this industry he must not only take into consideration the capital value, but the capital subscribed to these industries, as well as the loan money raised by the workers employed in the mills and placed in the mills for use by the employers at agreed interest. He must calculate the whole of that capital, both loan money and share capital. If he will do so and will take a mean profit for the 34 years from 1884 to 1918, inclusive of both, but not including the year 1919 (because those 1919 figures are not yet available from Government sources or from industrial sources) he will find that the average profit on the whole of those 34 years come 1186 to not more than 4⅞ per cent. I could detail certain years when losses of an enormous amount were suffered. When the hon. Member criticises the cotton industry and its ramifications, I challenge him to mention one example of any industry in either this country, America or on the Continent of Europe which has a greater co-partnership and a greater amount of employés' money in its industries than we have in the cotton industry.
I do not stand here to suggest that we have reached the height of excellence in regard to our duties to the employed classes. I understand quite well that the employé sometimes wonders which part of his soul is in the machine and which belongs to the machine and which to himself, and I can well understand that he sometimes wonders, with all the Americanisation of industry and the modern conditions of life, with its rush and hurly-burly, whether any function of his own individuality can remain to him. I fully understand that position, but I assert if unemployment is to be eradicated we must be very careful of the methods we employ towards that desirable end. I pay my tribute to the right hon. Gentleman (Dr. Macnamara), and say that he has done more to remedy the evil of unemployment than any of his predecessors. Let us be very careful of the remedies we propound. Different types of labour on the Continent are watching us and trying to copy our methods. When we have such a system advocated as that put forward by the hon. Member a few minutes ago, who spoke of a system based and built upon the Russian Soviet system, I plead with every section of this House to bind themselves together to adopt a more rational system than that, and to go in for greater education, greater psychological, socialogical and physiological education with regard to industry, and so improve it that we may help the right hon. Gentleman the Minister towards a real solution of this great problem.
I support wholeheartedly the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Altrincham (Major Hamilton), and I trust that we shall do all that is possible to deal fairly with each section of labour, more particularly the soldiers, especially the disabled soldiers, and the great rank and file of labour. That great European 1187 usurper, the great Napoleon, sneeringly referred to us as a nation of shopkeepers, but if we can get that camaraderie, that co-partnership, that amalgam of each section and strata of our great industrial life which I have endeavoured to advocate as essential, we shall make our land worthy of its great past, we shall make ourselves worthy of our great forbears, and we shall eliminate the great dread and uncertainty under which men and women in the past have not known whether they would be able to carry their individual responsibilities, their responsibilities in their homes, and their responsibilities to the State.
Mr. TREVELYAN THOMSON
The mover of the Amendment said that the one thing necessary was increased production. With that view the greater part of the House will agree, but I ask the hon. Member to consider what is the one factor more than another which prevents increased production. If he studies the industrial history of the past and of today he will have to admit that it is the fear of unemploment over and above everything else which tends towards the reduction of production. Until you can eliminate from the minds of the workers those fears which are over present, rightly or wrongly, that the more they produce the nearer will come the period of unemployment, you have not solved the question of production. I believe that until a reform something on the lines of the Resolution before the House is carried, we will fail to get that increased production which all sections of the community realise to be essential. I submit that the Amendment also stresses the importance of the Resolution by its very terms. It lays stress on the Unemployment Insurance Act which is to come into force in a few weeks. The very fact that that is paraded before us as a remedy is a reason why we should vote for the Resolution, because we realise that the Insurance Act in itself is a mere palliative which will not touch the fringe of the unemployment question, and the fact that the Insurance Act having been passed will be a block to further reform is another reason why this Resolution should be pressed to a division.
But the Amendment goes further. It hopes that the Government will continue to explore all the various avenues dealing 1188 with this question of unemployment. It is rather late in the day to express that wish. The problem is not new. It is not an aftermath of the War. It has been before the country for years. So far back as 1908 the Poor Law Commission was appointed by the then Government. Both the Majority and the Minority reports found that the fundamental cause underlying all others for the social unrest and distress which were prevalent was the fear and the existence of unemployment. We had Majority and Minority reports in 1909. Though they differ in some matters, both agree that until the question of unemployment is dealt with no solution could come to the body politic. Both reports also agree that the time has gone by when the State could stand aside and merely step in and relieve destitution when things got to a crisis. Both set forth that it is necessary for the State to recognise its responsibility, not by leaving the man to struggle alone, but by helping him by State organisation and remedy to keep his head above water. I submit that because we have not carried out to the full extent that report that this Resolution should be pressed.
Several of the recommendations have been carried out to some extent. They suggest the establishment of efficient labour exchanges. We have labour exchanges, and we hope that notwithstanding the criticism that has been levelled against them owing to the extension of unemployment insurance, bringing in 12,000,000 instead of 4,000,000 workers, they will be made efficient to assist their work, because whatever our criticism was before this new Act was passed it must be realised by all students of social unrest that, having 12,000,000 people to deal with for unemployment insurance benefit, we must have some State machinery whereby that can be efficiently carried out. Then it is suggested by the Commission that there should be insurance of employed. We have a measure of insurance, but what a measure. The Minister opposite took credit that he raised the amount from 7s. 6d., which it was originally, to 15s. If you consider the relative values of money today and then, the insured person is in a worse position to-day than he was when the original Act was passed, and therefore there is no cause for praise for the progress that has been secured. Fifteen shillings to-day is useless. It is an insult 1189 to a man out of work, and we have got to see even now, as we have to have insurance, as there is bound to be unemployment under the best organisation, that the money should be adequate to keep the man efficient.
Two points which the Commission suggested have not yet been dealt with. They suggest that public Department?, municipal and national, should so organise the distribution of public work in the various departments, local and State, so that when employment came there would be a reserve of bona fide work to go on with, that there should be a system of careful organisation so that public work should be held back as far as possible in good times so that when lean years came, as they are bound to come, then there would be genuine work, and whether it was a question of roads or afforestation or whatever it may be, that it should be kept back until the period of unemployment came. That was in 1909 and yet it was only the other day that the Government appointed a Committee to go into the question which should have been carefully thought out so that we should not have to hurry forward now some temporary ad hoc system to avoid the present crisis. The other recommendation of the Poor Law Commission was that labour colonies should be established for training those—we always have a residuum—who are unemployable Nothing has been done. We cannot allow the question to drift on. We cannot satisfy ourselves with temporary expendients for any occasion that may arise, but should have a carefully thought out plan where by the whole question should be dealt with.
I join issue with the last speaker who said that he would not be a party to paying a man whether he was idle or working. Is it altogether unreasonable to suggest that collectively we should recognise our responsibilities in a matter of this sort? To-day we have two chief factors in industry. There are the capital, whether it is, money invested or plant and machinery, and the human factor. Industry as organised to-day makes provision in its various industries that capital should have a reserve fund, whereby interest may be paid on that money in the lean years, as well as in the good years, or that plant and machinery which require repairs, or which should be repaired or are kept idle through lack of employment, should be 1190 kept in a fit state so that when the wheels of industry start it shall be ready to continue, or that if you employ pit ponies or animals they shall be cared for and housed when there is unemployment just as the shareholders' capital and the plant which are lying idle. Surely the other factor, the human factor, is worthy of as much consideration as the shareholders' capital, whether it be in money or plant, that was lying idle, or the horses or pit ponies or whatever they may be. Is it unreasonable to say that the human factor is deserving of the same care and considration, so that when they are not required owing to exigencies over which we have no control they should be kept in an efficient state, so that when the wheels start to revolve again they shall work efficiently?
We have got to have a higher conception of the claim which labour has on industry. We cannot go back to the old pre-War days. Blame for the present condition is thrown by some on the socialistic doctrine preached by the Labour papers working for nationalisation and revolution. But if we are satisfied with industry as it was, with the evils that come from the ebb and flow of trade, if we are prepared to sit down and do nothing more than we are doing when unemployment comes, then by resisting these proposals we shall he urging forward the lime when we shall have a revolution, socialism or republicanism, because we refuse to deal adequately with the evils that exist in the present system of commerce and trade. Personally, I am not a Socialist. I do not believe in the State taking over and controlling everything, but I do believe that if we are to maintain the value of private enterprise we must remove the grosser evils and hardship which come from the present industrial system, and that unless we do that we shall fail in the charge we have laid upon us. Surely we remember, whether we were at home or went overseas, that the first charge on our army in the field was the care of those who fell by the wayside, the wounded, the casualties. The first sign of demoralisation in an army is when it is unable to maintain the care of its casualties. Surely what was good for the army in the time of fighting is equally good for our state and our social conditions at home. The first charge on the body politic should be a care for those who fall by the wayside, 1191 who are the victims of industry through no fault of their own. We should have learnt from the War that the spirit of comradeship which actuated us then is required now to face the social evils before us. Unless we realise the collective responsibility of the community for caring for its unemployed, and unless we are prepared to organise by means of national and local departments so that we may give protection against its evils, then many of the fears that have been expressed to-day are upon us.
The Minister of Labour referred to-day to the opportunities provided in the Insurance Act for developing insurance by means of industries. I believe there is a germ of great things there, but I wish he would give more encouragement to those schemes which are being submitted. I understand that in Clause 18 it is provided that the indvistry itself may eon-tract out of the whole scheme by supporting its own unemployed, and that one of the conditions which is laid down is that these schemes must be self-supporting without the use of labour exchanges. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider that point and arrange that where an industry seeks to contract out by offering to bear its own burden, it shall not be penalised by being excluded from the use of the labour exchanges. The right hon. Gentleman says he wishes to encourage industry to contract out, and yet the House has decided to differentiate in the matter of contribution against the industries which contract out. On this question of contracting out there is great hope, for trade unions should manage their own insurance more efficiently than a State Department. It will certainly mean less cost to the State. Apart from the benefits provided, if it is a burden on an industry to provide its own unemployment fund, it will be in the interests of the employers in that industry so to regulate production that the amount of unemployment is reduced to a minimum. My belief is that by organising an industry and spreading the work over the whole of the year, in a seasonal trade, for instance, and regulating the output, you may reduce the amount of unemployment, and that is infinitely better than doles for the unemployed. It is a sound economic policy to lay on the industry itself 1192 the cost of its unemployed. The charge certainly will come on to the consumer, but, still, that is sound. There is the objection that by particular industries contracting out they may have a lower rate of unemployment than the industries which remain in, and that thereby you destroy the principle of insurance, reduce the pool, and make the burden larger for those who remain in. But if you have a State system of insurance and recognise a collective responsibility for the whole of the burden of insurance, you remove the greater part of that criticism, because it is in the interests of each industry to reduce unemployment as far as possible.
The right hon. Gentleman asked for suggestions with regard to his Department. He came to the town I have the honour to represent and made an appeal for ex-service men. He urged employers to do their best in taking in these ex-service men. I want to make an appeal to him. I ask him to appeal to the post offices throughout the country to do its bit, as employers are doing their bit, to help the ex-service man. I had a letter handed to me to-day from a branch secretary of the Postal Workers' Union in my district. Complaint is made of the difficulties that have to be faced in getting ex-service men into the employ of the Post Office, and of the red tape and machinery which surrounded such efforts. First of all they had to make application through the Labour Exchange. They had to get three references as to the character of each service man applying, and after waiting for weeks they were told that further delay was necessary until the men's Army records had been received from the Army authorities. There you drag in the Labour Exchange, the Army Records Office, and the Post Office before you can get a few ex-service men engaged in the local post office of their town. If the right hon. Gentleman Could cut out some of that red tape, he would be doing something to relieve the present problem.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Dr. Addison)
I intervene for a few minutes only for the purpose of speaking on one topic. I think I am entitled to observe that one cannot but be somewhat disappointed, as one of those whose business it has been to give a great deal of time and thought to the subject, at the barrenness of the suggestions which came from 1193 the right hon. Gentleman who moved this somewhat inimical Resolution. His speech contained some formulas with which we have been familiar for a long time past, formulas which to me have an entirely undiscovered meaning. He said the true solution of the unemployed problem was a national one. That is a fine, high-sounding phrase, but I have not the vaguest idea what it means, and I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman knows. If he does, all I can say is that it is a national misfortune he did not tell us what it means. That is the kind of solution that all right-thinking and public-spirited citizens of every party have been trying to find. If the right hon. Gentleman has some wonderful elixir for this disease it is a pity he did not produce it. The next thing the right hon. Gentleman told us was that work ought to be found by the Government. He did not say what work, and we were not told through what machinery it was to be found or provided, and who was to pay for it. A number of other very important details which are vital to such a problem were entirely absent from his prescriptions. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has for several weeks past been exploring various possibilities of work and how it can be provided and how long the schemes will take to set going, and the amount of labour which they will employ, and so forth. Various proposals have already been made, some of which have been reported to the House. I must confess, as one who has taken an interest for many years in this question, I should have thought that by now the philosophy of a great Party which aims sometime or other at being in a position to govern this country would have got a little further than has been the case and would have produced something.
The topic to which I desire to refer and the one in which I am most particularly concerned is that which relates to the facilities for employment which might be provided in what is generally described as the building trade. To give an idea as to the scope of the opportunity which the building trade provides I can tell the House that last week on the housing schemes in progress in England and Wales there was a shortage of 16,000 skilled men. This industry more than any other industry in the country at the present time presents the phenomenon of 1194 not having labour enough to do the work which is available for it.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I do not wish to weary the House with details now, but if the hon. Gentleman will put down a question I will give them to him.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I was coming to that point. There is not enough labour in the building trade at the present time to meet the demands upon that trade.
§ Dr. ADDISON
Let me refer to employment in the building trade in Birmingham and Sheffield. In Birmingham, in the last quarter of 1919, 4.6 per cent. of the bricklayers were engaged on houses, and 54 per cent. on factory work, and .4 per cent. on churches, cinemas, shops and hotels, and 40 per cent. on alterations and repairs. In Sheffield during the same period 9.8 per cent. of the bricklayers were engaged on housing, 19 per cent. in factories, 5 per cent. on shops, etc., and 64 per cent. on alterations and repairs. It will be observed that the main body of employment was in factories and shops and in repair work, in which there had been, owing to the War, a large accumulation of arrears. There was an enormous number of projects for factory and shop extension, many of which are being carried out. I know also that a great many are not being carried out in consequence of the exceedingly high cost at present. I have said before that I do not consider that sufficient use is being made of the powers of limiting luxury building, but even allowing for that, the bulk of this building is of a kind (hat ought to go on in the 1195 interests of commerce. At the present time 60,000 houses are being built and are in various stages of construction. Tenders have been approved for nearly three times that number, and if labour and materials were available certainly twice the number of houses would be under construction. If you had three or four times the number of houses under construction the shortage would, of course, be greatly augmented. Each additional skilled man on an ordinary brick house provides employment for an additional unskilled man, and under the new methods of construction, which are now being adopted with concrete blocks and so forth on a general average, two skilled men will provide work for three unskilled men. Even if we had last week the wanted skilled labour on existing schemes only, we should have provided work, not only for the 16,000 additional skilled men, but for at least 20,000 unskilled men. That is to say, the labour requirements of the housing schemes even now under operation could absorb at once about 36,000 workmen. There is no industry in the country which shows a possibility like that, and that is, let me say, when we are building about a third of the total number of houses that I should like us to be building, and that we ought to be building, at the present time. How much more, therefore, could we absorb if we were building all that are necessary?
I should like to say a word as to the long, tedious, and disappointing negotiations which have gone on. I am not making an attack on anybody. We have been negotiating for the most part with the Re-settlement Committee of the building trade, which is equally composed of employers and employed representatives, and various matters have been referred to and fro to the organised bodies in the trade. This series of negotiations, if you like to call them such, began in July a year ago, when I addressed communications to those concerned pointing out that I was afraid there would be a shortage of labour for the housing schemes. Then there was a conference with Joint Industrial Council addressed by the Prime Minister in December last year, and in March of this year I discussed matters with the Parliamentary Committee of the Trade Union Congress, as the result of which some trade union 1196 representatives came to my office and made some very practical detailed suggestions. These suggestions, however, unfortunately needed the concurrence of the joint bodies representing the building trade, and they did not get that concurrence to those schemes. Finally, later in the year a Cabinet Committee opened up negotiations with the Re-settlement Committee of the building trade, as the result of which certain proposals were submitted. The Government accepted those proposals, not without saying at the same time that we should feel it open to us if the necessity arose to say that we regarded them as insufficient, and to ask for additions. These proposals, which were the result of long discussions with the Re-settlement Committee, practically amounted to this, that apprentices up to the age of 26, ex-service men, should be admitted under terms of payment set out, and, in return, where a trade adopted this scheme a system of payment for "wet time" should be applied. The position at the moment is that this scheme which has been drawn up by the Resettlement Committee of the building trade has been referred to the several unions for consideration.
The House will see at once that, as far as the scheme itself goes, it all depends on the interpretation which the unions place upon it how many men they will admit. It all hangs on that. What we are out for is really numbers. We want more mm, and therefore everything depends upon how this is applied. To give an idea of what is really required to meet the normal wastage of the trade, I will give a few figures; but let me say first that the drainage of the trade in the last few years has been caused by three main factors. First, there has been the losses in the War; secondly, during the War, whilst the industry was stagnant, a large number of men drifted into other occupations, munition factories, and so on, and in a great many cases the men have not returned. In addition to that, there was practically a stoppage in the entry of apprentices. From these three causes which I have mentioned, you have an enormous fall in the total of the men engaged. I will take the case of masons. In 1911, according to the Census figures, there were 52,000 masons, in 1914 there were 34,000, and in 1920 there are only 19,000. In the case of plasterers, there were 25,000 in 1911, 19,000 in 1197 1914, and only 12,000 in 1920. Of bricklayers, there were 102,000 in 1911, 73,000 in 1914, and 52,000 in 1920 It will be seen, therefore, that the numbers of the men in the building trade, taking it generally, are only about half of what they were in 1911, and even if you take the 1914 figures there is a big shortage. The question is complicated also by the absence of apprentices, and the scheme of the Resettlement Committee was designed to make up for the loss of recruiting and to bring additional men into the trade. I sincerely hope that the unions will promptly adopt it and work it, but, of course, everything depends upon the numbers of men, and if they are prepared to accept a mere handful, it will be no use at all.
I now come to a further and more difficult problem which, as I have said many times and which will be very well recognised, presents a much more serious outlook. That is the problem of unemployment. We are seeking to get sufficient labour into the trade, in what would be subsequently a normal year, to do the work. It is perfectly clear, if the country is to be confronted with a grave mass of unemployment during the coming winter, that you have a much larger question presenting itself, and a standing con[...]ict of circumstances in almost every locality in the country. That is to say, you have housing schemes which are almost everywhere—not all of them—short of labour, and masses of men unemployed, wanting work in the same locality. I am quite sure it is the duty of the Government not to be satisfied with that anomaly. We are bound, if we are called upon as this Resolution calls upon us, to see what public works can be provided so as to mitigate unemployment. Here is the greatest and most magnificent public work which the country is at the present time engaged upon of a constructive kind, and it is wanting labour. Therefore we cannot pass that by.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I would stop with the greatest pleasure the building of every cinema in the country, and then it would not make a difference of 5 per cent.
§ Dr. ADDISON
You have in London 50,000 ex-Service men unemployed. We find that a large percentage of those men have been for four years at the War. It is impossible to contemplate 50,000 men marching about London, or being discontented, able-bodied for the most part and wanting work, whilst nearly all the housing schemes in the Metropolitan area are short of labour. We must bring these two things together, and therefore an additional problem is presented both to the trade unions and to the country. I do not want to say anything, and I am not going to say anything which will stand in the way of a friendly and just arrangement, but I want to state, because I recognise it acutely, what the difficulty is in the case of the unions. Their difficulty is not, to a great extent, with great respect to my hon. Friend who spoke below the Gangway in a very entertaining speech, the fact that somebody is going to get profit out of them. There is something in that, but their main misgiving is unemployment. I do not wonder at the building trades have that misgiving, and the effect is that the fear of unemployment, arising out of past experience, is a potent cause of unemployment at the present time. That is the fear of the trade unions. They know how in 1910–11 they tramped about and could not get a job. Therefore they say, "Here is our chance; we will improve the conditions of our trade, and we will get a guarantee." I say now, and I have said always, I think that is a perfectly fair claim. I think a man ought to have some guarantee that he can work. They say, "We will improve the conditions of our industry, and make hay while the sun shines." That is only human nature. They say, "It is all very well; you bring in a large number of men now. We know there is plenty of work for the next three or four years, but what then? After that we shall have these men on our books, and they may bankrupt our unemployment fund."
That is their case. We see against that, in the first place, the fact that the number of men in the trade has gone down by half since 1911. The demands upon the trade are unprecedented in their magnitude. Therefore you have an unprecedented demand, with half the numbers of men you had 10 years ago to 1199 meet it. So you need have no misgivings about a very substantial increase in the numbers of men in the trade. We go further, and say this: we want to meet in a fair way and by a practical arrangement, if it can be devised, these bona fide misgivings. We do not want to cripple the future of these unions in the least; but you have to recognise this, that you have got the claim of society to get an increased rate of building—the claim of society, their own fellow workers themselves, to get these houses built. You have got the claims of the schemes in operation for labour now, and you have got the claim of men who have served the country in the crisis of its life for work now. You cannot have these things all put aside by the quite natural instinct of a craft to keep itself a closed corporation. There is a limit to which that kind of thing ought to go, even in the interests of the craft. If it is carried to the point of resisting the meeting of the real needs of the community then it is anti-social and it ought to give way.
Therefore, during the last few weeks we have, in connection with unemployment, carefully surveyed a number of housing schemes in specific places with a view to examining to what extent, provided the limitations can be got over or are withdrawn or put aside, they can offer employment to unemployed men, and to ex-service men particularly. If you take a unit of 10,000 houses during the course of the year, the numbers of men to which that would give employment would work out at about from 22,000 to 25,000. We have schemes waiting now which would provide employment—gradually, of course, not all at once—to a vast number of men both in the metropolitan and in other areas and, as I have said, we have examined them with that end in view. We are now-waiting the reply from the unions as to the numbers of men they propose to take in under the scheme of the Resettlement Committee. It will clearly be necessary in respect of unemployment to tell the unions quite frankly that we have these further proposals in view for the relief of unemployment. We are quite prepared, so far as any ultimate contemplated injury to the unions may be concerned, to consider the total numbers introduced as a whole, and we are open to give friendly consideration to any practicable or workable suggestion to get over the real diffi- 1200 culty. For instance, at my suggestion, the Corporation of Liverpool has already examined a proposal and approved it with a view to removing misgivings as to the men now in the trade on their housing jobs. In order to enable them to introduce additional labour, they are prepared to give a guarantee of three years' continuous employment to all the men engaged on their jobs.
This is one suggestion. It may not meet the whole necessities of the case. I do not think it does. I am not out to seek differences. We are anxious to consider friendly and practical suggestions and bona fide misgivings, but clearly the overwhelming necessities of the time must predominate, and, with the acutest desire to be fair, it is clearly impossible to contemplate this position in the Metropolitan area alone, where contracts have been signed and work begun in respect of about 21,000 houses, and practically every scheme is short of labour, whilst we have processions of unemployed ex-service men up and down our streets, a danger to the community, who would be much better working, and who could work in some trade to a great extent on these schemes in the near future. Therefore it is desirable that we should go forward with proposals to give effect to this purpose. I got up to say that if the Mover of this Resolution and his friends who seek to censure us, want to make a contribution of a practical kind to the solution of unemployment in our big cities at this juncture, let them address their minds to this question, and help us to solve it, for I have had no help from organised labour in this matter from start to finish.
Mr. J. JONES
On a point of order. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Re-settlement Committee—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Edwin Cornwall)
It is not in order to put a point of order to anyone but the Chair.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I am talking about the Labour party The point is that this Resolution censuring the Government has 1201 been moved by the Labour party in the House. The Re-settlement Committee have done their best. Those Gentlemen who are responsible for this Resolution have had nothing to do with the resettlement.
§ Dr. ADDISON
And I say that the organised Labour party in this House which has spoken this day has never given me any help.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I say that the most effective and useful contribution, which the Labour party can make—and I do implore them to help us, as I have done before—towards the solution of unemployment, is to try to help us to devise a fair and an efficient means of providing opportunities of work for unemployed ex-service men, particularly on house-building schemes at the present time. There is a great opportunity, and I sincerely hope that, beyond moving this thoroughly barren Resolution, we may get some useful assistance from them.
§ Mr. WIGNALL
I am sure the most surprising statement to which we have listened for some time is that in the con-chiding words of the Minister of Health. He has charged us with not having helped him, and one naturally asks, when, how, and under what conditions he has asked the party he has condemned to assist in any development of any problem? No man knows bettor than he does that they have been dealing with this building problem under special conditions with the employers and with the workmen concerned in the building trade, and if anyone attempted to interfere, however much he might have desired, in the work that was proceeding, the right hon. Gentleman, no doubt, would be one of the first to tell us to wait until we were called for. A meddler who interferes in things in which he has no right to interfere, unless he is invited to co-operate by all the parties concerned, is generally a mischief-maker, and I think it is absolutely unfair for the right hon. Gentleman to have made that attack upon us here, as we are always willing and ready to assist in the development of any problem such as he has described. He knows perfectly well how our powers are 1202 limited, and that we have no right to interfere in things in which we are not called upon to take part. Members of the Labour party on the lie-settlement Committee have done their work and are doing their work. The employers selected by the Building Federation have done, and are doing, their work, and if the right hon. Gentleman has failed in bringing about a settlement of the scheme, which may be right, and is right probably, he has no right to come here and condemn other people who have not touched it, and have never been invited to touch it.
§ Dr. ADDISON
The hon. Member must remember that I was replying to what is in effect a Vote of Censure upon the Government. I was not talking about the Re-settlement Committee, but about the movers of this Resolution.
Mr. J. JONES
But you know the lie-settlement Committee is composed partly of Members of the Labour party.
§ Mr. WIGNALL
I quite agree as to what was in the right hon. Gentleman's mind, and I distinctly say he took advantage of his opportunity to insult Members sitting on these Benches who are not deserving of it. I for one—and I think I am voicing the sentiments of my colleagues here—devoutly and sincerely hope that you will be able to solve this problem, which, I know, is a difficult one. But put the boot on the other foot. I have not beard any great cry for dilutees on board of directors or boards of management of big concerns, or seen much effort to put these men into the higher places of life. The whole thing is to get them somewhere else. However, I hope sincerely you will solve the problem There is undoubtedly a good deal of margin whereby this problem can be solved, and I think, with a little bit of consideration on both sides, a way out of the difficulty will be found. The Ministry of Health is sometimes to blame.
§ Mr. WIGNALL
I am very glad to hear that cheer, for I was called out this evening to meet a deputation from my own constituency in relation to a scheme for building houses and constructing a waterworks which would find employment for at least 300 men. The whole thing is ready to go on, but some final word or 1203 authority from the right hon. Gentleman's Department is necessary, and from the Town Lands. An interview was sought to see whether or not we could remove this little difficulty which has suddenly arisen. I was told in reply that we must wait for some report from somebody or the other, from some surveyor, before the Health Department can see the deputation. Of course, the deputation has gone back home. The job is still hung up, though there is no difficulty about the money or the material, and the contract could have been gone on with months ago, as the people responsible on the spot tell me. So that hon. Members will see there is blame sometimes on the part of other Departments as well as that attaching to the poor victims here sitting on the Labour Benches. I am sorry that our good Friend (Mr. Malone), the ex-Coalition, hang-the-Kaiser—retired from the Liberals, and wishful to be a Labour man—now a Communist!—to whom we listened reciting Socialist tracts that some of us read 30 years ago, is not here. He makes his speech, and then goes off immediately to join the unemployed. It is not quite consistent, to say the least of it.
We have listened to this sort of thing because the Labour party desire to draw the attention of the Government to what is, to our mind, the greatest tragedy of the present day—that is, unemployment. Because we have done this we have to submit to a lot of unkind things being said. It will not break our hearts, not even the concluding words of the Minister of Health. It will at least satisfy us that we have drawn the attention of the Government and the country at large to what we consider is a serious menace to the happiness and prosperity of the country at the present time. When we look upon to-day's conditions of unemployment, one wonders what is the real cause of the great and sudden increase in the number of unemployed with which we are faced. The evil is there. It is increasing rapidly.
For the moment I put aside two things which I do not think really enter into our question. I put aside the question of the unfortunate dispute in the coalfields. Also I put aside for the moment the other disputed question of the discharged soldier. Take industry as it stood a few months ago. I have been surprised to 1204 see some seemingly prosperous concern suddenly slackening down and men or women discharged from the works, and it has not seemed to me that there was any real cause for it. I have been passing it through my mind and wondering why it was so. Somehow or other thoughts come running into one's mind of speeches heard or of threats that have been made, and one tries to link up the two, or tries to see if there is any connection between them. We listened to the Debate on the Finance Bill, and on the Excess Profits Duty. We have heard a bit about it tonight which rather coincides with my thoughts. We all remember very well that there were many threats made that if the Excess Profits Duty were enforced it would ruin industry, close down factories, and create great unemployment. Anyone who prophesies always likes to prove that he is a prophet. When anyone thinks they can see what is going to happen, and says so, they like to be in a position to say: "There you are, I told you so. It has come about as I said it would." I am rather inclined to think—and I have got some proof for it—that there is undoubtedly a desire and an intention, as part of a plan, to reduce manufactures as much as possible, first, to keep up prices, and, secondly, to prove that the Excess Profits Duty is a deterrent factor, a ruinous cause, and has led to the present state of unemployment.
We have to realise that there is that difficulty facing us at this time. We have to realise that if that be the cause of the trouble it ought to be removed. Again, we have heard to-night so very much about the unsettled state of the world, and the failure of the Government to bring about the peace that is desired. We can never have prosperity in this or any other country while wars are still raging: while there is jealousy between nations; while there is manœuvring and scheming for position; while a blockade exists, and while countries refuse to trade with other countries When these various conditions bring about unemployment, it is the toiler, the worker who has to suffer in unemployment and its effects. This does not mean so much to the man or the woman who has a good banking account to tide them over the dark days. Unemployment is only felt in all its reality, and its power, by men and women dependent upon each 1205 week's wages to tide them through the needs of that particular week. Unemployment is with us, and we have to deal with it.
I am not here to attempt to produce any great or wonderful scheme more than the gifted Gentlemen on the Government Benches. If we have failed, surely they ought to attempt to tackle the problem. We have to deal with things as they are to-day, and to try to meet the difficulties that face us to the best of our ability. Where work can be provided it should be proceeded with without any delay. I remember a Committee which investigated the conditions of the non-ferrous mines in this country, and they made a recommendation. It was found that in one district in North Wales there was one of the richest mineral fields in the United Kingdom, and the Government during the War period advanced something like £80,000 or £90,000 to construct a tunnel and to equip some of the mines. The moment the Armistice was signed all the work was stopped, and it has been stopped from that day to this. All that money is lying unremunerative and cannot be recovered; it is of no value to anybody. The Committee to which I have referred recommended that arrangements should be made to take over the powers and proceed with the work. This would have provided work for a few hundred men, and on the completion of the tunnel it would have provided work for thousands of people, and would have produced valuable minerals of which the nation is in need to-day.
Sometimes we are a bit discouraged after giving our time and services to evolve something of value and importance to the country, when it is pigeonholed and we hear no more about it. We have heard a good deal about solving the unemployment question in connection with the new Insurance Act, but that will not solve the problem. That Act will be of some value in trades which are practically steady going, with only odd periods of unemployment. In those cases it will help, but it does not come into operation until the 11th of December. Then you have to pay in six weeks' contribution in order to get one week's pay of 15s., and it is based upon benefits for every six weeks' pay, with a possible 15 weeks in any one year. That 1206 arrangement, however, docs not meet the trouble of unemployment. I am not blaming the Minister of Labour for introducing the Bill, or trying to improve the old conditions, but I am pointing out that it docs not meet the case of the tragedy of unemployment to-day, and it will have to go a long way beyond that to adequately attempt to deal with it.
The suggestion of new roads is a good measure to find employment for a certain class of men, but there are many men who cannot take a shovel and a pick and go to work on the road. How could you put a clerk to work as a navvy? There must be some broader and wider means of meeting the difficulty. I agree with what has been said in regard to each industry carrying the burden of its own unemployed, and I believe there is a growing feeling in that direction. I have mot employers for many years. I can go back as far as 25 or 30 years, and I remember that this proposal was rejected by them with scorn and contempt. I have lately been in conference with people who hitherto have been hostile, and they are now sympathetic in regard to this proposal. Why should they not be compelled to bear some of the burden of unemployment? I remember one memorable sentence uttered by the Prime Minister—he does say things that stick in your memory sometimes, whether they are good or bad—in the Debate on the National Insurance Act. He was speaking about a certain body of employers, and he emphatically said:The industry can stand it.That is the real secret of the whole thing. Industry can stand it, and there is no reason why each and all should not contribute, so that when the black bad days come there will be a fund provided. The employers are quite ready to put aside a fund for such matters of re-construction, rebuilding, extensions, and developments, and the only thing that is neglected seems to be the human element itself. Lord Shaw presided over the Court of Inquiry which dealt with dock labourers, and there is a passage in the Report which reads as follows17. The Court is of opinion that Labour frequently or constantly under-employed is injurious to the interests of the workers, the ports, and the public, and that it is discreditable to society. It undermines all security, and is apt to undermine all self-respect upon the workers' part. It is only 1207 among those who have sunk very far, and whom the system itself may have demoralised, that it can be accepted as a working substitute for steady and assured employment. In one sense it is a convenience to authorities and employers, whose requirements are at the mercy of storms and tides, and unforeseen casualties, to have a reservoir of unemployment which can be readily tapped as the need emerges for a labour supply. If men were merely the spare parts of an industrial machine, this callous reckoning might be appropriate; but society will not tolerate much longer the continuance of the employment of human beings on those lines.These words were not uttered by an agitator, a trade union official, or a man on an orange box at a street corner, or even by a Bolshevist. They are the sane, considered judgment of the Noble Lord and his colleagues, who, after dealing with the condition of affairs presented to them, spoke these marvellous, wonderful and true words. While men are considered merely a part of the machine that can be put aside when not required and picked up again some other time if required, so long will we find discontent growing and a desire for drastic measures. We must treat human beings as human beings.
My last words shall be in regard to the men who fought and bled for us, the discharged soldiers and sailors. I would say with all emphasis that they have the first claim on the nation, and it should be the first care of the Government to see that they never know want. Find them employment by all means, open up to them every avenue you can discover, apply to their case every remedy that is possible, but if and when these fail the nation which they saved should pay for their maintenance, and those who gained the most as a result of their heroic efforts should be compelled to pay the most. While those men and their families live they should be preserved from want, and protected against the wolf at the door. They should never know poverty, and never lack means to keep their homes going. Apart from putting them into other employment or quarrelling with the building trade, apart from condemning the system which now exists, the responsibility of the State is to see that these men are provided for. I hope this will be done. The Government ought to be compelled to do it. These men who are parading with the fear of poverty before them, have a right 1208 to ask, "What have we done to deserve this treatment, seeing that we have saved our country from the enemy?" Sympathy without relief is like mustard without beef. It is no good. This question must be developed apart from the question of unemployment. The two should not be mixed together. They are separate problems, and must be solved as such.
§ Lieut.-Colonel CROFT
I agree with much of what was said by the last speaker. It was most refreshing to hear his utterances after the poisonous doctrines of the Member for East Leyton (Mr. Malone). May I say one word with regard to what fell from the Minister of Health (Dr. Addison) in relation to the building trade. Everyone, I believe, will be pleased that the Government really mean business in seeing that these unemployed men, who are very nearly fed up, shall have a right to enter an industry in which there is more room for them than in any other industry in the country. I should like to give the right hon. Gentleman one fact. It may apply to other constituencies. In my own constituency there is an enormous building population. We have something like 15,000 workers engaged in one way or another in the building trade, and the town is the greatest example of brick building of any town in the country. At the present moment we have the unemployed in numbers never before known in that normally prosperous place. Vast numbers of ex-service men are there unemployed, and the only trade they can go into is the building trade. I am, therefore, grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said, and I hope he will speed up his policy of making it possible, by means of dilution, to provide work for these men.
I wish to say a word, too, with regard to the interesting contribution of the hon Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson) who made a most remarkable speech this afternoon. Very much of what he said was of a noble character. Very much was true, while in his opening remarks he besought us to come down from theoretical talk to practical business. I venture to think there was one flaw in his speech, and that was when he suggested that everyone engaged in business should give up the idea of profit-making and seek to convince the worker he is out to work for 1209 nothing. So long as he is unable to convert the whole world to that doctrine, so long as one cannot change human nature, I am afraid the effect of that policy would be that money would merely leave this country, and float to some other country where it would earn five or ten per cent. Therefore I regret that the hon. Gentleman went to the extreme length he did, although I entirely agree with the general spirit of his speech.
I want to say a few words on the question of unemployment. I do not think that anybody who has listened to this Debate will deny that there is an entirely new spirit abroad with regard to this question—an entirely different spirit from that which existed before. I believe it is the result of the War. We are looking upon the question from an entirely different point of view. Nothing could be more serious than the distrust and suspicion which exist from one end of the country to the other, and which no single party in this country believes to be justified. Where reasonable men get together find hear both sides they condemn this terrible feeling of distrust and uncertainty which is doing so much mischief to British industry. At the very moment when the markets of the world are at our feet we are handing those markets over to other countries, whereas we might be ensuring the future of our children and our children's children by pegging out our claims on the future of our industry. I think I am right in saying that there have been during this last year more strikes—small strikes, it may be—and more unsettlement than ever before in our history: and I say that it is time to look at the whole of this question from an entirely new angle. The most extraordinary thing in the Coal Debate the other day was that every single speech from a leader of labour conveyed to us this doctrine: "We admit that we must either produce more in this country or perish as a first-class power." I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that that was practically the spirit of every speech delivered by loaders on the Labour Benches, and especially miners' leaders. I venture to think that no business man in this country would disagree with that, and the Government agree with it also; in fact, the whole of organised intelligent thought in this country agrees with that proposition—that, if we are to save our position, if we are ever going to get rid 1210 of this terrible conflict between rising prices and rising wages, and avert distress and disaster in the long run, we must, somehow, increase production to an enormous extent. What I want to suggest is that, if that be true, then, even though we have to have a complete revolution of ideas in our industrial thought, surely that problem is not a greater problem than the winning of the War. I think it will also be agreed that there are those—and I associate them in no way with the Labour party, because I know that nothing could be more foreign and detestable to the average leader of labour in this country-there are men in this country, who are not responsible leaders of labour, but who are always preaching to the workers that increased production means unemployment and disaster and distress for their families.
§ Lieut.-Colonel CROFT
I am coming to that in a moment. I do agree that Northampton comes into that problem.
§ Lieut.-Colonel CROFT
Tea is now very-cheap, and those engaged in the tea trade know that on every pound of tea that they sell they are losing money. If that goes on, there will presently be no tea at all, and that will not be a better thing for the electors of Dartford. We want these tea plantations to keep going, but the slump has been so colossal that I think the effect will be that there will be very much less tea on the market. Let us, therefore, eliminate tea, which has nothing to do with unemployment here, and consider the other factors. If only we could all realise it—and here I am not criticising, because it is simply a result of quite natural human instincts—if we could all realise it, low output is really a crime. It is not a crime against the workers themselves; it is not a crime against the masters; it is a crime against humanity. When the world is demanding goods, there seems to me to be something higher, both from the employers' and from the workers' point of view, than any individual profit or wage, and that is the service to humanity in the cheap and good production of those goods. There is, however, this great fear of unemployment, and we have the case of Northampton pointed out. In my opinion, that state of 1211 affairs ought not to exist, namely, that you should suddenly, after asking for every effort from the workers in the boot factories, close down the factories, and that these men, who have been doing splendid work, should suddenly find themselves without employment. [Interruption.] That may be one side of the question. It is because the Government has not organised the consumption of Austria, Hungary, Russia, and all those countries, but it is not as easy as the hon. and gallant Gentleman thinks. If only we could make him dictator of the world he would organise production for the rest of the world, but the truth he would learn when he gets on to that Bench, which I pray may be a long time, is that, unfortunately, he cannot control the production of money in Russia wherewith to pay for the boots of Northampton.
We have heard these instances recently. We have heard not only of the boot trade at Northampton, but we have heard of the building trade. From about 1910 up to the time of the War the building of houses went down by precisely 50 per cent. That was throughout the length and breadth of the country. Since then we have had building absolutely stopped by the War. There is a ten years' building programme to be made up. There are some 50,000 or 60,000 fewer men employed in the building trade, and only about half the bricks are being laid to-day that were being laid before the War. I have taken six different districts, and I think that is a modest estimate. With half your building speed and with half your building workers, how on earth is there any immediate fear that the building trade is going to suffer from increased production? For twenty years, I believe, you will see no decline in the demand for building.
Then we heard also of coal mines exactly the same argument. If greater production is given, if the datum line is accepted, there may be unemployment in the coal mines. This fear is legitimate. It runs throughout the ranks of the country. It is legitimate because it has been proved in the past and it has happened. It may not be an actual danger at present in the coal trade or the building or any other trade, but it is a legitimate fear because it is the experience of the workers. I have 1212 received a great many letters on the subject, and most hon. Members have received a printed document from a committee of friends of mine, who thought, in view of the crisis, their remarks ought to be brought to every hon. Member at the earliest date. Briefly, it is this: If we want this great thing of increased production, and therefore a restoration of normal prices, is it not worth giving something to Labour in return? If you are going to get increased effort, if you are going to get some acceptance of the principle of increased output, why not recognise the fact that we really have to do something drastic and give this principle as a gift to Labour, if you can got in return something like payment by results or some real bonus system working through industry? The view which, I believe, is increasingly being held by men of all parties is that which was expressed by the hon. Member (Mr. Wignall). A working man can no longer be regarded as worse than a pit pony. When a coal strike takes place a pony is brought up and fed and kept in condition. We have had this unfortunate misunderstanding from the parties, and Labour is still treated as something which can be turned aside and for which industry has no more responsibility after it is turned off. We ought to accept the principle that no man who is turned out of work through no fault of his own should suffer. If we accept that, is it impossible to conceive that by a system of increased output and of payment by results the industry could gain far more than it would have to pay in maintaining its workers I I throw out the suggestion whether such a charter for the workers of this country might not at this moment save us from the tragedy with which we are faced in all our great organised industries. How is that to be effected? The right hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace) mentioned councils of masters and workmen. Could not we arrive at a fair standard wage by means of councils between employers and employed in the different industries, and if a fair standard wage, fair hours and fair conditions of labour are agreed upon by the majority of masters and men in each industry, is it not right, if they are a considerable majority, that those terms should be made binding upon all the employers and employed in each individual industry? If you could do that you could secure stabilised conditions.
1213 A few words with regard to strikes. I do not suppose that anybody will deny that strikes, with their effect upon the community, are a terrible danger. At the present time there is likelihood of what is known as the Triple Alliance coming out. If the Triple Alliance comes cut for a fortnight the members of that Alliance cannot conceivedly gain in two years the loss that they will inflict on their fellow men in this country in two weeks. If that be true, and if we could give this great assurance that there would be no more suffering from the pangs of unemployment, and we could bring that about by a joint system under which employers and employed would combine to sustain their men in bad times as well as in good times, could we not take a different view generally of this poisonous weapon of the strike, which only or chiefly hurts the poor? There is a system in another part of the world where if there is a trade difference that difference is referred to a joint council of masters and men. So it might be in this country. If no arrangement can be come to by the council of the industry refer the difference to a council of employers and employed of the whole of the organised industries of the country, and if they cannot come to any decision, submit it to the Industrial Court as final arbitrators on the question. If you get rid of the spectre of unemployment, if you secure increased reward for increased output, would not the trade unions of this country consent to that drastic revolution? What I am suggesting is asking a great deal from the employers. I suggest that a lock-out or a strike ought to be in these circumstances illegal and that a large sum of money should be deposited by both employers and employed to be invested and held in trust by the Industrial Court and if the law is broken by a lock-out or a strike taking place without going through the necessary machinery, the fund should be sequestrated.
A suggestion has been made outside this House to-day by Mr. Williams, of the Transport Workers, that unless the Government settle the strike within 24 hours, they shall call upon the whole of the workers to join issue with the Government. That is an appalling statement for a responsible man to make. It is a directed threat against the institutions of this country which we have won for our people through all these ages, liber- 1214 ties and freedom which are not known in any other land. It seems to me that it is absolutely impossible for the Government to surrender to a threat like that. What I have endeavoured to say is, as an employer of labour, and I hope not an inhuman employer of labour. For over 100 years, fortunately, in the principal business which I direct, my family never had a single industrial dispute of any description with its workers. As I know the needs and aspirations of British labour, I have offered in all humility to put forward something which I believe carries out ideas which have been so ably expressed from these benches to-day to meet the one great fear which prevents increased production, the fear of unemployment, something which will prevent labour being regarded as a commodity, so that we may bring forward a concrete plan which is going to end the distrust between employers and employes, while on the other hand we stand absolutely firm in seeing that the constitution of this country shall be preserved, and make it clear that there shall be no bending by Parliament, and that we cannot tolerate such a system as will say that the great organised unions of this country can bring the whole life of this nation to a standstill. Rut if things are carried so far that the issue must be taken now I hope earnestly, before this trouble goes much further, that the Prime Minister will take up the challenge which involves the greatest blow to the country and would lead to prolonged suffering, and it would be far better for the Prime Minister to go to the nation and ask for their decision, and I believe that he would come back here with the country behind him. Throughout this country men like myself who do not approve of everything which he has done would help, and those of my friends who were about to fight many constituencies would withdraw, so as to defend the liberties of the people against this new direct action which would bring the country to destruction. At the same time I hope that the Government will consider this gift to labour that I have suggested so as to bring about a new spirit, and, if that does not succeed, that they will at least stand firm in this difficult hour.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I regret the tone of my hon. Friend's concluding remarks. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I am going 1215 to say why. While this country is to-day living under the black shadow of what may be an overwhelming catastrophe, I do not think that this House at any rate should be the place for flinging challenges from one side or the other. The issue is far too grave for that, and I hope that in the very trying days which obviously lie before us, especially next week, that note will be as far as possible entirely absent from our deliberations. It is quite fitting that on the threshold of this grave industrial struggle the House should be occupied in discussing the problem which is so related to that sad position. Unemployment which is rampant to-day may be nationally widespread in a very few hours. I could, if I chose, level some accusations against what I think are shortcomings of His Majesty's Government at home and abroad, but I do not propose to do so. I do not think that it is the right time to engage in what, whatever ray intentions, might be regarded as party recrimination. I believe that hon. Members will give me credit, whatever I say, for honest feeling. I would add only this: It is an unmitigated tragedy that while the whole world is wanting goods of every kind which the human hand can produce, on all sides we see unemployment, lack of the use of capital, lack of the use of hand and brain of the workers. The main cause of this is lack of mutual confidence. You cannot get trade going without mutual goodwill and confidence. No appeals to the State to settle the problem can accomplish that. How is mutual confidence to be brought about? I am certain it will not come until all classes of society in this country, employers and employed, brain workers and those who need not exert their faculty to earn a livelihood in the ordinary sense of the term, realise the fact that in these days of trial we have to get back to something approaching the spirit by which alone the War was won. If we go into this approaching struggle in the spirit of mere combatants, I fear that disaster awaits not the one section of the community that is going to be beaten, as they say, but that disaster will overtake the whole community. I hope I shall not be thought impertinent or disrespectful if I suggest that we should be very careful what we say. The incendiary materials which lie ready to hand in every class may burst 1216 into flames at any moment. The duty of this House, as I conceive it, is this: not to be the cockpit of rival cries, but as far as possible to be a responsible forum where great disputes are gravely argued.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Sir Montague Barlow)
It falls to me, in the few moments left, to endeavour to sum up the gist of what has been said in this Debate. Before I do that, may I say how cordially I, and I think the House at large, would wish to be associated with the words that have just fallen from the right hon. Gentleman (Sir D. Maclean). We have had many speeches, and the problem has been considered from a good many angles, some angles acute, some angles less acute, and a few, where I disagreed, seemed to me to verge a little even on the obtuse. But I think it is only true to say that all the speeches I listened to, and I endeavoured to be present during as much of the Debate as possible, had two points in common. First of all every speaker I heard showed real sympathy with the grim problem and plight of those out of employment, and, secondly, every one of those speeches indicated a real determination on all sides (and that is just as true of those of us who have to bear the responsibility on this Bench as it is of speakers from other parts of the House) to do all that is humanly possible towards a solution of this problem. Everyone, I think, recognises its immense seriousness. I can say with all earnestness that the problem is one which is never out of the thoughts of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and myself. I have spent, and gladly spent, time and effort in visiting areas like Bermondsey and Shoreditch in London, where the problem is of great urgency. I have discussed it with those locally responsible; and, further afield, to Bristol, Reading, Liverpool, and even so far north as Dundee, I have gone and endeavoured to do the same. Let no one suppose my right hon. Friend and myself have not used and are not using all our strength and bringing all our sympathy to bear on this tragic state of things.
May I be allowed further, with the indulgence of the House, one personal word. The Member for the Mossley Division of Manchester (Mr. A. Hop- 1217 kinson) made a moving speech, which I feel sure interested the House and on which I congratulate him. He referred to profit-sharing, and to the electric effects produced on his staff by discovering, to use his own expressions, that the boss was prepared to surrender a portion of his profits and transfer it to them. May I say I entirely endorse that. My firm have in a humble way tried as employers precisely the same experiment, and I regard as amongst the green spots of my life the words and letters of appreciation from members of my staff and their recognition of what one of them was kind enough to describe as "The new spirit in industry." I should now like to consider one or two points raised in the course of discussion. Firstly, I refer to the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton (Mr. J. Hodge). May I say, in his presence, that the House remembers the sympathy and energy he showed, as Pension Minister, on behalf of the ex-service men, and everything he said on the problem of unemployment, which is so largely an ex-service man's problem, requires the fullest consideration, First of all, as to the point he raised about the puddlers—it was also mentioned, I think, by the Seconder of the Amendment, who pressed us about it. What are the facts? At Thornhill, the trade—employers and employed—came forward with a proposition that a comparatively small number of persons, not more, I think, than 100, should be trained for eight weeks as puddlers, with assistance from the Government by way of allowance for training. The matter was very carefully considered by all of us at the Ministry. I remember I was at Leeds at the time and I consulted local opinion on the subject. There was clearly a shortage of puddlers, and the proposal was that fit ex-service men were to be trained for the work. After the fullest consideration it was decided, at any rate at that stage, not to proceed with the scheme. Now, why? For two reasons First, the great engineering industry itself had given, without any State assistance in the past, a short training period to its own puddlers employers all over the country were doing it at that very moment. To give this particular assistance for training puddlers: in one particular area clearly might tend to raise awkward questions on the part of employers similarly situated, who did 1218 not get similar help. I even think that I can imagine the kind of question that might have been put from the Benches opposite. Why were the Government putting money into the pockets of these particular employers? Why were the Government relieving them of the cost, or part of the cost, of training their puddlers which usually falls on the employers themselves? That was the first thing. The second was this, that the burden—and I am sure I have here the sympathy and approval of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton—of our training is, first and foremost, and quite rightly, the disabled men. At the time of this discussion three months ago, there were some 20,000 disabled men still requiring training facilities. That number has, I am glad to say, been very substantially reduced, but then it was considerably higher. It was to the disabled men and to the apprentices whose training had been interrupted by the War that we owed the first debt. The Thorn-hill puddlers' proposal was to train able-bodied, not disabled, ex-Service men. That is a far wider problem. So soon as all the disabled men and the interrupted apprentices are well in hand, I hope we may be able to turn our attention to the problem of the training of the able-bodied; but the disabled have the first claim.
Let me take another point. We were accused by various speakers, including, I think, the Mover of the Motion himself, of not having done enough in the direction of settling ex-service men on the land Here, again, what are the facts? I have ascertained from the Board of Agriculture, which is the Department mainly responsible, the following: The number of ex-service men granted small holdings by county councils is 6,390. The number of ex-service men granted settlements on Ministry of Agriculture farms is 689, making a total of 7,079. If you will forgive again a personal reference, I have had the pleasure of visiting one of these agricultural farms at Holbeach, and I know something of the good results there being achieved. The number on the waiting list is it is true over 17,000. It is probable, judging by past experience, that of these a considerable proportion will eventually, from one reason or another, decide not to go on with an agricultural 1219 life; and the county councils have acquired no less than 126,000 acres of land, which is expected to provide for about 9,000 applicants. In view of some of the hard things that were said by some of the speakers, I think the House will agree that an honest attempt has been made to grapple with the problem from the point of view of settlement on the land.
The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Capt. Coote), to whose speech I regret I did not have the pleasure of listening, raised the issue of the insurance of the agricultural labourers, and asked why the agricultural labourers were not included in the Insurance Act which shortly comes into force. The matter was fully considered in the Debates in this House, and though it is true that agriculture is one of the exempted occupations or employments, under Part I. of Schedule I. power is expressly reserved to the Minister to revise the list of exemptions, and to include agricultute or other exempted classes if it is thought desirable. I understand in fact that only this morning the National Agricultural Wages Board met and have been considering this very question of the desirability or otherwise of asking that agriculture should be included. The Debate was adjourned, and no decision has been come to; but I have my right hon. Friend's authority for saying that he will most carefully consider applications by responsible persons for the inclusion of agricultural workers or any other exempted class, if the necessity arise.
May I say one or two words of wider application? The Motion before the House really covers two aspects of the problem of unemployment: first, unemployment under normal conditions of trade, and secondly, unemployment at times of exceptional crises in industry like the present. First of all, as to unemployment when trade is more or less normal, here at any rate the Government have a plan. I have listened carefully to most of the Debate, and I do not think it is unfair to say that no other effective plan has been disclosed. What is the Government plan? It is contained in the Insurance Act, and it is two-fold—benefit under the State Scheme, or under Section 18. I do not think the right hon. Member for Gorton is aware of the provisions of Sec- 1220 tion 18. He asked why arrangements should not be made by the Gevernment for a trade to insure its whole membership. That is exactly what Section 18 provides. We hope great things from that. We hope that great industries like dockers, engineers, and others will make use of this provision, and will shoulder the burden of securing permanent employment, and, if not, the fullest possible permanent provision. It is, of course, important to notice, under Sub-section (2) of Section 18, that benefits secured must not be less advantageous than those provided by the Act. Next, as to the present crisis, the Government have a scheme, and I am asked to say this by the Minister of Transport, that negotiations are proceeding with the local authorities on the most friendly lines and it is hoped that men may be started on work next week, and if hon. Members would desire to meet the Minister of Transport, or the Secretary to the Ministry, that can easily be arranged. The Amendment to the original Motion, in our view, puts the situation, perhaps, somewhat better than the original Motion, and the Government are prepared to accept that Amendment.
§ Mr. THOMAS SHAW
I am afraid that the complication of the disabled soldier has stopped this subject from getting quite the full consideration on international lines that it might have had. Let me say that, so far as the disabled soldier is concerned, I personally consider it a crime that any disabled soldier who has been trained for an occupation should be out of work, and I look upon it, as the duty of every man in the country, without exception, to see that the first man who receives attention should be the disabled soldier. But in order that the disabled soldiers and the rest of the population should have work, it is essential that the balance of the world should be restored, and I want to suggest to the Government that their foreign policy in the East of Europe may be improved, and may lead to a development which will solve very largely the question of unemployment. I am informed that Turkey, through the methods adopted by our diplomats, is literally being parcelled, so far as its richest parts are concerned, between Italian and French capitalists, that there is a commission of four persons —
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ The remaining Government Orders were read and postponed.