§ Mr. CLYNES
I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add the wordsbut regret that, in view of the serious distress consequent upon unemployment and the lack of preparedness on the part of the Government to deal with the situation, there is no mention of legislation recognising the right of the genuine unemployed to work or adequate maintenance.The real privation which is being suffered outside these walls and the menace to the nation due to the condition of unemployment are my justification for submitting this Amendment. The Speech, from the Throne indicates that in previous Sessions, particularly the last one, there was so much legislation that we need attempt in this Session very little. If that be true we are driven to the pitiful conclusion that the more this House has tried to do for the country the worse the position of the country has become, for the Speech itself tells us that the most pressing problem which confronts the country to-day is that of unemployment. How the Government can make itself responsible for such a statement and at the same time declare, as the Speech does, that unemployment is a condition which cannot be cured by legislative means, is beyond my understanding. The gravity of the problem is admitted, the extent of the suffering is known, the statistics expressing that suffering must be staggering to the Ministry which carries the greatest responsibi[...]ity in relation to the problem, and yet we find ourselves 108 faced with the declaration that bad and terrible as all these things are nothing can be done by legislation to make them better, and accordingly we face the problem from a totally different angle and declare that, in face of the situation which the Government itself admits, legislation is required to recognise the right of the genuine unemployed to work or to adequate maintenance. There are few of our internal problems which this House may consider itself capable of settling, but there can be no peace in this country if this problem is not settled, and the first matter to which I want to draw attention is the failure of the Government to make any attempt to fulfil solemn promises made, not merely in election speeches or in political manifestoes in the country, but made in Speeches from the Throne since the Government was last elected to power. In the King's Speech read in this House on 11th February, 1919, we had this statement:Before the War, poverty, unemployment, inadequate housing, and many remediable ills existed in our land, and these ills were aggravated by disunion. We must stop at no sacrifice of interest or prejudice to stamp out unmerited poverty, or to diminish unemployment and mitigate its suffering.I ask, what has been done to keep faith with that solemn pledge, and why now should we be told in face of that public promise of legislative action—for surely some such thing was intended to deal with remediable ills, to remove the privations and suffering of unemployment—that the existing difficulties relating to unemployment are things which cannot be cured by legislative means? That is a most callous concellation of these public pledges, and the country is entitled to something more than the hint in the King's Speech that there is to be some further extension of provisions to deal with unemployment by means of national insurance. The situation is not one which can be dealt with by schemes for national insurance only. We do not forget provision for insurance against privation due to unemployment, but we accept such a proposal as only a second best attempt to deal with the evil and we do not put it forward as a solution. When we ask either for work or maintenance we ask for work first, and if that demand is not met we assert the right of willing workers to adequate maintenance from the State if the State takes no steps to provide them with pro- 109 ductive and remunerative work in exchange for wages wherewith to keep themselves in conditions of comfort. We have had on many occasions from Ministers the most harrowing pictures of the unemployed worker. We have had them, perhaps, more often at election times than at other times. A more pathetic picture of a man suffering from whatever social disorder we may have does not exist than the unemployed worker. I could read to the House, if it had not those pictures in mind, the most graphic and eloquent terms used by the Prime Minister, in regard to that sorrowful picture, the willing servant of the State running to seed, entirely disused, willing to work and yet denied the opportunity of doing so. We had in the months when the Government was seeking a mandate from the people more than two years ago not only these pictures of the workless worker, and all that he was suffering, but we had a public assurance that, given the power and the authority to do it, the Government would proceed to make the country so fit that heroes could live in it and that the problems of unemployment would be solved. I suggest to the Government that they cannot rightly create these great expectations, and win the support and confidence of the people by means of these public pledges, and now, two years afterwards, when the problem is ten times worse than it was two years ago, callously come down to the House and say that it is not a matter on which any good can be done by legislative action.
The Government, we are told, is doing all that it can. What is it doing? If what it is doing is all that can be done is it not time that the Government recognised its absolute inability to deal with what is the nation's most pressing problem, and gave somebody else the opportunity to deal with it. [Laughter.] It is not a laughing matter. The very life of our Parliamentary system, if it is to be maintained, must rest upon outside public confidence. That confidence is being shaken because these promises are made and are never fulfilled. The public is told in one King's Speech, and in several speeches of the Prime Minister, that certain things will be done, and now, in face of a situation which is ten times worse than when these declarations were made, we are calmly told that nothing can be done by 110 Parliamentary means. That is more than a laughing matter for the men who are suffering in the great industrial centres. I see hon. Members who represent great industrial constituencies. Let them go to anyone of these centres and seek to treat this question of unemployment in the terms of this King's Speech, and tell their constituents that nothing can be hoped from any action on the part 6f this House of Commons. Some things have been done, and we expect during the next two days to have the fullest information given to us as to the result of the efforts so far made. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Dr. Macnamara) will conceal nothing from us. We regret that so good a man should have to struggle under such adversity; but we shall not be content with a rehash of the information we received before we adjourned at Christmas. There were three lines of effort that were mentioned to us before the Adjournment. Something was to be done about road repair and reconstruction. Something was to be done by local authorities, and a sum of about £3,000,000 was to be disbursed through the local authorities wherewith to encourage and assist such work as the local authorities might appropriately undertake. Something was to be done to develop further the Government's schemes upon houses. I have not the figures, but I venture to guess that out of the 1,000,000 unemployed workers not 20,000 or 30,000 have been found work by all these means.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I am glad to hear it. The more wrong I am the better pleased I shall be. I am certain that the figure cannot be enormously increased; at any rate, it cannot be increased so appreciably as to materially affect the sum of suffering expressed in the maximum figure representing the unemployed workers of the country. I have not seen evidence of any considerable number of willing workers who have been put on any branch—and of course there are very many and varied branches—of services relating to road construction and repair. The House remains in ignorance, so far as any comprehensive statement has been given to them, of any 111 action by the local authorities. Once more to-day the House was enlightened by allusions to the unwillingness of trade unionists to give way in order that unskilled men can be admitted to the building trades. Before the Adjournment last December I put a question to the right hon. Gentleman which I should like to repeat. What are his grounds for concluding that 50,000 men are ready and willing to agree to enter into the building trades if the building trades meet such demands as I understand have been made. This is not a question which you can settle by mere conjectures. There is no use trying to solve problems like this by a process of guesswork. It will not do to assert that there are 50,000 ex-service men seeking admission through the doors of the building trades and that these remain locked by those who have the keys. We are entitled to some more trustful evidence than has been given to us on these questions.
We press then for either of two things, maintenance or work, preferably work. I mean no no offence in the term which I might employ in referring to the newest party which has come to this House, the anti-waste party. Such a party is little represented within these walls. It would appear to have a large volume of representation outside. A great deal is being said against any kind of waste, and rightly said, but if the House will not agree about anything else I ask it to agree with me in this, that there is no greater waste than to have people workless yet willing to work. What greater waste is there than men left unemployed against their will? There is no wealth we can have but that which comes out of the work of brain or muscle. Yet this House faces this problem, greater to-day than ever it was, with the incompetent confession of inability to do anything by means of legislation. This waste is a ruinous thing for the country. It is a double form of waste. Hon. Members will no doubt back up the Government's further proposals to dig deeper into the country's pocket, to pay men to keep out of work, and they still say they are against waste. They allow a man to remain idle producing nothing, living upon somebody else and making a loss that will entitle him to some weekly support by somebody else's labour. I suggest to the business men of this House 112 that this is not business, that it is the legislative sanction to a double form of waste which in these days we are not in a position to endure.
You cannot go halfway with this problem. You either accept full responsibility or none at all. Either throw workmen back upon their own resources, leave them to get such relief as they can, as was the case in former years, or go forward and accept the responsibility of so organising your State opportunities and facilities as to absorb that margin, however small or large, of workmen who are not absorbed in the ordinary avenues of private employment, and see that men are properly worked and kept. To pay them half wages or quarter wages for doing nothing and to take fright, as the Government clearly now is doing, at finding the difficulty increased because the duration of benefit is exhausted is not statesmanship. Any body of persons taken from any part of the country, even trade unionists, could do that. That is not a proper way for the Government to deal with this problem. It is giving away money which can be well expended by those whose money it is and giving it to those who are compelled to live upon public money because there is no sane re-arrangement for providing them with remunerative and productive work. Maintenance then or work. And I ask the right hon. Gentleman to apply himself to that demand as being from the moral standpoint a reasonable one, and from the material standpoint a thoroughly businesslike demand.
Insurance was considered at great length by this House during several months of last Session. We made in the room upstairs demands which in one or two instances were successful. Committee decisions improving the range of benefit and the amount of benefit were reversed at the request of the Government when those decisions were considered on the floor of the House. I have no doubt that during to-day and to-morrow we shall have the spectacle of the Government admitting that they are driven now to do what they refused to assent to only a few months ago and calling upon the House virtually to revert to decisions which they might well have let stand in view of the decisions of the Committee which dealt in detail with this question last year. I have read among many remedies for dealing with this ques- 113 tion remedies relating to one of the causes of our industrial dislocation, and as the Prime Minister on a former occasion dealt rather airily with this matter, but still did not dismiss it entirely, I will again bring it before the House. In a former King's Speech there was a reference to the matter of, it may be artificially and legislatively, re-establishing or restoring conditions of credit in a manner at least to permit of trade being temporarily conducted until the normal channels of trade begin to flow in the usual way. In a former King's Speech we had this statement:The task of restoring credit and industry in the countries where economic life has been destroyed by five years of war is one of the first conditions of a return to a settled peace.What have the Government done in that direction? Is there any record of any action? Are we to be left to live completely on phrases, on mere printed words in public manifestoes? Has anything been done to help to restore or to re-establish those conditions of credit upon which to a great extent the conduct of trade depends? If not, then I think that we ought to have this statement withdrawn, or if any attempts have been made, let us have some details as to their failure. We shall be better guided in the formation of our views as to a cure if we know what is the cause of the failure.
A considerable number of experienced and public-spirited business men, including several bankers and men versed in the higher regions of finance, have committed themselves to this method as being a practicable and serviceable method of temporarily assisting trade, and as the Prime Minister did not dismiss it when he referred to it during last year, and as it is being discussed to-day by representatives of financial interest, I think that we ought to be told whether the Government consider it possible artificially to assist, if only temporarily, the conduct of trade by these means. I cannot bring my remarks to a close without especially asking the sympathy of the House to the serious suffering of a large number of women workers. What is the changed position of women workers as the result of the War? In former years we thought, even many of us on these Labour Benches thought, of this problem in terms of men workers. The tendencies 114 of recent years, and especially the byproducts and conditions resulting from the War, have made a larger number of women than ever dependent upon their own work. Yesterday there was a letter in the "Times" signed by women of position and influence who have no attachment whatever to the Labour party, which I will quote to the House rather than deal with statistics, showing what now is the position of women:The Board of Trade figures for January show a return of half-a-million women workers either totally unemployed or on systematic half-time, and these numbers, unfortunately, are increasing week by week. Large numbers of these unemployed women have already exhausted, or are about to exhaust, their eight weeks' benefit, and in their effort to live upon 12s. a week it will be easily understood that they have drawn fully on any available resources, even to the extent of pawning their personal possessions.That description covers more than a material question. It has in it moral considerations as well. If it be true, as some hon. Gentlemen have asserted, that there is plenty of work for all, let this House, through the Government, take the simple course which we recommend in our Amendment and cease to give doles where work is provided. Where there be proof that appropriate work is open to any worker, man or woman, competent to perform it our case is give no relief or doles. Work is preferable, because it produces wealth and is better for the worker than a state of idleness. Those who allege that there are shirkers can find an effective instrument to deal with shirkers only in such legislation as we have suggested. Make work, a certainty and make that certainty known, and then you will easily trace your shirkers and locate and identify those who refuse to earn their living in any honest and serviceable manner. Secure as we may be in the confidence of support from a majority in our constituencies, there are great obligations and high moral duties resting upon the shoulders of Members of Parliament. It is the function of this House to deal with conditions as they exist in the country. You cannot run away from problems fast enough; the tendency of these problems is to catch you up, and certainly great harm is being done to many elements of our national character because of this state of ever increasing unemployment. Your Government will tend to break down unless it passes this 115 test of organising its resources and its forces so as to keep the people in serviceable work.
I believe that in the months immediately following the War, when we urged this view as applying to a lesser number of sufferers at that time, the answer, if not in so many words, then in so many signs, was that it would be a great departure from State custom and a serious interference with the rights of private trade for the Government, in any way, to become a competitor with commercial and private enterprise. Then I ask private trade and those who represent it, and I ask capitalists in this House who accept that duty, to fulfil it. If they accept the obligation of providing the work which is demanded, let them meet the needs and requests of the millions who are now unemployed. If they fail in that, they fall short of their duty. It is their function to step in and provide work. They say: "Leave us alone. We must not have State interference. We can do this job better." Well, do it better. If the job be done, our case falls, and we shall be glad to fall with it. We do not want to keep the unemployed problem as a perennial item of conflict between man and man and party and party in this House. I say to employers that in face of their failure to absorb the unemployed and to find them remunerative and productive work they have no case against any sincere Government wishful to step in and organise the workers of the country in employment that will produce wealth instead of allowing them to remain in an idle state at somebody else's expense.
I suggest that these workers have a claim, poor and ragged and hungry as many of them are. It is not long since that they were warriors and heroes, praised as being of so much worth in the country which seems now almost to turn its back upon them. They deserve a better fate. Their service entitles them to better treatment. I would even say that their service entitles them to some fuller share of that margin of plenty which many of our fortunate rich are still able to enjoy. I want to close by asking that during the course of this discussion we may have some information as to what appears to be the complete failure of the Government to prepare and 116 make ready for that which everybody foresaw. The Government cannot say that it has been taken by surprise. Not less than forty pamphlets, I am sure, can be found upon the shelves in Government offices on some score of different aspects of the great work of reconstruction that the Government was to undertake if it were returned to power. You cannot cover over these evils by the pages of these pamphlets. What has been done upon the basis of all that preparation? I and many other Members of this House of all parties served upon Committees and contributed ideas. Everything was to be done to make ready for that which we all foresaw. You cannot therefore turn round and now say that you are astonished that things are so bad as they are, and that you did not expect that they would turn out so bad. All the lessons following all the wars of all the ages should have taught the Government that certain things were certain to happen during this year of 1920–21. If we cannot learn by experience, by what can we learn? There is no greater teacher. I allege that it is not due to inability or to lack of skill or to lack of knowledge in regard to all these unemployment problems that the Government has failed. It is due to a fear of coming into collision with vested interests and with those whose function and whose fortune it has been in this country generally to conduct our staple trades. I am making no proposals to change the whole capitalistic system; I am pressing an urgent demand.
§ Mr. CLYNES
Surely the hon. and gallant Gentleman cannot be so lacking in Parliamentary experience as to require to put that question. I am addressing myself to a Government in power which claimed that, given a mandate it would govern. We want to know what are the Government's proposals to deal with the position. They are responsible for the position; if not for causing it, certainly they are responsible for making no effective attempt to cure it. I am glad that some hon. Gentlemen are beginning to interest themselves in this problem, and I hope that during the course of the two days' Debate the proposals which have been so frequently put forward by the Labour party will receive attention 117 and examination from the House. We do not assert that our proposals are so absolutely finished and perfect that there are no better. We say that if our proposals are not good enough to be tried by the Government let them produce others and put something in their place.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I ask that something should be said in the course of this Debate as to how soon we are to expect effective steps to be taken, I do not say by legislation so much as by administration and Cabinet action, to establish that condition of international trade which we know well is to be the permanent instrument for settling this difficulty. If the Government can do nothing to restore trade relations with Russia and other countries, it might tell us how far it has tried. Much has been said in certain sections of the Press during the past few months about the Russian negotiations. We ought not to be dependent upon the stories of rival newspapers as to what has or what has not been attempted. We may say what we like about existing conditions in Russia, but the one thing I have not yet heard as a criticism against the existing Government in Russia is that they have an unemployment problem there as bad as our own. I have not heard that.
§ Mr. CLYNES
That doctrine of universal work does not appear to receive universal approval. I wish it were adopted in every country. I want to know what right, either by inheritance or by the moral law, either by the law of the land or any other law, any man has to live without working. If it be true—I am not sure of it—that work be the foundation and claim of citizenship in Russia, it is a condition which might well be imitated in every other country. I am in no sense justifying, defending or excusing what I understand to be the method—I will not call it the system—the method of government in Russia. It is asserted to be a class dictatorship. I believe thorp can be no dictatorship unless 118 there is tyranny on the one hand and slavery on the other. I am not expressing approval of any condition of government in Russia, but I allege that however bad and incompetent and wrong people may state that government to be, the Russian people do not seem to be beset with the unemployment problem that we have in this country. During the two days which the Government have wisely given for the discussion of this problem, I trust that we shall get from the Government an outline of proposals that will go far beyond the small allusion in the Speech from the Throne about the extension of unemployment benefit or some Amendment of the Unemployment Insurance Act. The Government have the power to do things. We can only suggest and propose and appeal and criticise. Within two days action could be taken which would go far to deal with these difficulties, and I can assure the Government that if they will take courage and face the problem and use the power they possess to deal with the real grievances of the real unemployed, they [...]ill get from these benches the most ready cooperation that we can give.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I welcome at the very outset of this Session this further opportunity of taking counsel together upon the affliction of unemployment which has cast its dark shadow across the fortunes of our country. The Amendment speaks of the lack of preparedness on the part of the Government to deal with the situation, and the Mover of the Amendment laid great stress upon it, with the support of his colleagues. I challenge that statement at once. It is not a fair charge; it is not a charge in accordance with the facts. We have not drifted along indifferently and carelessly. Quite otherwise. Let me say with great respect that when my right hon. Friend was speaking I could not help thinking that after all it is one thing to announce and declare a party manifesto and it is another thing to work out day by day a practical policy. My right hon. Friend may some day discover that fact. As the House knows, trade depression began to declare itself as far back as the end of August last. Its development down to the middle of December was steady and serious, and from that time onward its volume has grown with rapidly increasing momentum. That is apparent from the figures. I will give the statistics of men and women registered 119 as unemployed at the Employment Exchanges throughout the United Kingdom. By the middle of October the total was 350,000, by the middle of November 473,000, by the middle of December 582,000, by the middle of January 842,000, and on 11th February, the latest figures I have, the total was 1,039,000.
These figures are exclusive of people working on systematic short time, estimated now at about 600,000. The totals do not include dependents. Over and above them there is a margin, possibly a large margin, of persons unemployed but not registered. I profoundly regret to say that in the 1,039,000 men and women registered with us as unemployed on 11th February, there are 368,000 ex-service men. To their case I will refer later. That is about three times as many ex-service men unemployed as at the close of last August. They have suffered, of course, in common with the industrial community as a result of the heavy weather into which we have been running in the last five or six months. This volume of unemployment, like many dislocations and hardships and burdens which press upon so many of the people, is, of course, the direct and immediate result of the awful smash-up of 1914–18. I need only remind the House of the utter collapse of the foreign exchanges in many of those countries, which used to be our best customers, as a reason why the loom and the lathe are idle. Of course, the state of affairs here finds its counterpart in many other parts of the world. I observe that in America, according to the newspapers, there were in January estimated to be 2,000,000 persons unemployed.
As to this country it is true that there have been times in the past before the War when the volume of unemployment has been greater than it is to-day, but I have said here before and I repeat now that unemployment to-day is sharply differentiated from unemployment before the War. The cost of living to-day renders unemployment manifestly a much more poignant and grim problem than it was in pre-War days. There is a further fact. Half the men unemployed, and in many cases much more nearly two-thirds, are young and active men facing unemployment in this particularly harsh form for the first time in their lives, because they were too young to be in the industrial 120 world on the outbreak of war. Not only are they facing it for the first time, but they are facing it with the cheers of their grateful fellow-countrymen for their services in the field ringing in their ears. Any analogy based on volume is entirely dangerous because the problem is quite different. I am conscious of the fact, and always have been, that in regard to my duty as Minister of Labour the criticism may be made that I am confining my energies to the task of endeavouring to alleviate the hardships and mitigate the sorrows arising from unemployment. That is quite true. It is vitally necessary that we should do all that is humanly possible in that direction. But there is another duty, and to this my right hon. Friend alluded. It is a duty of a more far-reaching character, the duty of doing what we can to re-establish British industry and thus bring permanent happiness and prosperity to busy hands in mill and factory and workshop. If that has not been my special commission as Minister of Labour do not let my right hon. Friend suppose that it has been neglected. The House will realise that the President of the Board of Trade could unfold a story of tireless effort to do all that is humanly possible in that vital direction.
In August last, while the barometer was still high and the going firm and the sky blue overhead, the Cabinet appointed a Committee to consider the question of unemployment and to devise plans which would be in readiness if and when the need arose, as I then ventured to foretell it would arise. The Cabinet and this Committee have been giving unremitting consideration to the problem from that date to the present time. We shall continue to apply our strength and energy to it to the full limit of our resources, in the interests of the poor people who are to-day under the shadow of a great darkness. As far as I am concerned I have lived with it for the last five or six months. I am very glad to have the opportunity of doing what I can to mitigate the hardships of unemployment, as I am sure everyone in the House would be. Our policy has been as far as possible to see that the relief work put in hand is of a useful and productive character. To that end we have sought the personal and financial co-operation of the publicly-elected municipal authorities throughout the country. I desire to express at once 121 my great gratitude to the majority of the municipal councils for the way they have come to our assistance and co-operated with us, many of them very heavily, embarrassed, as they are, with their own local problems.
The Ministry of Transport and the local authorities between them have put in hand schemes of road making and road repairing, and about £10,500,000, half raised by the Road Board and the other half by way of loans in the locality, is involved in these operations. There is growing need for providing stronger highways for mechanical traction, and for improving generally the road system of the country. One of the primary objects of the Petrol Tax has thus been met. At the same time, and especially by the anticipation of four years' programme of the Ministry of Transport in respect of these roads, a considerable amount of employment is being provided. On new arterial road making and road repairing, involving, as I say, £10,500,000 for the schemes now in hand, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport tells me that as compared with pre-War figures there are now an additional 35,000 men employed on road work, who would not have been employed but for the special measures which have been taken to bring forward and hasten and expedite the work in hand. Of these, 15,000 are on the new arterial roads, and the others, as many again probably, are men upon repair work over and above the men who would ordinarily be upon that work, and the figures for new roads and road repair are increasing. These are quite apart from the large number of men engaged on repair work continuously, but I am here trying to show what we have sought to do to find work in the present period of unemployment distress. That is that.
Now the Minister of Health has brought forward schemes for the layout of sites and sewers for approved housing operations involving another £5,000,000. I will give the precise number of men employed, as correctly as I can get it, as a result, in a moment. As my right hon Friend opposite has told the House, in the next place a Central Committee has been appointed, with Lord St. Davids as chairman, and £3,000,000 further has been placed at its disposal, in order to assist local authorities to carry out useful work other than that which is implemented by the schemes to which I have already referred.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
If my hon. Friend will put a question down I will answer that. That Committee has made grants-in-aid of gas and water, sewers and sewage disposal work, of cemeteries, parks, and recreation grounds, of roads, electricity, painting, tramways, and land reclamation—those are the categories under which grants are made—and various other miscellaneous operations. In the next place, we have done what we could to find alternative work, now that there is no longer output of munitions of war, for Government establishments and factories, and we have done that successfully, as I will in a moment show. Further, we have instituted a system of short time in Government factories and establishments.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
Let me take that short time question. Here is a man, we will say, who is working for 47 hours a week, and we suggest to him, by way of rendering assistance to his fellows, that if he comes down to 40 hours, instead of receiving 75s. a week he will be receiving 60s. No one wishes that if it can be avoided, but what is the consequence? Four men doing that, losing 15s. a week, can find a job for a man who is to-day outside at nothing or at 15s. or 20s. a week, and I am glad to say they have done it. I regret my hon. Friend resents a system which is manifestly designed for the purpose of preventing further discharges and which enables us to bring back men now standing hopelessly waiting outside the employment exchanges, each of which has a handful of vacancies and a battalion of applicants.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I cannot answer that question. If my hon. Friend will put questions to the Departments concerned they will tell him precisely what they have done. The Office of Works, with Treasury approval, has put in hand a certain amount of decorating and repair work in Government Departments with a view to absorbing painters and similar workpeople unemployed. I think it is due to the House, and particularly after the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Miles Platting, to state what it all comes to. It is more than he thinks from what he said in moving the Amend- 123 ment. As regards the new arterial roads, there is work of a productive character found for roughly 15,000 men. As regards the repair work, there at any rate, according to the Ministry of Transport, is work for at least another 15,000. The expediting of the laying out of sites and sewers by the Ministry of Health, I am informed, is employing at this time 3,478. The schemes that Lord St. Davids' Committee are assisting are employing 8,317 men. The alternative work, wagon repairing, medal stamping, and other kinds of work in the Royal dockyards and Admiralty and War Office establishments is providing work for 7,923 men. The short time which finds such an opponent in my hon. Friend is finding work for an additional 6,076 men in Government establishments and factories.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
We have taken on much more than 600. At any rate, here are 6,000 men who would otherwise be now unemployed who are now getting partial work. The Office of Works Emergency work to which I have referred is finding work at this moment for 2,600, and the local authorities themselves have put in hand work beyond that in which we co-operate with them, and that is employing, as far as I can ascertain, 9,696 men. In all, therefore—do not let me put it too high—here is work, not for the 20,000 of my right hon. Friend opposite, or the possible 30,000, but for 70,000, and I am sure he will be glad to have the facts stated correctly. So much for the endeavour to find work, work of a useful and productive character, but in addition to that, and still in the direction of endeavouring to mitigate hardship, the House will remember that we amended the Unemployment Insurance Act last December in such a way as to make it more easily possible for very many of the people who came into insurance for the first time—the 8,000,000 who were added to the 4,000,000 already in insurance—to make it more easily possible for them if unemployed to receive the benefits of the Act. We substituted for the four weeks' qualifying period a much less onerous qualification, with the result that between the close of the year and the 31st 124 March £1,000,000 more will be paid and is being paid out in benefit than would otherwise have been paid out. The House will also remember that we granted a further extension of the out-of-work donation to ex-Service men unemployed, as between the 8th November last and the 31st March next, involving a further expenditure of £5,000,000, making in all since the Armistice £40,000,000 on ex-Service men, in addition to £22,000,000 out-of-work donation for civilians during the first year after the Armistice.
There is one great avenue for the employment of ex-service men, the door to which we have long been desirous of opening, and that is the building trade. My right hon. Friend the Member for Miles Platting says to me, "How do you know these unemployed ex-service men want to become builders?" I know this, that there are 300,000 of them outside the Employment Exchanges unemployed, and the great bulk of them unskilled labourers, and all I can say to that position to those who ask that question is, You give them a chance. Here let me come to a point raised by my hon. Friend, who put a supplementary question to me to-day.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
During the War, as the House knows, building operations were necessarily at a standstill. We are in consequence confronted with a grave shortage of housing accommodation, a shortage inflicting acute hardships upon the working classes themselves, and the position is accentuated by this fact, that there are far less men in the skilled crafts of the building operations to-day than there were pre-War. That again is quite understandable. There was nothing doing for over four years. Many of the younger men went off to join the Colours, and all honour to them, and the older men went off to other occupations, and a great many have not come back. Discussions and negotiations have been going on with the representatives of the builders' operatives since June, 1919, with the hope of finding a way that would commend itself to the building trade operatives. Our final proposals were made, as the House will remember, on the 18th December. Shortly put, we stated that the Government were prepared, in return for the admission and training of 50,000 ex- 125 service men—those men that my right hon. Friend is in doubt about as to whether they would like to take this job on; they would like to take this job or any other job on, let me tell him—in return for the admission and training of 50,000 ex-service men in the skilled crafts of housing and building we offered to make a training grant to the Unions concerned of £5 a head, and further to apply the principle of a guaranteed rate of pay on housing operations for time lost through inclement weather. The representatives of the builders' operatives sent me their reply on 3rd February, and on behalf of the societies affiliated to the National Federation of Building Trade Operatives they stated that by an almost unanimous vote it had been decided to reject the Government proposals. I desire to make a comment or two upon one of the arguments put forward on behalf of the building trade operatives in justification of their rejection of the Government proposals, and this brings me to the point raised by my hon. Friend at Question time to-day. They say to us:Reliable and trustworthy evidence has been obtained by various sections of the industry that labour in all its branches is capable of meeting the demands of the market at the present time; in fact, at the present time there are, in round figures, 50,000 buliding trades operatives unemployed.That is my right hon. Friend's 50,000. I do not recognise the figure of 50,000, but I do recognise the figure of 64,222 members of the building trades unemployed on 3rd February. Precisely half of these 64,000 were labourers, and of the remaining 32,000 odd, 25,514 were painters—members of a seasonal trade—3,524 were carpenters, and 1,808 were plumbers. Of bricklayers, there was the remarkably small number of 238 registered as unemployed over the whole country, a number due to the completion at the moment, no doubt, of various jobs in certain localities, due also to some extent to the immobility of those men themselves as the result of this housing problem, brought about by the lack of the very housing accommodation with which we are here faced. But while there were 238 bricklayers registered as unemployed—and here is a very remarkable fact—there were at that date, 3rd February, no fewer than 5,576 vacancies for bricklayers registered at our employment exchanges.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
Yes. Here is a very much more remarkable fact. Everybody knows how grave unemployment is to-day—my right hon. Friend opposite was rightly eloquent about it—throughout the whole field of industrialism. There are, however, two trades and two trades only where, on 3rd February, the number of men registered as unemployed was nothing like as much as the number of vacancies. Consider the state of unemployment. Consider trade by trade, and the handful of vacancies offered to the applicants, and remember that, throughout the whole field, there are but two classes where there are more vacancies advertised with us than there are men registered with us as unemployed. Those two are bricklayers and plasterers. That fact speaks for itself. On 3rd February our registers showed 466 bricklayers and plasterers registered as unemployed. Our registers showed 6,350 vacancies for bricklayers and plasterers. I should like to know whether there is any other craft represented by my hon. Friends opposite which would not wish to be in that happy position. Of the several hundred there is no craft in that position. I contend that the key to the situation here is the extension of building operations—bricklaying, plastering and tiling. Given that, and then your labourers—half of your 64,000—your plumbers, carpenters, painters, glaziers, to say nothing of the furnishing trades, would have a substantially enhanced opportunity of employment. I have ventured to make this comment on the phrase contained in the letter of the bricklaying operatives to u[...] that "Labour in all its branches if capable of meeting the demands of the market at the present time."
I desire to make another comment. Roughly, on the housing schemes promoted with local authorities by the Ministry of Health in England and Wales, contracts have already been signed involving the erection of round about 147,000 dwelling-houses. Now actual building operations have only commenced on about half that field of operation, and even on that half there is at the present time a shortage of 11,300 skilled men. That is in respect of the 147,000 dwelling-houses for the erection of which contracts have been signed. On the other half there are no building 127 operations at all at the present time. There are several reasons for that, but undoubtedly the main and outstanding reason is the shortage of labour. This being so, what is the good of saying, "Labour in all its branches is capable of meeting the demands of the market at the present time"? I must say—I do not want to use harsh words—it is a piece of classic hardihood for the building trades operatives to adjure us, as they did in their letter of 3rd February, with the following:We hope that the Government will push forward and fulfil its promised housing programme, not only to absorb the unemployed there will be, but in the interest of the nation's health.Surely the right way to ensure this, and at the same time give a helping hand to the ex-service man, is to agree to the admission of ex-service men into the essential trades, and if my friends of the building trades operatives really mean to translate their sentiments and aspirations into action, they will come over and help us to give these men an opportunity. They say they will not, and I desire to say, on behalf of the Government, that it is our intention to do all that is humanly possible to carry out our pledges to these ex-service men—[HON. MEMBERS: "How?"]—and I hope it will meet with complete acceptance from my hon. Friends opposite.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Can the right hon. Gentleman give the House any idea when he will be able to let his proposals be known?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
We are now in consultation, and have been on several occasions last week, and I trust shall continue them in the endeavour to meet this undertaking. But I confess I cannot go beyond that at this moment. I say again, here are the men, to whom we are under a most profound obligation, and it is our duty to do everything in our power, with co-operation, if we can get it, of course, to carry out this undertaking. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"]
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
In the Gracious Speech from the Throne a Bill is promised extending the provision which is 128 made for the unemployed under the Unemployment Insurance Act. My right hon. Friend referred to the fact that this is a matter of very great gravity. The Out-of-Work Donation for ex-service men will have run out in a very short time now. So also will the eight weeks' benefit for civilians, men and women, under the Unemployment Insurance Act, drawn, as regards a very great many of them, as the result of the Amendment made in the Act last December. That is the immediate position which has got to be met, and of course the sooner we get this Bill, the sooner it will be met. I will generally state—and I think it is due to the House—what our proposals are, and what we shall endeavour to do in this Bill, and, as I say, the sooner it is got the better. We propose to extend the period of benefit at present allowed, and also to increase the weekly rate of benefit payable under the Act. There is in the Unemployment Fund an accumulated balance of more than £20,000,000. That was built up, to a very large extent, indeed, on account of the low rate of unemployment during the War, and the relief afforded since the War by the payment of Out-of-Work Donation. Ever since the Armistice the unemployed ex-service men have been paid Out-of-Work Donation, and to that extent the Fund has been relieved. In these circumstances, the Government feel that it is reasonable to use part of these accumulated surpluses for meeting the grave situation with which we are faced, under strict actuarial advice.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
These surpluses, together with the contributions at the present rates, would not be sufficient to see us through the emergency period, should the rate of unemployment throughout the period continue abnormal. It will, therefore, be necessary to make some increase in the weekly contributions from employers, employed, and the State, partly in order to meet the increased rates of benefit, and partly to cover the possibility of abnormal unemployment. I therefore propose to introduce a Bill to secure generally these ends: As from the passing of the Amending Bill, the rates of benefit payable out of the Unemployment Insurance Fund will be raised to men, 18s., as against 15s.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
For women the rate will be raised to 15s., and for boys and girls, half those amounts respectively, namely, boys 9s. and girls 7s. 6d. The increased benefits will be payable from the passing of the proposed Bill, but the contributions will not be increased until after 3rd July next, the beginning of a new insurance year, when we shall require to raise them from 4d. from the employer, 4d. the employed person and 2d. the State, to 11d. from employers and employed together, which will carry a grant of 2¾d. instead of 2d. from the Exchequer, making the total 1s. 1½d. as against 10d. at the present time.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
There is no reason why my hon. Friend should not have a special scheme. Perhaps I can assist him in his excellent desire to give more than this provides. The benefit will be payable for 26 weeks in each insurance year, as against 15, as at present, and there will be two special periods up to June, 1922, for payment of benefit, if required, of 16 weeks in the period from the passing of the Bill to the end of October, 1921, and a further period of 16 weeks in the period from the end of October, 1921, to the end of June, 1922. The qualification for the extra benefit, which will be provided in the period up to the end of June, 1922, will be proof of employment in not less than 20 weeks since the beginning of January, 1920. I do not think that is a very onerous qualification, remembering that employment was good clown to, we will say, the end of August.
Ex-service men who are now receiving 20s. will continue to receive 20s., but they will be brought into this Act under the conditions I have just set forth, the Exchequer finding in their case the 2s. which will be chargeable to make the 18s. up to 20s. Now the qualifying period of employment since 1stJanuary, 1920, 130 in their case will not be 20 weeks, but 10 weeks. There are many of them, unfortunately, who have never been able to get a job before, and we really think, apart from their service altogether, which we can never fully requite, we are justified in substituting in their case a ten weeks' qualifying period since 1st January, 1920. The case of disabled ex-service men, which stands by itself, will be met by giving power to a local employment committee to grant to a man the benefit, even though he cannot put in a ten weeks' qualification. We think it is only fair that that discretion should be allowed to them in favour of disabled ex-service men. The rights of ex-service men, who have not exhausted their original policies where the rate is higher—29s. for the first six months—will remain unimpaired. We shall then at the end of the emergency period dealt with under this scheme which I have outlined, go into the whole question, and review it in light of the state of unemployment at that time and the financial position of the fund. I think it my duty, even in this imperfect way, to outline what will be found in the Bill, which I hope will be proceeded with as early as possible, because the sooner it is passed the sooner will this provision be made, and I ask the House with complete confidence to reject the Amendment moved by my right hon. Friend.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MILLS
I desire to bring to the attention of the House the statement made by the Ministry of Labour to the effect that the Government have been prepared, and that they made every preparation to meet the abnormal cases that have occurred. I want to deal with the specific case that has been brought to my notice by the Unemployment Committee in the Division I represent. During the closing days of the last Session, when it was first suggested the Government workshops should be put upon short time, I myself put a question to the Government as to how far that equality of sacrifice would operate. The answer I received was that it was under consideration. From that day until now the proposals that have gone forward for the relief of unemployment in the Dartford Division, which can be parallelled in every other Division, reveal an interference and holding up by officials in some quarter or other of proposals that would at least ameliorate the 131 condition of those unemployed. Take, for instance, this question of the Road Board Grant. Before the War the Road Board had decided to open up a new road from Erith to the main road to Canterbury. That road was essential for the development of an industrial community, and yet from December until to-day we have the Ministry of Labour holding up all these unemployed men and all this work because we cannot get any satisfaction with regard to the rates of pay to be paid. There are some gentlemen well represented in this House who subscribe to the idea that any form of road work, being work that is taking up a lean time, should be of a relief character, and therefore relief rates of pay should be paid. To that the members of this party strongly object, as do every body of wage-earners throughout the country. As a matter of fact, the rates that were offered for men to do road work within five miles of the Metropolitan area was 1s. 2d. per hour. The minimum rates for that class of work laid down by the Government themselves in their own joint industrial councils with local authorities stipulate a wage of 1s. 10d. per hour, and I submit that, under those circumstances, the Ministry of Labour might well have come to a decision. Instead of that, the Unemployment Committee and the Local Council attended at the Ministry of Labour, and this is the reply they have received:I am instructed by the Minister this morning to inform you that the question of rates of wages is being considered by His Majesty's Government, and until a definite decision is arrived at the Minister will be unable to offer any assistance to the deputation. In view of this, however, if the Members still wish to interview the Ministries mentioned, this can be arranged on Monday next at 3 p.m. at Queen Anne's Chambers, Westminster, S.W., and I am requested to advise the Ministry early on Monday morning if the interview is still desired. Will you be good enough to let me know at the earliest possible moment?Apparently, if Ministers are engaged on work of a constructive character, they are unable to act without the authority of the Cabinet, but Ministers in charge of destructive forces can proceed on their own initiative to equip the Army in red, white, blue, and green, and they are greatly scandalised if the House of Commons wants to call a halt. With regard to the question of short time, perhaps it is as well that we should state 132 our case very fully. Having regard to the fact that £345,000,000 this year, next year, and the year after next are going to be paid as interest on moneys borrowed for the purposes of the War, it is good enough for the Labour Movement of this country to rejoin that if you desire to alleviate unemployment you should not do so at the expense of those who are getting wages which, after all, are no advance on the spending value of pre-War wages. If one is to judge by the fulminations of certain of the great captains of industry in this country, the sole cause of unemployment and the consequent bad state of the country's finance is high wages. As a matter of fact, I challenge this Government or any section of those who are responsible for the working of the capitalist machine in this country, to point to a single group of workers whose remuneration can be said to be in advance of the ordinary requirements of life, unless they are working under piece conditions and distressingly hard conditions. It can be stated that it is due entirely to the short-sightedness and the inefficiency of the Government in power during the War that we are where we are to-day. At an early stage of the War, the hon. Member for Leicester as he was then (Mr. Ramsey McDonald), who will shortly be back on these Benches, warned the Government of what might happen if this insane policy was persisted in of not checking the rising trend in prices and meeting it with corresponding awards in wages. Consequently we might have a condition of affairs where wages might be £40 a week and still through the manipulation of those who are always in front of the workers the spending value would be no more than that of the pre-War wage. We on these Benches who disclaim any responsibility for the present state of affairs challenge the Government or anybody who champions the existing order of society to prove that the high wages, so called, are other than the merely essential requirements of a man and his family, and therefore we protest in the strongest possible terms against the suggestion that those who are in work should be put for a period on short time in order to alleviate the unemployed problem. I read articles in various newspapers jeering and sneering at the amount of work done by the men who have been out of employ- 133 ment. They appear to be scandalised that these men are not working with all the zest of a Cornish navvy on a midsummer day. I want to put it to the House that you cannot expect men who have got the chance of a week's work after sixteen weeks' idleness to be giving forth an amount of muscular energy equal to a person who has been kept in average comfort and with an ordinary sufficiency of food, and because of that we reiterate this claim although we know it will be dismissed by this House.
The Labour movement of this country is not responsible, as the Leader of the Labour party has rightly said. It is your system; it is your Government; you are the people who ought to be providing the work, because you are the people who say that it is only by private enterprise it can work. Then obviously the responsibility is on your shoulders, and upon your shoulders is the responsibility for seeing that these men are kept in comparative comfort. The question is not going to be met by these insistent demands by the engineering employers, the colliery employers, the steel trade employers, and all the other kinds of employers in Great Britain that wages must come down before there can be any relief in the present situation. The remedy can be found in increasing the purchasing power of those countries who wish to do business with us. You cannot do that until you wipe out of existence some of the economic conditions in the Treaty of Peace that have landed the Continent of Europe in the position it is to-day. In the division I represent we have got a works turning out drugs, chemicals, and all kinds of surgical appliances. Half of its staff are on short time, a large number are discharged; and yet in Poland and in Serbia, especially in Serbia, the country that in ratio to its population sacrificed more in the cause of the Allies than any other country, they are literally without surgical appliances and are fighting typhus and epidemics of every kind without the elementary appliances for combating these diseases. What is true of hospital requirements is true of all other requirements. There are bootmakers in Great Britain, there are engineers in Great Britain, there are miners in Great Britain, there are people of every other industry in Great Britain, willing and hoping for the chance to get to work, and there are vacant and yawn- 134 ing markets in Eastern Europe; but between these two bodies of people—the millions of people desiring the commodities and those desiring the chance to produce them—there stands the spectre of international finance. I submit that had the Government during the War paid heed to the timely warnings which came from these Benches to check the rising prices this country would have been left in a better position than we are in to-day.
With regard to Woolwich Arsenal, I was one of a deputation that attended at the Prime Minister's in the days following the War. Answering that deputation the Prime Minister said it would be a national calamity if the splendid and up-to-date workshops of Woolwich Arsenal were not kept employed at their full capacity; but what is the position to-day? Because of the demands of private interest, because of the insistent opposition of members of Parliament, presumably representing the electors of that division, but actually speaking on behalf of the wagon trusts of this country, those proceedings were stopped, and the whole question of alternative work was scotched, although the Prime Minister said that it was inconceivable that these workshops should not be utilised to their fullest capacity. He-said further that it was inconceivable, having regard to the experience of the five years of war, that the railways of this country should ever again be handed back to private enterprise. He stated that the Government were considering a network of railways, heavy and light, to link up the whole of the agricultural areas of this country, in order that those men who returned, having defended the land and been put on the land, should recreate the agricultural life of our community. What is the agricultural life of our community? It is one of the most damning indictments that could ever be brought against the Government. I will not presume to go into the cause, I dare say there are agricultural members with more knowledge than myself on that particular question.
But this at least the merest tyro can see; the number of applicants in every county for access to the land and the determined opposition by some means or other to them getting it proves that there is an area of employment which any Government amenable to absorbing the many, many thousands of men would 135 avail themselves of. Because the position of thousands of ex-service men to-day is just this: We have watched them at work. I have discussed the matter with the superintendents of the various departments in Woolwich Arsenal, and they have come to this conclusion, as I have come to it as we have watched these men; that there are many, many thousands of ex-service men who ought not to be called upon to engage in the turmoil of competing for a job with able-bodied men who have never been subjected to the strain to which they have been subjected. These men, though not visibly showing the signs of disability or actual marks of physical wounds, are bearing the results of years of nervous strain, gassing, and so on. These are the men who ought to be given access to the land. If they can get that access to the land, and if we could build up a rural population even equivalent to the rural population of fifty years ago, you would have [...]one your partial duty to the ex-service man, and I submit would have been helping to solve the unemployment problem.
§ Mr. G. BARNES
I rise to offer a few observations more or less of an impartial character as between the two Front Benches. To prove my impartiality I shall offer a faithful word to each of them. First of all, with regard to the Government. I am quite disposed to believe that a good deal of the fulminations on the other side are true. I say that because of my own experience. Fifteen months ago the Government came under certain obligations by the terms of the Treaty of Peace signed by the Government. Among them was the obligation, as I thought until yesterday, and as I think they themselves thought until—I do not know how long ago—the obligation to submit conventions carried by a two-thirds majority at the Labour Conferences to the competent authority of the country. I have been badgering Ministers, and I have lobbied them. I have written letters to them. I have put questions on the Floor to them, and up to this very day nothing has been done by the two Ministers concerned—I refer to the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Health—to give effect to the obligations I have mentioned. For that reason I think it is perfectly true that some of the things said from the 136 other side may be correct. On the other hand, I am sorry to say that I have listened very carefully to the two speeches made, one from the Front Bench and the other from the Back Benches, and with all due respect to the right hon. Gentleman who spoke first (Mr. Clynes) and the hon. Member who has just sat down (Mr. Mills), I think that they have failed to offer any practical suggestion for relief to get over the present difficulty or as to the causes of the present unemployment. More distressing, to my mind, neither of them have given the slightest indication that they will induce Labour itself to take its part in getting the country back to normal conditions.
Let mo take the question before us and the Amendment. First of all, let me say that I had every sympathy with, and I welcome the words of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Clynes) as to the seriousness of the trouble. There, I think, we can all find common cause. Everybody in this House deplores the fact that there are a body of over a million men and women who cannot get work. It is. I agree, beside the question for the right hon. Gentleman to say anything as to their willingness or otherwise, for if everyone was willing they could not get work, because there is none to get. Everyone in this House on both sides regrets that exceedingly, and regrets it not only because it lessens the wealth of the people, as has been pointed out by the Minister of Labour, but it lessens the available wealth of the country. But that is not the worst of it. The worst of unemployment is that it leads to the moral and physical deterioration of the out-of-work men. I have seen it in my own experience as a trade union official. I have seen men walking about seeking work and unable to find it, and after a time ceasing to look for it, and becoming a burden to themselves, their families, and the community. Therefore, I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Miles Platting, when he said that he deplored the fact of unemployment. I am sure we all deplore it.
Let us come to the methods by which we can get relief. As I listened very patiently to the right hon. Gentleman as to what his methods of relief were, I gathered they were two. He had a good deal to say, of course, about the Government using all their forces and resources 137 to build up a different system of society. That gets us nowhere. I mean to say that everybody might agree that this or some future Government might use all its resources and forces at their control to build up a different system of society. That, however, would not bring twopence to the unemployed man to-day. I, therefore, pass that by. So far as I could gather, the right hon. Gentleman put forward two and only two proposals. The first was that we should get into trading relations with the various Eastern countries, and specially with Russia. He proceeded to amplify and enlarge upon Russia. He did not show, as I could have wished he had done, how trading with Russia would benefit the unemployed now. He had a good deal to say about Russia in having no unemployed army. I do not know whether that is so or not, but that is not the point of the discussion now. Although the right hon. Gentleman did not say so, he knows, as I know, that the first point in the programme put forward by the Labour party is that Russia is one of the main causes of the present unemployment, and that a resumption of trade with Russia is one of the means for lessening unemployment. I am glad, in a sense, my right hon. Friend did not put forward arguments in favour of the Labour party's programme, because he must know that there is nothing to be got out of Russia.
§ Mr. BARNES
; I know, and everybody else knows, that Russia is absolutely disorganised. Russia has got nothing to give you. If Russia had anything to give you at all it would be food, and it would be given to the detriment of Russia. Although we know there is plenty of food in Southern Russia we also all know that there is no transport system to get it here.
§ Mr. BARNES
Pre-revolutionary or otherwise, it did not matter a bit. I am trying to apply my mind to the circumstances under which we are living 138 to-day. I know there are 1,100,000 men and women out of work. I want in the first place to see how we can get relief for them and work for them. In the second place I want to find out, if I can, what are the causes of these million men and women being out of work with a view to removing those causes and thereby increasing the number of employed. As to whether or not the transport system of Russia has broken down since the War or before it, or since the revolution or before it, that has absolutely no bearing upon the question at all.
§ Mr. BARNES
It has been put forward by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Clynes)—and I speak of him with all kindness I am sure—that resumption of trade with Russia would be one thing by which we could lessen unemployment in this country. That is, I think, relevant to the point under discussion. Although I note that the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate had very little to say about it, it is in the minds of many of those who follow him outside—and, therefore, it is germane to the discussion—to see how that will affect the unemployment problem. I put it to the House that the resumption of trade with Russia, be it good or ill, will not affect the problem to any appreciable extent.
§ Mr. CLYNES
May I point out that I merely mentioned it incidentally as being part of the general world or international problem in demand for information as to what the Government have done to establish trading relations with these countries. Representatives from Russia have been here several times and met the Prime Minister and the heads of the Government. Surely if Russian trade is nothing at all to us as a contribution to solve the question of unemployment these meetings would not have been held!
§ Mr. BARNES
The right hon. Gentleman has brought up the question of the draft agreement. Perhaps I may say a word or two upon that, for it further emphasises my argument as to the hopelessness of looking to Russia for any relief out of our present trouble. Let me take the point about the draft agreement. The right hon. Gentleman knows per- 139 fectly well what the draft agreement is, and what it involves on the one side, that is to say, against Russia—if you like. It involves against her that she shall have no privileged position in this country as compared with other countries. What does that in turn involve? It involves, if you happen to be trading with Russia, that there is gold, I suppose, and that is the only thing you can get out of Russia.
§ Mr. BARNES
The probability is that if you sent goods to Russia a law case would be raised, and that the gold would be attachable for some former debt of Russia.
§ Mr. BARNES
I ask any hon. Member present as a matter of common sense: is any trade possible under those conditions?
§ Mr. BARNES
No, it is not going on now. It is going on outside where parties are taking their own risk. The Government has nothing whatever to do with it. And the hon. and gallant Gentleman can do that if he likes. You can send your goods there if you like to chance getting payment for them. Whatever value there may be in that position you have it now. That is not the point. The point is, can you get anything further out of Russia? I am submitting, even under this draft agreement, you could not because here is a draft agreement which involves gold being sent here, and it may be attachable. I submit to the House that no trade is possible under those conditions. I further submit that no Government, not even a Labour Government, could give a privileged position to Russia to alter that.
Take now the other side as against us. The draft agreement provides that the Russians, before any agreement can be made with us and implemented, shall give up propaganda. As everybody knows, the Russians cannot afford to do anything of the kind. Their very life, their continued life, so long as they live, must depend upon propaganda in other countries, apart from their own. They admit that. They have followed that practice 140 ever since the beginning. Therefore I would appeal to my right hon. Friend and others to dismiss Russia from their minds, and honestly, frankly, and pluckily to say to their followers: "There is nothing in Russia so far as trade is concerned." That is what I say about Russia. Two points, as I say, were raised by the right hon. Gentleman. The second was "work or adequate maintenance." Personally, I should like to have a little more explicitly what is meant by "adequate maintenance." I will give my view in a moment. But I met a workman the other day, and we discussed this matter of adequate maintenance by the Labour party, and he asked me what it was. I told him that, so far as I understood, it was £2 per week for men and 35s. per week for women. He replied, "I think that is a bit high, but who is going to pay it?" I said that I thought the people who are in work will have to pay. Then he asked if increased cost of production would not lessen the number of people in work, and I said I thought that it would. This is a very difficult question and whether you adopt the idea of a tax upon wealth or a tax upon capital everybody admits that some part of it must fall upon industry. This workman friend of mine had never read a book in his life, and he had never even heard of Carl Marx, and yet I think he had got the hang of the position. It seems to me that what we have to do is to get on a right line of frank and honest advice to the workers. You must not lessen the incentive to work and while relieving distress you must try to add to rather than diminish the demand for labour.
Personally I believe in the Insurance Act. I welcome the statement which has been made in regard to the Amendment of the Insurance Act, because I always thought that the amount of 12s. and 15s. might be with great advantage increased. Therefore I welcome the announcement that the amount is going to be increased to 18s. for a man and 15s. for a woman. No doubt that lays some risk on industry in so far as the amount is taken from the Exchequer, but I think everybody will be willing to take that risk from the point of view of humanity. I believe in the Insurance Act being the basis. Nobody professes that what is paid under the Insurance Act is maintenance, and it 141 is dishonest to talk about maintenance in connection with the Insurance Act. It is simply the basis on which something else is going to be built consistent with maintenance of trade unionism. I ask my right hon. Friend to remember that directly you get full maintenance from the State trade unionism goes by the board. You will never get full maintenance unless you grant the right to the State to tell labour to come and go and work just where the State pleases. When you demand full maintenance, do not forget that it involves that, and that is quite inconsistent with trade unionism or any form of voluntary association with the State. I do not want a great democratic machine to tell labour what it has to do and where it has to go, but that is what is involved when you ask full maintenance from the State, and I never did ask for it, and I never will.
I believe in the Insurance Act and I believe in its benefits being supplemented by trade unions, so that they will have a right to be associated with public bodies and have a right to determine under what conditions the benefit shall be paid. That is the proper idea consistent with trade unionism, without which trade unionism cannot possibly exist. I appeal to my right hon. Friend to put that view more forcefully than he has yet done before working people. But now we must not forget that there are people who are not in trade unions, and their case is very sad. You cannot differentiate between them as far as the State is concerned. I suppose there is nothing for it in regard to relief but to supplement what the State, does by public and voluntary funds. That is being done in Glasgow where the Lord Provost has opened a fund, and he is getting together large sums from the citizens towards it. But it is not doles we want. We wish to get men and women at work in order to increase the wealth of the community, and they will then feel as self-respecting men and women, that they are earning their own living.
I think the Government might do a little more in that direction. A good deal might be done in the way of financing or inducing the banks to finance employers of labour who would then be able to keep on their workers if they could be assisted over their temporary difficulties. Let me give an illustration. I am interested in 142 a scheme which was started when I was at the Ministry of Pensions for employing disabled soldiers, men who had lost their legs, and who were trained to do diamond polishing and setting, and the scheme was very successful. We undertook no obligation except of a moral character, and it was a very great venture from the point of view of supporting a new industry which might have a great effect just now in balancing the exchanges, because diamonds might be exported in very little bulk, and 95 per cent of them are exported to America, India and the East. At the present time there is great difficulty in carrying on that industry because there is no market, and the Government might assist by subsidising this industry or getting the banks to do it. There are many other employers who would be glad to keep on adding to their stock, but they want some assistance in order to get them over bad times.
I think the scheme, at the head of which is Lord St. Davids, might be amplified. I was talking the other day to his lordship and I was rather surprised to compare what he said had taken place with what I have just heard from the Front Bench. I think the scheme might be made much more generous and elastic. At present you give 60 per cent, of the amount spent in wages. It may happen that the material costs as much as the wages, but if it does, then the local authority does not get 60 per cent., but 30 per cent., and that is a very serious bar to local authorities undertaking work of this kind. Why should not the scheme be made more elastic? Why cannot you give authority to Lord St. Davids, for example, to give poorer distircts 80 per cent, or 90 per cent, of the wages paid instead of 60 per cent., so that you would really be helping those districts where the unemployed are most numerous.
The unemployed are not to be found in the wealthy districts. In the South West district where I live there are not so many working people, but if you go to South West Ham or the East End of London, there you find crowds of working people. Therefore I say the scheme might be made more elastic, and Lord St. Davids ought to have power to grant more to the poorer districts than to the richer ones. I now come to the causes of unemployment. What are they? I put on one side all the talk about a better 143 world and better organisation, and the statement of my right hon. Friend opposite that the Government should organise the forces and resources of the country so as to give all workers a full maintenance allowance. A better world will come just when we have developed a social sense, and made the best use of the productive resources at our disposal.
§ Mr. BARNES
I am going to give practical arguments. I have had a good many years' experience of this "vale of tears." I have heard a good deal of talk about the present system, and it always makes me despair to hear that sort of talk in a country that has given a vote to pretty well every man and woman in it. I think it is time we got beyond all that. I am no defender of the present system. I believe the wage system is wrong because it does not enlist the willing and efficient service of the worker, but all that is nothing to do with the Government, and it is a system that has grown up over many years. I say, and I say it with extreme regret, that you will get no better world until you have made a better use of the world you live in. Taking things as they are there seems to be three causes for the present unemployment. The first is that the world has been disrupted by the. War. Before the War goods were exchanged between country and country more or less efficiently by means of gold and credit, but that time has gone. The world has been rent in twain. I agree with what my right hon. Friend has said that what is needed are ways and means by which these poorer countries who used to be our customers should be placed once, more in a position to buy from us. I exclude Russia because she has now started on a career of her own. She says, "I have got something to do." I should say one of the main things necessary in a large sense is to get the world going, and to aid in that the Government should actively lend its support to the agencies now afoot to give credits to poor countries so that, as speedily as possible, they may again start to buy goods.
The second cause of the present paralysis of industry is, I would suggest, the lack of confidence due to industrial disputes and conflicts within the past two or three years. I wonder if it is as fully appreciated as it should be that during 144 the last 12 months, 27,000,000 days have been lost by strikes—27,000,000 days, at a time when the world is starving for goods, and when every man should be doing his best to get the world on its legs again. In that year 27,000,000 days have been lost through industrial disputes. The industrial paralysis is due not only to these disputes, but also to a fear on the part of everybody concerned in industrial enterprise that if one dispute is settled to-day another may begin to-morrow. I was talking to a man in the East End of London the other day, and he was showing me his empty stocks. He was not looking for new worlds to conquer but he was in search of ships to be repaired on those stocks, ships which he declared were in fact being sent to Rotterdam for repair while some had actually gone to Hamburg where Germans are being employed to repair vessels that might be repaired in this country, if there was anything in the nature of industrial confidence. Therefore I say the second cause of unemployment is the lack of confidence and a con sequent paralysis of industry through this fear on the part of those now responsible for running it. There may come a time when somebody else will be responsible, but now we have capitalists and employers of labour responsible for initiating enterprise, and they will not do it unless there is some feeling of confidence that they will be rewarded by profit to themselves.
I am going to say a word or two on the other side. Some of these strikes may have been justified, indeed many of them have been, and therefore I plead now, as I always have pleaded, for publicity and for knowledge on both sides of the conditions that obtain. It is much the same in the industrial world as in the world of larger affairs, most of the trouble arises from mistrust. Governments have made treaties behind the backs of other Governments, and sometime behind the backs of their own people, and that has caused mistrust which has led to war. It is the same thing in the industrial world. Unfortunately, however, there the position is one-sided. The employer always knows what are the wages of the men. The men seldom know what are the profits of the employer. Therefore I say that some of these disputes may have been justified in the circumstances. You will never be free from strikes and from the consequent dislocation of trade until such time as you have 145 employers willing to put their cards on the table and to negotiate with the workmen in the full light of all the facts. Having said that, I want to say a word or two on some of the strikes that have taken place recently in regard to which that does not apply. Take the case of the moulders' strike.
§ Mr. DAVISON (Smethwick)
Before the right hon Gentleman proceeds further will he permit me to say that that is exactly what the moulders asked for. They asked the employers in this country for an inquiry, and it was refused to them. The strike took place as a consequence.
§ Mr. BARNES
If the moulders made that demand they should have had it satisfied. My point is that the moulders were only a section; they were morally bound by the acceptance by a larger body to which they belonged of certain terms. They struck work, not against the employers so much as against their fellow workmen.
§ Mr. DAVISON
I cannot allow that to pass, because it is not correct. The moulders first of all gave notice to the Employers' Federation—three weeks' notice—to withdraw from the agreement that they had made, and it was accepted by the Employers' Federation. There was, therefore, no agreement standing in the way.
§ Mr. BARNES
Well, I do not know all the details, so I will drop that, and will take the case of the bricklayers.
§ Mr. BARNES
I will try to present them accurately in this case. The right hon. Gentleman told the House just now that two or three hundred bricklayers were registered as out of work. But it is well known by hon. Members opposite that there are none really out of work and that the figures quoted simply indicate those men who may be passing from one job to another. Then we were told there were 6,000 applicants for bricklayers. It is very well known that the number of bricklayers wanted is not merely 6,000 but 60,000. Men do not apply for bricklayers because they know they cannot obtain them. I was at Reading last week. I saw a great building in pro- 146 cess of being put up and there were only five bricklayers employed upon it. I asked the contractor why he did not put more men on the job, and I pointed out that it would take at least three years to complete the work at the present rate. He replied that he had got all the men he could get and it was useless applying for more because they were not obtainable. There are no bricklayers available although, as is well known, there is work for hundreds of thousands of them if only they could be found. It is not right. I deplore the fact that there has been so little fellow feeling on the part of the bricklayers for the men who went to the War and fought on their behalf. It would have been a small thing for the bricklayers to have welcomed these men into their trade. It could have been done without interfering with the rightful and legitimate interests of bricklayers. When I was at the Pensions Ministry arrangements were made with the trade unions concerned to take in ex-soldiers, to pay them a certain wage for a given time, and then, when they reached efficiency, it was agreed that they should have the full standard rate. Everything in fact was done to safeguard the interests of the men in the industry and to ensure that there should be no under-payment; yet nothing whatever has been done by the bricklayers to welcome these men as they deserve to be welcomed.
It is not only the number of bricklayers and plasterers that is involved. It is well known that many men could be put into other work if more bricklayers were taken on. What is the cause of unemployment? It is really due to the fact that we are not producing things in their right proportion. That is all. Of course, it may be said there are more goods in the country than can be bought by the South-East of Europe. But you can apply my argument in a small way. Suppose you have 50,000 men from the Army employed in the building trade; that is only the beginning of what you would do. These 50,000 men would give employment to labourers, carpenters, and others in the building trade, possibly another 50,000. But that is only a second step. The men taken on, instead of receiving doles from the Government, would be earning £3 or £4 a week, and their purchasing power would be proportionately advanced, with the result that they in their turn would 147 give employment to hundreds of thousands of other men in other trades. That is to say, by setting up a condition of things under which you increase the number of houses, you increase the number of men employed in building the houses, and you increase the demand for goods of every character. Thereby you lessen the number of unemployed. That is perfectly clear to my mind. I can only express my regret that my hon. Friends opposite have not thought fit to put these arguments more forcibly to their own constituents, with a view to inducing them to drop their present policy. Let them remember that they are now on equal terms with other sections of the community, and if they take their proper part as citizens, rather than as members of a class, they will be doing something to end the present strain of unemployment and to build up a better system than the one we are living under to-day. I am glad to have had an opportunity of offering these few observations. I shall not vote for the Amendment. I can see nothing in it. But I hope the Government will not be content with simply doing what they are doing, but will go a good deal further, and make special appeals to districts to lessen the number of unemployed by all the means in their power.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. W. R. SMITH
I rise to offer a few observations in support of the Amendment moved by the right hon. Member for Miles Platting (Mr. Clynes). It seems to me that the reply of the Minister contained much more in the way of emphasis than in the way of information. I notice that he did not repeat the challenge which has come from various quarters of the House as to what our proposals are in regard to matters of this description. Notwithstanding all the criticisms that have been submitted by the last speaker, I venture to say that Labour has a position in this matter which will stand the test of that criticism or any other. The right hon. Gentleman stated that there was some difference between the issuing of a pamphlet and the carrying out of proposals in a practical form. I think he will be prepared to admit that at the moment most of the opportunity that comes to us is in the direction of issuing pamphlets and putting forward sets of proposals, and that we have had no such chance of applying 148 them in a practical fashion as the Government have had during their term of office. Our complaint against the Government is that they have not made the most of their opportunities. The Minister of Labour said that the crisis, or at any rate the problem of unemployment in its present acute form, began about August last, and he seemed to infer that the Government at once set to work in order to deal with the problem. Our complaint is that that was not the time to begin to deal with this question. We on these benches submitted what we believed to be practical proposals as early as March, 1919, and it is interesting to note that the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last had nothing to say about the Bill introduced by us in regard to the prevention of unemployment, or, in other words, the, right to work. He himself was interested in that question a few years ago, and yet he had nothing to say about our efforts in connection with it. In March, 1919, we submitted a Bill which had for its object the prevention of unemployment, on similar lines to a Bill which he himself introduced some years ago, when he was associated with this party. It is to be regretted that a man in his position should think fit to offer criticism of this party, and should not be prepared at least to give it the credit for its efforts to establish Acts of Parliament—efforts with which he has been associated in the past, and which we have made on two occasions during the life of this present Parliament. Our complaint is that the Government has waited too long before starting to deal wit-h this problem, and the delay is the more regrettable because, in our judgment, the policy of the Government in other directions has been such as to lead inevitably to an intensification of the problem of unemployment.
The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Barnes) was kind enough to inform us that we were following a will of the wisp in regard to our views and ideas upon Russia, and he spoke in a way that would lead one to believe that he had some very definite information as to the impossibility of our ever receiving any goods from Russia if any trading arrangement were arrived at. He places us in rather a difficult position when he puts forward arguments of that description, because no less an authority than the Prime Minister has told us a rather different story. I 149 remember that on one occasion he graphically described to the House how the bins of Russia were bulging with grain, and I am not certain that it was not at the same time that he emphasised the fact that other goods were there, and that, if only we could establish something in the nature of trade relationship, a trade would result amounting, possibly, to some £60,000,000 per annum. The right hon. Gentleman further said that all this kind of thing is of no assistance to us now, but I do not know that we ever put forward the suggestion that, assuming that some arrangement could be effected with Russia, we should at once see fruits arising from it. Surely, in dealing with a question of this sort, we are not expected to confine our attention solely to the question of meeting an abnormal amount of distress from the standpoint of relief. Surely it is necessary and desirable that there should be some constructive proposal with the object of bringing nearer the time when this unemployment problem in its present intensified form shall come to an end. That is the standpoint from which we approach this question as regards the position of Russia; and I am reminded that in the Gracious Speech from the Throne the hope is expressed that a trade agreement with Russia will be arrived at. How are we to understand the position of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorbals? Is he in possession of some information of a quite different character from that which the Government possesses? He talks in decisive terms, and with an air of great knowledge, upon this question, and the whole of his observations on it are at variance with those of the Government. If we fail to follow him in that direction, it will be because, much as we dislike the present Government, we are under the impression that, perhaps, their knowledge of these questions may be even greater than his own.
The question of foreign trade has arisen, and much has been made of the question of the training of ex-soldiers. I am associated with a trade that has put no bar in the way of training a single ex-soldier—the boot and shoe trade. As soon as we were approached by the Government, the employers and ourselves—and I had the privilege of sitting on one of the committees—at once framed regulations putting no barrier against 150 any man. We, however, are one of the industries suffering most from unemployment. During the six months ending with November of last year, we paid in unemployment benefit a sum equal to 50 per cent, of the total amount paid by us in six pre-War years; and in December alone our unemployment benefit was more, in that one month, than in any pre-War year. The unfortunate part of it is that the men we have trained are out of work. Before you emphasise to the extent that you do your accusations against any other organisation, at least complete the bargain you have made with us, and give employment to the men who have been trained and who are unable to get employment to-day. There were only two conditions that our industry laid down with regard to the training of these men. The first was that they should be properly trained—that they should not be turned out of the workshop unable to exercise an equal spirit of independence with any other workmen. The second condition was that there should not be more men trained than could be absorbed in the industry. Unfortunately, however, the few that were trained are walking the streets.
Again, what about the position of the ex-soldier in the districts which manufacture Army boots? What has been the policy of the Government in that respect? Many of these men jointed the Services in the light of the promises made to most of the men who joined, that, when they came back, they would have reasonable chances for employment and would be brought back into industry. Raunds is a centre where Army boots have been made for practically a century, and there are men—hand-sewers—who have never been engaged upon any other class of work. Some of them were too old to join the Services, and they cannot be transferred to any other branch of industry. The younger men went into the Army, and to-day they are walking about with nothing to do. The Government have thought fit, at a time when unemployment is upon us, to change the method of manufacture, and will not consider in the slightest degree the representations that have been made that, at any rate for the time being, contracts for small quantities of the old style of boots should be given out, whereby these men may have a reasonable chance of immediate employment, and on the understanding 151 that no more men will be brought into the industry. There was one branch of the Service that was continuing to use hand-sewn goods, but I learned last week that, in the height of this unemployment crisis, with hundreds of hand-sewers unable to get employment, it has been decided by the Department to cease making even that class of goods for the men of the Household Cavalry. The Government have a definite obligation to these boot and shoe makers. During the War the factories in which these goods were previously made were denied the right of making a single pair of civilian boots; they were tied down to the fullest extent of their output to Army productions. Now, when the War is finished, they are left adrift, and when their contracts cease they have reached a stage when there is no possibility of civilian trade. The Government ought to do their best at any rate to give consideration to this aspect of the case, in order that the problem may not be intensified during periods of this description, and that changes, if they must take place, shall be more gradual, and perhaps, if possible, postponed until a more suitable occasion.
We have been told that the unemployment insurance benefit is to be extended; but how is that going to help the men who are out of work in the villages? I have some figures from an agricultural county showing that there are at least 50 men out of work in one small village alone, in another 30, in another 20, and so on. Can the Minister of Labour tell us how any one of the schemes that he has suggested is going to help the men in the agricultural districts who are unfortunately out of employment? They are outside the scheme of insurance, and nothing that has been suggested to-day will be the means of helping them. It would be just as well if the right hon. Gentleman were to give some attention to the statement I am making regarding the agricultural worker, because I was interested in his position when the Act was before the House. In some villages of this country there are, in proportion to the population, very large numbers of workmen out of employment, and the extension of unemployment benefit will not benefit them in the least, and I am entitled to put to the right hon. Gentleman the question what he proposes to do to help them? They range from possibly 10 in number 152 up to 50 in very small towns, practically very little more than villages, and the percentage in some of these places might almost be as high as it is in regard to the larger towns, and therefore I hope in any-further statement which may be made from the Government Bench we shall have some information as to what they propose doing to meet the position of these men. If their numbers are small, the position of the man involved is not any better. If he is only part of 1 per cent, who are out of work, his position is just as bad, with no income, as if he were part of 20 per cent., and therefore he is entitled to some consideration.
It has been emphasised here that £48,000,000 has been expended in two years in unemployed benefit for ex-service men. It is a ninth of the interest that is paid on the debt in one year. It does not seem a lot to these men, and I should like to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to what happened in my native village a few weeks ago, when the unemployed felt constrained to approach His Majesty himself to put their case before him and draw his attention to the fact that they were practically in a state of starvation—men wearing their military medals and decorations which had been hardly won in the War—and how His Majesty promised that some attention should be given to this matter. All that has been mentioned here to-day in the nature of increased unemployment benefits and these other schemes will by no means go far enough to deal with this most important problem. I asked him at the time how much had been spent out of the £3,000,000. The right hon. Gentleman said he did not know, but it has been stated in the House that it is £30,000. How many months has this fund been in existence? One of the complaints I feel certain these authorities would urge against the Government in regard to this question is that there is too much red tape in dealing with the schemes they send along. Many of the local authorities have been ready and anxious to evolve schemes of work. Again I could quote instances which have come within my own knowledge, but the difficulty is the routine which will have to be gone through before they can get the recognition from the Government necessary for a grant, and without which no possible 153 schemes can be started, no men can be employed, and no wages paid, and it will be useless to make any one of these arrangements unless there is better and more ready recognition and more expedition, so far as the Government is concerned, in meeting the claims of local authorities in regard to this matter.
There is another aspect of it from the point of view of these schemes, and one is glad to know that questions of reclamation are all part of our scheme. Hon. Members asked what were our proposals? I have a document here which has been sent to every Member of the House, and which contains a complete review of the whole position with a set of proposals and suggestions as to what we consider ought to be adopted. It also contains a remarkable statement by the Prime Minister himself that the old world was one where unemployment, through the vicissitudes of industry, brought despair to multitudes of humble men, and if we renewed the lease of that world we should betray the heroic dead. Our charge against the Government is that they have renewed the lease of it. They have brought that old world here again by their negligence, in our judgment, in not allowing trade to develop, because we are a manufacturing nation. We rely upon our export trade to keep us going. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Barnes) says we are not producing in proportion. The boot and shoe trade have produced boots and shoes which have stocked the factories and warehouses of the country, and in the districts whore they are made the local papers have said that if only trade could be resumed with Russia, and the avenues of foreign markets could be opened, the whole of the bootmakers in this country could find employment for two years, and we have every reason to believe that that is very substantially true. What is the use of talking about these facts and suggestions of opening up trade with other countries having no reference to the position when we are told that as a manufacturing nation we must seek foreign markets and must develop our export trade? To whom are we going to export unless we open up these channels across the water which we are frequently told will provide employment for many men? I should like to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the clearness of his statement. It certainly seems to indicate a desire on his part to 154 do all that is possible, but we feel that it will not meet the situation. A few more months' or weeks' extension of unemployed benefit at 15s. or even 18s. a week is not sufficient. The cumulative results of this problem mean, as the weeks go by, that the difficulties of the men become greater. The grants which must be made from the Exchequer will need to be larger. They ought to approximate more to the position of maintenance rather than doles that just prevent a man from dying and at the same prevent him from living in a fashion which will enable him to maintain his health and strength whereby he can resume employment with some amount of confidence in himself. With regard to the constructive side, it is no good merely going on with unemployed insurance, giving grants and doles, unless at the same time the general policy of the country is one which will open up the markets of the world whereby our surplus products as a manufacturing nation will find an outlet and lay the foundation for trade in the future and abolish the unfortunate circumstances which exist at present.
§ Lieut.-Commander ASTBURY
I hope the House will pardon me if I address it from the point of view of the ex-service men. When I say that I represent 140,000 ex-service men in Manchester and Salford I may be pardoned for putting forward their claims. Three weeks ago it came to the notice of the Joint Council that there was some distress amongst these men. We made inquiries, and the condition of them, their wives and children is too appalling for words. I am not speaking from hearsay. I have visited these people in their homes with other members of this Joint Council. In the majority of cases we find the furniture in pawn, all their clothes except what they stand up in in pawn, and no food whatever in the house. I should like to give a few cases, because I want not only hon. Members, but the public to grasp this. In one case I visited an ex-service man and his wife and two children. I found them in one room. The only furniture was one mattress. Four of them were sleeping on it, and they were starving. If we had not come to their assistance they would not have been alive today. In another instance of a widow and three children the only means of subsistence coming into the house is a quart of milk a day from the Welfare Committee[...] 155 In another instance I went to the house of a man who had a wife and five children, and asked him "why have you not come down to see us?" He said, "I do not like charity." I said, "If you had been with me in the trenches in 1915 and had two cigarettes and I had none, what would you have done?" He said, "I would have given you one." I said, "We are out to do the same thing and to help those who are not so well placed as ourselves." We have up to now raised a fair sum of money—£6,000 in 18 days. We have seen about 15,000 women, we have clothed 900 children, and we have relieved temporarily about 8,000 families. This is no fairy tale. It is bitter experience. Others who have been with me have told me that when they went home at night they had not been able to sleep. These men went out in 1914 and fought for their country. This thing must not, and cannot go on. These men must not be allowed to starve. I am not asking for any luxury. I am only asking for the bare necessities of life to keep them alive. The last thing they would desire is that their poverty and distress should be forged into a weapon to flog the Government with by the Labour party or any other party in this House. They are loyal to the core. There is no talk of revolution or riot amongst them.
§ Lieut.-Commander ASTBURY
There never will be any talk of revolution or riot. If there was any trouble to-day you could rely on 50,000 ex-service men in Manchester forming a bloc to keep law and order. These men are not out for revolution or riot. They are grateful, because they know—I can only speak for my own district—that we are looking after them. I wish to deal with some of the causes of unemployment. They are very simple to an ordinary business man. There have been higher wages, followed by shorter hours, and, above all, restriction of output. No one wants to decrease wages and no one wants to work longer hours, but unless the trade unions stop their restrictions on output, unless they give us the fullest production of which they are capable, we are done as a nation.
§ Lieut.-Commander ASTBURY
I will give an instance. What is happening in 156 India? The ports of India are blocked with Lancashire cotton goods, produced at such a price that the natives cannot afford to buy them. That is due to higher wages and shorter hours, coupled with restriction of output. America, Japan, Germany and Belgium have come into the field, and they are pouring their goods into neutral countries at a cheaper price than our goods. Until our goods are cleared from the ports there will be no uplift of trade in this country. With regard to the building trade, I regret that the Minister of Labour was not more explicit as to what he was going to do. If the Government would put their hand down and say, "We will employ these ex-service men and do the building if the trades unions will not admit them to their ranks," they would have the backing of the whole country. They would have the backing of every decent workman in this country. I mix with working men constantly. I have a big works of my own, and I know that there is a bitter feeling in the hearts of the workmen against the building trade operatives. To think that these ex-service men fought for them as well as everybody else, and they will see them starved in their homes before they will give them a chance! It is just as well for Labour to be straight with their own class. If Labour would only come out and help us in this matter—I do not want to say anything to cause, bitterness—they would never regret the day. The same thing applies to the engineering trades. Why should one union stand out and object to employ ex-service men any more than another? I have no fault to find with the union in my trade. They welcome the ex-service man. They come to us and ask us to find berths for ex-service men. Why should these two trades be the outstanding trades against the employment of ex-service men? I hope the Government will at once take steps to put these men into the bricklaying trades. It has been mentioned that 100,000 bricklayers are needed. We cannot get the work done. I have a big construction work going on at my own place, but I cannot get the bricklayers to do the work, and yet ex-service men are starving.
I should like to put another matter before the Government, and in so doing I do not want them to think that I am out for a crusade against women. The women were patriotic when the War started. 157 They stepped into the men's places, and took the places of the men, but I do think that now that the men have come back the women should leave not only Government Departments but municipal departments and make way for the men. In the Pensions Ministry, at the Regional Director's Office in Manchester, there are 800 women employed. There is no shadow of doubt that ex-service men could be found to do that work. I appeal to the Government as far as they can to displace women and put men in their places. They might tell them, "You have been patriotic in the past; show your patriotism now by giving way for the men." In regard to the unemployment fund, it seems to me unfair to give a single man 18s. a week and a married man with five children the same amount. Is it not possible in some way to grade that money so that a single man would get less than a man who has the responsibilities of a family on his shoulders? That has been brought very much to my notice during the last three-weeks whilst distributing relief.
I should like to say a few words in reply to matters raised to-day by Members of the Labour party. One hon. Member said that he is no believer in half-time, and that you must give a man full work. I quite agree with him, if there was work to give him; but how can you give full work when there is not the work in the country to go round? In my own trade to-day I could either run full time a week or stop a week, but I am employing one batch of men one week and another batch of men the other week. They are perfectly satisfied, and would sooner have that than all to be out for a whole week. I would ask hon. Members on the Labour Benches to come down from the clouds to earth. There is no royal road to do away with unemployment. [An HON. MEMBER: "Bring their wages down!"] I get the taunt, "Bring their wages down." The employers do not desire to bring their wages down. All we ask is: "Give us a fair day's work for a fair day's wage, and we do not care if you earn £20 a week." The boot trade has been mentioned. To-day children's boots are 28s. 6d. a pair, and there is a revolt on the part of the consumer against these high prices, which have been ca-used by high wages, restricted hours of labour, and restricted output. This country has to live by its export trade, and until the workers in this country realise that to 158 keep the neutral markets of the world we have to produce cheaper than any other country in the world, you will never get full work for any man. This is A.B.C. [Laughter.] I am laughed at. I am sorry that hon. Members should display such ignorance in regard to a thing that must be obvious. If a foreign country can get goods into India at a halfpenny a yard cheaper than this country, who will India buy from? She is going to buy in the cheapest market. You will never get your export trade again until this country learns that our people have to work and produce at a less price and at less cost than other countries.
Eight hon. and hon. Members of the Labour party cannot accuse me of having no sympathy with the unemployed. Whatever I have said to-day I have said it in order to see if some contribution cannot be made towards a solution of this problem. So far as the present time goes, you have to keep the people from starving. Everyone hates doles, but we have to keep the people from starving. Employers, trade unions and Governments in the past have been to blame for not foreseeing what would happen. There is no reason why, if a proper scheme were put into operation, when we get these periods of unemployment, that any worker should starve. If every trade would look after its own workmen; if they would depreciate the human element in their work in the same way that they depreciate their machinery, you would have an end to unemployment, and you would get greater production. What inevitably happens? Let me give an illustration from my own trade. The workers look at the reel which contains the cloth. They see the cloth gradually going down, and they begin to think, "In a week we shall be out of work." Therefore they do not strain every nerve, and it perhaps takes them a fortnight to produce what they could produce in a week. If my suggestion was carried out it would provide a fund out of which when a man was only working three days a week he would be paid sufficient to keep him during the whole week, when he is away sick he would get his pay, and at the age of 65 he would have a pension given to him by the trade. If that could be carried out you would remove the cloud that overhangs the head of the working 159 man, and you would get a bigger production. It would pay the employer, because if he can produce in three days what otherwise would take him a week to produce, if he has to keep the man for the rest of the week he saves money in wear and tear, in coal, and in his standing expenses. That is the scheme I should like to see in operation in the future. So far as the present is concerned, I should like the Government to do something practical, and I should like the great public of this country to help by giving what they can to supplement what the Government are giving in order to keep these people from starvation.
§ Mr. G. ROBERTS
The hon. Member who has just spoken is perfectly entitled to claim that no accusation of lack of sympathy could lie against any section of this House in regard to the question of unemployment. To whatever party or section we belong, we are all profoundly moved by the grievances of the unemployed, and are profoundly anxious to discover anything that will palliate the problem. I feel rather keenly on this point, because the other day I read in a newspaper a statement, attributed to me, to the effect that when I was a Member of the Government I said, in the name and on behalf of the Government, that we had our plans so carefully prepared that within two months after the cessation of war everybody would be in full employment. Anybody who knows me would admit that I was never so foolish as to make use of a statement of that character. I am certain that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will bear me out on this point, that I have long held the opinion that this is perhaps the most baffling problem of modern times. I cannot think that any party or any Government could have it within its power or its competence to adopt an absolute solution of this problem of unemployment. Therefore I am prepared to accept the principle of work or maintenance, although it may not be in the exact form preferred by my hon. Friends opposite. I recognise that no civilised community can allow any worthy citizen to die of starvation. I am as deeply moved as anybody with what my hon. Friend has just stated. The problem in my own constituency is very acute, but there has been such a rally on the part of 160 the citizens, irrespective of class or party, and schemes have been so comprehensively arranged, as to assure that there need be nobody wanting the necessities of life in that city. That ought to be followed out in every other place throughout the country.
We must endeavour to place the problem in proper perspective. There are some enthusiasts who believe that the passage of some measure through this House is going to effect a solution of the problem of unemployment. I would like to see an endeavour made, but I am certain it is pre-doomed to failure. After all, the industries of this country alone are so complex that, in my opinion, it is impossible to organise them so perfectly as to assure to every worker the certainty of 50 weeks' work in the year. Then when we have regard to the particular position of our country, our extreme dependence on foreign trade, we must also recognise the impossibility of so co-ordinating our own internal trade with the trade of every other country in the world with which we have to deal as to assure that there shall never be fluctuations of employment. If we get that fact thoroughly into our minds, we are then driven to the acceptance of the principle of insurance against unemployment. When I was acting as Minister of Labour, I know that the Government foresaw that after the tremendous upheaval of the War, and the great destruction of wealth which had occurred, trade depression must inevitably occur sooner or later, and I was instructed then to concentrate my attention on an extension of the Unemployment Insurance Act. We called to our assistance representative employers and workpeople, but the Government was not alone at fault for any delay which occurred, for we found that there was no agreement among trade unionists themselves as to the form of insurance which was acceptable to them, and, of course, you cannot force a great scheme of this character upon trade unionists, and we had to embark upon protracted negotiations with the result that the War was at an end before there was any possibility of proceeding with the scheme.
The point I want to make clear is that it is impossible so far as I can see, however much I would desire it, to discover any absolute solution of the unemployed problem. Therefore, at some period or 161 other, we have to have recourse to a scheme of insurance. The Government scheme may not be the best possible. I would have favoured a different scheme altogether. I have observed during the past year or so a recognition among my hon. Friends opposite of the desirability of unemployment being made a liability of trades. I would have desired in my previous days that the trades had been so perfectly organised that the employers and workers would have been able to prepare their own schemes so that it would become a recognised trade liability, and the Government simply be called upon to render assistance in abnormal cases. But again the Government did explore that avenue, and they found unwillingness in many quarters among the trade unionists—they are entitled to adopt their own policy—to co-operate with the employers even for the purpose of helping to deal with the problem of unemployment. Why? Because so many of them had become infected with this Marxian or class war theory.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I am speaking what I know to be the truth, and it was regarded as heterodox. In fact some of them went so far as to describe you as a traitor to your class if you dared associate with any body of employers even for the purpose of preparing schemes which might be available during periods of trade depression. I am glad to observe that there is an inclination now to consider that as a desirability, and we cannot get away from the fact that at some periods we are bound to have recourse to a scheme of insurance, and therefore I think the Government are rightly motived in their proposal to extend the present Unemployment Insurance Act. I make that admission because of the absence of any other scheme that is at all likely to prove as valuable as this. Coming now to the larger considerations. I have been subject to a great deal of criticism in the country, and I often lay myself open to it, and I expect intentionally so; nevertheless I have resented the unemployed being deluded into the belief that an immediate solution of the unemployed problem or a substantial contribution to its solution is likely to result from a resumption of trade with Russia. My hon. and gallant Friend (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) I know has taken a very keen interest, in this.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
The Prime Minister can answer for himself. There is no disguising the fact that this has been portrayed to the unemployed as affording a substantial solution at least of their difficulties. While in the Government it was my business as Food Controller to establish contact with certain representative Russians, and my hon and gallant Friend, I suppose, is a bit surprised to find that I preceded him in that splendid endeavour. But I was brought into contact with certain representative Russian societies. They assured me that there was a surplus of food available in Russia, and, having regard to the soaring prices here at home, I sought to discover the possibility of securing those supplies in the interests of the British working class. But the further we pursued our inquiries the more elusive the supplies became, and if there were bulging corn-bins in that country at one time, that time was followed by a period during which little food was produced, and the country had to live on its own reserves, and, even had there been a surplus remaining, transportation was impossible, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Barnes) was right in saying that to hold this out as a hope to the unemployed of the country is little short of a crime.
I want to re-establish trade with every country in the world. My constituency is badly hit. Our main industry is boots and shoes. It is true, as my hon. Friend who spoke from the Labour benches observed, that my constituents have made boots and shoes in quantities, but he omitted to tell us that the world has revolted against paying the prices which the manufacturers demand. Again, I am subject to a great deal of criticism because I have stressed the necessity of increased production. I know it seems paradoxical to tell a meeting of unemployed that they must produce more. I had an experience of it in my own constituency on Monday afternoon, and if one ventures to tell them those things, they either listen with great reluctance or refuse to listen at all. But still it is a fact. This country will never be able to get its unemployed problem within manageable proportions unless we are able to resume trade with other countries, 163 and our ability to do that trade is dependent upon the price at which we are able to sell. When I speak of British goods, I know that they stand for quality throughout the world. But there are some who are preaching the doctrine that the proper way to spread employment is to restrict output.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
This is a question of which I know something. If I were on the quarter-deck with the hon. and gallant Member, I would not dispute his knowledge. Working short time is not an innovation. It is an established common practice with trade unions. In my own trade the boot and shoe industry and in many other industries, there is an understanding by which when employers report that orders are falling off and the men are satisfied that the employers are informing them correctly they agree to a system of spreading the employment by the adoption of short time. But that is a different thing from this doctrine of spreading out employment by remaining in the factory a whole week, and giving only a half week of output. That is entirely wrong, and he is no friend of the workmen who recommends it. These are truths which have got to be told our people, and we ought not to fear unpopularity in telling them. We have lived by our foreign trade. We must have large supplies of food. An hon. Member on the other side urged that we should put more men to work on the land. I have been endeavouring to educate the Labour movement up to a recognition of the importance of agriculture, but we get very little agreement, and when the Government do propose things, I am afraid that they do not get much support, simply because we attach far too much importance to our own party points of view and give too little heed to the real urgency of a national problem. We remain and will remain dependent in very large measure on other countries overseas for food and raw material, and our ability to pay for those essentials is determined by our ability to manufacture in this country in competition with any other country in the world.
I am frequently charged with being a fiscal reformer, a tariff reformer, or what not. When I was a member of the Labour party we declined to make a fetish of 164 either Free Trade or Tariff Reform. We agreed that these matters ought to be considered on their merits, and to-day I refuse to be herded into either camp. This question has got to be considered even if it involves the consideration of fiscal questions. I will give one little illustration. I was the other morning in the office of a friend of mine who is engaged in the manufacture and sale of electrical machinery and appliances. A young traveller came in and showed my friend a certain portion of an electrical plant, and said, "You use numbers of these, do you not? "My friend said, "Yes." He was asked what did he pay for it, and he replied, "36s. a dozen," and the young traveler then said, "I know where you get them," and he named a British firm. "Now," he said," I am representing two German firms. I can supply you with this article"—identical so far as I could judge at any rate with the article purchased by my friend which was manufactured in this country—"with as many thousands as you like at 6s.a dozen." I am not concerned here with any fiscal theory, but I do say to my friends of the trade unions: "You must co-operate with your employers to discover the reason of this wide disparity.' You may say that it is the exchange. Very well, let us know the facts. The facts are of vital concern to employers and workmen alike, and however we view them there will be no real palliation of this problem until employers and workmen get together in an atmosphere of goodwill and determination to discover the facts and to recognise them when seen. There is no solution other than that of employers and workpeople coming together. The announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour respecting the state of affairs in the building trade has been a revelation to me. I am associated with an endeavour to establish a new enterprise in this country, the manufacture of sugar. We are building a large factory and other essential buildings. I have become fearful that the rate at which this building is proceeding will not allow of our operating as early as I had hoped. I have pressed the contractor week after week to expedite the building, and invariably he has replied: "I cannot get bricklayers." I have gone in to the matter, and I find that for weeks we have had only 16 bricklayers on these large 165 buildings. We have now secured two more, and to-day we have 18 bricklayers where it is no exaggeration to say that 60 ought to be employed. I have approached representatives of the trade unions and asked them if they could assist me to direct bricklayers there. I have said: "If there be this scarcity, what is your objection to the admission of some number of ex-service men into the industry?" It is retorted upon me: "There are bricklayers out of work."
The thing is absolutely inexplicable to me. I can direct a number of men to work and I am told by the contractors that it is impossible to get the men. I go to the other side, and I am told that the reason for resisting the admission of more men into the industry is that there are some men already in the industry out of work. I have felt that the figures of those out of work must be considerable, but the figures given by my right hon. Friend to-day prove to my satisfaction—previously I have refrained from coming to any conclusion on the matter—that there is room in the building trade for more men, and certainly the ex-service men ought to have the preference. If we get building in operation it creates a demand for labourers, for carpenters, for plasterers, and for all other sections. It is only the start; as has been pointed out, the furnishers and others follow on. If you only give the building trade of the country a good start it will create a demand for all the commodities which are made in this country, including the boots and shoes which my constituents are so anxious to dispose of.
I am afraid that I am occupying too much time, but this is a problem with which I am concerned as intimately certainly as any other Member in the House, because, as I say, it is extraordinarily acute in my own constituency. The problem is aggravated because of the state of foreign exchanges. That again is regarded as a very delicate subject with which to deal. I have discussed it with representative employers and trade unionists, and I am told that the direction in which my mind is drifting will lead me into heterodox channels and that I shall be labelled a tariff reformer or what-not. At any rate, it ought to be accepted by all classes in the community that the foreign workmen should have no decided advantage over the British workman. In the League of Nations, Labour 166 Section, with which my right hon. Friend (Mr. Barnes) is so honourably associated, there is an endeavour being made to remove the great disparities which have existed between the wage and labour standards of different countries, but is it not a fact in regard to certain European countries to-day that labour has a tremendous advantage over British labour?
I do not dogmatise on the remedies. I would prefer that these matters were lifted altogether out of the political arena. I believe that they ought to be dealt with by the Joint Industrial Councils which are being established throughout the whole of the country, and that the Government ought to be kept as far away as possible from these trade affair's. We are urging the Government to lift what we call the dead hand of bureaucracy off the trades of the country. On the other hand, those who are vociferous in that demand are also demanding that the Government should do something or other—exactly what is not stated—to solve this problem. For my part, I want trade lifted out of politics, away from Government control as far as possible, and we can only do that by resorting to the machinery of these Joint Industrial Councils, and by workmen and employers being perfectly fair to each other, the employers placing perfect confidence in their workpeople, and putting the facts of industry before them. Whether we like it or not, unless there be an improvement in the outlook of this country a drastic cut in wages is inevitable. That will not be brought about by the mere will or caprice of the employers, but by something more powerful than any employers' organisation, namely, stern economic facts and the stern competition of the world which we shall have to meet. I think we have gained something by being able to state our views fearlessly and openly in the House of Commons, with the knowledge that we shall not be misunderstood. It will be freely granted that whether we find common agreement or not, we are all concerned to do what we can to provide as far as possible a solution of this problem, which is the most baffling of modern times.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
I propose to confine my remarks to the manner in which this problem relates to the mining Indus- 167 try. We have to-day in the mining industry, certainly so far as the export districts are concerned, a greater volume of unemployment than ever before in its history. There is nothing very difficult in understanding the cause of unemployment in the export districts. With ordinary foresight and those ordinary precautions which we might have expected the Government to take, there need have been no unemployment problem, or at any rate, no problem in anything like its present exaggerated form. For some years the output from the mines has been less than in pre-War years. Consequently, we have had less coal to export. The Government insisted upon nearly the whole of our exports going to France. In pre-War days we exported about 77,000,000 tons. That, at any rate, was the export for 1913. Recently we have been exporting little more than 20,000,000 tons, our output being down by 50,000,000 tons. Of that 20,000,000 tons the Government have insisted upon 17,000,000 going to France. We have been unable to maintain any of our other foreign markets, because we have had no coal with which to supply them. In pre-War days we exported to France 9,000,000 or 10,000,000 tons, our highest in any year being 12,000,000 tons. During the War and since the War we have been compelled to export to France 17,000,000 tons. Consequently, the export coal trade of this country has been made dependent almost entirely upon one foreign country.
With that fact well known the Government or the Government's representatives go to Spa and make a Reparation Agreement under which the Germans are compelled to send 24,000,000 tons of coal per year into the only market we had for export coal. That and nothing else is the cause of the unemployment—the action of the Government in destroying the only foreign market we had to which to send our export coal. I am not going to say that the Germans ought not to be compelled, by the supply of goods or in any other possible form, to make reparation to the Allies, but we might at least have expected that the Government in arranging those Reparation Agreements would have had some regard to the manner in which the workers and the industries of this country would be affected. 168 The inevitable consequence of that agreement has been the loss of our only foreign market and a slack time in the mining industry. We have not only at this moment German coal coming into the French market, but the French mines also are getting into a condition whereby they can produce their pre-War output, with the result that we have not only for the moment, but as far as I can see, almost permanently, certainly as long as this-Reparation Agreement runs, lost our French market. Nothing now can cause a revival in the mining industry except that lapse of time which will exhaust the stores contained in other countries or will allow the contracts into which those countries have entered to expire. Some months hence we may be able to get other markets, but in the meantime unemployment is inevitable.
The position in the mining industry promises to be very much worse than it is at present. That, again, is due to causes which can easily be explained. At a meeting of the South Wales Executive last Saturday applications were received for out-of-work pay for a total of £70,000, which indicates the extent to which men are working short time or are continually idle. The situation now is nothing compared with the situation that is developing there. It is to that position I want to call special attention in the, hope that it will be checked, because there can be no mistake that, whatever is the position in relation to other industries, the Government are mainly responsible for the position created in the destruction of our only foreign market, and they are today responsible for the notices that are running in the coal fields which we represent. I dare say that that will sound a somewhat remarkable statement, and I want to suggest that these notices are illegal, and that the Government are in league with the coalowners in bringing about deliberately the unemployment of the miners in the Welsh coal fields. I am not making that statement without having some documents with which to substantiate it. We have running at the moment in the Rhondda Valley notices to terminate work within 14 days affecting 800 men at the Cambrian collieries, 800 at the Glamorgan collieries, 500 at Blaensychan, 60 at Treherbert, 85 at Abergorchy, 40 at Pentre, and I am told there are 1,200 running in the Porth district. I have received information from my ow[...] 169 district this morning that 1,300 men have been given 14 days' notice at North's Navigation, and the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. G. Barker) has given me a list of notices running in the western valleys of Monouthshire, as follows: Rose Heyworth, about 900; Cumtillery, 1,400; Vivian, 1,000; Awail Griffin, 1,900; and Blaena, 3,000.
That, on top of all the unemployment we have in the Welsh coal fields, is going to create a situation which is absolutely appalling. I want to know from the Government by what authority these notices are being tendered. In 1917 an agreement was entered into between the coalowners and the Government. That Agreement was confirmed in 1918 by an Act known as the Coal Mines Control Agreement (Confirmation) Act. One of the provisions in that agreement reads as follows:If the owner of a mine intends to close or abandon a mine, or any part thereof, he shall give to the Controller not less than 60 days' notice of his intention.If the Controller so desires he can prevent, even on the termination of the 60 days, the closing of the pit, but until 60 days have elapsed, according to the agreement, the owners have no right to tender notices at any colliery. In 1920 there passed through this House the Coal Mines Emergency Act, and one of the provisions of that Act says:Subject to the provisions of Part 1 of the Second Schedule to this Act, the agreement confirmed by the Coal Mines Control Agreement (Confirmation) Act of 1918 shall cease to have effect … provided that the provisions of the said agreement relating to the closing of mines … as set out and modified in Part 2 of the Second Schedule to this Act shall have effect as if enacted in this Act.
§ Mr. G. BALFOUR
Has any question arisen of closing the pits? Is it not merely a case of reducing labour?
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
From 1917 till now no question has arisen as to the right of any colliery owner to tender notices to anyone employed at the mines until he has given 60 days' notice.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
Certainly; these notices are given for the purpose of closing the mines. It is not merely a reduction of labour. I am talking about collieries that are to be closed. In the cases 170 I have cited, where the notices affect 1,400, 1,000, and 1,900 men, and so on, the notices are being given to all the men employed at the collieries.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
At any rate, it means the tendering of notices just the same as if we gave notice to shut down the collieries and bring all our men out on strike. They are going to keep some men on. Whether they mean to keep them on pumping water is another thing. In August of last year another Act was passed known as the Mining Industries Act. Under the provisions of that Act provision is made for the issuing of certain orders by the Board of Trade or the Ministry of Mines, and unless such orders have been issued entitling the employers to tender notices, the provisions I have read out must apply to the mining industry. You cannot have the coal owners of this country tendering these notices without the definite sanction and authorisation of the Board of Trade or the Ministry of Mines. As a matter of fact, I have in my hand a document issued from the Ministry of Mines, dated 1st February. It undoubtedly is the explanation of all the notices which have been tendered within recent weeks. The document calls the attention of the employers to the fact that the closing of mines comes under two categories. It says that the complete stoppage of pits may fall into two categories: (A) the stoppage of one or more pits in an undertaking in order to concentrate on the remainder of the pits in a colliery undertaking; and (B) the stoppage of single pits mot part of a large undertaking or the stoppage of all pits comprised in a colliery undertaking.
What is actually taking place is that big groups of collieries belonging to the same company are being stopped by 14 days' notice. In this circular it is said that as regards that type the matter should be submitted to the Department, and that a statement of the reasons for wishing to close should be given, together with information as to whether the pumping will be continued, the number of men employed, and the extent to which men can be absorbed in other undertakings. With reference to that group of collieries, the circular also says that the owner should be guided by the same principles 171 as if they were not under control. That is the instruction sent out from the Ministry of Mines. So far as I understand the situation, we are in this position—that the provisions embodied in two or three Acts of Parliament, which have been observed since 1917, are now being abrogated by authority of the Government, with the result that the unemployed problem in South Wales is being so intensified that no one can foretell what will be the consequences. I notice that in the King's Speech there is a reference to decontrol. We are told that at the earliest possible moment there is to becomplete restoration of the industry to its normal condition of freedom.Having regard to the muddled fashion in which the Board of Trade has dealt with the coal question since the industry has been under its jurisdiction, I do not think that anyone can lament the possibility of getting the industry free from control. Personally, I am not going to set up any objection on principle to that. But when we talk about freeing the industry from control and allowing it to revert to its former freedom, I wonder whether the Government have paid any attention to what will be involved unless they do certain very important things. At the moment there is no control of exports or of prices charged for exports. As from 1st March there will be no control of the price of coal for homo consumption. The only thing left over which they have control are the financial arrangements, and the Government now propose, having come up against a very awkward situation, to relieve themselves of the difficulties arising from that by throwing us all into a bull fight such as will result if decontrol takes place under existing conditions. I hope the Government will take warning in good time. We have only got to the end of March before the agreement which was entered into after the recent strike will have come to an end. That agreement was only to the 31st March, and at the end of that period there will be no agreement from the North of Scotland to the West of Wales as between the employers and minors in the coalfields of Britain for dealing with the wages question. Negotiations have been running since the strike in order to endeavour to fix up an agreement, and the best proposal that the workmen are 172 faced with to-day from the employers is one that would involve a reduction of £100,000,000 a year in wages and increase the profits of the owners from £27,000,000 to about £80,000,000 a year. Those are the proposals that are submitted to the workmen at the moment for consideration, and there is no more hope of a settlement on the lines that the negotiations are at present following than there is of pigs flying in the air, but if we are to have decontrol without a new agreement being brought in, we are to have unemployment intensified tenfold in this country, because if employers who fail to make both ends meet are going to close down their collieries without any sort of agreement, there is nothing but additions to our roll of unemployed workmen in all the coalfields of Britain.
If the Government will see to it that before decontrol takes place a national agreement—[Interruption.]—An hon. Member says something about the red light. We hope some of you will see the red light too. I am not concerned about a red light if you are not. I am trying to put to this House the facts with which we shall be faced in the very near future, which are of no mean order. We have been up against them before, and I am trying to avoid getting into a condition of things which will be very much worse than that through which we are passing at the moment. I say that if the Government intend to decontrol the mining industry, they want to make sure before doing so that there is established a national wage agreement, with a national pool created within the industry itself. You cannot have decontrol without it, and if you want to abolish the State pool, then you must have a pool created within the industry itself, and unless that is done the Government ought certainly not to allow any thought of the decontrol of the financial arrangements in the mining industry to take place if they have any sort of regard to the question of the unemployment which would result from such a course. I would like to know from the Board of Trade or somebody else on behalf of the Government whether they are themselves responsible for these notices that are running in the Welsh coalfields, and I assume in other coalfields as well, and whether they are going to exercise the powers which they possess under Acts of Parliament to get those notices withdrawn.
173 If we are to have slack time in the mining industry we must put up with it, but there is no more reason why notices should be given at the collieries where the men are under notice than in any other colliery in the Welsh coalfield. That, I am told, is the position in every coalfield where pits are being shut down. It will certainly be a matter that the organised mining movement will be compelled to take notice of, and action will have to be taken of some kind or character. The miners will not complain about sharing in the depression with everybody else, but they certainly will not consent, to large masses of their members being thrown idle and rendered unemployed while the others are kept employed continuously on account of some whim or some scheme or some device which the owners, apparently in league with the Ministry of Mines, are working for ulterior objects. Having called attention to these facts, I will only express the hope that action will be taken during the 14 days that the notices are running to see that those men who are now in work will not be rendered unemployed. There is no necessity for it at all. Here is a matter where the Government can act and apply the necessary remedies, and if they do not it will be useless going among the organised workers and telling them the Government are doing what they can, because in this case they can act, and act effectively. If they do not, then the large additions to the unemployed that will ensue from their inactivity must be charged to the credit or debit of the Government themselves.
§ Mr. A. M. SAMUEL
I listened with great interest to the point taken by the right hon. Member for my native city of Norwich (Mr. G. Roberts), who said, in so many words, "We shall never solve this unemployment problem till we have re-established our foreign trade." The right hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Barnes) took the same point, and my hon. Friend, who has seen trouble in the boot trade also, the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. W. R. Smith) took the same point. I am firmly convinced that in dealing with these points we are dealing with what may eventually prove to be the solution of the miseries of unemployment. The right hon. Gentleman who sits for Norwich talked about exchanges, but he did not touch the point, nor has any other hon. Member, with which I should like to deal 174 in a few remarks. I think that extending our foreign trade in Central European countries is rather a forlorn hope. They are bankrupt, and their currencies are debased, and their credit has gone to pieces. Russia, we know, is a wild goose chase, and I think the right hon. Member for Gorbals has disposed pretty well of Russia. I hold the same view as he does upon that. The right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) writes a letter to the "Times" and speaks about export credits. Export credits to whom? To the Central European Powers, to Roumania? I would not like to trust them very much, in view of their debased currencies, notwithstanding their and our wish to rehabilitate trade. Although trade rehabilitation with them is very desirable, it is a very long shot. There has been a good deal of talk by the heads of the great banks about the gold standard and, very wisely, the restoration of the value of our £ sterling and about inflation and deflation. But I have never heard one single reference to one particular matter.
In talking about gold, they and we have entirely lost sight, of the fact that one half of the human race, 800,000,000 people, in Asia, India and China, do not use gold at all, but use silver, and the purchasing power of 800,000,000 people representing our sales to that part of the universe has been reduced by one half during the last 12 months by the fall in the price of silver. I am firmly convinced that notwithstanding the effect of the lack of purchasing power of the Central European Powers and Russia as described by the Prime Minister, one of the principal reasons why our people are suffering from these present miseries of unemployment is the reduced purchasing power of the silver-using communities of the world. At this time last year the price of silver was 7s. 6d. per oz.; to-day it is about 3s. or less. That is to say, that these 800,000,000 people, one-half of the total population of the world, if they had a unit of silver a year ago in China or in India, could receive for it in exchange in sterling 7s. 6d., or rather, to put it more bluntly, 3s. worth of cotton can now only be obtained where 7s. 6d. worth was obtainable 12 months ago. The consequence is that the Lancashire cotton trade has gone to pieces. As my right hon. Friend and fellow-citizen the Member for Norwich knows, I am connected with the sho[...] 175 trade there. I have heard with my heart in my mouth in the last few days of 2,000 decent, law-abiding men there storming a workhouse in cold and in misery in order to get food and lodging, and I have asked myself what is the cause of this. It is terrible. I am firmly convinced of the cause when I look at the Lancashire cotton trade—I was brought up by my father to realise—that the barometer trade in this country is the Lancashire cotton trade, and when that is bad we are all badly off.
Why is the Lancashire cotton trade badly off? There are 3,000,000 cotton operatives in Lancashire, and cotton provides one-third of all the manufactured exports of Britain. You cannot now sell any cotton to India because when it is sent to Bombay or to Calcutta the people there cannot pay for it because the rupee, which some months ago was worth 2s. or 2s. 4½d., is to-day worth 1s. 4½d. The consequence is that the Eastern buyers cannot perform their contracts or, if they do, they are rendered bankrupt in doing so. Certainly they are placing no more orders for cottons. They have to pay nearly twice as many rupees to-day for their Lancashire goods as when they contracted for them, or they cannot pay for them at all, and the result is, as I say, that the Lancashire cotton trade has temporarily gone to pieces. When that cotton trade goes to pieces, all the ancillary trades go with it, home industrial coal, engineering, transport, clothing, and the rest. The wages which these 3,000,000 cotton operatives receive spread like a blessed shower over the whole of the trade of England, and cause our people to make boots and everything else for the operatives. That trade has stopped. Why-has the Lancashire cotton trade gone wrong owing to silver? These people in India and China are not bankrupt. They have not been devastated by war or revolution or the printing press. They have had six years of the greatest possible, prosperity. I know there is a famine in China, but China is a big place, and the, Treaty ports have shown from the returns of their maritime customs that they have been very prosperous, and notwithstanding the very prosperous, and notwithstanding the fact of a great famine in parts of China, China generally has shown by its maritime returns a very great trade. They are 176 not bankrupt. Their currency has not gone to pieces at the rate of 2,000 as against 20 as is the case with Austria, or Hungary, or Czccho-Slovakia, or Poland, Russia, or Roumania. These Eastern people are perfectly prosperous, but the stupidity of our people and of our Indian Currency Committees here in tinkering with the rupee currency and smashing the silver peoples' power of buying goods from us is responsible.
The hon. Member for Coventry (Mr. Manville) is a colleague of mine on the Association of Chambers of Commerce, and at this time last year, I think, we warned the Secretary of State for India that he should put on his Committee some of our own members who had intimate knowledge of the export and import trade of India, so that we might not allow that Committee to do something which we foresaw at that time. We ourselves discussed it a year ago, and we foresaw that the decision of the Committee on Currency would eventually throw the Lancashire trade out of operation. The silver-using people have now reduced power to buy the goods which we have to soil them and which they could buy.
It may be said that price of silver has not the great influence over our trade that I would urge the House to believe it has, but let me quote. When they started tinkering with the Indian Exchange in 1893 they closed the Mint, and down went silver. I took these figures out before coming to the House this morning, and I looked at our foreign trade between the years 1S00 and 1894. That is the period when silver and the rupee had a great spasm, and there was a Commission on silver, and they suddenly decided to shut down the Mint. What was the result? After a large number of years, the gradual rise of the foreign trade of this country had increased it in 1890 to £750,000,000. Directly they started playing with the Indian rupee exchange, down went our foreign trade gradually till 1894, when it dropped to £682,000,000. It was quite an abnormal thing for us to have our foreign trade decreased. We had a fall of £70,000,000 of trade during these four years, but in the four years, 1890 to 1894, what was the further indirect result of this state, of affairs? Nearly every bank in Australasia went 177 smash, in 1893, and practically every railway in the United States went into bankruptcy. The curve of trade followed and follows the price of silver owing to our immense direct and indirect trade with 800,000,000 silver-users. What is the other effect of this low exchange on Lancashire? In the first place, a given amount of silver or a given amount of rupees will not buy as many shirts as formerly, and, consequently, the output of Lancashire is not so great as formerly; but if the value of the rupee is low, and you can buy the rupee at 1s. 4½d. to-day as against 2s. 4d. a few months ago, you induce, not only the Indian, but the Chinaman to produce in competition cotton goods and steel and iron goods, because we get more silver for our pound note, and consequently the increased output of China and India stimulated by cheap silver acts like a boomerang against the output of the engineering and cotton trades in this country.
I turn back about twelve months; what did the Committee do? I thought, and think, a very foolish thing, and we sec the result of it now. They took silver and sterling, the currencies of India and China and of the Western Hemisphere, and, harnessing them together, tried to make a fixed ratio between two values moving sometimes in opposite directions. You had silver going up or down, and gold mostly gradually going up. Imagine two locomotives, one called a silver locomotive and one called a gold or sterling locomotive, on parallel rails. The gold, or sterling, locomotive goes gradually forward as the price goes up. It is coupled to the silver locomotive, whose price goes up or down, and the bar or fixed ratio smashes and the whole thing goes over. You smash the fixed ratio of 2s. which the Government promised to make for the rupee, but which they have not been able to maintain. The Government apparently thought it could perform the impossible physical and economic feat of making a fixed ratio of distance between two bodies moving at varying speeds and in varying directions. The importer in India hoped to have 2s. sterling for his rupee, and bought in Lancashire on those lines. The Exchange has gone to 1s. 4½d., and here we have stocks of cotton in Lancashire that cannot be sold with a rupee worth only 1s. 4½d. But a further effect has arisen out of this very stupid finding and recommendation of the Indian Currency Commission. By offering to give 178 2s. sterling for the rupee, anyone who could offer rupees in India took, of course, 2s. of sterling for them, and in doing so he has by Reverse Councils drawn out of Britain's store, whether the gold lay in the United States or the Bank of England, £25,000,000 sterling in gold. That which they were ready to turn into sterling at 2s., can now be bought back again at 1s. 4½d. Enormous profits have been given to people, and the exchange of gold between the United States and London has been upset, thereby putting up the price of food, the futility of the fixed 2s. rupee showing how foolish the Committee were in fixing the rupee at that amount.
On top of that, a fresh thing has happened. The Governments of France and Germany—I know nothing about silver as a dealer; I am connected with the shoe trade, and I look upon this as an economic student and manufacturer—but the Governments of France and Germany, seeing us bolstering up Eastern exchange by a fictitious stabilisation, at once shaped their franc and mark silver policy accordingly. They have melted and sold in the last year or two about 600,000,000 ounces of silver, thrust it on the market, and got a good price, further upsetting the value of silver, and, in consequence, the purchasing price not only of India but of China. Our Chancellor of the Exchequer goes even further. He has added fuel to fire by reducing the amount required of silver in our coins, and so taken Britain out of the market for buying more silver. The world's demand for silver is thus reduced, and down comes the price of silver. What I want the House to realise is that the silver question and the purchasing power of these 800,000,000 human beings have a very vital effect upon our Lancashire trade and right away through the whole trade of this country, and so to unemployment. We have had to swallow some of our old dignities. We had to fall back on the paper sovereign, which nobody in this House probably ever thought could happen, and we have seen the Government incurring indebtedness in the United States. We have also seen British Government loans yielding 6 and 7 per cent. We thought the silver question was settled in 1893. It is not settled; it has come up again in acute form. We have had to pocket our pride in other financial respects, and we shall have to do so about the silver question, and re- 179 open the whole question of this currency, for I am certain a good deal of the solution of the unemployment problem lies therein.
I would not be so immodest as to say I could suggest a remedy, but I would put forward a possible remedy. I think the United States might reconsider the matter—it did in the time of Sir Michael Hicks-Beach—and with France support the principle of re-coining silver at a ratio of 15½s to 1. I know nothing about bimetallism. I look at the silver question as a seller of goods abroad. I want to see the cotton trade put right, because we cannot get right until it is. If we get Washington and Paris to reconsider the idea of re-coining silver in a ratio of 15½ to 1, and at the same time have an honest rupee, opening the Indian mints and letting rupees be coined there in the same way as happened before 1893, I think then you will have a better chance of stabilising the exchanges of the East and silver. I do not want a high rupee or a low rupee, a high tael or a low tael. All I want is that when a man in the East buys goods from Lancashire he can always buy without a gamble in exchange. What we want is a stabilised exchange with India and the East working with 15½ to 1 in Washington and Paris, and therein, I think, lies part of the ultimate solution of our unemployment problem.
§ Mr. REMER
I think this Debate has shown that every section in the House is deeply sensible of the great crisis through which the country is passing, and I think it may be said that the Government in the past have paid far too little attention to the business men of this country when deciding grave and important problems. There has been far too much talk in the days which have passed since the War about the wickedness of making profits, and now we are faced, we business men, almost in every sphere of life, with the fact that businesses are making very serious loss, and are confronted with most serious difficulties. They are being faced with the instability of their customers. They are obliged to put men out of employment, and on short time. They see distress amongst those to whom they ought to give employment, and they find serious danger of bankruptcy all round them. The right hon. Gentleman who moved this Amendment stated that, perhaps, some of us on these Benches were 180 at last becoming alive to the danger with, which we are confronted. I do not think that any business man who has been actively engaged in business, as I have been during the last six weeks, would be other than seriously alarmed at the state of almost every trade you can name in the country. I can name one instance in my own experience from my own firm, who are trading to-day with one company whose name I cannot mention, because it would not do from the point of view of the credit of the firm. This firm has a paid-up capital of £5,000,000. They employ 6,000 men, and, therefore, their wage bill cannot be less than a sum of about £20,000 to £30,000 per week. In spite of that, this firm dishonoured a bill to my own firm of an amount of £300.
When incidents of that sort are happening, one cannot help being alarmed at the serious financial position of some of the largest and most reputable firms in the country, and therefore I do feel that when Labour Members speak, as the right hon. Gentleman did in moving his Amendment, they should realise that the business people of this country are seriously alarmed at the position. I think that for that position there are reasons for which the Government themselves are responsible. I was one of those Members of this House who took a very strong line about the Excess Profits Duty. I have no doubt whatever that the imposition of that tax at 60 per cent. this year is one of the causes of the present position of the country. I welcome, and I am sure we all welcome, late though it may be, the announcement which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made that that tax is going. I believe that that will be one of the ways by which the trade can recover to its more normal situation. I think another reason why trade is in such a deplorable state is partly to do with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. G. Roberts) stated, namely, the very large increase which has been necessary in railway rates, and I hope that in the Bill which the Government are going to introduce, as announced in the King's Speech, to deal with the railway problem, they will nor make the same blunder which they made in the case of the Excess Profits Duty, and not fully consult the business interests before introducing that Bill in the House of Commons. It is a Bill 181 which attacks the very life blood of the business people of this country, and consequently affects the question of employment most vitally.
I should like to associate myself with the observations which have fallen from my hon. Friend who has just resumed his seat with reference to the cotton trade. There is no doubt that if there could be, by some means, a rise in the price of silver, the cotton trade would recover to a degree which would be very extraordinary, and which would be hardly understandable to those who do not understand the Eastern markets. There is another question mentioned in the King's Speech. We are told we are to have a Bill dealing with key industries. I hope that that Bill, when it comes to the light of day, will not be a narrow Bill, but will be a Bill which will deal with the subject on broad principles, and in a way which will do employment real and lasting good. My right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich happened to mention in his speech the question of goods which had been imported from Germany at the present time. I had given to me this morning a safety razor which I have got in my hand, and which is made in Germany. This safety razor is being sold to retailers for 2s. 9d. [HON. MEMBERS: "Will it cut? Have you tried it? How much did you pay for it?"] I shaved this morning with it. This is being sold at 2s. 9d., and I understand the English manufacturer's price is 15s. or 16s. I am sure that unless the situation is tackled quickly and is tackled firmly—this question of collapsed exchanges which is enabling goods to be imported into this country at prices with which we cannot compete—the unemployment question will be with us for some considerable time to come.
There is a further point of a similar nature, that is the question of Government contracts which are being placed at the present time. There are a good many Government contracts which are being placed abroad which could and ought to be placed in this country. I understand the India Office have recently placed a contract in Italy for a very large number of motor cars. These motor cars should have been made in this country. I do not know the reason why that contract went abroad. But if it were a question of price, surely it is the greatest 182 folly we could imagine. Here we are throwing out thousands and millions of pounds a year in out-of-work donation and at the same time we are sending our contracts abroad. I feel that in the present state of the motor car industry—one of the most depressed industries in the country—it is futile and foolish to send a contract of that kind to Italy. I have been also informed that a very large contract has been sent to Belgium by the Great Western Railway Company, which is, as the House is well aware, owing to the Government guarantee, practically a Government department. The Great Western Railway Company have purchased from Belgium a very large number of cast-steel accessories at a time when there is a great depression among the makers of such accessories in Sheffield; and is it not foolish to be paying out-of-work donation to out-of-work steel makers and at the same time giving orders to Belgium for goods of this description? There is a further matter which is closely associated with my own constituency. There is a large quantity of silk required in the manufacture of telephones. Here we have other orders going to Switzerland, Germany, and other countries. Why should the orders for the silk required for this purpose not be given to English firms and thus find employment for our own people and save out-of-work pay? It may be said that there is no precedent for any such proposal. I happen to have in my hand an Admiralty contract. It refers to the black silk handkerchiefs which are used in the Navy as a sign of mourning for Lord Nelson, and in the contract for the making of these handkerchiefs there is this clause. "All the handkerchiefs shall be of British manufacture throughout." When that principle has been carried out in one industry, surely it can be carried out in others.
In the present crisis through which we are passing it is almost criminal that Government Departments should be placing contracts in countries abroad. There is one further point on which I should like to lay emphasis. A great deal has been said about export credits, and it has been said as a rule with reference to Central European countries. But export credits are wanted for other countries as well as Central European countries. There is almost stagnation in exports to Australia. Exports to Australia are almost com- 183 p[...]etely stopped, and I understand the reason is that in the Bill which we passed for giving credits to Czecho-Slovakia, Rumania, and other countries we did not give ourselves the power of giving similar credits to Australia. Whatever the reason may be, surely it should not pass the wit of the Government to find means whereby ex ports to Australia can be financed? I happen to know that even on the bills of lading with drafts attached from reputable firms in England to reputable firms in Australia, firms which have never on one occasion failed to honour such drafts, it has not been possible to get these drafts discounted. Surely it ought to be possible for the Government to devise some means to see that trade with our own Colonies resumes its natural course. Once you get a trade running in its natural course you will find that other employment will follow in its train.
One cannot sit down without saying a word about the question of the bricklayers in the building trade. I have had a great deal of controversy in my own constituency on this question, and I have had it put to me that if only the matter were put in the hands of the building guilds in this country they would find employment for all ex-service men. I have replied that that seems to me like saying to the ex-service man, out of work and starving, "Shut your eyes and open your mouth and see what the building guilds will give you." I think trade union officials must realise by this time that the country will not stand being dealt with in this most unsatisfactory way. If the Government would only stand firm as they have done on other things and say, "We are going to employ these men with, or without your permission." they would have the whole country behind them and they would have the sympathy of all their supporters in this House.
§ Mr. MYERS
I desire to preface the observations I have to make with one or two references to the speeches already made. My first reference will be to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour in respect of what I believe and fear is his general attitude towards this question. I think the tenor of his observations in replying to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Miles Platting was that unemployment is a sort of temporary occurrence that can be met by ex- 184 pediencies and things of that character. For many years before the War it was continually being urged that unemployment was more or less permanent, that at all times the industries of the country unable to absorb the labour power which existed in the country, and it was felt that employers of labour generally looked upon a surplus in their labour market rather as a useful competitive weapon than otherwise, upon which they could draw from time to time in order to use that surplus labour in competition or to bring down wages and keep down the standard of life; and there were those who endeavoured to understand the real nature of this problem who urged that the surplus of labour should be dealt with not from the point of view of expediency and temporary measures, but that a definite line of policy should be pursued. That holds good to-day. I think the Minister himself laid once more too much stress upon the question of the building trades and the ex-service men. If the present housing schemes prove anything at all, they prove that these municipal schemes are getting at the present time the lowest strata of building labour. If we make a comparison in any district where houses are being erected under the municipality and where factories, workshops and other erections of a similar type are being put up, we shall find that the best type of labour and the best workmanship are being put into the alternative buildings, and that the erections called houses which are being put up are not of the standard they ought to be from a good building point of view.
If anything is done in the direction of bringing in unskilled labour to these building schemes, the standard of the houses will still further deteriorate, and in a year or two's time we shall have the opponents of municipal enterprise pointing to these erections and saying, "Look at your municipal policy and at the work you did under the municipality in the erection of houses!" Before anything is done of a definite character in respect of bringing in unskilled labour there should be some assurance that the best union labour available will be put on to house building and not on to building of an alternative character. I would also remind the right hon. Gentleman that, even if he has a grievance against the building trade in this connection, the ex-service men have a definite grievance against the Govern- 185 ment. The much-vaunted scheme of land settlement for ex-service men has not matured to anything like the extent it should, and they have a claim in that direction in respect of employment which in many instances might be more desirable than laying bricks and carrying mortar. I would like to refer to the observations made by the right hon. Member for Norwich, and express what is my own personal opinion only, because I know his views are held by some Members on this side in reference to unemployment being a charge upon a particular industry.
I am afraid any proposal of that sort, if put into operation, would make some trades much closer corporations than they are at the present time. The arrangement between employers and employed in any industry would put a ring fence more tightly around it, and it would mean employing men of a low standard of physical efficiency. From the general point of view, I should say that dealing with the unemployed question is a social or collective and not a sectional matter. If we endeavour to deal with it on sectional lines, I am afraid the problem will not get that attention it deserves. I also desire to refer to the observations of an hon. and gallant Gentleman who represents the Manchester Division, who referred to the Lancashire cotton trade. Here I would draw attention to the contradiction, shown in the discussion, that has come from hon. Members upon this point. The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to the fact that the cotton goods of Lancashire could not find their way into India on account of the high wages in Lancashire and the high cost of material when it got overseas. The hon. Gentleman who put the other point of view said that it was owing to the depreciation in the value of silver and the reduction of the purchasing power of the Indian population. What are the facts in connection with the Lancashire cotton trade? The hon. Gentleman who sat down a moment ago said that the cotton trade of Lancashire had gone to pieces. The facts do not bear that out. That position cannot be established upon the available facts. I was reading the "Manchester Guardian" a week or so ago, and although I am speaking from memory, I think it will be found that the facts I am putting forward are substantially correct. The "Manchester Guardian" said: 186The cotton trade of Lancashire had inflated its capital since pre-War days from three to seven times the pre-War figure.Notwithstanding that fact the "Manchester Guardian" gave the result of the year's working of 180 Lancashire cotton companies, with an available capital of £19,000,000. In 12 months they distributed dividends of over £4,000,000, an average over the 180 companies of over 25 per cent, on the capital. That is evidence at least that the Lancashire cotton trade is neither going to pieces nor from the employers point of view is it subject to hard times. That it cannot sell its cotton in India, due to the high price of the article, is not so much due to the wages of the operatives, but to the greater capital and the 25 per cent, dividend which is paid on that capital. I may presume to make a reference to one or two of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Gorbals Division (Mr. Barnes) and to his suggestion given, I know, in an exceedingly reasonable spirit that we should have greater confidence between employers and employed. He deplored the trade disputes which were taking place in industry. I have been inside trade disputes. I have walked the streets and drawn lock-out benefit, and all the rest of it. I have not yet come across a trade union official who wanted trade disputes, except as absolutely a last resource. But before the War, trade disputes were becoming more prevalent. Speaking from memory, I believe there were 600 more trade disputes in this country in 1913 than ever had taken place in any previous year. That was evidence of what? Either strained relationship between employers and employed, or a greater inclination on the one side to fight. I believe trouble in the industrial world to-day is to be found in the concentration of capital, in the great trusts and syndicates which have arisen, and which have no soul in their operations. The personal relationship of employer and employed has gone out of industry, and in these great industrial combines we do not know who are our employers. These corporations have no soul whatever. They are more disposed to fight than the workman if they cannot get their way. Restrictions and limitations are put upon the industries in every direction, and labour is got as 187 cheaply as possible, and if things are not to its liking, the industry takes itself from this country. We saw lately an industry establishing itself in the island of Jersey, and on the prospectus which was in the newspapers, three points were specially set forth: that there would be no Excess Profits Duty, no Government interference, and none of those things which this company considered hampered industry in this country. This is the trend of industry in my judgment; it exhibits a greater tendency on the part of these huge organisations to fight. I cannot hold out any hope to my right hon. Friend that the Councils, from which we are expecting so much, are going to bring us the advantages for which we had hoped.
In the Amendment which has been moved by my right hon. Friend there was specified one particular point, which was the unpreparedness of the Government to meet the present situation. I said a moment ago that unemployment was permanent before the War, and prevailed to a greater or less degree. But everyone associated with the matter is acquainted to a greater or less degree with the fact that for the last 25 years there has never been a time when there has not been in this House hon. Members who, in season and out of season, have pointed out this fact of unemployment, and urged the Government to make the necessary preparation in good times for the lean times which inevitably come along. Little or nothing has been done except in the nature of a temporary expedient. The Poor Law Commission of 1909 dealt with this particular question, and in the reports of that Commission—both majority and minority reports—can be found a very definite demand for dealing with this matter on definite lines—I mean this problem of unemployment. Up to 12 months ago upon the bookstalls in different part of the country we saw millions of pamphlets issued by the Minister of Reconstruction at the public expense, at 2d. each, in order to effect a popular and general sale, and in these documents we had presented by the Government itself a foreshadowing of the necessity for work being done to anticipate this serious problem. When everything has been said that can be said in defence of the present situation, 188 we are forced to the conclusion that the existing state of things ought to have been foreseen.
There is another important declaration in the King's Speech in respect of this matter which says that the problem of unemployment cannot be cured by legislative means. That may be so, but it is rather an unfortunate declaration, because, in my judgment, it will encourage those in this country who are urging that we should cease to look to any legislative proposal for these things being done, and ought to adopt other and less desirable means. A declaration of that sort will tend to emphasise the point of view held by these people. It must be said that legislative and administrative policy has undoubtedly intensified the evil. There has been an agitation in the country in respect to the removal of the Excess Profits Duty and it is argued that excessive taxation has hampered trade. There may be something in that suggestion, and I believe there is, and if the trade of the country needs stimulating some definite contribution should be made towards this trouble if it is to be relieved by the removal of heavy taxation. If the Government neglect to do that, they must be responsible to that extent.
We have heard that £360,000,000 has to be paid in interest on the War Loan and that £240,000,000 or £250,000,000 has to be provided for naval, military and air expenditure. I think it is in regard to these items that substantial economy can be effected, and if steps are taken to reduce these great charges the War debt taxes could be reduced in proportion and trade would be eased by that method. We urge on these Benches that in response to the economy campaign, we are willing to subscribe to that point of view, except that we urge that the items where economy can be practised and taxation relieved are the two items of interest on the War debt and the expenses of the Navy, the Army and the Air Force.
I was very much interested in what the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn) said about coal. Once more we have to hold the policy of the Government responsible for the conditions that prevail. We cannot tell the miner in the North of England, who stands idle on the streets because the pit is not working, that the Government policy has nothing to do with 189 him being out of employment, because he is alive to the fact that the export trade of coal to Germany was 9,000,000 or 10,000,000 tons in pre-War days. He also knows that a considerable quantity used to go to France, and that at the present time little or no export coal is going to France, with the result that the miner is out of employment, and the fact that there is no market is due to the policy of the Government in regard to the Peace Treaty.
There is another factor enters into the situation. The hon. Member for Ogmore did not refer to the competition of American coal, which is now finding its way to Europe, and large coal contracts have been made in Italy, Holland, and Scandinavian countries for American coal. The export trade in coal from the Northumberland and Yorkshire ports was largely with Scandinavian countries, but American coal is now finding its way there. If I am asked for a justification of the statement, of course I could not give it, but it has been reported that the contracts which have been made by the Swedish Government for Northumberland coal 12 months ago charged £5 per ton for coal, and now they have to bring across the Atlantic American coal to the Scandinavian countries, on account of the high price charged for North of England coal. Consequently you cannot blame the miners. If cotton manufacturers will demand such high profits, and stop the sale of their goods, and if colliery owners charge £5 a ton for coal, then we must not complain if American competition comes along, and they must accept the responsibility of putting the cotton workers and the miners out of employment.
The observations of the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. A. M. Samuel) in regard to the price of silver and exchanges were very instructive. I do not presume to know a great deal about the operation of exchanges. That is an intricate matter which it is difficult to understand, and one has to have a schooling in economics to get a thorough understanding of the subject. I believe the Minister of Labour declared that one of the reasons why unemployment prevailed was the collapse of foreign exchanges. I am sufficient of a student of this subject to know that a restoration of these exchanges can only be effected by foreign trade being stimulated and our trade being increased where the exchanges are down and 190 against us. It is up to us to take such steps as will enable that to be done. The extension of credit is also a matter which the Government ought to take in hand. I was very much struck the other day in reading an article in the "Times" by a banker of repute and this is what he said:The power of our bankers is even greater that that of Ministers, and increases year by year for the reason that our industries and commerce are built upon bank credit. With the continual amalgamation of our banks it is no exaggeration to say that the whole of our industrial and commercial life is under the control and at the mercy of probably less than 50 men.If there is any truth in that declaration it calls for drastic action. If the manipulation of bank credit is at the mercy of 50 men surely that is a question which the Government ought to take in hand. We have heard a great deal in this House, more particularly at the end of last Session, about the power of trade unions to hold up the industries of the country, but the power of the trade unions pales when compared with the power of the banking interest indicated in the quotation I have read. If the Government are willing to lend the troops and the military on one side when there is a dispute in any particular industry, surely they ought to be ready and willing to take some steps to deal with the bankers of the country who have the power to hold up all our industries.
I should like to say a few words about the remedies which have been proposed by the Government. The extension of the unemployed benefit has been referred to. My experience goes back 20 years sitting in labour conferences when we used to discuss pretty thoroughly the demand for invalidity and unemployment insurance. When the best has been said that can be said about unemployment insurance it is no solution for unemployment. Criticism has often been levelled against Labour Members that they are favourable to having doles and keeping people out of employment, but that criticism is very unfair because in season and out of season we have always urged that unemployment benefit is no solution whatever; it simply keeps a person half alive and ties him to the spot until the employer wants him again. While we believe that when every avenue has been explored and unemployment is still rife, the unemployed person is a charge on the community which should be recognised and accepted, 191 we say that the first thing we have to do is to endeavour to stimulate industrial, commercial and productive activity, and while we welcome the declaration of the Minister to the effect that there is to be some slight improvement in the rates of benefit, we shall contend it is no remedy for the problem which is before us.
At the end of the last Session of Parliament we had a novel suggestion from the Prime Minister that a well-thought-out scheme of emigration might be undertaken as a solution of this problem. I do not want to misquote the right hon. Gentleman. I simply say he put forward emigration as a prospective line of policy that might be followed. Surely we are not going back to the days of Malthus, who laid down the theory that poverty was the cause of over-population, and that if we were fewer in numbers we would be better off. There is no evidence in Ireland, at any rate, that that principle has operated, because 50 years ago the population was 8,000,000 and at the present time it is only 4,000,000, and there is very little support for the suggestion that to-day the population of Ireland is better off as a result of the diminution of numbers. We are living in the 20th century, and even if it were true in the days of Malthus it is not true now. Every person is a producer of some kind or sort, and he produces not only for himself but for a number of other people. It. is not a question of sending people out of the country. The thing is to get them to stop and make the best of the facilities which the country possesses. Emigration is no remedy for this question, because the population only emigrate to other countries where the unemployed problem is to a greater or lesser extent in operation.
The suggestion that industry should adopt short time has been put forward. I live in an area where the textile trade is the predominant industry. It has always been recognised in that trade that as soon as orders slacken and trade is not coming in to the extent it should do, then the workers should be put on a shorter working day, starting at 9 in the morning and finishing at 4 in the afternoon. That is a condition of things which prevails to-day in many factories in the West Riding, and in some instances 192 people are working considerably less than that. They have to go to the factory every day in the week for a few hours, and at the end of the week they get half a week's wages or less. There is no proposal to deal with this aspect of the question—and partial employment and under-employment, in my opinion, do not meet the necessities of the case. We have to admit indeed that most of the remedies that have been suggested and adopted by the Government have been mere expedients, and temporary ones at that, to endeavour to tide over what is considered to be an abnormal time, leaving things in the future to right themselves. The working-class population of this country are losing faith in the promises and expedients of the Government. A Government which advocates more production at one time and puts everybody on short time as a remedy for unemployment at another period, should not complain if its proposals are not taken very seriously.
The report of the Labour party, which has been sent to every Member of Parliament, is a document worthy of consideration. It sets forth how the evil comes about, how it operates, what remedies have been proposed, and what should be put into operation. One of the most significant features in His Majesty's Speech, in my judgment, is the suggestion that legislation in the coming Session will be extremely limited, as the implication of that paragraph is that all the social legislation with which we were made acquainted last Session has been thrown overboard. I know there are Members in this House, and a considerable body of people in the country behind this anti-waste or economy stunt who have their eyes upon effecting economies in the social services on which the well-being of the community depends. Education and public health services are to be kept down. In the field of education alone we have just had five years sterility. School equipment has deteriorated; all over the country the schools are overcrowded, and there is a lack of accommodation. Indeed, unemployment could be very substantially remedied by attention being given to this matter. There is another point to which that report makes reference, and that is that while adult labour is walking the streets unemployed, we are turning out from the schools every year 50,000 or 60,000 young people and putting 193 them into competition with their fathers and mothers for the limited amount of employment that prevails. Surely that is an aspect of the question that should be tackled without delay. Our remedies go to the root of the problem. We propose to develop productive activity and move in the direction of keeping out competition with existing industrial and commercial agencies—productive activity, for instance, in the direction of our food supply. I have indicated how the development of American competition in the coal trade with Scandinavian countries is affecting our people. It is also affecting our food supplies. America's merchant shipping fleet is now extensive and nearly equal to the fleet of this country. In pre-War days Britain did the greater proportion of the American carrying trade. In return for that service we received foodstuffs and raw materials, and just in proportion as Britain fails to perform those services for America, so will our supply of foodstuffs and raw materials be affected. It will force this country into a more intensive system of food production at home. The whole economic trend of the world is in the direction of seeking fresh markets and fields of raw material, but then those markets have to be secured by the assistance of the military, and when once secured they have to be protected by the Navy which we have to maintain. We have at our door Ireland, one of the largest centres of food production, which could give to this country the greater bulk, or at any rate a tremendous volume, of its food supply, without the necessity for an army to secure it or a navy to protect it when we have got it. In our own country there is a very large area that could be set apart for food production, and, even though we could not be self-supporting in this direction, a tremendous contribution to our food supplies could be made at home. The products of the vegetable kingdom, the cereal kingdom and the animal kingdom, which are required for food, all come to maturity in one season. We could start here and now, and, before this year was well advanced, we could be producing bacon, eggs, poultry, and things of that kind, which would enter into competition with no industry in this country. We should be providing ourselves with the necessaries of life for the home market in proportion to the work that is done. We ought to stimulate also our foreign trade. 194 As to the exchanges and all the other factors that are in the way, it is the responsibility of the Government to ease-them to the utmost possible extent. The references that have been made to Russia have been met in an atmosphere of hilarity, but surely the expression in the King's Speech is an indication that the Government have come round to the view that there is something in this question, when it is said:It is My hope that the negotiations for a trade agreement with Russia will also be brought to a successful conclusion.That may be taken as an indication that the Government think that there is something in seeking trade in that direction. The contention of the Labour movement is that private enterprise has broken down. It is unable to harness the activities of the people with the requirements of the people. That is exactly the unemployment problem. The energy of the people and the needs of the people have to be brought into the closest possible relationship. Private enterprise is unable to do that, and some other agency must be brought into operation. The workers and the Labour movement say that it is uneconomical and wasteful to have any productivity which is not being used. If private, commercialism has failed to function in this direction, it is the duty of the Government, as the Executive of the State, to stop in and make good the deficiency. Every able-bodied workman who is able and willing to work should not only, as has been urged, be kept from starvation, but should have work provided for him. That is the claim that he has upon the community—an indisputable claim to exercise his talents, his energy and his strength in the best interests of himself, his family and the community. If that is not done, then we say that the worker who is able-bodied and willing, but to whom that opportunity is not given, is entitled to maintenance. That demand has powerful backing. It has scriptural support, and it also has everyday practice behind it. I have ventured before in this House to remark that we recognise that principle in military operations. We provide the soldier with clothing, food, medical attendance, education, exercise, and leave, to keep him in a fit condition until his military activities are required. What is accepted in the military field needs to be translated into the civic life of the community. The time 195 has come when this problem of unemployment should be accepted as a national responsibility, and when such productive measures should be taken as to meet that demand that every able-bodied man shall be given an opportunity to find employment. If that is not done, every individual has an irrefutable and indisputable claim upon the community to maintenance until that opportunity is given to him.
If I remember rightly, the last speaker began his observations by blaming this Government and its predecessors for not following a definite line of policy in dealing with unemployment. When I heard that, I must confess that I pricked up my ears, for I thought that, at least, we should hear something definite about dealing with this most difficult of all problems. I am afraid I was disappointed. I hope that my hon. Friend will not think that I am inclined to be offensive if I allow myself to observe that, if he would only give us a little less information, and would only draw a little less on the vast store of knowledge that he undoubtedly possesses, it would be easier to follow him, and I think his contributions to our Debates generally would be much more effective. It is not for me to blame any hon. Member for being indefinite, for I find it very difficult to be definite myself on a problem of this nature. It is impossible for anyone to suggest a definite remedy for the disease which we are seeking to cure. It is too large and comprehensive; it is too subtle: it is too much subject to influences over which no man and no body of men has any control. Although I disagree with my hon. Friend in many of his observations, I agree with him in one or two of them. I agree with him when he says that a great deal of the industrial unrest today is caused by what he calls concentration of capital. I look upon these great limited companies and great trusts, where the worker is under the control of an assistant manager, where the assistant manager has to appeal to a manager, where the manager has a board of directors, and where the directors have the great body of the shareholders, as productive of an immense amount of unhappiness and unrest, because the personal interest is entirely eliminated. If that is true of our large industrial trusts, surely it will be 196 equally true of a new system of government such as is advocated by many of our Friends opposite.
With regard to my hon. Friend's points about the manipulation of bank credits, it is quite true that the control of finance to-day has got more and more into the hands of a limited number of people, and it is equally true that many of us regard that trend with a certain amount of misgiving. If, however, my hon. Friend would take the trouble to study the banking industry, he would find that there is no industry which has been managed with so much care and foresight, and with so much sympathy for the general public. All the banks to-day are performing the function which in business circles is commonly known as "holding the baby." They are helping traders to a very great extent, and I think that some small appreciation ought to be given to them for the services which they are now rendering. It is probably cold comfort, and yet there is a certain amount of consolation in the thought, that at the present time other countries are just as badly off as we are. If unemployment is an acute and difficult problem with us, it is equally acute and difficult in America, France, Germany, and other countries that I could name. Wherever you turn to-day there is trade depression. There is trade depression in such places as the Orange Free State and Venezuela, in Pekin and Bombay, in Europe and North America. The trouble from which we suffer is world-wide. I mention that fact because, in nearly all the arguments that I have read on this subject, and in nearly all the speeches to-day, the whole trend of thought seems to be in the direction that this problem is unique to this country. It is nothing of the sort; it is a world-wide problem, and the cause of it is world-wide, too. It is due to the Great War which ended two years ago. For that reason I am at one with those who seek to remedy unemployment by means of which in ordinary circumstances I should not approve. I am sure that the whole House listened with the greatest sympathy, and not without considerable emotion, to the moving tale that was told by an hon. and gallant Member from Manchester (Lieut.-Commander Astbury) this afternoon, and that it will support the Government in any measures that they may introduce to 197 relieve such a distressing condition of affairs. When all is said and done, however, such measures are mere palliatives. They are merely temporary. They must be accepted because of the exceptional times in which we live, but, in dealing with the problem of unemployment, what we want to do is to find a permanent and radical cure. I am afraid I cannot suggest that very easily. I find a cure for unemployment, as for all trade depression, in a free operation of the natural forces of economic laws. That was, I think, borne out this evening by the very interesting and instructive if somewhat involved speech of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. M. Samuel).
I propose to deal not so much with remedies for the present state of affairs as with some of the proposals which have been made for combating it. The first of these I should like to speak about is the proposal contained in the Amendment which the House is now asked to accept. There are two difficulties in accepting the policy of the right to work, and the first is, that with a commercial system such as we possess, which is the result of a long process of evolution, which is very much involved, which is subject to sectional interests and which is affected by so many conditions, it is far too big a task for any Government to attempt to provide work for any man who demands it. Government control has failed in the coal industry, in the shipping industry and in the food industry, and to talk in these days, with all this experience, of finding a remedy for unemployment by instituting Government control of industry on a scale which is infinitely colossal is to place confidence in a fallacy. If you are going to admit the right of every man to work, surely you have to admit also the right of the State to insist that he works. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I welcome that. We on this side who are struggling to support a Government which is faced with unusual and exceptional difficulties are looking forward with a certain amount of inverted pleasure to the day when our Friends opposite are in power and when they attempt to force the British working man to do something which he does not want to do. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Clynes) asked us why capital did not bear the burden of unemployment. The answer is quite easy. 198 Capital cannot afford to do it. Our Friends speak as if capital were something liquid, as though it were a balance in the bank on which you could draw at any moment. Capital is nothing of the sort. There is not a balance sheet of any company or firm in the United Kingdom to-day in which the assets are worth the paper they are written on except on the assumption that it is a going concern. The only way by which capital can pay wages to-day is by borrowing money. There is, practically speaking, no liquid capital to-day. Capital consists of buildings and stock, which you cannot sell, and machinery, and how you are going to assist matters by borrowing more money in order to pay wages is something which I am afraid I do not understand.
I should like to raise another point on which a little information might be useful. I belong, very humbly and poorly, to what is called the capitalistic class. I find it necessary to economise. I notice, in very modest restaurants, whore I occasionally dine, and in theatres, where I very occasionally find a little recreation, that those places are not patronised nearly so much as they were twelve or eighteen months ago. But, on the other hand, I find that in January over £1,000,000 per week was subscribed in War Saving Certificates. I see long queues of people waiting to go into cinemas. I have never yet heard that the takings at the gates of football matches have fallen off in consequence of trade depression, and I find also, to my regret, that the takings of the brewers are bearing a favourable comparison with former years, and I cannot understand it The hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. M. Samuel) explained that this question was affected by the problem of exchange. He put that down as the chief cause of industrial depression. I am afraid I do not quite agree with him. It is certainly a contributory factor and a very important contributory factor, but to my mind the crux of the whole situation to-day lies in Europe. If Europe cannot buy wool from Australia, Australia cannot buy goods from Great Britain. Wherever you turn you find this spectre of a devastated Europe, incapable of buying and holding up the course of trade. Some hon. Members have suggested that trade conditions will be restored to 199 Europe by the establishment of credits. In ordinary circumstances a trade credit is something which is established between two people who have a definite contract under which each hopes to get some material good. In this case any credits are established on the basis that one of the parties to the credit is going to run a very considerable risk. We are in no position to run a very considerable risk. Anything we can do in that direction must be very small and is a mere flea bite in comparison with the needs. This Government has instituted a credit scheme of some £26,000,000 of money. A large corporation has recently been floated in the United States to finance the credits of Europe to the extent of another £26,000,000. What is £52,000,000 to Europe to-day? It is quite a small thing, and if you go further than that, if you attempt to found credit without any security whatever and give Europe merely an uncovered overdraft you run the danger of creating inflation again. We are getting through that process of inflation. We are slowly getting back to a sound basis of economic conditions, and whatever we do let us avoid everything which will tend to add to inflation. I can only see one remedy and that lies in work. Europe has to work to repair her shattered fortunes and the damages of war. This country has to work in order to produce goods at such a price that Europe and the rest, of the world can buy them. Capital must meet its losses. It must face the music and meet the market, and Labour must do the same. In all these discussions we are apt to forget that Labour, after all, is a merchant just the same as anyone else. Labour has something to sell. It has to sell its energy and its brains, and the sooner it realises that its commodity must be tempered to market values the sooner shall we solve or be a stage nearer in the solution of the very grave and difficult and world wide problem of unemployment.
Mr. TREVELYAN THOMSON
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has told us that he had no clear cut remedy. I think we shall all agree with him that while he was able to pick holes in the various solutions put forward, except falling back on the suggestion that work alone will save the situation he had not much to 200 offer us. We shall all agree that work on all sides is necessary. The question is how to get that work. So far as labour is concerned, unless you can have some guarantee against the terrors of unemployment you will not get that full measure of work which he suggested was the salvation of the situation. He said the cure lay in going back to the free action of economic laws. If that means freedom to starve where capital cannot provide the work that will hardly meet with acceptance in this House, and certainly not in the country. One of the lessons of recent years has been that whatever happens we are not prepared to go back to the bad old days before the War. The Prime Minister, speaking not long ago, said to labour that she muse be audacious in her demands, more audacious and more audacious still, and I think it will be found that the temper of the country as a whole, as well as the temper of the workers, is on the same lines. As was said by the hon. Member for Salford(Commander Astbury)when men overseas had shared risks and losses together, and had shared everything in common, it was unreasonable to expect them to come back here and, having made sacrifices and shared alike, to stand alone now the losses that come as the aftermath of war. Surely the result of the War, and the trading which has ceased on account of the wastage of capital is but a broad charge which should be met in the same way that the nation met the war charges when fighting was going on. We cannot shelve our responsibilities as a State and a community. We must recognise the collective responsibility of the whole community to bear those burdens which are left upon the community as a whole, and not expect one section of the community alone to stand the racket.
In connection with the moving picture which the hon. Member for Salford gave of ex-service men and their dependants starving in their homes, a picture which can be repeated in every industrial town, the nation as a whole feels that it cannot close its eyes and pass by on the other side and leave the victims to the free action of economic forces. It reminds one of the fight that was put up in the early days of the Factory Laws. One remembers that great seer, Thomas Carlyle, referring to Lancashire and the fight that was then being made against imposing any restriction on employers with regard 201 to the employment of young children. Carlyle said, in that vivid, terse way of his, that if the success of the Lancashire cotton industry depended upon taking the devil into partnership, better perish the Lancashire cotton industry. The country to-day will say that, if it is an inevitable part and an inevitable result of our commercial system that you must have millions of unemployed for ever starving and clamouring in your midst, better perish that commercial system, rather than that should be the price. I do not agree entirely with my hon. Friends of the Labour party who wish to nationalise the production and distribution of all goods, nor do I agree with the suggestion put forward that unemployment, left unattended, is an inevitable part of the system of private enterprise. I believe that you may have the advantages and the virtues of private enterprise, and the incentive which it gives, and at the same time you can abolish the evils of unemployment to a very large extent, but not by a paltry dole of 15s. or even 18s., which the right hon. Gentleman now suggests, and which some of us tried to get in Committee, but which he and other members of the Government resisted at that time. Just as to-day he is resisting the proposal from the Labour Benches, it may be that in two or three years time he will come down to the House and propose the very thing which he is now resisting, just as he proposes to amend his new Insurance Act.
It is not an economic fallacy to suggest that the community as a whole or industry in particular should bear the burden of unemployment. What is the position to-day? In any organisation, in any industry or enterprise you have capital and labour, and you take care in working your enterprise that there is a reserve built up in prosperous days whereby, when periods of unemployment come, interest may be paid to the shareholders on the capital which they have invested. You take care that so far as dead plant is concerned, machinery or whatever it may be, that when unemployment comes that plant is kept in a state of efficiency. It is well eared for, so that when employment starts again the wheels may go round and the machinery is in just as efficient a condition as it was when it stopped. The same in regard to the brute creation. Take the case of pit ponies. You do not turn the 202 pit ponies loose on the hillside or the roadside to fend for themselves. When the mine is not working the ponies are fed, watered and cared for just in the same way as when they are working. If it is a sound economic policy, so far as capital is concerned, to make provision so that the shareholder's interest may be paid, and if it is a sound economic policy to take care of your machinery and plant when it is idle, and to take care of your pit ponies when they are not working, it is equally a sound economic policy to adopt in regard to the human factor, which, however, we treat in an entirely different way. Whether you carry that out by a maintenance grant as suggested by this Resolution, or by insurance in the industry, or by an increase of the grant already provided, is immaterial, provided that the sum is sufficient to maintain in a state of efficiency the worker who is in need at the particular time. I believe that a solution may be found in adopting the three systems.
There are certain industries, despite what the hon. Member for Spen Valley (Mr. Myers) said, which could very well bear the burden of their own unemployment charge without being too close a corporation. Surely it would be to the interests of the enterprise as a whole that it should carry its own burden of unemployment. What happens to-day? The employer knows that it is immaterial to him whether he finds work for his men or not all the year round, because as he requires them there is always a crowd at the works' gate ready to come on. If he had to bear the cost of unemployment, would he not take care to see that he so organised and directed his energies that there were orders available for the whole year, so that the unemployment would be as little as possible and the charge on the industry would be smaller than it would otherwise be? Therefore, it would be in the interests of industry that as far as possible from the practical point of view industry should bear its own unemployment burden. At the same time those industries should not seek, by withdrawing from the pool, to escape their national charge, but they should contribute in a special way or through the taxes to a common fund, whereby those industries which could not stand alone might have their burden reduced by the 203 contributions from the stronger industries. That is a matter for the actuaries to work out.
We are told that we want more production, that the workers must do their utmost. Surely the one thing that deters a man from doing his utmost is the ever-present fear that at any time he may come upon a period of unemployment. If he always has that fear before him, is it not natural that sometimes when he sees the work failing he does not exert himself to the fullest extent, because he feels, wrongly I think, that if he does so he is going to hurry forward the day when he will be out of work. If the worker was guaranteed maintenance during the period of unemployment and he had the incentive to increase his production during the time he was at work, he would by so increasing production reduce the cost, and by reducing the cost increase the demand for the goods. In that way we should get the increased production which we want to-day. The Government are not wise in resisting this Amendment, and they are exceedingly foolish in suggesting that they are going to meet the case by increasing the dole from 15s. to 18s. I hope in Committee they will soften their hearts and realise that 18s. to-day is really only worth about 8s. 6d., and that it is no use even as a palliative. The crisis is tremendous. One million men are out of work, and yet the right hon. Gentleman takes credit to himself for what the Government have done. He said they had a Committee formed in August of last year. Surely he knew perfectly well that the country was faced with fleeting prosperity based on fictitious profits made out of borrowed capital, and that it could not last. The experience of history has shown that after every great war a period of collapse comes. It has been delayed in this particular case, but it was bound to come, and the Government cannot be held blameless in the matter. They ought to have had their scheme prepared and well thought out immediately peace was declared or the armistice signed, so that they would be ready to meet this tremendous danger of unemployment which is upon us to-day, with 1,000,000 men out of work and 500,000 on half-time Even some of the schemes which he has put forward are not sound. It is well to work through the local authorities to some extent, but it is unfair to put on them the 204 burden which this scheme suggests. It is true they contribute something like 60 per cent, of the wages and something like 30 per cent, of the material, but it is just those very districts where the need is greatest that the burden would be heaviest. Industrial districts where the rates are already high, where unemployment will take place, are least able to bear the burden and the charge should be a national charge and not further added to the rates which are already so heavy.
Unemployment is caused by another reason. It is not merely a question of work not offering at the moment but in any properly thought out scheme provision would also be made for the fact that it is caused in many cases through the inability of a man, owing to his health, to do a full day's work. We want not to curtail those health measures for the prevention of sickness and disease, but rather to press forward that work in order to make employment by building where necessary further hospitals and dealing adequately with tuberculosis instead of reducing the programme which the Government outlined at the General Election for dealing with the health of the nation. The returns issued by the Registrar General the other day for the last year, showing that the adult death rate was less than in any period of our history, and the infantile death rate was less than in any period during the last ten years, are ample justification for the money spent by the local authorities up to the present in seeking to improve the health conditions of the people by means of medical inspection of school children, health centres, and maternity and welfare clinics, and the work done on the health question should be extended by the Government during this year, and not curtailed as they have rather foreshadowed.
If you want to have good work you must have good health. The health of the worker is his capital which is as important to him as it is to the capitalist to have protection given him for his investment. Therefore I suggest that if the Government are really in earnest in this matter when they come to frame their Bill for amending the Insurance Act they should increase the amount of the payment to a sum which will keep in good health those thrown out of work. Unemployment at present, whatever it may 205 have been in the past, is not the fault of the worker to-day. We had a disquisition on high finance by the Member for Farnham (Mr. A. M. Samuel) who showed clearly from his point of view that it was the fall of the silver exchange which was responsible in large measure. It is not the laziness of the worker, his indolence, his ca' canny or his high wages which has brought about the present condition. [HON. MEMBERS: "Question!"] I cannot speak for the cotton or the boot trade, but I know something about the steel trade, and I know there is not one iota of truth in the suggestion that high wages are the cause of the high cost of iron. In the blast furnaces and the steel and iron bar rolling trades the wages follow prices inevitably. Wages at present are the result of the ascertained selling price of the quarter that has gone before.
§ Mr. A. HOPKINSON
So far as basic rates are concerned, but war bonuses of every sort fall outside the sliding scale.
The 12½ per cent, war bonus is not an invention of the other day. That was the action of the Government of two or three years ago, and the sliding scale has been applicable during the last year or year and a half, irrespective of any war bonus. It has been based entirely on selling price. Until selling price comes down it is not fair to ask wages to come down, because always remember in the old days when selling price went up employers got the advantage, which they had under every sliding scale, of the lower wages for the first month or two. They have had the gain, and they must also take the risk of the loss which comes at the other end when the sliding scale comes down. Capital must face this loss, and employers must be prepared to sell existing stocks at a loss, because until we do that we shall never get on to a sound foundation again. I submit that a solution will only lie when you have unity of purpose with all sections of the community working together to get out of the tremendous morass in which we are, because one knows that unemployment, bad as it is to-day, will be worse to-morrow and worse the month after unless the facts are realised and the Government are prepared to meet the situation by granting a real living maintenance allowance and not the paltry 18s. which they foreshadow.
§ Mr. T. GRIFFITHS
I have listened carefully to the Debate all the afternoon. The Minister of Labour was very sympathetic with the distress which prevails to-day, but that does not fill the cupboards of the starving unemployed. He pointed out that we have something like 1,039,000 unemployed men and women who were registering in the Labour Exchanges to-day. In our Amendment we point out the lack of preparedness on the part of the Government to deal with this situation. The Minister tried to justify the Government by saying that they had been making preparations, that they had found employment for 70,000 and that if the building trades had only accepted the proposals of the Government another 50,000 of the ex-service men would have been absorbed. There you have a figure of 120,000 which is simply touching the fringe of the subject, according to the figures given by the Minister of Labour himself. We have put forward certain suggestions to the Government, not today and not a month ago, but 12 months ago and 18 months ago, to open up trade in Russia. The Member for Norwich (Mr. G. Roberts) dealt with this question as if it were only to-day or last week we approached the Government and suggested that opening up trade with Russia would create a volume of employment for the unemployed in this country.
We have heard speeches from different parts of the House in connection with the cotton trade and other trades. I want to deal with the question in so far as South Wales is concerned. We have to-day in South Wales more unemployment than I remember since 1891. Perhaps Members of the House have not realised that the-staple industry in South Wales is the tin plate trade which is an exporting industry. We produce something like 18,000,000 boxes of tin plates per annum, 4,000,000 for home consumption, and 14,000,000 for export to foreign countries, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Japan, and Italy. One of our best customers previously to the War was Russia. The steel trade of South Wales making the tin plate parts is quite dependent upon the exports of tin plates. Other subsidiary trades are also dependent upon the tin plate trade. You have thousands of workers idle because tin plates are not being sold. You have foundries idle because the machinery is not required. You have mines idle be- 207 cause the steel trade and the tin plate trade consume more coal than any other industries in the country. If we had opened up trade with Russia we should have been able to keep hundreds of mills going in South Wales, and the responsibility for thousands of these men being thrown out of employment rests entirely upon the Government in not treating with Russia. Taking home consumption, our best consumer is Ireland. Instead of treating with Ireland we are bringing about a state of devastation in that country. Therefore, we put the entire responsibility upon this Government for the position in South Wales. You have there two of our biggest customers, Russia and Ireland, not able to take our tin plates because the Government refuse to treat with Russia and because of the manner in which the Government are treating Ireland.
It has been suggested that the Government ought to have done something to establish some fund among the trade unions and employers with a view of dealing with the question of unemployment. When the Insurance Act was being discussed last June or July I moved two Amendments. The first Amendment was that trade unions and employers should be permitted to contract out of the Act. The Minister of Labour accepted that Amendment. My second Amendment was that the Minister should pay back to the trade unions who had been paying unemployment benefit a certain amount of the £22,000,000 which he had in reserve under the Insurance Act to establish the nucleus of a fund so that they might form some scheme whereby they would be able to deal with the unemployment that would arise in the various industries. The Minister of Labour refused to accept that Amendment, and to-day he comes forward with a proposal to spend part of that £22,000,000 in extending and increasing the unemployment benefit. It would have been far better if he had accepted my Amendment, because during the last seven months we have had something like 700,000 people employed in the steel trade, and we should have had our scheme ready and in operation to meet the present unemployment.
We bring these points forward to prove the responsibility of the Government and to confirm the charge in our Amend- 208 ment of their unpreparedness. Whenever this question has been discussed we have always had the building trade thrown at us. I was reading last week of a deputation of women who waited upon the Minister of Labour. There was a woman of the name of Mrs. Whitehouse, of Hammersmith, who finished munition work two years ago. She concluded her training as a tailoress under the Ministry of Labour last June, but she has secured no work. That is only one case out of hundreds of cases of people who have been trained by the Ministry of Labour and who are now out of employment. Surely that is not the fault of the building trade. These people are among the 1,000,000 for whom the Government have not prepared anything. I was in my own trade for 20 years, and I was a trade union leader for another 21 years. When I was at home last December, I passed a Labour Exchange on the way to my office, and I saw some of the most respectable citizens in this country standing in a queue half-a-mile long waiting in the rain for 14s. or 15s. a week. It was degrading and demoralising. We, as a Labour party, say that it is the duty of the Government, if it cannot find work for these people, to see that they are adequately maintained, and that they are paid at home instead of having to stand in the street for hours to pick up a miserable 15s. a week, which is insufficient to feed a canary let alone a man and his wife and family. We therefore appeal to the Government to accept this Amendment. What did we find in 1914? We found these boys marching to the tune of "Tipperary." To-day we find them marching to the cemeteries to bury their little children to the tune of the "Dead March."
This is the country that was to be made fit for heroes to live in. We do not ask you to make it fit for heroes to live in, but fit for heroes to work in. Let them have, work first. Every man and every woman and child born into this world should be sufficiently fed, adequately clothed and properly housed, and then the promise made by the Government during the War will enable the people to live a sweeter and nobler and happier life.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HURST
I hope it will not be thought presumptuous for a mere Chancery barrister to talk on a question which is primarily a matter of trade and 209 trade conditions. The district which I have the honour to represent in Parliament is probably more afflicted by unemployment and distress than any other area in the country. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Salford (Lieut.-Commander Astbury) has alluded to the distress in his portion of the joint boroughs of Manchester and Salford. That distress is not confined to the manual labourers, to whom he referred mainly. In Manchester there has been a depression in the shipping trade without any example in the city's past history. You have a great suburban district on the south side of the city, where hitherto unemployment and underemployment have been practically unknown, now submerged by distress and by hardship. There is nothing more painful than to feel that at a time like this Parliament can do so little by legislation to alleviate their wants. Also it is a matter of very great regret that so many people who come forward with proposals in the country and in the House of Commons have really no conception as to what are the real underlying causes of the present shortage of work. There is a saying for which Lord Beaconsfield was responsible:With words we govern men.When I hear all the maxims and shibboleths and clichés which have been used for generation after generation on political platforms reappearing in the speeches made by hon. Members who represent the Labour party, I see how far they are from appreciating the real underlying causes of the distress. The two main ideas underlying the Amendment brought forward to-day are, first, that unemployment must, for some reason or other, be due to the action or inaction of the Government, and, secondly, that the only cure for unemployment is more Government action in another direction. In reality the Government have nothing whatever to do with the unemployment now raging, and the Government can do very little to relieve that unemployment, except by liberating those shackles which at present disturb the free play of supply and demand between the nations of the world. If the condition of affairs now was as simple as is indicated in the Amendment, there would be no difficulty at all. The hon. Member for the Spen Valley (Mr. Myers) asks why the Government did not accept the Labour party's 210 Bill for the prevention of unemployment. How could any Bill under the sun prevent unemployment? The hon. Member says that everything would now be all right if the Government had only accepted and absorbed some Labour Report on unemployment which everybody knows is a mere hotch-potch of foolish rhetoric and fantastic conclusions. The hon. Member had one amazing idea, and that was to lessen expenditure by reducing the charge upon the National War Debt. What does he mean by that? Is he going to repudiate the Government's liabilities to those who lent money during the War? If so, it is a very extraordinary system of economy and a very fantastic project.
The real reason why we have so much unemployment, particularly in the textile trades, lies, of course, in the great disparity in the rates of exchange between foreign currencies and our own. There is no doubt that the Continent would buy our goods to an enormous extent if the countries there could afford to pay the price. The reason we are not shipping goods to France and Italy and Belgium is not that they do not want our goods, but that they cannot afford to pay for them, nor will they be able to afford to pay for them until the rates of exchange can be stabilised at something like the pre-War level. It is the same thing which affects us in neutral markets. Take China. An illustration was given me by a firm of shippers in Manchester. They were asked to quote for steel wire for use in China. They quoted for steel wire of British manufacture at £44 per ton. That was too high. They were driven to ship to China steel wire at £32 a ton made in Belgium, because the cost of production in Belgium is lower and the rate of exchange enables the Chinese consumer to buy the Belgian article when he cannot afford to pay for the British article. Take Portugal. Before the War 1,000 reis were equal to about 40 pence. The rate is now under 5 pence, and the Portuguese can not afford to buy British goods. What we have to face is the question of getting over this difficulty regarding rates of exchange. The right hon. member for Norwich (Mr. Roberts) hinted that the prohibition of foreign goods might help trade conditions in England, but if you prohibited all the foreign goods from coming into England it would simply make the disparity in the exchanges so much the worse—
§ Mr. G. ROBERTS
I have no recollection of having said any such thing or even of having implied it. The observation of my hon. Friend has aroused great hilarity. Certainly he should not attribute such a statement to me.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HURST
Of course, I withdraw the statement. I must have misunderstood the observation made by my right hon. Friend in his speech. The suggestion has been made regarding a high tariff wall around England. If we did shut out foreign goods we would simply have to meet them in neutral markets instead. The cure for our troubles undoubtedly is in establishing some system by which the goods made on the Continent can be bartered for goods made in England through some international clearing-house. I understand that very good results have been accomplished already by a British bank operating in Warsaw in exchanging sugar and other raw materials for manufactured goods from England. That is an idea which might be developed in other countries. So far as the Eastern markets are concerned, where undoubtedly there is a boundless potential market, the cure is the stabilisation of silver so that we can have a fixed medium of exchange between England and India and the East generally. There is the further point that raw materials have not increased in value anything like proportionately to textiles. Every body knows that goods are paid for by goods. A very large amount of British goods go to Africa, and are paid for indirectly by raw materials shipped from Africa. In 1914 palm kernels were worth 15 guineas per ton; they are now only worth £12 per ton, including tax, so they have actually gone down in value, while cocoa has increased in value from £36 per ton in 1914 to £37 3s. 4d. per ton now. In other words, the value of these raw materials which are used in exchange for our textiles has remained constant since 1914, whereas the value of our goods has gone up something like two, three or four times during that period.
The reason is that our cost of production is excessive, partly owing to the high taxation, partly owing to the too high wages and too high profits which have been received by those engaged in industry, and the result has been that it has been impossible for us to carry on business with these countries, because they cannot afford to pay for our goods, and the only 212 way to reduce prices is to liberate our cost of production so far as possible from excessive taxation, to reduce profits, and to reduce wages. The country will not be worse off, because the reduction in the cost of production means reduction in the price of the articles, and if you have lower wages, and get more for them, you are better off than if you have high wages and get less for them. I believe the Government ought to liberate trade altogether from all these obstructions which so many Labour Members wish to see accentuated and exaggerated. I think all minimum wages ought to be swept away altogether, and that all trade boards ought to go. In normal times minimum wages and trade boards are very useful, but these are abnormal times, and they are no longer of any value to us at all. We have heard various suggestions made of the old style, after the manner of Louis Blanc in the French Revolution in 1848, that national workshops are the best thing. All that policy of high doles and national workshops does not commend itself to people who really know how the business of a country like ours in a highly complex state of civilisation has got to be carried on.
I think there is a great deal to be said for the observations in the Gracious Speech from the Throne which have been so much criticised this afternoon with regard to moral influences being much more important than legislative action. I think it would be a great boon if we heard less of strikes and threats and rumours of strikes. I wish the Government would face the facts of the situation, and go for the abolition of the Trades Disputes Act of 1906. Everybody knows that since 1906 the old sense of responsibility which made trade unions careful because they knew they were liable for their own torts has disappeared, because they know their funds cannot now be reached. We all know that picketing, so far from being peaceful, is most pugnacious, simply because they have the protection of the Trades Disputes Act, and the Government know very well that if they only fought the extremists who purport to represent labour in England on these questions, and on the question of dilution in the building trade, they would have the whole country behind them. I hope the House will allow me to read a portion of a letter I received the other day from a trade unionist in Manchester who belongs to the Amalga- 213 mated Society of Engineers, dealing with this question of dilution in the building trade. He said:I am a trade unionist myself, and I should like to see the Government defy the trade unions more than is the case. In regard to the builders, I should fancy if the Government did defy the unions they would have the majority of people in support, and the builders would have to climb down or go under. Personally, I should like to see them smashed out, for when one thinks of the unemployed of today, and years of work ahead for the building trades, well, if the builders' unions have no respect for 'services rendered,' then the Government should step in and have no regard for them. There are thousands of men walking the streets to-day who would be only too glad of any job, but 'Free' England's trade unions will not allow them to wander from the path they set out to walk. Therefore, I say, smash the unions.That is what ought to be done on this question of building. So far as employers are concerned, I wish a great many of them had more courage in dealing with the situation, because there is no law to prevent them from employing ex-service men at the present time.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HURST
The hon. Member has been able to surmount the difficulties of that Act by ignoring them, and his own success at Mossley is an example which other employers of labour would do well to follow. So far as the Government are concerned, and this is. I think, the main appeal which ought to be made to the Ministry to-day on this building trade question, they know as well as any of us the immense need there is for houses. They know also the enormous number of men who could find employment in that trade, and we have heard the usual brave words from my right hon. Friend here this evening, in which he says how scandalous this treatment of the ex-service men has been, and how thoroughly the Government have it at heart, how long they have been negotiating about it, and how the question is receiving more and more day by day their very serious consideration. I wish he would follow the advice humbly offered by the trade unionist working man whose letter I have read to the House. My right hon. Friend might say it is a great risk, and that a man must be mad if in these days he takes his courage in both hands and fights the builders operatives' union. I may recall to the House the memory of that great 214 soldier, General Wolfe, the conqueror of Canada, who took risks in George II.'s reign, and some Minister of the day said to George II. that General Wolfe was mad. "Well," said George II., "if he is mad, I only wish he would bite some of my other generals." I should like to see the trade unionist whoso letter I have read to the House give a good bite to the right hon. Gentleman.
Mr. J. JONES
I cannot enter into high finance, neither am I able to boast of my knowledge of the law. I can only claim to represent a constituency where this problem affects us very seriously, and I am not going, if I can possibly help it, to talk clap-trap. I leave that to more educated gentlemen, but one would imagine that the problem we are discussing to-night is something new, and that all of a sudden we have discovered various remedies for the disease from which we are now suffering. I joined the Labour movement more years ago than I care to remember, when in all our club-rooms and branches we were discussing this very problem, 35 years ago. Then it was not so serious as it is to-day, but I was taught, in the economic school that I happened to graduate in—not the University of Oxford, but the university of poverty—that unemployment was due to the fact that those who produced the wealth of every country were not able to buy back with the wages which they received the goods which their labour had created, that the real cause of unemployment is under-consumption by the great mass of the population, and I want to venture to suggest that although political economy may be described as the dismal science, yet I believe, if it is properly studied and looked into, it becomes one of the most interesting of sciences. I do not know much about capital, only the lack of it, but I have heard it described as "cop-it-all" and "keep-it all," Judging from some of the speeches I have heard in this Debate, that is as near a definition as possible.
One of the remedies proposed for unemployment is the stabilisation of the exchanges. I can remember the time when bi-metallism was put forward as one of the great means whereby we could make trade possible, and I well remember in Manchester, many years ago, listening to a right hon. Gentleman, an ex-Prime Minister, who, I believe, 215 can now be described as the Lord President of the Council that never meets, and hearing him say that bi-metallism at that particular time would remove a great deal of the economic difficulties with which this country was faced, particularly in connection with Eastern trade. We find ourselves in this position now, that all the old theories have been resurrected. They have gone round the cemeteries of political dogma to tell us, "What is the good of anything?—Why, nothing." If legislation cannot solve the problem, why are we here? Why are we paying £5,000 a year to right hon. Gentlemen on that bench opposite? If they are going to declare the bankruptcy of the State, and that political genius has come to the end of its tether, I for one am going to join the direct actionists, along with other trade unionists, if when we go to our constituencies in teeming working-class constituencies, where men, women and children have reached the economic level of practical poverty and starvation in many cases, we have to tell these people that the great men in Parliament, the men whom we have looked up to to guide the nation's destinies in times of great crises, can do nothing except dole out a few shillings a week to keep them from the abyss of starvation. If that is statesmanship, no wonder people are getting tired of Parliament, and coming to the trade union branches and trying to induce us to go in for more revolutionary and less desirable means.
I do not believe the State consists of a body of glorified policemen who are simply out to keep the fence, so that people inside the fence shall not quarrel or shall not be allowed to hit each other too hard. That is what you are doing now. Under existing arrangements, 75 per cent, of our population are men and women who have to earn their breakfast before they can eat it. Most of them see more dinner-times than dinners. I remember being at Bristol when the Prime Minister congratulated the organised workers on the efforts they put forward, and appealed to them to make still greater efforts. He said, "We appeal to the men at the bench to help the men in the trench," and he exhorted all to co-operate to win a nation's victory. Those of us who took a certain view of the War did our best to assist, so far as we were able. We got our mem- 216 bers to work, and in a large number of cases the men worked night and day, according to the request made to them. Then we could find work for the lame, the halt and the blind. Before the War men were too old to work at 40. During the War they were too young to begin before 50, as all the younger men were wanted for other work. My own father in-law, a man 75 years of age, was sent for by a company which paid him a pension ten years ago, and was offered more wages by the firm for work he had done before he was pensioned. You could find employment then. The laws of the Medes and Persians were not then resurrected. Now we are told that the law of supply and demand must operate. Abolish the trade unions, and, if you cannot abolish them, fight them. Begin! So far as we are concerned, we are not afraid of a fight. The men who fought in the War are prepared to fight in peace if called upon to do so. But we do not want to fight; we want to find a way, if we can, out of the difficulty by constitutional methods. What are the essentials of production? I was told when a lad that they were land, labour, and capital. Land there is in super-abundance, so much that we do not know what to do with it. We have to offer a bribe to farmers to enable them to produce more, and to guarantee a price for the products they have or may have, and they are carrying on an agitation now in an election in an important agricultural constituency to see that they get more than they were originally offered. Ministers of the Crown go down to that constituency and promise farmers that if they will only be good boys they will get more. When votes depend upon it you can do a lot, and no doubt the unemployed if they only go the proper way about it, may probably get as much as the farmers are perhaps going to receive. The land is here, the labour is here and the capital is here—Farrow's Bank demonstrates that. I have also been led to understand that if those three essentials were brought into operation everyone could produce more than he could consume. Then men could, by co-operative labour on the land, be able to maintain themselves. But what are you going to do? You are going to subsidise idleness, and that is your policy to deal with unemployment. If you spent that 18s. a week in subsidising men for 217 doing useful service, there would be something to be said for it, even if you lost 18s. a week on every man. Instead of that, you are going to throw this money into a pool, and the pool is a bottomless pit, and so far as we are concerned, whilst demanding maintenance, we protest against this idea that you are going to solve the problem by merely tinkering with it.
The right hon. Gentleman also said that short-time was a practical proposition and a desirable one under the circumstances. I am not going to argue that here, but I know, as regards one of the Government factories, in which my constituents are interested, protest has not been made merely against short-time as such. We have always been in favour of short time as such, and I am glad the Government have been converted to it. But what we object to is, short commons, and what has happened at Woolwich, as a consequence of the reorganisation of the work in the Arsenal, is that 12,000 men are affected, and, of those, 8,000 are semi-skilled and unskilled men. The lower-paid men were averaging about £3 14s. 6d. a week before this scheme was brought into operation. This new scheme means bringing down the wage 9s. 10d. a week, according to the information I have received from the deputation; that is, one-sixth of the labourer's weekly money. I want to ask, if it is a question of the equality of sacrifice in time of war, why should not the sacrifice be equalised in time of peace? If the poor labourer has to pay 10s. a week out of his scanty earnings, which did not enable him to maintain a family in anything like comfort, why should not every man in the community who is better off be called upon to make an equal sacrifice to meet this present crisis? But no, it is put on the bottom dog every time, and not even in Government Departments do they call upon the highly paid officials to make a sacrifice. They still go in at ten and knock off at four. It is only our people who are affected" by this, and we protest because we do not think it is even-handed justice.
We have had this other proposition, the increasing of the dole from 15s. to 18s. a week. I wonder if any Gentleman opposite has ever tried to live on 18s.? I have padded the hoof in London on less, and I did not feel very comfortable 218 about it. I had to make holes in my belt because the holes already there were not sufficient to circumscribe my circumference. But I want the House to realise that this 18s. is not an employment grant. It is a landlord's relief grant. What are they doing now? They come down on Monday mornings and when the woman goes to the door and says her husband is out of work, they say, "What has he done with the out-of-work money?" They seem to think they have a first claim upon it. What is the position? The Government are giving 3s. for 3½d. Trade unions are giving 6s. for 2d. Our own union—the Labourers' Union—are paying out for every 2d. in contribution 6s. a week. If a trade union can do that, I say the Government can be far more generous in the contribution they are making in view of the demands they propose to make on members of unions and employers. But sufficient for the day is the amount of grant thereof.
With reference to the opening up of trade with other countries, we had trade before the War, but we had our periodical depressions. When I was a boy these trade depressions used to average one in ten years. During recent years it has come to be one in seven or one in five years. When we have resurrection of trade again, when the Chinese and the Japanese and all the people in the West and in the East go in for increased production and for more expression of their individual and collective power, the sooner will the markets of the world become glutted with the products of their labour, and we shall reach the time when somebody will want another war, and we will have the same old tale over and over again repeated. We say, as far as that is concerned, there is only one solution, and that is a substitution of production for use as against production for profit. Some of our friends suggest that we regard the State as a sort of almighty influence or power. We do not believe anything of the kind. We believe the State is a human institution that exists for the purpose of dealing with human needs. My hon. and gallant Friend (Lieutenant-Commander Kenworthy) is a disciple of Adam Smith. So am I, to some extent; but I want to point out that one of the great Radical philosophers pointed out many years ago that government was the organisation of 219 society in the best interests of all its members, and politics is the essence of government. That is the reason why you are here. Consequently, believing in that adage, I want to know what kind of Government can stand almost idly by while millions of its people go down into the hell of poverty, and merely get up and tell us their hearts are good but their heads will not let them. To be told by these hon. and right hon. Gentlemen that the State can do nothing is to insult our intelligence. We believe the State is the people organised, and when the people in their organised capacity want to solve this problem they will find a way to solve it.
I was a general labourer—at least I was until I became a trade union official. [Laughter.] At least I am honest about my idleness. I do not pretend to be one of those very busy people who do nothing but who manage to look very busy while trying to do it, and to that extent I can afford to plead guilty. I can remember the time when it was supposed by certain people that each industry should be responsible for its own unemployed, that certain people immediately objected on the ground that some industries could not afford to be responsible for that particular problem in their own particular industry. I happen to represent the General Workers' Union, which has within its ranks 360 different sections of men and women unskilled and semi-skilled workers. Many of them work in seasonal trades, many of them in merely subsidiary industries. They are transferred to six or seven different jobs in the course of a year. I want to know what scheme is to be adopted for them on the principle of each industry supporting its own unemployed? I say there is only one way to deal with the problem if we are to accept responsibility at all, and that is the nation must acept responsibility while the administration might well be left to the trades and to those most directly connected with the industry. You cannot deal with the problem of unemployment, because it is the general worker who suffers most. He is the first to feel the pinch and the last to feel the benefit.
I must apologise for not being able to add to the knowledge of the House. I only want to say I hope the Government 220 will accept the Amendment moved on behalf of the Labour party. I admit we are not as clever as the Gentlemen opposite. To a large extent our ideas may be rather narrow because we have been brought up under narrow conditions and have had to live in places where there is not an opportunity always to develop intellect in proportion to the possibilities thereof. We might appeal to you for consideration upon that line and not have gentlemen who had greater opportunities than we had sneering at us because of our lack of knowledge. None of us knows everything, not even the youngest of us. Therefore we have a right to expect a certain amount of generosity from those who had better opportunities than ourselves. Hungry men become desperate men, especially after having gone through periods of good trade such as we have had. Let right hon. Gentlemen go down and make their speeches to the unemployed in their own districts. Let them tell them that nothing can be done for them, that Parliament can do nothing, that we are simply here talking, talking, talking because the problem cannot be solved owing to the unalterable law of supply and demand and the exigencies of the existing system. I should despair if I believed that. All systems and all men evolve, and this system will be succeeded by another system on a higher plane and in greater relationship between man and man than the system that has prevailed up to the present. I believe there is a greater idea in growing co-operation than in ideas of class war. We do not preach the class war. We do point out the effect of the existing economic order in creating antagonism between class and class. Can starving men give much support to or have much sympathy with the people who take advantage of their poverty? In Birmingham at the present moment 3,000 members of my own union are under notice of a reduction of from 5s. to 10s per week of their wages. Go and tell these men that they ought to love their enemies, that they ought to put their arms around the necks of those people who suggest that they ought to live on wages of probably 10s. a week less than they are doing at present! I could not convert them to doctrines of brotherhood on these lines, and I willingly give up the job to anybody who wants it. So I want to suggest to the House that schemes 221 we propose are what we consider appropriate. If you have anything better to suggest, suggest it. The stabilisation of the exchanges may temporarily alleviate the difficulty. Various things have been proposed about the restoration of the metallic standard, and that may alleviate the situation on certain lines in certain departments of industry, but the great problem will remain that a great mass of the people are unable to consume the things they produce because their purchasing power under the present system does not allow them the opportunity, and then we later, in bad trade, get the reserve. That is the crux of the problem. Because we believe that we look upon all these things as fallacious, a mere attempt to stave off the inevitable, we hope the nation and the Government will do more than has been done.
§ Mr. A. HOPKINSON
The question has been asked, What can we do to solve the unemployed question? The real trouble with us is that the Government is pretending that it is able to do it. In the nature of things it is quite impossible for any Government to do any such thing as cure unemployment. That is one of the things that go beyond the function of government. The trouble has come upon the Government really as the result of the establishment of the Labour Ministry, established in accordance with the demands of the Labour party. Since the Ministry was invented, most of us who have to deal with matters of this sort, and look after business, see that it is an absurdity in the political system of a free country. It is part of an attempt to make the State something more than a policeman. We have therefore set up this wonderful device of a "Generous State" which shall relieve us of all those individual obligations which tradition and authority have imposed upon the individual. The function of the Labour Ministry is to see that the working classes of this country get more wages than the industry in which they are engaged can bear. It succeeded most remarkably in that task during the War. But, unfortunately, as a result of the State taking over such functions, we are at present confronted with the fact that some million or more of our citizens are unemployed. There was a certain document issued by the Trade Union Congress and the Labour party, and although there 222 have been many references to it, I have not come across any evidence that the persons who made them had really studied the document. Therefore, I will endeavour to explain some of the reasons why I see no solution whatever in the proposals which have been put forward.
The first is that of opening up trade with Russia. It has already been shown why that is impossible. We know perfectly well that Russia has practically nothing to exchange, and it is quite obvious why. Where you have communism in a State, so that it is against the interest of men to produce any surplus, you can never get an exportable surplus. The second proposal is that we should send our goods to Russia to be paid for in gold. That is not practical because, as soon as ever the gold was received, the people from whom it was stolen would immediately bring actions in the Courts against the receivers.
The third alternative is not payment in goods or gold, but in concessions of various sorts—probably concessions which mean the handing over of great portions of Russia for exploitation by particular firms supplying goods. That would mean a desperate drain upon the capital of this country. As the Bolsheviks have destroyed capital in Russia there is now there an enormous capital vacuum waiting for the entrance of capital from the outside world, and capital here which is now returning perhaps 10 per cent, interest will, when invested in Russia return anything between 100 and 1,000 per cent. By encouraging trade with Russia in this way by which our goods are going to be paid in concessions of this kind we are going to bleed this country white of capital at a time when lack of capital is one of the chief causes of unemployment.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
In Mesopotamia there has not been a destruction of capital, but quite the reverse. The next point is that there should be a stabilisation of exchange by Act of Parliament. There, I am sorry to say, the Government have also put their foot in it. I understand that we are to have two Bills both from the same source, that is the Board of Trade. One of them is an Act of Parliament to adjust the exchanges with Germany, so as not to put 223 the German manufacturer at such an enormous advantage, as compared with the English manufacturer, owing to the low exchange value. Simultaneously we are going to have a Bill to prevent the German manufacturer from selling his goods in this country. Could folly go further? Here you have an Anti-Dumping Bill to prevent German goods from coming to England, and at the same time you are trying to bring up the value of the German mark. That is an example of the kind of policy embodied in the resolutions of the Trades Union Congress. The greater part of the rest of that document was devoted to the advocacy of enormous spending on the part of all Departments of the Government as well as on the part of all municipalities. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough is evidently of the same opinion, namely, that expenditure by public authorities and by Departments of State is a reasonable and certain cure for the evil of unemployment. If there is one thing more than any other clear it is that the reckless expenditure both of local authorities and of the Government has had a very serious effect on employment in this country, and to my mind probably the Department which is more responsible for the present position than any other is the Ministry of Health because the expenditure of the Ministry of Health is more wasteful even than the expenditure of the Ministry of Munitions was during the war. They are getting far less value for their money than any scheme which has been produced by any Government or municipality: they are paying out something like £2,000 for cottages which in a year or two will not be worth £200. They are squandering the capital of the country and the less capital you have in the country the lower will be wages because however strong labour is, however hard at bargains, it is at a disadvantage where there is not capital competing for what it has to provide. Unemployment is not in itself of the nature of an evil, it is more a symptom. In parts of the country, in the cotton trade specially, restriction of output is practically unknown. In spinning and weaving it would be extremely difficult even if a man wanted to reduce his production for him to do so to any serious extent. The shaft is going round at the same speed 224 all the time and spinning is taking place at practically the same rate. Yet conditions are practically as bad in the trade as in any trade in the country. I had a letter here asking if anything can be done to help a certain district where they have expended all their funds. The Government can do nothing; even what they do do really adds to the volume of unemployment. Money spent on the relief of unemployment by local authorities or by a central department is so much money taken away from industry, so much reduction of that capital which alone can employ labour; so much waste in fact. But there is another form of relief. If one finds one's neighbours suffering, one can, if one is fortunate, relieve their sufferings for a considerable period, and that really is the only form of relief which cannot create more unemployment. If the State endeavours to function as a charitable institution, it does infinite harm. If the individual chooses to be charitable, and to share his surplus funds with his fellows, no harm is done. We have heard it put forward that each industry can deal with its own unemployed, and that, at first sight, is very plausible, but let me explain how it will eventuate in practice. In the engineering trade, I am sorry to say, most firms act on the principle of employing just as many men as the state of trade allows at the time in question. If there is a sudden rush for the products of the trade, men are swept into the works, and, as soon as the rush is over, are dismissed and left to find work for themselves. There are, however, firms in the industry who, when the boom is at its height, act with the greatest discretion, and endeavour as far as possible to take on no more men than they can see work for well ahead. If each industry is to bear the burden of its own unemployed, those who, perhaps, lose thousands of pounds by going steadily when the boom is on, in order that they may not throw men out of work when trade slackens, are going to have the added burden of paying for other firms who take on men and dismiss them without any regard to the unemployment to which they condemn them. There will be a vast accentuation of that selfish way of employing labour, of making hay while the sun shines, and a vastly greater burden is going to be put upon the shoulders of those of us who endeavour as far as we 225 can, and who lose large profits in doing so, to make employment as continuous as possible.
The subject of the building trade has come up frequently to-night, and, although I speak as an employer and as an ex-soldier, I am inclined to sympathise to a large extent with the position that has been taken up by the unions in that trade. I do not mean that I think it is very noble of them, but I see their point of view as regards the future of their own employment. Contrary to the general opinion of those who have spoken to-night, I think that there is immediately before us a period of most terrible depression in the building trade. It is obvious to anyone who has studied the facts, that the Government housing scheme must inevitably collapse almost immediately. It is impossible that it can go on for more than a few months in its present form. The mere fact of that scheme being in existence makes the cost of houses nearly double what it would otherwise be. It has cornered the whole of the labour and material in the building market, and it has closed that corner now till prices are rising, the amount of work done for wages goes down daily, and both employers and operatives are having the time of their lives. They are in the same position in which munition workers and firms were during the War under the Ministry of Munitions. They have the whip hand of the Ministry of Health in this matter, and as long as there is a penny of public money that can be squeezed out of the taxpayer to pour into that ridiculously absurd scheme, so long will the cost of building be at its present height. We have, however, reached a point when it is inconceivable that the thing can go on for more than a few months. Note what follows. The building trade operative and the building trade master have been debauched in the same way as my own trade was by the Ministry of Munitions. The efficiency of labour has gone down enormously, and it has not mattered twopence to the employer whether it went to practically nothing. He was assured of gigantic profits, as were munition firms during the War, and he is making gigantic profits at the present time on these Government schemes. When the Government scheme collapses the building industry will have a time of 226 intense depression for a period perhaps of twelve months, perhaps more, and then as a matter of course there will be one of the biggest booms in house building we have ever known. We removed last year the one thing that had prevented houses being built before the War—I refer to the Increment Value Duty—and having removed one obstruction we put an infinitely greater obstruction in its place—the Ministry of Health. Remove the Ministry of Health housing scheme and then at last people will have houses to live in. I rather sympathise with the building trade operatives in opposing the admission of these men, and I also sympathise with the Minister of Labour himself over this question, but, after all, he has brought the trouble on himself. He knows perfectly well that he is absolutely powerless in this matter now. Why did he undertake it? It was no business of any Department of the Government to undertake it. The business of finding employment for men in industry is no function of any Department of the Government, and Departments of the Government cannot do these things any more than any Department of Government can stand up against a trade union. Once you get a trade union in opposition to a Government Department the Government Department goes under, and always will in the nature of things. No one can possibly stand up against an obstreperous trade union except a private employer. Here are the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labour begging on their knees, with bribes, the building trade operatives to allow them to employ these trained ex-soldiers on Government housing schemes. For two years I have been employing ex-soldiers on housing schemes myself. It is perfectly easy for a private employer to do it. It is absolutely impossible for the Minister of Labour. That is an example of this absurd modern idea of loading up the unfortunate State with all sorts of functions which it cannot possibly, under the circumstances, perform.
To get to the bottom of the whole thing, why is it that men are out of employment? Men are unemployed because we cannot sell our goods abroad. We cannot sell our goods because people will not buy them. People will not buy them because they cannot. They cannot buy them because they are too dear, and they are too dear because they cost too 227 much to make, and they cost too much to make because people take too big profits, and wages are too high. That is what I mean when I say unemployment is not a disease but a symptom. Unemployment is a warning to industry that wages have got too high in pro portion to the amount of work done, and I beg my Friends of the Labour party to think if it is not so, and to see that there is no possible way of dodging that fact any way. You may bring in Karl Marx and any futile gabbler of that sort who has ever existed, but he cannot get you out of that difficulty. We have had a European war running some 4½ years. Subsequently we had, as far as industrial matters are concerned, very much the same state of affairs. We had a vast amount of destruction of wealth and a very small production of wealth in its place. Then we had a General Election, and the Prime Minister goes to the working class and says, "Never more shall you have the low standard of living you had before the War. This is going to be a country fit for heroes to live in. There is going to be a new heaven and a new earth. Everyone is to have plenty." Which is, I think, without exception, the wickedest lie that has ever been told. The average standard of living depends upon two factors; first of all, on how much food there is to go round, and, secondly, how many stomachs you have to fill. There is no other factor that comes into the matter at all in regard to the average. It is perfectly clear that there is less stuff to go round to-day, and there are just as many people to share it. Therefore, do what you will, the average standard of living is going to be lower than it was in 1914. You cannot avoid it. The only possible way to got back to the 1914 standard of living is to work very hard for a few years, and if we continue to work very hard after those years, all the better. You can dodge these facts for a time. You may keep up the standard of living of the bulk of the population for a time by taking away the savings of a section of the community. For some years we have been living and maintaining a high standard for the manual worker at the expense of the middle classes. We have been taking the savings of the middle classes and dishing them out through the Ministry of Munitions, to the Ministry of Labour, and to the 228 Ministry of Health, to the manual worker, with very satisfactory results to the manual worker. The standard of living of the manual worker is very high, while the standard of living of the middle classes has gone down steadily. Unfortunately, we have come to an end of that state of things, because when firms of very high standing and of great size in this country have to pay as much as 10 per cent, for the money which they want to conduct their industry, it is a certain sign that the savings of the middle classes of this country are practically exhausted.
We can also keep our high standard of living here for a time by robbing not our own middle classes, but the inhabitants of other countries. We have done that most successfully. We have done it so successfully that I suppose 1,000,000 persons have died of starvation on the Continent of Europe during the past few years; but when you have exhausted all the possibilities of the savings in this country, and when you have driven the inhabitants of foreign countries to desperation and starvation, you get to the state of affairs in which we now find ourselves. [An HON. MEMBER: "What countries?"] Austria, Hungary, Eastern Europe and to some extent Germany. The vast majority of the people of this country are extremely patient, but we have a certain number who are apt to get very angry, and the problem is not whether wages and the standard of living are coming down, but how we can keep that standard of living down to a reasonable basis and when wages come down, as they are coming down, how we can do it without producing that bitterness of feeling which might possibly destroy not only the industrial, but the political institutions of this country. There is one way and one way only, and that is that we who have been able, through good luck or otherwise, to accumulate the good things of this life to a very much greater extent than the majority of our fellow citizens, should, when the standard of living has to come down, allow ourselves to be the first to come down in standard of living. I tried the experiment during last year of limitation of profits in order to see what would happen in my own works, and it has been an experiment of the greatest value, particularly in view of the crisis which has come upon us.
229 In my own place now we are working night and day. I am employing more men than I ever employed before in my life, and we have got a greater sale of our products than ever before in the midst of the appalling depression that prevails. A curious thing is that, although I am paying those men three times what I was paying in 1914, actually their wages have gone down. It seems a paradox, but may be explained in this way. When I say wages are going to be reduced I mean that either men are going to do the same amount of work as before and receive less wages or are going to receive the same amount of wages as at present and do a much greater amount of work than they did before. In my own case by various devices I have brought it about that the wages are actually more than they were before in money values, but practically they are lower inasmuch as the output of labour is so very much higher than before. That is the only possible solution—that the manual labourer should do his level best for the wage he receives. That is the only way in which you can get the most that is possible out of industry at present.
It is almost too late to do anything in that line now. You know perfectly well that as soon as control comes off coal mines, a very large number of collieries throughout the country will shut down at once, because owing to Government interference with industries the price of coal recently has been kept at an uneconomic level, and the rate of wages has been allowed to go up until the price at which the coal is sold in this country barely covers the wages. As you know, the Board of Trade is endeavouring to throw back the collieries on the original owners in that bankrupt condition, and is endeavouring to make the owners of those collieries accept their property back loaded with two absurdities. The first absurdity is a maximum price of coal, and the second is a minimum wage, which is greater than the maximum price will provide. In the same way we shall have the same attempt with regard to railways. It simply means that the collieries will shut down until agreement is reached with the Miners' Federation under which wages will be settled, as wages always will be settled as long as the world exists, not by the cost of living, not by minimum 230 wage Acts, but by the value of the product and what can be got for it.
We have had an orgy of uneconomic nonsense brought about by the Government during four years of war and two years of peace, but it does not follow that these absurdities are going to continue. We are up against hard facts. The Government is trying to get rid of the messes which it has made of the industries of this country, because it has not got the money to go on perpetrating these absurdities. Wages must always be settled by what people are willing to give for the product of the labour involved. It is no use endeavouring to fix wages by the cost of living or any other empirical formula; they will always be fixed by what people are willing to pay for the product of the labour involved. Therefore, we come back to the real problem at issue at present. How on earth are we to get through this difficulty, this state of actual privation—it is inevitable privation—without a complete upset of our economic system which will give rise to misery and trouble? The only way is to get rid of this silly idea that it is the work of the State to perform the work which you know you ought to perform yourselves. The charitable State is the curse of politics at the present time, and if continued will bring us into difficulties greater even than those caused by the War.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Sir D. Maclean.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.