§ Considered in Committee, and reported, without Amendment.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
I do not know if the Government intend to offer any further explanation on the Third Reading of this Bill, but, as apparently they have no remarks to make until some speeches are made from this side, perhaps I may ask for some little information as to certain items of expenditure. I refer, in particular, to the extraordinary statement made by the Home Secretary, that the Special Branch of the police, which was referred to a little time ago, costs a sum of £70,000 per annum, and that the net result of this expenditure on this secret political police has been to deport exactly four aliens of revolutionary tendencies.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
Yes, there is in the Schedule of the Bill the expenditure for the calling out of the Defence Force and for the embodiment of the armed forces at the time of the coal dispute. We were then told by the Government that was necessary because of certain revolutionary agitations by aliens.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
I do not want in any way to dispute your ruling, but might I raise the question of the inadequate steps taken by the Government to deal.with the alleged agitation, thus causing the unrest., which we were told was the justification for an expenditure of over £7,000,000.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
This is not the ordinary Appropriation Bill which includes the Home Secretary's salary. That was disposed of in August last. This 686 is quite a limited matter, and deals only with the Votes passed in Supply since we resumed the Session in October.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
Then I will immediately leave that subjest, which I do with great regret, but I think I am in order in referring to another matter which was raised at Question Time and which directly deals with the question of trade facilities. Why have the Government taken no steps either to meet the approaches of the Russian Government with regard to the recognition of the Russian debt? During the Second and Third Readings of the Trade Facilities Bill this matter was raised, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department stated that the Bill would not apply to Russia and that export credits would not be extended to Russia because the Russian Government had refused to recognise her obligations.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
There is no mention in this Bill of the Export Credits Scheme. That was done in the Trade Facilities Bill itself.
On that point of Order. My hon. and gallant Friend was raising the question as to what advance had been made by the Government in respect of the advances made by the Russian Government. The discussion of that question does really come within the scope of this Debate, because there is a sum of £100,000 in this Bill in connection with certain medical stores, and in the discussion on that Vote the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs referred to the advance that had been made by the Russian Government as material to that discussion.
§ Sir GODFREY COLLINS
May I recall to your memory that there was a footnote to the Supplementary Estimate of £5,500,000, showing that the sum granted to His Majesty was partly for the purpose of the Trade Facilities Bill, which was to grant credits between this country and other countries.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It is quite true that at an earlier stage when we were in Committee of Supply a much wider range was allowed on the Vote of £100,000 for medical stores for Russia; but, when we come to the Third Reading of the Bill, we are confined to what is actually in the Bill, and that is the ruling that I have given.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
Should I be in order in discussing the public declarations of the Government as to the way the Bill is to be administered and as to whether these facilities are to be extended to Russia?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The Trade Facilities Bill was its own Finance Bill, the Measure being founded on a Money Resolution. That is why it is not covered by this Bill.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I apologise for my lack of experience in discussing a Consolidated Fund Bill of a limited nature. I think this is the first time in this Parliament that we have had such a Bill. There is a sum of money in the Schedule for the maintenance of the Defence Force and the Naval Reserves who were called out at the time of the coal stoppage. Shall I be in order in discussing that expenditure?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Certainly not as to the merits of it, because that was discussed by the House earlier in the Session and was then approved and disposed of.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I imagine I should be in order in discussing the amount of money, apart from the merits of calling out these forces, and in showing that the Government are open to censure for keeping them embodied for such a length of time and thus involving such an enormous expenditure. I would like to make a protest against the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer who pointed out that we should be forced to borrow money owing to the serious state of the finances of the country, and to suggest that we might now address ourselves with more composure to the consideration of this great expenditure and bring some measure of censure to bear on the Home Office, the Admiralty, and the officers responsible for keeping these forces embodied very much longer than they were required. There was some small degree of disorder and certainly a great deal of unrest in the early days of that coal stoppage—I do not want to rake up old quarrels, though I should very much like to express my opinion as to the responsibility for the whole trouble—but after the first few days, when hon. Members will undoubtedly say that the Government were fully justified in calling out every available disciplined man, and when the dispute was dragging on 688 its weary course with a remarkable absence of disorder and with great civic calm, I do suggest that the Government were reckless and improvident in keeping these forces embodied for such a length of time. I myself raised the question of the great inconvenience caused to business men who were kept embodied against their will. We had, for example, an Air Force in the South of England composed almost entirely of educated skilled men in responsible positions. They were certainly not required for the purpose of aviation, and yet were kept embodied and paid the high rates of pay that the Air Force officials receive. There they were kept kicking their heels for weeks in idleness. The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson) shakes his head, but I raised the question, and I believe, partly as the result of my protestations, a great many of these men were eventually released.
Forgive me, I was not paying any attention to what the hon. and gallant Member was saying.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I apologise for supposing that the hon. Gentleman was here for the purpose of legislation and looking after the interests of his constituency. I might have known that the expenditure of a mere £7,000,000 would not be of great interest to him. We now are in the position of men who, after a night of orgy, are faced with a very long bill, but I hope, like sensible men who, in the morning, see things in a different light and view matters in a more composed atmosphere, we shall examine the items of this very heavy bill. We know that we have not the money to pay the bill; we have to borrow money to do that; we have to pawn something. We have to raise money on the country's credit in order to pay the restaurant keeper who presents our bill on this occasion. The bill is a needlessly long one. In case other unfortunate events occur and necessitate the calling up of the reserve forces, I think the House should take the opportunity of warning the Government that they must in future consider the cost a little more and not be so stampeded by wild panic and fright. The calling up of that Defence Force gave employment to a number of people who otherwise would have been without it. 689 It was one means found for giving work to ex-soldiers, but that is the only good thing that can be said for it. The embodiment of a force of that kind meant the creation of a vested interest. My own experience in the North of England with these men—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. and gallant Member must have forgotten my ruling. I reminded him that the embodiment of this force was discussed, and authorised by the House when it was first proposed, and each time it was continued in the early part of this year.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I was not discussing the advisability of calling it up, but merely the length that it was embodied and the consequent expenditure. I have made my protest, and I want to make it clear that in voting against the Third Reading of this Bill I do not wish to limit the Government's activities in relieving unemployment, but to register my protest against certain aspects of the Government policy which have led to this great expenditure. We are presented with a Bill which includes a great many items which are altogether unjustified, and I hope hon. Members who realise the sorry state of our finances will support me in registering a protest by voting against the Third Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. HOGGE
Yesterday the Chancellor of the Exchequer laid before the House the position in regard to the finances of the country, which everybody agreed was extremely serious. I am not going to discuss that to-day. I desire to draw attention to one fact which has been overlooked, and which I hope will not remain overlooked, but will be remedied in the near future, in regard to legislation for unemployment. We are to have the Royal Assent given this afternoon to five separate Measures dealing with unemployment. Some of those Measures deal with far-reaching economic events, including the Act which will deal with the extension of credits, and the guaranteeing of loans and interest to large business firms who undertake work which will find employment for the people who are out of employment. The cost of these Measures will run into millions—I think between £50,000,000 and £60,000,000. We are doing this because, not only the Government, but the House have again 690 been unprepared for the event of unemployment. It is a curious feature of our political life that in these recurring periods of unemployment we are found absolutely unprepared to deal with them, and we are forced into a position of having to find ad hoc remedies for the situation.
In order not to make the matter controversial, I may say that the Government and the House of Commons having once more been found unprepared to meet a state of affairs which we know perfectly well will recur, the Government would be serving a very useful purpose if they straightaway undertook to initiate some inquiry or investigation into the methods which have been adopted in the past, and what might be adopted in the future, seeing that these periods do recur, so that we shall not find ourselves on the next occasion in a position of having to deal with these ad hoc remedies. There is the question of organisation, and other matters which are not nearly so difficult as that. Both organisation and other steps are more easily dealt with if time and effort is put into them. We have had time and effort put into the question in the past. There are on the shelves of the Library the results of many Committees which have inquired into this question, and much evidence has accumulated, but nobody has ever attempted to assimilate it, and to put it into legislative form. I want to say before we part, either temporarily or for good—it does not matter which, because whatever fresh Parliament comes it will meet with this difficulty—that we have taken up weeks dealing with financial expedients for treating a problem which has become acute, and that the Government should go a great deal further and enter into consideration of the larger question as to whether by organisation and other methods we could always be in a position readily to put into operation machinery which will relieve the acute recurrence of this problem in the future.
§ Mr. INSKIP
I want to call attention to the new departure which this nation has adopted in regard to the relief of unemployment, and to the consequences which arise from the policy adopted. For a long time past we have heard of the demand which organised labour makes for work or maintenance. This House moved, and I think rightly moved, 691 either by sentiment or economic facts, has decided that those who are unable to find employment shall be supported by those who are in employment and by the State. It has been part of that policy that work is to be provided in certain cases at the Government expense. Hon. Members have received communications protesting against the decision of the Government to pay only 75 per cent, of the trade union rates of wages in cases where work has been provided. It appears to follow from these protests that organised labour is demanding that work shall be provided for them at trade union rates. Trade union rates for the most part are fixed, if not largely by strikes or lockouts, at any rate, by threats of strike or fear of strikes.
What this demand of labour amounts to is that either there shall be a sufficiency of work provided by private employers at trade union rates or that the Government shall provide work at trade union rates. The country has rightly assented to the demands of labour that the unemployed shall be maintained. The view which I want to advance in connection with the new departure that has been made is that, for the first time in the history of this country, labour has put itself in the position of having no real answer to the demand which may some day be made that labour should be conscripted. I think we are right in having provided for employment in this crisis, and I think we are right in having made provision for the unemployed, but it will no longer be open to labour, under the policy which has been deliberately adopted by this House, to take up the attitude that they are entitled to fix the rate of payment by means of strikes or by similar movements.
If labour has deliberately adopted the policy of demanding either work or maintenance, it does not lie in labour's mouth any longer, apart from the Government, to determine the right of fixing the rates at which they shall be paid. Perhaps it has not altogether been recognised that this new departure may lead to a new relation between the Government and industry, between employers and employed. It would be an intolerable position if labour in future was to disorganise industry by highly organised strikes in demanding rates of wages 692 which were not economic rates, and then, having disorganised industry, were to come down to this House and demand that employment should be found for the unemployed at the rates of pay which were the very rates that caused the unemployment. Sooner or later, that demand would lead to ruin.
I call attention to the matter in the interests of classes of the community who are but little remembered in our Debates in this House. We think of the employers, the capitalists, and we think of those who are not fortunate enough to be capitalists, but are depending upon a living by the sale of their labour, but there are large classes in this country who are being slowly crushed between these two millstones. The middle classes, the people of small incomes, are being slowly bled to death by the pressure which is being put upon them by taxation, by the decrease in their income consequent upon the disorganisation of industry, and by the burden of the rates. It has to be remembered that the Exchequer is not bearing all this burden of supporting the unemployed, who are very largely unemployed in consequence of strikes or lockouts. I am not for a moment saying that the strikes were not justified, but my point is that the unemployment is partly consequent upon Labour disturbance. The people of whom I speak have no voice in these matters. They have to be the silent spectators of the struggle between Capital and Labour. They have to listen to the demands of Labour for work or maintenance, and to the assent which the Government makes to these demands, and they have to pay the rates and taxes which are necessary to keep the unemployed. They are, in fact, slowly being crushed and bled to death, without a voice being raised on their behalf.
The point that I desire to register in this connection is that if Labour comes to the State in this crisis and asks to be provided either with work or maintenance, it will be a generous act on the part of Labour in future, and a wise act from their point of view, if they respond to the action which the Government and the nation as a whole has willingly taken, and will do their very best in future to promote, as far as they can, those happier relations which will prevent disorganisation of industry and will enable as much 693 employment to be provided as may be provided by ordinary economic operations, and ordinary industrial activities. I think hon. Members of the Labour party know that I have given sympathy and assistance to the appeals made by them to this House in respect of unemployment, and I shall continue to feel sympathy towards the unemployed, but my position, and the position of many who think with me, would be made most difficult if in another winter, or in another crisis, we found that the position had been worsened because Labour had not responded in a generous spirit to the appeal which I think ought now to be made to them to co-operate, instead of standing apart, in restoring a condition of things in which the State will not have to provide for those who are unemployed.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
The hon. and learned Member who has just spoken has referred to trade union wages as if those wages were any wages that the trade unions cared to demand, whereas the trade union rate of wages means the rate of wages agreed to between the trade unions and the employers. If we have authorised the payment of trade union wages, it is in that sense, and it is not necessarily a rate fixed as the result of a strike. It may have been fixed as the result of a lock-out. As long as there is agreement between the two sides, it is the trade union rate, and more often, let us hope, it will be a rate fixed by friendly negotiation. I agree heartily with the appeal made by the hon. and learned Gentleman for conciliatory action on the part of Labour, and I would supplement that by an appeal for conciliatory action on the part of the great chiefs of industry, the great employers. For it is only by conciliatory action on the part of, and co-operation between, both sides that we can hope for prosperity in this country. I did not intend to speak on this matter, but it was the very significant and, in some respects, admirable words of my hon. and learned Friend which induced me to refer to it.
The point which I desire to raise is of quite a different character. It is one of great constitutional importance to this country. In the Schedule to the Bill there is the item for the cost of certain Miscellaneous War Services—£100,000. That is money voted for the relief of the famine in Russia. I am not going to deal 694 with it in reference to its humanitarian aspect or our relations with Russia. I would point out that voting this money, as the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs pointed out the other night, is more or less in the nature of a book-keeping transaction, but it is a bookkeeping transaction of great importance. The object is to purchase certain necessaries from the Disposal Board in order that they may be given to Russia for the relief of sickness and famine there. The reason I say that it is a matter of great constitutional importance is this. It came before the notice of the Public Accounts Committee, of which I have the honour to be Chairman, in the earlier part of this Session that the Government, as shown in the accounts which were then before us, had taken upon themselves, of course, with the consent of the Treasury, to give away very large amounts of the national property. They have given a warship to this colony and a warship to another. They have even given aeroplanes to a foreign government. They have given property to various institutions and they have given stores worth anything up to £90,000,000 to certain fighting forces in Russia, and all this without the consent of this House.
Though not one penny can be voted for public service without the consent of this House still it appeared on the face of these transactions that the Government with the consent of the Treasury claimed the right to give away ships of the British Navy, our property and stores, for all sorts of purposes, good, bad and indifferent on a very large scale, running into scores of millions of pounds. It was not for the Public Accounts Committee to deal with the merits of those particular gifts. They may have been very good or very bad in a particular case. What we had to consider was the protection of the national property and the protection of the rights of the House of Commons with regard to the disposal of the national property. Because giving away national property really means giving away the money of the people. It is either money or money's worth. Therefore without any consideration or discussion of the merits of those particular gifts we recommended unanimously that in future no such gifts ought to be made without the consent of the House of Commons. We made a distinction in cases where the amount in- 695 volved was very small in comparison with the resources of a great nation like this and said that in the case of anything involving, say, up to £10,000 we did not think it necessary to have all the details brought before the House of Commons if the Treasury approved the transaction; but apart from that we thought that the consent of the House of Commons ought to be obtained before national property was given away.
I am very glad that the Government have conformed to that recommendation of the Public Accounts Committee and that in giving these stores to Russia, which I think is an admirable gift in itself, they have not taken upon themselves to do it without putting a definite Vote before this House in order that this House may ratify the gift of national property, however good the purpose. I trust that this will be a precedent which will be followed in future. I am convinced that, in this respect, I speak for the whole of the Public Accounts Committee, whatever their views on political matters may be. We are all agreed, and indeed it is embodied in our Report, that gifts of this sort should come before the House of Commons for ratification and approval, and that no person or Department should have the right to give away substantial amounts of the national property without the consent of this House, which represents the taxpayers of this country. I trust that hon. Members will recognise that this is a constitutional principle of considerable importance.
§ Mr. JOHNSTONE
The hon. and learned Member for Central Bristol (Mr. Inskip) and the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) have referred to the claim which has been put forward by Labour for the right to work or to maintenance. It is claimed that if work cannot be provided and if private enterprise fails, work should be provided by the State, and if the State cannot provide work for the unemployed, then there is an obligation on the State to provide maintenance. I think that in many respects the views of those who put forward that claim will be entitled to sympathy, but alarm is created in the minds of most moderate people by another claim, that whether a man works or not he should be paid full trade union rates of wages. If that were done there would be no in- 696 centive to work, but I agree that the claim put forward by Labour as to the right to work or to maintenance cannot be too lightly cast aside. It is a serious reflection on our industrial system in this country that in a time of great prosperity we have strikes and threats to strike against apparently quite good conditions, because, owing to the apparent prosperity of the country, Labour thinks that by making demands it can exact more out of the industry, and then in periods of depression Labour claims relief and you have the most humiliating and degrading spectacle of decent industrious workmen waiting for relief at the soup-kitchen door. Can not a better system be devised to meet the situation which arises in times of depression? I think that there can.
The claim has been put forward that industry should support its own unemployed. I believe that the Labour party contests the proposition that every separate trade should support its own unemployed, because that would interfere with the mobility of labour, but I do think that industry as a whole ought to meet the unemployed problem, and we shall never have a satisfactory solution of the question until the Government of to-day tackle it seriously and earnestly and try to solve this unemployment problem by putting the provision for unemployment on a more permanent and satisfactory basis. And I think that we have the foundations for a better system. We have had recently, in legislation which has been passed, a system of compulsory levy upon workmen and employers, with a contribution from the State. I welcome that, because I think it is on sound lines. I would make that levy not temporary, but permanent. I think that industry should bear largely the whole cost of maintaining its workmen when they are unemployed, and the foundation for a structure has been laid down in the unemployment section of the Insurance Act providing the remedy. There ought to be in times of prosperity such contributions made by employers and workmen as will build up a substantial fund, so that in times of trade depression men who are unemployed shall receive more or less substantial relief from such funds.
One of the first charges upon an industry should be the maintenance of the unemployed and you will never have contentment and peace in this country unless some thoroughly satisfactory system 697 is settled which will deliver the worker from the recurrent fear, the terrorising spectre of unemployment that haunts him from his very earliest days to his latest. There is nothing so terrible to an honest, hard-working man as to think that the time will come when his wife and family will be faced with the spectacle of starvation owing to his being unable to find work, and in times of prosperity, when trade is good, we should endeavour to set up a substantial fund that will meet all the claims of the unemployed during times of depression. There have been in this country many years of great prosperity and it would have been no undue hardship upon industry, employers and workers alike, if they had been called upon to pay a substantial sum for every person employed so that the workmen themselves when they are out of work should be paid from the fund to which they have contributed, which will preserve their self-respect, while contributions are also made by the employers and by the State which represents the general body of the people.
The system is laid down in the unemployment section of the Insurance Act if we can arrange for more substantial contributions. I remember that employers of labour, when that Measure was carried through, looked upon it as a petty affair, that they should have to start a system of cards and make contributions to arrange for the payment of a miserable 7s. a week. They said that the game was not worth the candle, but if employers and workmen know that a fund is going to be built up, out of which in times of trade depression men who are idle through no fault of their own or their employers, can draw, they will have the satisfaction of knowing that the funds accumulated during the time of good trade will enable them to tide over the had times until prosperity returns. That would do more to dissipate unrest in this country and establish contentment and prosperity among the working people, and consolidate the whole structure of industrial society than the processes which have been going on for so long, by which we have the Government passing Measures that only touch the fringe of the question. What we need to-day is to address ourselves earnestly to the problem of unmployment and seek some permanent and satisfactory solution on the lines which I have described. I think 698 the House is very much indebted to the hon. and learned Member for Central Bristol (Mr. Inskip) for the very thoughtful contribution he has made to our discussion and for enabling us to consider, in the light of the arguments he brought forward, this most pressing problem.
§ Mr. LYLE-SAMUEL
I listened with very great pleasure to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Central Bristol, and I think he did a great service in reminding the House that this Bill, in reference to the large sum granted for unemployment., does mark a new departure in State policy. It is quite true that there are implicit in this policy consequences to which we must give very grave consideration, but except in the sense of pure legalism I was unable to follow him when he said that, if Labour accepts this policy and all that it implies, Labour must face the possibility ultimately of labour conscription. I dc not think that that follows at all. With reference to the question of the claim of Labour that the rate of wages should he the trade union rate of wages, it really comes down to what we mean by an economic rate of wages, which is quite as confusing and as much a matter of words as the economic price at which goods are produced. The fact is, that the economic wage at a given time is the highest wage that can be paid as between a willing worker and a willing employer. During the last few years we have lived, unfortunately, in such an utterly unreal world economically that we have lost that standard of value to which we shall have to return if we are to regain the markets of the world and if our trade is to be put upon a truly sound basis again.
Although it is very gratifying to this House to have been assembled in order to make some contribution to this great problem of unemployment, although it is gratifying to each Member of the House to give his support to the Government in its very honest endeavour, although it will be gratifying to all of us to support this grant of £5,500,000, and although I rose to say a word of benediction, yet I cannot help making it a matter of very serious complaint that the problem of unemployment was so long prolonged, and that even now what we are doing is so infinitesimal compared with what really ought to be done. I do not think we 699 ought to be too heroic about the making of this grant. We certainly ought not to be fearful of the consequences to ourselves in doing it. The fact is that unemployment had reached a stage and, indeed, is at present in a degree which menaces the social structure of this country. Far from there being any reluctance to vote such a sum, it ought to be a cheerful contribution from everyone who cares for the preservation of our social structure, and particularly on the part of anyone who has any property to preserve.
The great concern I have at this moment is that the words of the Prime Minister in introducing the Bill should be remembered—that Governments can really do very little, so little as almost to amount to nothing, to cure the problem of unemployment. It is not to be thought that Parliament can be summoned and the unemployment problem solved. The truth is that we are more and more realising that we are not in what, in the old days, was called a cycle of depression; we are in a cyclone of depression, a world cyclone, and what I am concerned about is that even when we pass this Bill, useful as it is as far as it goes, and when the benefits under this Bill have been distributed, comforting as they will be to the homes of the recipients, we are still as a people confronted with a world economic situation which apparently is not getting better and as to which apparently there is no policy which can be announced by any world leader to secure the desired result. As we reflect upon the conditions which will prevail throughout this country during the winter, we cannot but regret that the appeals made to the Government 18 months ago, and again at the beginning of this year, were left unheeded, and that we are now summoned at great haste and with an atmosphere almost of theatrical urgency to deal with this problem between October and November when the winter is well set in. I am afraid we are to have an appalling winter in this country, and that very little employment can be found on what is called an economic basis; and as a result, although we shall go away from these labours satisfied that we have done for it some little, do not let us forget that until a great world policy has been dealt with by our Government in concert with other Governments, so that the natural flow of trade on which we 700 depend for our existence is set going again, we have hardly touched this unemployment problem. I trust, however, that we shall have shown the sincerity of this House and the desire of everyone to pay his little towards this great debt to those of our fellows who are now suffering so severely.
§ Colonel Sir J. GREIG
There are one or two remarks I wish to make about the very sympathetic speech of the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr. Johnstone), who, I am sorry to see, has quitted the House. There was a great deal in his speech about the necessity and the expediency of taking steps to review the whole question of unemployment and to insure against it. The question has advanced very much in the last four or five years, and one of the most remarkable instances of change of opinion was the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire, for I remember that when the Insurance Act was first introduced eight or nine years ago, for putting insurance upon a sound basis and insurance against unemployment was tentatively dealt with in that Act, there was a considerable movement, certainly in Scotland and I think also in England, amongst employers to oppose that Measure altogether. Deputations came up to those of us who were supporting the Bill, which was fought through the House under the aegis of the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), but was committed to the charge of the present Prime Minister. I happen to have the duty imposed upon me of receiving a deputation from the employers in Scotland, who opposed that Bill tooth and nail. At the head of that deputation was my Friend the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire, who put forward views against the whole of that Measure.
A delightful change has taken place. There will be more rejoicing in paradise over one sinner that has repented than over the ninety and nine just men. Whatever may be said for the present system, at least it has been started. It was started under that Act and within the last two years we have brought 8,000,000 more people into unemployment insurance, based upon the experience we have had of the previous Measure. These palliative measures now are not an end of legislative amelioration, but I agree that something should be done now and 701 some general survey taken of the whole situation, and in view of the conversion of the hon. Member for East Renfrew-shire I think the bulk of the House, and of those people who entertain different opinions, will welcome such an investigation.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. ALLEN
I have listened with the greatest possible pleasure to the speeches on this Bill. I think it a great pity that more interest has not been taken in this Debate. The Debate afforded a splendid opportunity for Members to put their views before the Chancellor of the Exchequer in such a way as possibly to induce him to take a different outlook in the coming year in connection with his Budget. A Session like this, when almost by accident we have such a discussion, is one which gives us a privilege of which every Member ought to take advantage. Yesterday the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave us a review of the receipts for the present year up to date, and of the possibilities at the end of the year. The right hon. Gentleman also took advantage of the opportunity to say that his idea of the moneys that have been received was rather that those moneys were to some extent the result of wealth amongst the community that they were not expected to possess. My right hon. Friend referred to that particularly when he spoke of Customs and Excise and with regard to the Income Tax yield, which he said so far had exceeded last year. I think he took rather a different view of the reason why this Income Tax has returned so much up to the present, from what is actually the case, and also that he took a different view as to the reason why there was an increasing supply of money in the City, from what is the case. We all know perfectly well that the reason why there is such a large Income Tax paid up to date and the reason why so much may be paid up to the end of the year is that it is the Income Tax of the three years of greatest prosperity which the country has seen, the average of those three years. That is the reason why we have such a large Income Tax payment this year. If the Income Tax received this year had been paid out of the profits of this year we might have some hope.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir E. Cornwall)
The hon. and gallant Member 702 is wandering away from the Bill now under consideration.
§ Sir W. ALLEN
I am sorry if such is the case, but I was merely dealing with the speech made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the same Bill yesterday.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
There is a difference between the Second Reading and the Third Reading. On the Second Reading hon. Members may argue as to what they think ought to be in the Bill, but on the Third Reading we deal only with what is in the Bill.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Sir W. ALLEN
So far as I can understand, the money which it is proposed to expend on unemployment is money received from Customs and Excise and Income Tax, and I though perhaps we were at liberty to discuss the receipts of those moneys and the reasons for their receipt. However, I accept your ruling, and I will turn to another subject debated yesterday; that is, to the reasons why we have unemployment and the necessity for the expenditure of this £5,500,000. The hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Mills) dealt, in a speech the other day, with the possibility of getting Russia going, so that we might have less unemployment here. No one would appreciate that more than I would, because I know a large staple industry, the welfare of which goes with the welfare of Russia and the Russian people. The difficulty in that trade now is in reference to the raw material which comes from Russia. If Russia were thoroughly going again, it would be a very different story for us. Where we used to receive 700,000 tons of flax from Russia some years ago, we received last year—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. Member has again gone outside the Bill. The only money for Russia that is referred to in the Bill is the £100,000 for medical services, and he cannot raise the general question of trade with Russia now.
§ Sir W. ALLEN
So far as I understand the Bill, there is in it £5,500,000 for unemployment, and I thought, perhaps, we were entitled to discuss why unemployment has taken place, and why it is necessary to incur that expenditure. I will content myself with saying, so far as that is concerned, that we are very anxious to assist the Government to avoid 703 this expenditure on unemployment next year, but we would like the Government to assist itself so far as to procure us the material from Russia. I am hopeful that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he comes to present his Budget, will find that his forecasts have been realised in so satisfactory a manner that the country will be in a better position financially during the coming year than it has been in the past, or than it is in the present. I am not quite satisfied with his idea as to the future outlook. I think if the Government, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer particularly, were to look very carefully at what is happening in the various countries of Europe they would see great danger ahead for this country, and I hope that when the Chancellor prepares his Budget for the coming year he will be very, very careful. What is required more than anything else, as has been repeated in this House over and over again, is a reduction of expenditure in this country.
§ Mr. G. BARNES
I wish to express in a few words my sincere pleasure at the very considerable advance we have made in providing for the unemployed. Much has been said during the last few days as to the inadequacy of the measures taken, and I agree with a good deal of what has been said in that direction. For instance, I would much rather have seen—and in fact I did vote for—the payment of 10s. a week instead of 5s. for wives. I think 10s. would have been a small enough sum to give a workman to tide him over the coming winter. Also, I would have preferred that the money for the supplementary benefits under the Insurance Act should have been taken from ordinary taxation instead of from the workmen and the employer, because this is special taxation out of which neither those employers nor those employed who are taxed can possibly get anything. I believe, however, they will willingly pay the tax that has been imposed; and on the whole I am glad that we have had a Session of Parliament which has discussed unemployment with more sympathy and more knowledge than has been shown in any Session in my 17 years' experience of the House. I remember the time, 15 or 16 years ago, when the unemployed were surging round our doors. Up to that time nothing had been done for the unemployed, except by 704 way of charity, or by local relief works under a Bill passed a year or two previously. Therefore we must be grateful for something, and that something is that Parliament has now got to the point of understanding better than ever before its moral responsibility in regard to men who are out of work from causes not under their control.
I wish to back up the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) in his observations as to the need for being prepared for these special periods of unemployment. They will come along; I wish it were otherwise, but the root of wisdom is to face facts. It is no good to talk of the unemployed problem being due to some particular economic system, for it is nothing of the kind. Unemployment is inevitable, sometimes, under any system; it may be more prevalent under the present system—I do not know; but so long as we have a world ever getting more sensitive, ever being brought closer together by wireless telegraphy, faster steamships, and all sorts of scientific improvements, so will events in one part of the world affect more closely the other parts of the world. We are affected now to a very large extent by what is taking place in Russia, or, rather, what is not taking place in Russia, because what we want to help in the solution of our unemployment problem is that Russia shall get to work producing goods that she may exchange for other goods. But the unemployment problem will come along again, because it is caused by bad harvests and by all sorts of things that will occur in the very nature of things, under whatever economic system the world may be living. Therefore I back up the Member for East Edinburgh in his desire that the Government—this Government—shall take some steps whereby they will be more ready to deal with unemployment when it occurs.
I agree With the Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr. Johnstone), that a good deal has been done already in that direction. The Unemployment Insurance Act took a great step in that direction by providing that a certain sum of money shall be paid to a man when he is out of work; and those who know the Act will know that provision is made whereby industries may arrange to provide schemes of their own for periods of unemployment. I believe that these 705 schemes are the best way in which unemployment can be provided for, so far as method is concerned; but I do not agree with the suggestion which was thrown out by someone this afternoon, that the industry itself should be entirely responsible for the money for the unemployed. I do not believe that for a moment. I believe the State has the responsibility of providing the money, or at least the bulk of the money; but I can conceive no better way of meeting unemployment than for each industry to be encouraged to make provision for its spells of unemployment. By that means I believe both employers and employed would have a greater corporate pride in their industry; they would feel a greater responsibility for all who are in it, and I believe they would themselves take steps to prevent unemployment as far as they could. They could work short time if they saw a period of unemployment coming along, and in other ways they could, to some extent, prevent unemployment; and if in any industry it was not altogether preventible, they could take such steps as would provide the necessary aliment for the man when he was out of work.
The hon. Member for Central Bristol (Mr. Inskip), in his very suggestive speech this afternoon, raised the point as to whether a man out of work or on relief work was entitled to full wages. I am not going into that, except to say that, whatever may be paid as aliment to such a man, it should not be such an amount as to destroy the incentive to work at his normal occupation. The hon. Member for Central Bristol also raised another, and an altogether different, point to my mind, though in his mind it was relating to the point I have just mentioned. He seemed to envisage a condition of things, and in his mind it was to be permanent, in which wages were to be fixed by strike or lockout; and he seemed also to envisage a condition of things in which the cake, so to speak, from which wages were drawn was a fixed quantity, and that the shares of employers and of workmen were to be fixed by strike or lock-out. I hope that is not so. We ought to have something better than that to look forward to. If employers and workmen are always to be flying at one another's throats, and if they regard the output from workshops as a fixed quantity, to be divided between them according to their relative strength, 706 then he is right; wages will be fixed by strike or lock-out, as the case may be. But I do not think that is so. I believe the cake may be increased, and wages thereby increased without any strike or lock-out. The inauguration of that time would do far more for unemployment and peaceful progress than any of the Bills we have had during the last few weeks. For workmen and employers to regard themselves as servants of the community, and run their industries in such a way as to contribute to the peace and prosperity of the community, is a far better ideal than the ideal of workmen wresting from their employers as much as they can get, and employers wresting as much labour as they can get from their workers. My idea is that workmen and employers ought to come together and increase production, and, after a careful investigation of all the facts, have wages arranged according to what the industry will stand. I know there may be an answer to that. It may be said, "What can the industry stand?" and "How are you going to say what profit the employer shall have and what wages the man shall have?" unless by a "pull devil, pull baker" system of strike or lock-out. I think, however, that it might easily be done, and it is being done in some enterprises. I am connected with a co-operative printing society, which carries out certain principles, and I can say this by way of concrete example showing what we do. We say that Capital is not entitled to run industry and to take all the profits after giving an ordinary wage, whatever it may be, to the worker. Labour is just as much entitled to run industry as is Capital. The industry of the country under any system will have employers and employed, and, as I envisage it, there will be a great deal of public employment in the future, and in that case the public authority will be the employer. Whoever may be the employer, I have a vision of a state of things in which employed and employer will come together and, as we did in the instance to which I have alluded, say that Capital shall not be entitled to walk off with the profits after merely paying a man a wage based upon his living requirements, but that Capital shall get a wage itself. That wage shall be fixed at a maximum, say, of 5 or 6 per cent. If the industry will bear 5 or 6 per cent. after wages are paid, give Capital 5 or 6 per cent. After that 707 is done, if there is a profit left over—and this is where the real benefit comes in—Capital should take its share along with Labour of what is left over. It seems to me that that is an alternative to the idea put before us by the hon. Member for Central Bristol (Mr. Inskip) in a speech which I agree was a very informative speech and indicated very clearly the hon. Member's sympathetic attitude towards Labour matters. I put it, however, that what I have indicated might be considered in regard to the carrying on of industry. It seems to me it would give a more just distribution of the products between the two sides, with a knowledge of all the facts and of what the industry can bear. We are concerned in securing a just and equitable distribution of the product rather than merely a system of one side pulling the other about. If such a system were generally adopted it would contribute to increased production and thereby to increased wages without strikes or lock-outs, and, at the same time, by inducing a feeling of responsibility on both sides, it would do something towards lessening unemployment and prevent the introduction of Bills such as we have been discussing.
§ Mr. WIGNALL
I am sure we have listened with a great deal of interest and pleasure to the speeches, especially the speech of the hon. Member for the Gorbals Division (Mr. G. Barnes). I might find his argument fairly good were it not for the fact that my experience so far has been one of finding that so much has been tried and so much has failed that I am almost despondent as to ultimate success. As to the hon. Member for Central Bristol (Mr. Inskip), I could not follow his argument. I could not connect a demand for relief work with conscription of labour. There his arguments seemed to fail completely, and I could not follow his logic on the question of unemployment. There was one point which did appeal to me in the speech of the hon. Member for Gorbals, and it was the reference to each industry bearing its own burden. I have been a great believer and a great advocate of making unemployment one of the standing charges which all industries should have to meet. We had a very notable example, during the War period in the Excess Profits Duty, of how this might be done. The law provided there that over and above a certain limit of 708 profit all money received should be paid in the form of an Excess Profits Tax. If we accepted the principle in that respect, could we not in the same way form a reserve fund for the purpose of meeting the exceptional claims of unemployment? We would be able to build up a substantial sum which would serve a useful purpose in meeting emergencies as they arose.
The question before the House now is the Consolidated Fund Bill, and as the Minister of Labour is in his place I wish to deal with the amount of money that has been apportioned to meet unemployment and to ask a few questions as to the administration of the donation. I know the sympathetic consideration shown by the right hon. Gentleman—and I want to test that knowledge right away—both in regard to the raising of this fund and the distribution of it. I wish also to bear my tribute to the very loyal staff which the right hon. Gentleman has working with him, because it has come under my own personal observation that sacrifices are being made by many of them to meet the strain and stress of the terribly bad times through which we are passing. In connection with this Bill and the new provisions which are being made, I wonder whether the Minister of Labour, with the multiciplicity of difficulties which surround him, has taken fully into consideration the time we have yet to pass through and the administration of the fund in the coming months. I am sure the present state of things has given him much distress of mind, as it has everybody else. Even during the summer and autumn those of us who have been to the Employment Exchanges, particularly at the time when the donation is being paid out, have seen tremendously long queues of men and women who have to wait for hours to receive their payments. There may not be a strong argument against this during the summer months when the sun is shining and all is bright and warm. One does not look upon it as a great hardship in such circumstances to have to wait about for some little time, but during the cold days of this week it has been our painful experience again to see very long queues waiting. It has been the most painful experience I have ever passed through. We see, even in the districts in which we reside, queues of men almost a half mile in length waiting for 709 long periods, and the weather is becoming more severe, while the winter outlook is bad. Women also have to wait in the same way and under the same conditions here and in every part of the country. Now I do not ask for the sympathy of the right hon. Gentleman in this matter, because I know I have it, and one does not ask for that which one already possesses. It would be almost an insult to the Minister of Labour to claim his sympathy in this matter, because no man is more sympathetic than he with regard to it. Therefore I do not want him to be mistaken and to think that we are asking for sympathy which we have already got when I offer a few suggestions which I hope may be helpful.
§ Mr. WIGNALL
I have been considering the time that is occupied in the waiting process in relation to the severity of the weather, and I know I am going to be up against the anti-waste people in my suggestion. I know I shall receive objections on the ground that extra cost will be incurred. Well, the money is provided as a fixed sum, and we cannot add to it. Therefore, any suggestion of mine is not likely to lead to increased cost. The Minister of Labour has pointed out to us in various answers to questions and other statements that he has been cutting into his staff and reducing it at a tremendous pace, and he received, "Hear, hears," and cheers from all parts of the House. I am wicked enough to wish that those who cheered the cutting down process had to stand in the queues outside the Employment Exchanges and wait for the donation. They would not shout then; they would be more prepared to curse the people who were responsible. Now we have to face the fact that this large number of people have to be dealt with, and in every district of every large industrial centre there are many public halls, chapels, and places of worship with schoolrooms attached. Surely they could be used for this humane purpose. I think an effort should be made to deal with these people in batches and put them in shelter and under cover rather than leave them standing shivering in the cold. If that does not meet with the Minister's approval there is another suggestion I 710 would make. It is that, instead of paying out the benefit to a number of men on one day in the week, say on a Friday—
§ Mr. WIGNALL
I know that sometimes it is paid twice a week, but generally speaking it is paid once a week, on a Friday. Why not, in cases where you have 2,000 or 3,000 men to be paid on a Friday, arrange matters so that, instead of paying them all on the one day, the 3,000 should be divided into three sections paid respectively on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday? That would prevent them having to wait and stand about for such a long time. There is nothing more humiliating or degrading to a man than to be compelled to stand shivering in the rain and cold observed of all the passers-by. It takes all the manhood out of him and does not tend to make him a better workman to be so exposed to the gaze of the public and looked upon with pitying eyes. I am sure I only need to bring these suggestions to the Minister's notice. They are quite practicable and can be applied to meet the difficulties of the position. I am not, as I said before, asking for pity or for sympathy, but only suggesting a practical method of dealing with the conditions and saving trouble to these men, without either adding to the cost or making the machinery more cumbersome.
If the Minister of Labour will look at it from that point of view and give it his consideration, I shall be very much obliged. He might appeal to the religious bodies in the districts to give the use of their schoolrooms, and I say to-day that every religious body and every charitable institution in the district ought to assist and say to us, "Here are our schoolrooms unoccupied at the present time, and you can have them merely for the cost of upkeep, and the cost of light or firing." They would be carrying out the work of Christianity by seeing that these men and women, instead of standing shivering in the bitter cold weather of this bitter winter which is before us, are given shelter, and they would thus be helping the Minister of Labour to cater for the health and safety of the man that, after all, is the backbone of the nation. I believe that if an appeal were made, it would be responded to gladly and 711 willingly, and if not, we should have something more to say about it in our daily spheres of labour. If that is not practicable, I pray the right hon. Gentleman to consider the advisability of cutting the numbers into smaller batches, of having more pay-days. It would be the same total at the finish, but the right hon. Gentleman would be adding to the comfort of the people who have got to go there to receive it.
§ Mr. CAUTLEY
During the various stages of the passage of this Bill, I have been much exercised in my mind as to how, in the interests of my constituents, I could vote £8,000,000 of the taxpayers' money for the benefit of unemployment. I will say at once that, with the Government scheme for dealing with unemployment, I am in thorough agreement. I think it was by far, the best system that could be devised, to put the charge partly on the employers who are carrying on industry, partly on the men who are working in industry, and partly on the State, and I only regret that the finances of the country have been such as necessarily to limit the extent to which the Government have gone. The difficulty I have had is this: In my constituency the only industry that we really have is agriculture. I have a large number of men at work in agriculture. The others, apart from a few builders and carpenters, are woodmen and private servants, chauffeurs, and a few gamekeepers and that sort of people, but the bulk are the men who work on the fields. They are excluded from the Bill, and deliberately excluded by the promoters of the Bill. No answer has been given as to why they are excluded. I am very glad that the Minister of Labour is here, because I heard him give what he pretended was an answer, and that was that they chose not to come under the Unemployment Insurance Act. That is no answer, because there was no need for them to come under that Act. Under the provisions of the Government's Agriculture Act there was no chance of unemployment in the agricultural industry, but the Government themselves have created this unemployment. We were protected, and we were provided for, and there was no need in the case of the agricultural workmen to come under the Insurance Act, and I charge the Government, of which 712 the right hon. Gentleman is a Member, with being the direct cause of the unemployment from which we are suffering, and are likely to suffer to a very great extent in this coming winter, in agriculture.
Then take the farmer, who, under the same Act, was also provided for, and who was induced, by means of that Act and of requests by the Government, to become the owner of his own land, to enter into contracts and to buy his own farm, which he could not really afford to do, and then, by a volte-face never before seen, the Government turned round and scrapped that Act, with the result that, in addition to the economic causes that are hitting the farmer hard now, he has been driven to sell his land or to have it sold over his head. I heard only the other day in one town, a small country town, that within one week there were seven meetings of creditors of farmers who had bought their own farms. What is the position which we have to face? We have an impoverished farmer, who has had a very bad year, with the price of every commodity that he is growing or producing fallen 50, 60 and even 70 per cent. We have labour, on the other hand, being discharged, the farmer being compelled to discharge it and to lower wages; yet that labour cannot get a farthing under this Bill, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell me now how I am to reconcile before my constituents the taxation to be put on them when our people have been left to themselves and we cannot get a farthing from the expenditure for which he asks us to vote.
On the general question I would like to say one or two words. As I understand the position, the production to-day in this country is only 80 per cent. of what it was before the War, and the unemployed are about 20 per cent., as near as I can estimate, of our working population; therefore, if you could get back to pre-War production, the troubles of unemployment would be at an end. One of the faults I find with the Government proposals here is that they do very little to increase production. It has been said—and I think everybody in the House thoroughly agrees—that it is to the increase of production that we have to look, and the only ways by which we can get increased production, to my mind, are either by a reduction of the profits of the producer, a reduction of the 713 profits of the Middleman and distributor, or a reduction of the wages paid to the worker. I believe that the producers' profits have almost disappeared at the present moment, and I do not think there is much hope of looking for a further reduction in the profits of the producer in the ordinary trades, but I have seen no effort made by any Member of the Government to lessen the profits of the middleman or distributor, and I do not believe that the right process for reducing the cost of production is simply to look at the wages earned and call for a reduction of wages. Looking at it from the agricultural point of view, we are compelled to have a great reduction of wages, and the greater the reduction in wages the more men shall we be able to keep on our farms, because we see perfectly well that under this Bill we are left to our own resources. I desire to call the attention of the House to the grievance from which we are suffering at the present time. In every retail trade, in every middleman's trade, there are price controls of a most intricate and complicated character. If you could, deal with those you would do more to lessen the cost of living, and we should be able then to arrive at the first step, to my mind, necessary to securing that great reduction in wage costs, which would go further than anything to enable us to meet this problem of the greater output, at less cost, of our goods.
I would like to give one or two illustrations of what I mean. One of the greatest combines affecting London at the present moment is the milk combine. The Government during the War have allowed this large company to purchase all the private businesses at very large cost, and they deal then in this way. They send round a letter, the day before the milk contract expires, to the farmer and say, "Our price for the next six months is so and so. If you do not agree, cease sending your milk." There is no other customer. They have it in their own hands in fixing the buying price. They then determine and advertise in the paper that the cost to the consumer will be so and so for the next six months. There is no other supply, and the consumers have to pay, and you have got this spectacle, going on all over London, that you have practically one large combine supplying, who make a profit of £350,000 in selling the first necessity of life, and you have this, that 714 they fix the buying price and they fix the selling price, which, as anybody knows, leads to enormous extravagance and waste, in addition to the initial huge cost. Take the price of bread. We have seen in the, last year the price of wheat go down from 94s. or 95s. a quarter to 45s., and I have known in the last two or three weeks good English wheat sold at 39s. in one of our largest towns, yet when local bread ought to be 8d. or 9d. a 41b. loaf, we have in our country villages bread to-day being sold at 1s. or even 1s. 1d., and we have it in London to-day being sold at 11d. and 1s. Take the butcher. I have seen it stated, and never contradicted—in fact, I know it to be true—that if a small butcher has a turn-over of about £160 a week—going back for three or four weeks, that would be a man who sells four carcases of cattle and three or four sheep a week, which is more than a country butcher sells, but less than the ordinary urban butcher sells—he makes a net profit of 25 per cent., or £40 a week, or £2,000 a year, a profit made by a butcher carrying on a simple straightforward business of that character. I venture to say it is perfectly outrageous. You can go to any greengrocer's shop in London to-day—nearly any one, not all—and you are charged 10d. or 1s. for a cauliflower, even at the present moment.
I think I have practically proved the case I set out to make in regard to these price controls that if the efforts of the right hon. Gentleman were directed to getting rid of these in some way or another, there would be more room for reducing the cost of living and thereby the cost of labour and wages, the real wages remaining what they are at the present time, but there would be more chance of reducing the cost of the price of goods than in any other way that is apparently open to us at the present moment. If we can only succeed in doing that, if the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill can give us some assurance that we who live in the country can have some effort made on our behalf to secure the general public against these things which are the curse of every industry, and every trade so far as—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I have not called the hon. Gentleman to order so far, but he is now inviting hon. Members who succeed to follow him in his argument. I trust he will come back to the question before the House.
§ Mr. CAUTLEY
I forgot, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for the moment, and therefore I got out of order. I thought what I was saying was in order, seeing I was dealing with one of the remedies, as I thought, for meeting the question of unemployment and providing means of work. I have, however, apparently carried my argument further than I ought to have done, though I think I have carried it as far as I wished to do. I will end by expressing the hope that what I have said will commend itself to the right hon. Gentleman, for if we could get a proper reduction in retail prices wages could be so reduced on the farms without reducing real wages as would enable the farmers to find employment for most of the rural unemployed.
§ Mr. SWAN
These £5,500,000 in the Bill, which is the Government policy, may be considered one of the most humane acts that have ever been adopted in our history. However humane and however good, though, the step the Government have embarked upon to deal with the situation of unemployment, we feel quite sure that it is utterly inadequate to meet the needs of the number of men and women and their dependants who are out of work to-day in the various parts of the country. Like the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, I have in my constituency a large number of agricultural workers out of work, and there is no provision in this Bill for them. The only people who can come to their assistance are the local authorities, and what steps are being taken are not much good to help the local people to help those who are looking to them for help. So far as the mining and other industries are concerned, we believe before the House meets again the fund established will have become exhausted. We have larger numbers of miners out of work than perhaps in any other industry; in fact, the unemployment there is unparalleled in the history of the industry. Nothing in this Bill is likely to ease the situation for a very long time. I sympathise with the Minister of Labour who is in charge of the Bill. We all know how generous he has been and ready to help, so far as his powers allow, and to allay the irritation and the other unpleasant factors that our people have to face. We all appreciate his efforts to assist us, but his difficulty in the near 716 future will be not in administering, because he will have no funds to administer, but in other directions. We believe if the Government intends to do anything which will really have a palliative effect on the unemployment problem they ought to assert themselves in a bolder and more effective manner than they are doing through this Measure.
Our policy must be revised if we desire effectively to help the large numbers that are likely to be maintained in institutions. This matter has been discussed, I know, but we see no way of redress unless the Government really face the revision of the Treaty of Versailles. So long as that remains as it is, we shall have our unemployed members in large numbers in the mining industry, and they will be augmented. Our markets are being flooded by the coal under the Treaty and there is no possibility, in consequence, of our mining industry being rehabilitated. We are too parochial in these measures; we ought to take a longer view. The right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill knows that as soon as the House meets again, and in the light of that Treaty, we shall have to appeal again for another grant, and yet another, to assist the men that are thrown out of work and on to the labour market due to the Treaty of Versailles. It will have to be looked into in the interests of the whole of the trade and commerce of the country. We remember the speeches of the Prime Minister in 1918. He said then that we could not heal the gaping wounds of the nation by red tape, nor plough up the waste land by means of writing on paper, nor could we reclaim the waste land in the manner suggested. We had hoped that the Government might have been stirred by the humiliation and degradation of our people, for many of our constituents are gradually sinking into a state of despair. Instead of the Government grappling with all these questions, so as to heal the gaping wounds of the nation, they are adopting palliative measures which will intensify the problem of unemployment.
It would be a much wiser policy on the part of the Government to take up some of those reconstruction proposals which have been gathered together by men of special knowledge and ability, whom the Government wisely selected to look into these things, and to suggest plans and proposals. This would the better enable 717 the Government to absorb much of the man-power of the nation which is drifting to waste, and to build up a really healthy and sturdy population in which the aspirations and desires for that which is highest and best would have better play and better chances. It would have been more economical and more humane, and altogether better than relief works. Two years ago we were confronted with the possibility of our coal reserves being exhausted. Now, instead of that, the whole of our markets are flooded with coal, while our men are out of work. The right hon. Member for the Gorbals Division (Mr. Barnes) declared that a wise and long view ought to be taken by both men and masters to avoid such a situation as we have come to to-day. He suggested that the men should work on short time. Even if those proposals were assented to, they are not going to assist the nation or do away with unemployment to any appreciable extent, because already the wages, as an inevitable consequence of what has been going on of late, are inadequate. Hence the purchasing power of the community is reduced, and this has its reaction upon the industries.
The Government after the War were anxious, they said, that the skilled men of the nation, the men of technical knowledge and other experts, and skilful workmen, should give of their best for the purpose of bringing back that prosperity to the nation which it so much needs. Big schemes of electricity were projected, so that the. rivers might be harnessed and areas of land which are now waste might have electrical plants put upon them, and all these forces utilised to help on the nation. It would have been more humane, economic, and efficient if such a policy had been carried forward, and skilled and other labour utilised, so that the status of the country might be raised, and the land made more self-dependent. This policy, we were told, was calculated to save £100,000,000 a year. Work in that direction would have been far better for out-of-work men than by giving a dole or grant of 5½ millions, and making the men unfitted for work when subsequently they were offered useful work to do. What is more, the policy suggested of utilising these powers was expected to save 55,000,000 tons of coal for posterity.
The Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Labour, and the Board of 718 Trade could have co-ordinated their efforts in the direction indicated, and by directive energy and skill have assisted the needs of the nation at this time. Instead of having 2,000,000 of men out of work, they would have been absorbed in these labours. There has been no co-ordination. The Minister of Labour turns to-day to the OFFICIAL REPORT, and gives us the records of the number of men out of work. We had expected that the Government would give more assistance than by simply recording the tragedy of men out of work, and starving. We want something constructive. The Department of the right hon. Gentleman, although it has added to the taxes, has never done any thing to carry out a real constructive policy. What is more, any money earmarked by the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been seized by other Departments, perhaps for battleships which are likely to be obsolete before they are finished. The policy of reconstruction, so far as railways are concerned, ought to be pursued to open out the land of the country. The Prime Minister said we could not cultivate waste land by writing on paper, and we do not want to leave the impression that that is possible. I hope the Government will do something to open up that waste land in order to employ these men in the worthy occupation of producing the food of the nation. We were told not long ago that £500,000,000 worth of food was imported into this country every year which could easily be produced in our own land, and what has been done to accomplish that? Absolutely nothing. We have vast fields of mineral wealth which ought to be exploited for all kinds of industry, and if we have men who can visualise the possibilities of employment in all parts of the Empire, surely they ought to use that ability to exploit the wealth which is known to exist within our own shores instead of spending our money upon speculative possibilities in foreign countries. A less amount of money spent in this country would give much better results in developing our own resources. I hope the Government will face this problem in a complete manner, and not be content to give £5,500,000 only. Why cannot the Government do what they did during the War when all the man-power of the nation was absorbed? It can be absorbed now by a constructive policy and pro- 719 ductive work. If that cannot be done a bolder policy should be adopted, and we ought to give grants that will enable the unemployed to live in decency and comfort.
§ Sir R. COOPER
The Minister of Labour would perform a very valuable service if he would point out to the hon. Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Cautley) that the remedy for dealing with unemployment in the agricultural areas rests very much more in the hands of the farming community than with the Ministry of Labour, because if the farmers and their employés would work more closely together, I am sure it would be easy for them to knock the bottom out of the great difficulties which they are labouring under to-day. Another interesting point was raised by the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Wignall). I want to ask my right hon. Friend if it is not a fact that he has given instructions that in all thickly populated areas where Labour Exchanges deal with a large number of men and women who have to receive benefits, they are given certain hours to attend. I have witnessed in my own constituency that that arrangement is carried out very successfully, the only difficulty being that people will come an hour or two hours before their proper time, and in order to regulate that difficulty the police have been brought in.
There are one or two brief suggestions which I wish to make. The present system of dealing with this great national difficulty is admitted to be a very costly one. In the course of inquiries, not only in my own constituency, but in other parts of the Black Country, there is no doubt that at the present time there is a very great deal of inequality in the relief given under the schemes of boards of guardians, the work given by local authorities, and under the Unemployment Insurance Act. In all these matters there is a very great deal of inequality. In the right hon. Gentleman we have a Minister who, when the House is in Recess, will be just as ready to look into any facts put before him in regard to which he may be satisfied that some little change might do a good deal of good.
The two points I wish to make are concerned with looking a little hit ahead. I believe that the optimism which was generally expressed by the Prime Minister 720 with regard to the outlook of trade and unemployment is generally well founded, but I cannot find anyone connected with industry or with labour who holds the opinion that relief is going to be as rapid as we wish. In any case I feel sure that we have to look to five months of great difficulties, and if we are going to do the best we can in the future at the most reasonable expense to the Exchequer, I submit that the right hon. Gentleman ought, apart from his multifarious duties, to be taking some further steps to look ahead as to what modifications of his scheme will produce better results at less expense. Judging from the experience of my own constituency, I say that there is some need for a closer co-ordination between the various bodies and authorities concerned with giving relief. I do not think it is necessary for me to expand on that subject. I think it is generally recognised, certainly in the case that I know most about, that there is room for very great improvement if that can be brought about. The other point is one which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Barnes) was speaking upon a little while ago. I believe that unemployment, speaking generally, is a problem which ought to be thrown upon the employers of labour and the workers jointly, and it ought to be much more of a charge upon industry than it is to-day. I say that as one who is deeply interested in an industry as an employer, and I know that many employers regard such a proposal as one that is going to be very hard upon them and cost a great deal. From my personal experience, I am inclined to believe that if unemployment in the future is more or less made a charge upon industry and administered jointly by employers and employed, I believe there is going to be vastly less unemployment, and ultimately it is going to be a far less charge upon the industries of the country.
The Bill we have before us deals with a very small part of the problem of unemployment. The charge is enormous, but more or less the great bulk of this charge falls upon the production of wealth in one form or another. When I speak of this being a very costly system, I have particularly in mind that if the whole inspiration of dealing with unemployment can be taken away from what I think we all recognise as the somewhat cold-blooded administration of 721 the State, and can be thrown upon those who have to bear it, the employers and the workmen, and we can get the two working hand in glove to prevent unemployment in the joint interests of both, I am certain the result will be a far less burden than it is under the present administration. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take some serious steps by capable people to look ahead as far as next March and next winter in case the problem is not thoroughly relieved, as we all hope and desire it will be.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
For three weeks the House has been debating the question of unemployment, and although we have been limited to the Government's proposals, I think the Minister of Labour himself will be the first to admit that all sections of the House have contributed something to the Debate.
§ Mr. THOMAS
No greater mistake could be made than to suppose that any particular party is alone interested in the question of the unemployed. The Debates during the past three weeks, although there will naturally be differences of opinion, have clearly demonstrated that Members in all parts of the House, representing all interests and parties, are genuinely anxious to do something for this most terrible of all household calamities. On the other hand, I think there will be a recognition that the unemployment problem we are dealing with at this moment is unique. We are dealing not only with a larger volume of unemployment but with more classes of unemployment than we have ever previously been called upon to deal with. The curious thing is that they constitute in the main the largest industries. In all previous unemployed debtes and discussions on unemployment we always included the agricultural industry. The argument used to be that although the economic conditions were bad there was a sort of permanency of employment in the agricultural industry which practically ruled out agriculture as being a matter generally connected with unemployment. The curious thing is that not only is this not so to-day, but all the evidence tends to show that there is more real hardship in the agricultural districts than has ever been experienced before, and therefore we have now drawn in a large new class.
722 The same applies to mining. If you were to go over the figures of the mining industry for the last 25 years you would find that the ratio of unemployment was practically lower than in any other industry, and yet at this very moment outside the steel trade it probably has the largest percentage of any class unemployed at the present moment. That is the second class. The third class I will deal with is the railways. This has always been more or less a staple trade. I never remember in my experience of the past a larger proportion than three-quarters per cent. of unemployment in the railway industry, and yet at this moment, when I say that in my own union since February of this year up to a week ago they have spent nearly £750,000 in unemployment benefit alone, that will give the House some indication of the position even in the case of the railways. Here you have, in addition to what I have already said, the aggravated evils of unemployment, and you have had brought into it three specific classes that were never so affected before as they are affected to-day. We also have to face the fact that practically all our economic laws and experience has been falsified at the present moment. The victorious country, the victors in the great War, are the countries which at this moment are suffering worst from unemployment. America, the only credit country in the world, the country which, with the exception of tea and coffee, is an absolutely self-supporting nation dependent for its prosperity entirely on its export trade, America, a credit country, is in the unfortunate position of having 6,000,000 unemployed at this moment. In other words, America and ourselves are very largely like a jeweller's shop with all the goods exposed. It shows wealth and prosperity, but it is practically falling into bankruptcy, because there are no customers to buy. That is the fact we have to face, and the conclusion I draw from it is this: I do not believe any party, whether it be those who are sitting on these benches here or in any other part of the House, can take this Bill and say, here is a national remedy for this evil. The sooner we get right down to the fact that it is not a local problem, that it is not a national problem, but that it is a world problem, the better it will be. Until we do that, we will never come to close grips with the situation. In evi- 723 dente of that I again come back to the position of America Curiously enough, the very things that are in abundance at this moment are also the very things that the world needs. It is the unfortunate breakdown of the opportunity to bring both together that is the cause of the real difficulty.
We have admitted that these proposals afford no real solution of the trouble. At the best they are a temporary expedient and I would ask the Government, seeing that this is probably the last hour we shall be discussing the question in this Session—and during the next few months I believe the position is going to be worse because of the unfortunate weather—I do ask the Government to keep clearly in mind the fact that the people in the country are themselves beginning to realise that this is an international and not a national problem. In other words, although Parliament will not be in Session, the Government must apply themselves to the real fundamental remedy. You cannot dissociate this economic, industrial problem from our foreign policy and our foreign policy must be considered in relation to it.
I want to ask the Minister one or two questions on the proposals that are now submitted. I want to know what progress is being made with the £25,000,000 Development Scheme. I disagree with many of my hon. Friends because I attach more importance to its bearing on the unemployed problem than to any other matter. Once before the Government brought proposals up here advocating it. I was in the country at the time, but I took an early opportunity of seeing the Prime Minister and urging it upon him. I did so for this reason. We are all agreed that doles are no good, that they are demoralising and not beneficial. People turn round and say we must find work, but here, again, let us differentiate in the work, because loading a barrow and unloading it is such work that one might just as well give doles as spend money in that way. It is, as an hon. Friend near me says, exercise, and that is the best that can be said for it. On the other hand, you will not get remunerative labour, no matter how willing individuals may be, by putting men to do work that they are not accustomed to and which is abhorrent to them. You cannot get a remunerative return 724 from turning clerks into navvies or by putting skilled engineers on the roads. The real thing we must aim at is to try and provide work such as the men are used to, which work, although at the moment it may not be remunerative, yet will ultimately become so. In other words, where there is development of trade in bad times, there may be practical schemes which will provide work during the period of depression, but will also be useful and remunerative in due course. I believe that this £25,000,000, if it is properly used, may mean an expenditure of £125,000,000. It is a great mistake to assume that it is only £25,000,000 that will be spent. I can conceive of £200,000,000 worth of work being thus provided, while the responsibility of the Government is limited to £25,000,000.
Let me give one practical illustration. Prior to 1914 the average capital expenditure of the railways of the country was between £10,000,000 and £12,000,000 a year, and that money was spread out in many ways. In 1914 that expenditure ceased, and from 1914 down to 1920 there has been practically nothing spent in that direction, with the result that districts that might have been developed are not developed, and remunerative work which could have been undertaken has not been undertaken. The railway companies are in this difficulty at the moment. They cannot possibly, owing to their financial position, go on to the market to get money on anything like the terms on which they can do the work, although the work when done would be useful. Take the electrification scheme for London. Do not assume that there would be one scheme for London alone. Manchester, Glasgow, and Edinburgh, and all our large towns, require development in this way, and this scheme of the Government, if it is properly used, and if the Government themselves interpret it in a generous and businesslike way. I have limited my remarks to the railways because I naturally know much more on that subject than on other subjects, but I do not want it to be understood for one moment that these developments are to be limited to the railways. There are very many other directions in which they can be used, but I used the railways as an illustration only in order to destroy another phase of the argument which is being used at the present moment. 725 People are telling us that we must not spend, that we must save money and economise on everything. If our export trade has gone wrong, as it has done, and if we are to economise and not to spend anything on our own trade, instead of helping the unemployed, we are going to create more unemployment. What we have to do when talking about expenditure is to differentiate between what is waste and what is expenditure that will provide useful work. That is the real difference between the two, and I do hope that my right hon. Friend will pay some particular attention to it.
I hope he will also take note of the suggestion of the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Wignall) and let us see if we cannot make this unfortunate business as human as possible. Nothing is worse than those horrible queues which we sometimes see. I am quite sure it does not require a Labour Member or any other Member to realise that. We are all men, we are all human. This sudden change in the weather during the last four days has had terrible effects. This is how it struck me on the first morning when I got up, and I believe it struck other hon. Members in the same way. I know from experience what during the past month, when the weather has been so good and when trade union benefits and the Government benefit have been exhausted, has been happening in the home. The weather has been fairly warm, and consequently clothes have been pawned. The bedclothes have been pawned, and now has come this severe weather. These poor people are practically starving, and we have to recognise we cannot have men waiting in queues to draw their unemployed benefit and starving in the cold at the same time. I believe the churches and chapels and all other institutions ought to come together and say, not that this is someone else's business, but this is a great human business and we must all contribute our little bit to it. This is a time above all others when starving and cold men are more susceptible to listen to the most poisonous and dangerous propaganda. Many months ago, in a speech I made outside this House, I said that in my judgment the one thing that was necessary was increased production. To-day I am asked this question, "You were one of the people who encouraged increased production. Look at us now. By working hard, are we not 726 out of work?" My answer to-day is the same as it was then. Increased production is as necessary to-day as it was then. We are suffering, not from overproduction, but from under-consumption. It is that it is easy to go to a mass of working men and say, "If you work four hours a day it will provide work for so many more people." Develop that argument. Why not work two days only, or why work at all? While, however, that is taking place the dangers are obvious, and the best way to counteract those dangers is to meet them fairly and squarely by saying that the Government have their responsibility in this matter and will treat it boldy and squarely and do their best. I believe we shall get over our difficulties in that spirit.
I conclude by saying to the Minister of Labour—continue to administer these Acts in the most human way possible; above all, impress upon your colleagues what I believe to be the general sense of this House, namely, that it is not by measures of this kind that we can solve the problem. Capital and Labour, as has been pointed out, can do much themselves. I do not agree with the suggestion that has been made that better relations between Capital and Labour are not necessary. I believe them to be necessary, and I believe it to be our duty to advocate them. We have all to stand for a square deal. Above all, we have to realise that the nation is bigger than ourselves. The next few months will be a testing time. The next few months, probably, will find us face to face with graver difficulties even than in some of the dark periods of the War. Let there be sane patriotism, a sane desire to do the right thing whatever be the cost, and, above all, a recognition that from 1914 to 1918 this country was saved, not by a class or by a section, but by all its citizens contributing of their best. A nation that is capable of such sacrifice ought to recognise its obligations to those who made that sacrifice on its behalf.
§ Mr. G. ROBERTS
After listening to speeches which have ranged over the whole earth and beneath the earth and above the earth, it is very gratifying to hear my right hon. Friend bringing us back to actualities. I congratulate him, not only upon the matter of his speech, but upon the courage which inspired it. I have delivered speeches of that character 727 myself during recent years, and in respect of them I have incurred a good deal of disfavour. I do not complain of that, because it is the duty of us all to form our own conclusions and to take the consequences of them. One or two points have emerged from the discussion, upon which I should like very briefly to engage the attention of the House. It is a very interesting experience with me to hear that there is widespread unemployment amongst agricultural labourers. No one will accuse me of lack of sympathy with the agricultural labourer. I am of agricultural labouring stock myself, and I have often stated in this House that the one thing for which I should like to be remembered would be having contributed something to alleviate the status of the class from which I originate. A few nights since, speaking at a meeting, I made the statement which has just been made by my right hon. Friend, that one of the most remarkable features of the present phase of unemployment was its acuteness amongst agricultural labourers. Towards the close of the meeting, a man questioned me as to whether I really meant that unemployment was rife amongst agricultural labourers. I said that that was my information, and that I had heard it stated in this House—an assembly where all statements could be very closely investigated—and it had not there been denied. Then this man, who, as I ultimately learned, was a large farmer, informed me that he had the greatest possible difficulty in securing labour for his farms. He told the meeting that he had sent lorries out in the morning in order to collect agricultural labourers to work on his various farms. One is not in a position to judge as between the two statements. On the one hand, I am informed that there is widespread unemployment, and on the other that there is a demand for labour on farms which cannot be supplied.
The explanation may be the lack of mobility on the part of the agricultural labourer. It may be that employment is open in some districts while there is unemployment amongst agricultural labourers in others, and that we are unable to bring the two together. Therefore, I am still of the opinion that it is a mistake to urge the destruction of the Employment Exchange system, for, unless 728 we have some machinery in the country which can co-ordinate demand and supply we shall still have this complaint of unemployment amongst agricultural labourers, on the one hand, and employers requiring labour and unable to get it, on the other. While we are pursuing what appears at the moment to be an economy, I am certain that ultimately it is going to prove the most wasteful form of economy that we have ever undertaken. I know that my right hon. Friend is going into this whole question of Unemployment Exchanges and Wages Boards during the coming Recess, and I want him, after due consideration of this problem, to advise the House of Commons as to whether a mistake is not being made in embarking upon what appears to me to be the destruction of the Employment Exchange system. When I held the position which my right hon. Friend adorns so well, the plan that I had adumbrated was not only the retention of Employment Exchanges in our urban areas, but the extension of the system into our rural districts, because we can see at once that, unless we provide the farmer, the cultivator of the soil, with the means of coming into contact with other districts, we shall never satisfy ourselves as to the correctness of the allegations of unemployment on the one hand, and the demand for labour on the other.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby has lifted this question above party. He has made the admission that, even if the party of which he is a distinguished member had happened to be in power, the probability is that they would not have done much better than the present Government. I want the unemployed in the country to understand that, to whatever party we are attached, we are anxious that work shall be provided for them, and that, if we cannot furnish them with work, we recognise at least their human needs, and that they should not be allowed to lack the common necessities of life. That sentiment is not a monopoly of any class; it is common to all classes and sections of the House of Commons, and I delight that that fact has been placed on record. There has been a tendency during these discussions to place the Government proposals in a watertight compartment, and to say of any particular proposal that it is what is proposed as a solution of the unemployment problem. That is an 729 unfair presentment of the case. In my trade union propaganda days I often had to rebut that sort of allegation. I often used to be charged with trying to attract men into a trade union membership when, as a result of that Membership, they would only get 6s., 7s. or 8s. a week if they were out of work. But we never put that 6s. or 7s. or 8s. a week as being adequate in itself for a man who was out of work. We did claim, however, that if a man had that sum coming in when he was out of work, added to whatever other provision he was able to make either privately or in association with his fellows in other directions, it was a very acceptable sum and made it worth his while to join the trade union. We have advised the Government throughout all their proposals, and the Government proposals, in the main, are based on our trade union practise and experience; and I say that it is unfair to lift a particular proposal out and present it to the country as being the whole of what the Government have to offer in a state of great national emergency. I want to take the opportunity of emphasising the point which was made so well by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, that, irrespectively of party in this House, we are all deeply anxious to do what we can to alleviate the lot of our unfortunate fellow citizens who are afflicted with unemployment, and that desire is not the monopoly of any one class or any one section.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I feel that I must raise a question which has been raised in previous Debates, and which has been referred to by the right hon. Member for Derby in his very moderate and statesmanlike speech, namely, the question of the abnormal amount of unemployment at the present time in the agricultural industry.
§ Earl WINTERTON
Yes. I think it is right that Members representing agricultural constituencies should make their voices heard in this Debate, in order that it may not be supposed that the question of unemployment is purely an industrial question, using the word "industrial" as opposed to "agricultural." There is a great danger, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for 730 Derby has pointed out, that it may be considered as a purely industrial question. There would not be time for me to give at any length the reasons why this state of affairs has arisen, but I believe it is more serious in the South of England than at any period since the appalling years of depression that succeeded the Napoleonic Wars. I think that to some extent it has been possibly due in the past to the restrictions imposed by the Wages Board. I will not go into that now, because it is a controversial matter, and, moreover, the Wages Board has ceased to function. It is due mainly to the appalling depression which exists in agriculture at the present time. Just as, in ordinary industry, a man who is faced with a reduced profit for what he manufactures or produces has to cut down his labour bill, so in agriculture men are being dismissed from farms and estates in ones and twos and threes until the aggregate result is really serious.
There is another reason why, in my opinion, agricultural unemployment is so bad at the present time. It is an interesting historical fact that we had in the country districts of England a better system for dealing with abnormally bad times as regards unemployment than existed in industry. It was, in a sense, a legacy from the old days of the monastries, which owned large areas of agricultural land in the rural districts of England. The duty was imposed upon them—I think by Statute, but I speak really without historical knowledge—of finding work for agriculturists who were out of work, and that duty was formerly carried out to a very large extent on the large estates in the country. Many a large landlord, in times of agricultural depression, when there was unemployment, employed on his estate in one capacity or another—sometimes in villages far distant from his actual residence—men who were out of employment, giving them work at hedging, ditching, in the woods, and so on. It is not sufficiently realised that that system has gone by the board—has ceased to exist. It has gone and agriculture now is carried on, so far as it can be carried on, on purely commercial principles. That is an unfortunate phrase, because the majority of farmers are not making any money at all at present, but it is carried on by men whose whole profession is farming. The old landlord system has gone by the board. 731 I am not on this occasion prepared to argue whether it was a good system or a bad one. No doubt a great deal of the employment of surplus men in bad times was uneconomic employment, but that is not the point. The point is that labour was in that way absorbed. Under the old system a large landlord who owned all the houses in a village and all the farms around, if men were out of work—not men who necessarily worked for him, but for his tenants or for others—got them to work somehow during the winter. He cannot do it to-day. He has not the same responsibility, and he has not the power to do it owing to the enormous financial burden. Therefore we are really faced with a very serious situation in the country districts.
I should like to put a point which has been put to me in the form of questions by electors at meetings. In Sussex we are in a peculiar position, inasmuch as some urban districts are scattered about among purely agricultural districts. You find two men living in cottages side by side. Both are out of work. One is, say, employed in the engineering trade. If he is within his period he is drawing unemployment pay. Both men are paying the same rent and the standard of living is the same, but the other wretched man has either to go on the rates or starve. That is unquestionably causing serious discontent among agricultural labourers. I have been surprised at the feeling that has been expressed on the subject. I have been asked why did not the Government put agriculture under the Unemployment Bill. I gave the reply which was given by the right hon. Gentleman, that the representatives, both of the farmers and of the workers, asked that agriculture should be left out of the Bill. The answer of these men is, "That is all very well, but why cannot we all be on the same basis? Why should this man receive the unemployment dole and I get nothing?" It is a state of affairs which must really eventually be met. Under this Bill considerable sums of money are put aside for drainage and afforestation, and I am sure under the energetic chairmanship of Lord Lovat, to whom the House and the country owe a great debt of gratitude, as also to the admirable staff of permanent officials and voluntary workers, the Forestry 732 Commission will spend this money, over and above the money they have under the Forestry Bill, to the best possible advantage, and it will be of considerable benefit. Of course, if you are going to afforest, it is most economic to do it on a very large scale indeed. It is better to have a scheme that takes in 5,000 or 6,000 acres than 1,000 acres. Clearly in those parts where there is a lot of wood it is much easier to carry out a big scheme. From that point of view we should benefit very much in Sussex. I hope the money will be spread evenly over the country as far as possible where-ever you get a condition of agricultural unemployment and land suitable for afforestation.
I believe under the Bill money is also being granted for drainage. I hope a very careful survey will be made of land which can be improved by drainage. I hope in these drainage schemes it is not going to be merely a question of improving the amenities of a certain district. It is important that people should not have their houses flooded if it can be avoided. There are certain districts where, as the result of the flooding of rivers in winter, houses are under water, but I hope it will also be taken into consideration that there are many thousands of acres of land where there is no damage done to the inhabitants living there, because there are very few houses which cannot be used for any agricultural or pastural purposes because of flooding. There are thousands of such acres, for example, in Norfolk. I hope the Government will go boldly into the question and see whether, as the result of drainage schemes, large quantities of land can be brought into use. To my mind, if that could be done it would be one of the very best means which could be adopted of dealing with unemployment because it would be economic work which would eventually give a return and it would confer far greater benefit than the building of an esplanade at some sea-side place, or even improving roads. I do not want to introduce anything which may seem controversial, but I have some doubt as to whether the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues, and even he himself, have sufficient power within the Cabinet to deal with this drainage question on a big and comprehensive scheme. I am not generally in 733 favour of Committees, especially of Cabinet Committees, but I should like to see a Cabinet Committee which would go into this question of drainage and schedule England into areas which could be suitably treated in that way. I am sure if it is done on a sufficiently big scale it would result in very great benefits to the future of the country besides finding work for a very large number of the unemployed. While I have pointed out to the Government the dangerous and difficult situation which has arisen owing to the amount of agricultural unemployment, it is only fair to say I do not think they can be blamed for having left agriculture out of their Measures in view of the remarks made by the representatives of both workers and employers in the industry that they should be left out, and the responsibility, if any, rests on those people, but it is a matter which will require very careful consideration by the Government, as agricultural depression is going to be not a thing of to-day but a thing of many days and possibly several years, whether it will not have to be included or else some different system have to be found generally to deal with agriculture. I do not think you can go on having two classes of men side by side in the same district, one of whom is receiving money to keep body and soul together and the other of whom is bound to fall back on the rates.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
It is wholly consistent with our responsibilities to the people that our last word in this Session, as indeed our first, should be devoted to this distressing problem of unemployment and that we should take counsel together, as we have done in these three weeks, in the endeavour to find a remedy and a palliative. I cordially agree that the debates we have had have been most useful and helpful to the Government generally, and particularly to myself as Minister of Labour. I listened with very great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Wignall), who called attention to the great hardship of long queues of waiting people outside Employment Exchanges, particularly now that we have had three or four days, and there is a likelihood of the continuance, of very much colder weather than we have experienced for a very long time past, and I fully agree that it is up to us to do all that is possible to reduce that hardship as far 734 as we can, especially if the weather promises to be much more severe than it was last winter. The House will perhaps like to know exactly the figures that we have to deal with. At the end of June last we had 2,170,000 persons registered as wholly unemployed, and registered on short time over another 1,000,000. The latest returns I have, that is for 4th November, are 1,720,000 wholly unemployed, while the short time has come down to just over 250,000. These figures are higher than those which have been shown by the registration returns of the last few weeks. We have got down, as far as registration is concerned, to 1,370,000 at the beginning of last month, but of course we had a very large number of persons who had exhausted their benefit under the Insurance Act and have given up registration. I have always realised that when the new special period of unemployment benefit began again, as it did last Saturday, the great bulk of these persons would have to be added to the register to give the true figure of unemployment, and I knew that to the 1,370,000 at the beginning of last month I should have to add something like 400,000. I have always spoken in these three weeks of the true figure being 1,750,000. It was not a bad estimate.
What does all this come to? It means that during the last four months, July, August, September, and October, the number of registrations of persons wholly unemployed has in fact come down about 400,000—on the average 100,000 a month—and the number of persons on short time has come down from 1,000,000 to 250,000. We start the winter with 1,750,000 persons registered as wholly unemployed. I really do not think the House quite appreciates what that means. It means that in the poorer parts of industrial areas on any given day, twice a week, and on one day for payment, from 10,000 to 15,000 persons have to pass through the Exchange. It is not a question of a thousand or two, as an hon. Member said just now. I was very glad to hear an hon. Member pay the tribute he did to the loyalty and patience of the Employment Exchange staffs. They very well deserve anything we can say on their behalf. During all this long period of depression, they have been most patient in their endeavour to meet these poor people's needs as smoothly and expeditiously as possible.
735 As regards the Exchange premises they are in many eases quite unsuitable. All along I have endeavoured to meet increasing unemployment by hiring temporary premises. Unemployment began to develop about the end of August last year, and we ran continuously deeper and deeper into it till the end of June this year, when we got a break and a reduction of 100,000 a month down to the present, when we are faced with 1,750,000. To meet the needs of the people as the numbers increased during that long period of ten months without a break, I hired temporary premises. I have hired churches, schools, cinema halls, even private houses where I could not get anything else. From September, 1920, when things began to go wrong in the way of industrial depression, down to the peak, the end of June, 1921, I had in fact, in the most hardly-hit districts, hired 500 sets of temporary premises for the very reason my hon. Friend put to me, to see if the thing could be done with a little more expedition, and the people might not wait so long for their benefit. My hon. Friend says: "Surely the religious bodies, municipalities, and others, with a hard winter before us, will place their buildings at your disposal?" I was very glad to hear that, and I hope they will do so. They have not been unmindful of our need in the past. I have been able to get temporary buildings to the extent I have stated, but with the winter before us it would be very helpful indeed if we could secure, and I am sure we shall when we make application, such additional accommodation of one sort and another as is needed.
As regards the staff in the Exchanges, in September, 1920, when things began to go back from the point of view of employment, I had got the figures down to 7,131 persons. Then, as unemployment grew and grew, I had to increase that staff by taking on casual employés to meet the needs of the unemployed persons until, when we came to the peak at the end of June, 1921, my 7,131 members of the staff had become 20,407.I should like the House to know that. They were appointed because I could not do without them, and I was bound to meet the reeds of these poor people. They were appointed on a casual basis, and they moved out of their offices directly the 736 figures began to go down, as they did from that time on. They went down very considerably from the 30th June until recent weeks. In recent weeks I have had to increase them again by at least 1,500 to meet the demands of last Saturday, and I shall increase them on a casual basis. They will be all ex-service men, every man of them, and I think I have the backing and the authority of the House when I say that, with care and discrimination, I shall increase them as far as is necessary in order to see that no undue hardship falls on these people.
With regard to relaxations of procedure, I have already arranged in the districts where there are the largest number of registrations that they can receive payments twice a week instead of once. The hon. Member for the Forest of Dean suggested that there should be three payments a week. He will see that that would mean a very great change in administration, but I will look into it again. At any rate, we pay twice a week in all the heavily registered areas. I have arranged a time system under which people are invited to come at certain hours during the day. The difficulty is that those whose names come later in the alphabet come as early as all the others, and so add to the congestion and crowding. I cordially agree, however, that we must do all we can with these large numbers and with the difficulties that confront us to reduce hardship as much as possible. I assure my hon. Friends that we shall do whatever we can in that direction.
The right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas) asked me to state how we were getting on with the schemes that have been discussed by the House during the last three weeks. The House is fully familiar with the Measures which we have brought forward during that time. I can assure them that no time will be lost in pressing forward with them along each of their several lines. So far, of course, the number of schemes actually started is necessarily small. There are inevitably certain arrangements to be made in each case by the local authority. Our intention is that as far as the central departments are concerned, we shall cut down to the very minimum all matters of red tape and circumlocution in dealing with these schemes. It is really the fact that the virtue goes out of them if we do not do these things quickly. The esesnce of the matter is that he who gives quickly 737 gives twice. Already, in many directions, I am grateful to say there is evidence that the municipal authorities, although they are very heavily embarrassed with their own local commitments, and although they have been helping us for 12 months by operating relief schemes, are coming forward to meet the winter necessity with a determination to assist, which, as I say, speaking on behalf of the Government and of the House, deserves our gratitude.
As the House knows, to put the whole thing shortly, our first objective is to endeavour to revivify trade and industry on an economic basis. To that end there is the Trades Facilities Bill, which, in the first place widely extends the Export Credit scheme. I understand from those responsible, that the amount of credit sanctioned Dr given by the Export Credits Department in the week ending 3rd November—since this expanded scheme was opened—totalled some £340,000, as against £186,000 the week before. So far, so good, and inquiries on a much larger scale than that have been undertaken. Another feature is the guarantee which we offer in respect of capital up to £25,000,000 for capital works, which will immediately assist the unemployment problem and ultimately add to the prosperity of the country. The House heard at Question Time to-day, from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, that the Committee has been set up; and I am advised by him that the Committee will meet next week for the purposes of the consideration of schemes which will be laid before them.
As regards relief works, we have had schemes in operation for a long time, with the assistance of those local authorities. During the last year £25,000,000 have been set aside, either by the local authorities, in conjunction with the Government and the Road Fund or by the local authorities themselves, for work mostly on new arterial road-making or road repairing and maintenance. Ninety thousand men are at work to-day completing these schemes, put in hand as the result of the operations initiated a year ago. In addition to that, under the new schemes which we are now undertaking, and in which we offer to assist the local authorities by the payment of the interest and sinking fund for a period of time, the Secretary of the Unemployment Grants Committee informs me that some 738 hundreds of schemes have been submitted by over 200 local authorities, and that proposals are continuing to come in.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I will come on to that. The schemes which have been sent forward, though it is not certain that they will all come within the conditions of the Unemployment Grants Committee, or comply with the Regulations, represent a sum of no less than £6,000,000. I cannot say whether all those schemes will conform to the conditions under which Government assistance will be payable. It is, however, an evidence of the desire of the local authorities to help, who almost invariably are very heavily rated at present, and I desire, as Minister of Labour, to express my gratitude to them for their willingness to come forward again and share with us in this very heavy burden.
As to the agricultural labourers, the hon. Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Cautley) said, Would it not have been folly for the agricultural labourer to have wanted to come into the compulsory insurance scheme? There was no reason why he should have so desired; it would have been stupid of him. That was because at that time there was little or no unemployment.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
My hon. Friend does not quite understand the principles of insurance. It will not do for people deliberately to stand aside—
§ Mr. G. EDWARDS
During the last three weeks, when we realised the position of the agricultural labourers, was not an application made for their admission under the insurance scheme, or that something should be done for them?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I do not want to pursue the reasons why agricultural labourers were not brought in, but so far as these schemes are concerned, part of our policy is to assist works of land drainage and improvement, forestry, and light railways, and preliminary steps are well advanced in a number of cases. I assure the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) that our main objective is to find work for the unemployed, and that we shall look at the schemes from that point of view.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
Certainly. The Minister of Agriculture tells me that some 30 schemes of land drainage and improvement have been already submitted to him, and that schemes from drainage hoards are coming in well. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport informs me that there are several light railway schemes under his consideration. I need not go into the question of the Unemployed Workers' Dependants Fund, which we have been so recently discussing. It is a little supplemental assistance to the unemployed insurance benefit for the wives, and for children under 14 and between 14 and 16 if they have to go to day school. What we hope from it is that during the next six months, or 21 weeks of those six months, 750,000 wives will secure this supplemental assistance over and above the insurance benefit of 5s. a week, and that 1,400,000 children will secure the small sum of 1s. a week.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
The hon. Member will see that agriculture is excluded from the Act and that an Amendment of the Measure will be required. It is hard luck on these poor people, whom we are all trying to help as far as we can, that the wintry weather should have come on so soon. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean that it will be our duty to see that their requirements are met so far as we can. It will be the duty of the Government Departments, and I am sure of the municipalities, to get ahead with the schemes now in hand with all the expedition possible.
In order that we may proceed with the Prorogation I now venture to appeal to the House to be good enough to give us the Third Reading of this Bill.
Mr. J. JONES
I do not wish to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I should like to ask a question. Is the 740 right hon. Gentleman making any arrangement whereby queues outside the Unemployment Exchanges during the winter can be obviated?
§ Mr. MILLS
If it is possible that a totally defeated country, Germany, can maintain a Labour Exchange in which they search every possible application for employment, and see if they can put the people into legitimate employment, that ought, at least, to be done here. There are thousands of men in this country to-day who are slipping into disease for lack of adequate repair of their footwear. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at the system of administration in Berlin, he will find that there every section of the unemployed are not only housed, but they are fed, at bare cost of commodities and cooking. Men and women who are capable of repairing boots or clothes are taken from the ranks of the unemployed. If you could remove from the unemployment list even 10 men or women in each area, in order to prevent the boots of the unemployed from falling apart, you would be doing something to keep the efficiency of the people up to the normal. I have given a letter to the right hon. Gentleman, to which I hoped he would have referred.
§ Mr. MILLS
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give it consideration. It is a letter from a member of the Engineers' Society, of which I am a member, who is informed by the society of which he is a member that because he has been unemployed for 12 months, because he has not been able to pay the contribution that should have been paid by himself, along with that of the employer and the State, he is disentitled to any form of benefit, and is excluded from all participation under the Health Insurance Act. You cannot point to any trade union in the British Isles which would treat its own members in that way, even in the worst periods of its financial adversity.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.