§ I hope that the House will bear with me for a few minutes while I explain how we propose to develop that effort. The late Government had schemes in contemplation for the coming winter, and the Gracious Speech referred to their continuance and extension. The Cabinet Committee on unemployment was re-appointed directly the present Government took office and has been considering actively proposals of many kinds. I propose now to describe them in a little detail. It must be borne in mind that the Cabinet remains acutely conscious of the evils of the present crisis, and will keep the whole situation under the closest observation. The Cabinet Committee is continuing its work and will be in a position to bring up further proposals as they may be necessary.
§ Following what I call our three main lines of effort, I will take first of all relief and general work. Let us take the road works first. As regards the special programme of the winter 1922–23, the amount available under the late Government's proposals at the beginning of the winter was £5,300,000. A large number of applications have been put in by local authorities and these schemes are being rapidly pressed on. The financial basis is usually a 50 per cent, contribution from the State. It is hoped that along those lines the great new arterial road from Manchester to Liverpool, about which I have been questioned, may, with the co-operation of the local authorities, be initiated at an early date.
§ That road alone, which will be 27 miles in length, will, it is estimated, cost £3,000,000, and give work to 20,000 men for many months. The Government are promising £1,500,000 as their contribution to this big scheme, and that is in addition to the £5,000,000 odd mentioned above. It is hoped that the local authorities concerned will see their way, with this assistance, to proceed immediately with the scheme, which will not only help their 969 unemployed but should benefit the industry of the locality.
§ In addition, for the current financial year so large a sum as £10,000,000 sterling from the Iload Fund is being devoted to ordinary highway maintenance and improvement, which should have the effect of absorbing much unskilled labour. The question of a further large programme of arterial road development is being seriously considered by all concerned, but. in any case, it could not be put in hand immediately.
§ Secondly, there is the Unemployment Grants Committee. Under the proposals of the late Government, the Unemployment Grants Committee was empowered to assist local authorities' loan schemes up to a total during the two winters of £18,000,000, with a further £12,000,000 approved by the late Government last summer, or, as I have already mentioned a total in all of £30,000,000, and schemes up to about £23,000,000 have been in fact sanctioned to date. A large number of further applications have been received and plans for the utilisation of the remaining £7,000,000 are being pressed on immediately. With regard to works assisted by means of a direct grant up to 60 per cent, of wages bill, which I have already mentioned, this scheme had secured the initiation of work up to £10,250,000, but it was drawing near a close. We propose that the Committee should be authorised to revert to the system of making grants on the basis of 00 per cent, of the wages bill, and we are allocating for this purpose, from central funds, a further £600,000. Grants on the 60 per cent, basis are of value, especially to the smaller local authorities, or for schemes where a loan is not practicable and the work is to be done out of revenue. The grant will enable about an additional £2,000,000 worth of undertakings to be put in hand in various parts of the country, and work of a specially desirable character, as it can be started immediately and practically without preliminary delay. There is, unfortunately, considerable unemployment in rural districts. Agricultural labourers are not covered by the Unemployment Insurance Act. Rural authority schemes for improving third-class roads where there is serious unemployment are eligible for this 60 per cent, grant.
§ Next, as to agricultural areas and land drainage and similar work. As regards 970 agricultural areas, the sum of £300,000, with a corresponding grant for Scotland, was provisionally allotted by the late Government for land drainage and improvement, including water supply schemes, during this winter. The schemes already before the Ministry of Agriculture would exhaust the whole of the money so set aside for this winter. We propose, therefore, that a further sum of £150,000, with a corresponding Scottish grant, or £170,000 in all, should be provided, and in Scotland, where drainage schemes are not always available, rural road improvement schemes may in some cases be substituted. It is estimated that this additional grant will enable 20 weeks' work to be provided for a further 6,000 men. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned afforestation. Afforestation schemes have proved of utility in the past, largely on account of the fact that so large a proportion of the assistance available is distributed in wages, and also because the schemes, being small in size, are very numerous and spread all over the country. We, therefore, propose a further grant of £100,000 for this purpose. This further grant will mean employment for a further 2,000 men for 20 to 25 weeks.
§ Another head is acceleration of contracts. The Office of Works has considerable arrears of maintenance and repair work, and we propose to allot £375,000 to enable them to overtake these arrears. On an estimate this will probably occupy on an average about 3,500 men for a period of 20 weeks. The Post Office should also be able to put in hand very rapidly schemes, e.g., for the laying of Post Office cables. This would mean some £650,000 worth of work, and with other similar schemes the Post Office proposals total about £1,000,000. This will be a valuable feature of the general programme, as it will provide work, not only for large numbers of men on digging operations, but also for skilled craftsmen in factories, on electrical plant, cables, etc. Of course this Post Office work is, as was the work of the Office of Works itself, accelerated work due to the action taken by the Government.
§ The next head is stimulation of trade. I have already described the operations under the Trade Facilities Act. I have indicated that they are one of the most hopeful of the avenues open to us. The Act of 1921 expired on 9th November, and 971 it is in any case necessary to renew it. The late Government had proposed a* the same time to increase the maximum of capital in respect of which guarantees might be given, from £25,000,000 to £50,000,000. We cordially agree with this policy, and we propose to renew the Act for a period of 12 months, and to increase the maximum amount of capital which may be guaranteed to £50,000,000. At the same time we propose to make some provision to enable fees to be charged on a percentage or other suitable basis to meet the heavy costs of legal and other expenses. That is done with a view to protecting the Exchequer. I am glad also to be able to inform the House that Sir Robert Kindersley will continue to give his most expert help as Chairman of the Committee.
§ Next, as to the Export Credits scheme The working of this scheme is proceeding satisfactorily, and we propose to extend the existing limit of £26,000,000. should it prove necessary to do so. As to Unemployment Insurance, a new special period, the fourth under the existing Acts, started at the beginning of this month and runs to the beginning of July next. Benefit may be drawn for at least 12 weeks. As a matter of fact the number of cases in which the total benefit will be as little as 12 weeks will be very small. Something like four-fifths of those now claiming benefit will, so far as I can ascertain, be eligible, for the full 22 weeks of benefit allowed in the period, and the great bulk of the remainder will be eligible for between 16 and 22 weeks. The existing provision enables something like £35,000.000 to be paid out by way of benefit during the fourth special period, and it covers the months immediately before us. As the right hon. Gentleman referred to the matter of unemployment insurance by industries, I may perhaps be allowed to say this: The subject is an important one and it is one of considerable complexity, and it will not be practicable for me to deal with it at length to-day. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister stated yesterday that preliminary steps regarding the examination of the subject are being taken, and in order that the Government may obtain the considered view of the employers on the one hand and of the trade unions on the other I 972 have just sent to the Employers' Confederation and to the Trade Union Congress General Council a memorandum on the matter with a request for their views thereon.
§ The right hon. Gentleman also raised a question of the guardians. The burden on boards of guardians during the past year has undoubtedly been great, and particularly is this so in the more necessitious areas. The guardians throughout the country have shouldered their very heavy responsibility with courage and sympathy, and the State owes them a debt of gratitude for patriotic work done under very difficult circumstances. In some cases it has been necessary for the boards of guardians to raise temporary loans to meet their current expenditure on relief, and in those cases where they have been themselves unable to borrow the money required, the Government have made advances by way of loan out of voted moneys. This policy, which was inaugurated by the late Government, enabled the guardians to weather the trouble during last winter. We are satisfied that a continuance of these arrangements should prevent any possibility of a breakdown of the guardians' finances. We propose, therefore, that the same policy should be continued, and we propose to ask Parliament to make the necessary provision for this purpose. The Minister of Health will give all assistance possible under these arrangements to boards of guardians, particularly in necessitous areas, which require to raise loans for the purpose of relieving distress.
§ Sir M. BARLOW
The question of the period has been a matter of discussion. I cannot go into that at the moment. We shall have other opportunities of raising the question I would like to say a few words about something which is present to the minds of all of us, and that is the question of general trade, apart from the efforts made by the Government itself. We have often urged in this House and out of it that the only effective remedy for unemployment is a 973 revival in ordinary trade conditions. We have received exhortations, many and often, including this afternoon, from the benches opposite that work is better than doles. I agree. It is in this spirit that we have made further determined efforts to call in the ordinary processes of industry to help carry the load of unemployment.
Take the railways. The railways of the country have, since the War, passed through a critical and difficult time. To meet these difficulties the Railways Act, 1921, proposed an entire reorganisation of the British railway systems. The Act-is working smoothly, and the amalgamations proposed under it are practically effected. But the Government, while recognising the natural difficulties of the railways, felt that railway development, if now pressed on, would constitute a real help in this time of grave unemployment. The Prime Minister accordingly asked some of the directors and managers of the leading railway companies to meet him, and requested them as far as possible to press on expenditure on development work. They responded in a most helpful way, and undertook that, without waiting for complete legal union, the great groups and companies for which they were responsible would make every effort to prepare and expedite their programmes. The various companies inform us that they have in hand, or can speedily undertake, programmes of work, which in outline are as follows:
These are the amounts already notified, but schemes of between £1,000,000 and £2,000,000 more are already in contemplation, and the companies have further assured us that, as the grouping proceeds, they will be able to launch further development work. Still more important perhaps than all these works are the proposals of the new Southern group for electrification. The Chairman-elect has promised, not only to press on with the electrification of the South-Eastern and Chatham Railway suburban area, but also to extend the electrification of the London, Brighton and South Coast and the London and South-Western Railways. This expenditure will be effective in promoting, 974 not only direct, but also indirect employment on a very large scale. These operations will be undertaken by the railways without any Government assistance at all, except in the case of the South-Eastern electrification.
£ North Western and Midland Railways 2,000,000 Great Eastern 1,000,000 Great Western 1,000,000 London and South-Western 1,000,000
§ Sir M. BARLOW
Yes: there is a guarantee under the Trade Facilities Act. As to the electricity supply schemes, that is another area where it was conceived that an effort might be made. We have here a large field in which operations are in contemplation which will provide a great deal of employment both for unskilled workers and also for skilled workers in factories. The Ministry of Transport and t)he Electricity Commissioners report proposals for new power stations or large extensions of existing power stations at Barking, Deptford, Stourbridge, Ferry Bridge, Agecroft, Preston and Nottingham. All these are important generating stations on which work is either in hand or imminent. The Grampians Electric Power Company have an Act empowering them to construct big water power works on the River Tay. They also are seeking a guarantee under the Trade Facilities Act. The schemes I have just mentioned would, between them, involve operations on a very large scale, totalling something like £10,000,000, while, in addition to that, there would be in every case the work on the construction and laying of new transmission lines or cables providing a good deal of additional employment. Moreover, as the House knows, this is a time of re-organisation throughout the country in the matter of electricity supply. Numerous cases of developments arising from this re-organisation have been submitted to the Electricity Commissioners. Some of them have already been approved and can be accelerated if the authorities concerned agree, and they are being approached with this end in view.
I hope I have not wearied hon. Members with these details, but it seemed to me of importance to place these matters in some detail before the House. In conclusion, may I say that we have been battling through what I have described as a storm period. There are signs that the storm is beginning to abate; slowly it may be, but, in my view, steadily for all that. We read of contracts for the elec- 975 trification of railways in South Africa secured by one British firm and for the supply of railway wagons in India secured by another. Even from the Clyde come reports of contracts for the steel trade, and we hear of furnaces in the North restarting which have been idle for the last two years. Railway and electrical concerns, as I have already indicated, are showing the way. Is it too much to suggest that a great national effort should now be made by all who have their hands on the levers of industry to set all proper development and reconditioning work in hand as rapidly as possible. The problem is clearly an industrial one, and the leaders of industry are patriotic Englishmen. I make an appeal to them for help. I appeal to them now that prices are becoming stabilised to take a hand in big schemes of necessary work and broaden out the basis of employment throughout the country; and I believe I shall not appeal in vain.
§ Sir LAMING WORTHINGTON-EVANS
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us the total of the direct contribution which the State proposes to make towards relief and towards afforestation schemes and in other directions? He has given us details, and, as far as I can follow them, the total amount is just under £4,000,000. Is that accurate?
§ Sir M. BARLOW
I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman the figure, without working it out. In the course of the Debate it will be given.
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the Ministry of Labour scheme for juveniles has been accepted or has it been turned down?
§ Sir M. BARLOW
I had so much ground to cover, and I was so afraid of wearying the House, that I did not refer to that matter, but I will see that a statement in reply to the Noble Lady is made in the course of the Debate.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MacDONALD
Would it be possible for the right hon. Gentleman to circulate with the Votes to-morrow morning a statement of the expenditure which he has just announced to the House under the various headings of the memorandum he has read, together with an estimate of the number of people to be employed and the length of time they will be employee?
§ Sir M. BARLOW
I have given a very careful statement. I am afraid it was a little laborious, perhaps a little wearisome. It will all appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow morning. I should have thought that would be enough to satisfy the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MacDONALD
It is really for the convenience of hon. Members. If we have to wade through this very interesting statement, that will take a considerable time, whereas a table abstracting the figures which are in the statement would be most convenient.
§ Mr. PATRICK HASTINGS
In my view, it would be most undesirable if any Member speaking from this side of the House, particularly one who is addressing the House for the first time, should make the slightest suggestion that hon. Members on the other side are not equally sincere in their views with ourselves I certainly do not propose to suggest that, and I do not think it is necessary even to ask hon. Members on this side to concur with me. In all the observations I have heard here, I frankly confess I have heard nothing but the most obvious attempts to be of assistance to those people whom we are seeking to represent in putting forward this Amendment. I may say, without fear of contradiction, that there are very few among the Members on these benches, and in that number I include myself, who at some time or another have not themselves experienced the dire effects of extreme poverty, and in many cases utter starvation, and I can assure hon. Members on both sides of the House that any man who has once experienced that does not forget it, and is not likely to take any steps which would tend to prevent the ends we are setting ourselves out to attain in this matter. At the same time, I feel it to be part of my duty to emphasise before this House the fact that there is undoubtedly at this moment throughout the length and breadth of this country a growing feeling of intense bitterness, both at the long period during which this tragedy of unemployment hat continued and the small amount done by successive Governments towards amelioration. Further, in my view, any hon. Member would only be wasting the time of the House if he did not rise with the sole object of 977 putting forward some substantive suggestion towards the ends which we have in view. I would not have risen had I not that intention, which I am now endeavouring to fulfil.
I do not propose to deal with the observations which have fallen from the Minister of Labour. Many of my Friends who sit beside me will deal with them, and I do not propose even to run the risk of repetition. I propose to deal with the subject in an entirely different aspect. In my view it is the first duty of this or any Government to deal with this problem, not merely by amelioration but by what to me is an infinitely greater task and one of infinitely greater importance, and that is, first of all to probe to the bottom the causes of unemployment, and, secondly, to probe to the bottom the remedies which may be, and should be, taken to stop it in future. The fundamental fallacy in the deliberations which have taken place under this and preceding Governments lies in the fact that no Member on the Government side has ever attempted to appreciate that this problem is not political at all but economic. It is economic, and nothing but economic. I appeal to Members of the House who have been—as I have not been—in the House for many years past to ask themselves whether in the Debates which have gone on for years upon economic subjects, that which occurs to one as the most wearisome is the annual topic, that of the relative values or merits of Protection and Free Trade—whether they have ever known upon that or other subjects, which were clearly economic, the argument of an hon. Member on one side of the House having had the slightest effect upon an hon. Member on the opposite side of the House? The answer would clearly be "Never." I also appeal to them to consider whether, when that matter came before the country and millions of people were voting on the future of the country, one 10,000th of the electors ever had the foggiest idea of what this question really depended upon. The answer again would be "Never." 6.0 P.M.
This is, in my considered opinion, precisely the same question to-day. It is an economic question, and with all the strength at my command I would urge upon the Government the immediate necessity for investigating this problem as an 978 economic problem, as a question for a public inquiry of a nature which the Government alone would be in a position to set up. May I take an example, because these things can only be made clear, if at all, by examples? It will be known to every Member that during the recent election the party to which I am, I may say at once, proud to belong, was, in my view, the only party which sought to put forward a constructive programme before the nation. [Laughter.] In the buildings in which I usually carry on my life, the jury is not so ready to laugh as are the Members of this House. I repeat, that we were the only party which sought to put forward a constructive programme. I am not for a moment suggesting that the proposals which we put forward met with the universal approval which they merited. All I am saying is that we put them forward, and if hon. Members opposite regard that statement with amusement, I am bound to point out that we, or some of us, did try to find out what their constructive programme was. I notice that the Prime Minister at the moment is not in the House, but I am sure that, if he were, he would remember that questions were asked of him, and to the best of my recollection his answer was that he was unable at the moment to express an opinion as to the exact position in which he found himself, which was, after all, not very illuminating to persons who were seeking to find out the policy of the Government.
For the purpose of my argument I choose, and deliberately choose, for my example, the matter which we put forward and which was most unpopular to the hon. Members on the other side. I heard some hon. Member opposite say "Capital Levy," and I may say that he has guessed right. That is the matter which I am going to suggest, and it seems to me to by a vitally important argument in this matte)'. During the last three or four years I have travelled in most of the Continental capitals, and I have found in every one, without one single exception, amongst all the business minds of those capitals, precisely as I find to-day in London, a universality of opinion that no country in the world can continue to do anything but suffer the miseries of unemployment as long as it is burdened by the present existing system of taxation and debt, and everybody agrees, without one single 979 exception, that something has got to be done in order to alter that, otherwise this unemployment will, and must inevitably, continue, as far as we can see, and as I understand the Lord Chancellor suggested a few days ago, at least for some 10 years or more. What we sought to do was to put forward a remedy for that existing evil, and I am not going to suggest for a moment—it is no part of the discussion which I am raising—that we are right, neither am I going to suggest that we are wrong, but all I do say is this, that it must be apparent to every honest-minded person that something must be done to deal with that question, alike of taxation and of debt, and that that is not a political question at all.
It cannot be suggested, merely because hon. Members on this sdde put it forward, that they are properly to be characterised either as knaves or as fools, which is what we got in the last election, and no doubt hon. Members opposite may continue to hold the same view, but I would remind them that there was a time when the Prime Minister, who, I repeat, is not at the moment in the House, had * slightly different opinion himself and, without perhaps having fully considered the matter, expressed a very similar view, while the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. A. Chamberlain), on a somewhat similar occasion, expressed a very similar view, until, of course, he had the advantage of being reproved by the more powerful members of the party to which he belonged, and I am sure hon. Members opposite would not desire that I should put either of those two right hon. Gentlemen into the category which I have described as being so generously bestowed upon us. In the constituency which I now represent, there was adjoining me an hon. Member sitting behind me now, the hon. Member for the Wansbeck Division (Mr. Warne), who is a miner, while I, if I may let the House into a secret, am a lawyer. There was a gentleman with a stertorous voice who came to oppose us both, and who was heard to say in my constituency that no Labour man could possibly support me as a Labour candidate, because I was a lawyer and knew too much. He immediately went into the mining division and stated that nobody could support my hon. Friend because he was a miner and did 980 not know anything. In other words, I was the knave and he was the fool. I think I may say in Parliamentary language on this occasion that the fools and the knaves have it, as we both find ourselves in the happy position of being in this House.
Nobody suggests upon this side of the House that this obvious remedy for unemployment is put forward merely to injure anybody. The only purpose of it, and the only ground of belief upon which it is put forward, is this, that if you reduce the capital debt and thereby the interest, you benefit unemployment, you benefit trade, you benefit business, and you benefit the country as a whole. I am sure that if it were true the mere fact that it would injure certain persons who were sufficiently wealthy to have to pay the debt would be no answer to its advisability. I hope my hon. Friends, who, I am sure, are fair-minded, will-appreciate the force of the analogy I am putting forward. If we are right, that should be done; if we are wrong, that should be dropped. [Interruption.] When hon. Hembers remember that we were asked to be of assistance in this Debate, I would suggest that that sort of interruption is uncalled for. I would like to take this opportunity of mentioning, if I may, very respectfully, in support of the party to which I belong, that it is not difficult, as we know sometimes, to induce hon. Members of my party to make observations which may be regretted, but on the other hand that which is placarded against us all over the town ought not, I think, to outweigh the fact as to which I am sure every hon. Member in this House will agree that this party of mine have conducted this Debate hitherto with most extraordinary ability, and moderation, and skill, and I think hon. Members opposite would be kinder to Members who have not had the experience of speaking that they have had if they were to allow them a free hand.
All that I am venturing to point out is this. Either we are right or we are wrong, precisely as in the old days of the Tariff Reform disputes one of those two parties was presumably right and the other wrong. What I am urging—and this is merely an example of the whole problem—and what I shall continue to urge, and what I respectfully trust the Prime Minister will see fit to deal with, 981 is this, that these problems should be put before a tribunal to deal with as a matter of economics and not of politics. No one but the (Government has the power of doing it; no one but the Government has the power of getting some form of commission or tribunal which shall inquire into the fundamental principles underlying the problem of unemployment. I am not suggesting that anybody would be so foolish as to think that that would mean that the Government would be bound by the findings of such an inquiry. We should not ask for that. Indeed, some hon. Members have in the past had experience of Commissions based upon that sort of promise, and we certainly do not desire to have a repetition of what at the best was a misunderstanding and at the worst caused a good deal of bitterness. It would be, to my mind, essentially desirable in the interests of these great problems which we are now trying to assist that matters which are fundamentally composed of economic questions should be dealt with economically, and that the Government themselves should say, "These problems are so complicated that we politically are not in a position to express a considered view upon them." That. I understand, is what the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour in fact has said to-day.
In these circumstances, and before they are prepared merely to treat with contempt the suggestions from this side, I urge that they should themselves inquire into these economic questions, to see, after careful examination and, I am bound to add—it is a weakness perhaps of those in my profession—cross-examination, how-far these economic problems really can be put in such a way that every person, not only on these benches, but outside, can form an unbiassed, fair determination upon their merits and their demerits, It is, to my mind, perfectly useless for a Government to say this: "You on one side have put forward concrete proposals which in our opinion are ridiculous." We know that something like 4,000,000 people in this country have been influenced by them, rightly or wrongly. If it is wrong, it is most desirable that it should be ventilated; if it is right, it is essential that it should be ventilated, and I most strongly urge on the Government, before, concluding this Debate by saying they can find no solution, that they shall undertake 982 that this economic problem should be ventilated fairly, in the interests not only of the Government, but of the country as a whole. A very learned judge, one of the greatest judges I have ever known, once said to me: "In my view, when two litigants come before me, it is more desirable that they should go away satisfied that their case has been fairly, impartially, and fully heard, than that a right decision in point of law should be given in such a way as to cause dissatisfaction to either." [Laughter.] I rather gather that hon. Members opposite take a contrary view. It may be that they have not considered that matter quite seriously, but those of us who practise in the Courts have a great feeling that one of the strongest bulwarks of our sense of English justice is not only the decisions which are given, which I am bound to say are sometimes wrong, but the method in which cases are conducted and the sense of justice conveyed to both the litigants; and it would do more—and I say it with all seriousness—to cause content and peacefulness of mind in this immense body of unemployed who are now about the country if they were told that the Prime Minister had decided that these questions should be publicly ventilated, that all questions of fundamental and economic importance should be publicly ventilated, than all the schemes such as those which we have heard to-day put together. T do not hesitate to say that the schemes we have heard to-day are, in my opinion— and, I fancy, my hon. Friends here will consider them—inadequate, and in no way-deal with the problem.
I fear that I have taken up the time of the House far too long. [HON. MEMBEBS: "No!"] I conclude by making this appeal to His Majesty's Government. They must remember, as hon. Members opposite will remember, I am sure, what happened in their constituencies in the last three or four weeks. This, I think, has been a very remarkable experience for all. I doubt whether, in the history of the world, there has ever been a Parliament, which, by reason of the set of circumstances in which we have all been living, has given rise to greater feelings of anxiety, fear and hope than the present Parliament has done. At this very hour, I venture to think, there are literally millions of eyes all turned in this direction, because their owners really think that at last some real effort is going to 983 be made to deal with problems which, to them, are matters of life and death. If— and only if—the Government are determined to see that every possible light is thrown upon these matters, which we, on behalf of millions, are demanding, they will do more to maintain real peace and confidence in the country—without which there can be none of the tranquillity they desire—than they will by all the measures they can suggest put together.
§ Sir ALFRED MOND
Perhaps the House will allow me, as one who, having been Minister of Health, and for two years Chairman of the Cabinet Unemployment Committee, has taken a very deep and earnest interest in this very difficult problem, to offer a few observations in the Debate to-day. The hon. and learned Member, whom we all welcome as a brilliant acquisition to this HOUSP, and to whose speech we listened with so much interest, made a- suggestion which would lather deprive this House of its immemorial function of being the debating chamber for all questions, economic and otherwise. I can assure him that this House is not so devoid of economists and men of finance that we should refer these matters to some Committee outside. We are quite prepared to discuss this matter with him or with anyone else. I do not wish to enter too far into the question, but I would like to say to him that the proposal of a capital levy was made in this House by Members of the Liberal party and has been adopted by the hon. and learned Member's party at a rather recent date. I remember that the proposal was originally made by an hon. Member who sat for one of the Yorkshire seats—a member of the Liberal party. It was very much investigated, and dropped by all people who thought seriously on the subject, including, I think, most of those who flirted with it here or on the Continent of Europe. [HON. MEMBERS: "We cannot hear you!"] The hon. and learned Member makes all kinds of assertions which he, cannot prove. He assumes, for instance, that unemployment is due to our large National Debt, but he did not explain why there is no unemployment in France, which, proportionately, has a larger National Debt, or why it is so in Germany. Nor did he explain why there is acuter unemployment in Sweden and Norway which have, in fact, no war 984 debt at all. So that these problems are not quite so simple as gentlemen in another sphere seem to imagine.
I think that men who are out of work to-day are more anxious at present to discuss some method of alleviating their condition this winter than the setting up of economic inquiries into the causes of unemployment. A great many inquiries have taken place on this subject. I remember the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb) many years ago had a very important conference, and I think I was the chairman on this very question on unemployment. We discussed it for three days without arriving at any decided conclusion, but I am glad to say that to-day, at any rate, the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. dynes) struck a very different note, I think, in the Debate than that in some of the speeches we have had from those benches. He did not begin by saying that we ought to destroy our social system, and burn down the house to roast the pig, and so he relieved us of some of the necessity of dealing with views we cannot share. There is one important point upon which we are all agreed. The country is dependent upon its export trade. Those who say that the capitalist system is fundamentally wrong, and cannot solve the question of unemployment, have never demonstrated how you can carry on any export trade under a socialistic system. I have read, I think, all the books on the subject, including that of the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald), but even his ingenious mind up to now has not tackled that very important subject.
§ Sir A. MOND
The hon. Gentleman may have mentioned it, but no one has yet tackled this important point. Our export trade is largely d-pendent on our capital investments abroad, and one of the chief reasons of unemployment is not necessarily high taxation, but is due to the fact that we have not a surplus capital to invest abroad, and under a socialistic system I do not sec how we could have the capital to enable our export trade to be carried on. I, for one, am not prepared to add to our present miseries by a further experiment of so vague and violent a character. But there is another very important point to which I wish to direct the attention of my right 985 hon. Friend, and about which I hope to hear something more in the course of this Debate. We have lived very largely by exporting our manufactured goods to countries which were ready to give us in exchange food and raw material, and that enabled this country, the population of which was 11,000,000 in 1815, to increase to 38,000,000 in 1922. There is no law of the Medes and Persians that any country is bound to be able to support a given population at any given time. There is no particular reason why the population should be 36, 38 or 40 millions, and, therefore, the first thing you have to consider is whether or not some fundamental factor has occurred in the economic system of the world which makes it more difficult, and may render it impossible, for us to go on supporting a population of 38,000,000 in this country. [An HON. MEMBER: "Let them die!"] Certainly no one wants to let them die. What a ridiculous observation! "What we want to consider is where labour can be most usefully applied.
Therefore the question arises: To what extent do you want to transfer your population to countries where they can grow food for themselves and provide further employment for others? What I want to draw attention to is this. The late Government passed the Empire Settlement Act, under which, in conjunction with our Dominions, it was desired to get, not an irregular and a spasmodic emigration of people, who, when they arrived in any Dominion, had no jobs and no chance of making a living, but a rational, progressive form of emigration to places where land and work would be found, and where people could live a happy and useful life. I would like to hear from someone on the Government Bench during the Debate that these schemes, in which my right hon. Friend the. First Lord of the Admiralty took so much interest, are being quite as energetically, and even more energetically, put forward, if that be possible, than they were at that time. I am quite sure that that is an aspect of the case which ought to appeal to all thinking people.
The Minister of Labour gave a very exhaustive and very fair account, if I may say so, of the efforts of the late Government, of which he was a distinguished and valued colleague, in the endeavour to deal with this problem to some extent. We never pretended that 986 the steps we took in the way of providing work were more than an alleviation, but we did seriously and carefully examine a very large number of schemes. I can assure hon. Members, that when you come down from generalities, and sit down to individual schemes, the difficulties that arise are very much greater than would be imagined. I do not say we did all that some of us would have liked to have seen done. I do not say more ought not to have been done, but there is one point to which I would like to direct the attention of the right hon. Member for Platting, who made some remarks as to the relative, economy of paying people for doing nothing and giving them work. The figures show that an enormous amount of capital is required in order to employ a relatively small number of people. I commend that to those who desire to destroy capital. When you add all these things together, the financial burden becomes heavier than one would otherwise imagine. [An HON. MEMBEK: "Under your system!"] Under any system. I do not hesitate to say that I am a little disappointed with my right hon. Friend's speech, and I hope the Prime Minister, when he replies to-morrow, will throw some further light on a number of the schemes which were under the consideration of the late Government, and the suggestions that were made to deal with some of these matters on a much broader scale than they have been dealt with in the past. I think we have now re-established our credit after a great deal of trouble, an operation which in itself involves a certain amount of unemployment as compared with the inflation policy of other countries. By inflation you can provide artificial employment and perhaps a return to an apparently prosperous state of things.
I think our national credit should be used more boldly than in the past, We might use it in face of the immediate situation to the extent of £100,000,000 for Empire development. We have enormous countries in every part of the globe, some of them tropical, and there are our Dominions, some of which lack development in the way of railways, rolling stock, ports, harbours, and other works which would enable them to export more to us, and buy more of our manufactures. We have limited our Crown Colonies in a financial sense in borrowing to an amount 987 in proportion to the existing debt. Works such as I have instanced are going to be a revenue-producing work in the future. Is it impossible to launch loans for constructional works? No doubt schemes could be brought forward to a wider extent than in the past, particularly in our Colonies, which would immediately give orders that are badly wanted over here, and so help the trade of the Empire. One of our chief tragedies at the present time with our great industrial firms is that their money is being held by the bank and they have no orders. Some directors of firms are wishful to use what surplus they may have in order to keep their shops going and in order to give their men employment. That is one of the ideas which I do hope will receive very careful attention, because it is a matter of considerable importance.
Another point that I should like to say a word about is that of housing. I built more houses than any other Minister before me, and when I left office I had not finished my ideas or my programme on the subject. By the fall in prices we have got housing on a much more economic basis than when I took office, and the margin to-day between the cost of construction and the value has become relatively narrow. My general idea was that the Government should act together with the local authorities, and with the object of giving the latter the fullest possible incentive to economy, I proposed to amend the existing housing legislation with its limitation of the local authority to a penny rate; and also to erect in two years a further 80,000 houses, to be built by the local authorities under specified conditions. By that method I think you could get back to a sounder basis and restore local authorities to a much greater degree of freedom, though I think they should have more freedom in the type of houses and greater elasticity than they would have had were their schemes controlled from Whitehall. It seems to me that it would be possible by taking the right method to add to our housing 100,000 houses without anything additional being added to our taxation, and unemployment in the building trade would have been sensibly diminished. But I would add a word of warning on this subject. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour quoted the unemployment figures in the building trade 988 which we have often discussed when I was on the other side of the House. I will say this: that one of the chief difficulties we have always had in house building schemes has been the limited supply of skilled labour. It is no use beginning houses if you cannot finish them. These figures include a very large amount of unskilled labour, some of it scarcely connected with the building trade though classified as such. I do hope the Government will not give up the matter, but will go into that question of the unemployment in the building trade, which has undoubtedly increased.
A further point, and a much more fundamental one, that I would like to put forward is this: whether it would not be possible to use the unemployment benefit to enable the men to obtain work. There is no one in this House who does not agree that the workman would sooner be at a job than receiving out-of-work benefit. Hon. Members above the Gangway sometimes imagine that there is a very different feeling in respect to the workmen on the part of some who happen to employ them, or who look at them from a distance. The men who would rather be receiving unemployment benefit than working must be very few and far between. I have worked with the workmen all my life and I know them, and I know very well that the ordinary decent workman likes little to take out-of-work benefit, just as he detests Poor Law relief, and would much sooner do almost anything than accept either. Any allegation to the contrary is absolutely untrue. Therefore, the question arises whether you could not work out a scheme to give the workman the unemployed donation to enable him to get a job. He is as much entitled to the money by law as to the National Health benefit or Life Insurance benefit, and therefore it cannot be taken compulsorily from him. Why, therefore, should you not allow him to take the money and go to the employer, with proper safeguards, of course, and say, "If I give you this money, will you give me a full-time job at trade union rates?" [Laughter.] I would ask right hon. Members most seriously to consider the matter, because it would only be by their help that such a scheme could be contemplated. Let me explain it. You have now a very serious foreign competition. I was only yesterday talking to the chair- 989 man of one of our largest firms of electrical manufacturers. He told me he was competing for contracts for electrical machinery. He showed me the tenders. A Swiss engineering firm was quoting 50 per cent, below the price he could quote. Under the scheme I suggest, the men to be taken would be additional to those employed now, and the employer would not have to be in a position to discharge the man in order for him to go back as unemployed, and obviously he would have to engage him for a few months at least.
There are many difficulties in the scheme, but it might be considered and given a trial. My proposal was that the workmen receiving Unemployment Act benefits should voluntarily surrender their benefits in return for definite employment with trade wages for a fixed period, the benefits surrendered being paid to employers to enable them to produce commodities at a lower price, and so bridge the already narrow gulf which separates buyers' prices from sellers' prices. The strongest opposition to schemes of this kind might be put forward on the ground that this was a form of subsidisation and, therefore, economically a bad thing to do. I will grant that to anybody. It may be an economically bad thing to do, but I maintain we are living in an economic period so extraordinary, unparalleled, and unexampled that you are entitled to take some economic steps in order to achieve results. Subsidisation is economically unsound, undoubtedly, and I do not deny it. But here we are now in the third winter with a million men out of work, and nobody on any of the benches in this House can guarantee that this number will not be still large 12 months from now if we do nothing more than we have done in the past. Nobody can guarantee that they have a remedy which will really fundamentally affect the matter. I am proposing one. One that, with all its economic unsoundness, will, I believe, help. I leave the suggestion with the Government. No one need do it. It is not compulsory. But there are some who would like to try it. In that way I think you would enable a large amount of trade to be obtained that is not obtained at the present. It is really not a question, believe me, to-day of a struggle between capital and labour, for 990 both employers and employed are in a very bad way in a world of difficulties unequalled in our history. Gorman reparation is the very smallest question in this matter. I have resumed the chairmanship of the company the other day with which I was formerly connected, and that has a very large trade with Italy. It cannot do any business with Italy because of the exchange. The state of the exchange is not because of the Treaty of Versailles or German reparation. The exchange is bad because they have a heavy debt and an inflated currency. As a matter of fact, the Italian exchange would be much better if they had some reparation from Austria. Take France. When I was in my constituency recently I found the coal trade there was stopped with France because of the French exchange. [HON. MEMBERS: "German coal!"] I know the German coal trade perfectly well; it was the French exchange. Nobody can contend that the French exchange is high because of Gorman reparation. The exchange there would be much better if they had some German money, but the problem of the exchanges is a big one, and I do not propose to go into it now. I could quote a large number of other countries. Let me quote what has been said by an authority on the question of endeavouring to establish the point of view as to the damage, or otherwise, the Treaty of Versailles has done to the Entente. This is what he says:A considerable section of the English mercantile and manufacturing classes demands the stabilisation of the German mark and, strange to say, is convinced that this could be secured if Germany were released from the reparation payments. In coming to this conclusion they overlook the fact that the question of the stabilisation of the German mark is by no means purely financial, but is to a far greater extent political. The Entente, as a means of securing victory in its struggle against Germany, gave the German people to understand that they would be granted more favourable conditions of peace if they adopted a purely democratic system of government. There can be little doubt that under this system of absolute democracy a stabilisation of the German mark is almost impossible, even if Germany had nothing whatever to pay for reparations.As a matter of fact, when I was in Germany I discussed this question myself with German manufacturers, and I found one opinion amongst them, and it was that, although the fixing of the repara- 991 tions had some effect, the real reason was that the German Government had altered its economic methods. The suggested settlement of the reparations question may do something, but there is a much wider problem to consider, and that is that Continental countries will have to reconsider much more carefully their financial position and the balancing of their Budgets. Of course, these are things which we cannot force upon them. Hon. Members must not imagine that they are going to seriously affect unemployment by the methods they suggest of dealing with reparations, because if you had the whole of your German trade before the War back again it would make very little difference in regard to the question of unemployment in this country.
The real fundamental question is the oversea trade to which I have already referred. The Minister for Labour told us a few things about railways and railway electrification which I am sure the House was glad to hear. I hope those electrification schemes will come along, and that the Government will see that they are not held up by any kind of red tape. This railway business has been held up far too long, and I hope it will be speeded on. With regard to trade facilities it is all right to treat them from a purely banking and financial point of view, but the Government should make sure that what they do is really a scheme for providing employment. Unemployment now is costing the country £100,000,000 a year. If you take 1,000,000 people it costs at least that in rates, unemployment benefit and other ways, and that money is going out of the pockets of the people. That is a fact which is continually being overlooked. The Treasury should not regard this simply as the amount of money they have to find, because in any case the money has to be found out of the national purse.
I would urge that the amounts to be advanced should be made a little larger, because £50,000,000 will very soon be absorbed, and I trust that as much steam as possible will be put behind all these questions. I am sure the Labour Minister and his colleagues are anxious to do as much as they can. We worked very hard together on these questions for several years, and hon. Members know the amount of obstacles which always confront any Minister who tries to deal 992 with this problem, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will receive from these benches hearty support in any step he may take in this direction. I am sure that none of us wish to make party capital in regard to this matter. We see all these men unemployed. We have met them in our constituencies, and there is nothing more pathetic than to see men who have been out of work for 2½ years who have never been out of work before. I am sure they all receive the sympathy of every Member of this House, no matter what party they belong to.
§ Sir ROBERT HOUSTON
I have listened very carefully to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who moved this Amendment, and, although he was very severe in his denunciation of the Government for their laches and misdeeds, he was singularly silent upon unemployment caused through strikes directly and indirectly. Strikes' have largely been the cause of a great deal of unemployment, and particularly the coal strikes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rot."] If hon. Members opposite will listen to what I have to say they will probably hear something they have not heard before. The various coal strikes gave a great impetus to the substitution of oil for coal burning on board steamers, and some 2,760 steamers have been converted to burning oil instead of coal. Take the case of one of the largest steamers, the Mauretania, which is an object lesson in itself. Prior to being converted to oil consumption, she burned about 1,100 tons of coal per day. Her voyage across the Atlantic occupied about 5¼ days' steaming time, and a round voyage would be 10½ days. She made on an average 12 trips a year, with the result that the consumption of coal for 12 months for that steamer alone was over 130,000 tons per annum. Therefore that amount of coal is no longer being mined for that ship, nor is coal being mined for the various other ships which have been converted to oil burning.
Take the case of the men. The number of men employed on the "Mauretania" whilst she was burning coal was 328, but after conversion to oil burning she only-required 88 men. This means a reduction of 240 men, and that number of men has been sent to permanent unemployment, and they will have to try and find an occupation of some other kind. If you spread that over the various steamers 993 which have been converted from coal to oil burning you will find it works out that some 2,428 steamers of over 2,000 tons gross register have been converted to oil burning, and therefore we may take it that the British mercantile fleet is burning from 22,000,000 tons to 23,000,000 tons of coal per annum less than what they were consuming before the conversion of these ships to oil burning. Surely hon. Members belonging to the Labour party will realise the importance of that change.
During the coal strike I pointed out to several miners' leaders that in this way they were simply committing suicide, and I told them what would be the effect on the coal industry of the conversion of all these, ships from coal to oil burning, and the only hon. Member who had the frankness to realise this was one of the Members for Fife who is a miners' leader. Consequently there is an enormous reduction in the total amount of coal requiring to be mined, and that causes unemployment. During the War a great many of the miners most patriotically went to the Front, although a great many of them found refuge in the mines who ought never to have remained there. I will not go into the various coal strikes, because hon. Members know all the facts, but I wish to allude to the coal strike which commenced at midnight on the 31st March, 1921, the men eventually returning to work on 4th July.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Sir R. HOUSTON
At any rate, it was a stoppage of work. That strike was brought about owing to a difference of opinion on the question of a national settlement of wages and also a national pool. I do not want to dwell upon these various strikes, but there is one thing which is a serious matter—I refer to the joiners' strike. This strike commenced in December, 1920, and it was not settled until August, 1921, with the result that an enormous amount of trade was sent out of the country. The strike was protracted partly on account of the fact that joiners in the house building trade were not affected, and as the, building industry at that period was in a brisk condition, many ship joiners who would otherwise have been on strike obtained employment in the house building trade. Many joiners went over to the Continent and 994 obtained employment there on ship work, but although ship joiners were not seriously affected by the duration of the strike a great many ships were sent over to the Continent for fitting out and repairs. I will just mention one or two cases. The "Cordillera" was to have been installed throughout by the Rogerson Insulation Company, of Liverpool. It was a very big job, a matter of some £25,000. The work had been commenced when the strike intervened and the vessel was sent to Wilton's, in Rotterdam, where the insulation work and all the other joiners' work in connection with the accommodation was carried out. A sister ship, built by Messrs. Vickers, of Barrow, was also intended to be insulated throughout by the Rogerson Company. She, too, was sent over to Wilton's, at Rotterdam. Seven Canadian-Pacific liners, which would have been overhauled and refitted on the Clyde and in the Mersey, were sent to Antwerp for that purpose. The new Anchor liner "Cameronia," built on the Clyde by Messrs. Beardmore, was sent to Cherbourg to be fitted out for passenger accommodation. The Cunard liner "Scythia" was also sent from Barrow, in March, 1921, and completed in France. Many other steamers were sent abroad to Continental ports, principally Rotterdam. Not only was that the case for the joiners' work, but many ships, which had to be reconditioned, repaired and pass the survey have gone to the Continent.
There was a case quite recently; a great point was made of it in my own election. A steamer—and this is very interesting to hon. Gentlemen opposite—had to be reconditioned and to go through the survey. Tenders were obtained from Messrs. Grayson, of Liverpool, for the work. They quoted £10,800; a number of extras which amounted to £2,500; or a total of £13,300; and eight weeks in which to do the work. Wilton's Engineering Company, of Rotterdam—I may mention that they are Englishmen—did the whole of the work for £7,000, a very little more than half of what Graysons required. They did the work in four weeks instead of in eight. An effort was made by the owners to keep that work in Liverpool, and Messrs. Graysons were offered £2,000 more by the owners, which would have made their price £9,000 instead of Wilton's £13,000. Graysons refused, 995 however. They said they could not do it. They said they had quoted their original price without any profit at all, and that it was quite impossible to accept the ofier without suffering a very heavy loss. It may rather surprise hon. Gentlemen opposite why Wilton's in Rotterdam could do the work for such a price as they quoted. The reason is that there s no overtime in Rotterdam. The men work in three shifts of eight hours each in the 24 hours, at a flat rate, including Sundays. The cost of living in Rotterdam is 8s. a week dearer than the cost of living in Liverpool.
We have also had the electricians' strike, but I do not propose to say much about that. Then there was the moulders' strike, which lasted from September, 1919, until January, 1920. In this strike, owing to the moulders and core-makers being out, it was impossible to produce castings. Therefore, the engineering trades were very seriously handicapped, and considerable unemployment was thus created. I am not going to refer to the railway strike, but I will speak of a little strike in the neighbourhood of Liverpool, which shows the folly of some trade union restrictions. It is in relation to the Walton Institute. This is a charitable institution, which is now being built. A dispute has been going on for the last 12 weeks between the plumbers and the engine-fitters. The engine-fitters think they have the right of fitting the hot water supply pipes. The plumbers thought they should have had that right; in the result they struck. The strike is still going on, and is throwing other men out of work. That is at a period of the year when this institute is badly wanted for the poor sick people; yet no work is being done.
There is another thing, which hon. Members must remember. There is no country in the world as dependent as ours upon its export trade for its existence. Agriculture is a great industry, but under present conditions it cannot feed more than two-thirds of the people of this country. The only way we can buy food or raw material from abroad is by the export of our manufactured industries or of our coal. Without that supply of exports this country is bound to come to grief. To be able to compete in foreign markets we have to sell as cheaply as any other producer. I ask hon. Members 996 opposite how they are going to sell as cheaply as the Germans, or as cheaply as the Americans with their protected market? Germany, which was at one time our greatest rival and competitor, is again becoming our great rival and competitor. It does not matter where you look—to South America, South Africa, India or Australia—the Germans are trying to break in.
We are up against a very delicate and serious proposition. That is, how can we, if we are to maintain the present rate of wages, sell goods abroad against Germany's prices with her present low rate of wages? Either the rate of wages will have to come down—which I shall be very sorry indeed to see—or the hours of work will have to be very greatly increased. It is either one thing or the other. I am quite sure hon. Gentlemen opposite will take these few words of mine to heart and endeavour to find some way of dealing with the great question of unemployment. It is the one thing, and the most serious thing that we have to face. Unemployment is killing this country and draining its life-blood. Though I shall be guilty of a truism, I say that the only cure for unemployment is employment, and the only way you can get employment is by trade. It behoves everyone—masters and men, manufacturers, employers and employés—to do their very best, and to work together in the most amicable and friendly way to their mutual advantage. The one question I would ask hon. Members opposite to study very carefully is, how are you going to compete with the German manufactured articles? We are up against them in South America and also in South Africa.
§ Sir R. HOUSTON
I say you have to face this question, to look at it, and to devise means to meet it. Up to the present nothing has been suggested and nothing has been devised.
§ Sir R. HOUSTON
I will put it in this way. Half a loaf is better than no bread. I do not want to see low wages. I never have wanted to see low wages. I have always been an advocate of high wages.
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
I was unfortunate in not hearing the whole of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Swansea (Sir A. Mond), but I was in the House long enough to hear him use one argument to which I should like at once to call attention. My right hon. Friend always speaks with great knowledge and great persuasiveness on subjects, of international trade, and the House is always delighted to hear him. On this occasion, however, it seems to me that he has committed himself to a proposition, in criticising this Amendment, which some hon. Gentlemen who are associated with him will be very sorry to support. The Labour party's Amendment to the Address, which is now before the House, points out that mistaken foreign policy has had a serious effect in increasing unemployment, and that the remedy is largely to be found by adopting a wiser policy to enable European customers to buy our goods and so to restore international trade. For my part, I believe that course of reasoning contained in the Amendment to be entirely justified. I was very much interested in the reason why the right hon. Member for West Swansea thinks, on this occasion, that there is a fallacy in the reasoning of the Amendment. His argument was that if we would have regard to the part of our foreign trade that really mattered, the prompt restoration of trade with Europe was not nearly so important as trade overseas with other parts of the world. He gave some figures to illustrate his proposition, and he criticised this Amendment, amongst other reasons, on the ground that it is putting an emphasis which is not deserved on the importance of restoring our European markets. According to him, a more hopeful direction in which to look under present circumstances is to devote ourselves to the development of our trade overseas with the Dominions and the countries outside Europe.
998 Whatever may be said in favour of that argument, it is exactly the opposite argument from that pressed in this House of Commons as recently as last April, with the approval and support of the right hon. Gentleman, as a defence of the Genoa Conference. I repeat the language, not because I in the least object to the argument used by the late Prime Minister, when he urged this course of reasoning on the House, but because it is the precise opposite of the argument used by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Swansea this afternoon. Anybody looking at the report of the speech of the late Prime Minister, which is to be found in the OFFICIAL REPORT, column 1885, Vol. 152, will find two passages which, so far as I am concerned, are quite sufficient answer to the argument of my right hon. Friend. The first one is the statement, which was afterwards developed, a statement not made in the abstract but in reference to the industrial conditions of this country, as recently as last April,that Europe the best customer in the world and of the world has been impoverished by the greatest destruction of capital that the world has ever witnessed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd April, 1922; col. 1886, Vol. 152.]He went on to say that that was the thing which now had promptly to be remedied. Then the right hon. Gentleman pointed out that the real answer to the question so often put, and so seldom answered rightly, was to be discovered not by confining ourselves to the question of what sales we make directly to Europe, but by remembering that our sales to other parts of the world essentially depend upon what India, for instance, is able to sell to Europe. Perhaps I may be permitted to read a short passage, in which the ex-Prime Minister said:We are often asked a question, 'If you lost your trade in Europe could you not make it up by trading with the Dominions, trading with the Colonies and with other parts of the world?' The world is one trade unit. Our customers depend on their sales in European countries to pay for goods that we sell them. Take India. The purchases of India in this country have gone down very considerably. I attach great importance to this consideration from the point of view of Genoa. India is not buying from this country what she bought before the War. No doubt the organised opposition to British trade there has something to do with it, but that is not the main reason. The main reason is that India has always paid us for the goods we sell her by 999 the proceeds of her sales to other European countries. She pays us what she gets from selling to Germany, to France, to Austria and to Russia.Yet less than an hour ago the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swansea told us we really ought not to concern ourselves with such peddling matters as trade with Europe!
§ Sip A. MOND
The right hon. Gentleman is really misrepresenting what I said. What I did say, and what I still maintain, is that a largely increased trade is to be done with countries apart from Europe. I cannot develop the point how, but the general suggestion was you must not expect too much from re-establishing your trade with Europe or with Russia, but you may expect a good deal by increasing your trade with the Dominions and countries outside Europe.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I certainly understood my right hon. Friend to say, in view of the Amendment now before the House, that he would be inclined to regard as comparatively unimportant trade with Europe as compared with trade with the Dominions and with countries outside Europe. I should like to read one more sentence from the speech of the ex-Prime Minister on the 3rd April, 1922, in which he said:She (India) sold, in 1913, 60,000,000 lbs. of tea to Russia alone and there are other commodities as well. Therefore the trade of Europe is of the greatest importance to us, not merely directly, but indirectly, and unless you restore the trade of Europe as a whole our purchasers will not be in a position to pay for the commodities which they get from us."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd April, 1922; col. 1893, Vol. 152.]The last thing I desire in a Debate of this kind is to make captious contrasts between the speeches of my two right hon. Friends, but I do wish to point out, in order that hon. Members may hear both sides of the argument, that one part was supplied by the right hon. Member for Swansea most plausibly in his speech to-night, and the other part is embodied in the OFFICIAL REPORT of the 3rd April, 1922. I would like to make this observation, which I do not think will provoke protest in any quarter of the House. The real tragedy, not of unemployment, but of Debates on unemployment, is that this House conducts those Debates at a time when unemployment is rife. The real misfortune of the whole position is 1000 that the time when it would be best to consider and make provision for unemployment is the time when employment is good. I do not say this with any desire to throw blame on any particular section of the House. It would be well, however, for some hon. Members behind me to remember that when you are faced with the actual presence of exceptional unemployment, although your sympathy is more keenly aroused and your indignation is more vigorously expressed, that is the worst time at which it is possible to devise prudent and satisfactory business methods of relief. My right hon. Friend the Member for Camberwell (Dr. Mac-namara) made a speech a day or two ago on the Address in which he referred to the action taken by the late Government during the past two years on the subject of provision for unemployment. One would, indeed, be a captious critic if he did not recognise that during the last two years the most strenuous efforts were made by the late Government in order to deal with this terrible difficulty. The real misfortune is, whether because the public mind was not prepared or whether because other pressing subjects claimed earlier attention, the sad thing is—and I am not saying this with any desire to criticise one set of people as against another, for the observation applies to the country as a whole—the sad thing is that we did not make thoroughly satisfactory provision some time before.
Let me give one example. Even while the War was going on, both under the premiership of the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) and also under the premiership of the late Prime Minister, a great deal of research was conducted, and a great deal of inquiry was carried through under the name of Reconstruction. I do not share in the censure which is sometimes cast on the work of Reconstruction Minister and Committee. They did an immense amount of most valuable work. They were helped to do it, both by the last Government and by the Government which preceded it. I have here in my hand a Parliamentary Paper issued by the Ministry of Reconstruction, and containing the second, third, fourth and fifth interim reports of the Civil War Workers' Committee. I see when I look at it that that was as early as February, 1918, while the War was still going on, and it is to the credit of the late Government that they 1001 did these things. There was in February, 1918, a report presented to the late Government, and circulated for the information of the House, dealing with the probable necessity of making provision for the unemployment which was sure to come. If I may I will call attention to this report, which is signed by a very well known authority on this subject, Sir William Beveridge, by Mr. Mallon, by Miss Susan Lawrence, and by the hon. Member for the Newton Division of Lancashire (Mr. R. Young). I think that the paragraph which I propose to read will make good my point that it is a misfortune for which we all of us have to bear our share of blame that real remedies were not considered and devised a little sooner. The paragraph is as follows:We are of opinion, accordingly, that the Minister of Labour should be asked to frame definite and detailed proposals for general insurance and to give affect thereto as soon as possible. The necessary steps to this end should clearly be taken with the least possible delay. At this stage it is impossible to foresee how soon the problems of demobilisation may became concrete and urgent realities. Unless a scheme of general insurance is devised, and launched, at the earliest possible date, it may be impossible to avoid the disastrous chaos of unorganised and improvised methods of relieving distress.I want the House to observe that that report was made in February, 1918. It occurred to me to look at the index of the OFFICIAL REPORT in order to see how far the subject of unemployment was considered and discussed in this House. I am not seeking to throw blame on anyone, but I must point out that in the year 1918, after this pressing recommendation had been urged on the House of Commons and the Government, an examination shows there was not a single reference from beginning to end in that year to this subject. Of course at that time we had a Reconstruction Committee at work, and although many people were devoting their attention to the question, it seems that as employment was good, other matters of pressing and urgent force and of overwhelming national importance claimed the attention of the House. Now it is really too late to devise businesslike methods of dealing with the problem. Let me carry my story a little further. I have noticed from the OFFICIAL REPORT that not once, but on 1002 many occasions, questions were asked in the Session of 1919 when it was proposed to produce a Measure for the extension of unemployment insurance, and the right hon. Gentleman who is now Prime Minister at the end of the Session intimated that although a Bill would be introduced at once, it was not proposed to go on with it. As a matter of fact, the Measure did not receive the Royal Assent and become law until August, 1920. Will the House be good enough to notice the date, August, 1920, was exactly the time when, to use the language of the Minister of Labour, the storm burst. I will ask the House to observe that although insurance against unemployment is a very valuable expedient, you cannot effectively work a system of insurance if you do not set it up until the risk against which you are insuring is actually at your doors. No one can insure his house after it has caught fire. The sad thing, the pathetic thing, is that the tremendous energy which has been put into dealing with the difficulties of unemployment after it became a tremendous anxiety to the country, was not, as a matter of fact, ante-dated so that recommendations such as that, which I have read, of February, 1918, might really have prepared the way. I noticed that, when my right hon. Friend the late Minister of Labour made his speech the other day, he spoke of this impending crisis, and said that we had caught the full blast of unemployment. He went on to say:—We felt it with rapidly increasing severity from the fall of 1920 to the middle of last year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th November; col. 237, Vol. 159.]Let the House observe the coincidence of dates. It was, unfortunately, not until August, 1920, that further statutory provision was made of a permanent kind to meet the situation. I do not forget that most extensive provision for the purpose of assisting ex-service men and others to get back to their work was made. But that, after all, was not a permanent arrangement, and I do think that when the historian of this tremendously important social subject comes to consider what has been the history of our provision during the last four years, he will say that the efforts that have been put forward by the late Government during the latter part of that time were efforts which will stand comparison, probably, 1003 with the efforts of any administration in the world.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I say that the historian of the future will say that the efforts put forward will stand comparison with those of any other country; but I think he will also say, not as a criticism of any particular party, that this is a very tragic instance of how impossible it is to get public attention and public action to deal with a tremendous danger until the danger is actually knocking at our doors. I will go further and say that, as far as I know, there has been no statutory provision for unemployment made in advance in times of good trade, with the single exception of the Unemployment Insurance Act of 1911, which was part and parcel of the great insurance scheme of that year.
Unemployment assurance having been at length established at the time when, as the late Minister of Labour said, the blast was already upon us, it is not really a satisfactory answer to say, "Well, people shall get their benefit first and shall pay their contribution afterwards." That, at any rate, does not appear to be a very satisfactory method, though it was far better than nothing at all. Let me take a second example of the very serious contrast between the time when it would have been well to do these things and the time when they were done. The House, I think, generally agrees that it is desirable to adopt a policy which will secure that certain kinds of public work, whether Government work or the work of local authorities, which calls to be done, but which need not necessarily be done at once, should be surveyed in advance for the purpose of securing that, when fluctuations of employment or of trade make unemployment prevalent, it should be possible to meet it by putting those public works in hand immediately. In point of fact, shortly before war broke out, as I remember very well, and I think others here will remember, a Committee was appointed by the Government then in power for the purpose of scheduling public works, whether of the Government or of local authorities, which it was agreed were proper works to undertake, 1004 but which it was found need not be undertaken, and might be kept in cold storage until the urgency of finding such employment was upon us; but this, like many other things, lapsed because of the outbreak of war.
That method, which, admittedly, is a good method, is one which essentially depends upon prevision. I do not believe that, with the best will in the world, the Minister of Labour or anyone else can devise now, in the very centre of this storm, a business-like use of those opportunities for the benefit of these unhappy people. My right hon. Friend will, I know, do his best, as the late Government did their best, but it is a wholly different thing to set to work to find out what those public works are, to draw up estimates and plans for them, to have the machinery for carrying them out in preparation so that they may be taken advantage of when the emergency arises, from waiting until the emergency does arise, and then endeavouring desperately to find, by conference with employers and others, how to provide the work. I hope I have made it plain that I am not seeking to throw blame upon any particular quarter, but I believe it to be a criticism which is not unjustified upon public opinion and public attention as a whole to this tremendous subject. The difficulties of the Government in trying to direct public attention, when public attention is not interested, to questions of unemployment, must be tremendous; but the real moral to be drawn from our present situation is that, while we have to deal with the terrible situation which faces us to-day, our real resolve ought to be that we will not again, when trade begins to improve, allow this problem to fall into the background, but will determine that, when trade does get better, we will lay the foundation for a real provision against unemployment. It is an old saying, but I think it applies, and I think it may be regarded as Parliamentary in the circumstances, thatThe devil was sick, the devil a monk would be;The devil was well, the devil a monk was he.The truth is that, with regard both to unemployment insurance and to the organisation of relief work, we can never get a real solution until we are prepared to face this subject at a time when it is not 1005 pressing because there are demonstrations of the unemployed, but when, on the contrary, it is pressing because there is a real opportunity for making proper provision. Then I should like to make this further point. The Prime Minister has said, and I think his statement was generally accepted and approved, that he regarded such a demand as was made by the demonstration of the unemployed as a demand which was properly to be attended to by the Department concerned. While that is true, it by no means follows that the subject which is raised by this Amendment is one which can be dealt with within the four corners of a Department, however efficient and courteous it may be. If it be true that employment or unemployment depends in a very large measure upon questions of trade policy and foreign policy, as the late Prime Minister clearly pointed out, it is quite clear that an Amendment of this sort cannot really be discussed from the Departmental point of view altogether. If it be true, and I think it is generally recognised, that there is so great a difference between wise foreign policy and unwise foreign policy that it may affect the employment or unemployment of tens of thousands of our fellow-citizens in many trades, then it is quite obvious that the subject of this Amendment cannot be disposed of even by a list, however elaborate and however carefully explained, which is brought forward by the Minister of Labour, of the work which he proposes to get out. Unless I missed it, I do not think that the Minister of Labour, in the course of his account of what is proposed to be done by way of encouraging the resumption of work, had anything to say at all on the suggestion that the building of houses was a form in which it was most desirable that the Government should provide work.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I only wanted to make the observation, and I think it is a true one, that in the list of proposals which we have had to-day I do not think we did get from the Minister of Labour any reference to housing at all. On that may I make this final observation? The formula, "Work, not dole," is one that has been very much canvassed and discussed. I was glad to hear the Minister of Labour say that really the use of the 1006 word "dole" in this connection is gravely improper. After all, three-fourths of the unemployment insurance payment comes, not from the State at all, but from the industry, whether it be the employer or the workman; and a cruel wrong is done to many people who are in receipt of unemployment relief, under the present scheme, in speaking as though this was something which was indistinguishable from the mere relief of a pauper out of public funds. I fear very much that "Work rather than dole," though a very convenient formula, does not in itself carry anybody very far. The truth is that, though the need for finding work and putting unemployed men to work is so urgent on moral as well as on other grounds, the difficulty of carrying that plan into effect right over the whole length and breadth of unemployment is almost insuperable.
Consider these two very obvious difficulties. First of all, the scheme of work as against doles is obviously far less flexible. Work has to be done at a particular place, and you have to get the unemployed to that place for the purpose; and it does not by any means always happen that the place where the work might be done is a place where it is possible even to house the people whom you desire thus to put to work. Consider, again, this. It is useless to speak of work in place of doles unless you go further and make sure that the work you have in mind is the sort of work which the unemployed man is able to do. It is not a kindness, but a cruelty, for those who have not thought it out to suggest that a man who is, unhappily, out of work in some highly-skilled trade, say clockmaking, is necessarily going to be better off because the community find him work to do of a sort which that kind of worker, unhappily, would not be able to undertake. I think we ought fully to face these considerations before we declare, as I am glad to know the Government have declared, and as I think the House generally will declare, for the provision of work rather than a mere payment of money, so far as such an alternative can be practically pursued.
It certainly is not going to turn out to be a better venture from the point of view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in very many cases, for I am afraid it will always be true that the provision of work instead of doles is, as a matter of fact, an 1007 expensive thing for the State rather than being necessarily a source of great profit. But that does not alter the fundamental fact. The fundamental fact is that when one is faced with a situation so serious as this, extending to the length that unemployment now extends, we have for the time being and as a temporary measure,, in the interest of the moral, in the interest of the general prospects of the population itself, to accept as far as it can be accepted the method of work rather than the method of money payment, notwithstanding the fact that pure economics will prove that the prospect is not very satisfactory. The Minister of Labour spoke of the storm period having passed. He spoke of the signs of the storm beginning to abate. I would urge hon. Members in all quarters of the House to remember, even though the storm is beginning to abate, that that is no reason at all why we should relax our efforts to provide a satisfactory solution of this question. It has been the tragedy of unemployment in the past that not only has trade gone in cycles but unemployment Debates have gone in cycles, and if we can secure, in spite of mistakes in the past, that the interest of the public and the House of Commons is no longer going in cycles, we shall have made a satisfactory contribution to the discussion of this almost insoluble question.
§ Mr. HAYDAY
I rise to add my quota of argument to this very old problem in its new and more desperate shape as presented to us here to-day. Having listened to the Labour Minister, I feel very much disappointed with the very barren and totally inadequate suggestions that he makes in connection with new plans. In effect, they amount in the sum total to further definite financial obligations on the part of the Government of something less than £4,000,000, plus £10,000,000 from the Road Fund and the £25,000,000 guarantee. The guarantee is really only in the nature of a loan, the whole of which may eventually be returned to the State, so that the total definite commitments that the Government outline are summed up in that £1,000,000 on their general policy, the £600,000, the £170,000 and the £100,000 as mentioned by the Labour Minister, together with work to be put in hand. As for the storm abating, I think those 1008 who know and who have been through previous cycles of trade depression can see no indication of any abatement at all, but rather an increase in the volume of distress that such storms bring with them—desolation, hardship and destruction in the homes of the people. This figure which is mentioned of 1,300,000 as being at the moment unemployed must not be regarded as a true reflex of the state of unemployment. That is simply the live register. It means that all those who, by the tightening up of the Regulations, have ceased to become interested in signing on at Labour Exchanges have dropped out from that number. I should estimate the number at rather nearer 1,500,000 who are unemployed. And the 1,300,000 as shown on the live register must not be permitted to mislead people into the belief that that number of people are in receipt of unemployment benefit. There are fewer than 1,000,000 in receipt of unemployment benefit, and that, I am sure, the Labour Minister will be the first to admit, because in July last, when this matter was tinder discussion, I suggested that somewhere within the region of 1,000,000 would be in receipt of unemployment benefit. So that, far from any hope arising from the speech and the plans outlined by the right hon. Gentleman, there is really cause for greater anxiety.
It rather looks like death-bed repentance on the part of so many hon. Members who begin to talk of the opening up of trade and the glorious avenues which can be broadened and opened out to find employment for those who are in distress. They can all talk in terms of the future and forget the tragedy of the present. We want something more than the scheme as outlined by the Labour Minister for those who have come down that long trail of suffering and that this period of the year are looking for that greater degree of assistance they are justified in asking from the nation which, by its neglect, is largely responsible for the chaotic condition of industry and commerce and the condition of its people. We are most of us back from our constituencies. There is not a Member returned to the House who has not had presented to him some corner or large area, as the case may be, in his constituency where the lives of the people are being crushed out in consequence of 1009 the worsened environment which, comes as one of those things associated with this plague of unemployment. Your housing problem, under these circumstances, will ease itself, for, indeed, I know cases of people who, not being able to pay the rents asked, are now herded together in the single-room accommodation which the late Minister of Health thought was all that was necessary for any married couple. Coming back with this impression and the knowledge of the struggles that are going on, does it not appeal to us? We have seen men and women who were thrifty and had saved their little Post Office savings amounts and had little investments in War Savings Certificates. Meet any of them now. From early in 1921 right down to the present they have been bandied between the period of unemployed pay, back to the Board of Guardians and back again. That in itself is enough to dishearten, depress and make desperate people who are confronted with the barriers and difficulties which are placed in their way. This is having a paralysing effect upon the nation as a nation, and it is doing something worse. Do the Government for a moment think of the infliction that we are ourselves imposing upon the child life of the nation? What is to be the possible future of a nation that says to its adults, "You were heroes, you were stalwart Britishers at one time. You worked hard and you took risks. The incidence of trade and commerce put you out of employment. We have commenced to consider the matter"? Could you not have considered it 30 years ago? To my knowledge the unemployment problem 30 years ago was before the country in a serious form and yet from 30 years you come right on and then all that you have to offer is nothing more substantial than sympathy and pity. What you have done is to depress the manhood and the womanhood of the country. You have still further inflicted a permanent injury upon the child life of the country and destroyed in many cases all opportunities of physical and mental development on their part. Your Labour Ministry will be well able to provide that little extra amount that the Government foreshadows out of the denial of benefit to the single men and women, and married persons, carrying with it the withholding even of 1s. a week to the child under the age of 14.
1010 8.0 P.M.
The Labour Minister says that for this fourth period, from the commencement of November until the end of June next year, twelve weeks' benefit is assured, and there is a possibility of another ten weeks to those who can satisfy the Employment Exchange Committee. But every time these appeals are made there is some new Regulation tightened up or some increased difficulty put in the Way. The latest difficulty put in the way, to my mind, notwithstanding what the Labour Minister said, if carried out will at least wipe out another 200,000 of those who have been permitted to draw unemployment benefit. A man who has gone through so many weeks has to appear before the Committee and is asked, "Have you sought for employment?" and the poor man looks bewildered. He has always thought that the Employment Exchange asked employers always to make application to the Exchange if they require workmen, but they expect that poor man under these distressing circumstances to take his weary walk all the day from factory to factory and workshop to workshop with the certainty that there is no chance of employment. Unless he does that it is now adduced as a further reason why he should be struck off the list of unemployment benefit. You are taking away the 5s. for the wife and 1s. for the child. We are approaching the period when many people will be saying, "Peace on earth, goodwill towards all men," and at the same time your Labour Ministry are tightening up their Regulations with the distinct purpose of disqualifying recipients from unemployment benefit. I sometimes feel that a nation that destroys its human fabric by neglect, as the late Government and the present Government appear to be likely to do, will destroy all that is valuable, by the destruction of the ambition for better environment, the struggle upwards towards a greater degree of freedom and sustenance, and a broader view of life and all that it means. Every attempt in that direction which the State pushes back means that you are undermining the fabric of the whole social system. Just as these inflictions come into the homes of the working people, they are bound to react on the whole social fabric of the nation.
A good deal of the stultification may be due to the selfishness that is engendered 1011 and encouraged by our social system. We had a curious spectacle to-day of the late Minister for Health saying that there were certain great firms who had dead surpluses at the bank, and that they wanted to put them to some use. Why are they not sufficiently patriotic to put these dead surpluses into active operation to employ people? They will not do that, because they cannot get their pound of flesh, because the return is not sufficient to satisfy their greed as it is summed up in profit and interest. Therefore, that money remains out of use, and, in turn, their selfish action is throwing out of gear the human element anxious and willing to co-operate for the mutual benefit of the country. It seems to me that a considerable overhauling of the whole of our social system is required long before we approach anything near these periods.
The State has promised nothing for the future. All that it is attempting to do is to encourage somebody else to do something We say that it is a national responsibility, and that the victims of a great international upheaval ought not to be dependent upon the Government requesting somebody else to do that which the nation ought to take upon itself. The nation ought to shoulder its full responsibility. Too often we hear of the huge amounts of the provision that the Government has made. Lest it should be forgotten, I will repeat some of the figures. I remember on a previous occasion the ex-Prime Minister said that the Government were spending hundreds of millions on this matter, leading the public to believe that the whole of that money for unemployment payments had been provided by the Government. It is estimated, according to the figures of the late Government, that from November, 1920, until June, 1923, £140,000,000 will have been paid in unemployment benefit. That was on the assumption of carrying £1,250,000 unemployed persons. That has been over-estimated, and it has been brought about in consequence of the tightening of regulations. The State's contribution out of that sum would be £35,000,000. For arterial roads the amount of £10,500,000 was allotted. Whether the whole of that has been spent or not, I cannot say. Settlement in Canada of ex-service men 1012 was estimated at £750,000. For the emigration of ex-service men to other parts of the Empire, £250,000 was provided, and for trade facilities guarantees £22,500,000 is the figure which is now-given. Summing up the whole of these figures, and others given by the Minister, we get an aggregate sum of £101,500,000, which represents the full liability of the State, including the period immediately before us.
In making that provision, what has happened? The Government has encouraged local authorities to incur debts. Many of those debts are going to bring about an equally serious crisis in local finances in the very near future, because the very people for whom the State suggests it is making provision will have to meet the obligations of the loans which have been raised, and will eventually have to pay either through service or through rates. In that connection, I have had a statement supplied by one municipality. I mention this to show that in agreeing to pay 65 per cent, of the interest of the loan, as in this particular case, the Government, far from doing a great kindness to the locality, and far from taking credit to themselves that this scheme will employ many thousands of people, must remember that the local authority will have a burden round their neck for a period of 60 years. In repayment of their share of the redemption fund and their proportion of the interest on the amount of £745,681,000, which is the loan for the works for which they have got Government help, the local authority will be called upon to pay £1,316,000 in interest and redemption. Therefore, for a long period of years the Government, by putting the greater share of the burden upon the locality, is crippling this local authority and other local authorities, and stultifying any effort at improvement which they may care to indulge in the very near future.
§ Sir M. BARLOW
I do not quite understand the hon. Member's figures. If he will give them to me, I will look into the matter.
§ Mr. HAYDAY
The figures are from the City of Nottingham. I have given the amount of the loan and the anticipated liability of the local authority, and how they will have to meet the payments over a period of years. The total sum which they will have to pay amounts to 1013 £1,316,000. If you take into consideration some of the great industrial centres where there is a larger population and a greater volume of suffering, because of the casual nature of the employment at the best of times, it seems to me that you must have imposed as a result of that little subsidy, a liability of about £100,000,000 upon the local authorities. It is not the right thing to shelve national responsibilities upon local authorities which have a great degree of suffering and distress in their midst. The poorer the locality the greater the number of unemployed, and in consequence of that they will find themselves with an increased burden. If the effect on the local authorities is so serious, how much more serious is it upon the boards of guardians.
§ Mr. HAYDAY
Sixty years. The final ten years' payment will be at equal to a rate of l¼d. At one period, 20 years hence, the local authority will be paying £46,086 per annum in redemption. The Government have actually got the boards of guardians to come along and to take over a national responsibility, and then the Government say that they are going to hasten facilities for the boards of guardians to borrow, instead of the Government facing the responsibility themselves. I would urge the Minister of Labour to remember that there is another gap coming, and coming at a very serious time. The first 12 weeks will be up before the end of January and, if at the end of January all these cases are reviewed and perhaps hundreds of thousands of people are turned down, because of an uncoveuanted or extended period, we shall be at a time when we cannot face so serious a gap. I urge the right hon. Gentleman that before the storm breaks he should anticipate that. That is not very far to look forward to, and, as sure as we are in this House tonight, unless some provision is made to avoid a gap, the storm will burst in a manner that may be unpleasant for all of us to anticipate.
The public are led to believe sometimes by the Press that the workers themselves have contributed nothing to the unemployment, benefit. The workers who are the sufferers have done more than the State or any other section of the community. 1014 Of the £140,000,000 paid in unemployment benefit, £50,000,000 represents the contribution from the workers. The trade unions have paid about £10,000,000 in unemployment benefit from their contributions. Then there is a reduction in wages of £700,000,000 per annum, a sum almost six times greater than that the Government has found, with all its resources. The hon. Member for West Tox-teth (Sir R. Houston), who spoke about disputes and strikes being the cause of unemployment, spoke with his tongue in his cheek. He either knew nothing about the subject or he was misleading the House. We were told when these wage reductions were proposed that if the workers would submit to the reductions industry could recover and their unfortunate comrades who were unemployed could be reabsorbed into industry, and by their sacrifice they would help to let food go into the homes for the wives and children of those men. And they did it, and the result has been that the greater the sacrifice the greater the increase in the amount of unemployment.
On the other hand, as the late Minister of Health has said, there are people with surplus money in the bank waiting for profitable investments. The spectacle is. one which no serious-minded man can contemplate with satisfaction. The people have sacrificed £700,000,000. They have made a greater contribution than the State or than the great captains of industry. For many of them I have the greatest respect as individuals, though I do not regard them with friendship when they use all the advantages of our present economic system to bolster up their own resources in times like these. As a result of that process of the pulling down of wages there are about four million workers with below 50s. a week. If the right hon. Gentleman's Department will make inquiries, he will find that while the working people have sacrificed £700,000,000 per annum, in the belief that they were going to provide employment for their less fortunate comrades, three-quarters of a million of them have brought themselves down to a standard at or less than 35s. per week, which is a long way below a living standard or a standard which would enable them to live in a decent two-roomed apartment, and which does not enable them to give their children proper 1015 food that will enable them to take advantage of the educational facilities of our Education Department, because no average family can reasonably exist on 50s. a week and downwards.
One other point is the great contribution which the industrial masses of this country are making. Indirect taxation on foodstuffs has gone up out of all proportion to the average figure which appears in the cost of living columns of the Board of Trade Gazette. I have seen it published that the average family of two adults and five children spent on their food, with the tobacco for the man and possibly a glass of beer, indirect taxation averaging 14s. 2d. per week. After taking £700,000,000 off their wages, you then take 14s. 2d. a week taxes on the necessities which they have to buy with that lesser income. In this connection I appeal to the Minister of Labour in reference to the exclusion of single persons. Perhaps he does not know many of the hardships which are being inflicted in consequence of this. The head of the family is at work, may be in receipt of only 35s. or £2 per week, and there may be a single daughter or a single son who has come to the period for uncovenamted benefit. But if the man is employed that is sufficient for them to be struck off benefit. Now on the subject of aliens. The Minister of Labour has full power to make any Regulations which he deems fit. May I point out a great hardship in this connection in certain circumstances? I have here a list showing 98 aliens who are members of the Cigar Makers and Tobacco Workers' Trade Union. Their average age is 58 years 9 months, and their average domicile in this country is 45 years. They pay their contributions and they are entitled to the benefit until they have exhausted their right, but they are denied the uncovenanted benefits because they are aliens. The debt accumulates against them in the future, and when they are re-absorbed into employment they have got to go on paying contributions until the debt is cleared off, though they are denied any benefit. I would suggest that the Minister might take that matter into consideraion.
I would urge finally that some very drastic step must be taken. It is not merely lip service to say that the position is very desperate. I do not think it wrong to say that these people are getting 1016 hungrier and angrier every day. You cannot reason with a man who has left his home without any food, who has a wife and family and is trying to retain for them some semblance of respectability, with his children going to school to get the meals given under the Provision of Meals Act. There can be no sadder spectacle that that of a man who within the knowledge of respected citizens has, during that depressing period, started to stoop, to break up, with the lines drawn about his face, with his brow becoming furrowed while he himself grows discontented and disgruntled, while at home his wife, full of anxiety, is prematurely aged and all that they can look to is a promise for the future. You cannot reason and talk even economics with those people. What they require is some material fuel to light up the dying embers within them, to give them the kind of physical make-up that will enable them to make their contribution, when the time comes again, in an effective manner to the development of the common industry in this country.
§ Sir EDWIN STOCKTON
In addressing this House for the first time, I feel sure that I may rely on the kind indulgence which is always shown so generously to new Members. I would like to congratulate the Prime Minister and the Government on having called into conference the railway managers and the railway chairmen. I believe that the railway companies can do a great deal towards helping to solve the temporary difficulty of unemployment, and I am sure that they are keen and anxious to do all they can to help. I would suggest that the Government pursue a similar policy with other big industrial organisations with a view of seeing whether they cannot stir some of these other centres to proceed with work which no doubt has been under contemplation at some time. There must be all over the country many large and important works of various kinds contemplated, both by local authorities and by big industrial organisations, which have been kept back for various reasons, and I think the Government might make a special effort to urge the various authorities and industrial organisations to do all they can to speed up this work so that the temporary depression will be at any rate relieved.
1017 There are two points in regard to railway development which I wish to bring forward in the interests of progress. The first is this: In making agreements which may be necessary, either with landowners or with local bodies, the railway authorities may have certain difficulties in arriving at those agreements. It may be necessary, therefore, for the Prime Minister to use his influence and the influence of the Government in helping to remove such difficulties, so that red tape may not delay essential operations. Secondly, I suggest that the Government, in talking over these matters with the railway companies, should see that the work which is devised is devised with the object of finding work for the real unemployed, and not extra work for men who are at present in the railway service. It is necessary that that should be kept in the forefront. On the general question of unemployment, I suggest that it is not fair to assume that any section in this House has a monopoly of sympathy with the unemployed. Every Member of this newly elected House has been before his constituents, and has had to try his best to deal with the unemployment problem. No man is worthy of a place in this House unless he is prepared to use every effort to solve this terrible difficulty. Everyone with any heart at all must feel sympathy with the unemployed.
I represent a big commercial constituency in Manchester. The right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) will agree that the unemployment problem in Manchester, bad as it is, is not as bad as in many other great centres of industry. Twelve months ago there were 40,000 unemployed in Manchester. At present there are 30,000. I do not suggest that a decease of 10,000 in the total in 12 months is anything to brag about, but it is a change in the right direction. The saddest part of the problem there is that 50 to 60 per cent, of the 30,000 men are ex-service men. I have done my best in Manchester to persuade business people to be more enterprising and to do all they can to find work for these men. I have done my best, because any man with heart or sympathy must realise the crying injustice that men who have fought for us and saved our country should be left without work or any resources to fall back upon. There is only one real cure for this problem, and that is to procure a solid restoration of trade. The greater 1018 proportion of our trade in Manchester depends on our exports. If we are to be at all successful with our export trade, it is essential that we have confidence abroad. Everyone will agree with that statement. There can be no denying the fact that for a long time there has not been real confidence abroad in regard to our foreign policy. I am hoping that under the present Government that confidence will be restored.
I stand here as a business man. I am not ashamed to belong to the Conservative party, because I believe that it is the party which will bring about the restoration of trade which is necessary, by restoring confidence abroad. But we want more than confidence abroad; we want confidence at home. As a business man, I say that the proposals for confiscation and the attacks on private enterprise are having a very disastrous effect upon trade. Hon. Members on the-Labour Benches will contradict that statement. But any man with experience of business is bound to admit that these proposals and suggestions are doing grievous harm to the restoration of trade. They are not helping to solve the unemployment problem, but are making the problem a more serious one, at any rate in Manchester, and instead of helping to re-establish confidence they are having the opposite effect, and are bringing about an increase of unemployment. We hear much of the war on private enterprise. I speak as one who has gone right through the mill, from the time when I was an errand lad on the streets of Manchester. I know exactly what it is to go through the difficulties from the bottom. It has been private enterprise which has made the commercial prosperity of this country in the past, and it is private enterprise only which will restore trade and provide employment.
What is the alternative to private enterprise? It is State trading. Those who have had any experience of State trading know its crippling effect on trade. As far as my knowledge goes, the less we have of it the better. I was fighting in Manchester during the War period against State control and State trading, and there is no business man in Manchester with any knowledge or experience of business, who would not condemn State trading root and branch as something which is against the best interests of the people. Private 1019 enterprise means sound and healthy competition; State trading means inflation and stagnation. Hon. Members of the Labour party do not agree with that statement. Why? They have not learnt the A B C of business, or they would agree. I am not attacking them as a party. I believe the Labour party are as sincere in their intentions as any other section of the community. But with the business knowledge I have had, from the bottom to the position I now hold, I know that it is private enterprise which has built up our prosperity in the past, and that it is private enterprise which will restore our business in the future.
§ Mr. SEXTON
It is not hon. Members who sit on this side of the House who claim a monopoly of sympathy with the unemployed. In fact that monopoly belongs to hon. Gentlemen on the other side. They have all the sympathy but none of the practical application, and that is where we differ from them. They have expressed sympathy; we have at least put forward a serious programme whereby unemployment can be remedied. I hope I may not be regarded as transgressing the rules of Debate if I take this opportunity of referring to the present House of Commons and its constitution. It is a very interesting and very strange House of Commons. The last House of Commons suffered from an embarrassment of numbers in support of the Government. So great was the number of Government supporters that we on this side, found these benches congested with representatives of the then existing Coalition. That contamination, luckily, is removed in this Parliament and we run no risk on this side of the House now. At the same time this is a strangely constituted House of Commons. It is wonderfully and fearfully made. In the last Session of Parliament voices proceeding from this side of the House were scarcely to be distinguished from those of the Labour party, while at the same time they were supporting the Government. An incident occurred concerning myself, when from the Labour benches I was actually denounced by a Member of the Coalition from beneath my own hat.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
I presume the hon. Member will connect this argument with the subject before the House.
§ Mr. SEXTON
If I am transgressing, Sir, of course I am subject to your ruling. I may be allowed to refer to the fact that I was somewhat puzzled when I came into the House after this Parliament assembled. I found new faces in old places and old faces in new places. I claim your indulgence to say that that has brought about a confusion of tongues —almost a kind of Tower of Babel. We have had speeches to-night on unemployment and we have also a confusion of policies. There are five parties in this House where there were only three in the last Parliament, and all of them claim to be able and willing to solve the unemployment problem, and all have different methods of doing so. We have the Independent Liberals, whose remedy for unemployment, so far as I know, is economy, retrenchment and reform. We have a new party, the embodiment of which is the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Newbold)—the Communist party, whose policy, so far as I am concerned, is not only impracticable but—and I do not say this with any personal feeling—positively repulsive.
§ Mr. SEXTON
We have still another party in the House, which also has its remedy for unemployment, in the person of the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour), whose policy inspires me, at all events, with a premature thirst. Then we have the Labour party, whose policy is at least courageous. It is not a policy devised for the purpose of fishing for votes. Had that been the case, we would have been returned here in double the numbers we possess to-day. An hon. Member of this House said to me, "You did not catch many fish with the bait you dangled before the electors this time." I said, "No, perhaps not: but we have the consolation of knowing that we drowned a devil of a lot of worms." Now we come to the policy of the Government. I have searched in vain for their policy. The only thing I can find is that the Government is now putting into practice a policy which, not many months ago, they roundly denounced, and that is the policy of "ca' canny." It will be within the 1021 recollection of this House and of the country that after the signing of the Armistice the cry was "Increase production." and "ca' canny" was denounced. Eminent leaders of the political and industrial side of the Labour movement joined in that cry. Their portraits— sot always very flattering—disfigured the landscapes, the railway stations and the hoardings of this country, imploring industrial corporations to increase the output as the only method of saving the country and solving the unemployment problem. To-day we find the Government itself practising the very policy it at one time denounced, and saying, "Sit quiet; do nothing; be tranquil." This is a strange policy for the chief in command of the Ship of State to take, with rocks and shoals all round him. For the ship, the same old ship, there is a different crew, which is the result of a mutiny inspired and organised by the cabin boy, who, though no longer on the ship's articles, is still directing the course in the offing. Those who did not join the mutineers were compelled to walk the plank. Others, with the ex-chief, are marooned below the gangway. Those who deserted the ex-Prime Minister are still on board, but they are in irons and held as hostages, owing to the promises and the bargains they made during the recent General Election. The change of crew would be all right under normal conditions when the voyage was ended and the cargo safely delivered, but the conditions are not normal, and there are others, who were rejected by the authority which the right hon. Gentleman always rolls like a sween morsel under his tongue, the public, as unfit for active service, who are hovering in the wake or over the taffrail, waiting for the cry of "Man overboard" to jump down on the quarter deck and take his place. It is with this motley crew that the commander of the ship embarks on an uncharted sea close-hauled, with breakers on his lee, and his weather leeches ominously shaking, and asks for calm and tranquillity.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I fail to see the connection between these nautical metaphors and unemployment.
§ Mr. SEXTON
I do not want to question your authority, Sir, but surely I am quite in order in pointing out that the policy of tranquillity and calm is a mistaken policy, and I respectfully submit 1022 that I am in order in dealing with the question in the way I am doing. There is only one region where such a policy should be exercised, and that is the region of perpetual calm, and even there the currents are so treacherous that you generally find yourself driven into the doldrums. That is where the right hon. Gentleman is taking his ship and his crew to-day.
In every well-ordered State, the man who is willing to work and produce wealth ought to be a national asset, instead of, as to-day, a national liability. What is the policy of the Labour party? It has already been extensively dealt with and mischievously and deliberately misrepresented in the country and in this House. Let me take the two points. First of all, there is the capital levy. All of us have had to face that in the constituencies. I had to face it, and my opponent and his supporters very ingeniously attempted to turn the tables upon me, as upon others, by calling it the levy on capital. The representation he made was that if you get this levy on capital, capital is machinery, coal mines, factories, fields, and workshops, and that therefore the levy that the Labour party proposes is on the works, factories, machines, mines, and fields of the country. He next pointed out that if Labour men were returned the capitalists would take their capital out of the country. It would be a bit of a job for the capitalist to take his coal mines, factories, and fields, and cart them away, yet that was the interpretation put upon the capital levy. The capital levy has been so extensively dealt with that all I want to say about it is this, that, if it be true—and I believe it is true—that the Labour party have expert evidence and the authority of the best brains in finance in this country, that in five, six, or seven years the burden of the National Debt could be reduced by 50 per cent., and if the arguments of the other side have any weight at all, that if you relieve industry from the burden of national taxation you will also increase employment and diminish unemployment, surely, I say, if that be true, that policy ought to commend itself to the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues.
But if they do not like the capital levy, we offer the Government and their supporters an alternative. The programme of the Labour party includes the 1023 policy of the taxation of land values. [Laughter.] That is humorous, is it? Let me explain, and perhaps your hilarity will be increased when I do, and you will laugh on the wrong side of your mouth. The Borough of Bootle has been mentioned as the Tom Tiddler's ground of the housing question. I worked at Bootle for many years in the docks, and of all the places in this country, the most unfortunate example that could be quoted is the Borough of Bootle. Let me point out Bootle as an example. I will not name the landowner, because he happens to be a close friend of my own, and I have been proud of his acquaintance and association for many years. I am not blaming the individual—he has inherited the economic evil, that is all—but I am blaming the system, which allows one man, or a handful of men, to take advantage of a system which is the root, in my opinion, of the whole of the unemployment to-day.
When the trade and commerce of Liverpool and the Mersey were expanding, a narrow strip of seashore was required by the Dock Board, but before they could put a spade into it they had to pay a fine of £80,00 or £100,000 to the landlord who claimed the foreshore. The Dock Board, in return for that investment—and the Dock Board only pays 2i per cent, on invested capital—had to charge the shipowner heavy dock and harbour dues. Docks could not be built without engineers and navvies. Docks would be of no use without ships, and ships could not be sailed without seamen and firemen, or discharged without dock labourers. Therefore, the sand dunes became necessary for houses. The Dock Board, being fined by the landowner, and taxed imperially and taxed locally, went to the point of least resistance and cut down the wages of the dock labourer. The sand dunes are wanted for houses. Before that they were not worth, at the outside, more than £2 per acre, but, owing to the needs of the employer and workmen, the value of those sand dunes is raised to £3,000 per acre. They were let at that valuation on a short lease for a speculator to come along and take the clay out and make bricks, and I understand that for every 1,000 bricks taken out of that land, in addition to the price paid for it, they had to pay a 1024 royalty of 2s. 6d. When all the clay was-got out, and there was a big quarry, all the factories around were invited to dump their refuse into it, and for every load they dumped into it they were charged 6d. When the quarry was filled up the rubbish forming the land was sold to a jerry Builder at £3,000 an acre. Jerry builders, appealing to an ignorant electorate, captured the local Health Committee, and passed their own plans for making streets and building houses. Epidemics broke out, and, as a result, £17,000 was obtained from the Local Government Board for extra hospital accommodation for the victims. One hundred years ago the whole of that land was purchased for £12,000. To-day the ground rents are enormous. The people who have created all that value are fined hundreds of thousands of pounds for rates, while those who created none of the value pay not one brass cent to the local exchequer. It may be said that the landowner pays Income Tax. He does, but the employer and the workman who increased the value of the land make the landlord's income before they get one of their own.
One of the remedies I would suggest would be in the direction of relieving industry of local taxation. We have another suggestion to make, and we have made it in this House many and many a time. I made it myself on the Second Reading of the Unemployment Insurance Act. Instead of fining the employer and the workman, and asking the State to pay a subsidy, legislation should be passed to secure that industry should bear the burden of its own unemployment by a small levy per ton on output. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Front Bench on this side that panic legislation for immediate relief in urgent cases is not going permanently to solve the unemployment problem. I agree with him again when he said it is no time to deal with the unemployment problem when you are in the middle of the trouble, as we are now. Those who like myself, have had to tramp about by the week for work and take shelter in the casual ward, know the meaning of unemployment. I was glad to recognise, in the hopeful statement of the right hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Minister of Health last night, that there is to be some departure from the silly policy the 1025 Government have adopted of ca-canny. In the statement last night I saw a gleam of hope. It is no use for the right hon. Gentleman to build unto himself an ark, and take with him a few of his speeches in order to save himself from the deluge which is bound to come, if he does not "buck up" and do something. He may send out his dove-like messenger in the shape of private enterprise. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hawk-like messenger."] It is bound to return to him bringing with it, not the historical olive-branch: it will come back a poor unfortunate draggletailed crow in the shape of, what shall I call it? However that may be, the right hon. Gentleman is doomed to float about in his ark while the waters are rising. By the waters I mean the voice of a democracy intelligently expressed through the ballot box, and which would express itself in such a manner that his ark will never ground on the top of Mount Ararat.
§ Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
My remarks will be brief, and I hope also non-controversial, for the condition of the country is much too serious for us to indulge in controversy about it. Hon. Members, wherever they may sit in this House, I am sure, must have brought away from the elections a very sad, disturbing, and haunting picture and remembrance of the poverty-stricken condition of a large proportion of their constituents. Speaking for the constituency which I have the honour to represent, I am sure I am not exaggerating when I say there is 75 per cent, of the male population out of employment. These people are all the more deserving of pity because they are the unconscious victims of a policy which they have never had an opportunity of understanding, much less of controlling. If the cases of some of the ex-Cabinet Ministers have earned our sympathy because they were committed to a policy about which they were never consulted, I am sure the man in the street is much more deserving of our sympathy in the like circumstances.
I am glad to recognise that the policy of the Government—and I am sure the House will recognise it if it has any sense of fairness—is a great advance on the policy of its predecessor. It does recognise that the conscience of the people of this country is no longer willing to accept as fair provision the dole, with all 1026 its consequences. I hope the policy adumbrated by my right hon. Friend here this evening will lead to a very large number of people in this country receiving, not the dole, but work and wages. I must confess, however, to some feeling of disappointment that the Government are not going in for a more active housing policy. The housing condition of the people of this country is a reproach to our civilisation and a blot upon our social system. If this great social injustice is to be removed, it must be removed by a national policy, and the national policy must bring into action not only private enterprise, but the enterprise of the local authority. I do not want to argue as between private, enterprise and State enterprise, but I cannot help feeling that if we are forced to take private enterprise there is no use making a fetish of it. If private enterprise fails in solving our housing problem, all I can say is so much the worse for it!
I cannot help wishing that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health were a Member of this House. I am sure he would agree with me in the views I have expressed, because I remember a couple of Parliaments ago he and I were very keen members of the Unionist Social Reform Committee, and he introduced a Bill into this House. He very nearly got it passed. It was to enable local authorities to avail themselves of State subsidies in the matter of housing. Mr. John Burns, the Minister of a Liberal Government, denounced with great eloquence my right hon. Friend's Liberalism, though T am quite sure my right hon. Friend would not himself wish to be accused of professing that melancholy creed. I confess to a certain amount of disappointment, too, because I see very little chance that the provision the Government is making will do much to help those who deserve our sympathy in a peculiar degree. I have the honour to represent a city which was formerly the centre of one of the most prosperous industries in this country, namely, the lace trade. It gave employment to a large number of people who have almost a hereditary skill, one might say, in making lace, and in making large machines. These latter cannot be made abroad. The only people who can make them are the people of Nottingham. Seventy-five per cent. of 1027 these machines are now standing idle. What is more, they have been standing idle for a very long time, and no less than a quarter of a million of money has been paid in the last 12 months in Nottingham.
At Long Eaton, with a population of only 20,000, there has been paid out £95,000 in unemployed relief. I am told that there are innumerable instances of men who, by their own skill, energy and grit, have worked themselves up into a position to be employers of labour, who are now sweeping the streets and are only too glad to get any casual job. This unfortunate industry has been the victim of two or three knock-out blows. It is suffering from intense foreign competition fostered by the depreciation of the mark and the franc. The American tariff has been raised from 60 per cent, to 90 per cent. The French tariff has been raised from 6 francs per kilo to 28 francs per kilo. I do not want to urge the Government to do anything which will be any great departure from the Free Trade system of this country. At the same time, I would like them if they can to include this industry in the Safeguarding of Industries Act, and so in a measure relieve it from this intense foreign competition. I hope they will not hesitate so to include it. There is another way to help our export trade, particularly with France, which, I am sure, should not offend the susceptibilities of the keenest Free Trader. I cannot help feeling that it would do good if the President of the Board of Trade were to make it known to our French friends that if they do not abate the severity of their tariff, they must abandon the hope of a reduction of the duties on the wines and spirits which they send to this country. In such a way the French tariff might possibly be mitigated. I hope, too, that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer goes to America that he will point out to the American President that it is desirable to reduce the American tariff and that if we are playing the game in paying off our debt to the States, the Americans must play the game in allowing us the opportunity to pay off that debt I cannot help feeling, however, that to get to the bottom of the depression of trade in this country we 1028 must face the fact that there is no hope unless we can improve our export trade.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea (Sir A. Mond) that this is a political question, and I urge the Government to give us a foreign policy which will be helpful to our foreign trade. I was a rebel myself against the late Coalition Government, because I thought they were pursuing a policy which was consistent neither with the dictates of humanity nor the progress of our trade and commerce. The policy the late Government introduced in Asia Minor did nothing but inflict terrible disaster there, and it ruined all prospects of trade in that region. Our policy in the past with Russia has undoubtedly increased the volume of unemployment in this country, and our policy in regard to Germany has greatly hampered our export trade by throwing the whole economic system into chaos and anarchy. I hope the Government will not prefer the oil interests in Mosul to the interests of the working population here who are anxious to live at peace with the Turkish people, and I hope they will not allow their foreign policy to interfere with our national needs or prevent a resumption of trade with Russia.
With regard to our trade with Germany, I hope the Government will remember that probably the most profitable form of reparations would be one calculated to bring about a recovery of national trade. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swansea said that the effect of reparations had been greatly exaggerated, but that is not the opinion of the leaders of trade and commerce in this country who generally scout and condemn them. In Leicester the other day at the quarterly meeting of the Chambers of Commerce of this country a resolution was unanimously passed calling for a revision of the Peace Treaties, and the Chairman of the Federation of British Industries said that the essential antecedent to the stabilisation of the exchange is the reconstruction and readjustment of our reparation claims. I believe there is a general feeling and a longing in this country to get rid of the millstone of reparations which the late Government has fastened round the trade of this country.
I know that in these matters we have to act in co-operation with France, and I am also aware that the French Govern- 1029 ment have their difficulties. France has many devastated areas, and they must have some money from the Germans to restore them. Our Government might say to the French Government that they might take the reparations if they would only co-operate with us in securing the peaceful development of Europe. I feel that what is needed for the restoration of the trade of this country is an active, vigorous and courageous policy of peace. We want peace abroad and at home. We want the present Government to have courage to do what the late Government lamentably failed to do—that is, to adopt a vigorous lead in the policy of peace and to have a constructive and consistent policy of their own. At home there is a general desire for peace in industry and also a desire for peace and co-operation. I hope the Government will have sufficient imagination and sympathy to take advantage of that feeling and bring employers and workers together in an attempt to restore industry and give to the workers what they desire, namely, greater security of employment and greater security in times of sickness. If the Government only show that courage and imagination, and if they can give us peace abroad and peace at home, then they can snap their fingers at the Opposition, because they will have the whole nation behind them.
§ Mr. TURNER
We have been told that there is no monopoly of sympathy for the unemployed on this side of the House. I quite agree that sympathy can be world-wide, and it can be the part and lot of all classes of people. There is, however, this fact to be borne in mind, that the burden of suffering from unemployment is borne by the people we represent on this side of the House. Hon. Members have defended very strongly what has been termed private enterprise. I would like to ask hon. Members if they can prove that private enterprise has been a success, judged solely from the standpoint of the working people of this country. If it has been a success, why have we 1,500,0000 people unemployed? Why have we 2,000,000 more persons only partly employed? If it is a success, why are there millions of people below the poverty line as laid down by Rowntree many years ago?
§ Mr. TURNER
Hon. Members say it is because of the War, but I will go back to the time before the War. In the lot of my life I have seen four successive periods of trade depression when there has been a vast number of people unemployed. I remember visiting this city in 1886 and 1887, when the unemployed demonstrations of those periods were vast, and trouble occurred because the then Government did not take sufficient account of the claims of the unemployed. I have seen since 1874 trade depressions in 1880 and 1890, and I have seen their disastrous results in the industries concerned. If private enterprise has been a success, it seems to me that it has been successful for a certain section of society, while it has been a failure for millions of other people in our kingdom. The present distress is greater than ever before in the history of man. That may be largely due to our rulers having blundered and muddled through in the past few years, with the result that our former customers among the nations of the world have been alienated and our chance of home trade cast on one side. What troubles me day after day is the record that I see in the newspapers. In a Yorkshire newspaper this morning there is a report from my own town of a neighbour of mine who has been unemployed for a considerable time. He ended his own life yesterday, because of unemployment. Is that a success of private enterprise? In the same Yorkshire papers, a fortnight ago, there was a report of an inquest held on a person who had died from starvation. These are two records from the towns of Dewsbury and Batley during the past two weeks. The economic situation was wrong in 1874; it was wrong in the 'eighties, when I came to the Metropolis to see the unemployed demonstrations — in November, 1886, and — in February, 1887. It was wrong in the 'nineties, when trade was bad and depressed in my own textile industry. It is bound, therefore, to be the same to-day, when the number of unemployed is over 1,500,000. In the towns from which I come—Dewsbury, Batley, Morley and Ossett—known as the heavy woollen district—there is an increase this month of hundreds and hundreds of unemployed as against the months of September and October. The Minister of Labour should take particular note of one fact. During 1031 the past six months the increase of unemployment in the four towns I have mentioned has been tremendous.
In the schemes put forward by the Minister of Labour, no proposals are contained for providing employment for persons in the textile trade, or for the women textile workers in the heavy woollen districts. So far as they go, the schemes suggested will do very little, because the total number of workers who will be absorbed by them will still leave 1,000,000 persons untouched. Therefore, while the schemes are good in so far as they go, and we welcome them, they do not touch the whole of the subject and millions of people who will be left. unconsidered. There, are certain things which annoy and irritate those who are destitute owing to unemployment. They can see the splendour and riotous ways of the wealthier classes amidst their poverty. I appeal to those who have an abundance of the good things of this life—I do not appeal for charity—but for restraint from extravagant display and waste. I appeal to them to set a really good example to our people, as our people have set a good example to them in this direction. It is a marvel to me how patient and kind our working-people are, how they restrain themselves and modify their anger in times of great difficulty and depression. I want to maintain that kind of character and of restraint in England. It is in danger of being submerged through the oppression and depression from which these people are now suffering.
This is not like the former times of trade depression, which came in gusts, lasted a few months, and then passed by. There are people in the textile trade now —I do not mean in Bradford, Hudders-field and Colne Valley—but in Batley, Morley and Ossett, who have had no chance of employment during the last two or three years. The trade depression started in July of 1920. It became a little fiercer towards the end of the year; mills which stopped in Morley, in August, 1920, have not had a single order since then. Mills which went on short time in July, 1920, have been on half time, or less than half time, ever since. The savings of the working people have gone by the board. Many a working man has come to me and said, "Ben, I am nearly heart-broken. I have saved my £60 or £80. I bought 1032 a bit more furniture, and all my savings have gone." Such a man as that becomes despairing and depressed, and ends his life in the way reported in the Yorkshire paper this morning. I want, if I possibly can, to save these people by some scheme for restoring trade by bringing about friendly relations with our former trade customers throughout the world. In Ossett and Morley we had customers in the Far East, the Near East, the Middle East and in various parts of the United Kingdom, but they are now lost. We have destroyed our friendship with some of them abroad, and I want to restore it. In the United Kingdom we have destroyed the possibility of the employers making good their stock. They could do that in the told days, but it is impossible to do it now because the Government has wasted thousands and millions of pounds. We have created a National Debt which is a crime against good finance, and the interest charge is a deadly burden on trade and commerce. Until that is lifted there is not much chance of trade being revived either abroad or at home.
I want to deal with the point mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the right hon. Member for West Swansea (Sir A. Mond). He spoke about housing. Why, he is the arch villian—I do not mean that in the wrong way—on the question of housing. I happen to be the chairman of the Health Committee of the West Riding of Yorkshire. We have been trying to improve the housing position in the West Biding. We are 45,000 houses short to-day of meeting what are only the moderate and reasonable requirements of the people. In Castleford there are 701 houses in which two or more families live. In my own town, people cannot get married because there are not houses in which to go, and therefore the possibility of a natural increase of life is destroyed. At Sowerby Bridge the authorities wanted to build more houses, but the Ministry of Health stopped them doing so. The records of the Health Committee show that 737 houses were unfit for human habitation and 700 houses needed reconstruction and renovation. Certain schemes were passed and then the consent of the Minister of Health was withheld, and hundreds of families in the West Riding of Yorkshire had to live two or more in a house. An ex-service man wrote to me from a place called Grafton, 1033 three miles from Wakefield, on the question. He stated that he lived in one room up and one down. He had a wife and three children. He was a consumptive man in a sanatorium at Middleton. He said, "I do not want to go home, because I think I shall give my children consumption." This man loved his wife, his children, and life. Yet we cannot find him a house. Neither the Rural Council of Wakefield nor the City Council can find this man a house, and the right hon. Member for West Swansea was the prime person responsible for preventing the West Riding of Yorkshire and other places from building inhabitable houses. I know it is not right to say some things in this House, but I was staggered to find in Ossett a woman, 82 years of age, who had been turned out of her home, and who was only able to get sleeping accommodation in the corner of a rag warehouse through the kindness of the owner. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swansea is partly responsible for that, because in that town they wanted to build more houses, and were denied the right to do so by the Ministry of Health. The Medical Officer of Health for the West Riding of Yorkshire says we are 45,000 houses short in that district. Thus, at any rate, there is a good opportunity for reconstruction and to help the building trade to recover its position, at the same time giving the people nicer houses to live in. The better the houses they live in and the more food you can provide them with, the better it is for the good of the Empire. This, however, wants goodwill and a good heart on the part of everyone. It requires a good understanding of the economic situation. I see no possibility of private enterprise succeeding in restoring and re-creating civilisation. Financial bankruptcy faces us. You deny to us the right of a capital levy, yet you accepted the principle of the capital levy when Sir William Harcourt brought in his Death Duties. That was really a capital levy, but you had to die before paying it. Why reserve your good deeds till you are dead? Why not do them while you are living? Why not save the country? If you agree to this capital levy you will still have an abundance to live upon, and at the same time you will reduce the National Debt, you will reduce the interest charges upon it, and you will 1034 reduce your own Income Tax. You will be able to abolish your food taxes, you will have peace in your homes and in your heart, and you will do a great deal to restore civilisation and human progress.
§ Mr. L. THOMPSON
I crave the indulgence of this House while I address it for the first time. I want to give my reasons for speaking this evening. I and my colleagues represent one of the greatest industrial constituencies in the country—one of the bright spots in Durham.
§ Mr. THOMPSON
Sunderland is one of the constituencies that suffers from an unparalleled amount of unemployment, yet the people of that town have thought fit to return two Members to the Conservative side of this House. I think I have a right to address the House on this question and to claim that I take an impartial view of it. It has struck me more particularly in listening to the speeches from both sides that there has been too great a tendency towards partizanship— to view the matter from a partizan standpoint. I think the views which have, been stated by hon. Members opposite have been too limited in character. They have spoken merely from their own standpoint. It will also be acknowledged, I believe, on my own side of the House that we speak here with a not too intimate knowledge of the needs of the community. It has been my fortune to spend one-half of my life at work in the shipyards, and I have, therefore, a pretty intimate acquaintance with the conditions there. I know what it is to be at work at six o'clock in the morning. I know the needs of the workers in the shipbuilding industry. During the last half of my life I have been brought into commercial relationships of an equally intimate character, with the result that my views have been balanced.
Whatever may be said from the other side of the House the fact remains that there is an intimate relationship between capital and labour—whether we accept it on the basis of private enterprise or from the point of view of national control. The two are so indissolubly joined that you cannot part them. It is necessary there 1035 should be a relationship between capital and labour, however we view the system on which it is based. After listening to the speeches of hon. Members opposite I have been forced to the conclusion that their attitude of approach is largely political. The attitude of the Labour party for a series of years on this great question of unemployment has been largely political, and in support of that I need only refer to the debates which have taken place at their various con ferences from 1917 onwards. I would also recommend hon. Members to study the Debates which took place in this House in October last year. It must be clear to any impartial mind that practically the whole of their arguments are political in their bearing, and have never touched the centre of the problem of unemployment. The essence of these Debates, moreover, reveals that the party is prepared to touch simply the fringe of the question of unemployment. It has been enunciated, even in the Debate to-day, that all we can do at present is to meet the necessities of time by introducing various schemes that would relieve unemployment. I agree entirely with that, but I would urge the Government, with all emphasis, that they should give, not merely adequate, but generous consideration to the immediate needs and to the question of the amelioration of the causes of unemployment.
I believe that we have not yet recognised the full necessities of the case. One right hon. Member touched the kernel of the case when he spoke of the population of this great country. We must never forget that within the last century we have quadrupled our population, and it becomes a question how far we can sustain it. That is a question which is involved in this large question of unemployment. At present England and Wales is probably the most densely populated area in the world. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I think it is quite possible that, with the exception, perhaps, of Belgium, this is the most densely populated country in the world. We are carrying 649 people to the square mile, and we cannot indefinitely go on at that rate. What is needed is not simply the amelioration of the present necessities of unemployment, but a review of the whole position. We cannot leave out the question of the increase of population. That leads me to point out that we must 1036 have, not only the remedies that have been suggested, but remedies which are adequate and permanent. I suggest that the first thing needed is a return of confidence—not only national and international confidence, but a mutual confidence and understanding between Capital and Labour. Without passing or attempting to pass any recriminations on either side, I think the time has come when we should have a perfect understanding in our relationships. There is nothing so elusive as capital, and it depends largely upon stability and confidence.
With other hon. Members on this side of the House, I believe that one of the great methods of curing unemployment is the opening out of the resources of our great Empire. I remember, something like 40 years ago, hearing a speech by the late Joseph Chamberlain in a town near to my native town, when he expressed his great desire for and great belief in the Imperialistic idea. I suggest that this is one of the means whereby we might solve permanently this question of unemployment. There are immense possibilities over the seas. The trade of our Colonies has been called in question during this Debate, but the fact remains that our Colonies are our best customers. Whatever may be said of the possibilities of the European markets, which may be great, our returns for exports during 1921 show that, while the Colonies took more than one-third of our exports, the countries that have been mentioned in the Debate to-night were only responsible for taking one-twentieth of our exports. We find, therefore, that over the seas there are vast possibilities, not only for re-population, but for the extension of our trade.
In the second place, the workers' primary need is greater security—security of life. During my election one of my best workers—a lady—came to me, and said, "My husband gave me yesterday sufficient money to buy a coat. He has come in to-night to say that he has finished his job, and possibly will be out of employment Instead of spending that money on a coat," she said, "I must retain it for some other purpose in maintaining my home." The tragedy of it is that, while men who are in such a position as I am have the security that, if we do not make quite the same profit at one time as at another, we certainly make a living, 1037 the ordinary worker has not that security. I believe it is the supreme test of statesmanship on the part of any Government to effect such security for the worker. If we can give a permanent or nearly permanent form of employment, we have in our insurance scheme that possibility of security. We have a security that covers, to a certain extent, health; we have insurance against accident, and we have insurance against unemployment. It may be inadequate, but there is this to be said in its favour, that there are those who have received it as an actual boon during this time of trade depression. Whatever may be said against the dole, it has saved plenty of homes from disaster. We have also our form of old age pensions, and I, for one, hope to see the day when every disability may be removed from the old age pension, so that complete security may be given to the worker that he may live the life he has chosen free from any insecurity. I believe that the Labour party would go a step further, and offer the security of State aid and State control, and, if you like, State slavery. I would, however, remind hon. Members opposite that it was not industrialism that caused men to combine. Long before we knew industrialism as it is, when men were in crafts and guilds, they sought for deliverance. I would also remind hon. Members that the first charter of liberty that ever came to the worker came from a Conservative Government in 1825. The charter which has made it possible for this House to be composed as it is to-night was granted in 1875 by the great Disraeli. It has made it possible for every workman to be an equal participant in an equal contract. It it because of that freedom, and because we believe in it, that we here advocate the schemes that we do, believing that it is preferable that people should preserve their liberty than that they should be degraded under State control.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. SNELL
In rising to address the House for the first time, my mind goes back to a night in the '80's when, after many hours of weary waiting, a very happy boy from the Strangers' Gallery had the great privilege of hearing Mr. Gladstone introduce the Franchise Bill from that Box. On that occasion the House of Commons put a spell upon me, which has not only endured, but has increased with the years. I have always felt that if a man brings 1038 to its service his best gifts and leaves behind him everything that is selfish and uncharitable there is no place on this earth where a man may render better service to mankind. It is with some humility, therefore, in the presence of such thoughts that I ask for the kind indulgence of the House on this occasion. This Debate in relation to unemployment seems to me to have revealed one thing in chief, that everyone is concerned to say what cannot be done. Very few Members have made constructive suggestions. On this side we are admonished because we put forward proposals. Those proposals are thought to be wrong, but no contrary proposals are put in their place. I cannot help feeling that, after all, the chief difference between our Friends on the other side of the House and ourselves is a difference of faith in man's endeavour to find a way out of this problem. Unemployment is always with us in an acute or a chronic form, and we shall have to apply to it a new method and a new faith before we can cure it. Generations of statesmen have approached it and have retired baffled before this very complex and very difficult problem, and "the poor ye have always with you" seems to have become an article of settled political conviction. I think that is the chief difference between hon. Members on the other side of the House and the Labour party. We feel that greater problems than this have yielded to research. There is not in any scientific laboratory any man working in medical or physical research who is not perfectly buoyant with hope that some time a way out of his problem, will be found. If men in their laboratories make these experiments and fail in them, they try and try again, and yet Governments lose faith. I want to know why all the pessimism in our nature is reserved for these social relations touching men's lives and the welfare of our fellow citizens. If science can find the way to get a cure for cancer or tuberculosis, the united goodwill of this House can find a way to cure unemployment. I therefore appeal to hon. Members not to ignore it and not to do little things. In this matter to do nothing is in reality to do a good deal, and to do little is practically to do nothing. It is after all to admit that the problem is insoluble. It is to stand by while we drift to the abyss. 1039 It is also, I think, to add to the deepening despair of many unhappy men. I appeal, therefore, to the House that we should approach it in a new faith and in a new way, for it is not only a question of hunger and despair or the impairment of the national efficiency; it has even worse results. It produces in the individual a paralysis of his individual moral nature— his spiritual nature—cutting at the very root of the most precious thing in him, his manhood, with a consequently increasing inability to stand up to and to overcome misfortune.
I have addressed these few words on the general problem, but my special reason for asking the House to listen to me is to put before it a problem regarding which the Government has a very special responsibility. I desire to introduce to the House this problem of unemployment as confined to a particular locality in which the Government is not only the chief, but practically the only employer—the problem of the district of Woolwich, which is a Government town. There we have an area in which the Government is the chief employer. During the War it congregated into that borough 100,000 employés. There were 70,000 employés in the ordnance factories alone—men of the highest skill. They were brought from the ends of our country. They were the pick of our engineering skill. They worked enthusiastically for the national cause. They worked hard and gave everything they had. These men were as vital a portion of the defence of our land as if they had been in the trenches or on the ships in the North Sea. They worked seven days a week, they agreed to dilution, they agreed to teach the secrets of their business and the mysteries of their machinery to the agents of firms sent there to learn the work; they gave everything that could be given in the nation's need in the hour of very great emergency. Yet, when the War was over, the only reward they got was to see Government orders sent to private firms while they were walking the streets in starvation and in despair. The munitions crisis at the beginning of the War arose from two things; first, because of the Haldane minimum of 8,000 men, and, secondly, because the contractors, who were subsidised at the expense of the Government's own establishment, 1040 failed in their obligations to the Government and to the nation.
The Haldane minimum of 8,000 men was fixed despite the urgent advice of the responsible official (Sir Frederick Donaldson), Chief of the Ordnance Department, because it did not provide a sufficient nucleus for the extension necessary in time of immediate emergency. Because the Arsenal was reduced in that way, it cost, when the War came, hundreds of millions of pounds and thousands of precious lives that ought never to have been lost. It is not only that particular point that I desire to stress, but the great loss there is to the nation that these wonderfully skilled men are being held up in the present way. That is the greatest tragedy of all; this slow decline in quality. It is as if you took the marvellous fingers of Paderewski and Kreisler from their instruments for a year or so and then asked them to perform in a sudden emergency.
What we ask is not that the nation should make superfluous armaments, but that whilst there are Government orders it is a matter of mere business and1 sanity that the Government's own establishments should be kept at work before orders are diverted to private firms. If there is no war material at all required, the machinery which belongs to the nation and for which the nation has to pay should be used for the development and production of goods for civic life. Let me illustrate what is happening in another land. On the day of the Armistice Krupps' works at Essen were adapted to produce other goods, and a very short time ago 18,000 more men were being employed at Krupps in the production of goods for national purposes than were employed at Krupps when the War broke out in the production of armaments. That means that in Germany the German engineers are being kept efficient and that their skill is being maintained by constant work; our men, with all their exquisite skill, the picked men of our country, are being cast as rubbish to the void, and nobody cares anything about them. I hope the House will pardon me for appearing to speak with passion on these matters. Perhaps I shall get more accustomed to its methods a little later.
I desire to mention the present position of the borough of Woolwich. Think what it must mean to have this dislocation of 1041 more than 90,000 employés thrown out of work in a period of four years. More than 10,000 men to-day are walking the Streets in that town, without employment and in very great despair, while hundreds of acres of factories and machinery which have cost the nation millions of pounds to build are lying idle. The relief work which has been started with the assistance of the local authorities under the unemployment schemes has not absorbed more than 2,000 unemployed. Of the arterial roads that were started, two have not been completed because of lack of funds. Schemes for widening the roads have been submitted to the Ministry of Transport, but not yet sanctioned. If these could be sanctioned without delay they would provide work for 1,100 men during the next six months, and £100,000 in wages. There are housing schemes to be completed and many other things that could be done. I put it, therefore, to the Government, that it has a very special responsibility in regard to this situation which it has created.
With regard to the general principle, I suggest that it is good business for the nation to use its own workshops. The Government will find during the coming months that the most important controversy which will have to be faced in this House is what industries should be regarded as national services and what may safely be left to private enterprise. On one point we on these benches feel that there can be no sort of division. So long as weapons of destruction or of national defence are needed they should be produced by the nation itself. It is dangerous and foolish to leave them to be produced by syndicates and armament rings which, in secret, exercise a very pernicious influence upon Governments and Legislatures. If such manufactures are considered a necessary part of national defence, then they are suitable for national service and not for private profit making. We therefore feel that in asking the Government to see that its own establishments are properly maintained before it diverts orders to private firms, we are asking it to do what is not only right to the nation, because of the money invested in its national factories, but what it is right to do in the interests of peace as a whole. There is the question of alternative work.
1042 Woolwich feels that under equal conditions it can compete in price with other firms, and that it can excel any other firm in the matter of quality; but it is subject at the present time to very unfair overhead charges. We feel that it is not right on extended and unused establishments to charge these overhead charges to production. We say that they should be charged to a special fund. That was agreed upon between Lord Haldane and the late Mr. Crooks before the War began.
Summing up, I say, firstly, that the Government has a special responsibility for those localities where it is the only employer, and it is its business to deal with the situation which it has created. Secondly, it ought not to exercise an unfair discrimination against its own establishments in favour of any armament ring that may exist. Thirdly, it is mere national sanity to keep its own plant employed, before it sends orders in other directions. Fourthly, it should follow the example which has been adopted by Krupps and the great armament centres, and adapt its machinery and establishments for the production of goods for peaceful purposes as well as for war purposes. Lastly, it should be generous, in the circumstances, in the matter of grants to a very distressed locality for which it is responsible. I have tried to put this rather difficult matter before the House without exaggeration and, I hope, without offence, but the difficulties are very great. I do ask that the Government should pay special attention to it, and give to Woolwich the best consideration that it can.
§ Mr. G. BALFOUR
Before addressing to the House a few words on the matter which we are now discussing, I feel that I shall be expressing the feeling of the House if I extend to the hon. Member who has just spoken our congratulations upon his very acceptable speech, delivered in terms which show that he appreciates the sense of the House and the responsibilities attaching to a Member of this Assembly. The hon. Member said that the chief difference between the Labour party and hon. Members who sit on this side of the House is that the Members of the Labour party approach the problem of unemployment with a new hope and a new faith, and that we on this side approach it without any hope and without any faith. I appreciate the temperate 1043 spirit and careful study which apparently the hon. Member gave to his speech, but I would suggest for his consideration, and I am quite sure that it will receive his earnest consideration, that perhaps he has misinterpreted that difference, and that, indeed, that difference is due to the fact that many hon. Members on this side of the House have acquired to the full exactly the same experience that those hon. Members who are on the other side of the House have acquired in the workshops. We understand and feel deeply in common with the workmen in the workshops, but here is the difficulty. We on this side are oppressed by something which does not oppress hon. Members on the opposite side. We are oppressed by a deep sense of responsibility. Having acquired all the experience which we believe they possess, we have in addition the responsibility to-day of providing employment.
It is that which makes us have regard to the real solution of this problem, and which tells us to approach it very gingerly. [Laughter.] An hon. Member opposite laughs. Does he deny our earnestness, and that our desire to solve this problem is equal to his own? Does he challenge our sincerity? I think not. But remember if a mistake is made two parties suffer, the employer and the workman. The employer can afford to suffer. He can afford to go down in rags and poverty. The employing class in numbers is small. We can go down and suffer, we are small in number. Do you think we are concerned for our own suffering, our own poverty? Is it not the great mass in this country whom we stand here to protect? Do you think we have descended to the level that we stand here as men in this great tribunal of the people, defending our personal petty interests? [HON MEMBERS: "Not petty!"] No, they are not petty, they are those interests which are concerned with the responsibility of keeping the great mass of people in this country employed and not merely making a profession of trading on the poverty of the people. I take my stand on that ground and throw down a challenge to hon. Members opposite, and hope that this great Government with all the power which it possesses, by right of the declaration of the people of this country, will also challenge directly the assumption of hon. 1044 Members on the benches opposite. Where do we stand? I welcome and never shrink from, a challenge from any party in this House. I had the honour on two occasions to contest an election in one of the worst, or what hon. Members opposite would consider one of the best, socialist seats, and I never hesitated to say there what I say here, and what it is right to have said—let us be prepared to test our principles by facts and not by phrases.
To come to the solution of this problem of unemployment. It is a problem which, obviously, divides itself distinctly into two sections. One is the ameliorative measures which are to be put into force with a view to alleviating distress at the moment, and the second and the permanent cure is how are we to get trade and commerce in order to provide the necessary volume of employment for the permanent prosperity and contentment of our people. The former may be the sedative to preserve the patient in a state of tranquillity, but the latter is the nourishment to re-invigorate the body politic. The truth of this matter rests somewhere. Constant denunciation of the evi1 is not a cure. Let us take hon. Members' own opinion, the kind of opinion represented by Socialists of this country. We have listened to-night to a long speech by an hon. and learned Member opposite (Mr. Hastings). What is his cure? He said that the Labour party had at least put forward a policy which would solve this problem. But he said not one word to commend that policy to us, not one word to substantiate that policy as a sound one for the country. What was his cure? The appointment of a Commission or Committee to investigate the question of a capital levy. I think that by that one reference to the speech of the hon. and learned Member I sum up the case which has been made by hon. Members opposite: the capital levy and State control summarise their opinion. Whatever our opinion might be of this remedy, obviously I cannot explore or debate the subject to-night. I am absolutely opposed to such a solution, but, even for the purpose of argument supposing that such a solution was a good one, does the hon. and learned Member suggest that it could be put into effect in time to alleviate the present serious unemployment? I am sure that not for a moment does he suggest that such a thing could be done.
1045 What is the other remedy which is suggested? Work or maintenance. Surely, that is a platitude. If hon. Members opposite would put before us some policy to give effect to it, maintenance by work, I am sure that it would have the support of everyone on the Government Benches. How are we to achieve maintenance by work? The present policy is obviously only a palliative. I think the Government is generally taking the right step to give effect to employment, in a temporary sense, to bridge over the next few months. I warn hon. Members not to expect too much. [HON. MEMBERS: "HON, hear!"] I am glad to know they do not expect too much, because if they do they will be sadly disappointed, and I am sure what I am saying will be supported on the Treasury Bench. Go on with temporary relief; get as much ameliorative work out of it as you can, but do not regard that as a solution of the unemployment problem. I said earlier—and my remark caused a certain amount of mirth—that the truth lies somewhere. I mean to give my understanding of where the truth lies. It lies in this fact: That the average level of values throughout the world to-day may be fairly assessed at round about 50 per cent, above pre-War level, and the workers of this country, if they are going to get our workshops full, must be prepared to see that they are subject to a level of wages round about 50 per cent, above pre-War level. I know perfectly well I am not talking in any popular strain. If I wanted to be popular, I should not talk in this way. What have we got now? We find that some of the great trade unions are recognising that fact and are bringing their wages down to-day even below the level of 50 per cent, above the pre-War rate. Some of the great trade unions have done so, but many others have not, and it is a significant, fact that the trade unions which have brought their wages down below 50 per cent, above pre-War level are those connected with the producing trades. Those which have not brought the wages down in this manner are not the producing trades, but the railway workers, dockers, tramway workers and the intermediate trades which live upon the producing trades. I say with conviction that until you face the fact honestly and squarely, that your 1046 railwaymen, dockers, tramway men, men in preserved and protected industries are robbing their fellow workers and preventing the wheels of industry going round, you will never effect a permanent cure of this great problem.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
The miners' wages are too low, if anything. They are certainly not too high. I wish to deal with this matter quite impartially. The miners' wages are no bar to the wheels of industry being started. These intermediate non-producing trades are bleeding their fellow-workmen, and the leaders of these trade unions have a great responsibility placed upon them to see they are at once brought down. Until they come down you will not have the day labourer's wage rectified, and the real index value of goods is the day labourer's wage. Look at the day labourer's wage in London today. The men driving the London County Council tramcars to-day are better paid than skilled engineers working in London engineering workshops. While that remains so you are keeping at a false level the cost of nearly all the commodities we are producing. These facts must be faced. Go on with your palliatives if you will, but I am quite sure if you want in a year or 18 months or two years to get the wheels of industry moving and get employment given to the people, then you must let the trade unions come together, face to face with the employers, and settle these things, not as a matter of political controversy, but as a matter of real, sane effort to get trade going. In that way you will really solve the problem, and in 18 months' time you will really and in fact have a large volume of employment out of all proportion to that provided by the palliative measures. You will have done a great thing for your country, you will have established trade unionism, you will have given the trade unions the right to say, "We understood and appreciated. Make us great trade guilds, let us come in with the employers—employers and employes—great trade guilds overlooking industry." I cannot explore that now, but if you follow on those lines you will have great, dignified trade unions, automatically, naturally growing up, not created by law or State enactment but with the blessing of a charter in- 1047 corporating great trade guilds. It is on those lines that you will solve this great problem, and not by cavilling on party, political issues, and trying to make small party points. I commend that to the attention of hon. Members opposite, in conference or otherwise, and I will do whatever I can, giving them my views, to co-operate with them in achieving the great ends we all have at heart.
§ Mr. TREVELYAN
We all agree with the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. G. Balfour) that we must not expect too much from the Government, and really I want to deal with what is the real challenge of this Amendment to the views expressed in the Gracious Speech. The allusion made to unemployment in that Speech is to ameliorative measures being examined afresh. Amelioration is a blessed word. Students of political literature on the other side will remember, in the novel "Coningsby," that Mr. Disraeli nearly a hundred years ago described a conversation between the two principal Whips in Parliament, Mr. Taper and Mr. Tadpole. Mr. Taper said:' And now for our cry—Ancient Institutions and Modern Improvements.' Ameliorations is the better word,' said Mr. Tadpole, 'Ameliorations—nobody knows exactly what it means.'Well, amelioration is still doing duty a hundred years later. The real difference, I think, between the two sides of the House is this. I do not mean to say that the Government believe only in amelioration—of course, they do not—but the general view on the other side is that we are now suffering from the natural disaster, or, if not natural, at any rate that it is the result of the War, that it is an unavoidable disaster which you can mitigate, but you must wait until things come round. During all these months we have been constantly told that things are getting better and that there are signs of improvement, and we are told so to-day, but the unemployed are still there, still in as large numbers.
Our attitude, on the other hand, is this. Unemployment, as we see it to-day, is principally the result of policies pursued during the last four years, pursued deliberately, avowed and persisted in by the Coalition, which was supported by most of those who are now the Government, policies which in one sense have 1048 been successful, but by their very success have been the ruin of the country as we now see it. First of all, there is foreign policy. It is a foreign policy four years old. In our view, the primary fact in the existing situation is the punitive peace. The policy of the last Parliament was to make Germany pay. Well, Germany has to pay, not as much as was hoped, but the punitive side of making Germany pay has been eminently successful. The German working-men are working while ours are not, but they are starving while they work. They cannot buy even with their high wages. The punitive peace has been successful in other ways. We have got our share of the reparation. We have got our ships; the other Allies have got their coal, but what results? I will not ask the House to take from a Labour Member what the result of getting the quite successful loot of all the German ships was on Great Britain. I will ask the House to listen to what Lord Aberconway said at the launching of the "Franconia" a few weeks ago:Paralysis of the shipping industry is due to the reparation ships.And he said they h id better have been sunk at Scapa Flow. Of course, that is so. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon, the late Premier, was absolutely successful in making the Germans pay so far as the ships are concerned. But what is the result on the Wear, Tyne and Clyde? The workers are out of work. Again, take coal. Reparation is exacted from Germany in coal, mostly paid to France. What has been the result on us? For months our export trade in coal has been reduced almost to nothing. It is to a certain extent recovering now, but for months and months the disaster to our coal trade was directly due to the reparation. [HON. MEMBERS: "The coal strike!" and "The lock-out!"] The situation out of which the lock-out arose was directly due to this very cause. But the point I want chiefly to make is this: We succeeded in our punitive policy. We reduced the purchasing power of the great populations in Central Europe almost to nil. The workers there are getting nominally high wages, but they are working for what is in fact about 3d., and in many cases 2d., an hour, and all they can do is just to buy food and nothing else for themselves and their families. I am not saying this for the purpose of asking the House to show any 1049 indignation that this should be falling on our late enemies. Far from it. I am only wanting to point out to the House what the result has been on us. We are a great exporting nation. We cannot export to those countries. You cannot trade with paupers, and when it is said, "Oh, cut the cost of production in England, and our trade will come," I say it is not a question of cutting the cost of production 10 or 20 per cent. If you are dealing with paupers, you have got to cut it by 90 or 95 per cent. The truth about the condition of Europe—a condition the direct result of the policy pursued during the last three or four years—is, as one of our prophets said:The poverty of your neighbour by the communism of God becomes in the end your own.If hon. Members want to know who said that, it was John Ruskin. What we on this side of the House urge is that this distressing situation cannot be remedied without a retractation and a repudiation on our part of the policy of the Treaty of Versailles. I want to pass rapidly from that to the policy pursued by the late Government, and I think—at any rate, judging from the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down—is still the view of those sitting opposite. The argument for the policy pursued has been this: "We must recover our lost markets; we must limit the cost of production at home," which, being interpreted, is: We must lower the wages of our own population. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] That has been the policy—which for the last two years has been the policy—proclaimed to-night —proclaimed by all the leading newspapers.
The Government itself initiated a reduction of wages of the agricultural labourers, and indirectly the Government invited the reduction of the miners' wages which caused the lock-out. There is no doubt about the argument of the business men for the last three years. It has been: "Reduce wages, reduce wages and we will find our markets." They have reduced wages. Have they opened up the markets? The wages of the miners, the engineers, the agricultural labourers, the textile mill hands, and so on, have been reduced. In fact it was a great victory for policy. I have not seen the figures challenged, and they are very probably correct, 1050 given by the great trade unions, which show a reduction of £12,000,000 per week in the last 18 months in the wages of the working classes. That is £600,000,000 a year. What are the fruits of that? Is there any reduction of unemployment? Has it had any effect? None! Unemployment remains with us. The magic has not worked. The policy has had its full opportunity! Surely, if the cutting of wages is to do anything £600,000.000 off wages would be a sufficient test of policy. What has happened? Nothing! Surely the reason is—and this, I think, is the difference between ourselves and hon. Gentleman opposite—we believe that the basis of prosperity is the spending power of the millions; that nothing else can be the basis of prosperity, except the spending power of the millions. The House will observe that that underlies the whole of the policy that Labour puts forth. We fight to maintain high wages. You may say, "We do it for political reasons!" Very likely. Trade unions in that sense are the clients of the Labour party. But the reason for this, is not that we are seeking to keep up the individual wage of the individual men, but because we are looking to the collective spending power of the masses. It is the same thing when we ask for the abolition of the food taxes and all the lower ranges of the Income Tax. That is why we insist upon this by a capital levy, of which I am not afraid. I know that in the North of England it is a most popular thing.
I want to say quite definitely—and it is really the feeling of most of us on this side—that we do not lay the slightest claim to a monopoly of sympathy for the unemployed. I do not think that there is any section of my countrymen who are not alarmed at the present state of things among the unemployed. It is not sympathy that is in question but deeds. At the recent Election great efforts were made against Labour in Newcastle, and it took the form of a series of leaders coming down to Tyne-side to make great speeches. First of all, there was the late Premier. Nobody would accuse him of want of sympathy, because his sympathy is great and broad. Nobody denies that, and with regard to unemployment nobody denies that the right hon. Gentleman realises its bitter effects, because, two years ago, what he prided himself upon most was that his 1051 règime was going to bring unemployment to an end, when he said that never again should the gaunt spectre of unemployment stalk rampant through the land. We have in Newcastle 100,000 unemployed, but when the late Prime Minister came to make a speech there, he had nothing to say about the unemployed. Then came the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), and, of course, there is no want of sympathy there. The right hon. Gentleman always talks with great precision, and lets you know exactly where he stands. He spoke at Newcastle, and said:There were two acid tests. One was to prevent the repeal by the Lords of the Parliament Act, and the other was the repeal of the Safeguarding of Industries Act.It was definite and exact, but the unemployed of Newcastle asked what this was to them. It was hardly going to affect 100,000 unemployed on Tyneside. Then came the Chancellor of the Exchequer— quite the most sympathetic man in the House as those of us who have been long in Parliament know. What had he to say? He had hopes of economy—Departmental economy. Yes, but what is Departmental economy? Here is the nation wanting economy to the tune of hundreds of millions. Departmental economy to the extent of hundreds of thousands of pounds, or a million or two, does not touch the fringe of this great question.
What I think the unemployed felt as the difference between the two parties was, perhaps, not even necessarily that we were right, but that the other parties, as shown by their programmes, had nothing to offer; while, at any rate, the Labour party were daring to challenge the iniquity and injustice of the Versailles Treaty, which is the root of all the miseries and economic disaster of Europe. The Labour party dared to say that high wages at all times are the only security for good trade. When the nation is going through a period of bad trade, that is the time, of all others, when wages ought to be kept up and when they ought not to be driven down. The Labour party have dared to say big things, and they dare to mean them. That is the difference between the two sides of the House.
§ Colonel Sir ARTHUR HOLBROOK
The hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Hastings) said he thought the Labour party were entitled to be heard in this Debate. I have sat here for two or three days, and I think the House generally will agree that the Labour party have had a very good innings. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who else has any right?"] If hon. Members read the Scriptures, they will find that there was a very distinguished man whose name was Job, who was noted for having a great deal of patience. I wonder what Job would have done if he were in the House of Commons and had to hear the speeches of the new Members of the Labour party. They complained that an hon. Member for one of the divisions of Lanark made an election speech, but each of them in succession edified us by repeating his election speeches and trying to prove that the Labour party were in the right and had a monopoly of sympathy with the unemployed. [Interruption.]
§ Sir A. HOLBROOK
A great deal of advice has been given to the Government from both sides of the House, but I have failed to see anything in the nature of constructive policy in the speeches of hon. Members opposite. We have been edified from the other side with a good deal of froth and fury signifying nothing. Let us consider for a moment what are the real causes of unemployment. Since the Armistice was signed, there have been 4,000 strikes in this country. I come from the Basingstoke Division, where 800 men employed by Thorneycrofts were thrown out of work by the moulders' strike. We have had a long succession of those strikes, and I put the unemployment down solely to the misleading of the leaders of the Labour party. Do not forget the long duration of what you call the coal lock-out, but what your leaders when they are not thinking call a strike. One hon. Member this evening has reminded the House that owing to the long duration of the coal strike the demand for coal has been reduced by from 22 to 25 million tons a year because of the conversion of steamships into oil-driven ships. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh at the idea, but if they will think 1053 the matter over carefully they will realise the serious import of it. The hon. Member for Central Newcastle (Mr. Trevelyan) gave us a very fine display of oratory, but I do suggest that when he claimed that the smaller the trade the higher the wage should be, he could not have, seriously meant it. Is it not per-perfectly clear that, when trade is dull, we are bound to try to make both ends meet, and no man can afford to pay 30s. for producing an article which can only be sold for £1. Reference has been made to the agricultural slump. I am glad of it, for I feel that the whole slump in agriculture to-day is due to the fact that you who live in great industrial centres do not realise the importance of agriculture. You want to thoroughly understand that agriculture is the greatest and most important of all our industries. You, however, are trying to get cheap food at the expense of the agricultural labourer. I contend that the skilled worker in agriculture is as much entitled to get good wages as the skilled worker in other industries.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.