HC Deb 30 November 1922 vol 159 cc943-68

I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add the words But regret that, in face of unexampled unemployment, largely the result of four years of mistaken policy, for which the Government as the dominant party in the late Coalition is responsible, there is no proposal for an adequate or equitable treatment of the victims of that policy, including full recognition of what is entirely a national obligation, nor any indication of a change to enable our European customers to buy our goods again and so restore international trade and stabilise international exchange. In every Speech from the Throne for many years past there has been some reference to unemployment, and the earlier references promised attention to the matter, but the scantiest of all the references to this all-absorbing subject is contained in the Speech from the Throne which is now before the House. The trouble of unemployment has become increasingly acute even in the early days of this Session. The Question Paper has teemed with inquiries, and answers have been given by Ministers all bearing testimony to the growth of the trouble and its alarming costliness to the country. Take only as an instance one question on the Order Paper relating to the borough of Middlesbrough. The information in the question showed that the weekly cost in that town falling upon the local rates for the maintenance of the unemployed was £6,500 per week.

4.0 P.M.

That may be multiplied by an alarming number, and the total figures may be found published in the papers this morning, showing not only that 1,500,000 people of this country are receiving some assistance in the way of unemployment benefit, but that a large number of them are actually on the rates receiving some form of help through the Poor Law or local authorities. Many of these authorities, not only burdened with heavy rates, but faced with the hopelessness of the outlook and with ever-increasing troubles, are distracted with their tasks. I am almost loath to refer to a subject which I suppose the Prime Minister regards as being irrevocably closed, namely, that of his action in refusing to meet the leaders of the unemployed who have marched to this city. We need express no approval of that method to which in despair large masses of the unemployed have been driven. Though we need not approve it, Members, if their imagination can be stretched so far, might quite well ask themselves, if they were in the position of the unemployed, to what length or resort they might go in the hope of placing their case in the proper quarter and seeking some statement from the highest Minister in the land. What I regret i6 not that the Prime Minister has announced some change in method or policy on Departmental questions, but that, unfortunately, he should have chosen the unemployed as the first on which to try this change. It is very unfortunate that the change was not tried upon others, for the truth is that unemployment is not a Departmental question. Are we to assume that cither the Minister of Health or the Minister of Labour has any definite Cabinet authority to make any statement in reply to questions addressed to him by any kind of deputation?

I do not believe, for instance, that even a generous Division in the City of Glasgow would have sent the Prime Minister to this House had he told the electors of that city that his first act upon the question of unemployment would be to refuse to meet a deputation of the unemployed. I see that the Prime Minister is to meet representatives of the miners, and I hope that some good result will accrue from that meeting. I see that he has met or is to meet representatives of the great railway interests. These, indeed, are much more Departmental questions than the general question of unemployment. This line of inclusion and exclusion does create the impression among the unemployed that the Prime Minister felt that he could afford to ignore men of the very poorest class whose patience would be exhausted. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I am speaking of the impression created. [An HON. MEMBER: "By whom?"] By the act of the Prime Minister himself. The Prime Minister did at least make some allusion to this greatest of all questions in his election speeches. He described it as one of the greatest evils. I think the country might very well have expected, as indeed it did expect, much more of a statement than the Prime Minister made on the problem in any of his speeches. I recall that in one speech which occupied nearly four columns of print the question was dismissed with three lines. That is not putting this great question in its proper proportion in relation to any of the other matters which were the subject of public discussion. I do not see why even Earl Birkenhead should have commanded so much attention on the part of the Prime Minister in his speeches as compared with the slight references that were made to this problem of unemployment.

There is no improvement in the situation. Although the figures show some reduction in the recorded number of those officially classed as unemployed, we should deceive ourselves if we were to conclude that that reduction in figures proved that there was any considerable alleviation of the position. There is not. Why are the figures being reduced? One cause is that by Departmental action and by the limitations and restrictions imposed by recent legislation a considerable number have been prevented altogether from signing, or from entertaining any hope whatever of receiving any benefit if they did sign. The duration of unemployment aggravates the suffering which has to be endured, and, in regard to a later aspect of this question, which I am certain the Government will put before the House, I trust that that fact will be borne in mind. There are men who have been out of work more than a year, and many for eighteen months. I have heard of cases of men being unemployed for even longer than two years. It may be alleged or thought by some that it is their own fault, and that this is evidence of a state of malingering, but the answer to any conclusion of that kind is that the authorities have tightened up very much the regulations during the last eighteen months, and the malingerer, the one who could have work if he would, is very easily detected, and there are very few, if any, of the men who are not honestly anxious for work, but quite unable to get it.

I intend to put to the House what I think are the three most important aspects of this question. There is our conviction, as expressed in the terms of the Amendment, that international policy since the end of the War has been and is largely the cause of the great amount of unemployment from which we are suffering; there are the remedies, such as they are, which the Government have so far applied; and, finally, there are the provisions made to relieve those who are not able to get any kind of work either in the public opportunities which have been offered to them or by their own personal endeavours. The consequences of the international muddle have fallen with greatest severity upon this country, because it is the great exporting country. It is dependent upon a state of international prosperity and peace for the continued development of its trade and commerce. That policy has brought us no friends. Another has been wiped off the list in the last day or two. It has brought us neither finance nor trade. It has left us staggering under a debt, not only not reduced but, indeed, increased by that policy during the last year or two. Britain more than any other country stands to lose from a continuance of these international conflicts and this state of world unsettlement, which Ministers and Governments acting with other Ministers and Governments have largely caused. It may be said that all this is an accident and that it cannot be helped. Indeed, I think some apologists of the Government go so far, but surely, if the Government have anything to do with anything at all they must be answerable for the results of their policy and for the conduct of that policy. It is no defence to say that they cannot help it, that they did not foresee such issues, and that they have done their best. If that be their best, then their best has been a failure and is in no sense equal to the needs of an industrial nation like ours.

The Prime Minister, in his election speeches, asked us to give some attention to the development of Empire trade. I agree, and I do not want to belittle in any degree the assistance or the development of Empire trade, but it is a comparatively secondary consideration. [HON. MEMBEES: "No!"] I say that I do not belittle it, but set it side by side with that great world trade which a manufacturing nation like this must continue to do with other parts of the world, and it is indeed a minor consideration. Let me try to express myself in figures. At best, by developing our trade with the white part of our population within the Empire, we cannot hope to do business with more than between 15 and 20 million people. You must set against that the wisdom of trying to do business, not with 15 or 20 million people, but with between 300 and 400 million. That is the larger market that we must retain and develop to the fullest extent if we are going to maintain in full working order the great industries which have been built up in this country. As I say, I do not belittle in any sense the efforts that may be made to increase and develop trade with other parts of the Empire, but we are driven back, as a matter of commercial necessity, upon seeking a policy which will ensure for us great expansion and development of trade with those who are not within the Empire at all. Our policy under that head is further emphasized by the fact that shortly, perhaps in a few weeks, the Fourteenth Conference following upon the signing of the Versailles Treaty and the sustained failure of that Treaty to arrange the affairs of the world upon anything like a basis of either prosperity or peace is to take place. The Thirteenth Conference was, I think, at Genoa. We are to have the Fourteenth here in London. These Conferences have been in the nature of efforts to review an unworkable instrument and to try and make work that which will not work at all. I read in one of the speeches of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, made during the course of the Election, this extraordinary admission: There is no doubt that everyone of us cherished illusions after the War that more could be got than is available and that it would be much easier to get. I cannot regard that as showing any statesmanship or foresight or knowledge of the problem. Many did not cherish illusions. They said three or four years ago what was certain to be the consequences of efforts to settle affairs on the basis of that Peace Treaty, and they were denounced as pro-Germans for not harbouring the delusions which have sustained Ministers in their futile efforts, during the last three or four years. The Foreign Secretary went on to say that two years had been spent in discussing; the subject of reparation and they did not seem to get much forwarder because the situation was always changing. But why is it always changing? It is Ministers themselves who produce the changed situation. You are bound to have the situation changing when you have no fixed policy and no definite set of principles which harmonise with the economic needs of a great exporting country like ours. Unlimited millions were at first demanded from Germany as reparation: indeed that was the rallying cry in the Election of 1918. From that time to this the demand has been falling. The descent has been from the first figure in the region of £50,000.000,000, down to £22,000,000,000, then to £11,000,000,000, and then to less than £6,000,000,000. The latest figure publicly mentioned by Mr. Churchill in one of his Dundee speeches was somewhere about £2,000,000,000. Surely Ministers ought to take a more serious view of this question-of reparation, and not play with it in such a feeble manner. It is about time they made a sustained effort to come to an arrangement with Germany in order to have some settlement on the basis either of agreement or arbitration with that country. I may repeat to-day what I said more than two years ago, that in our view there will be no settlement until one is reached by a process of arbitration assented to by both sides, or by a process of agreement into which Germany herself will enter That has from the beginning been the principle underlying the policy which has been outlined on behalf of this side of the House.

Let me express my great regret at finding that, so far as the Prime Minister has referred to the future principles and lines of foreign policy, he bases it on hopes of improvement in the international situation. I understand the Prime Minister's aim internationally is that we shall work with France and Italy. I want to work with France and Italy, but not alone with those countries. I would not select their friendship in a manner which will exclude the friendship of other nations. It is out of this process of selecting friendships that great wars grow: such a policy is responsible for conflicting interests, political, territorial, economic, and dynastic, and all these conflicting interests are sure to be sustained and developed by returning to the principles of foreign policy which were practised in the years before the War. If we single out a few friends, it means that we begin the process of training the nations of the world for another great fight in some future year. I knew that is the last thing the Prime Minister would deliberately desire, and therefore I appeal to him to harmonise to his own wish a changed policy which will make world friendships more secure than they have been made by the policy so far followed.

My view is that our industrial and commercial conditions are largely attributable to our policy on the question of reparation, to our attitude towards Russia with its possibilities of great markets, and, further, to our complete failure to handle the situation as it should have been handled in relation to Turkey. Turkey has now trampled our Treaty in the mud, having secured 10 times as much as she would have been glad to obtain three years ago. Last, but not least, our troubles in relation to industry have been, due to our failure to retain the friendship of that great part of our Empire in which more than 300,000,000 people dwell. I refer to India. Lancashire has suffered terribly from this aspect of our foreign policy, because by reason of the people of India declining to trade with us, the cotton mills of Lancashire have been rendered idle, and that idleness is reflected in the fact that less cotton is obtained from America. The whole trade of the world is linked up, and if by one political act we fail to retain the goodwill of any section of our Empire, it alienates the trade on which our commercial prosperity depends.

In the face of these political failures, we have been forced to look for some internal redress, either work or maintenance. I am glad to see that one or two quite responsible and even popular newspapers are now beginning to turn a kindly eye on the wisdom of preferring work to maintenance. In one reputable journa.1 this morning the Labour party is solemnly advised to give a preference to work as against maintenance. Although it has always been true of the Members on these benches that they have been among the first to put forward sensible proposals of that kind, they have been always the last to get any credit for doing so. Still, if we go on a little longer preaching preference for work we shall possibly do something to convert those who have been opposing us on this question all these years. Our first claim is for work. But if the country fails adequately to provide it, what are we to do? We dare not let men die. There is a danger not only to the men themselves, but to the State in any such attitude as that. If private employers fail in their functioning to find work, the State must not step aside from its duty, and so far as private employers are unable to absorb the masses of the unemployed a public duty arises, and that duty can only be met by the State undertaking to remedy the defects of the private employer. I am speaking within the ambit of the present system when I say that so far as men cannot get work in the private market there is an obligation on the State to provide useful and necessary work for those who are anxious to do it.

The volume of work which has been found hitherto has been miserably small. I think it might be expressed in the proportion of one in 15. Taking the whole period of this acute state of depression I am certain that not more than one in 15 have been found work by the joint efforts of the Government and of the local authorities. Would it not be better to go further, and absorb as many as possible by undertaking other kinds of useful service. Against that view there are those who consider that to the extent to which you find work you are pushing other people out of the possibility of a job. I think my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnainara) holds the view that by putting people to the manufacture of articles the cost is made inordinately high, thereby preventing the goods being sold on the market at a profit. That, I take it, to be the argument of my right hon. Friend and, indeed, of the Government. No doubt that process involves the incurring of some loss, but what do you do now I You incur a loss which is all loss. You pay money out and get nothing at all in return for it. Far short of setting up what are termed Government factories or State workshops, great employing and employment undertakings could be conducted by the Government and managed by the State and local authorities jointly in exchange for the enormous sums which are now being paid without a stroke of work being done in return. The money which is now being paid out in various parts of the country brings nothing in return, not a stroke of work is done as a result, and that, I submit, is a very bad policy. Some Members of the Government call it business. I call it folly. It is a policy of complete waste, and I suggest that a much better plan would be to pay a little more and get something in return. Instead of giving a man 30s. for nothing in the form of a dole or benefit, it would pay the State to give him in wages twice that amount and get a week's work from him. It would, at any rate, yield some wealth for the country. It would not be a complete loss as at present.

If it be right to provide work for some of the unemployed as has been done— and no doubt that will be the boast of the Labour Minister who will show how much work has been provided—I daresay he has his figures with him—if it is right to boast of having found work for, say, 100,000 men, how can you possibly reject the claim that work should be found for many times that number? Are we to rail in organisation in periods of peace only? Surely we can organise, direct, and plan schemes to make the best use of labour, as we did during the War, instead of allowing it to go to waste day by day as it now does.

I therefore reject the view, and Members for whom I speak on this side of the House unanimously reject it, that men should remain out of work unless they can get someone in the private market to employ them at a profit. That is not a doctrine which we can any longer tolerate. Apart from any resort to State workshops, and the manufacture of purely commercial articles for sale abroad or in this country, enormous opportunities have been left unused, and are still unused. Non-commercial work could be found upon that which has offered the greatest of all our opportunities, and upon which there has been the greatest waste of chances, namely, housing; and upon canals, parks, afforestation, municipal buildings, the construction and repair of bridges, public works, open-air swimming baths, recreation grounds, playing fields, light railways for the help of agriculture, slum clearances, the building of institutes in rural areas. These are not to be laughed at, for, until rural life is made a little more tolerable, until more of the social attractions of the day are provided for the men in the country districts, they will be less inclined to stop in them, and, during the time that they do stop in them, they will be less valuable citizens than they could be made by bringing to them opportunities for greater education and self-training than at present they can receive.

The greatest, however, of all these opportunities, in my judgment, is housing, for that is an urgent human need. Whatever can wait, that cannot. Our Debates of the last two days, and particularly of yesterday, have shown us what are the frightful moral and physical consequences of a neglected housing system, of the failure to supply even one-third of the number of houses which it was solemnly promised would be the high charge and duty of the Government more than four years ago. We are faced with the most horrifying consequences, moral and physical, of millions of our people having to live under conditions scarcely better than the conditions of beasts in many of the populous centres of thickly-crowded Britain. Let me try to reduce this wastage to terms of money. An answer was given yesterday by the Minister of Labour, showing that in the building trade alone, in this country, there are now unemployed 118,739 people. And what is the cost of that? My right hon. Friend gave the figure. The monthly cost in benefit alone was £260,000. That is apart from the sum received by these men in local relief by way of the grants that they must get from the local authorities. That sum of £260,000 a month is being paid to men who are ready and able to build the houses that are wanted, but not a brick is laid. This is not only a stupid Government in regard to using the resources of the nation and the money of the public; it is a Government whose generosity is so misdirected that I think we are fully entitled to demand that not for another day should any money be wasted in paying men who can build houses without those men being required, under proper direction, to supply the public with the houses that they need.

Let, me give the figure in even a larger form. It is true, incidentally, that every £l paid away in this manner, without bringing back anything in return, means future increased taxation. This money, in some way, is coming from those who work. Those who are in employment, in business and commerce, find their quota of this monthly £260,000. What we are suggesting is that we should have something to show in exchange for that £260,000. May I put it to the House in exactly the manner in which it has been put to the country more than once, in conference and in the Press, by Mr. Hicks, the President of the men's Building Trades Federation? He says that in a year the men in his industry—the building trade generally—have received not less than £10,000,000 for doing nothing. The country cannot afford it. For this monthly sum which was mentioned in my right hon. Friend's answer yesterday, had it been properly used in wages, we could have got at least 600 houses a month, but we get not one. It was, I think, during the Election campaign that the Prime Minister spoke of what he called the lunacy of a capital levy. I will put my comment in a question—to what kind of political asylum should men be sent who every month are squandering money in this manner without getting a single stroke of work from men who are willing and able to do it?

It may be, of course, that you cannot find work for every man. I agree, but that is no reason why you should not make some effort successfully to find some men work. If you cannot do everything, that is not a reason for not doing anything at all. The same capacity which served this country in the War in directorship and organisation should now be used in face of this pressing necessity of the people in these years of peace. So far as I can gather from the allusions of the Prime Minister to future Government policy —I can only, as it were, guess at it; I have no information beyond the comments in the Press, though I daresay in the course of the early afternoon something will be revealed to the House of what is intended—so far as I gather, it is the intention of the Government to expand somewhat and improve upon those provisions for insurance benefit which former Governments have laid down. I hope that neither the Prime Minister nor his colleague at the Ministry of Labour will be tempted into any approval of the policy of directing insurance upon the lines of separate industries. This, above all else, is a national obligation. It ought not to be thrown back upon the separate industries in different parts of the country. If that be done, you will have the difficulty of deciding where one industry begins and where it ends; but, worse than that, you will have the more favoured industries in which work is constant and which are less-subject to the evils of unemployment— you will have those industries favoured both by a state of security in work and by exemption from the obligation of payment. On the other hand, you would throw upon the classes least able to bear it the heaviest possible burden, so that the casual worker or the general worker, the men in millions in certain of the other less favoured industries, would clearly have to bear the heavier burden whilst being least equal to bearing anything of the kind. Insurance on something like real national lines for an abnormal condition of unemployment is well enough. It did serve a purpose in the days when a man was out of work for, say, only a week or two, or a few weeks, between two long periods of employment. It serves in normal conditions, when the percentage of unemployment is low, but for such a state of things as now faces us it is no remedy at all. It does no more than relieve without alleviating.

There are other evil consequences. Men out of work for a year, or 18 months, or two years, suffer considerable physical and moral deterioration. They are less efficient men for their jobs than they were when their idleness began. Unhappy is the fate of large numbers of the young men who served in the War, who came back, and who have not even yet got a job—whose days of apprenticeship have been completely destroyed, who have been reduced to the level of the casual worker, and who, after this long period of idleness, are scarcely fit for that, for lack of proper physical training. To apply insurance, therefore, to a problem having these features is to apply something that will not serve as a cure at all. This is a state of trade famine, and you cannot relieve a famine by just giving occasional doles, or keeping people not only in a state of idleness, but in a state which in itself is a further incentive to indolence. The very worst sides of human nature are being encouraged and sustained by these excessive periods of idleness which are being suffered. A condition of insurance on the basis of industry, however clearly it might apportion he responsibilities of the employed, would allow a class which is well able to pay altogether to escape its obligations. I have read that in this country so far this year 17 millionaires have died. A large number of men possessing very great wealth, fortunate and favoured, would, by such a plan of insurance on the basis of industry, be able altogether to escape their obligations. The finance, then, of that scheme will not stand any examination.

What are we to say as to what the Government has already done in relation to the amount of benefit provided? This last aspect that I want to touch upon is, of course, the one which most interests the individual unemployed worker. Bereft of an opportunity for a job, he, -naturally, wants to know what a grateful country can do for him. What the Government did do about two years ago was to reduce the benefit, which stood at 20s., to 15s., and at the same time it fixed a sum of 1s. a week as the amount to be paid to an unemployed father to enable him to maintain for a week his child of 16 years. [HON. MEMBERS: "There was 5s. for the wife!"] I have that in mind, but it is not a figure of which I think any boast should be made. The figures now are 15s. for the unemployed man, 5s. for his wife, and 1s. for each child; and I seriously ask whether it is intended to exceed or to continue any such low, exhausting level of payment of benefit as this. The winter is facing these depressed and troubled people. I saw that the late Prime Minister, in one of his speeches during the election campaign, referred to the difficulties of the "poor man's banker," and to the fact that the pawnbroker found his premises choked with the household goods of many of the poorer people. I wonder whether the Minister of Labour is aware that many months ago the pawnbrokers of Leeds, and many other places as well, solemnly passed resolutions not to take in pawn any more soldiers' medals. That is the unhappy state to which many men have been reduced who valiantly took their part in defence of their country in the years of war. Are we then to allow these people to remain at this starvation level in the absence of work being found for them, for the longer they have to maintain themselves on these sums, the less has the value of these sums been to them. They have exhausted their household resources. Whatever they had in the way of small sums saved is completely gone, and if is cruel to expect men to maintain themselves on anything like the figure which has been fixed as the amount of benefit provided by the State, and if for no other reason than this it is advisable to raise the charge upon the State, in order to make it more easy for the local authorities to bear their share.

It was said by the late Prime Minister, when appealing for national support more than four years ago, that we had this solemn duty, that we had to take care that in the period of dislocation, during which plans were being worked out to provide remunerative work, there should be no privations endured. These figures guarantee privation. The 15s., the 5s., the Is., and the other small amounts which can be received are a guarantee of the very condition which the late Prime Minister said never should be suffered by the mass of the people of this country. Unemployment pay can be increased without any increase whatever on national taxation. Many firms and many States draw upon their future credit. This is a big human problem. It is not an academic consideration. It is no good talking at election times about being willing and anxious to make a contribution towards the solution of the greatest of all questions if, having come here, hon. Members console themselves with the reflection that the country cannot afford to do the things for which we are pleading. This period of depression clearly will pass away. It may be a year or two, it may be five years, but, whatever the period, it is cruelty further to impose now upon those who have so long suffered such privations as their present allowances compel them to endure. And so, if there is no better suggestion, let us look to the days when we shall be in a more solvent state, for have we no credit to pawn I Can the country not get now the wherewithal to supply the necessary millions for the purpose of increasing those sums and bringing the poor people at least to a level equal to that at which they stood about two years ago. Two years ago, on £1 a week, and with their personal and private resources, they could carry on, but they cannot now, and a state of acute starvation is being endured by many of our British families who have to try to live upon these sums. The last Parliament failed in its duty on this great problem. This Parliament has made a boast of it that it is going to succeed. To-day is perhaps the moment when it should announce its determination at least to succeed by bringing in something like Christmas hope and brightness into many homes which will be dark unless this figure is increased, and, if I cannot succeed in anything else, I hope my appear! to the right hon. Gentleman under that head will not fail, and that there will be a response in the way of a larger sum to those who are compelled to remain out of work.

The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Montague Barlow)

This is the first occasion on which I have the privilege of addressing this House as Minister in charge of a Department, and that the difficult and responsible Department of the Ministry of Labour, and I hope it will not be misunderstood if I ask for the consideration of the House. May I, at the same time, tender the assurance that it will be my constant endeavour to devote myself without stint to the service of the House and to every Member of it. The right hon. Gentleman has moved his Amendment. It is very wide in its terms. I have no reason to complain of that, or of the tone and temper of his speech. In fact, I think it constitutes a valuable contribution to our discussions on this subject if only for one reason, and that is that he began his speech by turning our thoughts in the direction in which I am sure they have got to be turned, namely, abroad. We are a great exporting nation, and our trade, and the future of our trade, must depend very largely on international conditions. Incidentally, I am rather sorry for the references the right hon. Gentleman made to one of our great dependencies—India—and I rather doubt whether the aspect of the matter, as he described it, is the correct one. But let that pass. I cannot go' with him, of course, in many of his suggestions. I hardly think he will expect me to go all the way with him. Bunyan's brother, Pliable, was, I think, a pretty indifferent pilgrim, and I am quite sure he would have made a wretched Minister of Labour. But on one aspect of the question I am in wholehearted accord with the right hon. Gentleman; that is in his outspoken and sincere sympathy with those who are suffering from the paralysis of unemployment under which we are labouring. I am sure there is no one of us, there is no English man or woman who would not use every endeavour in his power to alleviate and, if possible, find a cure for the evils of unemployment and the distress and misery which result from it.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Mac-namara) in his forcible speech last Friday —and I should like to thank him for his courteous references to myself—told us rightly that what makes the tragedy of the present situation is the fact that the agony is so long drawn out. Private savings, trade union benefits, friendly society help have all been spent, and in spite of that fact the burden is being borne with a courage and patience which is beyond words. I was in the North the other day, and I accosted a man on the street corner who was evidently suffering, as the doctors would say, from malnutrition. I asked him where he had been working. He gave the name of a workshop which I knew had been, in fact, closed down for 18 months. Ho had been out of work—because I checked the facts —for the most of that time. I asked him if he was receiving the unemployed benefit, and I received this answer: No. I will not take the dole and somehow I will get on without it. I think a man must be hard-hearted who is not visibly affected by courage like that. My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Camberwell told us correctly that for two years after the Armistice trade was good and the unemployment figures were, low. Then we ran into a storm period in the autumn of 1920. The figures ran up to the maximum in June, 1921, when there were over '2,000,000 wholly unemployed. They have been going down. In February last they had gone down to 1,750,000 and in September to 1,250,000 or a very little over. With the oncoming of winter they have risen to 1,379,000. That is to be expected with the seasonal variation of employment. But in spite of that, I believe slowly, terribly slowly, if you will, but still slowly and steadily, the unemployment curve is improving. People often talk as if the unemployment crisis was confined to this country. As a matter of fact, many nations in the world are suffering from the same difficulty as we are ourselves. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is no consolation!"] I daresay it is not, but it shows how difficult is the problem of dealing with it. In other countries—the statistical basis of the figures is not a very satisfactory one because their compilations are somewhat different—still, in neutral countries like Sweden and Switzerland the figure of the proportion of unemployment is a good deal higher than in this country. Similarly, though there are no universal figures for America, in the highly industrialised State of Massachusetts you find the same thing, the figure being up at 19 and 24 at periods when our comparable figures were never higher than 17. It is also often forgotten that whatever the country may be where the suffering is taking place, and whatever the party may be which is trying to handle it, no panacea has in fact yet been discovered.

5.0 P.M.

I read with great interest, as I always do, a weekly review a week go, not unconnected, I believe, so rumour goes, with the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb)—and may I say how much we shall all welcome his knowledge and experience in our Debates. In that article suggestions were made, of course, that the Government was to blame— that is common form: no one minds that —but that a remedy could be found, and the author of the article buoyed up my hopes. I ran through it with avidity and when I got to the end I found that relief work, electrification, foreign trade development were the remedies he suggested —all things which the last Government, which probably this Government, which indeed any Government that is attempting to deal with the problem must invoke. I listened with great interest to the hard-hitting and forceful speech made by the hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Muir) last Friday. He suggested that the remedy which he and his friends would propose was a new social order, and he went on to tell us that he and his friends could only lay the foundations of the new social order. He implied, in fact I think he stated, that it must be a matter of time, and of considerable time. May I reply to my hon. Friends who take that view that the unemployment problem is an urgent one? It will not wait—— [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!".] Will my hon. Friends opposite let me finish the sentence? It will not wait for the time occupied in the construction of a new social order, and I would appeal to them, with all their energy, with all their fire, and with all their knowledge of business conditions, that under the present circumstances, as facts are now, they should give us all the help they can in the solution of this problem.

Many of my hon. Friends opposite are familiar with the workings of the International Labour organisation at Geneva. I have no doubt I shall be pressed before long about certain Conventions and Recommendations made there. In the last two years the question of unemployment has been discussed at Geneva on two occasions. This year, after a very elaborate report, the Conference decided—let hon. Members remember that it was a Conference at which the employers and workers from practically every civilised State were represented—not that they had discovered a panacea, but that they would go on studying the subject. Last year, when a Debate was being inaugurated on the same topic, the proposal was that we should find our remedy in the pooling of the natural resources of the world. I am not sure how long that would take or what remedy it would afford. I intervened in the Debate to explain what was being attempted in this country on a humble, if you like, but still a businesslike line—the numbers employed on arterial roads, our big insurance scheme, running into many millions of pounds, and our efforts to stimulate foreign trade. When the Debate was over people came to me and said that they had listened with amazement and incredulity to what we were doing in this country. They said: "You cannot mean pounds sterling, you meant francs. The figures are too enormous." After a very short time the chief engineer from France was sent over here, I believe as a result of that discussion, to ascertain whether what I then explained in regard to arterial roads was really the fact, and I believe he expressed himself surprised at what had taken place.

No panacea has yet been discovered for unemployment. The Amendment speaks of the last four years. I do not want to make any party issue of this. To some extent I am in accord with the views of the Mover of the Amendment. This is a problem for all of us. It is a national problem, and I ask the House to listen while I give a short outline of the efforts made so far to deal with the matter. It shall only be an outline, but unless I explain what has been done in the past it will be very difficult to make intelligible the measures which the Government now propose. It is often said that nothing has been done. That is not only untrue, but it is cruel, because it tends to engender despair. What ha6 been done? It is perhaps a little difficult to make this Government responsible for what took place four years before it was born. [HON. MEMBERS: "The same old story! "and" You were in the Government!"] I was not in the Government four years ago. I will relate what took place for some portion of that period. During the first two years of that, period, when trade was good, there was expended by the State £62,000,000 in connection with employment for those who were either demobilised or put out of work as a result of the Armistice. Of that sum, £40,000,000 was expended in connection with ex-service men and £22,000,000 in connection with civilians.

Apart from that, and to commence with what I call the storm period—November, 1920–the three main lines of our efforts were relief works, unemployment insurance, and the stimulation of foreign and home trade. I will take these three lines as briefly as I can. With regard to relief work, the Ministry of Transport had to bear the main burden. The capable officials of that Department put up at once a far-sighted programme. It is obvious that the development of the motor-car, and particularly of the commercial car, is putting an increasing strain on our existing roads, and particularly is that so at the exits and entrances of our big cities, where there are often bottle-necks which in fact strangle traffic. Bearing that in mind, the Ministry of Transport have had in hand for the last two years a big scheme for re-modelling 100 miles of road at the different exits and entrances of London. In that scheme they have had the co-operation of the London County Council and the Kent and Essex County Councils. There are similar schemes either in operation or contemplation for different parts of the United Kingdom. I do not know whether hon. Members have any conception of the way in which the whole road scheme of Outer London is being remodelled. It is being done by unskilled labour taken from the Employment Exchanges. Ex-service men are given preference. What I value particularly in the whole of the scheme is that the reports of the inspectors with regard to the work comment on the high character of the work and the very excellent standard of product that results.


I hope that some of your friends will listen to that.


Done at sweating wages.


I will deal with the issue of wages at any time that my hon. Friend likes, but I would rather make my speech in my own way. I will undertake not to interrupt him when he intervenes in the Debate. So good is the product of the labour that, while in the old days relief work only came within about 33 per cent, of the value of ordinary labour, this work on these arterial roads is re ported to be within 20 or even 10 per cent, of the normal value, and in some cases the output is equivalent to that of ordinary labour used to the work.


Pay full wages, then.


There is a period of apprenticeship for those who are not accustomed to the work, during which 75 per cent, is paid, and when the man becomes skilled at the work the full rate is paid. If a man is already accustomed to the work, the full rate is paid to him at the start. These are the regulations, and if my hon. Friends will give me any instances to the contrary I will look into them. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is the interpretation of the regulations that is wrong."] The finances are arranged by a contribution usually up to 50 per cent. During the two years, £14,000,000 worth of work has been undertaken, and on the average 25,000 men have been engaged. At the beginning of this winter 20,000 men were actually at the work. In addition to that, there have been the ordinary road repair and maintenance works, running into the enormous figure of £20,000,000. Some 20,000 men have been engaged on that work, above what would usually have been employed.

Let me take other Government Departments. First the Ministry of Agriculture. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech referred to afforestation. That is naturally one of the first things that occurs to everybody's mind when devising relief work. Drainage, afforestation and, in this rural connection, light railways, have been pressed forward during the last two years, and a sum of something like £1,250,000 has been expended. During the worst time, at the height of the winter, something like 12,000 men have been employed. The other Departments, especially the Service Departments and the Post Office, have combined in the national effort by accelerating some work or by providing alternative work. This has represented something like £3,000,000, and 10,000 men have been employed at different times. But the great machine which has been employed for securing schemes of this character in co-operation with the local authorities has been the Unemployment Grants Committee, known as the Lord St. Davids Committee, and I should like, on behalf of the Government, to express to the Chairman (Lord St. Davids) our thanks for the great energy and business ability which he has devoted by that Committee. That Committee has worked by means of two schemes, first of all, what is known as the 60 per cent, of wages scheme, and, secondly, by assistance by way of interest where loans have been raised for local work. There are different arrangements in regard to interest according as the loan is for a revenue-producing or a non-revenue-producing scheme.

The local authorities have co-operated loyally and patriotically with the State in this work. Some 560 local authorities have put in applications, and 1,787 loan schemes have been approved. The capital involved has been, in connection with the 60 per cent, of wages schemes, £10,250,000, and in connection with the loans scheme £19,000,000, or, roughly, £30,000,000 in jill. The schemes have varied very much in their character, from providing baths to arranging for burial grounds, and from sewerage works to swimming pools. Probably 200,000 men have been engaged during the two years for a longer or shorter period of time. At the beginning of this winter 30,000 men were employed on these various schemes. This pro- gramme constitutes the first main lines of effort. Then comes the second main line, the Unemployment Insurance Act.


Will the right hon. Gentleman make the point in regard to the figures a little clearer. Am I to understand that at any one time as many as 200,000 men were employed?


I was careful not to say that. [HON. MKMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I want to be perfectly fair with the House, and I am sure that my hon. Friends opposite will know that I desire that. It is very difficult to estimate these figures. The right hon. Member for North-West Camberwell knows that as well as anybody. While I said that 200,000 men had been employed for longer or shorter periods, I was careful to state the number of men who were employed either at the beginning of this year or at the beginning of this winter. Now as to the Unemployment Insurance Act, I find myself in a difficulty with regard to the position taken up by the Mover of this Amendment. He said that we should secure work for insured persons and not a dole. Broadly put, I am in agreement, and I shall have a word to say on this before I sit down, but, having argued strongly against the dole under the Unemployment Insurance Act, my right hon. Friend now does not take the line of no dole, but he says that the dole is not big enough. I would like to know on which leg of the dilemma he wishes to stand I However, we shall not quarrel about it, because I do not want to get into a tangle. The whole question is much too serious. The right hon. Member for North-West Camberwell said on Friday that the use of the word "dole" angered him, and it angers me.

Captain O'GRADY

It was your friends who manufactured it.


I find it difficult to proceed while hon. Members are making interruptions, especially when they are so incorrect as to tempt me to answer them at every turn. The right hon. Gentleman referred to insurance by industry. The whole phrase represents an idea which is very much in the air just now, but when we look at the extent of the present scheme we see that in a sense we have insurance by industry at the moment, and I would ask the help of our friends, particularly our friends of the Press, to make it known that the implication of the word "dole," which is that all the money comes from the State, is ludicrously untrue. It is surprising, in face of all the statements that have been made on the subject during the last two years, that so few-people are aware of the fact that unemployment benefit is not paid in its entirety by the State. At the beginning of the storm period in 1920 there was under the old limited scheme £22,000,000 in hand. That was subscribed by workers and employers with contributions from the State, on the basis of three-quarters from industry and one-quarter from the State. Furthermore, there is at the moment a loan of £14,500,000; but when that comes to be paid it will be repaid not by the State but by the contributions of the workers, the employers, and the State The whole amount of money paid out during the last two years, from November, 1920, including administration, amounts to the vast sum of £109,000,000. Of that sum £79,000,000 on the income side has to be put down to industry, that is, to the workers and employers, and no less than £38,000,000 has to be put down to contributions of the workers themselves. That is a gigantic figure, and ought once for all to explode the fiction that this money paid in benefit is a dole which comes entirely from the funds of the State. In conclusion with regard to this Insurance, first of all, it behoves me, as trustee pro tem for the scheme, to make use of every penny and spread it out as far as possible; and I should like while on this to make a reference to the great services of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camber-well in devising these Acts and administering them over a long period. I do not think that either this House or the country quite realise how much these Acts owe to him.

Secondly, let me say the scheme of Unemployment Insurance has been freely subjected to the criticism of employers and workers, and I dare say it-will be freely subjected to their criticism in future. We have also had the help both of employers and workers in developing it. They have enabled us to build up this scheme. Their criticism has generally been reasonable. The help both of employers and workers has been real, and it is because of their criticism and help that I do say emphatically that the Unemployment Insurance scheme has not been an unsuccessful one, that there is no country in the world that has anything comparable with it, and that it has proved, whatever criticism may be urged from the other side, a sheet anchor to us in a time of great difficulty.

Lastly, as to the stimulation and development of trade. As a result of the Unemployment Insurance Act we have got for the first time in this country, indeed in the world, something approaching accurate statistics ELS to the course of unemployment and its relation to various trades, and we find as a consequence, what you would expect, that unemployment is highest where the industry depends largely upon foreign trade. For instance, in engineering it is 22 per cent., while the average rate is 12, and in shipbuilding it is 36 per cent. Before the War 50,000 tons of agricultural machinery were exported annually from this country. That export has dropped to 5,000 tons. Europe alone took 36,000 tons from January to August, 1913, but only 2,000 tons this year. Those figures go to emphasise the point put by the hon. Member as to the importance of foreign trade in this matter.

What has been done? Under the Export Credits Scheme help has been given to individual traders by guaranteeing risks. Risks up to a limit of £26,000,000 can be guaranteed. £22,000,000 have been sanctioned, and £4,000,000 remain over, but as the risks fall in others can be accepted. Then the Trade Facilities Act, in my view and the view of most of those who watched this problem closely, has been one of the most successful of our developments. The right hon. Gentleman referred to British credit. I agree that it is an improving asset. Take the exchange with America. Not so long ago the pound sterling was worth about 13s. Now, according to the latest quotation, it has gone up to 18s. 7d. The late Government initiated a programme under the Trade Facilities Act whereby the issues of capital by which labour was likely to be engaged were to be assisted by a guarantee either of principal or principal and interest by the State, but in order to see that bad schemes were not accepted a Committee was set up over which a great financier, Sir Robert Kindersley, has presided, and I must express on behalf of the Govern- ment our thanks to him for the untiring energy and ability with which he has conducted the affairs of that Committee.

No fewer than 800 schemes have been examined, and capital issues of £22,500,000 have been guaranteed for schemes like railway development, dock improvement and electrical supply schemes. The London Tube Railways are perhaps the best known example. There was an issue of £6,500,000 for London Tubes. New Tubes were badly wanted. The first sod was cut at Goldei's Green on 12th June last. 2,500 men are employed directly on tunnelling and so forth and 5,500, probably, indirectly on machinery, plant, carriages and so forth, making a total of 8,000 in all. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman who is so very critical of the Government that development along these lines does offer real hope for the future.


How many of the 800 schemes examined were rejected or not supported?


I cannot say offhand. I could get the information for the right hon. Gentleman to-morrow, but I have no doubt that, on an occasion of this kind, a good many of the schemes put up would be schemes which, on examination, would not prove very satisfactory. As I think I have already indicated, out of the £25.000,000 £22,500,000 has been utilised for the purpose of guaranteeing capital. To sum up. During the last two years, work on various programmes, including the Trade Facilities Act programme, has been started or stimulated to the extent of something like £75,000,000, and, including the £30,000,000 insurance contribution, you get a figure of well over £100,000.000, and in addition to that—I do not want to make a feature of this, but it must be remembered—very large sums have been expended by the guardians over and above the amount I have suggested here. On this point, I would like to refer the right hon. Gentleman to an article in the "Manchester Guardian" on reconstruction, under the editorship of Mr. Keynes, whose name is familiar to most people interested in this subject. The article points out first of all that the power of Governments in this matter is limited because Governments are national and trade is international, but bearing that in mind the Government relief Measures of last winter—these are very remarkable words— constituted the biggest effort any Government has ever made to solve the problem of unemployment in a depression.