§ Mr. LANSBURY
I think there is no need to apologise for once more raising the question of unemployment. Not only does unemployment affect a very considerable number of workmen, but it also affects a considerable number of business people, who are making their voices heard. The position of the workmen in relation to the Government and society generally is going worse every day. Anyone who is acquainted with the working of the unemployment pay or with Poor Law relief or with any of the official means for dealing with unemployment will agree with me that all the conditions have been tightened up to the disadvantage of the workmen. I say that without hesitation, and I shall be very glad to be properly corrected by the Minister of Labour.
This business of sending men away long distances from their homes for jobs, and when it is proved impracticable for them to take the jobs to say that they are people not genuinely seeking employment is, in my judgment, a pure dodge to get out of paying them the amount of money to which they are entitled under the Act. Men who have been a long period drawing the allowance, perhaps for a year and sometimes longer, and have not been able to get employment, find all of a sudden that they are told that they are not persons genuinely seek- 1544 ing employment, and their unemployment pay is stopped. The Minister of Labour will tell me that there are appeal tribunals, umpires, and so on to whom these men can appeal, but these men have not the vocabulary which enables them to stand up to the gentlemen on the appeal tribunals when it comes to a question of arguing a case.
Then men are obliged to go to the guardians for relief. It is a great pity that there are three authorities dealing with unemployment. Whatever assistance the unemployed get ought to come direct from one department. The arrangement by which the Minister of Health settles the conditions under which the men shall be employed on relief work, and so on, is an anomaly which ought to be got rid of by some administrative action, because we have men put to work under these schemes, and paid for that work through the agency of the board of guardians, who very often impose such conditions that no self-respecting trade unionist dare go and do the work. That is another way of penalising the workmen, and it is a practice that is growing.
The assistance which the men receive is being cut down very considerably. A paltry 10s. a week is allowed for a man, with 10s. for his wife and 1s. each for the children. When the House passed that scale it had no idea that a man and his family could live on any such money, but it put a proviso in the Bill stating that when the Poor Law authorities or other authorities were giving assistance they must take into account what the man was receiving in this respect. During the past 12 months a great deal of cutting down has been going on, and the assistance in many places is now too little to enable a man and his wife and children to exist decently. At the close of the War the Government apparently could not do too much for these men. It gave them, viewed from the point of view of relief, the full standard of relief, but that has been cut down until to-day many men and their families who receive Poor Law relief, plus the dole, are only just getting enough to barely exist.
The condition of things is becoming daily worse for the men who are unemployed, and the old Poor Law spirit is growing. I hear now talk of men who do not want work. I have heard it in the Lobby. When I was in the House 1545 before, we heard that sort of statement very often. Because some men have been out of work for long periods, the story goes round that they are not looking for work properly. Therefore, the guardians or the Employment Exchanges think it right to penalise them in some way or other. When you have men who are not genuinely seeking work, the proper thing is to offer them work at proper wages at some place near their homes, and test them in that way, and not to test them by imposing semi-starvation on their women and children. That is what you do when you cut down their allowance, or refuse, as is often the case at the Employment Exchanges, to give them any relief at all. These are a few of the hardships in regard to men and their dependants. I am sorry the Minister of Health is not represented this afternoon, because he is interested in this matter, as his Department has a great deal to do with the administration of assistance to these people.
Unemployment is an evil under our social and industrial life for which neither the workman, the capitalist nor any one group of people are responsible. It is something inherent in the system under which we live. Therefore, you have no business to penalise either children, men or women who are afflicted by this system. The extraordinary thing is that in spite of the fact that this country, according to some figures published to-day, has had removed from the labour market 1,170,000 disabled men, in addition to nearly 1,000,000 men killed in the War, is over supplied. One would have imagined that with nearly 3,000,000 men taken out of the labour market there would be a shortage of men rather than a superfluous number of workers. The enormous increase in the productivity of men and machines during the War, and the loss of markets on the Continent because of the War, has really put us in the position in which we find ourselves to-day. We ought all to recognise that, and if we do so we shall understand that it is not the fault of individuals, and that individuals ought not to be penalised. It is a condition of things to which not merely the Government, but everybody who takes any part in helping to administer affairs ought to be giving the most serious attention.
1546 Last Thursday, members of every party in this House took part in a Debate on unemployment, and it was generally agreed that something should be done nationally by the Government out of national resources. There was one exception, however, and that was the hon. Member for Mosley (Mr. Hopkinson) who, economically, lives in a world of his own. He believes in the old doctrine of leaving everybody alone to fight their own way. He is a voice from Manchester, voicing the old theory of buying in the cheapest and selling in the dearest market, but he is a voice crying in the wilderness. He rebuked the right hon. Member for Swansea (Sir A. Mond) for preaching a doctrine in which he did not believe. To apply the doctrine which the hon. Member for Mosley advocates would be to make matters very much worse than they possibly could be even under the present conditions.
The hon. Member for one of the Divisions of Cardiff asked for Government assistance to help industry to get going, but he also told us—I looked up his speech this morning—that even if the Ruhr question were settled in all probability our condition would be worse than it is to-day. That is an extraordinary statement, unless you are to take into account another factor too, which is that the world and the world's markets, relatively speaking, get smaller and smaller. I only refer incidentally to that in order to say that to get this question properly settled you will have to adopt the policy advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) when introducing his Motion. The fact that the great capitalists in this House have not only approached the Government, but have also sent a letter to the Press appealing for State money and State organisation proves that the problem is not, in spite of what was stated in argument, one dependent completely on private enterprise.
Yesterday, in the "Times," Sir Charles Macara tells us that the Federation of Cotton Spinners in a moment of despair are talking of that great industry drifting to ruin. I am surprised that we have not been told that it is Socialism or the Socialist policy that is sending that great industry to ruin. I call attention to these things because I want to point out that this problem is 1547 one which this House must tackle in a big sense or we are going to be ruined. When great captains of industry, like those who manage and control the cotton trade, talk of their industry drifting to ruin, when those who are supposed to organise the great engineering industry are appealing for Government aid, it proves that you are up against a problem which needs no small tiny sort of effort, no more talking about, but needs some effective action here and now. I under stand that there was some proposition about £40,000,000 being spent on electrifying railways. £40,000,000 sounds a lot of money, and it would be a lot of money if put upon the table at once. But everybody knows that if you talk of £40,000,000 being spent on electrifying railways, making roads or any work of that kind, it will not be spent at this moment, but will be spent over a period of years. I think that, instead of talking in that small way—I do not know whether this will appeal to Members of this House—we ought to do something similar to what was done for the purpose of carrying on the War. Then you appealed to the patriotism of the people to lend the country a big sum of money in order to carry the War through. I think that we might easily appeal to the country for a great big public works loan, for the purpose of spending it on work of a necessary character and of a productive character.
§ Sir WILFRID SUGDEN
Will the hon. Member specify that this business loan should be given at a low rate of interest to different industries, or would he suggest that the cotton operatives ought to go on the land or to other jobs?
§ Mr. LANSBURY
If the hon. Member will wait, I will tell him what I think should be done. If a proposition is put up from these benches which involves money, we shall be told "You cannot get the money, because we are taxed heavily enough already." I am not one of those who think that we are poor in England. Looking at the picture papers this morning, I saw some beautiful scenes at Goodwood and other places. There appears to me to be more of that sort of display and ostentation now than took place during the War. We could not afford those things during the War. If we are poor now, and need a national 1548 effort to get us out of the economic morass in which we are at present, I think that that is a thing that ought to be cut off, so that the money might be used in a more profitable way, and I think that if we had real patriotism in the country, a big loan could be raised and could be spent on public purposes.
The hon. Member for the Royston Division of Lancashire (Sir W. Sugden) asked, did I want it spent for the development of the cotton industry or through the capitalists? If this country were under the sort of control under which I would like it to be, I would not have it spent in that way. But we are' living in conditions in which none of us can hope to apply our economic principles to the full extent to which I would like to apply them. What I mean is that I cannot ask this House to adopt Socialism to-day, because I know that neither the House nor the country is ready for it, and you can only have Socialism properly when the people want it. Therefore, as a temporary measure, because people are in a state of semi-starvation, I would like the money administered by a Committee representative of the whole of this House. I think that a Cabinet Committee to deal with unemployment is not representative enough. I think that the subject of unemployment is so terrible and so difficult to handle that long ago, not in the last two days of the Session, a Committee of this House should have been sitting, working out plans for dealing with the problem
I would now if I had my way raise this loan, and I would put it at the disposal of such a Committee to do all kinds of work, electrify railways, clear slums, build new houses, make trunk roads, and so forth. Then there is that great scheme of electrical stations, which Lord Haldane's Committee brought forward years ago, and which ought to have been carried through long ago. Everybody knows that electricity can be much more efficiently and cheaply generated on the top of pits than by carrying the coal to different centres, and generating the electricity at a thousand and one places instead of in the few. All that would be work of tremendous importance to the community. We shall be told probably that such an undertaking would throw more men out of work, and so forth. But that is the argument that is always used, 1549 we are told, by the ignorant workman when machinery is introduced. Under any rational system of society that sort of getting rid of labour would benefit everybody in the community. But I will come back to that in a moment.
I wish to say one word to the President of the Board of Trade and the hon. Member who represents the Foreign Office. I think that, side by side with all that we do in this way, we ought to seek peace and insure it with people on the Continent, and especially Russia. I do not want to deal with Germany at this moment, because that will be dealt with to-morrow, but we are told by business men that they want to get their money from Russia, and the way they hope to get it is by abusing and blackguarding Russian representatives in this House on every conceivable occasion. If I wanted to make peace with a man with whom I had a quarrel I would not go that way to work about it, and if I wanted to collect debts from people who owed me money I would not set about it in that way. I should try to find out whether there was any truth in the statements that were made publicly as to their willingness to discuss and arrange money and other differences. Great Britain is a very strong country and we can probably talk to Russia and the Russian Soviet Government in any way we please, but that day will not always be, and the present Government is making a profound mistake in one day treating them with great contempt and the next day having the Prime Minister making a speech in which he says how important it is for the future welfare of Europe and ourselves that Russia and Russian trade should be developed. The President of the Board of Trade last week did not take that view, and he also said that the question of recognition did not come in. He knows better than I that all trade, even between individuals, is everywhere a matter of credit. When it is between nations it is everywhere a question of whether the Government is recognised or not.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Sir P. Lloyd-Greame) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
If the right hon. Gentleman does not mind, I take the liberty of differing with him. I think of 1550 the country which is recognised by another country has a better standing for credit and so on than a country that is not recognised. I firmly believe—I have no authority for saying this—that if the Russian Government were recognised the question at issue between British nationals and that Government would be settled. I went to Russia long before anyone else from this country. I believe that I was one of the first Englishmen to get there. One of the first questions I asked M. Krassin, when I interviewed him—and I sent the interview to this country—was "What are you going to do about these debts?" He said then, "Russia is a great country. We shall probably have to give concessions, but we shall want our claims against the other Governments settled at the same time." I believe that that is the crux of the whole business, that the British Government does not want to recognise the claims which the Soviet Government would have against us for making war and helping other people to make war upon them.
Do not forget that America, when I was a boy, made the British Government pay the Alabama claims after arbitration. If you want to trade with Russia, and if you want to get your money from the Russians why should you not urge this Government to recognise the Russian Government, because if you do not recognise them how can you ask them to make arrangements to pay their debt? How can you ask them to do that if they are not a Government? If they are a Government, why not show them that you are capable of treating them as decent honourable men without always believing every lie that comes over the wire? Why not ask them to come to a conference and make them face the position? Up to the present that has not been done.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The recognition of these debts was made a condition precedent of recognising the Soviet Government. That is the whole point. How can you expect a Government which you do not recognise to recognise the debts of a Government who say, "You are not a Government"? The quarrel between ourselves and the Soviet Government is a matter of words. It is just this, 1551 that if you can get them to recognise their debts to you, and leave their claims against you on the shelf, as it were, you have got a very big advantage. They want a conference where all these questions shall be settled, but they say, as a condition precedent, "Recognise us as a Government that is able to negotiate and deliver the goods when the settlement is arrived at." That is the position you are in, and I am sorry that some hon. Members have got such a great hate with regard to Russia, and want to Keep this money from them. I wish they would sit down and think this thing out. If they were representing a Government which was not recognised, and if they were asked to recognise debts, the first thing they would say would be, "Well, recognise us as a Government." That is so obvious that I do not understand anyone having any other view about it. I have dragged this in because I am as certain as I stand here—and I think the right hon. Gentleman would agree—that if you could get this business settled with Russia on equitable terms between the two nations, there would be nothing in the way of trade and commerce that we could not hope for from such a settlement. Therefore, on the side of foreign trade, I hope to see a very much better spirit displayed—not the spirit that is exhibited here this afternoon—which will enable the Russians to approach us and will enable us to approach the Russians in order that we may do business.
Do not let us run away with the idea that we have never recognised what you call "murderers" before. We recognise those people who slew the King of Portugal and the Heir-Apparent, and we recognised the people who became the Government after all. We recognised the King and Queen of Serbia, after the previous King and Queen had been slaughtered and chucked out of the window; we just waited a few months and then recognised them. As a matter of fact, revolution is always all right when it is completely successful. The villain of yesterday is the hero of to-day. I will tell hon. Members another thing which they all forget down here in this House. Just outside there is a statue of Cromwell, and up the road there is one of King Charles. That shows what decent people we English people are. We honour the King, and we honour the man who 1552 murdered him—if you call it murder. If hon. Members would only have that sort of spirit with regard to the Russians we should get a move on. Even that would take time, and I wish, if I may, to elaborate what I think ought to be done further in our own country. I am appalled at the shocking waste of young life that is going on just now. There is nothing which breaks one's heart so much as to see that day by day. I come here, and mix with hon. Members, and it goes out of my mind; but every morning I go out of my home and meet scores of young people—some boys and girls, some young men and young women. There they are, you have spent money on trying to educate them, and at the finish of what passes for their education they are just wandering the streets!
That is an appalling thing. The right hon. Gentleman has done a little. He is going to re-open these centres; but even so—ten thousand out of all the tens of thousands that there are! I beg him to believe that I am not saying this fretfully at all, but he really has not touched the fringe of the problem in the East End of London. Every one of us who come from there will agree about that. What happens in other towns, I do not know, except that on the Government's own figures, only something like 9,000 or 10,000 children have been dealt with. Why cannot the Minister of Education and the Government generally say, "While this terrible period of depression is on we will not attempt to turn these children out of school, and drive them into the labour market"? There is no room for them; nobody wants them; and the Government had better by half spend even millions on preserving their moral than allow them to go to ruin, as they are going. The boys and girls of the middle and upper classes do not expect to go to work until they are 20 or 25 years of age, but if the children of the clas3 from which most of us here come—and some of you, also, come—start life having no occupation it is their ruin in the days to come. Here you have tens of thousands of them, and it would pay you not to fool round, starting special centres for them, but definitely to say that the school age should be raised, and that you would give them maintenance grants. You must give them maintenance grants.
You complain because many of the children do not go to the schools you set 1553 up. There is a perfectly simple answer. Boys and girls, when 14 years of age, shove their arms and legs through their clothes, and, generally speaking, they want more to eat, more boots, more everything; and the poor mother is only too anxious for them to earn even 1s. or 2s. a day now and then. Therefore, you cannot blame the mother for wanting the boy to go out and earn whatever he can pick up. The boy wants to do that. All of us did, or at least I did, when I was 14. I wanted the pocket money, and to feel that I was on my own. Some hon. Members on the other side never had that glorious feeling when they were 14. They were at Eton or Harrow—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—nicely tucked up; that is, some hon. Members—I am not saying that of all of them. They will not deny it. I want them to see that what they are now trying to do is an absolute impossibility. They are trying to shove these children into the labour market, where they are not wanted. I ask the Government to keep the children at school, frankly to face the question, and to give whatever maintenance grants are necessary to maintain them at home.
I am a propagandist, and I go about the country a great deal. I went for a holiday—not as a propagandist—into Cornwall at Easter, and, as a propagandist, I went into the Forest of Dean. An hon. Member asks how I want the money spent? I will tell him two places where I think you could spend a lot of money usefully and productively. One way would be in restoring the tin industry in Cornwall. I am told that the mines cannot be worked because they are full of water. I am told that no private people can clear those mined of the flooding that is taking place. It seems to me that it would be a very good expenditure on the part of the Government if they cleared those mines and made them fit for working. Further than that, in the Forest of Dean something could be done. Anyone who has been there, and who has seen the manner in which the mining is carried on by individuals, will agree with me. I understand that a very old custom, which gives one, two, or three people the right to dig coal, is responsible for that. The whole of the minerals in the Forest of Dean could quite well be worked nationally, and as a national effort. I 1554 do not see why the Crown lands which belong to the nation should not be developed, instead of our spending a few millions developing land in Australia or elsewhere. I am quite willing that the Colonies should be developed when we have developed our own land first. I would spend a considerable amount of money on those two places which I have mentioned.
I want to say a word about agriculture. I do not want to send the cotton spinner to be an agriculturist; though I think, as the markets of the world become more restricted, as India develops itself more, and as Egypt is developed, probably a considerable number of people who at present get their living in factories—if there be a similar sort of population here—will have to get their living on the land. I think we might organise education for children plus an agricultural organisation in the country, which could be worked on co-operative lines similar to Denmark. I am always amazed when I hear speeches from the other side with regard to agriculture, because excuses are put forward why agriculture does not make headway here. From them, one would imagine that the land in Denmark was better than the land in this country. As a matter of fact, the land on this side of the North Sea is infinitely better than that on the other side, and it is only want of will, want of organisation, and want of cooperation that leaves argiculture in the plight it is. We might spend some millions on developing co-operative agriculture. During the War, no end of forests in this country were cut down, and no end of trees were slaughtered, for the purpose of getting pit props and other things needed that could not be obtained from abroad. There is no reason why the forests should not be replanted, and a considerable amount of work provided in that way.
We, on these benches, are very often charged with advocating proposals which lead nowhere. Whatever we do in that respect, all the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman have left us with at least 1,500,000 men, and from 200,000 to 300,000 women unemployed. I remember the very practical appeal that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sea-ham (Mr. Webb) on the last occasion, on behalf of the women. Practically nothing has been done. I do not know whether 1555 hon. Members realise what a terrible thing it is to a woman to be out of work. A man can go and get a glass of beer; he can be treated, and meet his friends, and so on. For a woman, it is the most terrible tragedy that can face any human being. The other day two young girls, about 18 years of age, came to our house; they had been out of work for 15 months. I know some hon. Members will say, "Why do they not go to service?" I do not believe either of those girls had ever been taught anything at home, for the perfectly simple reason that directly they were able to be shoved out they have been shoved into the factory. Long ago real training centres of every kind, not merely for domestic service but for all kinds of work, ought to have been set going. For these young people from 18 years of age not only this sort of training, but other kinds of training ought to be forthcoming.
I repeat, with a great deal of emphasis, that I do not at all think the giving of doles is a good thing. I would not advocate it, although I come from a borough which gives away more money than any other borough of its size in the country. There is not one of us who believes that that is the right method of dealing with this question. We have gone to Government Department after Government Department; we worried the right hon. Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) day after day, as we worried other Government Departments. What we do say is that we will not allow the physical condition of our people to go down if we can help it. That is why we spend money. We come to this House, and ask hon. Members to realise what nearly 2,000,000 unemployed means, both to the people themselves and to their children. We ask hon. Members, instead of going for their holidays and trusting to what the Minister will honestly tell them he is going to do, to remember that what he is doing will be but a drop in the ocean, and that it will leave the great mass of the unemployed to be dealt with by doles. Instead of accepting that, and. going away on their holidays, let all hon. Members join in asking the Government to give us a special ad hoc Committee to deal with unemployment, with powers to get money, either from the Treasury or 1556 in some other way, and at least to try to put some of those 1,500,000 men into work.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Montague Barlow)
The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) in his very interesting speech covered a great deal of ground and he will forgive me if I do not follow him over all of it, and particularly if I do not follow him in his tour into Russia. He said the differences between this country and Russia were paper differences. Well, the difference between de jure and de facto is very largely a paper difference—
§ Sir M. BARLOW
There is, however, a much more material factor for consideration and it is that trading is difficult unless people accept the basis on which all trade is done. However, I appreciated the speech of the hon. Member, and he said many things with which I cordially agree. In particular, he said that the problem of unemployment was a very difficult one. I think that marks a considerable advance in the attitude taken up by hon. Members opposite. We were told in the early days that the problem was so simple and so easy that it could be settled in five minutes if we were to accept, shall I say the nostrums, suggested by the Labour party.
§ Sir M. BARLOW
The speech to which we have just listened, gives more hope of a common ground on which we can join in endeavouring to handle, at any rate, some of the more important features of this grave problem. I will not say more with regard to the hon. Member's speech than this. Reference was made by him to a suggested tightening up of the means of dealing with unemployment. I beg to assure the hon. Member that really is not so.
§ Sir M. BARLOW
It is rather difficult to proceed with a speech when one is contradicted in that manner. I never interrupt hon. Members opposite, and I 1557 ask the same courtesy from them. What are tightening up are the avenues of employment, and it is because employment is so difficult to secure that local committees are casting their net further a field, in order to see whether they cannot get men into employment who otherwise might get employment at home. I hope the hon. Member will not think me discourteous if I do not deal at greater length with the points he raised. He made an interesting suggestion about public works loans, and I should be glad of an opportunity to examine it further. I believe the more we can do in a time of difficulty like this to mobilise what is one of our great assets, namely, credit, to tide us over these difficult times, the better. To that extent, the hon. Member and I are on common ground. The Prime Minister promised a few days ago that I should make a statement as to the plans which, so far, the Government have settled for dealing with this evil of unemployment during the winter. In as few words as I can, I will indicate what those plans are, so far as they are at present settled. I should like to make two points at the outset. First, the plans which I am going to enumerate are the result of careful consideration. Some of them are novel in character—and I hope they will be effective in operation—and they have been accepted after careful examination of suggestions from various quarters, including a memorandum from the industrial group in this House. Secondly, I want to make clear that what I propose to say to-day is only a first broad outline of our programme. We desire to lay these plans in good time, so that local authorities may get on with their schemes, but the door is not closed and the Cabinet Unemployment Committee will continue its operations and our plans will be enlarged as the autumn proceeds, according as necessity may require.
It is a commonplace to say that there are difficult times ahead of us. Before I sit down I hope to indicate one or two quarters in which there are rather more hopeful possibilities, but nobody dissents from the broad proposition that there is a difficult winter ahead of us. What are the figures? When I was speaking on this subject in February last, I gave the figure on let January, and the unemployed on the register then numbered 1558 1,485,000. The figure on 15th February was 1,360,000. I said then, and I was criticised in certain quarters for undue optimism, that I hoped, "apart from untoward incidents in Europe", which nobody could foresee, that the numbers would continue steadily to decline. We all know there have been "untoward events" in Europe. The occupation of the Ruhr, which at first seemed to fan the flame of improvement, is now having an entirely contrary effect, but, in spite of that, there has been a decline, and a steady decline. The number on 1st April was 1,284,000. In the middle of June it was 1,200,000, and the figure now is 1,185,000. It is true the decline has not been anything like as great as we all hoped it would be. It is also true that this is the best portion of the year for occupation and, quite frankly, though I said nothing of this to the House at the time, I had looked forward with hopefulness to getting well under the 1,000,000 during the late summer. Clearly that hope is not now going to be realised. Last winter in the months from October to April the average figure of unemployed was 1,345,000. I hope this winter it will be no worse, but he would be a rash man who would suggest that it is going to be very much better. May I say here, and I am apportioning no blame to anyone but merely indicating the fact, that it must be borne in mind that our great industrial disputes do in the end contribute to increasing the cost of commodities and the figures of unemployment?
§ Sir M. BARLOW
That is a curious interruption. I do not wish to say it in any spirit of self-glorification, but I have just had an opportunity of intervention in the railway dispute, and I am glad to say it has been with the most satisfactory results. Last year the Government endeavoured to deal with this problem of unemployment along three main lines of effort—relief works, stimulation of our trade and the Unemployment Insurance Acts. I will deal with each of these shortly, taking them in the reverse order. First, as to the Unemployment Insurance Acts. By the Act which was passed in March last, the fourth period of unemployment insurance was extended so as to run for 50 weeks from the 2nd November last until 17th October next, covering the 1559 summer and the beginning of the autumn, and providing for 44 weeks of covenanted or uncovenanted benefit in that period of 50 weeks. On October 18th, a new-benefit year begins running to the 15th of October, 1924, and in that benefit year 26 weeks of covenanted or uncovenanted benefit will be available. Though that is true, the purely uncovenanted benefit cannot be run off without an interval of three weeks. Twelve weeks can be taken on end, then there is a period of three weeks gap and then the remaining 14 weeks. That, I think indicates that there is provision up to the middle of October, and then from the middle of October onwards, at any rate, to the end of April.
While I am dealing with the question of the Unemployment Insurance Act, I wish to emphasise two points. First, I take this opportunity, as I take all other opportunities, of repeating that I cannot accept the word "dole" in connection with the Unemployment Insurance Acts. The implication of the word "dole" is that it is a State payment. So far from that being the case, the Unemployment Insurance Act is a sound contributory scheme, and for the last 12 months the income, which was no less a figure than £49,000,000, was made up in the following proportions: £19,000,000 from the employers, £17,000,000 from the workers themselves, and only £13,000,000 from the State. In other words, in this partnership of employers, workers, and the State, the State, so far from being sole proprietor, is merely the junior partner. We are sometimes told that the scheme is Socialistic. I suggest it is a splendid example of the organisation of our people on real self-help lines. Another attack made on the fund is that it is insolvent. We had many gloomy pictures in the Debates of last March We had voluble vaticinations, as gloomy as they were voluble, that we were piling up a great debt, and that the debt would go on mounting. What are the facts? On 9th March the amount of the borrowings was a little over £17,000,00. Now it stands at a little under £15,000,000. In other words, there has been a reduction of rather more than £2,000,000. It is true if unemployment difficulties arise during the coming winter we may have to increase the borrowings, but when a fund has a steady annual income of some- 1560 thing like £50,000,000, if it occasionally has to borrow sums which it can readily repay when the unemployment figures fall, that is no justification whatever for suggesting that it is insolvent.
The next main line of our policy in the past, as it will be in the future, is the stimulation of trade both home and foreign. We all agree that while financial provision is necessary along the lines of the Unemployment Insurance Acts, in order to prevent starvation, it is merely a palliative. What is wanted is work and normal work—employment for each man in his normal occupation and, if possible, at a normal wage. [HON. MEMBERS: "In his own district."] That also is normal. It may be unavoidable, but it is really a tragedy when the only work we can provide for a skilled engineer or an expert cotton weaver is heavy digging on the roads or at the docks. On that point there is no issue between any of us in this House. At the same time, it is far easier to indicate the right remedy than to provide it, at any rate on so large a scale as is desirable. The Government are fully alive to the desirability of using every effort to stimulate normal trade at home and abroad. So far the particular methods employed have been first what is known as the Export Credits Scheme and second the Trade Facilities Act. Under the Export Credits Scheme the objective aimed at is assistance to individual British traders by way of guarantee, in order to enable them to regain their position in foreign markets. Provided reasonable security is forthcoming in the country to which goods are consigned, the Board of Trade can guarantee up to 100 per cent. of the total involved with a right of recourse against the exporter up to 57½ per cent. Credits may be sanctioned up to £26,000,000 under the scheme and the whole of that has at one time or another been involved. At the moment the amount of credit actually in use is about £14,000,000. Therefore there is still an ample margin, and provision has been made under the Expiring Loans Continuance Bill for the continuance of the Overseas Trade Act, 1920.
Secondly, there is the Trade Facilities Act. This Act, in my view, and the schemes which have been financed under it have proved one of the most successful and fertile portions of the Government programme. The bed rock of British 1561 trade is British credit, and, thank Heaven, amid all our difficulties that rock of British credit stands firm and immovable. The policy of the Trade Facilities Act is to allow the credit of the British nation as a whole to come to the aid of, and to support, private trading concerns. Proposals for big new undertakings can be laid before the Committee, and I should like to express here, as I have done on previous occasions at this box, in the warmest terms, the thanks of the Government to that Committee for their admirable and skilful work, which has been of incalculable value in these difficult times, and which has the additional merit of being entirely voluntary and without remuneration. The Committee "vet" the schemes, and, if they are financially sound, the Government guarantee of principal and interest can be given, enabling the new undertaking to raise money, usually, of course, at a considerably cheaper rate than an undertaking can secure in the market without a guarantee. Such undertakings, when put in hand, obviously provide employment of the most satisfactory kind, because it is along normal channels. I think one of the best known examples was the earliest, namely, the extension of the Tube railway from Golders Green to Edgware, the enlarging of the City and South London Tube, and other improvements on the Underground Railway. For these, a guarantee up to £6,500,000 was given. Work commenced immediately, and some 10,000 men are employed directly as a result of that guarantee, and probably an equal number indirectly in the provision of engines, rails, and all that is required for railway extension. The late Government authorised guarantees up to £25,000,000 for such purposes, and I announced in November last that that sum would be extended to £50,000,000, and the present position is that the guarantees are being made use of up to about £26,000,000.
Some recent instances of the employment of this method are the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, £2,300,000, and the Union Castle Company, £1,000,000. Both of these are for constructional work by Messrs. Harland and Wolff. The latter case is a good instance of the distribution of orders which results from a scheme of this kind. The hulls, it is 1562 true, go to Belfast—special arrangements were made by the Northern Irish Government for that—but the rest of the equipment required is distributed over Ayrshire, Motherwell, Norwich, London, and other places. Then there is the great Southern Railway group, South-Eastern section, £5,500,000 for electrification; and so on. I hope that all those who control big industries in this country, acting in the spirit of the Prime Minister's exhortation at Glasgow, will set about putting in hand all the work they can, and I feel certain that the Trade Facilities Committee will give every assistance in their power to help in such new developments. The Government are contemplating further possibilities along this line of the development of normal trade, and I shall mention them in a moment, but I think I can explain them better, perhaps, when I say what I have to say in connection with the work of the local authorities. So much for two of the main lines of policy—first of all, the Unemployment Insurance Act, and, secondly, the stimulation of trade.
In regard to relief works, here the House will desire something rather precise in the matter of figures. I am afraid, possibly, that the House may be some what tired of the reports I have had to give at this box, on more than one occasion, of the various kinds of work which have been or are being financed by the Government in co-operation with local authorities; but at the same time it is impossible to omit reference to them when I am endeavouring to describe our programme. I will endeavour, as shortly as possible, to explain, first of all, how the various plans for relief work, afforestation, and so on, stand at the moment; secondly, how the Government propose to extend and develop them during the coming winter; and, thirdly, I will say a word or two about the new lines of development to which I have already alluded. First of all, in regard to the Ministry of Transport, I mentioned, in speeches in November and February last, that provision was being made for over £11,000,000 worth of work, the schemes, of course, being financed usually on the basis of one-half by the Government and one-half by the local authorities. During the present financial year, it is estimated that the total expenditure on all programmes to date will reach £7,500,000, as against an expenditure of 1563 about £4,500,000 last year. This represents approximately a full year's work for 27,000 men. The House will realise that this is a continuing programme over several years, and that the highest peak of employment under the programme will be realised in the winter, when it may attain something like 30,000 men. I can give details of these various schemes of the Ministry of Transport if desired, but I do not wish to weary the House with details.
I am sorry that the South Lancashire road, which we had hoped would be pressed forward, has not seen the development which many of us anticipated, and it is regrettable that local difficulties still appear to impede the progress of the road. The money is available, and I hope the scheme may be pressed on and the local difficulties surmounted. With regard to the Glasgow-Edinburgh road, that is still under active consideration, and if work were commenced at the Glasgow end, a large number of unemployed might be engaged during the coming winter. The cost of putting in hand work at the Glasgow end would probably be something like £1,000,000, for one-half of which Government assistance would be required, and would be forthcoming, if the plan materialised. I need not perhaps emphasise again, what I have said at this box on more than one occasion, that this large programme of work for our arterial roads, extending over two or three years, is in addition to the ordinary programme of maintenance and repair work of the Ministry of Transport, which will continue, as last year, and will provide employment for a large number of men. Secondly, in regard to agricultural work, afforestation, and so on, last winter a considerable sum was set aside for work of this character, and the schemes contemplated have all been completed. For the coming winter we propose to make provision, generally on the lines familiar last year, for assisting land drainage, including water supply, and land improvement, but the exact extent of the financial provision is still under consideration, and I hope to be able to state that to the House later on. Provision will also be made for land drainage and improvement on the same lines as last winter in Scotland. As to afforestation, the Forestry Commissioners propose an increase of 1564 their normal programme of planting and preparation, and additional work in Crown woods, and also assistance to corporations and individuals on the lines of last winter for afforestation work generally. Here again the exact extent of the financial provision has not yet been settled, and will be announced later.
As to acceleration of Government work, the Post Office, which gave very practical help last year, are again initiating two very useful proposals, the first of which is trunk telephone cable laying. Plans are prepared which will involve an estimated cost of about £588,000, and 80 per cent. of the work will be completed by 31st March next. Then the Post Office London railway will be pressed on, at a cost of £500,000, and will secure opportunities for something like 900 unskilled men for 12 months. The railway, I am informed, is desirable as a means of relieving the congestion of traffic, and those of us who have to pass to and fro daily over the somewhat perilous crossing to enter this House will realise what the difficulties of London traffic are. As to the War Office, the Admiralty, and the Air Ministry, they are all considering plans for acceleration, and the Admiralty in particular, I am glad to say, are arranging to place orders, in anticipation of requirements for 1924–25, to the extent approximately of £500,000, nearly all of which will be expended in such areas as Barrow, Sheffield, and so on, where serious unemployment is rife. The Scottish Office are bringing forward schemes for improvements in Edinburgh and elsewhere, and the Colonial Office are also making efforts to accelerate the placing of orders. In addition, the Colonial Office have submitted schemes for the development of Crown Colony work in Nyasaland and Tanganyika. These Colonies are grant-aided, and are at present unable to contribute to the cost of the work. The following proposals have been authorised, namely, the construction of two steamers for the use of Nyasa and Tanganyika, at a joint cost of £70,000, and the extension of the Lindi Tramway, at a cost of £50,000, this plan being strongly supported by the Empire Cotton Growing Association. The financial assistance will take the form of loans free of interest, at any rate for a time, and the details are being settled between the Treasury and the Colonial Office.
Lastly, the work of the Unemployment Grants Committee, or what used to be 1565 known as Lord St. Davids' Committee. This is of a two-fold character, or, at any rate, it was last year. First of all, there were loans to local authorities, and secondly, there were direct grants up to 60 per cent. of the wages for schemes financed out of revenue. As to the latter, last year the Committee was authorised to make grants to a total of something between £500,000 and £750,000, which it was estimated would result in the provision of rather more than £2,000,000 worth of work. The Committee have authorised the expenditure so far of a little over £500,000, leaving about £190,000 available for further grants. It is proposed to add an additional £100,000 to this, and as a result I am informed that about £1,000,000 worth of work will be initiated during the coming winter. It is not anticipated that during the current financial year more money could be usefully so employed. Secondly, loans. As I announced in November and February last, the Government sanctioned first of all £12,000,000 worth of work and in addition, subsequently, a sum of £18,000,000, making, in all, £30,000,000 worth of work. The Committee have gone steadily on with their work, and schemes for practically the whole of the amount have been sanctioned.
§ Sir M. BARLOW
I mentioned a good many instances, when speaking in February, of the varieties of work which were undertaken in consequence of these schemes. Some are revenue-producing, and a great many are non-revenue producing, but they vary very much, from, I think, the provision of baths to the provision of burial grounds. If my right hon. Friend would like, I would supply him with particulars.
§ Sir M. BARLOW
The money is provided in this way. The loans are raised, and the State provides help varying in amount according as the scheme is revenue producing or non-revenue producing. If it is non-revenue producing the help is larger; if it is revenue producing, the help is smaller. The assistance is for a period of years, either 1566 for half the interest, or rather more than half the interest plus charges, and the State portion of it is spread over a period of years, according to the currency of the loan.
§ Sir M. BARLOW
Only interest—not principal. As I have already indicated, the amount provided last year has already been expended, and the payments will continue for a period of years. If the House desires it, I can give the charge on the State.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
When the right hon. Gentleman said that only the interest was guaranteed, surely he meant the principal as well—that portion which the State advances?
§ Sir M. BARLOW
The interest is provided for either five or 15 years, and the way it works out is this. In respect of the £30,000,000, the charge on the State in 1922 was £400,000; in 1923 it will be £950,000; from 1924 to 1932 just over £1,000,000; and for 1933 to 1938, it drops to £380,000.
§ Sir M. BARLOW
The loan is raised by the local authorities, and the State gives so much by way of interest, as I will indicate in a moment. That is the old policy which has been going on for years. The Government propose to make new financial provisions for work during the coming winter. As before, the cost, both on local and central funds, will be spread over a period of years, varying, so far as central funds are concerned, according to whether the scheme is a revenue or a non-revenue producing one. Let me clear this point up, if I may. In the case of revenue-producing schemes, the Government undertook last year—the policy is the same this year—to bear 50 per cent. of the interest charges for five years. In the case of non-revenue producing schemes, the Government undertook 65 per cent. of the interest and sinking fund charges, for half the period of the loan, to the maximum of 15 years. Lord St. Davids' Committee has had money placed in their hands on this plan, I believe I am right in saying, for the 1567 last two, if not three, winters. They have had experience, therefore, of the working of this scheme.
I will give one or two facts which have emerged. First of all, in many areas? where unemployment is severe, such, for instance—to take only one or two—as the Tyneside or the Clyde, the assistance which can be looked for from schemes of local relief work is very often limited. In other words, you may have a large area of unemployment, but yet no great road or dock proposals available at convenient distances. The only real assistance, as I have mentioned already, that you can give skilled men is occupation in their own trade, and rough work on roads is a very ineffective substitute for ordinary skilled employment. That was one of the first points which emerged as a result of the experience of Lord St. Davids' Committee. Secondly, the classification into revenue and non-revenue producing schemes was not quite satisfactory. Many local authorities had schemes in contemplation which, though they might eventually be revenue-producing, might not achieve any such results for a number of years. Thirdly, there are a considerable number of statutory corporations or even private companies engaged in very similar work, such as the provision of tramway facilities, lighting, docks, and so on, who could give opportunities for employment if some assistance were forthcoming. With a view to meeting these three difficulties which I have indicated, and which have emerged as a result of past experience, the Government have determined to launch a new method of financial co-operation, intermediate between what we call the revenue-producing and the non-revenue-producing proposals. The financial basis of this intermediate arrangement will be a grant equal to 50 per cent. of the interest on loans raised for a period of not less than 10 years.
§ Sir M. BARLOW
Yes. The grants will continue for the period of the loan, or for 15 years, whichever is the shorter. That is all laid down in the circular letter of the 6th July, to which the right hon. Gentleman opposite has referred. The Government believe, or, at any rate, hope, that this intermediate proposal will I 1568 offer very real financial assistance to meet all the three cases of difficulty I have mentioned. The actuarial calculations will vary, of course, in different cases, but the terms I have outlined will mean assistance to the extent of something like 20 per cent. to 25 per cent. of the whole cost. I will endeavour to indicate how these intermediate proposals will be of assistance in the three cases of difficulty I have mentioned. The terms offered should be a real help to local authorities in launching work such as tramways, electricity, and so on, all over the country.
What will be the result? Orders, we hope, will be placed, and trade stimulated along normal lines in the big manufacturing and industrial centres where unemployment is the worst. Sheffield or Manchester, for instance, should at once feel the stimulus of orders for steel rails placed, say, by Bournemouth or Cheltenham, and not only is employment thereby secured for the skilled workmen along normal lines, but we escape, so to speak, from the tyranny of limited local opportunity. Local areas, with comparatively little unemployment, but need for greater public utilities, can come to the aid of the industrial centres, by placing their orders along these lines. Secondly, the Government hope that local authorities will appreciate the terms offered as a real assistance towards local development, and in the same way, but subject to proper precautions, corporations and private companies operating public facilities may be equally stimulated to provide work with the assistance indicated.
Mr. TREVELYAN THOMSON
Will the right hon. Gentleman say to what extent? He says the assistance to local authorities is so much better as compared with grants made for revenue-producing purposes under the old scheme.
§ Sir M. BARLOW
I have not the exact figures by me at the moment, but I could supply them to my hon. Friend, I have no doubt. My recollection is that it is about twice as much, and more than twice as much, rather than less. I was indicating that corporations and private companies operating public facilities may be stimulated to provide work also It will, of course, be necessary to lay down careful limitations. The invita- 1569 tion to undertake work on this intermediate basis would, of course, go to local authorities, but, in addition, it would go to statutory bodies, such as a board or trustees, who undertake work in pursuance of statutory powers, not being a body trading for profit, and even to trading companies and private concerns, such as those carrying on, as I have already indicated, tramways, gas, electricity or docks. But while the Government desire that companies and corporations of this kind should receive reasonable financial assistance, clearly it is desirable that proper conditions should be laid down so as to secure that no unfair advantage is taken of the State assistance, and the Unemployment Grants Committee will accordingly be authorised to make the necessary conditions in each case to secure this result. The Government have already issued, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite indicated, two Circulars to local authorities, dated respectively 18th May and 6th July, inviting schemes along these lines, and though it is true that local authorities, probably, have not yet had time to submit all their schemes—certainly not in reply to the Circular of 6th July—still proposals amounting to several millions have already been submitted.
§ Sir M. BARLOW
I have not the exact figures, but several, I know. Further, the Unemployed Grants Committee will now be prepared to receive proposals from corporations or companies along the lines I have mentioned, but it cannot at present be estimated how far the Government proposals under this head are likely to be taken up. In view of all these considerations, the Government propose to make provision for schemes submitted by local authorities and statutory bodies, if sanctioned by the Unemployment Grants Committee, up to £10,000,000. As regards proposals from private companies, the extent of the financial provision to be made will be matter for further consideration, and the Government must be guided, to some extent, by the nature and amount of the applications received under this head, and which at present it is very difficult to estimate.
§ Sir M. BARLOW
At the present moment, no. The extent of the Government commitment is still a matter for consideration.
§ Sir M. BARLOW
Up to £10,000,000. That will be the whole amount of the capital, and, as I have already explained, there will be three ways in which the Government will assist with interest for varying purposes and varying amounts. In any case, so far as local authorities and statutory bodies are concerned, it is clearly desirable to give the maximum of encouragement to revenue-producing schemes, so that, as the result of all this large expenditure, the community may reap a harvest of productive and wealth-producing undertakings. It may be asked, What is the result of these proposals as worked out in employment per head? I have always been very careful about making statements as to the numbers likely to be employed by any of these schemes. I have the details here. I have summarised them with all the care in my power, and I think I am well within the mark when I say that at least 200,000 will be employed during the winter, as the result of these schemes directly, and at least another 100,000 indirectly, and I think it is quite likely that, after very careful calculation, these figures may be exceeded.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether he has made any calculation as to the men thrown out of employment by the necessary taxation for running these schemes?
§ Sir M. BARLOW
These schemes are made for the provision of employment, and we do not anticipate that the result will be to throw anybody out of employment. There is one matter to which I should like to refer; I cannot go into it at any length, but in a sentence I should like to mention the report of the King's Roll National Council in regard to the employment of disabled men. That report has just been presented, and I desire to express my great thanks to the National Council for the work they have done upon it, and not only so, but for the work they are doing throughout the country. It is very significant that while the figure of disabled men out of employ- 1571 ment when they commenced their work was something like 65,000, it is now, on a conservative computation, not more than 40,000. I agree 40,000 too many! But at any rate, that shows a substantial reduction of 25,000 on the figures before the council commenced its work.
In conclusion, I should like to make one or two general Observations. The Prime Minister, in his Northern tour, impressed upon all who have their hands, if I may say so, on the levers of business and industry, to, as it were, "get a move on." He suggested that they should call upon their resources and upon their imagination and anticipate the developments which they might be ordinarily contemplating in the next few years. I cordially re-echo that wish. In particular the Electricity Commissioners will be doing a service to the community if they can stimulate the progress of electricity development throughout the country. The railway companies, again, are now in possession of very large reserve funds running into some £130,000,000, compared with similar funds of about one quarter of that amount before the War. Now that the amalgamation schemes are complete the railway companies can render very ready help to the community in this time of trouble by utilising their large resources for necessary reconditioning, and also for the electrical developments which are becoming more and more necessary in many cases owing to the development of suburban traffic, and which must be undertaken at an early date.
With regard to the scheme for the construction of new docks by the Port Authority at the Surrey Commercial Docks and at Tilbury, the House will be aware that financial assistance has been arranged for the raising of loans up to £4,500,000. The matter has been delayed by negotiation on details, but I am happy to be able to announce that these points have been finally settled this very morning. I am informed by the authorities of the Port of London that they hope that the first contract will be signed to-morrow, and that in any case the work will be commenced on both schemes before the winter is upon us. This will mean employment at first for V00, and ultimately for 4,000 men on the two schemes. As I mentioned at the com- 1572 mencement of my speech, the Cabinet Committee will continue in Session. There are other possibilities which they are pressing on, such as plans for the development of railways in India and the House may be assured that the Government will make every effort and do all in their power to enable the Ship of State to sail successfully through the troubled waters of the coming winter. Personally I have no doubt that the patience, the courage and the determination of our people will see us through, as it has done in the past. Do not let us forget that in taking the longer view there are elements of hopefulness which we must not neglect. The reports indicate that the world this autumn will secure such an abundant harvest as to constitute probably a record. The peace at Lausanne itself will, we all hope, do something to re-establish our trade in the Levant. Such a result will be a real boon to our trade, and particularly to the textile industries. And in this connection the fact that the Indian monsoon is not unsatisfactory will, we may hope, stabilise and stimulate our trade in Eastern markets. In one last word, let me express my thanks to the House for their courtesy in listening to me in a recital of what I am afraid is rather dull detail; I would only express my conviction that after all is said and done—something like 40 per cent. of our trade before the War was done with European countries—the ultimate solution of the unemployment problem in Great Britain will depend very largely, in my view, on what we all desire to secure, namely, the restoration of industrial and economic peace in Europe.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
There is just one question I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman. Will he circulate to the House as a White Paper figures of the amounts of the interest guaranteed up to the present time, and the interest that is going to be guaranteed in the future, with the amount of the Sinking Fund guarantee and any principal that has been guaranteed?
§ Sir M. BARLOW
I will consider that carefully. Clearly it cannot be done in relation to future schemes before they have been approved by the Committee so far as concerns the 10 millions. As 1573 far as past schemes are concerned, I think there should be less difficulty. But I will look into it.
§ Mr. H. M. BUTLER
There is an old proverb which says that a question properly asked is half-answered. I do not think that a new Member ought to take up the time of the House simply in order to make a maiden speech, but we have heard a great deal as to the various remedies for unemployment. I do not think we have had a careful and reasoned statement as to what are the real causes of unemployment. As I have been actively engaged in the iron and steel engineering industry for nearly 50 years, following on my ancestors, one of whom established the business in 1779. I commenced on the 1st January, 1875, in the business. I trust what I am going to say on this question may be helpful, especially as I went through that awful time of the "eighties." The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb) twice, I think, referred to the depression of the "eighties," and he expressed the opinion that probably things were as bad as recently. What enabled us to get through that severe time was extraordinarily cheap food and cheap coal. We were for 40 weeks in the "eighties" in deep water. In the short time that I will trespass on the House I am going to give a few causes of unemployment which have come under my own personal observation. Six large works in the Leeds area which manufacture wrought iron has been closed down in my time owing to the introduction of steel. That brought about a large amount of unemployment. They did not all shut down together, but, at any rate, the introduction of steel brought about unemployment in the wrought iron trade, because it takes four times as many men to produce a ton of wrought iron as it does to produce a ton of steel.
Secondly, following on that experience since the Armistice, the eight hours' question has been forced on the iron industry, and, I think, the steel workers with the result that we had large works which had to discontinue the production of 1574 wrought iron, because it was impossible to carry on under the eight hours' system. I am not blaming the Federation of Iron and Steel Workers for it, but a large amount of unemployment was the result for which we as employers were in no way responsible. Thirdly, in our area there is a very good colliery which, it is true, was getting to the far end, but which the owners were anxious to continue working, and which had men there who had been employed all their lives at the place, and who were willing to help the employers by accepting a lower wage. The Miners' Union would not allow it to be done, and the pits had to close. We were sorry for that, because it was such exceedingly good coal, but a very large number of people were thrown out. I am not blaming the Miners' Union. It may be that, so far as they were con cerned, they were working in the interests of the miners throughout the whole country, and that they were right in not allowing these men in Leeds to work below the standard rate. But the result of their action was to produce unemployment for which the employers were in no way responsible. The Miners' Union must accept that responsibility.
Fourthly, during my business career unemployment has been produced, to a certain extent, by the introduction of machinery, a point to which the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) referred. It is inevitable There is a firm manufacturing a motor-road sweeper, a very expensive machine, but a most efficient one. It does away with all the men, or most, who are now sweeping the roads. If public authorities can each order one or two of these road sweepers, that firm, employing 500 hands now, will keep going for the next five, six, or 10 years in providing these machines. The Ministry of Transport should take up this matter and see whether or not the men thrown out of work as the result of the employment of these machines by the local authorities on the roads can be employed in making the new roads about which we hear so much. A very great deal might be done to help in this way.
Fifthly, here is a point which has never been sufficiently touched upon. I should like to know from the Minister of Labour if he can tell us the number of workpeople engaged in the manufacture of munitions before the War, and the number that are 1575 now engaged. I am inclined to think that many hundreds of thousands of men have been thrown out of employment as a result of the adoption of the policy of curtailing the manufacture of munitions. There again, if the country adopts a policy of peace at any price, and hundreds of thousands of men are thrown out of employment in consequence, hon. Members opposite must not turn round upon us and say that the employers are to blame for that. I ask the Minister of Labour whether he cannot have this question looked into in order to see how many were employed in that way before the War and how many are so employed at the present time.
Sixthly, I want to refer to the Slough dump, a matter in which the motor industry of this country is greatly affected. The result of bringing back over 80,000 motor vans from the Front to the Slough depot threw out of employment tens of thousands of people in the engineering industry. A great deal of unemployment is brought about by action of that kind. Seventhly, here is another question which has not been sufficiently dealt with, and that is the introduction of female labour which appears to have taken place to an increasing extent. I am not criticising that policy in any way, but I should like to know from the Minister of Labour if he can say how many women were engaged in industries before the War, and how many are engaged now. In my own area, as a result of the War, I know that in many works there is employed at the present time a very greatly increased number of women, many more than were employed before the War, and this must have some effect in throwing men out of employment.
Eighthly, high taxation has been referred to very often in connection with these discussions, but I should like to ask how many gardeners, estate carpenters and men employed usually about country estates, and men servants of all kinds have been thrown out of employment as a result of the high taxation of country residences. I am sure there must be hundreds of thousands. All these men have been trained for a particular kind of work, and now they have to find a living in some other way. Another great cause of unemployment is hostile tariffs. Here I am going to give this question a 1576 personal touch to which I hope the House will not take exception. During my business career the business of my firm has been forced out of Russia, Germany, Austria and the United States by hostile tariffs, and even in recent years we have been forced out of Canadian and Australian markets for the same reason. I can assure hon. Gentlemen opposite that the whole of my active, hardworking life has been spent in trying to get new customers for those we have lost as a result of hostile tariffs. I am not finding fault with that, and I am not suggesting any reversal of our fiscal system. I was brought up politically under Disraeli and the late Lord Salisbury, and they always told us that we should have to make the best of it, and that it was impossible to reverse our fiscal system.
I believe such a policy is equally impracticable to-day, but I do not see any reason why we should not adopt an all-round small general tariff on the whole of our imports. I know I must be careful not to transgress the rules of debate, but still I am glad that I have got that point in, and I hope that it will strike home. A small all-round general tariff is not Protection at all, and I am sure that it would go a long way to produce revenue and would also assist our industries. I have enumerated some of the causes which have produced unemployment, and I suppose that I ought now to make some little effort to throw out suggestions as to how those difficulties can be met. In the course of the exhaustive speech made by the Minister of Labour we have heard so much of these questions, as well as in the Debates which have taken place before, that there is not much more to say. I should just like to emphasise my strong conviction that it is only by the individual initiative and enterprise of those who like myself are engaged in industry that we shall have to look for a cure of this trouble.
The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley seemed to ridicule the suggested effect that would be produced by an electrification of the railway system of this country. I would like to say that one of the most prosperous periods in the engineering industry was that during which all the principal city councils and public bodies were electrifying the tramways. During that period I believe that about £100,000,000 was spent on the 1577 electrification of the tramway system of this country in three or four years. That gave an extraordinary impetus to the engineering industry, and they were the most prosperous years in that industry. As a business man with practical experience, I have no hesitation in saying that, if the electrification of the main railway system of this country was seriously tackled, it would give an immense impetus to the engineering trade of this country. We have to bear in mind that that would be a great stimulus applied to a skilled trade which is not sufficiently and adequately met by the various schemes which the Government have brought forward.
The establishment of new industries is another direction in which we can also help this problem. A new industry has been established in Leeds recently for the canning of fish. A large factory has been established in Leeds, employing a considerable number of people, and only last week I have taken practical steps to help a capitalist to establish a new industry for the production of imitation marble. The production of wrought iron was seriously affected by the introduction of the eight hours' system. Similar efforts to those which I have described in regard to new industries are being made in all our great industrial areas. May I emphasise that, above everything else, what is necessary to get us over our troubles is loyal co-operation between employers and their workmen? It is only by employers and workpeople joining together and pulling together that we shall eventually get round the corner. That is the kind of spirit which has always operated with my brothers and myself and my forefathers in the business which we have carried on for hundreds of years, and which has enabled us to get over our difficulties and start on new inventions.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
The hon. Member who has just sat down has made a very lucid and plucky maiden speech. With the concluding portion of that speech no one will disagree, but the other parts of it are rather controversial, and I hope he will not consider it disrespectful on my part if I do not examine it in detail, because that would leave me very little time to deal with the speech of the Minister of Labour. I need not tell the Minister that we all sympathise with him 1578 in his task, and I can assure him that hon. Members in all parts of the House will assist him and strengthen his hands in every way in the work which lies before him. I think the temper and the tone of the speech of the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley is the best witness of that fact. We may not agree with all the hon. Member's conclusions, but I think the Minister of Labour himself did no less than justice to the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley in paying a tribute to the character of his speech.
The course of the unemployment figures this year are both disappointing and disquieting. At the end of last September the number of persons registered as wholly unemployed was 1,319,912. According to the latest figures up to yesterday week the 23rd of July the figures are 1,184,900. That is by no means as good as I personally had hoped for and expected. Last year I made a number of very careful calculations as to the probable course of these figures, assuming there was no serious dislocation of trade at home or abroad, and I certainly expected to see them down to at least 1,000,000 before the middle of this year, with further reductions until we begin to come round into the seasonal depression, as we shall do about the end of October. I thought we might possibly have to carry on the register a million wholly unemployed during next winter, but, as things stand, unless there is a very big change, it seems to me we shall find ourselves carrying at least 1,250,000 persons, and probably more. This is the fourth winter of grave industrial depression. It would be very difficult to overstate the gravity of the situation. In the winter 1920–21, the first winter of the depression, there was by way of supplement to the unemployed insurance benefit a good deal of trade union out-of-work benefit. These resources had not been exhausted, and the Unemployment Insurance benefit was really by way of supplement to the other sources. That was less true of the second winter, 1921–22. It was not true at all of the third winter, 1922–23, and it is not going to be true of the winter now before us.
Further it must be remembered that the long period of depression has hit many boards of guardians very severely indeed, and especially those that have been under the weather the whole time.
1579 I have no doubt they will take note of the fact that certain loans are to be granted henceforth without interest, and in view of the situation as it exists that concession will be required. Many of them are very heavily in debt and it is going to be far more difficult—I know they will do their best as they have done throughout this long period—in view of the great strain caused by the heavy burden of debt in these areas to find relief works for unemployed persons in this forthcoming winter than previously. This is no less true of municipal relief works. The municipalities, with great patriotism, have been bringing forward and putting into operation schemes which have been financed by the Government. They have been doing that ever since the fall of 1920, but the continued depression will make it still more difficult to finance these schemes. It will be very difficult too to find public utility relief works, or any schemes at all.
I am sorry the Minister of Labour is not here, but I hope the hon. Gentleman who represents him on that bench at the moment will convey to him what I am saying. We listened naturally to his statement as to the provision being made for the coming winter with very great interest, and particularly so with regard to the schemes which the municipalities are invited once more to put forward in order to mitigate the difficulties of the problem. The Minister of Labour was careful to say that this was his "first edition "—he did not actually use that phrase, but it conveys what he meant. I may say it will have to be very considerably added to. I am not going to say anything in a partisan spirit about this matter. I know too well the worries and anxieties of the man upon whose shoulders the burden rests, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in the Cabinet that this first edition is not going to carry us through this coming winter, and he will have to appeal again and again to the Cabinet and to the Treasury to give what assistance is required to meet the situation. He, necessarily more than anyone else, knows the truth of the situation. The returns he receives week by week show him what districts will be most acutely hit—the districts where there has been great unemployment from the very beginning.
1580 I notice the right hon. Gentleman has just returned to the House. Perhaps I may be allowed to repeat my question. I was suggesting that his first edition, as I have described it, will have to be considerably added to. No one knows that better than he does. He sent out a Circular on 6th July to municipalities, in which he stated, and correctly so, that to put up new schemes of work was better than paying the dole. In passing, may I say, I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) using the word "dole" in the way he did, particularly when three-fourths of the money comes from other than public sources, a large share being contributed by the workmen themselves. My right hon. Friend has asked the Municipalities to send up some new schemes, and in his Circular of 6th July he suggested that preliminary proposals should be submitted in rough outline as soon as possible, and in any event not later than by the end of the current month. I want to ask the Minister of Labour if he is satisfied with the replies he has received to that Circular. He did not tell us. He said nothing about the response. I am not blaming municipalities that have not sent replies in. They have been acting in the most patriotic way during the whole period of depression, but is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied with the response to this Circular of 6th July? If not, let him tell us so, and we will give him all the assistance we can. His is a very grave and anxious responsibility.
The best point about his statement was the proposal, a novel one as far as actual accomplishment is concerned, that private enterprise should have assistance. In that respect it is going to do a lot of good, but as regards municipal work I again ask the Minister of Labour if he is satisfied with the response of the municipalities to his invitation of 6th July to send up in rough outline schemes before the end of this month. If not, I should strongly recommend the right hon. Gentleman to say so in order that we may come to his assistance if necessary. Another point to which I must refer in this matter of financing work as a better expediency than the granting of relief—a view which I believe is shared in all quarters of the House and by people themselves who are out of work—is that on the 11th July the Prime Minister, in a written 1581 reply to a question which I had asked with regard to railway electrification, said:Electrification schemes are in progress on the suburban lines of the Southern Railway; extensions and improvements are being carried out on the London Electric and City and South London lines; further powers for considerable extensions of the underground companies' lines are being sought by Bills of the present Session; and other railway companies are understood to be considering the question of electrification, especially in relation to the suburban areas served by them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1923; col. 1371, Vol. 166.]That sort of work is extremely valuable. It gives employment to skilled men, whereas municipal public utility relief work is broadly pick-and-shovel work which can be done by unskilled men. Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that this policy of railway electrification is being carried out to the extent it ought to be in view of what may be the position in the coining winter? The speech of the Prime Minister at Glasgow has been referred to twice. The precise words the right hon. Gentleman used in a speech on 26th July are the ones I would like to quote now. The right hon. Gentleman said:This is a time when any man, any firm, any company that is contemplating capital works of any kind will be rendering a great service to the community by getting on with these works instead of postponing them.I desire to support that appeal with all the emphasis I can put behind my words. He who gives quickly to-day gives a good deal more than twice, in my judgment. I should like to ask for some further facts about the Export Credits Scheme and the Trade Facilities Act—as to the operation of both of these. I observe my right hon. Friend said that under the Export Credits Scheme there was a sum of £14,000,000 in use at this time. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) gave up office, we had guaranteed credits up to the amount of £22,000,000. Therefore a good deal of that must have been wiped off the slate. I shall be glad to be told how much credit has been guaranteed under the Export Credits Scheme during the year 1923. The figure of £14,000,000, which has been quoted, does not help us. We want to know how much was sanctioned and issued in 1923. Then I come to what has 1582 been done under the Trade Facilities Act. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs left office, we had guaranteed loans under that Act up to £22,000,000. The Minister of Labour paid a very fine tribute to the effect of this Trade Facilities Act, and said the full amount for loans guaranteed was £26,000,000. That, apparently, would show that only about £4,000,000 of loan has been guaranteed during 1923. It may be that my original figures are wrong. But if they are not, all I can say is, that you will not solve this problem in that way. I am satisfied you will have to go ahead far more than this with this fourth winter of continuous depression before you. After the tribute paid by the Minister of Labour to schemes under this Act, it is very much to be regretted if, as I gather, only apparently £4,000,000 of loans or new guarantees have been issued during the year 1923. I hope I am wrong.
I listened with great interest to the appeal of the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley for a loan of £100,000,000 to start great schemes of development. It is no good crying over spilt milk, but I am profoundly sorry—and I am glad to see my right hon. Friend the late Chancellor of the Exchequer in his place, although he was by no means responsible—that, when the Government saw there was going to be a surplus of £101,000,000 out of last year's Budget, my right hon. Friend did not come to the House of Commons and take the directions of the House as to the best way to apply that surplus. I know that under the Finance Act, 1920, it automatically went to the Sinking Fund, but the amount was so unusual and so great, and the situation in which we found ourselves was so difficult, that I think the Government ought to have come to the House of Commons and asked for directions, and, indeed, ought to have suggested to us that that £101,000,000 of surplus ought to be diverted from the Sinking Fund to the development of great schemes of the kind referred to by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley. There are in the air great schemes of electrical power development and great schemes for arterial main roads, there are large schemes of afforestation, land reclamation, and so on; and it is a thousand pities that the Government did not get authority not to let that money go to the 1583 Sinking Fund, as it does, I agree, under the law, but to apply it to the development of works like these, because that would be an enormous advantage to these men who are unemployed.
There are men to-day who have been tramping the streets, through no fault of their own, during a very great deal of this long period. Their morale must be seriously undermined. It is no good saying that the dole demoralises; what demoralises is being out of work. How many of us would not lose the incentive and the desire for regular occupation if we were out of it for a long, continuous period? That is what is happening in this country. All these large numbers of men have been so long unemployed as to have got their tails down, and to have begun to lose the incentive for regular employment. That £101,000,000 would have been very useful there, and so would the £100,000,000 loan which my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley suggested. It is to the Minister of Labour that I look. I know his zeal, I know his enthusiasm, I know his desire in this matter, and it is to him that I look to keep the Government up to the scratch in this matter, to see that this thing is done adequately and properly, and to get all the encouragement he can in the winter before us for the putting up of work by anyone, rather than giving mere money relief to these poor men.
I have kept the House quite long enough, but there are two other things that I want quite briefly to say, and I am glad to see that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department is here. The first thing I want to say is that I am profoundly disappointed with the very poor and meagre operations under the Empire Settlement Act. We passed that Act in May of last year, and it put the whole problem of emigration on to an entirely new and better plane. We put into that Act £1,500,000 to be spent during the last financial year, and £3,000,000 to be spent in each of the 15 succeeding years. The sequel is very disappointing. Let me read quite shortly part of a written answer which my hon. and gallant Friend gave to me on the 29th June, and I will ask the House to follow these facts:Up to date the total number of persons accepted under these schemes is 24,104, of 1584 whom 19,170 have already proceeded overseas. The Empire Settlement Act did not come into operation until June, 1922, and the total expenditure under the Act during the financial year 1922–23 was £35,000.That is less than one-fortieth of the provision which Parliament made for the operation of this scheme last year, and provision has been made for £3,000,000 to be spent in the current financial year and in each of the 14 succeeding years. I will continue my quotation:In the Estimates for the current financial year, £1,186,200 is provided for the purposes of the Act. Of this sum the actual amount expended to date is £49,000. and the total commitment under the various assisted passage schemes is £173,000."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th June, 1923; col. 2722, Vol. 165.]Of course, I know that this has got to be done in cordial co-operation and consultation with the Overseas Dominions, and I have only half the parties here. I know that, and, therefore, I cannot, when I express disappointment, as I do—and I have no doubt that it is shared on the Government Bench—forget that I have not the whole picture before me; but let us look at the situation, and let everyone realise that, if this be not done at once, it cannot be done at all. There are at this moment 300,000 young fellows under 30 years of age in this country who are unemployed. Many of them have been unemployed for long periods, and many of them are men who bought redemption for us in the grim struggle of 1914–18. There they are. They are still hardy and fit and enduring, but they are drifting rapidly, and, if you do not let them take this tide, there is nothing before them but failure. That is really not fair, considering what they did for us, and we really ought to do something better for them. I call it a tragedy when these men's opportunity is slipping from them, as it is. It is no good talking to them in five years' time, or thereabouts, about overseas settlement. They will not be fit for it then, and there will be nothing before them but failure. Here is the practical certainty of health and strength and vigour for these men in the open parts of the British Empire. The Imperial Conference is to be held this year. Need I ask the Government to put all sincerity and determination behind the discussion of this problem then, and to give these men the chance that they so well deserve?
1585 I only want to say one thing more. My right hon. Friend referred to the King's Roll for the employment of disabled men. That has been our great instrument for getting these men employment. We have said, and hon. Members have helped us in all parte of the country by saying it in their constituencies, "You retain 5 per cent. of your places for disabled ex-service men, and we will write the name of your firm on this roll of honour." The thing was being done admirably by the local Employment Committees of the Ministry of Labour, and my right hon. Friend knows that last year a Select Committee of this House, the Chairman of which, the hon. and gallant Member for Fareham (Sir J. Davidson), is sitting opposite to me now, made a new start and suggested the appointment of local committees under the presidency of the Lord Mayors, Mayors, Lord Provosts and Provosts, as the case may be, with a National Council, the presidency of which, as the House has heard with pleasure, has been undertaken by Lord Haig. They have worked for six months, and have done very well, and I wish to pay a tribute to them now. I see by the White Paper issued yesterday, to which the Minister of Labour referred, that there are 27,890 firms on the Roll who have given the undertaking; but there are at least 20,000 firms in this country who are not on the Roll and who ought to be on the Roll. There are 40,000 disabled men out of a job to-day. If those firms each took one man, half the job would be done; and if the local authorities throughout the country—many of whom are not doing their duty in this matter—each took another one, the job would be very easily completed. I only mention that to encourage the new King's Roll local committees, their presidents, and their national council, to continue the good work which they have been doing so admirably and so well for the last six months, and to wish them God-speed in their efforts.
§ Mr. WEBB
I think I can shorten the remarks with which I shall trouble the House by saying that the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has expressed a great deal of what I should have attempted to say. I could not help feeling, when the Minister was explaining So clearly how much had been done under the various schemes this year for dealing 1586 with the problem of unemployment, that, while all that had been done, the net result had been to leave this million and a quarter unprovided for. I do not say that by way of blame, or even criticism, but I do think it compels the House to realise that, great as have been the exertions of the successive Ministers of Labour, the result of those exertions has been extremely regrettable, in that it leaves still over a million people not provided for in any satisfactory way; because, although the unemployment insurance scheme has been of valuable assistance—Heaven knows where we should have been without that stand-by!—I do not think that anyone would consider the mere receipt week after week of unemployment benefit to be at all an adequate or a proper or a safe way of providing for those who are unemployed. The fact that these men and women and young people have contributed something towards that dole does not make it cease to have bad effects, or cease to be a dole. The fact that employers and the State have contributed something towards it does not make that money payment any the less harmful. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) has said, it is being out of work that is the demoralising thing, and being hungry also. If the unemployment benefit stops the worst of the physical deterioration, it does practically nothing to stop the moral deterioration that is going our and, unfortunately, it is inadequate even to stop the physical deterioration.
The effort that the Minister of Labour has made, great as it has been, during the past year and the previous year, has left a million people still unprovided for. All these trade facilities schemes and export credit schemes, all the acceleration of the work of Government Departments and municipalities, and all the relief work—and it is very little better than the Poor Law—all these things which have been done still leave a million men and women unprovided for. It is tragic, when one comes to think of it that the greater part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech each year relates to what is going to be done for 100,000, or, at most, 200,000, men. I do not want to belittle it; it is a tremendous gain that so much should be done; but, surely, we ought to view it in perspective—we ought 1587 to view it against the total. How can we justify doing this for 100,000 or 200,000 men, inadequate as it is, and refusing it to the other 1,000,000, who are no worse, who are no more guilty, and who are no less a part of the citizenship on whom we depend for the future? Reinforcing all that I could have said on that point the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell put it very much more forcibly and very much more incisively than I could possibly have put it. What are we going to do about this during the coming winter? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell is beginning to feel un easy—it is evident that he is very much more uneasy than he was a year ago.
§ Mr. WEBB
I was going to do the Minister the same justice and say that I have no doubt that he, too, is very much more uneasy with regard to this fourth winter. This fourth winter faces these people with their resources exhausted. There is a very pregnant phrase in the, memorial of what we call the industrial group on that point. They say they are looking forward with dismay to one of the great unions with which that group is very largely concerned being absolutely disintegrated by, as they say, another year of such unemployment as we have been having. They—this industrial group, the members of which do not sympathise with me in my opinions at all—look upon the possible disintegration of this great trade union, and the dispersal of its resources and its organisation, as a menacing fact, which they beg the Government to avert by the, proposals which they have put before the Cabinet. I was hoping that we should have heard from the right hon. Gentleman the decision of the Cabinet upon these proposals, but we have not heard it, or, at least, I cannot think we have heard it, because all we have heard amounts to a complete negative of the proposals which have been put before the Government in so influential a way. It is quite true that those proposals are only a repetition of the proposals which have been put forward in detail from this side of the House. Here is the Labour policy on unemployment, which was published in January, 1921, and which set forth the 1588 extension of the development of railways, waterways, docks and other works of the kind, all set forth in the report of the industrial group to the Government. That has all been put forward. It is known of course to the Labour Ministry though unfortunately we have never been able to induce hon. Members to believe we have anything like so detailed a programme. This is 45 pages of print. I do not suppose hon. Members will read it. It is of no great importance that they should read it now, because the same proposals are now being put forward by the industrial group of Members, who have business experience, who have financial knowledge, who cannot be guilty of any wild-cat proposals and who, certainly, are not biassed in favour of Socialism or anything of that sort, and they, of course, are not aware that it is Socialism. We will not discuss whether it is or not, but when the proposals come before the Cabinet which are pushed in the House by the industrial group, we of the Labour party may very well be contented to be silent on the matter and merely to support the hon. Members who press these things on the Government, if they will press them.
I hoped we were going to have the decision of the Cabinet upon those proposals. If we have had the decision of the Cabinet in the words of the right hon. Gentleman, I can only regret that the industrial group has had no more effect on the Government, because the decision of the Cabinet is practically a direct negative. I do not say the Cabinet have not some justification. For instance, these hon. Members proposed the electrification of the railways and suggested apparently that that should be done with considerable help from the Government, I gathered from the Minister that he entirely agreed with electrification of the railways, but he emphasised the fact that the railway companies had something like £120,000,000. Of that sum £60,000,000 was paid to the companies by the Government. That £120,000,000 has not been spent. It is actually in hand, and when the £60,000,000 was paid to them by the Government, I understand it was paid in order that it might be spent in putting the railways in a fit state to cope with the traffic for which they were preparing. I sympathise with the Minister in saying 1589 that work ought to be done at the expense of the railway companies, and I would ask whether it is not possible for the Government to make representations to the railway companies to ask that they should put this work in hand with the least possible delay. It is not enough to talk' about schemes for electrifying suburban traffic on the southern lines and other lines. Surely there are larger schemes for electrification of large stretches of the main line which have been under the consideration of the companies, which the companies know will be profitable to them, and which might be put in hand if only the Government would exercise the influence which it is entitled to exercise upon the railway companies, and more entitled than ever in view of the fact that £60,000,000 of this £120,000,000 has actually been provided out of public funds for the express purpose of putting the railways in order.
That is the biggest part of the scheme of the industrial group, and I should have been glad if the Minister had been able to give us the decision of the Cabinet with regard to that electrification. But there are other things. There is the proposal that municipalities should be encouraged to do work. The right hon. Gentleman has told us the municipalities have already been asked, months ago, to put work in hand, and to say what work they can put in hand. Unfortunately, the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last indicated, though he did not say—I say what he only indicated—that the responses have been extremely disappointing. They have not been able to bring themselves to propose any considerable amount of schemes of municipal work. In fact, the assistance offered to them by the Government has not been adequate to make them willing to undertake, with the present trade conditions, large municipal enterprises. Are we going to stop there? The Government is full of good intentions. It hopes the municipalities will take advantage of the offer and engage in these large works, but if the municipalities are not willing to do it are we going to rest there? I do not like to predict, but just as the optimistic programme of the Minister of Labour a year ago still left more than a million on the unemployed register for whom no work was provided, so I am afraid, if the Minister can do nothing more, this somewhat enlarged but 1590 not much enlarged programme which he puts forward this year will leave more than one million for whom no work is found. Are you going to be contented with that? What right have we as a matter of equity in doing this for one or two hundred thousand if at the same time we refuse it to the million? I suggest that the Government must really do something more. The Government must really manage to pass beyond the region of good intentions. If they ask what, there are a number of things which can be suggested. The industrial group will provide safe and sound schemes, warranted to work and warranted not to be socialistic.
I will be more daring. I will not go into the domain of these industrial questions. I will ask, Why do they press the municipalities only to do revenue producing work, which apparently is wealth producing work? I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether there is any such distinction with any validity. Why should it be a good thing at present to press forward tramways, electric works, or waterworks merely because the municipalities can levy the cost on all the inhabitants and so make them tax-producing enterprises—not necessarily wealth-producing but tax-producing enterprises? Why should that be any better than urging the municipalities to make up their arrears of school building, to make up their arrears even of public hospitals, or to go on with their arrears of houses? Why should not the municipalities have been pressed to do that? How is it that when Government Departments have been urged to put as much work in hand as possible, as they have more than once, by the Cabinet and when they are asked in different Circulars to apply as much of the expenditure of the next 10 years as can properly be applied and to put it in hand at once, how is it there is one Department which does not do that? The Ministry of Education does not send out that Circular and press local authorities to build the schools which are necessary. Why is that exception made? The Minister of Health does not send out Circulars and press local authorities to build the hospitals which are necessary. Why is that exception made? That would give the same amount of employment to those who have no work in the same beneficent way as electrifying the rail- 1591 ways or the making of roads. Apparently because those are not tax-producing enterprises.
"Tax producing" is my own phrase. The Government phrase is "revenue producing." Local authorities are encouraged to undertake works which are revenue producing, but I point out that the revenue from water works is a tax. The revenue from a tramway is a tax. It is a monopoly profit which, if it yields a revenue, is in the nature of a tax. So equally with electricity. I do not want to lay any stress upon that. But what is the distinction? If the works are useful, if what is produced is a public service or is a utility or what is undertaken is work which must have been undertaken within the next few years, why exclude the immaterial services? And why does not the Ministry of Education press for the schools to be brought up to date and the libraries and all the rest of it? I can only imagine perhaps that it is not anticipated that we shall ever build these schools. Are we to suppose we are never going to get our schools up to date-never catch up the arrears of school building? If we are to do it in the next few years why not now, rather than two or three years hence? That has been the policy and why should an exception be made to that?
What we would urge on this side is that the Government ought really to be undertaking ten times as much of this work, not necessarily through the local authorities but through the public utility authorities, or through any authorities it can. I am glad to have the support of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) in talking about £101,000,000 for expenditure. That £101,000,000 which he wished to divert was used in paying off debt. There is a large amount of capital crying for investment at this moment. The Government could borrow the £101,000,000 perfectly easily if it chose at rates which would be quite satisfactory. The money is there waiting. The money market is choked with capital. Recent issues have shown that it is. You could get £100,000,000 as soon as you like, and you could do the work that is required if there was any desire to do it, but apparently, for some reason, the Government will not do that.
1592 Passing from that—I cannot put it so forcibly as the right hon. Gentleman—I want to call attention to some particular things. First of all, I was responsible, before we adjourned last time, for directing the attention of the Minister of Labour to the condition of unemployed women. I can only repeat that once more. There are still, by his own admission, 211,000 adult women and 30,00G odd girls over 16—that means to say, a quarter of a million women—available for industry on his books, besides a large number more who are not on the books, unemployed. The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) drew attention, in words which were not nearly strong enough for the facts, to the terrible danger of having a quarter of a million women, mostly young, unemployed and denied any adequate maintenance. Of course, hon. Members are afraid, I believe, to do much for the women because of the outcry that they are keeping them away from domestic service, but it must be possible for people to understand that these women—it has been proved over and over again—are unfit for domestic service. They are untrained for it. They would not be accepted by any mistress even if they wished to go, and what we urge is that training should be provided for them in domestic work in order to fit any of them who may be willing to take such situations, but at any rate to provide them with maintenance under training in order to save them from worse things. I am sorry to say the Minister has not been able during the past few months apparently to provide any of these training schemes for women. Some little has been done merely to continue one or two which were going on but nothing adequate to the need of the 250,000, or even a tenth of that, has been provided. I would ask, if we are going into a fourth winter of unemployment, when the stress upon these women will be as great as the stress upon the men, and when the numbers are going to increase, can we honestly be satisfied with making only the provision of the dole—12s.—for these women, or some of them, and cutting that off in too many cases, and providing them not only with no opportunity of employment whatever but not even the training which would fit them to take what employment could be found for them. I ask that these training centres for women should be established as soon as possible and should be ade- 1593 quate to provide for all the women below a certain age at any rate who are willing to go, and I should like to make it in a great many cases a condition of unemployment benefit that they should go and be trained.
There was one phrase used by the Minister when he said that one of the things that went to his heart was to see the skilled worker out of work and unprovided for. He mentioned two, and I think it will be noticed that one was a skilled engineer, but the other was an expert cotton weaver. The expert cotton weaver is a woman, nine times out of ten. That is one of the trades where the women are, on the whole, more expert than the men, and very often earn more money on piece work. You cannot have a more highly-trained worker in all the world than the cotton weaver of Lancashire. They are out of work in large numbers. It is not to be suggested that they can be domestic servants, and yet there is nothing in the Minister's programme to deal with them. They are typical of 211,000 and more women for whom there is nothing in the Minister's programme at all. I cannot put it more forcibly than to say that a grave responsibility rests on the Government and on this House for these 200,000 women. It is not their fault-that they are unemployed, or that they have been diverted into industries that are not their proper career. They have no option, they have been trained, and have maintained themselves and very often a husband as well, but many are now widows. There they are, through no fault of their own, out of work for months and even years together, and the Government has no prospect or intention of anything for them beyond the dole; and be it remembered that the dole for a woman is not enough for her to live on, let alone the possibility of children.
There is something even worse that the right hon. Member for North-West Camberwell mentioned. There are 67,000 young people between 16 and 21 unemployed. There are more than that as a matter of fact, but there is that number on the books. I do ask whether we cannot secure training centres sufficient to provide for all those, or at any rate for all those where they are not unduly dispersed. There is no difficulty, 1594 it has all been worked out, the local education authorities would do it at once if only money were found from the centre, and the money could surely be found in order to save this valuable material from going to the devil, as rapidly it must. You cannot have a young man or a young woman between 16 and 21 idle day after day, with insufficient food, no sort of adequate care and protection, with nothing whatever to do, without the greatest deterioration of character and the irreparable damage to what we can never replace. It does seem to me that in respect to the women the programme of the right hon. Gentleman was not only meagre and inadequate but absolutely wanting in statesmanship.
About six months ago the then Prime Minister was good enough, at my suggestion, to appoint a Departmental Committee to consider the gaps in the provision between unemployment benefit, health insurance, war pensions, and the Poor Law, and also the gaps within each of those systems themselves. I, at any rate, was called as a witness, and I was able to show a very large number of gaps for which I did not blame the administration, but which arose out of the complications of the system under which different regulations were applied in different ways. There was quite a considerable number of cases that I was able to bring before that Committee to show that through the fault of no one in particular men were falling through these elaborate schemes and getting nothing. Other witnesses were called, and although I am not in a position to know their evidence, that Committee has gone on, but has not reported so far as I know. Yet this is an urgent matter. We have come to the fourth winter of these gaps, and men are falling through these gaps week by week and month by month. As this is a Departmental Committee containing no glib talkers and no politicians on it, but only officials, I think they ought in six months to be able to say whether or not men are falling through these gaps, and, if they are, how that can be remedied. It is a domestic Committee presided over by the present Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, and I would ask why it has not reported, whether it cannot report, whether that report can be circulated, and whether the Minister cannot tell the House how he is going to provide 1595 for stopping up these gaps and preventing these people falling through?
There is one final point, to which I wish to draw attention. The right hon. Gentleman talked very enthusiastically about the success of unemployment insurance, of the way in which it was saving people from the worst necessities, and he said that the benefit will be available during this coming winter for all these millions of people. Unfortunately, that is not quite accurate. Undoubtedly, the covenanted benefit provided in the Unemployment Insurance Act will be available subject to rather drastic limitations, but it will be available to people legally en titled to it, and the right hon. Gentleman knows very well that the great proportion of the people at present unemployed have exhausted their covenanted benefit and are thrown on the tender mercies of the Minister himself for the uncovenanted benefits. I have had any number of rows with the Minister about this uncovenanted benefit, because Parliament provided that it should be given according to the discretion of the Minister of Labour—not even according to rules he would make—and he has exercised his discretion, following his predecessor, in order to exclude from this uncovenanted benefit a large number of people who have been and are entitled to covenanted benefit, but who now find themselves excluded week after week and month after month from the uncovenanted benefit. Consequently, the unemployment insurance scheme is not available—he says it will be available this coming winter—to a considerable number of people who are and will be unemployed because they have been excluded by the Minister's own decision.
People up to 25 and more, people accustomed to working only part time, who have to pay insurance contribution because they work part time but who can only work part time, are excluded, because he says it is only to be given to people who work whole time. That applies to quite a number of other people. At first, when I discovered that I thought this was a gift and that we must not look a gift horse in the mouth, and that these people were no worse off than if the gift had not been made. I find, however, that it is not a gift at all but a loan, and that every credit given in this uncovenanted benefit has to be paid back in 1596 the future, the comparatively near future, and that these people who are unemployed are refused uncovenanted benefit because of the arbitrary rule of the Minister of Labour. Some of these people as they come into employment are charged extra rates which have been put on in order to repay the uncovenanted benefit from which they have not been allowed to draw anything at all. That is not fair or equitable. If you are going to charge these people the full additional rates of contribution which have been put on in order to repay the uncovenanted benefit, it is not fair to deny them the uncovenanted benefit in their hour of need. These single men and women, these part time workers, these married women workers, and quite a number of others that I do not now remember, are charged the extra contribution, are compulsorily insured, and have to pay not only the original contribution but the extra contribution charged on everybody in order to repay the uncovenanted benefit; yet, when they fall into unemployment, they are denied that uncovenanted benefit in their hour of need.
I would point out, therefore, that the House must not assume, as the Minister said, that the unemployment insurance will be available during the coming winter for these millions of unemployed. It will not, and by the decision of the Minister himself. I am not impugning that decision. That is not the point, but I am bringing to the notice of the House that, although these people are unemployed, not because they are immoral or idle, they are excluded because they belong to particular categories, and not because of personal conduct, and they do not come into that part of the scheme. It does seem to me that this whole method of dealing with the problem of unemployment which the Minister brought before the House to-day, and which is only a little larger than the scheme of last year, is inadequate. We cannot say precisely how much larger this scheme is, but I cannot help thinking that it is not 10 per cent. larger than the scheme of last year, which itself was only a little larger than the scheme of the year before. I do not want to grumble so much as to the small-ness of the amount, but it seems to me that the House and the Government are failing in their duty in going on year after year not realising that after you have done all that you have left one 1597 million people unprovided for. The Government on their own figures say that in this coming winter what they are providing will not bring down the number who are not provided for, otherwise than by the dole, below the million, and a considerable number of that million will not even get the dole. I do not think you can go on in that way. I believe this is menacing to the common welfare, and that we are steering into trouble. We do not want to particularise, as we can hardly see what shape it will take. This kind of thing cannot go on, and I am supported in that view by responsible Members who make up the industrial group in this House, and who have addressed to the Government a letter of alarm, anxiety, almost of menace. I should have hesitated myself to put my name to it, but they, on their responsibility and industrial experience, warned the Government that something has to be done.
§ Mr. WEBB
Well, I will conclude by saying that I do not believe things can go on as they are, and I ask the Government not to put the people to the hard test of starvation and demoralisation of character which they are now undergoing, remembering that this fourth winter will try them still further. I do not think it is fair to put these 200,000 women and these 67,000 young men and young maidens to that test, and I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to go to the Government and get some more comprehensive scheme for dealing with what is perhaps the most serious danger that faces us.
§ Sir ROBERT HORNE
After the wise, weighty, and grave speech of the right hon. Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) I feel the greatest possible diffidence in addressing the House upon this question, the more so that in a recent speech the Prime Minister directed attention to the inferiority of 1598 the legal mind to the business mind. I have the greatest possible admiration for the business man, but that is a sentiment which is not universally shared. I remember in the course of the War, when some business men were connected with large contracts, the results of which the Prime Minister was deploring the other day, two very clever gentlemen at the Treasury were discussing the matter, and one said to the other, "How is it that business men succeed so well in business?" The reply was, "Because they have only got business men to compete with." I think that was treating a very important matter rather flippantly. I am at the present time doing my best to climb those austere heights of intellectual aptitude which business men take in their stride, and I want to congratulate the Prime Minister that he was able to settle the American Debt, after the period at which I gave up my office at the Treasury, and before Mr. McKenna was able to apply his legal mind to the problem.
I have risen to-night to address myself only to one particular point in the great question which we are discussing; but before I deal with it, may I be allowed to say that it appears to me that all sections of Members in the House so clearly realise the great gravity of the problem with which we are dealing that there is no desire to make party capital out of it. What we are all seeking to do is to arrive at the best possible scheme for relieving the great distress from which we are suffering. Accordingly, it is quite unnecessary for me to take up any of the points raised by the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb). I am glad that the Government has seen its way to extend many of the schemes upon which they had already embarked, and I hope—having some knowledge of the good that has been done by the Export Credits Scheme and the Trades Facilities Schemes—that those schemes will be still further extended and that they will be rendered more elastic in operation. There are certain restrictions under which the schemes are at present being worked which it seems to me deprive them of the full efficacy which they might attain. I hope the Government will take into consideration the possibility of loosening some of these restrictions and making it more possible for the gentlemen who administer these schemes to give facilities in many cases where they are tempted to do so, but 1599 at the present time feel themselves bound by the inelastic restrictions to refuse.
I should now like to address myself to a point which might possibly have been appropriate in the Debate to-morrow, but which I think, really, is more apposite to the discussion we are having to-day. We all know that the cause of unemployment at the present time is the lack of trade, that the lack of trade is due to lack of orders, and that the lack of orders is due to the fact that our customers cannot buy. Accordingly, what we have to do is to create markets. Certain markets are being created at home by the proposals of the Government in connection with the extension of local schemes, but, after all, we are an exporting country and our main market is the world outside these islands. The Government scheme, as I understand it, will cover the possibility of trade development in the Empire, and I hope that when the Imperial Conference meets this year we shall see some bold plans adopted as a result of their deliberations.
The Government is now addressing itself to the problem of bringing about a settlement in Europe, without which we can never have that revival of trade that we all desire, and which is the only means by which, in the end, we can bring about complete employment in this country. In dealing with this problem, I hope the Government will keep very clearly in view the effect upon employment in this country of the particular solution which they adopt. We are living in a world of competitors, and I should like to ask the House to consider the condition of two of our competitors who, at the present time, are greatly in our debt, and are making very little effort to pay us. A very distinguished German financier said to me some time ago, in answer to a question which I put to him as to how Germany would stand if she suddenly got rid of all her obligations to pay reparations, "It would be the most powerful country in Europe." It was a most startling reply, but if we begin to analyse the facts we can see how true it is. Germany, during these years since the Armistice, has not been standing still. She has been steadily re-equipping herself, and one must acknowledge that it has been at the expense of the Allies. She started 1600 deliberately upon a policy of evading her obligations, which she has found has not in the end answered, because it has brought her close to ruin. But she stands to-day with all her great industrial organisations reconstructed and put into a condition of efficiency with which we have nothing in this country to compare.
Germany has got rid of all her debt. She has no external debt, and she has got rid of her internal debt by the inflation of her currency. Not only that, but every business in Germany which previously was burdened with a debenture issue has got rid of its debenture debt. If we suddenly wiped out Germany's reparation payments to-morrow, Germany would be in a position to start in the competition of the world's commerce compared with us in a far more formidable position than she was before the War. What is our position? We, above all other countries, have not neglected to meet our War obligations. We have been manfully facing our obligations. We have a debt now of £7,000,000,000 as against Germany, which has none. Industry in this country is taxed to an unbearable point in order to meet the necessities of the country. It would be in that condition that we should be meeting a Germany freed from all her natural and legal obligations. I hope the Government will keep in view the effect upon employment in this country if Germany is too lightly let off her obligations.
§ Sir R. HORNE
The hon. and gallant Member is forgetting entirely the condition in which Germany was vis-a-vis Britain in the days before the War, and what the condition would be now. We were then free from the present great burden of debt. We stand in a totally different position to-day as against our competitors. Accordingly, while we are interested in doing our utmost to support the revival of world trade, we must see that the conditions under which it is revived are not such as would drive us out of the markets of the world. In this connection I think it would be very unwise to give Germany too long a moratorium. My belief is that the four years which we previously offered in the negotiations between ourselves and France was too long. I believe that if Germany got 1601 four years' moratorium, within those four years it would have the greatest possible detrimental effect upon trade and employment in this country. Therefore, in looking at the condition of things at the present time, I think the Government would be wise to consider whether so long a term should again be offered.
Let me now turn to another country—France. What is her condition to-day? France also has been steadily re-equipping and reconstructing her industrial organisations. There is a completely false idea in existence in this country, and still more across the channel, upon the relative positions of England and France. Because we have been meeting by taxation our expenditure and our credit is good the idea across the channel seems to be that we are too wealthy to be considered in the matter of reparations. We have only been meeting our expenditure by putting an almost intolerable strain upon the whole resources of our country. Even after all the debt which France has incurred since the Armistice, all that she has spent upon her devastated regions, and all that she has borrowed from her own people in order to make up the deficit on her Budgets is taken into account, she has a capital debt of £1,400,000,000 less than our debt. That is not realised. I do not think the French realise it, and I am sure they will not misunderstand me in directing attention to the matter. They have a complete misapprehension as to our position relative to France.
France to-day as far as her taxation is concerned taxes her people rather less than half per head of what we tax our people. The relative figures are, I think, something like £7 10s. per head in France as against £15 per head in this country since the alteration under the present Budget. The Income Tax which France collects from her people is only about one-sixth per head of what we raise here. France to-day has not only re-established her trade, but last year she had a greater volume of exports and imports than she had before the War, while we are still struggling with about 70 per cent. of our pre-War trade. France is granting subsidies to all sorts of concerns in order to increase her trade. If the House will forgive me I should like to quote a passage from a very carefully prepared report from our commercial representa- 1602 tive in Paris. I think it will enlighten hon. Members upon the actual position in France, which I am sure is entirely mis-France, which I am sure is imperfectly understood in this country. He says:The present economic position of Prance is strong. Her industrial population is fully employed and her output in most fields of production is limited only by the dearth of man power.Compare that with our condition—The industrial reconstruction of the devastated areas is fast approaching completion; the destroyed or damaged coal mines in these areas are increasing their output, being aided by the improved technical equipment introduced; in the great textile industries of these areas the damaged works, provided with the most modern machinery and accessories, have been occupied to the full extent of the labour at their disposal, especially in the woollen and cotton branches.Contrast that with the condition of Lancashire to-day—Work has been brisk in the reconstructed undertakings of the chemical and engineering trades in the same areas. Agricultural reconstruction has not lagged behind; the areas cultivated with the prominent crops—wheat and beetroot—will soon approximate to the pre-War area under these crops, and the sugar factories for handling the beet have now been re-built and re-equipped,I could read many more passages illustrating the same general truth. What I say to the Government is this, that if our competitors are to become free of burdens which we still have to pay, and if we are indeed the only people to bear a War indemnity, then our unemployment in this country will go up, even from the terrible figures of to-day, by leaps and bounds. I would suggest that all these facts should be brought prominently before, not merely the people of this country, but the people of France, and that they should be brought to understand the position in which to-day we are struggling with the great burdens of debt and the great obligations which we are bound to meet. Our people have borne these with a fortitude which has never been paralleled in the history of the world, and it is the high duty of this House to save the people from any further misfortune.
Mr. T. THOMSON
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Hillhead Division of Glasgow (Sir R. Horne) has paid a tribute to the fortitude and calmness with which our people have borne 1603 the last three winters of unemployment. I would suggest that if all that is to be done is what has been outlined by the Minister of Labour, that fortitude will hardly withstand the strain which is about to be put upon it. What the Minister said in his speech more particularly was more particularly an account of what has been done up to the present. He referred to only one new feature. That was a modified form of assistance to local authorities. From what he said he seemed to think that this would be a great advance on what has been done up to the present. In reply to an interjection to me, I understood him to say that they were going to get double the assistance which they had received before. I question whether that will prove to be so in actual practice. His scheme refers only to revenue-producing schemes. Those of us who are connected with local authorities know that unfortunately the number of revenue-producing schemes which can be put in hand is very small.
It was my lot last night to be present at the town council meeting in Middles brough, at which schemes were approved to be submitted to the right hon. Gentleman's Department covering a considerable amount of work for the coming winter, and, while he was speaking, I have been going through these schemes and I found that 90 per cent. of the work is work of a non-revenue producing character. The local authority received the Circular of 6th July and, since then, have been exploring every possible means to take advantage of the improved terms which are offered. After the most careful investigation, they find that, owing to local circumstances, which I believe will be found to be similar in most towns, only a very small proportion of work which can be put in hand is of a revenue-producing character. Therefore, even though the terms which he offered are somewhat better than have been granted before, they will only apply to a small part of the work which is to be put in hand during the coming winter.
The right hon. Gentleman said in his opening remarks that the door was not closed and, therefore, I appeal to him to reconsider whether it will not be possible to give the local authorities more favourable terms, not merely for revenue-producing schemes, but for non-revenue- 1604 producing work. What he described as the more favourable terms for the revenue-producing schemes are from 20 to 25 per cent. of the total cost of the work. If the local authority have to pay more than 75 per cent. of the cost of the non-reproductive work to relieve the terrible unemployment in their district, then with the rates at 20s. to 30s. in the £ they cannot face the winter. Therefore, I appeal to the Minister and the Government to give further assistance to those areas which are most badly hit. The Minister referred with pride to the reduction which has taken place in the total numbers of unemployed throughout the country. While that reduction has taken place in the average we still find that in certain districts unemployment, instead of going down, is going up. I made inquiries in Middlesbrough yesterday and I found that in that district the number of unemployed has gradually been creeping up during the last two or three months and that the returns are now considerably higher than they were.
May I draw the attention of the Minister to the variation which he is making in the returns issued each month by the Ministry of Labour. Up to the present they have shown the varying percentages of unemployment which occur in various districts. I have frequently referred in this House to the abnormal amount of unemployment in the engineering and shipbuilding trades on the northeast coast. Prior to this Debate, I looked up the latest returns, and I find that, instead of the percentages of unemployment being given, as they have been given up to the present, in the July number of the "Ministry of Labour Gazette" they have carefully omitted to give the percentages of unemployment in the various districts. They give the aggregate figures, the total number of unemployed in the engineering trade and the shipbuilding trade in each particular district, but when I want to compare that with the rest of the country, those figures, for some reason, are omitted this month. Therefore it is impossible, without working out calculations and turning up previous numbers, to find out the aggregate numbers, compared with the increase which has taken place throughout the rest of the country. Therefore, I would ask the Minister if he would give instructions that the valuable 1605 returns which have been made up to the present shall be continued in future numbers, and that the percentage of the numbers who are unemployed shall be given.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Mr. Betterton)
The point was very fully answered yesterday. Shortly, the answer is that a return will be made to the old system. The reason why the old system was abandoned was that we wanted to make the specification agree with the census taken in 1921, but in about two or three months the old system will be restored, and the figures for the intervening months will be supplied.
Mr. T. THOMSON
I am grateful for the explanation as I did not hear the reply made yesterday. The figures given last month show the percentage of unemployed in the country roughly as 11 per cent. The percentage in the shipbuilding on the North-East Coast is over 40 per cent. and in the engineering on the North-East Coast it is over 20 per cent. Therefore I make a special appeal to the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Health, to see whether their Departments cannot have special regard to the abnormal conditions which prevail in many of these so called necessitous areas. I hope that the Minister of Health, when he comes to speak, may have some message of hope and encouragement to those who have borne a burden which is weighing them down to breaking point, because unfortunately not merely are the returns given by the Employment Exchanges bad, but they are getting worse in those districts.
I was yesterday on the Middlesbrough Exchange, and I could not find from the business men whom I met one single gleam of hope or comfort for the coming winter. Every business man was despondent, and feared that the coming winter was going to be worse than those which preceded it. Therefore, I think that there is good ground for asking the Minister of Health and the Minister of Labour if they cannot give same special assistance to these necessitous areas, where the rates are from 20s. to 30s. in the £, and where they have carried on for three years, as otherwise they will find it impossible to carry on during the coming winter. Not merely are the rate- 1606 payers overburdened as ratepayers, but the workers have exhausted all their private savings, and the prospect before them is infinitely worse than ever it was before. Though the Minister of Labour may be correct in his surmise that the numbers of unemployed will not be greater than last year, yet the amount of suffering and privation will be infinitely more, because there are no savings for the workers and those who are suffering to fall back upon. Therefore, I ask the Minister in these further schemes to grant to the local authorities more advantageous terms than have been granted up to the present.
Another point to which I wish to draw attention is the restriction to 75 per cent. of the standard rate of the wages which may be paid to those engaged in this particular class of work. That may or may not be desirable in certain cases, but in districts where men are engaged in the heavy class of work, where men's usual avocations are of a labouring character of a heavy nature those men who are taken from shipbuilding and ironworks and put to road making give a full day's work, and should not be penalised to the extent of 75 per cent. That was bad enough when wages were high, but when the average wages of a labourer are from 30s. to 35s. a week to pay only 75 per cent. is bringing people almost to a starvation level. Therefore, I hope that a modification may be made, so that the money offered for whatever work they do will enable them to tide through the coming winter.
Another question to which I wish to refer is the Committee which has been inquiring into the penalties imposed on those who are innocent victims of a trade dispute. My right hon. Friend said that the Committee had been meeting, and was continuing to meet, and that he hoped some beneficial result might follow. Might I remind him that the Committee was appointed in April, 1922, and has not yet reported. How much longer have we to wait before we can have some solution of this problem? If the Committee is unable to come to an agreement is it not possible for the Government themselves to tackle the question, and, looking at it from the broad point of view rather than from the trade point of view, find some solution which will do justice to those who are at present being penalised? He 1607 must have had many cases of real hardship which occur through the operation of Section 8, Sub-section (1) of the Act of 1920 brought to his attention during the last few weeks. May I refer to one or two cases which have been brought to my notice lately. This morning I saw a man who said that he had been taken into a ship-repairing yard in the month of April after this unfortunate trouble had begun. He started on shipbuilding work a month or two after the trouble begun. Therefore he was not unemployed on account of the trouble. The particular job came to an end, and when he applied for unemployment benefit, he was ruled out, because he was supposed to be unemployed on account of this dispute. Obviously that was not so, because he was taken on while the dispute was raging. Subsequently, he found work at the same place on ship repairing. That job came to an end, and he appealed again to the local committee, and said, "Here, I have got work; surely the time I have been off is not due to the dispute, but to the absence of work in the ordinary course of events," but he was again refused. I have another case of a man who was employed as a fitter, and was disqualified because of a dispute. He found work as a general labourer, and that went on for some time. When he wanted unemployment benefit, because of the slackness of work, he was refused, and was told it was no good his maintaining he was a fitter, because he was only a labourer; and because of the dispute he could not receive benefit. Those are only two of the many cases entailed by the working of the Section at present, and I hope the Minister may be able to see his way to speed up matters so that these injustices, which rankle very deeply, and, at a time like the present, inflict great hardship, may be removed.
A suggestion has been made that our Colonies should receive loans free of interest for some two years to come in order to help them. Surely, if it be good for the Colonies it is equally good for those at home, and again I put in a plea for those local authorities and boards of guardians who are equally and more overburdened, equally and more than those people who receive assistance overseas. I contend that those at home are entitled to the same regard. I hope, when 1608 the Minister receives applications from the local authorities for assistance, help will be given in no niggardly spirit, and that instead of spending something like £50,000,000 on Unemployment Insurance benefit, as was the case last year, and probably as many millions more to relieve unemployed people, he will see if it is not possible to utilise their services in productive work, so that, at the end of the coming year, we may have really valuable assets to set off against the expenditure of money which will have to be made in one way or another. We have to spend money, and we cannot allow people to starve. As we have to spend it, surely it is not impossible to set in motion those larger schemes of works of public utility which will stand for all time, and will yield a valuable return to the nation in future, while saving men from drawing money for doing nothing, and from that demoralisation which always follows idleness.
§ Mr. FLANAGAN
In rising for the first time, I crave your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House. Perhaps, also, I may claim a little sympathy in having to follow the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) who, in addition to the extra calibre he brings to bear, stole some of my thunder This is a subject which touches the heart of everyone in this country, and particularly of those engaged in industry, as I have—I was going to say—the pleasure—to be. It used to be a pleasure, but the suffering round about one now has diminished that pleasure tremendously. I should like to express my keen disappointment—I speak as an employer—at the remarkable figures given by the right hon. Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara). The number of firms which are not on the King's National Roll is a disgrace to the manufacturers of England. I should like to ask any Minister who can interest himself in this matter, and who can influence our countrymen, and particularly our manufacturers, if he can possibly get out some propaganda which might have the effect of bringing these manufacturers into line, and getting them on to the King's National Roll. I want to take the other side, although I appreciate all that the Minister of Labour is doing know him well, and I know that he will do as much as is possible, within his power, from a human point of view to 1609 help our poor working people during the coming winter. I know he will do that, and I pray God that he will do it thoroughly and well, with every human instinct, and with every bit of money he can collect. No greater work can be done than to help those willing workers, whose only trouble is that they cannot find the employment they are anxious to obtain.
I want, for a few minutes, to take the other side, the side of those people who have to pay the bill for these schemes. I mean the private employer, the ordinary employer who, receiving no grant from anywhere, has to fight out his own battles with the help of his workpeople, and make his money on the profit of the transaction. What has been the trouble hitherto? We all know what it is, and I will not enlarge upon it. I want to address myself, in passing, to hon. Gentlemen opposite. I do not wish to make any criticisms, but whether they are strikes or lock-outs we ought all to realise the price we all pay for the trade disputes that arise from time to time. If we could only wipe them out, what a tremendous advance we should make in holding that trade that is often thrown away so lightly. I am a member of the League of Nations Union, and so are many other hon. Members, but I sometimes wonder why we fail to set up a league that could settle our own internal troubles. Is it not rather impertinent to pretend that we can settle international disputes when, at our own doors, we are losing our life's blood by throwing trade away by disputes which we ought to settle as easily as possible? We suffered during the War from many things, including Government control, and I am surprised to find anyone in this House suggesting Socialism, State control, or anything of that start as a panacea for these evils. We have been through it, and we have suffered heavily. We have also the trouble of the Excess Profits Duty, although I was in favour of it at the time, and I should probably be in favour of it now, because it appeared to me to be the only way of getting big profits out of the people who had no right to receive them. What really was the effect of that Duty? It was that from top to bottom it sapped the vitality and the initiative of our people. I do not 1610 think there is the slightest doubt about that
Then came the war weariness. That, with the sapping of their vitality, was not confined to the working people. From top to bottom, right down the grade, people felt that relief from work which set up war weariness, and which we ought to counterbalance. I have heard many Debates on this question, and if hon. Gentlemen opposite will permit me, I would say that two things have stuck in my mind. One is the attitude of hon. Gentlemen on the Labour side with regard to alien immigration. When work is so desperately scarce in our own country, and when housing is so scarce, is it not absolutely necessary that we should reserve to ourselves the right to prevent undesirables, at any rate, coming in, and to prevent all aliens coming in until our own people are provided for and reasonably satisfied? It not only applies to work, but to houses and homes. Surely, it is the duty of any Englishman to look after the people at home before he adds to it by bringing a number of unwanted people here, who have no homes to go to and no jobs to take up! Surely, it makes it 10 times worse for our own people when you leave the doors open.
There is a subject which I should like to congratulate the Government on taking up with renewed zest, namely, the scheme of emigration from our own shores to the Colonies. It is a system of emigration which is purely voluntary, and which provides facilities for those anxious to leave these shores to settle in the Dominions, to find a job there, and to take their families over with them. They go into our own Colonies, and not into strange and foreign countries, and keep up the breed under the same flag in another branch of the British Empire. It is very easy, of course, I know my hon. Friends opposite will say, to criticise, but what is the possibility of it? We must get down to the bedrock as manufacturers, and see what is the first thing to be done towards quickening up the ordinary trading upon which this country depends. It is an established fact, which we all have to admit, that cheap production is the first and almost the only necessity for selling our goods. You can find a purchaser if you will only produce the goods cheaply. There are two ways of producing cheap goods. One is 1611 by reducing wages, which is the most hateful; the other is by improving your factory and your works to such an extent that you may increase your output or improve the quality of your goods without reducing wages.
In that sense, I should like to thank the Prime Minister for appealing to manufacturers to go forward with possible schemes of improvement for increasing their works immediately, instead of waiting for a little while. I am very grateful and thankful to him, for two reasons, one of which is that undoubtedly the one thing for our manufacturers to do is to expend the last penny on extensions and on improvements on their works, in order to be ready for the opportunity when it comes. The other reason is that, having done it myself, I feel perhaps like the fox who lost his tail in the trap, according to Æsop's Fables, and who returned to the country of Foxland and tried to persuade the other foxes that it was quite fashionable to be without a tail. I should like my competitors to have my bank balance. When I see my bank manager, I wonder what he is going to say, because of the expenditure I have incurred. I am only one out of hundreds who have been involved in an expenditure which has put a strain on their financial resources which is very serious. I hope a large number of other manufacturers will do the same thing, because we know, and we have been told by the right hon. Gentleman, exactly what is happening on the Continent, and unless we are prepared to hold our position and to take the lead there is going to be trouble afterwards.
There is one matter, with which I want to finish, which was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. That is the position of Central Europe, as it affects unemployment here and general trading. Personally, I do not mind admitting that had I been a power in the Government, I would have marched into the Ruhr alongside of France. I do not mind admitting that plainly, but I do not want to handicap any hon. Member on my side. I was very delighted to hear the Prime Minister liken his Cabinet to a breakdown gang. I should like him to head that breakdown gang in dealing with the Ruhr question, and with the whole question of Central Europe. I should like him to bring his own personality, and that of his 1612 Cabinet and Government, into this question: to forget the past, and to take up a new view point from things as they are. Let the Prime Minister throw his great personality into the solution of this problem. The one thing which is troubling us in Central Europe to-day is lack of confidence in something. It may be lack of confidence in our Government, but there must be a lack of confidence when Allies fall out, and leave a single enemy practically in control. Those who study history know how the Turks defied Europe for half a century by breaking up the Allies who were against them, time after time, and the same game is in operation to-day. Germany is trying to sow dissension among the Allies, so that she may get off at the least possible price. I am very glad the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister mentioned this matter, because it is most serious. The other day the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) made this statement:The moment peace is restored you will then be face to face with the real rivalry and the real competition.As a business man I say that is the rivalry and the competition which we dread. Germany to-day has got rid of her national internal debt while we have to pay £400,000,000 a year for the debt which we incurred in beating her. Unless we are very careful we shall sail into that final combat to which the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs referred, that final fight for the world's trade, handicapped by £400,000,000 a year of debt payment while Germany rides free. I appeal to the Government to see that our business is protected against that eventuality—that Germany is not allowed to leave us so heavily handicapped in the future struggle. It has been said that France in this matter is acting in the spirit of revenge, but I hope such is not the case. If I thought I were backing up France in a movement undertaken in the spirit of vengeance, I should drop the whole thing like hot coals. One thing I have learned in this life, if I have learned nothing else, is that the words about vengeance contained in the old Book are among the truest ever spoken or penned. No man ever used vengeance in this world without finding that it was a two-edged sword 1613 which wounded himself. I have no room for vengeance, but I have room for justice, and it is for justice that I appeal. I appeal to the Government to see that Germany is not allowed to evade her just payments, to see that France is not robbed of her just due. I want not vengeance but justice. In a paper which I usually admire I saw an article recently which spoke of France as having no forgiveness. I hope I am not classed along with men who have no forgiveness. I would give forgiveness, but I would give it on the same terms as did the founder of Christianity. He gave it on terms, and if there was true repentance I would extend forgiveness. Does anybody know of any sign of true repentance having been shown by Germany? I conclude by again appealing to the Prime Minister to throw his great personality, which is marked by truth, honesty and integrity, into the scale in Central Europe, and by that honesty of purpose which is so apparent in the right hon. Gentleman, I think he can turn the scale in favour of maintaining the unity of the Allies until we get justice and real justice from Germany.
§ Mr. J. JONES
In the course of this afternoon's Debate we had a remarkable exhibition of statesmanship from ex-Cabinet Ministers. They told us that they were wrong all the time they were in office, and, in fact, that they are only right when they are out of office. What we have been listening to in these economic dissertations amounts to a confession of failure from A to Z. The condition of Europe to-day is largely due to the statesmanship of the right hon. Gentlemen who addressed the House this afternoon. It is their policy which is on trial. One right hon. Gentleman informed us that Germany has no unemployment, and another informed us that France has no unemployment. She has reconstructed her devastated areas and everything in the garden is lovely for France, but this, the one country which faced the principal financial burdens of the War, is down and out. Instead of talking in this complacent manner to us, these gentlemen should be in sackcloth and ashes, seeking to justify their own miserable existence as statesmen. It is no wonder they are now out of work in that capacity.
I desire, however, to speak on matters which come more closely home. I repre- 1614 sent a constituency which has had more than its fair share of unemployment. We were compelled to borrow £1,000,000 and to pay 6 per cent. interest on it, and this is one of the poorest districts in the country, with a rate of 26s. in the £. When we appeal for assistance we are told that nothing can be done for us, but we are offered a certain amount of tenderhearted consideration. We are fearful for the coming winter. We have got nearly to the end of our tether. We have got to the last £200,000 of the £1,000,000 which we borrowed to meet the unemployment situation, and when the last £200,000 goes we are face to face with a responsibility of £27,000 a week to be paid in relief of unemployment. It is all very well for the Minister of Labour to tell us what the Government are doing. It is the local authorities who have to bear the principal responsibility in the matter, because the few paltry shillings which the men draw at the Employment Exchanges do not meet the problem. It is the local authorities who are up against the problem, particularly in districts like that which I represent, highly rated and heavily taxed in every direction. Because they contain a population irregularly employed—casual workers and so on—and because they are doomed by economic circumstances to have most of their population earning their breakfasts before they get them and seeing more dinner-times than dinners, such districts have to subsidise the Government and make up to the unemployed people what they cannot get in ordinary circumstances.
There is an unofficial strike going on at present, and while I am not going to defend unofficial strikes, I would point out that it is very easy for those in comfortable circumstances to judge the men in such a case. It is easy to talk about the sanctity of agreements, but I remind hon. Members that in my constituency for four years, the majority of the dock labourers have not averaged one day's work a week. To these men a shilling a day means a lot more than it does to a man in regular employment. The iron has entered into their souls, and in spite of pieces of paper and in spite of the fact that agreements have been signed—and I agree that they should be kept when they are signed—the men have taken this course. You must put yourselves in the place of these men who find 1615 themselves up against this situation every day of their lives. On two occasions last week while these men were holding peaceable meetings and expressing their grievances, without any warning, without being told that they were doing wrong, the meetings were broken up by mounted and foot policemen—well-fed men, who are guaranteed a minimum wage of £3 a week, who are provided with clothing by the State, who have plenty of the opportunities of life, and whom we in this House often support. By somebody's orders these men rode into the crowd of men, women and children—most of whom were at rock-bottom so far as economic conditions are concerned. We have asked for an inquiry in this House and we have been denied it. I have evidence in my possession that the meetings were quite orderly, and that nothing was said or done to justify this attack upon the people in which men, women and children have been injured. I raise this matter, and I hope the Home Secretary in the course of the evening will be able to offer some justification or explanation. Whether a strike is official or unofficial, these men have the ordinary rights of British citizens to free opportunity of discussing their grievances in public meetings.
I do not claim to be an expert in figures. The only figures I understand are the figures in the streets, but we of the ordinary working class have never been able to understand the basis on which the Board of Trade or the Ministry of Labour make up the cost of living index figure. The working people of the country absolutely repudiate this figure, and we wish to know in what way it is made out. We have never had it explained to us, although we have been waiting for years. There is another subject to which I wish to refer. I happen to be interested in a number of men employed at Woolwich Arsenal, and other unions as well are interested in this matter. I wish to know from those responsible for the administration of that great public Department, why private firms are allowed to send their representatives into the Arsenal to discover methods of production peculiar to the Arsenal? Certain classes of work have always been done there by certain classes of workmen, and it has been conveyed to us by deputations of the 1616 workmen, that the representatives of certain private companies have been allowed into the Government workshops to watch the men at work and to see how certain kinds of work are done. What is the object of that? Does any private firm allow Government representatives to watch any of its secret processes of manufacture so as to copy them, and compete against the firm afterwards? Yet what I have described is happening in Government workshops, and the men have decided they will not work while they see these people in shops. They refuse to have anything more to do with this system of espionage. If you want private enterprise to be subsidised at the public expense, this is the wrong way to go about it.
When I hear the question of unemployment discussed as though it were a product of the War, it makes me feel tired. I have taken part in unemployed movements since I was 17 years old, very often walking the streets of this great city myself, unemployed, for weeks at a stretch, and the only difference between unemployment now and then is that it is more intense now, but what we are witnessing to-day is not a mere unemployment problem. What we are face to face with to-day is the collapse of the system. Your system has broken down, and unemployment is a necessary part of the capitalist system. France is prosperous to-day to a certain extent, but when she has done all that is necessary in the matter of reconstruction, and built up her cities and towns that were destroyed during the War, she will have her turn, as we have had ours. Capitalism says: "Get bigger or burst, and if you do not get bigger, you will burst." Unemployment is part and parcel of the system. One gentleman has been honourable enough to admit it. The President of the Yorkshire Woollen Manufacturers' Association admitted it the other day when addressing his association, when he said that a certain proportion of unemployed is absolutely necessary for the carrying on of our industry. They all know that. Therefore, all these crocodile tears about the men who are out of work come forward only at certain times, when they are looking for votes.
We are not out for sympathy; we are out for justice, and that justice can be given 1617 only when you admit what we are asking and demanding all the time, namely, that every willing worker shall be provided with the opportunity to work, or else be given a decent subsistence so that he may be able to live. How is it that you could find work for every boy during the War? My own father-in-law, T4 years of age, was sent for, after they had sacked him 10 years previously, and they gave him a pound a week more at 74 than when he was an able-bodied workman, because all the young men had gone to the War, and they wanted the old men to carry on while the young men did the fighting. Then we had the organising ability; then we had the money; then we had the power. Now we have lost, it. The late Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) told us we had annihilated space and harnessed science, that, through our organising ability, we had beaten the Germans at their own game in every possible direction, and that the men in the trenches and the men at the benches had made it possible for us to get the greatest victory ever known in the history of civilisation. What is the victory? We have almost as big an army of unemployed men and women now as there were men who went out to the front in the first year of the War. What is the victory? To-day the workers have sacrificed £700,000,000 per annum in wages, on the present basis of wage reductions that have taken place, and at the same time 850 joint stock companies in Great Britain have increased their capital by exactly the same sum, £700,000,000, and they have done something more.
The hon. Member for Clayton (Mr. Flanagan), to whose maiden speech we have just listened, talked about competition and protection. What kind of protection are we going to have to enable us to hold our own against the cheap labour of China, Japan and India? £200,000,000 worth of textile machinery went out last year to the Far East and the Near East, and that machinery is going to be used to equip the workers of those countries, who, by their longer hours and lower wages, may be able to take from us the possibility of holding our own in the markets of the world. What kind of protection are we going to 1618 have to protect the cotton operatives of Lancashire and the woollen operatives of Yorkshire against that kind of competition? "Live horse, and you will get grass." If you can live on the smell of an oil rag, your wages will be the price of oil rags, because wages always tend to come down to the cost of subsistence, and the only protection the workman can have is his own organisation, industrial and political. I am not blaming hon. Members opposite I do not say it is lack of heart. It is not with their hearts that I find fault; it is their heads that are wrong. They know on which side of their bread their butter is, but I want them to realise that they have to get down to facts, and that it is no good talking about patching up a system that has already broken down.
What we want is a root and branch reorganisation, and if it is a matter of schemes of employment, the pigeon-holes of Whitehall are full of them. I remember the Royal Commission of 1886 reporting in favour of great schemes of reconstruction. We have had numbers of Commissions, and all I can see as a result is that they find work for printers, and that is about the only people for whom they do find work. [AN HON. MEMBER: "And lawyers!"] Of course, lawyers are always there, but we have had dozens of Committees and Commissions, reports pigeonholed, nothing doing, and to-day we have the same tale repeated to us. One would almost imagine, to hear the right hon. Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) talk, that he was a new recruit to the House of Commons, who had never heard of these things before, but we have had to go on deputations to him many times, almost on our knees, to ask him to do the very things that he is now asking this Government to do. I am sick and tired of appealing to these Ministers, who, when they are out of office, are full of sympathy, and when they are in office are always very bland, but very careful. I, therefore, say that we want something more than mere expressions of sympathy. We are anxious to get these problems tackled in a real way. It is not for lack of means, because the country that can find £900,000,000 worth of fresh capital in twelve months can find the necessary means to carry out the schemes already adumbrated The schemes and the money are here.
1619 We have heard a great deal about the country being bankrupt. The majority of the people of the country are bankrupt, but a certain number are not. There are 360,000 people in this country who have between them, annually, £1,680,000,000 of income. We might have a little of that The best argument for a capital levy I have ever heard in this House was advanced to-day by an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Member for the Hillhead Division (Sir Robert Horne), who practically informed the House that to all intents and purposes we are shouldering the debt of Europe, that we are the only people who are solvent, that we are paying the debt, £400,000,000 per annum and interest. That demonstrates that if we cannot make the people pay who owe us money, we are getting the money from somewhere, because we could not pay if we had not got it. Somebody must have it, and yet we have this argument advanced by men who are honoured in the nation, by clever people. I am not clever, but I hope I am clean. We have these great men talking to us as they have talked this afternoon, but I want to say: Cease making phrases, and get to business. You are responsible, not we.
We say that these problems can be solved in only one way, and that is by taking control of the wealth of the nation in the interests of the people of the nation. We claim that the men and women who make the nation's wealth ought also to be able to make the nation's law. You have the power; why not use it? What stands in the way? If you want to solve the unemployment problem, we will go into the Lobby with you. What are you going to do? I am a member of a town council, and you simply tell us who are members of local bodies, "Come to us and borrow money, free of interest." That is a bit of advance on the last, but why not give us the money? We will find you the schemes of work if you will give us the money with which to carry them out. We have already proposed schemes to the Government, and we are told that because they are non-revenue producing they cannot be carried into effect. Take the Victoria and Albert Docks area. There we are prevented, simply through lack of money, from carrying out schemes of public improvement. We have schemes that are looked 1620 upon as practicable and desirable, but, because they are non-revenue producing, we cannot undertake them. Why not extend your suggestion, and give us-credit for the non-revenue producing as well as the revenue-producing schemes? We have a great roadway we want to build along the docks, and there are slum areas we want to clear. Why should not the clearance of slum areas be subsidised as well as tramway extensions or other revenue-producing schemes?
If you cannot go any further, at any rate, if you are going to give us any assistance whatever, do not place any embargo on the local authorities, but give us complete freedom to carry out schemes we have already on our books. If you will not agree with all we say do give us all the assistance you possibly can, because we are fearful of what may happen next winter. We want to try to alleviate the situation to the best of our ability. We are willing to try to find employment, but the boards of guardians in the East End of London to-day are at the end of their tether. My wife has not been able to sleep for weeks because of the troubles brought on as a member of the relief committee of the board of guardians. That is only an example of what is happening all round. Therefore, I hope the Government will not put restrictions on the local authorities, but will give us all the assistance they can to carry out our schemes.
Major-General Sir J. DAVIDSON
Reference has been made this afternoon in more than one quarter to the disabled men who are out of work. I am not going to make a speech now on the subject. Everything there is to be said has already been said dozens of times, and it is a platitude to say, as everyone will agree, that it is the duty of the country to look after the men who were disabled in the War. But I do want to make an appeal to all Members of the House, as vice-chairman of the Council of the King's National Roll, and on behalf of that Council, that when Members go to their constituencies they will bring the question of the King's Roll to the attention both of the local authorities and of the various firms in their constituencies. In many cases the local authorities have not done their duty in respect to the disabled men. I do not believe that, either as regards the local authorities or as regards the firms, 1621 this lapse of duty is due to obstruction, or neglect or anything of that sort. I believe it is due entirely to one cause, and that is ignorance. We in the National Council during the past six months have had to fight this ignorance, and our one business has been to try to get everybody to know about the King's Roll and about disabled men in their particular locality. There is no reason whatever why every Member of this House should not know all about the King's Roll in the short White Paper, which takes about 10 minutes to read, and if hon. Members, when they go down to their constituencies in the Recess, will bring this question before the local authorities, and before the firms, by meetings, or by some other means, they will be doing a very great service to the disabled men.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I would like, first of all, to reinforce the expression of opinion which my hon. and gallant Friend has just given to the House. I do not think any Member of this House could be more usefully employed during the Recess than in advocating the betterment of the conditions of ex-service men throughout the country. I am personally convinced that local authorities in many parts of the country have not yet realised that there is such a thing as the King's Roll, and I do not think it would be a bad thing if my hon. Friend, who will reply in the course of the Debate, would tell us that he is going to take steps to make all local authorities in the country acquainted with what the council is doing, and what the King's Roll means.
I am not going to attempt to analyse the general question of unemployment. Unemployment has always appeared to me to be like a man who is suffering from frost-bite. The blood has ceased to flow in his veins, and anything that is artificially applied to make the blood run again must of necessity be painful. I was very much interested, in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour this afternoon. We are told that all sorts of companies, and all sorts of undertakings, are to be assisted. Well and good. I am all for Empire settlement, for Empire development and for the extension of the trade of this country into every region of the Empire; but, at the same time, I 1622 cannot help thinking there are many things at home which require just the same sort of assistance. I will give a case in point. Before the War, my right hon. Friend, who was then Secretary for Scotland, and myself did our level best to get a light railway through an agricultural district. I refer to the Dingwall and Cromarty light railway. The Government of the day were satisfied that this was a railway which would be of great use. It is a wide agricultural district, and it was felt that one of the greatest benefits that could be conferred on that particular district was the institution of this railway. The Government of the day, in 1912, gave a grant for that railway. In 1914, the railway was started, and four and a half miles of it were actually completed. The rails were actually laid down, and had it not been for the War, of course, would have been completed.
What happened? The men who were employed upon that railway almost to a man were territorial soldiers, and to a man they enlisted, not for home service but for foreign service. The others who were left behind were attracted away from the work of that railway by the enormously high wages that were being paid in the dockyard, and, added to that, was this significant fact The Govern themselves commandeered the four and a half miles of railway that were laid down. While we in this House are all anxious that everything should be done for Empire development let us not forget the grievous cases that occur in our midst. I am appealing to the Minister of Labour to come forward to help on this scheme now. There is a great deal of unemployment in that district. As a matter of fact we have a certificate from the predecessor of the right hon. gentleman saying that this is a necessitous area from the point of view of unemployment.
Most of the men who are unemployed are ex-service men. They do not wish for charity, nor for the dole! What they wish for is some employment in their own district. Apart altogether from the fact that this was considered a useful railway by a former Government, I should like my right hon. Friend to consider with the Minister of Transport whether this particular railway might not at once be re-started. First of all, from his own point of view to give employment and not the dole to ex-service men who are 1623 anxious and willing to work in their particular part of the country, and, secondly, from a point of view of the State's attitude to agriculture. After careful consideration on all hands, this railway was proved conclusively to be of great benefit to the agricultural community. While we on this side are anxious, as I have said, to do everything possible to increase the trade and employment of our country so far as our export trade to the Colonies, the Dominions, the Crown Colonies, and the whole world is concerned, we yet have a duty to ourselves at home. I would, therefore, beg my right hon. Friend in the light of the facts I have just explained to do everything in his power to see to it that employment is given in this part of the country to ex-service men in connection with the railway, which is bound to be not a work of relief but a work of genuine good for the whole community.
§ Mr. PETO
Following the example just given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson), I shall presently give the House a similar example which I hope the Minister will bear in mind so that he may do what he can. What, however, I want to do mainly is to try to follow the remarks made on unemployment relief in view of the immediate problem before us in the coming winter, and as to how we are going to find, if possible, useful work for a larger number of our great army of unemployed. It appears to me that the consideration of unemployment is naturally divided into two quite distinct parts. Firstly, what we are to do in view of the winter. Long before any steps we may take to develop the trade of our Empire or any other methods are put into practice to find new markets or develop old ones to make up for the loss of the markets of the past come to fruition, we have to deal with the unemployment problem this next winter.
If we look at this, as I think rightly, and in the right proportion, we shall find that these two questions really have a point of contact, and that point of contact is to discover a real national policy and to get again on the lines of national policy if we wish to weather these doleful times. As to the immediate problem, there is no question about it that what we have to do is as nearly as possible to employ those 1624 men and women who are unemployed now in their own trades, so that they may maintain their skill and their self-respect. That is a first condition of any schemes which may be considered. Next we must employ them on works which will cheapen transport and power in the future, and as near as possible to their own homes so that they may be employed, while our trade is depressed, in equipping ourselves for the future, the better to compete in the markets of the world and so find more employment as the tide sets our way again.
We have had from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Home) a description of what Germany and France are doing and have done in that direction. They have already found employment for the vast number of their people in doing various kinds of work which will make them more independent in the future, and it seems to me, therefore, that it is the clear duty of the Government to look at this question from a national point of view. I do not question for a moment, following the speech of my right hon. Friend, that the Government whole-heartedly desire to find employment so far as they possibly can. I quite understand from the speech of my right hon. Friend that they do not like to hear the unemployment benefit spoken of as a dole. I heard what he said about it. He said it was not really coming out of the pocket of the taxpayer, but that the State was a junior partner which only paid £13,000,000, whilst a very much larger amount, £17,000,000, came out of the pockets of the working classes. I do not think that is any justification of it at all. It is not for him to come down to the House and say, "We are handling this unemployment problem all right because the employers of the country"—already taxed up to the hilt at every point—"are finding £19,000,000 towards it, and the people"—a million and a quarter of whom are unemployed and for whom we can find no employment or wages—"are themselves finding another £17,000,000." That is not the line I want to see pursued, and I do not think it is a line that need really be pursued at all. I want the Government to have a real employment policy, not an unemployment policy. We have not to look merely at the question of the men unemployed, and consider that somehow we have got to find 1625 them bread and a very little butter, week after week through the winter. I want the Government to see how they are going to employ these people on national lines, and not on parochial lines. We are always hearing from the Government that they have been appealing to the local authorities and impressing upon them the desirability of bringing forward new schemes in their localities, and hearing that these local authorities are on their beam ends to find some new local concern to be put forward, whether revenue producing or not. I think that is the wrong way to go about it. What are the local authorities? What is their outlook? What are their! powers? Their very name implies that they are local. This is a national question; a great national question; the greatest national question we have to face, and you will never settle it by arranging for tramways to be put down, little bits of road-making here, and a public bath there, and things of that kind. I want to call attention to the fact that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour said, in the course of his speech, that relief work for the unemployed would find work for 35,000 men—
§ Sir M. BARLOW
That is not so. The figure of 35,000 related only to one proposal. Our programme as a whole will, I said, secure employment for 200,000 to 300,000.
§ Mr. PETO
I was going to mention the larger figure later. The right hon. Gentleman, in recapitulating a long list of the different little efforts, mentioned the 35,000 to which I have referred. He said the total of these schemes would find employment for about 200,000 men. That. I think, was the largest figure he mentioned, so after all is done there will still be not less than about a million unemployed. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to take a very much larger outlook altogether. We have been asked why we cannot have a huge national loan, and do all sorts of things with it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) spoke about the surplus of last financial year of £101,000,000, and expressed his regret that the Government did not come and ask for authority to devote a huge sum like that to the settlement of this problem instead of devoting it to the reduction of debt. I would like to point out that that £101,000,000 reduced 1626 our total of national indebtedness, it raised our credit, and it was one of the very important factors in the improvement of our credit and in cheapening-the rate at which the Government can borrow money. I believe that money was wisely used in the way it was used, and there is no need for the Government to go to people and ask for a great ad hoc loan on this question of unemployment.
It is true perhaps that we have more unemployment than any other country, but at any rate we have higher credit, and consequently we can borrow money upon better terms. Let the Government use that credit. It can invite schemes, and the Treasury can assist them up to almost any amount if they are truly national schemes which could not be carried out if it were not for the Government standing behind them. There is no necessity for the Government to lend the money, because the public will lend it. The Government ought to guarantee a part of the interest, say, for 10, 15 or 20 years, perhaps at 1 per cent. in one case-and 2 per cent. in another, and in that: way I believe we could carry out such works as those which were recommended by the Royal Commission on Canals. At-the present time we have ditches about-100 years old, most of them silted up. Eleven years ago the Royal Commission) recommended, at a time when there was; no particular amount of unemployment, that a great scheme known as the Birmingham Cross should be carried out.. Why cannot great schemes of that kind, even if they cost £100,000,000, be financed by a special loan in regard to, which the Government might guarantee-a part of the interest for a certain number of years until the undertaking becomes a revenue-producing concern.
Then there is the question of the electrification of railways. A very large sum is to be spent for this purpose, but a good deal more might be spent in this way by the railway companies themselves. At the present time they have large reserves, and now is the time that they ought to spend it. There is also the question of the erection of more power stations which would economise the transport of coal and cheapen production in the future. Then there is the question of Empire-railroad development. In this case I think there is much more scope. I know-there are some schemes in connection 1627 with railways which ought to be tackled at home. Directly I came back to the House last year the first thing I did was to go to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour and other Ministers to urge upon them this policy, and I asked them to deal with the thing on big lines.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman now whether the best thing he can do is to get a small committee of three or five heads of great business enterprises, each in a different trade or industry, not politicians, but unconnected with the Government, and ask them within three or four weeks to recommend to the Government what in their opinion are the most profitable great public works that can be undertaken in the future interest of the country to enable it to compete more effectively in the world's markets. Probably the Government would get an answer which would run into a great many millions, but at any rate it would be dealing with the question on national lines and not socialistic lines, and the State would be coming in to help in the way it ought to help by using national credit and financing great national undertakings.
With regard to railway development in this country, such as that which was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson), I would like to mention that the other day I took a deputation to the Southern Railway about an old grievance in my part of the country in North-West Devon. We have always been cut off from the rest of the world by a single line of railway. Some 10 or 12 years ago this House passed a Bill giving the London and Southwestern Railway powers to double the line from Exeter to Barnstaple. All the metalling was done and the bridges and a double track was laid for a certain number of miles out of Exeter and out of Barnstaple. There remains about 15 miles in the middle which has not yet been completed, and it has been left like that ever since.
The other day the Great Western Railway restored quite pre-War speed, and they now do the journey from London to Barnstaple in 4 hours 9 minutes. Owing to the fact that there is only a single track on the Southern Railway, the 1628 best time they can do this journey is just under five hours, and the other trains take nearly six hours to do the journey. At a time when the railway companies have got £130,000,000 in reserve, to tell us that they cannot spend £60,000 in order to complete a double track railway on a very important line which was authorised by a special Act of Parliament 10 or 12 years ago in this state of unemployment, shows that there is something very wrong somewhere. To argue from past traffic as to future possibilities, and to tell us that they will not spend this sum of money because they are not perfectly certain, from past traffic returns, that it will be a profitable undertaking is really not quite good enough.
I will now turn to another and much greater question. What I have said deals with the immediate employment to be found in the coming winter, and until trade revives or new markets are found. The cause of the trade depression in this country seems to be pretty generally agreed in all parts of the House. I have noticed that opinions are changing very much, and the speeches of various hon. and right hon. Gentlemen to-day are very different to what they were at the beginning of the Session. I find in all quarters it is agreed that it is not a question of the German exchange, for if that were stabilised to-morrow it would not put things right for us. It is not a question of the Russian collapse under her present form of Government. It is not a question of the French action in the Ruhr, but it is something much more important and deeper than all. I will give three quotations on which I do not think it is necessary I should make any comment. The late Prime Minister on the 2nd January in Paris said:It is my conviction from a purely selfish point of view that if the rest of the world were restored to normal conditions and an earthquake suddenly swallowed up the whole of Germany we ought to gain materially and not lose, because Germany was a rival, a competitor, to a greater extent than she was a customer.I now ask the House to listen to a quotation from the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who, speaking in this House on the 16th July, said:The moment peace is restored in Europe and the exchanges are stabilised … you will be face to face with the real rivalry and the competition."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th July, 1923; col. 1950, Vol. 166.]1629 Next I ask the House to listen to what I think was an even more significant statement, considering the quarter from which it came, a statement by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Shinwell), who, speaking here on 26th July—I did not listen to the speech, but I have read every word of it since, and some of it twice, because it is a speech of extraordinary interesting significance—said:With regard to foreign trade—it is quite a misconception …. that if the Government, acting in conjunction with other Governments abroad, can settle the problems of Central Europe, trade will revive. It is equally a mistake to imagine that if you restore your trade relationship with Russia you will solve your industrial or trade problems here. I do not want to minimise the importance either of a European settlement or of the resumption of trade relations with Russia, but hon. Members appear to forget—and this is a point which I think constitutes the most formidable menace against British commerce for many a long day—that Great Britain is no longer the chief manufacturing nation of the world."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th July, 1923; col. 811, Vol. 167.]There is no doubt that a vast change has taken place in the course of trade. We built up our population in this country for three generations on a growing export trade mostly done with partly developed countries that were ready to buy from us. The tide was always a flowing tide and whatever changes there were were generally on the up grade. But it was hindered by our economic fiscal system. But that tide is now on the ebb, and I hope the House will consider why it is ebbing, for that is at the bottom of our unemployment problem. The question is what steps we ought to take. Every country in the world is determined to produce at home what hitherto it has bought from us. These countries have determined on a policy which will not allow them to come to us as they have done in the past as a sort of universal provider—the Whiteley of the world. We shall never be that again. In the course of the Debate to-night one hon. Member mentioned the enormous export of textile machinery from Oldham. I am told on very good authority that the machinery manufacturing business in Oldham has been giving constant full employment to the maximum number of workpeople in the industry of manufacturing textile machinery for export abroad while alongside those works our 1630 mills and machines have been idle. For instance, such a thing as webbing for motor tyres. They are now imported into this country and sold at a lower price than we can produce them here. Motor tyres were originally included in the McKenna Tariff of 1915 as accessories or parts of motor-cars. They were deliberately cut out, and, in consequence of that shortsighted action, we now have 11,500 mechanics in the motor-tyre manufacturing business unemployed to-day, while the machines which were making cotton webbing are idle. The only business which is actually booming is the manufacture of textile machinery for export from this country to those who are competitors against us for the market we ourselves used to supply. What is the remedy? The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs made a speech in December, which was then particularly devoted to the agricultural aspect of the case, and he recommended a tribunal which was set up. The right hon. Gentleman spoke again on the 16th of this month, and then he recommended the setting up of another Commission. I do not think hon. Members opposite received that suggestion with very much cordiality. What did the hon. Member for Linlithgow suggest at the end of his speech in July? His words were:We on these benches believe that industry is in such an appalling condition throughout the country that it is essential for the State at some point to come in.The hon. Member did not elaborate that, but we know what it means. It is a reference to a Resolution which was moved by the party opposite on the question of our system in this county, and the Resolution declared:that legislative effort should be directed to the gradual supersession of the capitalist system by an industrial and social order based on the public ownership and democratic control of the instruments of production and distribution.
Inasmuch as the terms of that Resolution would require legislation to give effect to them, it is not in order to discuss it now.
§ Mr. PETO
I only wish to point out that that was what the Resolution suggested. It is not the solution that I suggest. That question was, the House will remember, very fully debated, but 1631 there is only one point I wish to refer to. In the speech of the right hon. Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) the right hon. Gentleman said that if that was to be the solution it was quite clear we should be faced with a much more serious position in competing in foreign markets and in regard to foreign competition in this country. The conclusion I drew from that speech was that it was quite clear that under the Socialist system for carrying on industry the most rigid and highest imaginable protection would be the only possible safeguard.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
This clearly is not in order. On the former occasion the House was invited to pass a Resolution to give effect to which legislation would be needed, but in a Debate on the Appropriation Bill it is not in order to debate that Resolution on the reconstruction of our social system.
§ Mr. PETO
I will leave that subject in obedience to that ruling, and I will merely turn to what I think is the potential policy which must be pursued. The President of the Board of Trade the other day pointed out that the time of greatest prosperity and least unemployment in this country was when the great markets of the United States of America were comparatively free to us and were being developed, more than 50 years ago, and that we must turn to new markets in undeveloped countries. I suggest to hon. Members opposite that the only new market we are likely to have, and the only undeveloped areas in the world to which we can turn our industry, and in which we can employ our people, are those of our own Empire. It is there that we must turn for the real and permanent cure of our unemployment. I want to see, at the coming Imperial Conference, what Mr. Bruce, the Prime Minister of Australia, asks for in a most important cable which was made public in this country on Saturday last, namely, what he calls a sound economic policy for the Empire. The Government must look at every proposal made at that Conference with an absolutely open mind, and consider it in terms of employment, considering whether or not it will give more employment to the people of this country and of the different parts of the Empire.
1632 We must realise that we can no longer afford to buy abroad anything that we can produce at home, and that, without the adoption of a policy of Empire production primarily for exchange within the Empire, migration to other parts of the Empire is of no use at all. We have to find in one way or another a market for the surplus products of our people whom we ask to emigrate to different part3 of the Dominions. Sir George Fuller the other day said that he wanted them to have a fair show on the British market. That is all a part of the policy that we have to adopt in order to find full employment for our people here, and I am sure there is no other way in which we can hope for a permanent solution of the problem. I hope the Government will look at the immediate problem before us from the national point of view, and will adopt, if possible, the suggestion that I have made of getting outside advice as to the lines on which great national works can be undertaken; that they will cease to harry the local authorities to put up more schemes of one kind or another of a purely local kind, but will look at it from the biggest point of view; and that when the Economic Conference takes place, as it will before this House meets again, and the Government meet the Dominion Premiers and discuss with them this question of the future employment of our people in their lands, their one guiding factor in deciding every proposal that is put before them will be, whether it will find employment for our people. If it will, they should not bar from discussion any single proposal that may be put forward by the Dominions.
Mr. GRAHAM WHITE
The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has covered a great deal of ground, but his speech has one thing in common with every speech that has been made from the opposite side of the House this afternoon, and that is that all the suggestions which have been made have been limited to schemes which are wealth-producing or wealth-productive, in the sense that their productivity can be measured immediately in pounds, shillings and pence. I should like to associate myself with the expressions of wonder that fell from the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb) earlier in the Debate, that, apparently, the Board of Education has not been invited to make its contribution to this work. There is hardly an education 1633 authority up and down the country which has not great arrears of work that could be put in hand. There are many authorities that have in their midst schools which are already condemned as insanitary, and, as regards secondary education, there are many authorities that have never built a secondary school. I join with one or two hon. Members who have already spoken in asking that the Board of Education should be consulted and should be invited to make its contribution to this problem, because such work would be in a very real sense productive, and we might, if we dealt with it on a broad and generous basis, extract from this curse of unemployment something which would be permanently good.
I have had the advantage of listening to, I think, every speech that has been made so far in this Debate, and, consequently, I have had the advantage of hearing nearly every point upon which I desired to address the House dealt with with great ability by someone else; but there is one point which I desire to raise, and which has not been mentioned so far by anyone else, although the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) got rather near to it when he advocated a loan of £100,000,000—a suggestion which I was glad to see the Minister of Labour did not turn down as being entirely unworthy of consideration. The point that I desire to mention, and I think it is one of far greater importance than is generally realised, is the relationship of the currency policy and credit supply in this country to the problem of unemployment. I regret to learn, from the reply of the Prime Minister to a question the other day, that the Government are not considering this matter in relation to unemployment, and that they have no immediate intention of doing so. This matter is of great importance, because there appears to be a divergence of view and a difference of policy between the Government and the Bank of England in this matter.
The Prime Minister, in a recent Debate, said that in his view the important thing for the country at the present time was to keep prices stable and steady; and the very next day the Bank of England, no doubt with its eye fixed on the question of the American exchange, took occasion to raise the Bank rate to 4 per cent. If that is a definite policy directed towards main- 1634 taining the value of the pound in relation to the dollar, we are quite likely to be confronted with the probability, as the rate continues to fall, of an advance in the Bank rate to 5 per cent. I am quite ready to admit that the rise in the Bank rate from 3 per cent. to 4 per cent. has not made, and is not likely to make, very much difference to the price. of trade advances, and, consequently, to have any great influence on unemployment; but I do suggest that a further advance from 4 to 5 per cent.—and, as the rate of exchange is continuing to fall, that is a natural development of the apparent policy of the Bank of England—will have an immediate effect on the price of traders' advances throughout the country, and that will have an effect, as I think the right hon. Gentleman well knows, on the question of unemployment with which he is seeking to deal. I submit that the relation of credit supply to unemployment is well worthy of consideration and inquiry, not by politicians, but by a Committee or Commission of experts, economists and financiers. I am convinced that by regulation of the credit supply and sound currency policy it would be possible to modify the great and sudden changes in supply and demand which are the source of so much permanent unemployment.
I should like to turn abruptly from that subject to say that, quite apart from all that has been suggested by the right hon. Gentleman to-day, a great deal could be done to alleviate the situation at the present time by improvement in the working of the existing Employment Exchanges. I am not reflecting for a moment on the working or the conduct of that vast machine by the insurance officers or those responsible for it. As far as my observation goes, they are performing their work with a great deal of sympathy and very great efficiency, but I should like to refer more particularly to the working of Section 8 (1) of the old Act, which deals with trade dispute disqualification. A very serious situation has arisen in some districts owing to the working of this Act. I do not wish to use language of exaggeration, but in some districts the situation is intolerable. There are something like 8,000 cases at present of men who are disqualified from benefit in relation to the boilermakers' dispute alone. I should like to give the House two illustrations of the way in 1635 which this thing is working, which is causing intense bitterness and dissatisfaction. I should like to mention the case of a man who has been a contributor to the Insurance Fund ever since it started and, having been in good and regular work, never made any claim on it until 12 months ago he got out of work. One week before the boilermakers' dispute began he had a chance of a job and jumped at it. Actually on the day on which the dispute began he was discharged. On going to hand in his book to make his claim as usual he was told he was not entitled to benefit, but was disqualified on account of the boilermakers' dispute. That man's claim was settled yesterday, having gone through the machinery which was set up under the Act, and it was settled in his favour, but for three months he has been in a state of constant uncertainty and anxiety, and there are thousands of cases like it. This thing must be speeded up, otherwise a serious situation is going to arise in such districts as that which I represent. The other case is that of 30 men at work on the same piece of work. They were all discharged, 26 were allowed benefit and 4 were not. There is no amount of explanation which will satisfy men on points like that, and it is no surprise to me to hear of men going into the Exchange, tearing up their cards and washing their hands of the whole business. I trust that the Committee to which reference was made at Question Time will report soon, and that the right hon. Gentleman will bring in a Bill at the earliest possible moment to amend that Section.
I should like to refer to the question of juvenile unemployment centres. I know the Minister is sympathetic to this scheme and I hope he will put up a strong fight with the Treasury and succeed in having it extended. The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley described it as tomfoolery, but the work that was done was not tomfoolery. I only wish we could have a great deal more work of the kind done. but the hon. Member was right when he said it was only tinkering with the scheme. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will collaborate with the Board of Education, and, in view of the immense national loss which has taken place in the physical, mental and moral deterioration 1636 of all these lads and girls, have a really comprehensive scheme set on foot, and that he will go to these authorities who have not set up schemes already and encourage them to do so. It is a most unfortunate thing that the scheme is allowed to lapse even temporarily. I am glad to know there are some authorities who are keeping the scheme going, even though the whole cost will fall on the rates. That is a remarkable testimony to the value of the work. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will work with the Board of Education, and on these lines set up a scheme which will do something to stop the tremendous national loss which is taking place.
§ Lieut.-Colonel GRANT MORDEN
I am very much disappointed at the statement made to-day by the Minister of Labour. It was a doleful statement, with the accent on the dole. He does not seem to promise us anything better for the coming winter than we had last winter, and if he has no better proposals than those he has submitted to the House, I do not see anything better this coming winter either, and that I am sure the country will not stand. To-day the country is looking for something better from a Government headed by a man who is known as a business man, and including men who are supposed to have business knowledge. You may camouflage the word "dole," and the right hon. Gentleman says it is not the right word to use, but those who are drawing their money in this way will never recognise it in any other sense than as a dole, and as such it is certainly undermining the morale of our workpeople. The schemes proposed by the right hon. Gentleman, as far as I can see, are almost ridiculous, and I must agree with the hon. Member who said, "Why take care of 200,000 when there are a million more that we have to think of?" Surely that is right. We must take care of all these men and women, and not only a portion of them. My right hon. Friend explained fairly fully about the Unemployment Grants Committee and what they propose to do. In some ways he did not seem very clear on the matter himself. I noticed that his dates were wrong in one or two of the statements he made. I have a letter from the Town Clerk of Chiswick in which he refers to the unemployment relief work which the council were asked by a circular 1637 dated 1st June, 1922, to make provision in any way possible for taking care of the unemployed. That circular, as my right hon. Friend stated, provided that for revenue-producing work the State would pay one-half of the interest for a period of five years, and for non-revenue-producing work 65 per cent. of half the amount for a period not exceeding 15 years.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MORDEN
Yes. The Council of Chiswick looked about to see what they could do, and found there was a great requirement there for baths and wash-houses, which it is generally admitted are not revenue-producing enterprises. They put this forward, but it was challenged by the Committee on the point as to which category it would come under. To save time, they went ahead, purchased the land, put in the drains and foundations, and called for tenders. In the meantime, they received a letter, dated in May this year, stating that the conditions had been changed, and that this Committee were prepared to guarantee 50 per cent. of the interest of semi-revenue-producing schemes as my right hon. Friend explained to the House to-day. Meantime they had received tenders amounting to £2,500 more than the estimated amount, and bringing the total to about £16,000, and they applied to be brought under this circular letter sent out by this Committee in May. The reply was a refusal to bring them under it because they had applied originally under the letter of June, 1922, and they had gone ahead in a patriotic way, and had not settled the matter. When this further letter comes in and they ask to come under the scheme which, to begin with, they thought they were entitled to come under and which is much better, namely, 65 per cent., they are refused. If the Committee is going to act in this way they are not going to help and encourage local authorities to provide work for the unemployed; of that I am quite certain. I do beg the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister of Health to look into this case, to see that it is rectified, and also that similar applications from other local authorities in this country are treated in the right manner.
1638 My right hon. Friend referred to the Trade Facilities Act as having been a great success. I am very sorry to say that I consider it has been a great failure. Under this Act, which was passed in 1921—nearly two years ago now—there was a total altogether of £50,000,000 provided for trade facilities in the form of guarantees, not money advances, but simply as Government guarantees. In these two years the total amount that had been used is only about £26,000,000, a trifling amount compared with the vast need of this country. I am not by any means blaming the Committee that administered and looked after these credits'. I believe Sir Robert Kindersley is Chairman, and I am quite certain that Committee have used their best judgment in every way, but I consider the system is wrong, for this reason: this Committee have nothing to gain by what they do, but a great deal to lose if they make a mistake and money is lost to the Government. It is not reasonable to ask a body of private citizens to undertake work of this kind from which they have nothing to gain, while if they make a mistake in granting a guarantee and the enterprise should turn out a failure, they will be blamed by the country for being bad business men and bad bankers for having recommended such advance. I submit to the Government that the Treasury itself should be willing to take the responsibility. They can set up whatever internal machinery they like to deal with this matter, but I believe that the Treasury and the Government should take the responsibility and not put it upon the shoulders of private citizens. I cannot think of any other way, but I do know that when you consider that in two years, under this Trade Facilities Act, only £26,000,000 has been used, to any man who knows anything of banking, trade, or commerce in this country, it is an absolute failure.
§ Sir M. BARLOW
Might I just correct one point on which, quite unconsciously, I may have misled the House? I was informed that the figure was £26,000,000, and I gave that figure to the House, but I understand there to have been provided a further £1,500,000, which raises the figure to £27,500,000. I should have stated that fact to the House.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MORDEN
Then my right hon. Friend referred to the great 1639 success of the Exports Credits Scheme. The Exports Credits Scheme was started on 7th September, 1919, nearly four years ago. Under that scheme there was a credit—it was not voted at that time but was authorised afterwards in this Chamber—of £26,000,000. Of that amount the total utilised to date is £13,346,000 odd, which is the last figure I can get from the Department, and of that amount £10,000,000 has only been sanctioned very recently. How it can be considered that that scheme has been a success when in nearly four years up to the last few days only three or four million pounds has been used, I fail to understand. Whether it is the red tape of the Department or not I do not know. I have had no experience of it myself, but I can only say that there is something in the way in which it is administered that prevents merchants and manufacturers in this country from taking advantage of it. otherwise surely with the banking conditions as they are, with it almost impossible to obtain a bank loan to-day advantage would have been taken of this money voted for credit purposes. There must be something wrong in the way in which this credit is administered, and therefore I cannot agree at all with my right hon. Friend that this Exports Credits Scheme has been a success. We have a very definite prospect of passing through—unless, as we all realise, something is done—one of the worst winters of unemployment we have experienced since the War. Therefore, we have to think, not of small schemes, but of big schemes. The European position is worse to-day than it has ever been. We cannot say what is going to happen, but those of us engaged in trading and commerce are certain that it is going to take, no matter what happens, a long time before conditions are re-established on the Continent. Therefore, we have to look about and see what we can do to tide over the interval until conditions are stabilised again. I must confess that the schemes proposed by the Government do not for one moment satisfy me as meeting, not adequately, not in the slightest way, the conditions we have to face. I think there are many factors contributing to our present position. For many things the Government are naturally not to blame. 1640 To-day a great quantity of goods is being dumped in here from Germany which is upsetting our manufacturers. I fail to understand some of the recent activities of hon. Gentlemen on the opposite benches in trying to revive that old shibboleth, Free Trade, at a time when the industries of this country are suffering as they are. In my own constituency there were prosperous tyre works employing large numbers of workpeople, but which to-day are practically closed down. At Chiswick there is a great engineering works which formerly employed 4,000 men. It was a very successful motor manufacturing works, but to-day there is hardly a man employed, while in the adjoining street one can see great packing cases up and down the street, and inside are American cars which have been dumped into this country. At the same time, skilled mechanics and other men formerly employed in that factory are walking about looking for a job and existing on the dole. That is the position, through the dumping of foreign manufactured goods in this country.
When I first came to this country, I was a Free Trader. I was brought up as a Free Trader. I was a Sir Wilfred Laurier Free Trader. When I came to England, to my utter astonishment, I found at my first breakfast that my tea was taxed, my sugar was taxed. I found that everything that could not be produced in this country was taxed, and everything that could be produced here was let in free. And you call it Free Trade England! What happened when Sir Wilfred Laurier came into power in Canada? He took the tariff off all raw materials and everything that could not be produced in Canada, but he increased the duty on everything that could be manufactured in Canada. As a result, he made Canada an industrial country, as well as a wheat-producing country. Today there is no unemployment in Canada, there is no unemployment in the United States, there is no unemployment in France, there is no unemployment in Germany, there is no unemployment in any country which has Protection, while this Free Trade country is the one country that has got unemployment.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MORDEN
I do not wish to be out of order. I could not 1641 understand the statement made by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury). He wants to throw open the doors of this country to unrestricted alien immigration. Here we are with a great unemployment problem in this country, and he wants to bring in these aliens—who are accustomed to work under conditions which, thank God! no British workman will work under, and, I hope, never will work under—in order to compete with our people. I cannot understand his policy.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MORDEN
I wonder if some of my hon. Friends on the Labour benches realise what the boilermakers' strike has cost this country. Millions of pounds have been lost in work, and hundreds of thousands of men have been thrown out of work as a result of this strike. Our ships have to be sent abroad to be repaired because of the strike. Nothing hurts the British shipowner more than having to send his ship to a foreign port, and to spend money on repairs there because of this unauthorised strike of boilermakers. The founder of any business, the creator of any enterprise must possess three things, ability, imagination and courage. Our Prime Minister inherited his possessions in a great industrial firm in this country, which was founded by his ancestors who had ability, imagination and courage, and those of us in my party put our confidence in him as a business man leading our party. As one of his humble followers, I beg him to put the same ability, imagination and courage which his forefathers showed in the establishment of the great industry of which he became the principal inheritor into pro viding a scheme or schemes for this country to lead us out of the black future, and to show us that instead of going on with doles, instead of going on with this unemployment, and instead of facing these repeated difficulties, we can have revenue-earning work and employment, and not doles.
I should like to refer to the responsibilities of the Prime Minister and the Government in regard to the ex-service men, which has been handed down to them. It is a disgraceful thing that these ex-service men should be seeking employment, and failing to get honest 1642 employment. There is not a day that I have not applications from men from the ranks, and officers, and even field officers who cannot get employment of any kind in the nature of honest work. It is disgraceful that this country of ours should not carry out her promise-to these men, and I beg the Government that whatever schemes they bring forward they should give first preference to these ex-service men. I fully agree with the remarks of the right hon. Member for North West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara), and I hope the Government will take this matter seriously into consideration.
In November, 1920, I spoke on the Unemployment Belief Bill, and at that time I called the attention of the Government to the different ways in which they could provide employment instead of doles. I apologise to the Minister of Labour for using a word to which he objects. I mentioned, amongst other things, the cost of discharging bulk cargoes in this country. I will take iron ore, which is the basis of the great industry of iron and steel in this country. I pointed out that a ship could be turned in eight hours in a port like Sydney, Cape Breton, and that it took 15 to 30 days to discharge her in this country. Nothing has been done regarding the harbour equipment for handling these bulk cargoes. If you are going to keep a ship even for 10 days, as against eight hours, anyone who knows anything about transportation will know what the cost of the freight will be. The cost of that iron ore is doubled by transportation charges, and, as the ore is the basis for iron and steel, the result is that iron and steel manufacturers are put to a terrible disadvantage in meeting competition owing to the high price. That is only one case. I could give the House a great many instances which would surprise them as to the cost of discharging bulk cargoes in this country compared with the cost of discharging bulk cargoes in the United States and Canada.
Then you have other ways of utilising Government credit. For instance, in the electrification of railways, suburban and main lines, to which reference has been made, enormous savings in transportant costs could be made. Our terminal systems are ridiculously behind America. The cost of transportation in this country is probably higher than the cost of transportation in any other country of the 1643 world. The higher the cost of transportation the higher the cost of food. Reduce the cost of transportation and you reduce the cost of food, and the cost of manufacture, and put this country in a better position to compete with the markets of the world. Therefore, schemes to improve our transportation system, our terminals, our piers, and our wharves are works on which the Government will never lose their money, and the benefit of which will come home to everyone in the country. Therefore I beg the Government to give consideration to these schemes, and to force on the railways, docks companies, and all those who control transportation, the use of the most modern methods of transportation. This would give employment to hundreds of thousands of men, and would be a lasting benefit to the trade of the country, the effect of which would be felt down to the smallest boy working in the country.
May I submit a few suggestions to the Government? The credit for export trade facilities should be increased to at least £100,000,000, and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister of Labour should be a responsible Committee to administer the scheme. The Government should not delegate their powers in this matter to gentlemen in the City. I am sure that this House would not criticise them if they made a mistake, if they lost £10,000,000 of the £100,000,000 in providing employment. The saving of the dole and the profits resulting from the other £90,000,000 would make up even for the loss of £10,000,000. But let the Government take the responsibility and I am sure that fair play, which is one of the national characteristics of which we are so proud, would be shown, and they would never be criticised if a mistake or two were made. Then again they should let the Governments of the overseas Dominions know that if they or any responsible individual would put forward any sound scheme we are prepared to guarantee their bonds, provided that the bulk of the money is spent in this country with our manufacturers. Let them feel that we look upon them as an integral part of the Empire. Hon. Members have read the cable received by Lord Long from the Prime Minister of 1644 Australia. I can assure the House that if the Government took some practical means of letting the overseas Dominions know that we are going to combine with them in guaranteeing any important public work we can amalgamate closely our industrial and financial interests which will be not only a good thing for us here, but a good thing overseas and for the British Empire. So far as the export credit scheme is concerned I would like to see the barnacles cut away from it for there are barnacles upon it.
The most important matter of all is that the Prime Minister should appoint a Committee of business men representing all the great industrial interests of this country, including shipping and transportation, and let them propose economic remunerative schemes. I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson), who said, "Why bother about revenue-producing schemes?" We are not in a position to waste vast sums on anything but revenue-producing schemes; the hon. Member seems to lose eight of the fact that the great capital resources of this country have been decimated by the War, and we have not got those reserves which we used to have and therefore if we are going to use the credit of the country we must see that it comes back to us. Therefore if the Government appoint a Committee of business men to prepare different schemes that will be revenue producing in the course of a few years, we may have to pay interest in the meantime, but it would be better to do that than to pay out millions in doles to the unemployed, seeing the morale of our workmen going down and down, and our great business organisations rusting also. They would not be in a position when normal times come back, and the revival of trade comes, to take advantage of their opportunities. I hope that the Government will take some steps on these lines. If they do it will mean that they will benefit the ex-service men by giving them employment, by seeing that they get first preference in every instance, and that they will have employment instead of doles. We will have our industrial wheels well oiled to meet the revival of trade when it comes, when we can once more put our country back into the proud position of being the foremost financial and industrial country in the world.
§ Mr. SEXTON
I have listened for the last four years to Debates on unemployment, and during that period have heard some very interesting innovations in debate, but the most unique innovation is the speech, to which we have just listened, of the hon. Member for Brent-ford (Lieut.-Colonel Morden). It is rather amusing to hear a gentleman with an American down-east accent denouncing American importation.
§ Mr. SEXTON
I beg his pardon. I did not notice it, but, as I have said, for the last four solid years I have listened to Debates on this question of unemployment, and for 20 years I have been a student of the problem of unemployment. The only thing that temporarily solved it was the great War. The gruesome irony of it, that the only thing which temporarily solved unemployment was the sending of men out to kill somebody else! An hon. Member above the Gangway to-night called attention to the fact that during the War Government control was in operation. If the Minister of Labour were in his place I would remind him that at least Government control during the War did temporarily settle the unemployment problem, and that it was only when we returned to private enterprise that we had 1,500,000 people unemployed—[HON.MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I am stating what are substantial and historical facts. Mention has been made of strikes and lock-outs, and it has been said that they have in some measure been responsible for unemployment. The hon. Member for Brentford said that we on this side loved strikes and lock-outs. I happen to be one of those responsible for the guidance of a big industrial organization—
§ Lieut.-Colonel MORDEN
On a point of Order. I quite absolved hon. Members on those benches from the unauthorised strikes. Also, I do not see why the Canadian accent should be criticised in this House. It is no different from the Lancashire accent, the Scottish accent, or any other.
§ Mr. SEXTON
I have already apologised to the hon. and gallant Member for my mistake. I can only repeat that 1646 apology. It is not a question of authorised or unauthorised strikes, but of strikes as a whole. A paid trade union official during a strike has got to work 24 hours out of the 24. When there is no strike, he has got a soft time of it, so they say. The incident referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for Brentford, that of the boilermakers' strike, which was an unofficial strike, was absolutely incorrect. It was an official strike.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member has occupied a very large slice of the time of the House. He must not take up any more.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. SEXTON
Let me assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman I do not like strikes, either official or unofficial. I do not think there is a man worthy of the position of a leader of organised labour who would profess he loved a strike. In fact, I detest strikes. There are unofficial strikes, and there is unrest amongst the working men to-day. You have 1,500,000 men, the bulk of them ex-service men who have served their country, and who came back here after saving their country, who now find themselves out of a job. Unofficial strikes there are, and the position of those men is exploited by irresponsible men who have nothing to do with the industry. I want to say, quite frankly, that the responsibility does not rest on them alone. It rests on hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House as well. The House knows of a persistent conspiracy in this House, on more than one occasion, to abuse the rules of the House by introducing Bills, by denouncing responsible leaders, who are trying to prevent strikes, and creating suspicion in the minds of decent men in the organisation who are amenable to argument. It makes it difficult for responsible people in the unions to control the men when you have hon. Gentlemen, under the Ten Minutes Rule, attacking us inside the House, and when outside you have irresponsible men, who are not attached to any trade union, attacking us. Both have the same object in view, namely, to smash organised labour, and both are working from a different standpoint. That is our position. Is it any wonder that unofficial strikes are created?
1647 I heard the speech of the Minister of Labour to-night, and it was simply an extension of the old principle—doles to the municipalities; create more work. I would remind the House that under our present economic position the one cry is—we heard it from the hon. and gallant Member for Brentford—"We have customers who cannot buy our goods." Is not that the crux of the whole position? Before you begin to produce anything at all you must make the economic conditions such that the people can purchase. The 1,500,000 unemployed men and women in this country cannot buy food or clothes, and we have got to provide them with the means to become customers. The hon. and gallant Gentleman told us there was no unemployment in Canada. Where did he get his information from? We were told by an hon. Member above the Gangway that the only solution was emigration to the Colonies. Can he name any of our Colonies where there is not unemployment to-day? [An HON. MEMBER: "I can name one."] Well, I should like to hear it, for up to the present I have never met anybody who says that the towns and cities in the Dominions are not in the same position in regard to unemployment as we are, and that it is not as acute.
§ Mr. SEXTON
I should like some evidence of that. The problem of unemployment is there, as it is here, and we shall never relieve it until we get down to the root cause, which is the economic condition of the people. We must give there the wherewithal to purchase and to become customers. We are suffering today in every direction from under-consumption. The sooner we get down to this the better. If winter comes—and it is coming—and this problem is not solved, it may be solved in a more drastic manner than we in this House anticipate. If unemployment grows, as it is bound to grow, the difficulty of legislators and of responsible men in the labour movement will be increased. To-day we have men rebelling against their own organisations, and I happen to be one of those who profess to be a guiding spirit in one of the organisations. We have done our best. It was said to-night by the hon. Member for Silver-town (Mr. J. Jones) that it was no 1648 wonder these men revolted against the reduction. Like him, I am of the opinion that the figures of the Labour Ministry require some investigation, but I also say that, no matter what those figures are, they represent the same machinery and the same machine which we use for an increase, and we cannot have it both ways. An agreement was signed with the instructions of the rank and file, and it was acting for them that we signed the agreement, and we would not be worthy of the name of representatives of the people, we would not be worthy of respect as parties to collective bargaining, if we did not insist on the agreement being carried out to the letter. I say that, because I believe it to be the right way to conduct business between workmen and employers. The system requires it. The system may be bad, and let us not forget, at the same time, there is some truth in what the hon. Member for Silvertown said, that these men do not get a week's wage, but get a day or a day and half or two days' work in the week, and whatever is taken off is bound to tell at the end of the week. The present economic system is fitly described by Lowell in words which were never truer than they are to-day:Have ye founded your thrones and altars, thenOn the bodies and souls of living men?And think ye that building shall endureWhich shelters the noble and crushes the poor?With gates of silver and bars of goldYe have fenced My sheep from their Father's fold;I have heard the dropping of their tearsIn heaven these eighteen hundred years.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Neville Chamberlain)
We have just heard the speech from the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Sexton) which once more demonstrates the sound principle and honourable spirit which has always been characteristic of him. I rise at this hour not that I intend to take up very much of the time of the House, but because I believe there are some other topics which hon. Members desire to raise before the Debate closes, and I am anxious to give them time to develop what they have to say. I do not think it is surprising that the discussion, throughout the whole of this afternoon, has ranged round this ancient subject of 1649 unemployment, which has hung over the country like a nightmare for the last three years and which, by general consent, unhappily seems likely to cause grave anxiety during the winter which is before us. All parties alike recognise the gravity of the situation, and I am happy to be able to agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for the Hillhead Division of Glasgow (Sir R. Horne) when he said it is being treated in no party spirit, but that everybody who has contributed to the discussion, has endeavoured to make some suggestion as to how to arrive at a solution. I think my right hon. Friend did a service to this House and the country, in drawing attention to the contrast between the industrial situation in this country and that in Germany and France. It is not only that our former customers have not the cash or the credit with which to purchase our goods. It is also that they have lost their confidence, and they feel until some settlement of the European tangle can be made, there is always the danger that prices may fall away again, and they may be left with depreciated stocks, and it is because we recognise the bearing of events on the Continent upon the industrial situation in this country, and, indeed, throughout the whole world, that we felt we could not maintain an attitude of entire passivity in the matter, but that it was incumbent on us to try to take some forward step and to see if we could not hasten progress towards that final settlement and harmony among the nations which we all desire.
The discussion has ranged round a variety of aspects of the unemployment question, and one of these points which has been raised by several speakers has been the position of those boards of guardians who for a long time now have found the burden upon them increasing owing to the relief they have had to give to the unemployed. This question of the so-called necessitous areas has been before me and my predecessors, and it is one to which I personally have given a good deal of consideration. The House may remember that some time ago a proposition was put forward in the shape of a formula under which it was suggested that an Exchequer grant might be distributed among the more necessitous unions. At the time I pointed out a number of discrepancies, inconsistencies and difficulties 1650 in the adoption of that formula, and I told the deputation which saw me upon the subject that I was quite willing that they should appoint a few of their number to discuss with the officials of the Ministry of Health whether it was possible to find any formula which would get over the objections which I saw in the one then before me. Another formula was devised and I have had that also under consideration, but I am bound to say, although a good many of the objections to the original scheme were overcome, I do not think even the amended scheme was one which I could satisfactorily recommend to the Cabinet or the House for acceptance. First, it was very incomplete and, even as it stood, it would have involved a grant of over £3,500,000 for one year for 61 unions, and that did not take into account London and a number of other unions which would have had to be included, with the result that the total cost would have been brought up to a very large figure indeed.
There was another objection not of the financial kind. In the new formula, which was based upon the number of persons relieved, the question of unemployment was for the first time given a secondary place, and the scheme was really based not upon exceptional conditions due to unemployment, but upon general inequalities in the burden of rates in different parts of the country. That takes the question altogether out of the region of the temporary and takes it into the region of the permanent, and if you are going to consider any scheme for a permanent equalisation or a partial equalisation of rating burdens it is quite clear that it must be preceded by some reform of the present system of valuation and assessment. As long as the assessment is based on different systems in different parts of the country, it is impossible to find a common basis. I confess that personally I see very grave objection to any system of free grants from the Exchequer to local authorities. In any system of that sort, it is almost impossible to avoid giving the most money to those areas which spend the most, irrespective of whether their expense is wise and proper or whether it is extravagant and exceptional. And, after all, our system of local government is not based upon a system of nursing. It is based upon the idea that local authorities should exercise responsibility, and that if 1651 they make mistakes they themselves should bear the burden of their mistakes, and learn from their experience. I think it would be a bad day for local government if they were to feel that the cost and expense of any errors which they might make would be found from some central source, and that they themselves would get off practically scot free.
Therefore, I came to the conclusion that it would not be possible for us to accede to the request to make free grants to Poor Law authorities on these lines. But we recognise that some further assistance is necessary to enable the authorities to relieve the immediate rate burden in areas where the distress has been prolonged and is still serious, and we have decided, therefore, to make further financial provision for the extension of the existing facilities under which advances by way of loan are made by the Ministry of Health and by the Scottish Board of Health, on the recommendation of the Committee which is presided over by Sir Harry Goschen. I think it is generally understood that in some of these areas the burden of rates upon local industries—a burden which is not, like Income Tax, dependent upon profits made, but which has to be borne by the industries whether they make profits or not—at present is so heavy that it really forms a serious handicap to the industries and prevents them even from getting upon their legs and regaining the prosperity which would enable them in time even to bear the heavy burdens they do now. Under existing arrangements, advances are made only to authorities which may satisfy the Committee that they are not able to borrow in the market, but it is proposed to authorise the Committee in future to recommend the granting of loans of such amount and for such periods as the circumstances require in the case of the more heavily burdened authorities, where the Department is satisfied that reasonably efficient and economical administration is practised, and where some immediate relief in the current rate burden is essential.
The Committee will be authorised in suitable cases to recommend that payment of interest and repayment of the loans should be postponed for a period, and that before the expiry of that period the terms of repayment should be 1652 reviewed, in consultation with the local authority, in the light of the circumstances then prevailing. Each case will be fully considered on its merits, regard being had to all the local circumstances, and such arrangements made as will give immediate relief in the way best suited to meet the case. Of course, I quite realise that the guardians would prefer to have a form of relief which would relieve them from any anxiety in the future, but that would not be altogether consistent with the principles which I laid down at the beginning of my observations, and I am satisfied that by the method which I have indicated to the House we shall be able to give very substantial relief to those localities which need it most, and that we shall be able, when the time comes, to review the circumstances as they exist then and to enable, possibly, the repayment to be spread over a longer period, if necessary, or to make such other arrangements as may seem desirable.
Mr. T. THOMSON
Will this assistance be available for local authorities before the next rate has to be levied in September?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I do not think it will, but we will endeavour to make it available as early as possible. I would like to come to one or two of the criticisms made, I think, generally in a friendly and helpful spirit, by some hon. Members who have taken part in the Debate. My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) said—and his criticism was repeated by other hon. Members—that when all was said and done, we were only dealing with a small part of the problem. I am afraid that will always be so when you have unemployment on this sort of scale. Any schemes of relief, whatever form they may take, are more or less artificial. They are not the natural course of business. They either mean that business has to be created or brought forward earlier than in the natural course of things it would have been brought forward, and it is extraordinary how difficult it is to find schemes which will provide work for a really substantial number of men, and, at the same time, not absorb an altogether disproportionate amount of capital.
1653 We have gone a good deal further than has ever been gone before. We have recognised to the full what has been said so often, that it is far better to provide work for people, and especially work at their own trade, than merely to maintain them by means of payments, whether those payments are called unemployment insurance benefits, or direct relief from the guardians. We are anxious to minimise that form of relief to the utmost, and to give them what work they can do to keep their self-respect, and, if possible, keep their hand in at their own trade. It is with that idea that we have so far extended our terms to local authorities as to encourage them to undertake revenue-producing schemes. What are these revenue-producing schemes? Take the extension of a power station, for example. That means work for a large number of skilled men at different trades. There is the building in the first place. There is the provision of the steel joists in the building, there is the timber work, there is furniture, there is electric machinery and equipment, and, in many ways, although the work may not be actually in the locality which has taken advantage of these terms, yet, taking the country as a whole, you get a substantial addition to the amount of work which is undertaken in the very best possible way. We have gone further than that, because, as my right hon. Friend has explained, we have extended these terms, or similar terms, to private undertakings, whether trading for profit or not, subject to the necessary safeguards, and I am glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman opposite felt that that was likely to be a fruitful source of employment.
Then the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb) did not seem to approve of this programme. He suggested that it would be far better to apply our money to non-revenue producing schemes than to revenue-producing schemes. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I am quoting his words. But, in the first place, let me point out that revenue-producing schemes have the advantage that, in the future, they continue to provide more employment. So that you are serving a double purpose. Not only are you giving work in the trades and giving work to skilled men at their own trades, but you are diminishing pro tanto the amount of your problem for the future. The hon. Mem- 1654 ber for Seaham said, "What is the use of putting money into the extension of tramways, which are only tax-producing schemes, when you might be building new schools and new hospitals?" That is what he said.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
What I understood my hon. Friend to do was to contrast the two schemes, revenue and non-revenue, to put one against the other.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I think he did as a matter of fact. [HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] I do not want to misrepresent the hon. Member for Seaham, I only want to put the case. After all, if a scheme is going to be revenue-producing, obviously the local authority does not require as much extra inducement to undertake it as if the scheme produced no revenue at all. Therefore we do not want so much for revenue-producing schemes as for non-revenue-producing; schemes. Let me put another consideration to hon. Members. It is all very well to talk about putting up buildings, but let me remind the House that only lately we were discussing a Housing Bill. What did we then hear from the Labour Benches? That the limiting factor was the labour available for housing in the country. But the suggestion here is to take from the building labour market a certain amount of labour that otherwise would be available for the development of tramway schemes which would open up new districts for houses and which will benefit everyone over a wide field.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
That is a question which I cannot enter into. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether we were satisfied with the response we had to the terms which we had put out. It is really too early to give a final reply to that question because we have not had time to examine all the schemes which have been put forward, and to say or not whether they can be accepted, but on the whole I think I may say we are very well satisfied with the response we have had from the local authorities. While, naturally, to begin with the larger number of schemes put forward were non-revenue-producing, now we are beginning to get from the local authorities revenue-producing schemes in larger numbers, and, on the whole, I think we 1655 may say that we have good reason to hope that the terms we have offered have been found to be satisfactory by the local authorities.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Obviously, the Tight hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is desirable to get these schemes at the earliest possible moment, but that does not mean we are going to turn down schemes while there is time to negotiate. Some other criticisms have been directed to the Trade Facilities and Export Credits Scheme. Hon. Members have expressed surprise that greater use has not been made of these methods, but they must not overlook the fact that the depression in trade itself naturally tends to reduce the amount of the advantages to be derived from the schemes. There is another consideration which must not be lost sight of. Under the Export Credits Scheme the proposal is investigated by a Committee, and if they find it satisfactory and are willing to advance the necessary credit, it very often turns out that people say, "If this is good enough for the Export Credit people it is good enough for us," and then our scheme is not required. Our efforts, however, in such a case have served their purpose, and brought the trade, and we have reason to suppose that a considerable amount of business has been initiated in this way through the Export Credits Scheme, although it will never get the credit for it because it will not actually appear
The hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Peto) has asked me to press forward the improvement of canals. I have already explained that it is difficult to get anything done quickly in connection with canals because the ownership is so divided, and there are so many different interests concerned, and you cannot give public money to private enterprise in canals. Therefore the only way in which we can assist the improvement of our waterways is by going through some preliminary process under which these canals can be placed under some public trust or body, and it is these preliminary investigations which take so long and which have prevented us doing much except in the one scheme on the River Trent. Another scheme is under consideration in the Mid- 1656 lands, and we hope it may mature, although I am afraid it will not be available to give much employment before the coming winter.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I think it is possible to do something of the kind, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport has this particular matter in hand, and he is doing his best to speed up the negotiations to which my hon. Friend has referred. Disappointment has been expressed that the Empire Settlement Scheme had not made greater progress, and it has been very truly said that that is only one side of the picture. This is a matter which has to be carried on in conjunction with the Governments of the Dominions, and we cannot assist emigrants to the Dominions at any greater rate than the Dominions are able to take them.
The Dominions have their difficulties on their side, and they have housing difficulties as well as we have. They have themselves to do a certain amount of development before they are able to take these emigrants. The difficulty on this side has not been the finding of people who are desirous of going, or finding the financial assistance necessary to enable them to go, but it has been purely the difficulty which the Dominions have found in taking them at a faster rate. So far as the other suggestion of my right hon. Friend is concerned, i.e., that when the Imperial Conference takes place we should urge embarkation on some bold scheme of Empire settlement and development, I would like to assure him that the Government have the strongest desire and intention of carrying out a policy of that kind, and neither effort nor expense will be spared on our side to make such a scheme go through.
I may say in conclusion there is too much of a tendency to rely on the Government, and the Government only to come to the assistance of the country in this crisis. After all, many successive Ministers have devoted themselves heart and soul to finding a solution of this problem, and their comparative failure to find a scheme which will absorb any 1657 substantial proportion of the unemployed shows the inherent difficulty of the Government in finding a real solution of the problem. A question was asked about the electrification of the railways, and the hon. and gallant Member for Brentford (Lieut.-Colonel Morden) suggests that the Government should force the railways to develop their lines. We have no power to do anything of the kind, and when my right hon. Friend asks whether we are satisfied with the despatch with which the railway companies are proceeding with electrification schemes, my answer is in the negative. We have made representations urging them to push forward their schemes at a greater rate. In some cases, no doubt, the plans are not ready, and I am sure one cannot electrify a line without doing an enormous amount of preparatory work. It is possible that that may delay certain schemes.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
There is other work of a less important character which nevertheless might, I think, add a material contribution to the problem we had before us, in the way of the electrification of suburban and minor lines which I think the railway companies might undertake in quicker time. It is not a question of providing financial assistance. There can be no doubt here that the railway companies have ample resources with which to carry out these works. Why they do not carry them out, I do not know.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I do not say that in every case it would pay, but there are cases in which it would pay hand somely, and there are other cases in which, if it would not pay at once, it would in a few years' time. I hope the directors of the railway companies will look upon this matter not solely from the point of view of an immediate return on their outlay. They have a certain responsibility to this country—and the provision of certain railway facilities in the neighbourhood of our towns and cities would go a long way towards assisting the housing problem itself. If they will only consider how much they might do to help the general prosperity of the country by schemes of the kind which 1658 have been suggested to them, I cannot help thinking that they will give their immediate and careful attention to the practicability of carrying them out at the very earliest date, and thereby place the country under a generous debt of obligation to them.