§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Spoor.]
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I am sure the House listened with the greatest interest to the Prime Minister yesterday, and it will not expect me to deal with all the subjects which he raised. I propose only to deal with two or three of them, and I will preface my remarks with a few words concerning the earlier part of his speech. I am sure we all realise the immense burden which he has taken upon himself by assuming, if only temporarily, the double office of Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary; and I am sure that I speak the wish of the House when I say that we all hope that that immense burden may not be, as we fear it will, too much for him. He seemed yesterday, in my view, already to be labouring under what every Prime Minister in these days must labour under—a sense of the tremendous responsibility which rests principally upon him. From the cheery aspect of the Front Bench yesterday, I should say that that sense of responsibility has not yet been realised to the full by all his colleagues. The line came into my mind as I watched them—The blessed Damozel lean'd out From the gold bar of Heavenand the wonder has not yet left their faces at finding themselves where they are. In time that look of wonder will leave them, but yet for a day or two we may hope to see the right hon. Gentleman surrounded on the right and on the left by the blessed Damozels whom he has chosen to be his colleagues.
The first point to which the right hon. Gentleman called our attention, and it was one of many comforting points in his speech, was that since he assumed office the price of gilt-edged stocks had risen. That may be a fact; and if my right hon. Friend relies for the support of the country on the use of a post hoc argument, we may also take it for granted that his advent to power was responsible for the rise in the price of food which has already begun and which will probably continue throughout the summer, especially if his Government should be unsuccessful in averting the trouble at the docks. There was one point, and a 848 very important point, on which he did not touch, and on which I should like to ask a question, and that is the question of defence. No information has been given to us as to whether it is proposed to leave the strength of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force where it is, or whether one or all of those forces will be increased or diminished in number; and nothing was said about two questions which have just been raised this afternoon. One of these is the question of Singapore, on which an assurance was given that, in the current phraseology, every relevant consideration would be given to all the points that might arise. I would only say, on that, that when the Government come to examine the proceedings of the recent Imperial Conference, they will find that a great deal was said about Singapore, and I trust that they will, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty said they would, give the most careful consideration to the views of the Dominions overseas on that matter, and the question will doubtless come up again at a later stage. One other point was that of the new light cruisers, a question on which was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow (Mr. D. G. Somerville). On that we have been promised more definite information before long, but the interest that is taken in that subject is such that I think the questions will be fairly continuous until a satisfactory reply has been given.
Now I wish to touch, very briefly for obvious reasons, on what the Prime Minister said about our relations with France and Central Europe. I do that for this reason. Once more, from what he says, I gather that we are in process of either negotiating or entering into fresh negotiations with France, and at a time like that no Opposition would willingly raise any question that might make the duty of the Government more difficult. We recognise the difficulty of it, and I was very much touched to see howHope springs eternal in the human breast,and that the same feelings have been passing through the mind of the Prime Minister as have passed through the minds of those immediately preceding him and of those who preceded him at a greater distance of time—the belief that by exhibiting a spirit of sweet reasonableness we could bend the whole of 849 Europe to our will. No one wishes the right hon. Gentleman well in that task more than I. No one realises more than I how sweet reasonableness may be carried to excess without reaping any of the rewards which are its due. There is, indeed, a change of attitude which I note with some satisfaction, because it brings the foreign policy of the present Government into the historical succession of the foreign policy of recent Governments. Looking back to the Debates of last summer, one sees that the whole atmosphere is changed, and changed for the better. I think, perhaps, the less we allude to those Debates now the better, because we want to say nothing which can cause the slightest friction with our Allies. It is a source of gratification to Members on this side of the House that, so soon after assuming the responsibility for government, the present Government should be continuing, and I hope indeed with more success, the policy which has been pursued unswervingly for the last 12 months.
On unemployment I should like to say a few words, but they will be few, because I feel certain that many other Members on all sides of the House will have a good deal to say upon it. I would only say, in passing, that, unemployment is a subject upon which one is apt to speak very differently according to whether one has responsibility or not. From what has been said both during the Election and in this House, in the course of the last year might, had I been less experienced than I am, have looked forward to some great revolution in method which would apply to unemployment that cure which none of us have yet been able to discover. But when the box was opened and the plans were produced we found nothing more than a strict adherence to what has been done by the last Government and the Government before and the Government before that—except this, that where you cannot find a cure, you are obliged by the course of events to make your palliatives more palatable as time goes on. And as each Government has tried to do a little bit more in the way of palliatives to try to sweeten an impossible position for those who are suffering from it, so this Government is proposing to take a little step in advance which would have had to be taken by any Government in power before the winter had passed. But not one single word about how this great 850 social evil is to be cured! Plenty about how it may be treated to make the patient more comfortable; but not one single intimation as to how he is to be enabled to take up his bed and walk. On that point I should like to ask the Government what they propose to do with regard to the Safeguarding of Industries Act now on the Statute Book, which expires, so far as the second part of it is concerned, in the course of the present summer. It will be of great interest to the House to learn, before the Debate concludes, whether the Government will be prepared to abandon that slender but not quite useless reed upon which some of those hitberto unemployed have been able to lean with a tolerable amount of success during the last two years.
There were two points the right hon. Gentleman did not mention. He certainly had a great many subjects to deal with, and perhaps, although it would have come better from him than from me, I may just allude to them because they reflect a certain amount of credit on the Government which has now passed away. In speaking of foreign affairs he omitted any reference to the Treaty with the United States on the liquor traffic, which I am glad to learn has actually been signed within the last few days. I am also very pleased to learn that the Tangier Convention has been signed by Spain, also within the last few days. Both those are, in a sense, the children of the late Government, and one cannot help alluding to them with a little parental pride. There was a third point, and I shall be glad of information on it, because the rumour that reaches me is rather disquieting. I am told—but I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this—that immediately after the change of Government, the Soviet Government repudiated the engagement they had made in regard to compensation to our fishermen and the three-mile limit. Perhaps before the close of the Debate the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs will be able to tell the House if this is the case or not.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
Perhaps we may have a definite assurance. I quite take it from the right hon. Gentleman. I have been told that. I hope it is not true. That leads me to say a few words on the principal subject which I want to bring 851 before the House this afternoon, that is the question of Russia. The Russian problem is one which has occupied and preoccupied the Governments of this country for the last few years. It is a question on which the party now in power, before they came into office, had made up their minds and had given pledges which it would be extremely difficult for them to repudiate when in office. But I cannot help suspecting that they had made up their minds on insufficient evidence, and that they will find the carrying out of the policy which in opposition seemed to them so easy almost impossible in its fulfilment. It is to an examination of the difficulties that lie ahead of them that I propose to devote a few minutes.
Two things are desired in connection with Russia—desired not only by hon. Members opposite, but desired equally by Conservatives and by Liberals. They are peaceful relations with Russia and the development of trade. Let us consider the first question for a moment. We really have to face here a very serious and profound difficulty, because we have to try to establish peaceful relations with a Government whose ideals are entirely opposed to our own, and we have to try to bring about peaceful relations with a Government who would not use those words in the same sense in which we use them. I think as a proof of that I may remind the House that the Prime Minister himself recently used this phrase—and for the purpose of greater accuracy I have committed it to writing—The Labour Party will stand no nonsense and no monkey tricks from the Russian diplomatic representatives.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
Can anyone imagine those words being used to the American or the French Ambassador? Does not that show that the Prime Minister himself recognises that he is embarking on a task different in nature from that of bringing about peaceful relations, with any other country in the world. That is the only point I want to make. I would remind him, when he talks about not standing monkey tricks, that when he gets close to the monkey it depends entirely upon the kind of monkey you are close to. There is no species which contains so many varieties as that tribe, whether it be in size, in amiability, in 852 malignity or in strength, and it all depends on what you find at close quarters whether you can repeat, with success what the right hon. Gentleman has said. That is the view of one of the two participants in these endeavours to bring about peaceful relations. Let us see what the other side have to say, and for this purpose I will quote Mr. Zinovieff, the most powerful personality and the most responsible personality in the Government of Russia to-day. He has said recently—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where did he say it?"] It does not matter where he said it; the fact is, that he said it—We shall support. Mr. MacDonald as the rope supports the hanged man.When first I heard those words I thought that the remark had been made by the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) in the Division Lobby to the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). Mr. Zinovieff also said, by way of prologue to this Conference:MacDonald will certainly grovel on all-fours before the opulent English bourgeoisie.I never like these cacophonic foreign words to be introduced into our tongue, and I do not know what a bourgeoisie is. I suppose it is a term of abuse because any word beginning with "b" can be brought out with such emphasis and enjoyment as may put into the phrase the greatest amount of contumely. Indeed, I gather that it is looked upon as a very serious term of offence. I remember my hon. Friend the Member for Plaistow (Mr. W. Thorne) coming hack from Russia three or four years ago, and he told me, as he smote his chest in the smoking room, that they had called him in Russia bourgeois.
To pass from these terms, whether of affection or abuse, with which I am not familiar, I should like to ask the Prime Minister, when he comes to closer quarters in this matter, exactly what is meant by the Soviet Union. Which is their territory and with whom are we really going to make arrangements? We have very little knowledge about that. We know that it is the ambition of the Soviet Union to spread far beyond the confines of the old Russian Empire. This question of territory becomes a very real difficulty when you come more closely 853 into your negotiations, and we are thinking of beginning our negotiations at the very moment when the death of Lenin has, according to such information as I have, made the whole position of the Government that has been in control of Russia during recent years more precarious, and when it is quite possible that before very long there may be no Government with which to negotiate at all. We Are running the risk, it seems to me, of giving away before we begin to negotiate, the only lever we have to obtain not only the things which we desire but which we shall be obliged to have, as I shall point out later, if ever we are to develop any trade with that unhappy country.
In the meantime the Italians, who proceeded from the other end, got their concessions first before they gave recognition. It would be of the greatest interest to the House if the Government could publish a copy of the Treaty which has just been made between the Italians and the Russians. We want to know what Italy has got, and we want to know if the reports are true that special concessions have been given to the Italians in regard to their shipping in the Black Sea. One of the subjects which caused me the greatest anxiety when I was at the Board of Trade was the attacks which were being made by maritime nations throughout the world on the position of our own mercantile marine, and I hope that this Government will be very much alive to the risks which face this country from the competition of other maritime countries and will be jealous, indeed, to secure that no privileges are given by one foreign country to another in which we are not allowed to share.
Two further words of caution, if I may, on this extremely difficult subject. With regard to debts, will the war debts be treated by themselves or will they be treated as part of the whole inter-Allied debt situation, remembering this, that all those who owe us money on the Continent are beginning to watch eagerly what we are going to do with Russia, in the hope and belief that we arc going to make great Surrenders of our claims of debt from Russia to us, claims which if allowed to be surrendered would immediately be hurled at us by every other country in Europe which owed us money and would postpone or cancel any hope we may have to-day, however slight, of collecting any of these debts from our late 854 Allies. Mutatis mutandis, the same is true about private debts. Russia is not the only country where private debts are owed to this country and where owing to political difficulties these debts remain owing, and if any precedent is going to he set there, it may have very far-reaching effects in other parts of the world and cripple still further our export trade.
On the subject of propaganda, I could not help feeling from what the Prime Minister said yesterday that he, at any rate, since he has held his present office, has realized—
§ Mr. BALDWIN
—"and long before," that propaganda really does mean something, and that it is one of the gravest perils to which the world is subject. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh. Perhaps they mean that the same thing is done here. We all know perfectly well that there is a certain amount of propaganda at home, but it is not of that I am thinking. I am thinking of the terrible risk to the whole world if propaganda of the kind which is being pushed out into Asia should ever bear its fruit. No man can calculate what the sum of blood and human misery would be if a state of anarchy were ever called into existence among the teeming millions of the East.
I now wish to say a few words about trade with Russia. I should imagine that on few subjects has there been a greater amount of wild and loose talk. There are many well meaning people, who have never had as much practical experience in business as would be involved by the keeping of a whelk store, who look on any country with a large population, and think that you have only got to go there with a prospectus in our hand to sell goods. There are only two conditions in the world in which business can be done. One is that the man who sells the goods should have some assurance that he will be paid for them; the other is that he must have some assurance that, if he gets into trouble in regard to the business which he is doing, some form of justice will be administered to him. If you cannot have these two things you may have recognition, you may call Mr. Hodgson Charge d'Affaires, or 855 Ambassador or Archimandrite or Pope, but you will not advance trade.
Look at Germany. The Germans are far better traders with Russia than we. It is a business which they have done for years. The bulk of Russian trade before the War was in the hands of Germans. They know the country and they know its customs, and they are anxious to trade with it. They have given recognition; they have made the most serious efforts to trade. Concessions have been granted to groups of men who, neither in capital, business knowledge nor goods were lacking in any degree. The names of Wolff, Wirth and Krupp are in themselves sufficient evidence of that, and after all the efforts which they have made, with the thoroughness peculiar to the Teuton, they have to confess that their efforts have ended in failure, and they are withdrawing. You cannot get in present conditions, with or without any trade agreement, that confidence which will make the business man send his goods into that country. You have got a civil law under which he is convinced that he cannot get justice, and until commercial justice can be got, and until that atmosphere of confidence can be restored, there will be no business, whatever steps you may take. The Prime Minister spoke about credits. As I understood him—and I am sure he will assent if I am right—he was referring to commercial credits.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
It might happen that something might be done by extending the Trade Facilities Act or the Export Credit scheme to Russia. If that is proposed I should like to know in due time whether they would be extended to Russia on the same terms as to other countries. That is to say, subject to the same scrutiny. I am not speaking of the length of the credits. That is another question and raises another series of problems, but such credits as are afforded by those two instruments are extended to private trading. The will have nothing to do with the Russian Government. I repeat once more, and I cannot repeat it too often, that you may give all those facilities, but you cannot get people to trade unless they are convinced. 856 as to those two points to which I have repeatedly called attention. I notice that Mr. Rakovsky has been speaking of sums of from £20,000,000 to £30,000,000 which could be utilised at once for trade credits. But one-third of that sum, he said, should be placed at the disposal of the Russian Government, and here again, as showing the enormous difficulty of the subject, the objects and aims of the two sides are so different. We on our side want to trade. The Russians on their side want money with which to bolster up the Government, and the difficulty will be in the reconciliation of two completely different objects. In the same paper Mr. Rakovsky comes back to the question which was raised at Genoa, and which has been adumbrated more than once, the, question of the £300,000,000 loan to the Russian Government. I understood from the Prime Minister that there was no question of any loan to the Russian Government, Government to Government.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
We have been too familiar since the War in speaking of hundreds of millions. Sums like that, really, convey nothing to anyone, but when a responsible man like Mr. Rakovsky speaks of £300,000,000 being advanced across the seas from one Government to another, he is mentioning a sum far in excess of what we in generations have advanced to India for the development of her trade and for the development of that country. It is a sum which it would be impossible for us or for any country in the world to advance to any other Government at the present time. I fear, indeed, and I wish I could think otherwise, that the time has not yet come when it will be possible either to enter fully into that reconciliation with Russia desired by all of us or to stimulate a trade with a country which is poverty-stricken, which cannot even yet afford to buy for itself. It must be a tender growth of years, and we have to wait until the fury of the tempest which has been raging in that country has subsided enough to allow us to launch what at first must be the frail bark of international commerce. I hope, indeed I wish, that it might be said my fears may prove to be exaggerated, and my prognostications prove false. Time alone will show, but I have 857 tried to put before the House the difficulties, as I see them, of the Prime Minister, and while no one can sympathise more than I do with the elevated tone of his speech, and with the hopes that he has expressed, yet I cannot held feeling that a short term of office, in this troubled world as it exists now, will prove too hard a work for the idealism, of which he has always been so able and faithful an exponent, to survive.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
(having left his seat below the Ministerial gangway, to stand at the front Opposition bench): I do not know that it is necessary to give any explanation or apology for my taking my place at this Box. Apart altogether from the traditions and customs of this House, there are two reasons which make it to me, for the time being, an acceptable position. The first is that you can see your opponents, those whom you may wish to criticise, and the second is that you can see your friends, a privilege which is more often denied to us by the peculiar arrangements of this House. I am not going to follow my right hon. Friend who has just spoken in what, think we shall all agree, has been a very weighty pronouncement in regard to Russia and our relations with Russia. I will only say that I hail with much satisfaction the declaration of the Government that they are recognising formally, what is called de jure recognising, the Russian Government. I, and many of my friends, have advocated that course for years past. Although I quite agree with what my right hon. Friend has said, that the mere recognition may not in itself achieve great practical results, yet I am certain that it will facilitate and smooth the discussion of many outstanding problems which have to be settled before we can restune what I may call complete trading, social, and economic relations with that great country. It is the first step, and only the first step, and one which I am very glad has been even tardily taken.
I listened, as we all did, with great interest to the speech of the Prime Minister last night. He covered, as he was obliged to cover, a very large area of ground, in which it would be impossible to pursue him step by step, even if time itself permitted, for the very good reason that he is debarred, and naturally 858 and legitimately debarred, from giving to the House at this stage more than a mere outline of the legislative programme of his Government. No one can complain of that. They have been in office for less than a month. The problems which confront them are almost unexampled in their magnitude and extent, and there is no one, to whatever party he may belong, who is not prepared to give them the utmost consideration and sympathy in approaching a formidable, and, indeed, an almost unprecedented task. But the right hon. Gentleman gave us some indication of what, in the domestic sphere—I am confining myself for the moment to that—he and his colleagues intended to propose. I do not think I am misrepresenting him when I say that most, if not all, of his proposals are to be found in the electoral programmes of one or another of the various parties of the State. Some are actually quarried from those programmes, as, for instance, from what was called a manifesto issued by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and myself. All of them preserve the substantial continuity of what the present Government intend to submit to Parliament with the legislation of previous Parliaments and previous Governments. It is no new departure.
Let us consider what they are doing. Old age pensions, national insurance against sickness and unemployment, trade boards for sweated industries, a more humane administration of the Poor Law, trade facilities and export credits—I need not enlarge on these, because I am not for the moment attempting to apportion the credit as between different parties for the different items. All of these things have become part and parcel of our established Parliamentary and legislative system. The programme, as far as it has been foreshadowed by the Prime Minister and the present Government, is to be built up on those foundations, and substantially upon the same lines, with adaptations, expansions, developments which we all admit to be needed in order to meet the new necessities and the altered conditions of post-war life. In regard to that there are two observations which I wish to make.
I am quite sure that there are two sets of people who are thoroughly disappointed with the Prime Minister's 859 speech. The first, not so largely represented in this House as it is outside, are those to whom I think I referred the last time I had the honour of speaking in the House, who had come to the conclusion that the accession of a Labour Government to power will mean the falling of the skies and the opening of the sluices to every form of confiscation and anarchy.
A lady, one of my correspondents—they are not by any means all of one sex —wrote to me a few weeks ago, and expressed the fervent hope that a place had been reserved for me in the lowest abyss of hell, because I aided and abetted in the advent of a Labour Government. I hope that on reading the right hon. Gentleman's speech this morning she has some sort of solace when she finds him descanting, as we heard him last night, on the danger of dissipating industrial capital, and enlarging on the importance in agriculture—I do not know why it should be confined to agriculture—of spontaneous co-operation and unfettered enterprise. That is one set of disappointed people. There is another set—the ardent spirits who sit there on what in the Convention used to be called the Mountain, and who are more numerous outside.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
Wait till you have had 12 months of a Labour Government! Some of those ardent spirits who thought that the fiery finger of dawn could be discerned the moment my right hon. Friend (Mr. MacDonald) became Prime Minister are no doubt for the moment a little hit dispirited.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
We must wait and see. They are for the moment a little bit dispirited, because they had hopes of more far-reaching and full-blooded programme. I think we ought to make allowances for the conditions under which their leaders have been called upon to assume office No one will admit more readily than my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and all of us acknowledge, that the recent election, with its unexampled results, has circumscribed 860 the parliamentary ambitions and opportunities not only of this Government, but of any alternative or substituted Government that might have taken the responsibilities of office, and circumscribed them within extremely narrow limits. I am now addressing, not on behalf of my right hon. Friend, but I hope in his interest, the fire-eaters, and I would remind them, as an old parliamentarian, that you cannot achieve legislation on an heroic scale—even the late Prime Minister could not have done it had he remained in office, nor could I or anybody else—when you are in a permanent minority in this House—
—and when, in consequence of that, you are denuded of an apparatus which every Government for the last 30 or 40 years has possessed—the power of taking the time of the House, moving the Closure, and of regulating its proceedings in accordance with your wishes. It is not only common sense, but it is common fairness to admit that any Government that took office under these Parliamentary conditions was to a certain extent, compared with all its predecessors which many of us have known, in fetters and in manacles. That, I think, is obviously true.
I wish, if I may, to put one or two questions to the Prime Minister, not about what is contained in his speech—we wait there for the elaboration, embodied in concrete proposals, of that which was foreshadowed last night, and I do not complain in the least of our having to do so; it is inevitable—but about what was omitted from it. In the first place, I noticed, and I think most of us must have noticed, that there was no reference to public economy. In All these complicated and necessary schemes of social development and reform, finance is a fundamental consideration, and, although I do not know—we shall know better when the actual proposals are brought before us—what the total estimated expenditure upon them may be, in my judgment, and I think in the judgment of most Members, the extra drain on the State's resources must he found, as far as possible, not in additional taxation, but in increased economy. We have heard rumours—I do not know how far 861 they are well founded—that my right hon. Friend the new Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Philip Snowden) has been wielding his besom or his pruning knife, or whatever is the most appropriate implement, for the purpose among the spending Departments. Ho is at a great disadvantage, because he comes into office in the month of January with inherited Estimates. I myself have been in the same position when I was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and it is extraordinarily difficult at that stage of the financial year to effect for the forthcoming year really adequate economies. I hope, indeed I believe, my right hon. Friend is doing what he can, but I should have been more satisfied, and I think many Members would have been, if the Prime Minister had pointed out to us that it was in that direction—I need not mention disarmament, which is a very important factor—that he looked as the most hopeful way of finding the needed resources for additional and developed social reform.
Another omission has been referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin). The Prime Minister said nothing about the Safeguarding of Industries Act—whether by intention, or because he had covered too much other ground I do not know. I should like to say one word about that matter, not perhaps precisely in the same sense or spirit as my right hon. Friend. I am addressing myself to the Labour Government and to the Labour party. On the 4th December, 1922, just after the General Election of that year, we, the Liberal party, moved an Amendment to the King's Speech, which was in these terms:We regret that no locution is made of the repeal of the Safeguarding of Industries Act and of other protective measures which are raising prices, hampering trade, and limiting employment.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
You did not think so, of course, but we did, and so did the Labour party. They voted, I think unitedly, in support of that Amendment. I do not see the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Colonel Wedgwood) in his place. Perhaps he is engaged in the duties of his arduous office. At any rate, he is a Member of 862 the present Government. I do not know whether he holds his office on the same tenure as a Noble Lord explained to the House of Lords last night that he held his. But the Chancellor of the Duchy on that occasion used most cogent arguments and declared opposition on the part of himself and his friends to the continuance of that Act. We shall be very glad to know what is the attitude of the Government towards that Act. The first part of the Act does no expire till August, 1926, but I express a hope, which I suspect is shared by most of my right hon. Friends on that bench, that it has worked so badly that it ought to be swept away.
Then there is another matter. It was not omitted from my right hon. Friend's speech, but it was referred to, I thought, in a somewhat ambiguous way. I refer to the Resolutions which were come to at the Imperial Conference held here last year on what is called Preference. There was a whole schedule of duties which played a very prominent part in the rhetoric and dialectics of the General Election, and one would like to know very much whether the attitude of the Government in regard to that matter is, as my right hon. Friend rather indicated last night., that of submitting it to the free judgment of the House or whether they are going to give that guidance which I think we are entitled to expect from responsible Ministers of the Crown as to what is their own opinion. That at this moment is left in ambiguity and doubt. Further, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the intention of the Government to appoint a Commission on Taxation. By the way, he spoke, not only of a new spirit, but of new methods which the Labour Government were going to introduce. The new methods appear to consist in the appointment of Commissions and Conferences, which I am sorry to have to confess — and I have been in this business myself for a very long time—have been habitually the instruments and machinery of capitalist and individualist Governments. But that by the way. The important question which I wish to ask the Prime Minister is this. Is the proposed Commission to deal with the whole of our system of taxation, including the arrangements for the payment of debt? I do not know how far it is to extend. I do not wish to express any considered judg- 863 ment at this moment, without further consideration, as to the expediency of appointing such a Commission. Prima facie, my own opinion would be that the only proper Commission to deal with matters of such importance is the Cabinet itself, assisted as it always has been and always can be, by the best expert advice from outside. If there is to be a Commission—and this is a matter which we shall have to consider later on—I should like to be at once assured that the composition of the Commission itself and the terms of reference to it will be submitted to the House of Commoris for consideration and debate. I think that is a very reasonable proposition, which I believe will be assented to in every quarter of the House.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
Well, that is my suggestion. I have indicated affirmatively, that to the proposals which the Government has put forward, as outlined by the right hon. Gentleman—of course, without prejudice to whatever judgment we may form, when they appear in concrete shape—we are not in principle opposed, and, negatively, I have asked that those omissions I have indicated in his statement should be supplied. Before I conclude, I must come to another matter as to which I shall speak in somewhat different terms. The right hon. Gentleman referred, almost at the beginning of his speech, to administrative action which has been taken by one of his oolleagues—the Minister of Health—in regard to the rescission of what is called the Poplar Order. I wish to say in the plainest and most unequivocal terms, that unless the Government can see their way, as I hope they will, to reconsider the action taken in that respect., I do not think there is the least chance of that administrative act receiving the countenance or approval of the House of Commons. I, and many of my Friends—all my Friends, I think —regard this as a matter of capital importance. There is a great deal of misapprehension as to the actual facts, which we shall be very glad to see receiving further consideration. But some things are abundantly plain. The Order which has been rescinded by the administrative act of the Minister has nothing whatever to do—though the Prime 864 Minister seemed to think it had—with the Acts of 1921 and 1923—absolutely nothing whatever. My right hon. Friend the Member for the Ladywood Division of Birmingham (Mr. N. Chamberlain) knows that very well, because he, I think, was the author of the Act of 1923. The Acts of 1921 and 1923 had to do with one thing only, namely, the conditions under which outdoor relief granted by the guardians should be supplemented from the Metropolitan Common Fund. The Act of 1921 proposed one scale. The. Act of 1923—that scale having proved difficult to work in practice—proposed a flat rate, and everybody who knows the provisions of those Acts, knows also that this was their purview and it. has nothing whatever to do with this Poplar controversy. The Poplar Order was issued by Sir Alfred Mond, then Minister of Health.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
Ho is a great loss. The Order was not issued under, nor did it purport to be authorised in any way, by either of these Emergency Acts. It was issued under the old Poor Law Act, 1834, which provides that in fit cases Guardians of the Poor shall use their trust, their trust being what? To relieve destitution, and not for ulterior purposes. The Order was passed by the then Minister under the authority and provisions of that Act, and it is totally unaffected by the Acts either of 1921 or 1923. Why was that Order issued? It was issued because after a, careful, impartial inquiry by a thoroughly competent Commissioner who came clown from Lamm, shire, the administration of poor relief by the Poplar Guardians had been found, as he reported, to be contrary to the spirit and intentions of the whole of our Poor Law legislation. I hope hon. Members will get that report and read it, because I am going to ask for an opportunity for a full discussion of this matter, which is quite impossible, of course, in this Debate. I am only now indicating the points upon which the matter turns. That report is, I believe, accessible. I am not sure that it was not presented as a Parliamentary Paper, and I think it can be obtained by anybody in the Vote Office. 865 It should be read and digested by all who wish to form a really fair judgment of the case.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the guardians were not allowed to give any evidence on the other side; that this was purely an ex parte inquiry by this gentleman, and that his statement has no relation whatever to the work of the guardians?
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I happen to be a member of the board, and I asked the Commissioner to take evidence from the guardians, and he told me he had no intention of taking any evidence from the guardians.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
If that is the argument, the hon. Member will have an opportunity of developing it. With the greatest respect, the hon. Member knows that this is the report which was made by a perfectly impartial Commissioner.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
But he did not take evidence. He refused. I do not want to interrupt unfairly. [HON. MEMBLRS: "Order!"] I take it the right, hon. Gentleman has read the report. If he has done so, he will see that Mr. Cooper himself says that he consulted with Sir Alfred Warren, of the Municipal Alliance —that is, with our political opponents—but he does not say—because he did not do it—that he consulted with the board of guardians whose work he was inquiring into and about whom he issued that grossly unfair and one-sided report.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
That is the report upon which Sir Alfred Mond acted, and, if the statements in the report are correct, he was bound to act. This is a matter that does not affect Poplar merely. The Order was made in the middle of 1922 and it directed the guardians to discontinue their practice in the way of outdoor relief. The guardians, from the first, ignored and disobeyed the Order. I will do them the justice to say they acted perfectly conscientiously and they made no concealment. The guardians from the first disobeyed the Order and, every week, sent to the Ministry of 866 Health returns showing in what respects they had done so. They were perfectly straightforward and I am not making any imputations against them from that point of view. Those reports came weekly to the Ministry of Health and showed a flagrant, avowed and I would say quite honestly conscientious determination on the part of the guardians to disregard the Order—[HON. MEMBERS: "To relieve destitution."]—to pursue their ideas. It appears to be true that nothing was done by the Ministry of Health. Whether actual surcharges had then been made I do not know. We shall hear that, I suppose, from those who are acquainted with the facts, but surcharges were certainly contemplated and, I suppose, have since been made.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
The statement issued from the Ministry of Health announcing that this Order has been rescinded is to the effect that the surcharges made under it will be remitted, and that seems to imply that the surcharges have been made. That is the state of things which has to be considered. An Order, the legality of which is not disputed, made under the Poor Law Act, 1834, by the central authority in pursuance of statutory powers given to it nearly 100 years ago, has been continuously defied for a period of nearly two years by this particular board of guardians. Why is the Order to be rescinded? Why are the surcharges which have been incurred under it to be remitted? It is not a question—otherwise I would not labour it to the House at this stage, but I attach the very greatest importance to it—that affects Poplar alone. Everybody knows the terrible conditions which exist in Poplar, but they do not exist only in Poplar. They exist in the surrounding unions and boroughs. [An HON. MEMBER: "Shame!"] They exist in many parts of the country, in the north, in Wales, and elsewhere, and the guardians who, in these equally necessitous areas—[An HON. MEMBER: "Equally?"]—I do not like to discuss the degrees of necessity; that is not the point I am upon, but the guardians who, in these equally necessitous areas—having to face the same problems, feeling exactly the same kind of sympathy—
§ Mr. ASQUITH
These guardians, having been constantly exposed to every form of objurgation and contumely because they did not follow the Poplar example—why are they to be subjected to these attacks? That is why I attach so much importance to this question. It is encouraging, it is almost inciting boards of guardians to follow the Poplar example, and it is discouraging and paralysing these men of public spirit and a sense of public duty, open to every temptation to which men can be exposed to transcend the boundaries of law, in the interests of—[An HON. MEMBER: "The destitute poor! "]—of mercy and consideration, having manfully fulfilled their duties and performed their tasks.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
When we get this matter fully debated, I can go into that; but for the present I would like to say this: In the first place, I think the present sanction of the law, namely, the power of surcharge, is inadequate and illusory. The ratepayers get nothing out of it. I cannot say for the moment what substitute there ought to be for it, but I am quite sure that it is a thing which is not worthy of Parliament. Here is an expenditure, an illegal expenditure, practically admitted, of very nearly £100,000, and the only remedy which the ratepayers, many of whom, remember, have no votes—in Poplar 55 per cent. of the rates are paid, I believe, by people who have no votes, docks, railway companies and so on, and their money, the money they have contributed, is expended by these guardians for purposes which are admittedly illegal. Indeed, the guardians glory in it. They know they are illegal—[An HON. MEMBER: "The £180,000 for deportees to Ireland was illegal!"]—I do not want to end on a purely critical note—not at all. I have very great and very real sympathy for these necessitous areas, and I know, and I can well understand, the position of the guardians, what tremendous pressure there is, not external pressure, but pressure which comes from a man's own conscience and feeling, to do what. they can even to stretch and strain the law in the presence of these hideous necessities. Therefore, I am not speaking in any spirit of bitterness, but I am quite sure the matter is one that ought to be dis- 868 cussed, and I trust the Government will give us a day for that purpose.
The other point I want strongly to impress is this: You have a state of things now in London which exists to some extent elsewhere, but nowhere so acutely as in London, in which, owing to this huge congeries of populations, the local conditions vary so enormously£boroughs, unions, side by side with one another, so different in wealth and in necessity, and the geographical and administrative distinctions between them so irrational, that the time has really come—and I want to press and shall press this on the attention of the Government—to add to the list of useful legislative and administrative changes which they have in view at least two—one, for a real reform of London government, which, not from want of sympathy, I am sure, has got into a clotted chaos through these artificial distributions and distinctions, and a reconsideration of the basis of the Poor Law itself. Those are the directions in which I should welcome, and most of my friends would welcome, anything to prevent the possible recurrence of what has happened in Poplar and elsewhere. It is not from any desire to show a lack of sympathy with or any lack of understanding of what has been done there, but from a real wish that this, which is a most pressing social question—and whenever these waves of unemployment come it becomes almost an absorbing and a predominating question in our municipal life—may be dealt with, and that some substantial and permanent reform may take place, that I have offered these observations to the House.
§ The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Mr. Clynes)
None of us can complain of either the tone or the manner of the two speeches to which the House has just listened. Indeed, the Leader of the Opposition, during a considerable part of his speech, delivered himself in such terms as to render a reply almost unnecessary. In the course of my remarks I shall refer to a few of the questions which he raised and certain of the topics which formed the theme of his speech. But first let me say one or two things in regard to the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith). He recognises—and we are glad to acknowledge it—that being a Labour Government without a Labour 869 Parliament, the Government must have regard not merely to the pace at which public opinion has travelled as measured so far by decision at the polls, but to the limit to which Members of this House will go as the result of any action which the Government itself may take. But within those limitations it is a matter of satisfaction to us that the limitations themselves are fully recognised.
The right hon. Gentleman is right in assuming that an opportunity will be offered, upon some later occasion, for discussing the action of the Government in relation to Poplar and the whole of the Poor Law questions raised on account of its action in this regard. All that I would like to say here, in view of the full discussion which will take place later on, is that the earlier observations of my right hon. Friend regarding points of fact and points of law are not quite in conformity with the departmental information which we have received. We shall, therefore, afford Members of the House the fullest opportunity of having the facts placed before them, in order that discussion, when it does take place, shall not be conducted under any disability due to doubt as to what the actual facts are. I can also say to my right hon. Friend that when we reach the stage of having to discuss the questions recently debated and the resolutions recently reached at the Imperial Conference, the Government will not merely give an opportunity to the House to express its views, but will, of course, use that occasion to express its own views on the subject when these resolutions are submitted to the House.
Everyone recognises that certain parts of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday were necessarily sketchy, that he was not, and that no one could be, in so short a time, in a position completely to state the whole Government policy or announce decisions on all matters even of the first importance. Reference was made in that speech to the general situation of the country in relation to the National Debt and questions of finance. No one will deny that that Debt and our general financial obligations have become subjects of the gravest concern, not the concern only of a party, or of a Government in power, or of any one class, but they have become the gravest concern of the nation as a whole. We are asked, 870 whenever we refer to questions of finance or National Debt, "What about the Capital Levy?" I need not, of course, argue that we could not approach any question of a Capital Levy when no national approval has been given to a device of that kind, but who will say that the country or the Government can afford to leave this question of the National Debt where it is? Indeed, it would be a good thing if many of those who refer to the subject of a Levy would refer more often to the question of the Debt, for the truth is that the device of a Capital Levy was not necessarily a Labour proposal, and it is known that it was looked upon at one time with a good deal of favour by many who are not attached to the Labour party. We should be happy to receive from any quarter an alternative to the remedy of the Capital Levy, and we are satisfied that after further experience, and particularly when the matter has been fully investigated by a competent and an impartial tribunal, the decision will be not to leave the country to carry for generations the enormous load of interest which the Debt involves, or to leave our general condition of finance in its present unsatisfactory state. Accordingly, we suggest, not on party lines, but in the national interest, nay, indeed, in the interest of the Empire as a whole, that the subject of how best this matter should be handled should be the subject of a complete and impartial investigation.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition rather discounted the position which has been created in the field of foreign affairs, so far as it was connected with anything which the Government so far have been able to do. I do not think, however, that he can disprove this statement, that, during the short time the Labour Government have been in office, there has been a considerable improvement in what might be called the atmosphere of our foreign relations. The Press attests that the normal opponents or critics of the Labour party do not now say what was said by the "Times" on the 17th of last month, namely, that Britain had ceased to count in international affairs, and we claim, therefore, that the least that has resulted in the sphere of foreign politics during the short time of our occupancy of office has been the creation of a better atmosphere, and of improved relations generally between 871 this country and the rest of the world with which we have relations.
The right hon. Gentleman asks definitely why the Prime Minister yesterday omitted from his speech any reference to the question of national defence. I might just as well have asked some weeks ago why the Leader of the Opposition, when Prime Minister, made no reference to the question of national defence—why, for instance, the recent Speech from the Throne made no reference to it. The question of national defence has not arisen in any new sense at all, but I think I can say it would be a good thing for the nation as a whole to turn to this subject of national defence in the spirit of seeking greater protection, not in any competition in armaments, not in the spending of more money upon munitions, but in the cultivation of more pacific relations between the nations of the world who have already spent too much on wasteful, futile, and ineffective devices, which in the end have secured too often neither victory nor defence. We are, as was said by the Prime Minister yesterday, using every available opportunity, with, I think, the good will of the House as a whole, for strengthening the League of Nations, for making it the real instrument of achieving the ideal which stood out most in the War, at least so far as the general body of the soldiery was concerned, the idea of making it the War to end war, and it is upon those lines that Labour policy will be conducted. That policy, if successful, will be not merely a policy of peace, but a policy of the truest international economy, enabling the nations of the world to spend upon work and more humane objects the enormous sums now wasted in maintaining large armies and very costly navies
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition devoted a large part of his speech to the subject of Russia, and I would like, therefore, to follow him on one or two points. I claim that the policy of the Prime Minister, unanimously supported, as it was, by the whole of his colleagues, has meant in relation to Russia not a surrender of any principle, but a real advance towards the attainment of outstanding points for settlement between Russia and ourselves. Recognition is not the last act in our relations with Russia. It is really the first step of many that have yet to be taken. If, as I rather 872 conclude, the Leader of the Opposition holds the view that we should not put ourselves upon an equal footing with other nations, unless those nations are similar in ideas, similar in their terms of expression, similar in etiquette and ceremonial—if we were to seek these conditions of sameness in the nations of the world, we should be friends with few indeed. We prefer rather to set aside points of difference, and seek, even if they should be few, the material and outstanding points of agreement that do exist between other countries and ourselves.
One or two of the speakers during the course of this Debate spoke, I thought, rather slightingly of the trade and opportunities which, in our view, will be opened up as the result of the full recognition of Russia. It was suggested that Russia was not honest in her commercial transactions. I think commercial evidence is to the contrary. Indeed, Sir Allan Smith, whose commercial knowledge, at any rate, will not be impeached, has declared that, so far as his knowledge goes, he is not aware of a single instance where the Russian Government has failed to honour any arrangement, commercial or financial. Its reputation in that regard is without reproach, and the House may refer with same advantage to the document issued by the commercial or trade delegation which spent some weeks in Russia during the summer of last year. Generally, it will be recalled that the delegation were in favour of entering into the fullest commercial relations and trade arrangements with Russia, but expressed the view that in the main those relations, under present conditions, must necessarily depend upon the establishment of a system of credits as between the two countries. Such a scheme is in no sense outside the limits of the policy of the present Government in recognising Russia.
Here may I remind the House that we should not be taken as standing absolutely upon the same political footing as Russia in seeking friendship and trade relations with her. By the two more extreme sections of political opinion in the world, Labour, it may be said, is treated alike. The Diehards of this country can scarcely say things more extreme or more hostile against the Labour party than day by day are found expressed against the Labour party by the Leaders of the Soviet Government. We are in no sense in relation with them 873 in respect of political outlook, method or principle, but we say that this country cannot afford to treat that country as something alien, and in no sense deserving such recognition as was long ago granted to countries which we had to fight bitterly in the field. Indeed, we ought not to forget the immediate past of Russia, her entry at the same moment as ourselves into the War, her alliance with us until she could no longer maintain her position. A very large part of the strength of the Allies in the earlier stages of the War was supplied by Russia, and until she was crippled by a condition of hunger, until she was undermined very largely by the corruption of the Government of that day, she stood staunchly by the Allies.
We ought, therefore, not to forget the fact that she was exhausted in our company, and does deserve very much more sympathy than is very often expressed by those who deal with this subject. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has no intention, of course, of treating Russia differently from other countries in the matter of credits, unless this House should hereafter decide that there was some exceptional reason for so doing. The least we can offer to do is to treat Russia on conditions equal to those granted to other foreign countries, and, so far as British employers, British trading companies and British commercial men can be assisted through the agency of the Government in relations with Russia, our view is that support should not be withheld from any who are anxious or willing to deal either with the Russian Government or with Russian employers of labour.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
When the right bon. Gentleman says that the Government of this country is only going to treat Russia on the basis of equality with other foreign countries, he surely has not forgotten that that is not reciprocated, and that the Russians do not treat us as other foreign countries treat us.
I am one of the people who believe in recognising Russia, and in doing everything to get trade; but how can we treat Russia as we do other countries so long as Russia has no Courts of Justice, in Russia itself? That seems to me a difficulty.
§ Mr. CLYNES
May I say, in reply to the Noble Lady, that it may be there are many things in Russia quite unlike our own country. The general conditions are 874 really beside the point. I am referring to the question of arranging better trade relations. I cannot answer for Russian Courts of Justice, or for any one of the different systems that may exist in that country as compared with our own. As to the observation of my right hon. Friend, I can only give what are our intentions. I do not quite know what effect our policy may have upon future Russian action, but an announcement of our policy does not necessarily mean that we concede every point of view which Russia herself may hold. That is a matter for discussion, when, later on, fuller relations are established between Russia and ourselves. On the point of propaganda some objection has been taken to the speech yesterday of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. But the documents already exchanged as between Russia and ourselves amply provide for the security we need in regard to that point. I will add my own view, which is this: Propaganda will be effective—harmful and mischievous as it may be—if it is used in countries where the people have just cause for discontent and anxiety. The real shield against evil propaganda is the wider establishment of a state of justice and contentment. If we cannot protect ourselves on material grounds, and by material means, we shall never ho able to protect ourselves against ideas that will percolate and find their way through if we have not amply shielded the people by surrounding them with conditions of contentment, justice, and fair dealing.
As to the announcement made by my right hon. Friend yesterday on the question of unemployment, to what he said then I should like to add that, in my view, the main causes of unemployment in Great Britain remain the same as they were when the Leader of the Opposition described them in his election address and substantially repeated them in the King's Speech considered by this House only a month ago. Those main causes are not merely to be found in the workshops of Britain; they are to be found in the ruined or partially ruined condition of the world around us. The impoverished state of the people in many countries has lessened their feeling of respect for authority. Wasteful spending is still going on. Currencies are still being 875 debased. Destruction is still going forward, and commercial credit is being largely damaged because ordinary confidence is lacking. Trust must exist before business can effectively and successfully be conducted. Behind all these terms, which are really mere words, you can find the real causes of the greater part of our unemployment. That, however does not mean that a country should neglect or fail to use whatever internal opportunities there may be. The unemployment problem, in our view, has been greatly aggravated by the failure, first of all, of the Government which was returned in 1918 to keep at work in the early days of peace a large number of men and women, amounting to hundreds of thousands, who were at work throughout the years of the War. They began by giving them money. They began on the assumption that the trouble would last for only a few months. The anger or discontent of the unemployed was bought off by grants or bribes. Once you begin that, to give something for nothing, either to rich or poor, you will find it very difficult to check, and may find, indeed, it almost impossible to stop. You cannot, therefore, within a few months of our taking office, expect a complete solution of this problem. So far as we can, however, by inspiration carry the good will of the House with us, we shall use every effort, by means of legislation and in other ways, such as administrative action and so on, greatly to lessen this evil which has been so aggravated by those things which I have described.
We have been asked what we intend to do with the Safeguarding of Industries Act. We were so asked to-day by the Leader of the Opposition. The answer to that question is this: Surely he himself must have formed a moderate idea of the value of that Act for dealing with unemployment, or he would not have caused the Election so suddenly as he did in the pursuit of another remedy! Do we not recall the fact that it was because the Safeguarding of Industries Act could not serve the purpose of dealing with the unemployment problem that the right hon. Gentleman sought larger powers from the country and asked it to give him its confidence for his new remedies? The country answered with censure of his methods, and I doubt, therefore, whether this Government can be expected 876 to look upon the Safeguarding of Industries Act to any great extent as a means for relieving our unemployment troubles.
The Prime Minister made an announcement in the matter of housing. What he said on the general problem of the use of our internal resources is, I think, the profession of every party in this House, and I trust it will be translated into reality. The differences of opinion in the House of Commons on this question will be tested by our proposals. I think that the new state of parties will mean that in the future parties are to count for less, that the country will look rather for action and deed than for mere declarations of aims, and that each party will feel, as a separate entity in the House, that it will occupy in the future a very different place. The Whip is going to be a less important person in the Government than he has been, and we shall hope that personality and policy will count for more in dealing with these matters, and that there will be a spirit of real responsibility abroad, with less of the pressure that exists at present, real consideration being given to proposals submitted by whatever Government may be in power for the time being.
Yesterday the Prime Minister in his speech dealt with housing schemes, road construction, and the many uses to which land in Britain may be put for different public purposes. When the value of land is enriched by the expenditure of public money and by State action, the State should be swift to seek some public benefit out of the additional value so produced. There arc numerous instances of land which has enormously increased in the value as the immediate outcome of pressing public necessity, and yet the benefit of the increase in value has been reaped almost entirely, if not solely, by the private owners of that land. Similarly the Prime Minister, I think, made it quite plain—though the Leader of the Opposition does not appear to give him credit for it—that Labour policy as announced by him in reference to agriculture was co-operation amongst agriculturists themselves stimulated by substantial State assistance in the matter of finance. Smaller countries have shown how considerable the benefit of co-operation can be, and we share the hope that, though the British habit of mind and British customs in rural England may not lend themselves speedily to 877 these approaches for co-operative action, Government encouragement may help the agricultural community to see its value. Therefore, so far as Labour is concerned, we say to agriculture that it ought not to seek a remedy for its trouble either in Protection or in subsidies, but in the better adaptation of its own wide internal resources to co-operative methods and in the increase of those resources by taking the fullest advantage of the financial State assistance announced yesterday by the Prime Minister.
May I add one last word on the question of the housing policy of the Government. It is, of course, impossible at this stage to give completely to the country the plans or schemes now under discussion, but I suggest that on this point there ought to be common agreement. Merely to build houses is not a solution of the housing difficulty. The Prime Minister was able to prove yesterday that not more than 10 per cent, of the houses built have been occupied by the people most in need of them. Houses have been built to be let at a rent of 17s., 18s., or £1 a week. To say that you have built such houses is no solution of the housing problem. Houses must, be built that can be let at rents within the means of the poor who ought to dwell in them, and unless you reach that end, by whatever device, you have not solved the housing problem. I do not think there is any difference in principle between Parties on this matter either. For the words "Socialistic legislation" are used indifferently to mean many things. I think if we dealt less in words and more in realities we should see how little difference of opinion there is between us. There is no difference between the state subsidising either a private builder, an individual house-owner, or a public body by a grant of so many pounds per house in the way of the sketch outlined yesterday by the Prime Minister. Our view is that it is a good plan that is being suggested. The houses may vary in different parts of the country. They may vary in the cost and size of the house, and for very many different reasons there may be a variation in the price and in the rent, but we have given as an average the figure of £500 for the structure, and we have suggested that for the rent, including the rates, the figure should be 9s. weekly.
§ Mr. CLYNES
Certainly. The housing problem in many parts of rural England is, indeed, very acute. We must, however, in this regard keep in mind that, it is in the big industrial centres, in the British slums, where real improvements of housing and work in respect of housing reform would have first co be carried out.
§ Mr. BROWN
What I want to put to my right hon. Friend is this: that those of us who represent agricultural constituencies know that it is not within the power of a man with 25s. a week to pay a weekly rent of 9s. We protest entirely that this problem should be fought out merely in terms of the urban mind.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I spoke of the average figures. When I spoke of 9s. rent I need not be taken to mean that the agricultural labourer should necessarily have to pay 9s. a week.
§ Mr. CLYNES
When my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health has the opportunity to place his plans fully before the House details of that kind can be more fully discussed. I think that the Prime Minister was safe in his statement regarding our ability to enlist the good will and the good intentions of the brad. and muscle of the building employés of the country to carry through the scheme which we have in view, for we do not approach the building trade employes in a frame of mind to censure them for anything which in the past they may or may not have done. Look for a moment for the causes which have depleted the ranks of the three or four higher branches of the building trade. It is no exaggeration to say that somehow or other our social system has had the effect of giving a weekly income, say, to a bookmaker's tout or a bookmaker's clerk larger than is received in this country by a highly-skilled mechanic — by the joiner, the carpenter, to say nothing of the locomotive engine-driver. A great many factors, such as the uncertainty of occupation and broken time, the irregularity of work, the constant change in the location of employment, the necessity for removing the place of residence as well as the particular place of labour, and 879 until quite recently low wages are among the reasons which have made the higher branches of the building trade less attractive than formerly. If this country is going to retain its skilled workers we must make it worth the, while of ordinary working-class families to put their growing boys to these occupations, so that they may acquire the necessary skill. I make these remarks by way of supplementing the general statement which was made by the Prime Minister yesterday. Finally let me say that we are not going to be judged merely by what we propose. The House will rather judge us by the way our proposals are resisted. We shall see to it that we go as far ahead as the use of superior numbers in this House will permit us to go. If we make the attempt in respect of all these pressing matters of real and serious social evils we hope that we may enlist not merely the cheers, but the votes of those in favour of the proposals which we are submitting.
§ Sir KINGSLEY WOOD
Most hon. Members will be in agreement with what the Deputy Leader of the House has just said with the exception perhaps of his concluding statement. The right hon. Gentleman said that they were prepared to be judged not so much by what they proposed, but by the measure of resistance which is put forward to their proposals. I should have thought that the real test would be what they accomplished. I want to say a word or two about the statement of the Prime Minister in connection with housing, and I also wich to refer to the observations which have just been made by the Deputy Leader of the House. The result of the right hon. Gentleman's proposals must be judged by the number of houses he builds as a consequence of his plan. I know he did say something which leads one rather to think that the real way to solve the housing problem was not to build houses. The people of this country will be quite content if the Government get on with that part of their solutions by putting up as many houses as possible. I know no subject which needs more the spirit of co-operation if anything is to be done than the present housing difficulty, and I think I can say for all hon. Members on this side of the House that any proper sane pro- 880 posals put forward by the Minister of Health will certainly receive their sympathetic co-operation. In return, however, we are entitled to the same sort of spirit.
I was rather interested yesterday to hear the Prime Minister make the observation that small pettifogging methods, policies and proposals will be found to produce nothing that is worth while, and he said that the first of those policies is housing. I do not know whether he meant to imply that there had been pettifogging methods and policies in relation to past housing schemes, because I see nothing very different, so far as policy is concerned, in the proposals now before the House from those we have seen for the last two or three years. It is only fair to say that, even under the Addison scheme, about which one hears so much, only 220,000 houses were built, and they were erected at a very considerable cost. If right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposie end with a number like that during the next year or two, I am sure they will have good reason to congratulate themselves.
The Addison scheme was referred to yesterday by the Prime Minister and the Deputy Leader of the House has referred to it to-day. The Prime Minister made the statement that not 10 per cent. of the Addison houses were inhabited by the class of people whose needs must be met if we are to solve the housing problem. The Deputy Leader of the House went further than that this afternoon, because he said that the Prime Minister had proved yesterday that 10 per cent. of those houses were not inhabited by the people who ought to be living in them, or by the people whe really need houses. I would like to know what distinctions you can draw in this respect. I suppose that some of the most difficult and distressing cases in regard to the want of housing accommodation come from lower middle class people. Who is going to apportion the need? I know there is a very great need for houses existing amongst the working classes, the lower classes and the lower middle classes. I know of no case of Dukes or Peers occupying Addison houses. I know a good many middle class people and lower middle class people who are occupying them, and they have just as much right, and their need is almost as great as any other class of the community. 881 It is only right to say that the very fact that these people have gone into these houses makes the position better. I hope the statement will not continue to be circulated that these houses in many parts of the country are now being occupied by the wrong sort of people. At any rate, if any mistakes have been made as regards the people who occupy these houses, they have not been made by the past Government, because the people occupying those houses have been chosen by the local authorities. Take, for example, the houses under the London County Council. In this case the administrative officers of the London County Council have chosen the occupants of these houses. I contest the statement that has been made that only 10 per cent. of these houses are in the hands of the right people. The needs of the lower middle classes should be equally considered with those of any other class of the community.
§ Mr. CLYNES
May I be allowed to make clear exactly what is in our minds in using that percentage. Most of the people in real trouble about houses are the people with incomes between 40s. and 60s. per week. They cannot pay the weekly rent of the kind of houses referred to by my hon. Friend, and not 10 per cent. of that class are living in those houses.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I hope the right hon. Gentleman's investigations will take him much further than that, because I am sure he will find, that clerks and their families are in just as great a difficulty. [HoN. MEMBERS "Shame!"] Yes, but crying out "Shame does not solve the housing problem, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will equally consider under his scheme all the classes to whom I have referred. The Prime Minister, in asking for co-operation and fair play in connection with housing, referred to the very excellent results, having regard to all the difficulties; accomplished last year. During last year there were no less than 77,000 houses completed in this country, which is more than the annual average for the last 10 years before the War. That is not a bad result. This year, according to the statement, not of a politician or any hon. Member of this House, but of the Director-General of Housing, 105,000 houses will be erected, which will be equal to the largest number which has ever been 882 erected in one year in this country. That statement has been officially issued by the Director-General of Housing.
The criticsm has been made that a large number of these houses which have been put up under the scheme of the ex-Minister of Health have been put up for sale. It is perfectly true that a large number of them have been put up for sale because they were erected by private builders for sale. I think, however, the observation should have been made at the same time that the erection of these houses has helped to solve the housing problem. What I really want to call attention to, and what I should really like to have some more facts about, is the statement made by the Prime Minister, which has certainy created a considerable amount of anxiety among builders, the houseless and the homeless. The Prime Minister stated yesterday—it was the only definite statement he made, and it was a most interesting one—that according to his solution they were going to build houses on the average for £500 each and let them on the average for 9s. per week, including rent and rates. I observe in the "Daily Herald" his morning that there is a big headline over the Parliamentary report saying that houses are now going to be built and let for 9s. a week, including rent and rates.
That statement must be considered with some seriousness, because a large number of people will be expecting to get good houses with a parlour, and I understand the proposal is that they are to cost £500 each on the average. I suppose that is a considered statement, and I hope the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health have gone very carefully into this matter before raising such expectations and hopes. I inquired this morning the average price of tenders recently received in London for houses of that character, and I was told that in London the cost reaches the amount of £625. I hope the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health will make sure of thesel facts before raising expectations of this kind. I would remind hon. Gentlemen opposite and the Minister of Health and the Deputy Leader of the House that a £500 house, with, I suppose, from eight to ten houses to the acre, will require 25 per cent, of that sum for roads and drainage, therefore you have to deduct this 25 per cent, from your £500 before you can erect. 883 your house at all. Hon. Members opposite will see at once that the proposition of the Government is that, apart from roads and drainage, these houses will have to be erected at less than £400 each. It is only fair to say that it certainly is not the case that the cost of the land is going to add to the expense of house building in this country. It never has since Government schemes have been in operation. I have read many speeches on housing in which it has been suggested that some difficulty connected with the cost of the land has held up house building. There could not be a more inaccurate statement. The average price of land in connection with most of the Government houses erected has only been about £18 per house.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I repeat that the average cost of land for each house in connection with schemes brought forward by the last two Governments has only reached the capital sum of £18, and that applies to houses erected all up and down the country. Therefore I am very doubtful indeed as to the figures given by the Prime Minister. I hope a good deal more consideration will be devoted to this subject before such anticipations are raised. I am very doubtful indeed if houses are going to be erected at that rate. I should be glad to hear what employers and employed in the building trade have to say as to the possibility of houses being erected at an average cost of £500. I want to call attention to another statement of the Prime Minister, to the effect that he hopes these houses will be let at an average rent of 9s. per week, including rates. A very competent and experienced builder to-day told me that, at any rate, so far as 9s. per week was concerned, it is necessary to deduct from that 9s. at least 60 per cent. for rates and maintenance. That practically leaves under this scheme of the Prime Minister a sum for rent of about £11 10s. per annum only. How is it going to be done? 884 How is the cost of this scheme going to be met? We have no information as yet on that point. I hope that the Minister for Health will at an early date inform the House and the nation exactly what are the financial bases of the scheme, because it looks very much as if the use of bases of this kind is going to involve the State in a considerable loss per house, without any provision for redemption at all.
I cannot conceive the local authorities embarking on a scheme of this kind unless they are completely indemnified by the State. I do not know what figures the Government may have in their possession, but it seems to me this proposal would involve the State in a loss of very many millions a year, and I hesitate to estimate what the capital loss on such a scheme would be at the present time. I hesitate all the more because the Prime Minister said yesterday—and this is very significant—that he was bound to continue the policy of subsidies in connection with house building. It may be that he is, but, if he is, he has certainly to reckon on some very dangerous enemies in days to come. I know perfectly well from my own personal experience that directly the subsidy policy was embarked upon in connection with the Addison scheme, the very first thing that occurred was that the figure of £350 for which houses could be built before the War rose almost in a night to £800 or £1,000, and I cannot see how with these millions dangled before both employers and employed in the building trade, we are going now to escape sky-scraping prices. It will need a very far-sighted Minister and a very firm programme to avoid that.
I want to say a word or two on the question of dilution. I do not want to prejudice the negotiations which are now taking place at the Conference which is being held. But it is only fair to say this —and it should be said in this House where it can be replied to if necessary—that while we wish the Conference well, I, at any rate, and many hon. Members on all sides of the House, feel bound to register a complaint that the decision is badly needed, and that an agreement ought to have been come to long ago. The Prime Minister said yesterday that the Government had failed to bring about a settlement between building operatives and building employers. The 885 right hon. Gentleman ought to have put that in another way. He ought to have said that employers and employed had failed to come to a settlement.
Agreement on this question of dilution is long overdue. The Prime Minister himself gave us figures which show that the building trade of this country has now been reduced by about 50 per cent. of what it was before the War. We know that at this actual moment the London County Council housing schemes are being held up on account of the absence of certain branches of skilled labour. The Paddington Council cannot get on with the erection of its baths for the same reason, and the same thing exists wherever one goes. It has been going on for years. This absence of the skilled bricklayer and the plasterer, or some other branch of the trade, is not a matter of to-day. Even under the Addison scheme, when that was first brought into operation, practically every housing scheme in the country was hung up on account of the absence of these skilled men, and, therefore, I say that while we wish this Conference well, the Conference should understand that, speaking on behalf of the housrless and the homeless at this moment, we contend that a settlement of the question is very long overdue. It was in July, 1919, that the Government first. proposed that some steps should be taken by the trade itself in this matter. It was in December, 1920, that the Government actually offered £5 per head to the building trade as a training grant to get men into the business.
§ Sir K. WOOD
The £5 was only a contribution. What I wanted to convey was that the Government in 1920, in order to get more men into the trade, offered a contribution of £5. But the trade turned the offer down. They never said it was not enough, they never asked how it was possible to train men on such a sum. They never said a word about that, but they simply refused the offer. I do not know whether the hon. Member who interrupted me was in the House at the time, but I do remember very well that Dr. Addison, the ex-Minister of Health, now a member of the Labour party, said on 21st October, 1920:I had no help from organised labour in this matter from start to finish.
§ Sir K. WOOD
May I be allowed to finish my quotation After saying:I have had no help from organised labour in this matter from start to finish.Dr. Addison went on to say:The organised Labour party in this House has never given me any help.I want to emphasise this, I am not desiring to offer undue criticism, but I do hope, in view of what I have said, the Minister of Health will take very careful note of these facts and that the Conference to which I have referred will do all possible to increase the number of apprentices in the trade. But more than that, I may point out that if that is the only solution that can be offered, it will not be possible to build 10,000 additional houses either this year or next. Everyone knows that an apprentice has to serve between three and five years before he can be admitted a member of his union. Therefore the adoption of this course will not solve the problem. I hope the building trade will realise that there is very little prospect, indeed there is practically no prospect of unemployment in their industry to-day. Other trades would very much like to be in the same position.
I could not understand what was meant when it was said that the building trade wanted guarantees. The State cannot give a guarantee as to the number of buildings to be erected in this country. It is the municipalities and the private firms upon whom rests the question whether houses shall he erected. Take the building trade in Birmingham. There you have a very considerable programme put forward by the city municipality, enough to keep the trade busy for 10 years to come. It is the same all over the country. I can quite appreciate that in this matter caution, care, and justice should be exercised, but I do want to emphasise this, that no trade has a right to take up a selfish attitude at the present moment. These building operatives are not asked to make sacrifices in order to build houses for people in Park Lane. They are asked to build houses for their fellow workmen and I hope that that one fact will appeal to them. 887 In many respects I fully share the views expressed by the Prime Minister and the Lord Privy Seal in connection with this matter of housing. I am very glad to see that the Labour party's programme in connection with housing has been considerably revised. I very well remember reading in their official papers their housing programme. Local authorities were to be compelled within three years to erect suitable houses or cottages for everyone who wanted them in the particular locality; the money was to come from the State; and the rents were to be measured, not by the accommodation provided in the houses, but by the wages and the needs of the occupiers. That, apparently, has gone, and we are very glad to know that it has gone. I am also very glad to note that the Prime Minister yesterday did not say a, single word about, those wonderful and beautiful building guilds of which we used to hear so much in this House. I recollect full well the number of questions which used to be put to the Minister of Health by hon. Gentlemen who then sat on this side of the House, as to whether the national building guilds of this country were going to have fair play or not.
They have had fair play. If ever organisations were treated with consideration, they were the national building guilds. They were formed by the men themselves; there were to be no bosses or employers or anything of that kind; they were all to share equally. I think it was about three or four months ago that the last records of the building guilds in this country were written, and they were written at the Bankruptcy Court. The last I heard of them was an appeal to some large building firm to take over and deal with their liabilities. I am glad that these things have gone, and that at any rate Labour Ministers, when they come really to face a problem of this kind, not on the platform, but in the office, see that the difficulties have to be met in generally the way which most people who have studied them would expect. I am sure that, so far as their efforts are made in that direction, we shall wish them well and endeavour to co-operate with them in every possible way. I venture to conclude, as I began, with a note of warning as to the proposals and statements made yesterday, and to suggest that there 888 should be a re-examination of the matter before houses are promised at £500 in this country and at a total contribution to their occupancy of 9s. per week including rates.
§ Mr. PERCY HARRIS
We have listened to a very interesting speech from the hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood), but, if he will allow me to say so, my one criticism of it is that, although he spoke at considerable length, he did not really make one constructive suggestion. What we want are houses, and we are only going to get them by making our contribution to what is admittedly a very difficult problem. I think the main trouble in connection with the housing question has been that there have been so many changes of policy. First we had the Addison scheme, conceived on generous lines and with very excellent intentions. That came to an end. Then we had the Mond scheme, a truncated Addison scheme. That was followed by the scheme of the late Minister of Health. I would suggest to the present Minister of Health —I am sorry that he is absent, as the Debate has turned on housing—that the only hope of solving this problem is to take a long view. By taking a long view we are not only likely to get the houses, but also to get the labour. We all know why there is suspicion about dilution. Before the War there was no industry in the country which suffered more from unemployment than the building industry. It was a seasonal industry, and was also subject to great fluctuations. I would suggest to the Government that the real way to solve this problem is to have a seven-years' programme—I suggest seven years because that is a convenient figure. The fault of the late scheme was that it was only for two years, and that was my criticism of it at the time.
§ Earl WINTERTON
As the hon. Member has called attention to the absence of the Minister of Health and the Parliamentary Secretary, would it not be possible for the Minister to be here?
§ The CHANCELLOR of the DUCHY of LANCASTER (Colonel Wedgwood)
He will be here directly.
§ Mr. HARRIS
I am sure we have a very good deputy in the Chancellor of the Duchy, who is acquainted with all subjects, and no doubt he will convey my views to the absent Minister. My main 889 criticism of the scheme of the late Minister of Health was that it was only for two years. You cannot turn out houses like sausages from a machine You have to make plans a long time in advance. You have to get the land, and you have to develop it, and the development of land is a very long business. For instance, the Becontree scheme of the London County Council was held up for nearly 18 months because of the difficulties of providing sewerage. The roads had to be laid out, and arrangements made for water, and in six months there was difficulty with the water companies; and then the Government changed its mind and the whole scheme was hung up. I say, therefore, that if the Government is really to meet with success, there must be encouragement of the local authorities to look ahead, and, above all, to get the land. If the locai authorities could be encouraged to buy all vacant land that is suitable for houses around the urban areas, and set to work on it the unemployed and get those estates ready for houses by making the necessary roads and drainage, then there would be some prospect of getting the houses. It would then be possible to say to the building trade, "We will give you a guarantee of employment on a certain scale for seven years," and if the housing policy were thus made a permanent thing I feel sure it would meet with general agreement from all quarters of the House.
The shortage of labour in the building trade would be largely overcome. From my experience as a member of a housing committee I have reason to know that the branches of labour concerned, such as bricklayers and plasterers, are quite ready to change their whole attitude if they could have a guaranteed progranune spread over a number of years, and I think the late Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy), will bear me out as to that. What the building trade is afraid of is, that during the present enthusiasm for housing a lot of new men will be brought into the industry and that, when the enthusiasm dies down and building stops, the industry will be flooded and they will be thrown out of work. I think that that fear is unjustified, but the Government, through the Ministry of Health, could overcome it by putting forward a programme for a series 890 of years, showing that they are looking ahead. By that means they will not only provide the labour but will get the materials. If the makers of bricks and the providers of other necessary materials can be sure that this building enthusiasm is going to last for a long time, I have no doubt that they will be prepared to put their capital into the industry and that more brickfields will be developed and there will be a real prospect of getting the goods delivered.
What is really wanted is mase production. It must be realised that the need is so great that we cannot follow the old-fashioned principle of just building a couple of cottages here, developing a road there, and varying the types. There is no reason why there should not be standard plans, provided that they are drawn up by competent architects on sound lines. We know our requirements, and, if we are going to get houses, we must draw up our programme on bold comprehensive, sound lines suited to the industrial conditions of to-day. It is curious that., while the productive power of almost every other industry has increased fourfold during the last 50 years, the provision of houses has not kept pace. While every article of use can now be produced by machinery at extraordinary speed— at such a speed that it is sometimes very difficult to find markets for the production—that increased efficiency does not apply to the erection of houses. I would suggest to the Minister of Health that he should call into his service the. ingenuity of modern industry, and see if improved methods cannot be applied to building. especially by standardisation of parts—window frames, doors, light castings, and so on—so that we may get houses in sufficient numbers to meet the immense demand.
When I intervened in this Debate my intention was not so much to refer to housing, but the hon. Member for West Woolwich diverted me from my path. I wanted particularly to refer to unemployment. In the stimulating speech which he made yesterday afternoon, the Prime Minister, as I thought, if I may be excused for saying so, showed a lack of imagination in regard to this problem. What he said was too much on stereotyped lines. I thought. I was going to hear something fresh, but it was almost word for word the kind of speech we heard from the late Prime Minister— 891 proposals, very good in themselves, but not new. Unemployment is such a big problem that year by year and month by month we must constantly be looking for new methods, new ideas for dealing with it. I am not going into the matter of Poplar, as I am advised we are going to have a day for that question, but I do say that the basis of our treatment of unemployment still remains the Poor Law of 1834. The Poor Law of 1834 has long been discredited; it is disliked by the whole population; it is unsuited to our industrial needs. It was quite suited to the time when we were largely an agricultural people, but it is quite unsuited to the needs of a great industrial community like ours.
I thought that at least, from a Government which includes the present President of the Board of Trade, we should have had some reference to a change in the whole system of the Poor Law. I have been a great student in my time of the Royal Commission of 1904, and especially of the Minority Report. That recommended a, break-up of the Poor Law. If the case for a break-up of the Poor Law was good when it was given in 1904, surely it is far greater now, because many things have now been taken away from the Poor Law. The aged, for instance, have been largely handed over to the pension authorities, and I understand that, as more generous terms are gradually given to the old people, still more of them are going to be taken away from the tender mercies of the Poor Law. The sick have been very largely taken out of the Poor Law by various schemes for dealing with tuberculosis, venereal disease, and so on, and they are being very largely handed over to the health authorities. I am not going to pursue this subject, except to repeat that the case for the break-up of the Poor Law is very much strengthened by the events of, the last 10 or 15 years, and the final blow to it has been the setting up of the National Insurance Scheme and the Employment Exchanges. That has been faulty in one direction, namely, in regard to the gap, and I was very glad that the Prime Minister guaranteed to us that the gap shall go; but, if the gap is to go, where is the need for the parallel system of the Poor Law? If insurance is now going to provide for the whole of the adult working population, with this exception of one or two indus- 892 tries, such as agriculture, there is no necessity in every area and every district for the expensive machinery of the Poor Law guardians and for the workhouses inevitably associated with it. It should appeal to economists in the House. I was very sorry the Prime Minister did not promise us legislation in that direction, and if he is looking for uncontroversial subjects which do not divide parties surely there is room for a drastic change of our whole system of Poor Law. While he is considering the subject he might thoroughly look into the whole machinery of insurance. My own feeling always has been that to have a flat-rate contribution is unsatisfactory. I believe a more effective and satisfactory method would be to have a percentage of wages, a real insurance against the period when he is out of work, such percentage of course being subsidised by the State and the employer. But if you are going to have the State associated with the insurance scheme you must alter the whole attitude of the nation towards Employment Exchanges. Employment Exchanges in the past have largely been mere registers of employment. They have in some highly organised trades worked well, but in the great urban areas of London where there arc no big, highly skilled, organised industries, the machinery largely breaks down. The Employment Exchanges are doing very little more than the ordinary private employment agencies before they were established, and what the newspapers did through their advertising columns. I suggest to the Minister of Health and the Minister of Labour, who is also directly concerned, that the Employment Exchanges should become something more than a mere register of jobs. Attached to those Exchanges are at present employment committees. Sometimes they function; more often they do not. But there should be a highly trained, highly skilled industrial organiser attached to these Employment Exchanges whose business it should be to have a complete knowledge of all the industries in his area—what factories are working full time, what factories are working short time, what factories are working overtime, what factories want to acquire more capital, find difficulties in finding markets, want new machinery or new methods, and collecting that informa- 893 tion, his business should be to find out how the labour available could be fitted in to the industries in his area, because, after all, the country is largely divided into various industries—the cotton mills of Lancashire, the woollen mills of Yorkshire, and East London is largely concerned with the cabinet-making industry.
Fashions change. At present we are suffering from a great trade depression. The ordinary manufacturer is concentrating on managing his own little industry. He does not know very often how to adapt his plant or his methods to new needs, nor is he always conscious of the markets that are available. We ostensibly have an elaborate method of keeping industry informed of the markets of the world. We have our Consular Service and our Board of Trade, but it is largely a Board of Trade in name. It does not create trade or find markets. It is not in touch with areas that want employment. I suggest to the two Ministers concerned that the Employment Exchanges should be really linked up to the Board of Trade, which should be kept informed what plant is idle, what skill is available in a particular district, and what particular skill is seeking employment. If that could be organised on scientific lines right from the district, through the Board of Trade, to the markets of the world, believe many a trade depression could be shelved over by intelligent assistance and wise advice. This is not a new proposal. In other countries, especially in the Dominions, the Government in this matter acts as the honest broker. Take New Zealand. The whole of the butter industry is 'organised by the guidance of the State. Private enterprise produces the butter, but the goodwill of the cornmunity comes in to standardise it and to find markets for it in every quarter of the globe. If this country cannot absorb it, attempts are made to develop a market in Canada or in the Western States of America. The same sort of method could be brought to the service of the industry of the country. The State has a very great responsibility to got men as rapidly as possible to be producers of wealth and bring them back into industry, therefore it has a right and an obligation to interfere in this matter.
These are practical proposals which can be done with very little alteration in the law and by bringing our Employment Exchanges into a condition necessary to 894 carry them out. To make a scheme of that kind a success there must be a real improvement in education. In East London at present there are very few young men or women out of work who have been through either a central or a secondary school. Young men and women who have had the advantage of good education are nearly always rapidly absorbed. Only too often decent, honest, willing men, ready and anxious to work, come to me, and I ask them what they can do. The answer always is: "I can turn my hand to anything." When I say: "What in particular?" their answer has to be: "Nothing." That is a tragedy. That tragedy can be remedied if education is really taken advantage of. And education is possible for the adult. Three years ago in East London we started a men's institute, limited to men over 18. It was viewed with great suspicion. It started with 13 men. We have now 800 men who are rapidly acquiring an industrial skill which will, l hope, enable them to find employment in various directions. If the Minister of Health would get the assistance of the Ministry of Labour, the Board of Trade, and the Ministry of Education, I believe he could make real progress in the solution of unemployment on scientific, sound lines, which would take men from the degrading, demoralising and unsatisfactory position of receiving relief. Nothing is more untrue than to think the average citizen likes to get something for nothing. With even the most generous terms of certain Poor Law guardians, the money they get is not enough to enable them to enjoy idleness. To enjoy idleness you have to be very rich indeed, and then it is doubtful whether you do. The best friends of the people of this country are those who wish to 'organise our industry so as to get these men back as rapidly as possible to be producers of wealth and self-respecting men.
§ Mr. GEORGE EDWARDS
I desire to intervene in the Debate on cue particular subject in which 1 am very much interested, namely, agriculture. I listened with very much interest to the Prime Minister, especially when he touched on this one great national industry. I was very pleased that he stated in definite language that the Government intended to revive the Agricultural Wages Board with the object of stabilising the 895 wages of that far too long under-paid and neglected class and securing for them a living wage. But apart from that, when he dealt with the agricultural policy as a whole, I must confess I was profoundly disappointed, for I had hoped that the Government would see their way clear to granting some immediate relief to this great industry, which by the treacherous act of the then Government in 1921 was thrown into a terrible state of chaos. Unfortunately, apart from the Wages Board, the proposal of the Government does not hold out any hope that this industry will be dealt with and immediate steps taken to put it into a far more prosperous condition than it is in at the moment. It is immediate relief that we want. Whatever opinions we may hold—and I do not go quite with the Prime Minister in some of his remarks about the industry and the cause of this depression—the fact remains that it is depressed, and the agricultural labourers have reached very near the end of their tether. When hon. Members speak of their wages I want to get into their minds the fact that they are not receiving 25s. They get 6d. per hour, and now that they are working 48 hours per week, that brings them down to 24s., and when their insurance is deducted, that brings them down to 23s. 7d. If experts in arithmetic will divide this among a family of five, with three meals per day, they will find that only comes to 21d. per meal for seven days in the week, which amounts to £1 Is. 101d. That only leaves Is. 8½. with which to pay the rent, buy the boots and the clothes and meet the other necessities of domestic life. That is a scandal to a country calling itself Christian. When an industry like agriculture cannot treat its workers better than that there is something radically wrong somewhere. That is the position of the agricultural labourer. Whilst I strongly advocate the Wages Board, because we want the wages fixed by law, I realise that we cannot compel the farmers to employ the men. You can fix the wages, but the farmer can say that he will employ as many or as few men as he pleases. In the Minister of Agriculture's own division, in one small rural district, at the last district council meeting which I attended, 39 men applied for relief work. We had a tremendous fight last March, which gentlemen opposite 896 could have prevented had they liked. We had one of the greatest upheavals that I have known during my public life, when 10,000 men were out fighting against the reduction of this terribly low wage.
I will deal with another side of the question. We have to take a broad view. Despite all that may be said, agriculture is depressed; it has been thrown into a terrible state of chaos. I have known several periods of depression in agriculture. Let us take the smallholder and the tenant farmer. I know something of the position because I have been for the last 12 years a member of a smallholdings committee in my own county. I believe we are the premier county, or nearly the premier county, in administering this Act. We have 21,000 acres of land, with over 2,000 smallholders. I shall ask the Minister of Agriculture a question on this matter next Monday. In that county, so terribly depressed is the industry that the arrears of rent on the 31st March, 1923, in connection with the holdings controlled by the committee amounted to £7,000. Only last Saturday we had to strike off 1,200 of bad debts. I should like to ask the Prime Minister or the Minister of Agriculture what they propose to do in reference to those engaged in this section of the industry.
I will now deal with another class of farmer. In 1919 the landlords were wise in their day and generation. They saw under the Corn Production Act that the value of agricultural land had wonderfully increased, and they brought their land into the market. The land gamblers came along and gambled with God's earth; that ought never to have been allowed. Tenant farmers who had just enough capital to carry on their industry were afraid of being sold out of their holdings and losing their little capital, and they were induced to purchase their holdings and to borrow money for that purpose. The mortgagees, in my judgment, are worse than the landlords. The tenant farmers bought at an inflated price, when everything was prosperous, but at last there came a slump, and these men had overdrawn at the bank. 1 do not blame the banks, because I think they have acted very fairly, although they have charged big interest. These men find themselves seriously handicapped, and unless some immediate relief is given a large number of people will go into the 897 Bankruptcy Court, and there will be no money for wages. I had hoped that we should have had some promise from the Government that they would do something in the shape of a guarantee, for a time at least, to enable the industry to get on to its legs again and to become independent of help, whilst education and scientific research are developing so that the industry can take advantage of them.
I had hoped to hear something about the tied cottages. By the tied house we mean the house which the employer lets to the labourer on condition that he works for him. We had hoped to have had some promise given us on this matter. The Prime Minister gave us a good outline of policy and apart from this question I have not criticism to offer, but, much as I admire the Prime Minister, I want to tell him and the Minister of Agriculture that hundreds of working men this morning would read their newspapers with profound disappointment in regard to the agricultural and housing policy of the Government. To ask an agricultural labourer out of 23s. 7d: a week to pay 9s. a week for his cottage, is a mockery. [HON. MEMBERS: "An average of 9s."1 What is the use of talking about 9s. a week to a man who has only 23s. 7c1. a week and who, when he has paid 2í.d. per meal for himself and family has only ls. 8d. left? I had hoped that we should have had some promise of real help in that direction for the agricultural labourer. I appeal to the Minister of Agriculture, in whose division I live, and as one who has done something to help him to his present position, to ask the Cabinet to reconsider their policy and to see if they cannot devise some means whereby something can be done that will bring this industry into a more stabilised and prosperous condition.
We must look at this question from the national point of view. The first thing we have to ask ourselves—and here I want our Friends who represent urban districts to have patience with us—is whether agriculture is a national necessity. If it be a national necessity, can it be carried on economically and pay the labourer a living wage without some assistance from the Imperial Exchequer? I say that it cannot. If it cannot, we must consider which is the best method of rendering assistance to agriculture. The right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) some 898 years ago, when there was a great industrial conflict, is reported to have said that the mining industry was a national asset because it found food for other industries, and he said that agriculture was a national industry because it found food for the people. If it finds food for the people, something must be done so that it can find food for the people at the cost of production. I have said these things because I feel it to be my duty to the class who have sent me here. We, the agricultural labourers, are waiting in our villages and anxiously hoping that the present Government will do something to relieve the situation, and to lift up the workers in that industry from the terrible state of poverty and the hopeless condition in which they find themselves.
While many of us cannot help being glad to see the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. G. Edwards) back in the House of Commons, I do not think that he was quite fair to the Government in saying that the average rent of houses was going to be 9s. I say this because I want to be fair to all Governments. Like many others, I welcomed the Prime Minister's speech on social reform. It came as a tremendous relief to many of us who are desperately anxious in reference to social reform, though it may have come as a slight disappointment to those who expect the social millennium to come at Once through the Government of the right hon. Gentleman. Et is coming when we have got better men and women throughout the country. Then, and only then, shall we get the millennium. The Prime Minister must realise that in his policy of social reform he will have the majority of the nation behind him. Most of us want social reform. Any citizen who puts the welfare of his country before any personal consideration must see that there are certain reforms which the nation is hound to have if it is to continue to be one of the greatest nations in the world. But we realise that these reforms cost money, and this question of money is not as easily solved as a great many of our Socialists appear to think. The Prime Minister was reasonable and just, and I do hope and pray that the reasonable and just men of all parties in this House will hack him. [An HON. MEMBER: "We are all reasonable and just on this side!"] We will 899 wait and see. The vast majority of the people of this country are not so interested in what our opponents call Capitalism and Labour as in the general good of the community. Many of its who are what are called well placed in life arc not really out to defend our own interests and the interests of our children. We are just as much interested in the children of Poplar as hon. Members opposite. It is a very cruel thing to suppose that because you are poor, you only are interested in the poor. It is a cruel thing that many of us, who care more about social reform than about the position of politics or anything else, have had to stiffer under the imputation that we are simply out to defend Capitalism. Capitalism in itself is a most uninteresting thing, but it is a very necessary thing, as hon. Members opposite will see.
The Prime Minister said, and we are all with hint, that the great necessity is to have peace in Europe. There is no party in this House which will not do everything possible to help to get peace in Europe. Though we want peace in Europe, we in this House will not produce peace by crying out "peace" when there is no peace within. The Government, I believe, are going to do a good thing for the country in this matter. They have got a great contribution to make, a contribution which is overdue, if they will make capital and labour in this country get on better terms. They will go forward with the whole of the country behind them. No matter what the conditions of Europe are like, as long as we have got capital and labour poles apart as they are in England to-day, we simply cannot go forward with our social reform.
I believe that. the present Government have got a better chance than any other Government. They have got to see that the workman for a fair wage will give a fair day's work. But they have also got to see that the employers must give their men more interest in their work, more interest in industry itself. I think that this is a very vital question. Workmen to-day are not going to work in the conditions in which they have been working. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Your place is over here! "] I will stay exactly where I am. I do not mind what party I am in so long as many of the members of that party in 900 their hearts, want to do what is right, and, with due respect to hon. Members opposite, in the, party to which I have the honour to belong, we have got as many high-minded Christian men as any other party in the country. Very often the men who are not so high-minded or so Christian make most noise. But that happens in all parties. Every party has got its dark spots as we all know, dark and bright spots. [HON. MEMBERS: "Bright red!"] I am not one of the people who have been frightened at a red light. But I realise that if you put a man like. the Prime Minister in power, or even a man like the Minister of Health, and give him responsibility, then you will find that the things that he talked about so lightly on the platform are very difficult to deal with. Let us be fair to them. I do think that the country is looking to all parties in the House of Commons to try to work together at this juncture. The main point is unemployment. That is the tragedy of our country. The Lord Privy Seal said, very truly, that the causes of unemployment under this Government were the same as they were under the last. We have always known that—the European markets, capital and labour not working together, and so on. We welcome now his admission that the causes of the misery of the world are not owing to the capitalist system.
My real object in rising was to speak about the League of Nations and the question of defence. lion. Members opposite will say that the Member for Plymouth is thinking of Plymouth when she refers to the Navy. I am thinking of nothing of the kind. I am thinking of the civilisation based on Christianity throughout the world. I welcome the League of Nations and will fight every reactionary who opposes it, but I do not want to see the League of Nations take the place of the British Navy. I welcome the Washington Conference, I welcome any other Conference which has anything to do with disarmament. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Not the Navy!"] I am all for disarmament. Do you really think that there is any section of the country that wants war again? There may be, I agree, people in all classes who want class war. But that is not the predominant feeling. The great mass of the people of this country in all parties want peace on earth and good will among men. The British 901 nation as a whole want it. I think that many European nations have not got as far as we have, and do not see things as we do. We want the League of Nations to go on to work for peace and disarmament, but do not meantime play with the British Navy.
I say truthfully that that is not from the party point of view, and not with any wish to embarrass the Government. It is only what thousands of men and women of the country are thinking. We do not want the Navy for the purpose of fighting, but for the purpose of peace. Anyone who casts his mind back will see that the British Navy has gone further than any other single agency to make possible civilisation such as it is, not only hero in England but throughout the world. Let us be fair. Do not let us just talk about the things which we want, but the things which it is possible for us to get if we thought that by keeping the present Government in power we were going to get peace in Europe, we should keep them in power for their life time and never let them go. I do hope that the Government will realise that, when they go in for sound sane social reform, they will have behind them, not only the Members of this House, but the whole of the country. But if they begin speaking about the international brotherhood —I HON. MEMBERS: "The League of Nations! "]—then that only exists in the mouth and not in the hearts of men. Let us keep working on until we get it, but do not let us tinker with our main line of defence until we do get it.
§ Mr. AYLES
May I suggest to the hon. Member for Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) that., although we cannot always have the Christian love in our hearts which we would like to have, yet the next best thing to having it there and not acting upon it is for us even, if it is not there, to act as if it were? I sometimes think that if you can act as if you do love people, because you feel that that is the wiser thing to do, then gradually you will find that the result of your action will lead to the feeling which you desire to have, even though circumstances might be against it for the moment. After all is said and done in this world of ours, we have to live together.
I am profoundly opposed to those who are associated with the hon. Member for Plymouth, so far as their particular views 902 are concerned. I find it exceedingly hard to believe that those who are associated with her arc the high-minded Christian men and women to whom she has referred. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Withdraw!"] I will tell you why. It is because my experience has proved it. Just as you know a tree by its fruits, so you know parties by the things which they do, and leave undone. We on this side have not always had the pleasant experience which perhaps we are enjoying just now as Members of this House. We do remember, some of us, that we were born in slums. We do remember the men and women who brought us into the world, who never had a holiday during the whole of their long lives, and were worn out before they were middle-aged, and much of their experience has entered into our hearts in a way in which we can never forget, and which will always give us the moral passion which we have in our work.
We remember that those who have been associated with the hon. Member for Plymouth have maintained that system of private enterprise in which she believes—private enterprise that has given to us the slums, that has given to us wars, that has given to us sweating, that has given to us the agricultural conditions that have been mentioned to-night. It is private enterprise that has given power to the strong in order that they might oppress the weak. I find it very difficult to believe that there can be Members belonging to the party of the hon. Member for Plymouth, who can be prepared to live as millionaires to-day while millions of our people are suffering the agonies and anguish of poverty. If I understand Christianity aright, while my own conduct, perhaps, falls very far short of my belief, I share with the hon. Member for Plymouth her belief in that most wonderful of all religions that has given to us a new conception of God and of man. I suggest that one of the most revolutionary things in the teaching of the Carpenter of Nazareth was just this: that we should think of others and not of ourselves, that we should actually put others in the place of ourselves, and that if it he necessary for another man to have a coat and we have two, somehow or other we should find means to share our belongings with him; in other words that we should live as a family and not as if the big brother had a right to reverence while the weaker one had to go to the wall. In 903 our own families what do we do? In the family of the hon. Member for Plymouth if a babe in the cradle was crying and there were needs on the part of her husband, would she go first of all to her husband who is strong and healthy? No, she would go to the weak babe and attend to its needs first.
I hate to interrupt a maiden speech, but I cannot understand why the hon. Member should pick me out of the House as one who looks after the well-being of the rich, when I have done nothing since I have been in public life except fight for those whom the hon. Member has described.
§ Mr. AYLES
If hon. Members opposite will allow me to proceed, perhaps they will understand what I wish to say. I was dealing, as they will be able to read in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, not with the hon. Member- for Plymouth as an individual, but with her party. I repeatedly spoke of those who were associated with her. I was dealing with her as typical of a system that at present was having certain effects. It was her own reference that led me to make the remarks I have made. I was making the most necessary point that sometimes it is exceedingly difficult for us to have the spirit of love in our hearts for the slum landlord and the sweater, who are now condemned, I understand, by the hon. Member for Plymouth and by all her associates on the opposite side of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] If that be so, I suggest that the slum landlord and the sweater are the product of the system of private enterprise. For that reason we on this side of the House are members of the Socialist and Labour party. We are working in order that the lives of our people might be bettered; we are working in order that we may see that the actions of members of society are of such a character that one would believe from their actions that they have love in their hearts.
904 If you could get a state of society in which men acted as if they loved one another, gradually you would generate in their hearts that feeling of love and confidence which we ought all to have. [HON. MEMBERS: "Begin at home!"] I recognise the justice of that thrust. I can tell hon. Members quite frankly that no one knows my defects better than myself; no one realises better my own failure to live up to the things in which I believe. I suggest that hon. Members opposite might co-operate individually in living a life according to the principles which I have mentioned, as taught by the Carpenter of Nazareth. We might try to work together in our hearts and lives to live up to our principles and then our actions, both in this House and outside, may be quite different from what they are. I was interested in listening to the speech of the hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) on the question of housing. He expressed some doubt whether decent houses could be built for £500. He may be interested to know that we in Bristol are already building houses for less than £500, and that they are houses which are worth living in. I must., however, confess to a great curiosity as to how we are to get houses for an average of 9s. a week. I shall be interested to know how much the subsidy is and what are the mathematics of the proposal.
There were some things mentioned by the hon. Member for Woolwich which seem to me to show a fundamental difference, not in our moral outlook, not in emotional outlook, but rather in intellectual outlook, which makes the hon. Member and those associated with him differ from those on this side of the House. He told us of the way in which the building trades had refused to accept dilution. We know that there must be dilution, that dilution must come if we are to have the houses. I suggest that the hon. Member's Government never proved that they really knew how to handle labour while in office. That is one of the things which might be remedied by the advent of the Labour party to office. We know the difficulties from the standpoint of labour, and I believe that we have sufficient imagination and knowledge to understand the difficulties from the standpoint of the employer as well. In a few days, perhaps in a few hours, we shall see by an agreement that has been come to that, at all events, where other 905 Governments have failed, the Labour party has succeeded in handling labour, and in handling capital too, in such a way as to bring them in into fruitful contact that will be for the public well-being.
It is not only a question of dilution in the building trades so far as labour is concerned. Surely the hon. Member for Woolwich knows that the fundamental interests of the system in which he believes, the system of capitalism, is not in plenty but in scarcity. Plenty means low prices and often low dividends, but scarcity means high prices and high dividends. With less labour they can get more out of the labour they put in. If that be not so, why do we hear so much about the restriction of output in the rubber industry, in the textile industry and in the tea industry? Why is it that we are having company meetings continually, and managing directors telling their shareholders that they have decided to reduce output because the market is already glutted? How, then, can hon. Members make accusations against those whose only capital and source of income is their labour'? Let them realise how much more the worker has to lose by unemployment, when there is a glut of labour in the market, than is lost by those who are shareholders in capitalist companies. They will see then that the worker has more justification for his action than have those who have charge of capitalist companies. The real question in dilution, which we know is overdue, is the question of guarantees, which are also overdue. The hon. Member for Woolwich said that guarantees could not be given. We on this side believe that guarantees can be given and can be given by the Government in conjunction with muicipal corporations.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I did not say that. I said that guarantees could not be given by the State. It is municipalities and private builders who build the houses.
§ Mr. AYLES
That seems to be one of the little intellectual differences which might be cleared up by debate and discussion. After all, the municipalities are only one factor in this question of the building of houses. The State is a very important factor, and the importance of the factor is not only in the fact that it helps the municipalities to provide funds for the building of houses, but that it 906 can also do something more. I will give an instance of what happened in Bristol only last week. We had to discharge 23 bricklayers from the municipal housing scheme because we could not get bricks. What do we find? Whereas last December we were paying 65s. a thousand for bricks, the price, since it became known that the Labour party was going in for houses in a determined way, has risen to 72s. 6d., and now we cannot get enough bricks to keep the bricklayers going. The time has come when, so far as the scarcity of building material is concerned on the one hand, and the way in which owners of building materials on the other take advantage of the market and raise prices, the Government ought to declare a, state of national emergency and place the whole of the building material industry under the control of the State. If we are going to blame the worker for restricting output, why do not the hon. Member for Woolwich and his friends also blame those in the building trade for restricting output so far as building materials are concerned? We are doing the best we can with labour. Will he tell us that he and his party are ready to do all they can so far as capital and their industries are concerned? I want to raise a matter with regard to housing on which I should like to have some guarantee. If there be one thing more than another that is harrowing the hearts and the minds of those of us whose lives have been spent in our constituencies, it is to know that poor men and poor women—and they are. always poor and defenceless—and poor children are being flung out on to the street without any hope of other accommodation, simply because someone wants to go into their house. Of course the someone has come from somewhere else. Why cannot, they stay there until alternative accommodation can be found for those in their houses at the present time? I want to ask the Minister of Health if he can give a guarantee that in the near future these evictions will stop, that there will be no more evictions of harmless women and weak children on to the street until alternative accommodation can be found, in order that we may have a little more brotherhood and Christianity in our social life and towards those suffering and in need. 7.0 P.M.
When I was listening to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for 907 Paisley (Mr. Asquith) I was rather surprised to hear him say that so far as the programme that had been outlined by the Prime Minister was concerned there was no new departure. I want to suggest that in the speech of the Prime Minister—a speech which seemed to me to bring new hope and new light into many a life in spite of its imperfections and limitations—he missed one fundamental thing. If I read the speech of the Prime Minister aright, it seemed to me that the fundamental departure that has taken place is that he has brought and is bringing an entirely new spirit into the administration of public affairs and the control of industry in this country. What has been the attitude of past Governments? I am afraid that it is out of my power to read what is in their hearts and minds. I am only going to say what appears to me to be in their hearts and minds by the things that they have done. I know practically none of the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I only know that so far as 1 am concerned, in the short time I have been in the House, I have watched the ex-Prime Minister both un this side and the other side, and if I could only eliminate from my mind the fact that he stood for a policy I abominate, if only could think of him as a man and as a friend, I should wish for no finer example of a Christian gentleman than I feel in my own heart that he is because of the attitude and the spirit he has displayed in this House. But I know none of my friends opposite. I know but one or two of my friends below the Gangway. I know, heart to heart, a good many of my friends associated with me on these benches.
This question of the way in which previous Governments have dealt with the[...]e great social issues that are confronting us to-day is one upon which they and we fundamentally differ. What has been their attitude of mind towards the unemployed man The unemployed man has been an economic factor, a potential social unit in revolt. He might become dangerous unless he was cared for. If there were too many of him imbued with the wartime spirit, then the same thing might happen in this country as in other countries. The question has not been what they could do for that man because he is a human, divine personality requiring what every one of us 908 requires in order that he might develop that divinity within him. He is an economic factor; he is a potential unit of social reform. How little is necessary for him to have in order to keep him quiet and out of our way for the time being? The result has been that instead of us giving to the unemployed man full meals in order to keep him fit, in order that, freed from the claims of his stomach, mind and soul might expand and he might realise what life was and do his duty as a citizen, all that we have said is, "How little can he live on?" If he does not require his unemployed pay week by week throughout the year, then we shall institute a gap, so that he may starve a little more sometimes, in order that he may save a little more money for the well-to-do in our country.
Our point Of view is entirely different. The point of view of the Prime Minister, if I understand him aright, is that he sees in the unemployed man and woman and the slum child divine and human personalities that can never be developed while the claims of the body are supreme to the claims of the mind and of the spirit. So, he says, our policy is not how little can we give to them in order to keep them quiet, in order to prevent them from revolting; our aim is to see how much we can give them in order that the whole of their lives may be nourished and developed. I want to suggest that when the Prime Minister takes that point of view he takes a point of view that, so far as we are concerned, is one which makes for social solidarity. It is one which helps us to realise that we are members one of another, and helps us to achieve that fellowship which is the purpose of life. All the time we spend here, all the years we spend here, are worth absolutely nothing unless it brings to us that fellow, ship which means life and Heaven to the human heart and the human mind. That is one of the most wonderful things the Prime Minister has done in the speech and in the spirit of the policy he has adopted. The policy which has been adopted by the Prime Minister has thrilled the hearts of the people of this country and of other countries, because we feel that there has at last dawned a new spirit, so far as home and foreign affairs are concerned.
The right hon. Gentleman the ex-Prime Minister has said to-day that the great 909 question that we have to face is how we are going to enable the unemployed man to take up his bed and walk. We want a man to be able to take up his bed and walk, and we also want him to have a bed in order that he may be able to take it up, if necessary, and walk with it. I suggest that the Prime Minister has quite wisely outlined in his speech the lines on which he is going to work. Until you: can get something to distribute among the people you cannot distribute those goods. You have to produce if you are going to have methods of distribution. The fact of the matter is that the question of unemployment is a question of balancing production and consumption. It is a question as to whether you can produce a scheme which will increase the effective demand of those who are in need to-day and decrease the control over commodities of those who cannot consume the commodities they control. The economic argument in regard to unemployment is that to-day production and consumption are not balancing without a great deal of waste. So far as what is produced is concerned, it is not distributed fairly and equitably amongst those who need and who can effectively demand and consume. Before we can deal with great problems of distribution I want to suggest that we want to stimulate production. The Prime Minister, speaking of unemployment, said:Therefore insofar as the Government can influence trade, there should be its first line of attack. Consequently, we shall concentrate, not first of all on the relief of unemployment, but on the restoration of trade."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1924; col. 759, Vol. 169.]I would therefore suggest that, so far as that is concerned, the Prime Minister and his Government are on the right lines. The Prime Minister has dealt with the question of public enterprise and with the question of stimulating private enterprise. I want to suggest that we have to consider another thing. While you are getting your schemes at work and while your schemes are fructifying you have to remember that the unemployed man and woman, boy and girl are 'deteriorating all the time. If the Government can stimulate private enterprise which is of a voluntary character, I suggest that we should ask the President of the Board of Education to see if he cannot stimulate the education authorities to mobilise all the forces of good will in our towns 910 and villages so that we can have the men and women interested in education, in recreation, in sport, and in religious work. We might get them all together and open up training centres so that not only boys and girls between 14 and 16 who do not come under the Unemployment Insurance Act, but even men and women of 40, 50 and 60 years of age may spend some of their time in some kind of educational, or recreational work, so as to prevent the moral and physical deterioration that they are suffering from at the present time.
I want to say just one word with regard to Russia. It is quite true Russia has been difficult to work with, and the ex-Prime Minister used a phrase out of a natural history illustration with regard to those with whom the Prime Minister is having to deal at the present time. He told us that the result of dealing with monkeys depended on the monkeys. I want to suggest that very often the result of the relationship of a man and a monkey depends not so much on the monkey as on the nuts the man presents to the monkey. If you go towards the monkey with a stick in your hand to beat it you will probably get the monkey's monkey up. But if you approach it with the things which it requires to nourish and help it, then there will be created a spirit of friendliness that would not otherwise have existed. I come now to a matter which I have some pain in dealing with, because it is a matter upon which I shall have to differ from what seems to be the policy of the Government. I was glad to hear the Prime Minister say that an end had been put to the internment of ex-service men, whose reason was impaired, in Poor Law institutions. I wish the Prime Minister could have found a few moments to indicate to us whether he was going to do anything for the ex-service men and their wives and dependants who are suffering such great hardships to-day. I suppose every Member of this House has been inundated with requests from ex-service men, their wives and children, for help in order that they might not suffer the loss of pensions and allowances. I have a list of thousands of cases where allowances have been either reduced or stopped altogether during the last two years. Probably the most tragic and pathetic feature of these items is that sickness grants to widows and orphans have been stopped to save a paltry £2,500.
911 I ask the Government what is their policy in regard to pensions? Is their policy still the policy of the Labour party's Bill which was read a First time on 21st March last year? Do they still believe that if a man was fit for service he is fit, for pension? Do they feel that all time limits in respect of claims for disability or death due to service should be abolished; that widows' pensions should be made a Statutory right and all forfeitures stopped; that the full maximum income in need pensions should be £2 for a single person and £3 for a married person? Are national work centres for the disabled to be set up, and is there to be an, Appeal Court to review the decisions of the Appeal Tribunal in the House of Lords in all cases where there have been obvious miscarriages of justice? The time has come when we ought to have a more definite statement as to what is going to be done with regard to those who have suffered as a result of the War. There is one other matter which it is perhaps more difficult for me to deal with than any other. I ask the Prime Minister whether the reply given yesterday by the Secretary of State for War represents the considered policy of the Government with regard to ranker officers. During the Election I gave a pledge to these men. I told them so far as I was concerned, I was going to back up their claims with all my strength.
I am not interested as regards the military experience of these ranker officers or of ex-soldiers. I am opposed to war. I fought against the war of 1900 side by side with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in Birmingham. I fought against the last War on the same principles. While I was free I fought on the public platform; yea, and in the streets when I was denied the right of speech elsewhere. I fought it through seven different prisons, and I would have fought through seventy prisons in order to stop the War and bring about a better feeling in Europe. Do not think for one moment you show your Christianity by slaughtering your brother. You can never imagine Jesus Christ dressed in khaki with a rifle on His shoulder. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] I cannot do so, if you can. In regard to these men it is not because of their military 912 experience that I am interested in their case, but because these men felt just as keenly as I feel, and they felt that their fundamental duty lay, not in funkholes or committee rooms, but out in the trenches. They thought that was their job; they believed they were right in doing it. They have suffered, and if they have suffered in doing what they believed to be the right thing, then we should do not only the right thing, but the generous thing by them. We cannot play ducks and drakes with the people at election time. We cannot give pledges and then go back upon them. If we are going to establish confidence between ourselves and the people it can only be upon the basis of keeping faith with the people. If we want to see a new spirit in society we have to be as generous as we can.
It is not a question of the conditions which these men accepted when they gave, their services. It is not a question of whether these men were, at a crisis, prepared to accept any conditions. The question is—is it dignified for us as a great people to ask men to perform services equal to the service of others and then to treat those men differently from the others? Pledges have been given, and, so far as I am concerned, I intend to keep my pledge. Whatever Division Lobby that pledge leads me into I shall go into that Division Lobby, even though it means that I shall have to vote against my own party. We cannot be too generous to men who have suffered, men who, as I believe, were misled, but who, at all events, went out in good faith and who gave up position and oftentimes gave up family and fortune and business. I hope the House will forgive me for having spoken so long, and I trust that nothing I have said has hurt the feelings of any hon. Members. They will realise that I have not had the faintest intention of doing so. I am not dealing with individuals, but with principles and systems. We are not concerned with bringing about divisions between classes. We are concerned that there should be a right basis for society and that we should get the hearts and minds, the efforts and actions of men directed towards living together in peace. I trust in the days to come, as a result of the change in Government which we have just witnessed, we shall see prosperity and joy and a consolidation of 913 goodwill in society and in the State, such as we have never seen before, redounding to the advantage not only of our own country but also of countries abroad.
§ Sir JOHN PENNEFATHER
I was somewhat puzzled, when listening to the Speech of the Prime Minister yesterday, by certain oblique references which the right hon. Gentleman made, and I find on reading the Press to-day, and in conversation with others, that I am not the only person who has been left in doubt as to the Prime Minister's meaning in regard to the question of the capital levy. Strange to say, the Prime Minister made no direct reference at all to that very important question, and that is the more remarkable because, I believe, every Member of the present Government, with perhaps one exception, pledged himself in his election address to support that proposal. Speaking about unemployment yesterday, the Prime Minister referred to attacks that were made upon his party by those whose only conception of that party's policy in regard to capital was that they would raid it and distribute it for consumption. At this point some hon. Member called out "capital levy," and the Prime Minister made this puzzling reply:I am very much obliged to the hon. Member for striding such a valuable footnote to the remark I have just made.The Prime Minister went on to say:I wish to make it perfectly clear that the Government have no intention of drawing off from the normal channels of trade large sums for extemporised measures which can only be palliatives."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1924; col. 760, Vol. 168.]That has been understood in many quarters, and I have seen references to that effect in the Press, to mean that the present Government has abandoned the capital levy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"]
§ Sir J. PENNEFATHER
I submit I am in order. I have just said that in many quarters that ambiguous sentence has been assumed or understood to mean that the Government has abandoned the capital levy, although every Member of it, with possibly one exception, is pledged to such a Measure. I am glad to see hon. Members opposite showing that they too are 914 interested in this subject, because to-night I wish to ask the representatives of the Government to make it quite clear, before the Debate ends, whether the words spoken yesterday by the Prime Minister did or did not mean an abandonment of the capital levy. That is a matter of first-rate importance and the country has a right to be informed definitely as to the intentions of the Government regarding it. I am not criticising the Prime Minister. I am not suggesting that there was intentional ambiguity. I am merely drawing attention to the fact that there was some ambiguity. The Prime Minister afterwards referred to the National Debt and he suggested that a Committee should be set up—a really reliable and authoritative Committee—to consider the whole question of the National Debt and of taxation. [interruption.] I am merely repeating what the Prime Minister said, and I am sorry that some of his followers are so disrespectful to him as to laugh at his words. The Prime Minister made this suggestion about the National Debt, and it was understood by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Nottingham (Captain Berkeley) to mean a reference to the capital levy, because the hon. and gallant Member in his speech said:The Committee which was to meet for the purpose of considering-how best to deal with the National Debt, would, I assume, be a Committee designed primarily for the purpose of investigating what is loosely termed the capital levy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1924; col. 795, Vol. 169.]Was the hon. and gallant Member right? He evidently put that construction upon what the Prime Minister said, and other people have put other constructions upon it. It is only fair to the House and the country that any ambiguity existing upon this very important matter should be cleared up. I would like to ask this question: If such a Committee is to be set up, do the Government propose to submit the terms of reference to this House for approval before the Committee is finally bound by them? Secondly, if such a Committee as this is to be set up, will the names of the members suggested for that Committee be also submitted to this House for approval before they are appointed? My reason for suggesting that is, that if a Committee is set up to deal with a matter of such enormous importance as our National Debt, it will be a Committee dealing with a greater 915 and a more vital matter than has ever been submitted to any Committee before; and that being the case, I submit that exceptional precautions should be taken to see that the terms of reference to that Committee are such as this House approves, and that any members appointed to that Committee should also be approved by this House.
I would only add one word more, and that is that it would be a most unfortunate thing for the country if a phrase contained in any unfortunate term of reference implied a threat which would alarm the country. It is of the greatest importance, as I think the Prime Minister himself would agree, that there should be a feeling of confidence and security, and anything which hinders that must be very detrimental to the interests of the country. The Prime Minister, in fact, took pride yesterday in the fact that since he had taken office securities had risen, but, if I may say so without offence, I think the fact that securities rose was rather a left-handed compliment to the policy of the Government, because I believe that securities rose, not because the Government was to be in a position to carry out its policy, but because it was realised, at home and abroad, that although the Government might be in office, it was not in power, and would not be able to carry out the more drastic items of its policy.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Before I attempt to make a speech, I would like to ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether you have ruled that no Member is to refer to Poplar during this Debate.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
No, it would be beyond my power to make such a ruling. I have suggested to some hon. Members that, as I understood time was to be given to discuss that matter in the near future, it need not be pursued to any extent on the present occasion, but it is in order to refer to it.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Thank you, Sir. I will not go into the whole question, in deference to your ruling, and also because there will be other opportunities, but there are two or three things that I would like to say in order to try and clear up one or two of the statements and the inferences that would arise from the statement of the right hon. Member 916 for Paisley (Mr. Ascuith). I would like to recall to the attention of the older Members of the House that the question of Poplar is no new one. My Friend the late Will Crooks, years and years ago, brought the question before the attention of this House, when the late Mr. Joseph Chamberlain was a prominent member of the Tory party and of the Government of the day. Therefore, if they are going to understand the question and to discuss it in an intelligent manner, I would suggest that hon. Members should take the trouble to read the evidence in the last Poor Law Commission Report on the condition of Poplar. I would suggest to them also to look up the writings of the late Mr. Charles Booth, on "Life and Labour in East London," and they will find that what is called the Poplar question, or the problem of Poplar, has been a persistent one for the last 32 nr 33 years. I have been a guardian of the poor of that parish for over 32 years and I am still, and the question of what to do with the mass of poverty that we have on our hands has always been one with which none of us felt we ought to be called upon to grapple, but which we also contended should be a London charge, or, at any rate, a charge over a bigger area than Poplar itself.
It is not true to say, as the right hon. Member for Paisley said, that we have of set purpose set ourselves to break the law. Our contention is, and always has been, that the peremptory Order issued by Sir Alfred Mond was an illegal document, that at least it is very open to question whether the Ministry of Health, or the old Local Government Board, had the power under the 1834 Act to say the amount of assistance that was necessary for an individual who came before a board of guardian; as destitute. Nobody denies—certainly in Poplar nobody denies—that the board could re-issue the Outdoor Relief Regulation Order, which prohibits relief to able-bodied people outside an institution except under certain specified conditions, but what the right hon. Member for Paisley did not understand or remember was that, owing to the War, and owing to the enormous number of men out of work, at the end of the War, after the Armistice, in the first year after 1920, all the old Regulations prohibiting 917 outdoor relief were waived. Doctor Addison and those in charge of the Ministry of Health allowed boards of guardians to do what they had never been allowed to do before, That Article 10 was stretched in such a manner that it made legal what previously was illegal, and therefore it is no use standing up here and holding up Poplar in a pillory and saying, "What wicked, violent, law-breaking people these are." Sheffield broke the old Outdoor Relief Regulation Order, Middlesbrough broke it, every great borough was obliged to break it, because there was no other means of dealing with the mass of poverty that all these districts had on their hands. It is very easy to do if the Ministry of Health so desire, and it is easy for this House to do it.
I was rather surprised at the cheeriness of the right hon. Member for Paisley in the discussion of this, and at the challenge they threw out. I will throw out a challenge, and that is, that this House shall dare to pass a law that no able-bodied man shall have relief outside a workhouse. You dare not do it, and you know it very well, and I challenge you to pass a law saying that the Ministry of Health shall declare what in every individual ease shall be the amount of relief a person needs, without seeing that person. You cannot do it, and that is the whole difference between us. We deny the right of a Minister of Health to break the law any more than we are to break it. The law does not give you power to say what amount of relief shall be given outside. The law does give you power to say whether the relief shall be given inside an institution or outside, and, if outside, what the test shall be that shall be applied to that relief, but that is the limit of your power in that respect.
From the fashion in which the right hon. Gentleman talked this afternoon, one would imagine that we had had an impartial, judicial inquiry into our affair. What are the facts? I only want to get this out to-night in order to catch up the statements of the right hon. Gentleman while they are red hot. Who was Mr. Cooper? He was Clerk to the Bolton Board of Guardians, and a very estimable gentleman, no doubt, like everybody in this place is estimable. [An HON. MEMBER: "Bar you!"] Bar me if you 918 like, but where we are divided is in certain principles and opinions that we hold about certain things. Mr. Cooper happens to be a very violent disciple of the great fundamental principle of the 1834 Poor Law Act, and he was sent to investigate, in an impartial manner, the doings of men who, it was well known, were not disciples of the gospel according to 1834. This gentleman was pitchforked into Poplar. I went to him, with my friend the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Scurr), who was then Mayor, and we asked him how he was going to conduct this inquiry. He did not want to know anything from us. We were the people he was investigating, and all he wanted was access to our books. He never attended a single relief committee, never attended any committee of the Board, never went anywhere where the guardians were doing their work, and he then got out a hotch-potch of statements, which we flattened out in an answer that we sent to the Ministry of Health, which has never been controverted to this day. Our difficulty is that we do not know on which of the Ministers who have been there during the last 18 months to fix it. We have had to do with four Ministers of Health during the last 15 months. If I go after the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Twickenham (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks), I shall be lumped on to the right hon. Member for the Ladywood Division of Birmingham (Mr. N. Chamberlain), and when I have finished with him, Sir Arthur Boseawen will have me, and when I have done with him, it will be Sir Alfred Mond. Can you wonder at the sort of muddle-headedness that pervaded the Ministry of Health during these 15 months?
With regard to this particular man who investigated us in this fashion, what did he do? This is a sample case, and it is enough to make your blood run cold. There was a stevedore who got over £4 a week in relief. This is a sample, says Mr. Cooper, of the manner in which they induced men, not to go to work, but to live on relief. What was the sample-ease? The man had 10 children, and the amount of relief, at 6s. and 5s. per head for the children, 10s. for him, and 10s. for his wife and the rent, amounted to £4 something. What does it mean? It is said that because he got that amount of money, he would never go to work. Well, the man had relief for one whole week. 919 Then he went to work. What a villainous person he was to destroy the whole of Mr. Cooper's case. Mr. Cooper could have been told this, but he would not go near anybody who could tell him anything about it. He simply took that case out of the books, and gave it as a sample case of how people were induced not to go to work. The right hon. Gentleman made a great point that we were condemned by an impartial inquiry. I have said Mr. Cooper did not come near us. There is a body in Poplar called the Borough of Poplar Municipal Alliance. It has changed its name, like the party opposite has done, many a time. It is now called the Bow, Bromley and Poplar Ratepayers' Protection Association. It was, as I said, the Municipal Alliance, and a gentleman named Alfred Warren was the Secretary. This man, who would not go to the guardians to ask them about the business, went and consulted our political opponent as to the lines on which the inquiry should proceed.
The right hon. Gentleman has no right to stand at that box, as he did this afternoon, and condemn the Poplar Guardians on the word of a man of that kind. He has no business to say that that man made a fair and an impartial investigation of all our books. It is said that if we adopted his policy, we should save £100,000 a year. I do not know whether that figure is correct or not. We could save all our expenditure if you liked. We need not spend anything at all. But the point for the House to consider is, what is it we are actually giving the people in these days? What is this shocking relief given to people, this shovelling it out so that they will never go to work? A woman and one child get. £1 1s. 6d., and her rent and 1s. 6d. for coal. I am sorry the hon. Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) is not, here. I would like to know how she would get on with one child with that amount. And, remember, the rent is very high in Poplar, because of the pressure of population. It has to be paid. There, again, the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that we have destroyed every principle of the old 1834 Act, and all your Regulations, with your cognisance and with your consent. Everybody knows the rent has to be paid, or people would not have any shelter at all. That is why the rent is paid. If the 920 woman has got two children, she gets £1 5s., and if she has got three, £1 8s. 6d. Nobody can defend the giving of less relief to the second and third children. I know what it costs to bring up children, and that one costs as much as another for food, clothing and the rest.
It is said that we do not do anything to bring ourselves into line with the Ministry. Because of their pressure, we have now consented to do what, I think, is detestable, that is to say, if there are more than five children you give no relief to the sixth, seventh and eighth child. They have to live on the grant for the five. We do that, and I think it is monstrous that we do it. We have only done it because of the pressure of the Ministry of Health. But I would like to ask the Noble Lady who sits opposite whether she thinks it right that where there is a sixth child there should be no money given for its maintenance, and that if there are seven children, nothing for two, and if eight, nothing for three. I think it is a most blackguardly thing for people like me and you, who get three and four square meals a. day, to impose such conditions on the poor. What about the able-bodied man? And, first of all, who are these able-bodied men? The right bon. Member for North West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara), over and over again before deputations of ex-service men, raid, "You men ought to have good treatment. You are part of the living wall that stood in France and Flanders between this nation and destruction." How many of them have we got? 10,600 out of the 30.000 are either the men or the dependants of the men who went out and died for you in France. Arc you going to tell me that for the dependants of those who died, it is too much to give the woman 21s. 6d. for herself and her child? Are yon going to stand up and pass a law.? defy you to pass a law.
What do we give? If there is an adult not living with his parents, 12s. 6d. a week. Stand up some of you young men and women, and say whether you could live on 12s. 6d. a week. What do we give married couples, or two adults living together? Twenty shillings. Are there any here who could live on 20s. a week? In the dining-room here I change a note and in two or three days I have nothing of it left, and neither have you. It is all very well for us to laugh. I can 921 joke here and be amiable with the best of you, but every morning I have to meet these people. Every night, if I get home early, as I did last night, I meet them again, and am I to stand up and tell them to exist on less than this? It is only a bare subsistence, and nothing more. That is a sample of the luxurious living we give them to encourage them to do nothing. I know the right hon. Gentleman will trot out the "family income." He never said anything about the family income of the Hamiltons and the Chaplins when they came to you. You did not say that to the people right at the top of the social scale. You do not take the income of the Royal Family as the family income. No, you give each an income. I am not saying one word about that one way or the other, but you take a family of poor people and you tell the young men and young women that as their father is out of work, and there are half a dozen younger children, they have got to maintain them.
That is the crux of the difference between us and the Ministry. Compare the Mond scale with our scale to-day, and you will find there is very little difference. Even Mr. Cooper has to admit that in his report, and in the appendix to the report. Where you get the difference is in the family income. We defy you to pass a law altering the 1834 law, which is that if there is a person who is impotent, or lame, or sick or aged; those who are left must support him. There is nothing in the law to say that a son or a daughter shall maintain an able-bodied father, mother and family, and of course it could not be. The ordinary working-class boy or girl has to save up for the day when they can get married. Half the crime, prostitution and vice in the country is due to two causes—low wages and bad housing—and we are going to be no parties to saying that the State shall shuffle out of its responsibilities of maintaining those who are not allowed to go to work, and put the cost of those responsibilities on the children of the families concerned.
I have stood in this House, as many Members must know, imploring over and over again that this question should he taken out of the hands of localities, and dealt with by the nation as a whole. I am sorry that the Prime Minister yesterday did not say that we would grapple with this question of the reform of the 922 Poor Law and unemployment. Here is a House of Commons where nobody has a majority. Supposing you make me a bankrupt, and made my colleagues here bankrupts. I am old. What will be the odds to me? It will make no difference. You will perhaps keep me out of this House, but you will not keep me quiet until I am dead. All you will have won will be a little bit of spite, and even if you lampoon us 'through the country, as you have been trying to do, and get your Press to paint us in the most hideous colours possible, of what avail will it be 7 The problem still awaits you. I tell this House the Poplar board has preserved the peace in East London during all these years. If you could put in the box the chief of the police in London, he would tell you that we owe the peaceful conditions of that part of London, Poplar and West Ham, to the work of men like my colleagues and myself.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
We all do a lot of work without payment. All of us do many things for which we do not want any payment, but what I want to bring the House back to is this: You have got in this country a problem of poverty and destitution that is not going to be settled by soft words. I always listen to the hon. Member for Plymouth with a great deal of interest. I do not think we have got all the virtues and the other side all the vices. They are spread equally amongst all of us, but we have to show our creed in our deeds. Here we are with no one in a majority, and everybody agrees that this is a terribly difficult problem. I put in nearly four years on a Poor Law Commission, and worked very hard indeed at it. I have been on Committees without number investigating it. You have a Maclean Committee Report. You have got a report which came, I think, from Lord George Hamilton, Mrs. Webb, and others preceding it. Why should not this House say that they will give up this quarrel? There are 30,000 on the rates in Poplar and 70,000 in West Ham. They pay the scale that we do, but they do not get a peremptory order, because t hey are not so impudent as we are. The point I want to urge, and [...] it with all my soul, is: Why should we not sit down at this period. W[...]n we are all in the [...] [...] which we are,[...] [...] this is a problem that must some, day he 923 settled, or it will settle us, and try to do something effective? I am not one of those who believe in a bloody revolution —as it is called; but there arc worse things that may happen to a nation than revolution. There is economic, mental, and moral decay. I tell this House that in the East End of London you are ruining, crippling, degrading, and demoralising hosts of good living young men and' women. You are breaking their very souls, because there is neither work nor adequate means of maintenance for them. I think I should be prepared to go out, for I should feel that I have lived for something, if this House should really take this job in hand and settle it. Take it out of our hands! Break up the Poor Law. It is expensive, demoralising, and degrading. Break it up and let us start afresh. It is 100 years old. During that 100 years there have been tremendous changes. You want one further change now. You have no right to have Employment Exchanges giving a sum of money, the Poor Law authorities giving some more, and charity giving still some more. You require to have a unified system. Say what you will about us. I do not mind. But get on with the thing; for God's sake get on with the job of rectifying and remedying the evils of which we are the product.
§ Mr. LUKE THOMPSON
After the impassioned speech of the hon. Gentleman opposite—and we on this side have considerable sympathy as to many of the details—I wish to turn the attention of the House to some other questions appertaining to the subject of unemployment. I wish to draw attention to two utterances of the Prime Minister yesterday. Speaking on unemployment he said:Now there is the other question, the question of unemployment. Here, again, we are faced with a problem at which, in my view, we have hitherto rather nibbled. Two things have to be secured, and these we are working at: First, work; secondly, an effective income which is being provided by the scheme of insurance if work cannot be provided. I think that is roughly the situation." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1924; col. 759, Vol. 169.]The other utterance of the Prime Minister was relative to the Committee which he 924 proposes to set up. What he said on that matter was:I think now is the time to have it. I believe it is possible to create such a Committee. I believe it to be possible to get men of business, men in the actual production side of business, the finance side of business, economists, men of experience, men whose work and whose judgment will be accepted by the whole intelligent business community."-[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1924; col. 761, Vol. 169.]For a few minutes I want to develop the argument in another direction, and it is this; that I believe it may be possible effectively to find a form of committee, or commission, to deal with the whole of industry. I want to suggest to the House that from the standpoint of the question of unemployment things are not well with us. We must feel satisfied on this point that while the majority of countries opposed to us have solved their problem of unemployment our own unemployment problem is with us and has varied only 1½ per cent. during the last 18 months or two years. However we look at the question of the staple industries of the country, whether it be the iron industry, or the textile, or the great shipbuilding and engineering industries, we certainly no longer hold the premier position we did some 80 years ago. It is because I am so intimately connected with one of the largest shipbuilding industries of the country that I want to draw the special attention of the House to the position of shipbuilding in this immediate time. The merchant shipbuilding of the United Kingdom compared with pre-War times has been reduced from 44½ per cent. to 33 per cent. The significant feature of that is this, that of the 16,000,000 tons which have been added to the world's tonnage, 15½ millions of it has been added to the tonnage of foreign countries, and only, roughly, a half million to our own. While 30 years ago we held the premier position of the shipbuilding community or country and built 83 per cent. of the world's tonnage, it is a. fact that last year we only built 39½ per cent. of the world's tonnage. Over that period there has been a gradual decline.
We are building less and less ships for foreign owners, with the result that even in my own constituency last year there was not a single vessel built for foreign owners. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] I will tell the hon. Member why. It was 925 partly due, it may be, to a limited extent to the dispute of the boiler-makers, but it was largely clue to the fact that we are building less and less of the world's tonnage. We only built seven steamers for foreign owners in the whole of the shipyards of the country last year. I should like hon. Members opposite to pay particular attention to this. The fact is that vessels built for foreign owners are being built more and more by foreign shipbuilders themselves. Whilst our percentage has decreased, their percentage has increased. So that in 1922, whilst our decrease in the tonnage of shipbuilding was 78,000 tons, the world's tonnage built for foreign owners was six times greater.
I should like to draw the serious attention of the House to this fact: that I believe the personal position both for British shipowning and British shipbuilding lies in the fact that we must recognise that in the years to come we shall have to depend more and more upon cur Empire development and less and less upon foreign shipowners placing orders in our own country. I want to add another word. We are not only faced with that position, but the position also that we are entering into a state of complete competition with foreign shipbuilders as well. I know possibly that hon. Members opposite will dispute this, but there is no one who intimately studies the returns of Lloyds shipbuilding but can see that what I am stating is absolutely correct, and cannot be controverted. Not only is that the position, but the position is further accentuated and sharpened by the fact that we entered into competition no later than a month or six weeks ago in another direction. A particular friend of mine on Tyneside invited quotations not only from British shipbuilders, but also from Continental shipbuilders. The best price quoted by the British shipbuilders was beaten by a Dutch firm, who quoted £3,000 or £4,000 lower for a particular ship. I think the time has come—I think it is a reasonable position to assume that if it is desirable to set up a Committee as suggested by the Prime Minister to look into the incidence of taxation, it is also reasonable to set up a Commission to look into the whole question of industry in this country. [HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!"] I am glad of that "Hear, hear," but I also want to say 926 that I believe the time has come when every part of the House, and every party, must seriously look at the condition of industry in this country.
§ Mr. THOMPSON
Yes, I suggest every party. I think the primary object of that would be to know why the instrument that produces both wages and dividends is languishing. Why it is that this is the very thing that appeals least to all parties. The time has come when we should seriously look into it, not as a party issue, but as a great national question. I want to make suggestions on these lines, and to say that it might be desirable in the interests of peace, that peace which is precedent to the maintenance of large populations in limited areas like our own, peace between all classes of interests, as well as between nations; the first necessity is industrial peace. That is a fundamental preliminary—
§ Mr. THOMPSON
I am not reading my speech; I have scarcely referred to my notes, Not only is industrial peace necessary, but we want industry stabilised as well. It is time something definite, straight and defined should be said, if not from the opposite side of the House, from some other, on the stabilisation of industry. It is very well talking about stabilisation of foreign currencies, but we want stabilisation of the relations between capital and labour. Only in that way shall we have that industrial peace which we require.
§ It being a quarter-past Eight of the Clock, further Proceeding was postponed without Question, put, pursuant to, Standing Order No. 4.