Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment [17th January] to Question [15th January]—
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:—
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—[Mr. Banks.]
Which Amendment was, at the end of the Question, to add the words
But it is our duty respectfully to submit to your Majesty that Your Majesty's present advisers have not the confidence of this House:"—[Mr. Clynes.]
§ Question again proposed, "That, those words be there added."
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
Whatever differences of opinion may exist in this House as to the wisdom or otherwise of a change of Government, there will certainly be no complaint from any quarter of the House against the straightforward manner in which we have put down this Motion. We have not attempted to gain a snap division on a side issue, but we have deliberately chosen this course to test the confidence of this House in those who have at the moment control of the Government. But while our intention was, and is, to condemn the existing Government for their conduct of affairs, efforts are now being made to bring into this censure, not the sins of omission or commission of the Government in the conduct of affairs, but the many incidents which arose and the speeches and pledges that were given during the Election. Last night the Minister of Health gave the House an exhibition of the research department of the Tory organisation, which incidentally showed that they may be very efficient in that branch of their work, though the General Election showed that they might have devoted more time to it. I am going to ask the House now to complete the picture of this particular department. I 414 do not think we should be content to have an ex parte statement of some of those speeches and statements made. For instance, I should like to bring it up to date by quoting a few things said about hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway which are similar to the things said about us: that will make a complete picture A gentleman by the name of Mr. Winston Churchill, who, I suppose, is one of the best authorities in this country on the question of parties, in as much as he has sampled them all—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, not yours!"] He will not sample ours until we get a chance of sitting opposite. At all events I remember Mr. Winston Churchill expressing his opinion about hon. Gentlemen sitting on the benches opposite. He summarised it. This is what he said:So far as the Government are concerned they are brainless, spineless, and dangerous.That is why he asked the people of Leicester to send him to the House to get them out of Parliament. [An HON. MEMBER: "To chuck them out!"] Well, they chucked him out. They did not believe him. They preferred a wicked Socialist to Mr. Winston Churchill. Yesterday Mr. Winston Churchill was writing to one of those convenient correspondents that are non-existent. In that letter he intimated his view of the existing Government, and he points out the terrible evils that will arise if on Monday next the Liberals make the great mistake. I want to draw attention to the significance of these words. He reviews the present political situation and expresses the opinion thatthe enthronement in office of a socialist government will be a serious national misfortune such as has unually befallen great States only on the morrow of defeat in war.[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] All right, I note that is cheered by an hon. Gentleman who in his time has said all manner of things about the Liberal party, and has been actively engaged during this month trying to persuade the Liberals how much better it would be if they had him for their support. I want to draw the attention of the House to the significance of these words. "Labour come into power only following a defeat in war." That means one of two things. Either a war such as we have just passed through, or a civil war. We were not defeated in this late war because Labour contributed its share as well as other people. We were 415 not defeated because Labour showed that patriotism was not the monopoly of a class. It ill-becomes one to talk of war to those who gave their lives and entrusted them to people who thought they were something with which to gamble.
There is another interpretation. Labour is only to come into power following either a defeat in war—the defeat I have mentioned—or a bloody social upheaval. That is the imputation of that statement. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, he does not say that."] If that is not so, then what right have hon. Gentlemen opposite to complain or to be afraid of, when, having given the people of this country the vote, they exercise it in a constitutional way. I will deal with this question. The Minister of Health yesterday said he was tired of being told that they were a discredited party. He said they were not ashamed. The real position is that they are bad and sick not ashamed. I would put it to those who say that they still have a majority, I would remind them, that two months ago they had a majority in this House of 80. They said: "We cannot use our majority, we cannot deal with the unemployed unless a certain remedy is introduced." They promptly went to the country with that majority and they were returned, the only people whom the country said: "We have no confidence in." [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Which of the other parties went into the General Election and did not return stronger than before? Those sitting on the benches opposite are the only party that did not. Therefore I cannot quite understand this over-anxiety to say, "we have a majority," especially after they have gone to the country and said that "the one dominant problem with which we have to deal is unemployment; we could not deal with it when we had a majority; we presume now to deal with it when we are in a hopeless minority."
I want to put this Question. So much has been said about what took place in the Election in the way of misrepresentation and abuse. I should like my right hon. Friend to have given some quotations that were used against us. I am going to give only one. The Prime Minister it was said, stands for Britain. My right hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) stands for 416 Germany. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) stands for nothing. That was followed by a clear intimation that if we were returned to the House of Commons we would not only be under the influence of Germany, but also in the pay of Russia. I happen to be the only Member of our Party, so far as I know, that has received Russian gold. I got two thousand. I felt it was so tainted that, much as I could do with it, I gave it away. [An HON. MEMBER: "Was it roubles?"] No, it was gold. The statement has been made so often that we were in the pay of the Russians that I thought it was a good opportunity to test the matter by taking it to law. I got a verdict for two thousand—which happened to be Russian money. That is one of the things that has been said about this party but. unfortunately none of my hon. Friends have been able to share like myself in the spoils.
The second point with which I want to deal is this: that we do not object to and we are not going to apologise for, our association with the International. We are not going to complain, but we hope that you will deal with it in this House in order that the country may know exactly our connection with it. The more you say about it, the more you will bring home to the people the need of voting for us against you. We are connected with the International because immediately following the war we had a conference representative of every nation that fought in the war. The Chairman opened the meeting by asking that as a preliminary to our general business a delegate from each country should get up and tell us the exact state of affairs in his own country. The Frenchman got up and told us of the devastated areas, the killed, the wounded and the maimed. The Russian representative got up and told us what his country had sacrificed. The representative of Italy got up and gave us an account of the sacrifices which the Italian people had made, and the German representative told us about their misery and the killed and wounded, and the maimed. A representative from Great Britain told the story of our killed, maimed and our unemployed, and then came the question: "Will someone get up and tell us who won the War?"
We resolved from that day that if there could be any contribution more than 417 another to secure peace that could be given to the world and civilisation, it would be to form an organisation that would bring people together so that they would understand each other, and the more they understood each other the more difficult it would be for other people to plunge them into the War. That is why we are not apologising for our connection with the International, and that is why we are not going to apologise. In spite of all that has been said against us during the Election we move this Amendment firstly because we say deliberately that since the advent of the present Government British prestige has been lowered as it was never lowered before. The Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs said yesterday: "It may be true, but please remember that we are only entitled to one-fifth of the blame." Let us examine the situation. Some thirteen months ago an hon. Member opposite at a private meeting said:
This country is going to the dogs, and we must burst up the Government right away.Then they went to the country and said:
Our substitution for the existing Government is not only to be free from the evil influences of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs; not only to dissociate ourselves from all those that have been connected with him, but we want to bring to this country and to the people a new policy what is called tranquillity.That decision was arrived at, and when the Government decided on that policy, there were 1,400,000 unemployed in this country. The only inference and deduction we can make from that is that in their judgment the policy of tranquillity would solve the problem of the unemployed. What followed? The late Mr. Bonar Law promptly went to France. He met the French Government and put proposals before them. He said, "These are only the British proposals, but they are, in our judgment, proposals that will solve the problem. The French Premier replied, "We do not agree with you, and we are going on with our policy of invading the Ruhr." What followed? Mr. Bonar Law said, "I think you are wrong, and I think you are making a mistake. I think it will be destructive for you to go on with your policy. I hope you will succeed, but I do not think you will." Immediately that statement was made there was a hurried consultation here, 418 and the Law Officers of the Crown were put on the job, and they were asked to give us their opinion of the situation. They promptly proceeded to give the opinion that it was illegal, and the Prime Minister in effect said, "The Lord, be with you and help you in your illegal act."
§ Mr. THOMAS
It is not unfair, because I am only stating something which cannot be denied. What followed? France took no notice of our protest. She went on with her policy and tried to exact from the German railwaymen a pledge which was a violation of the oath to their own country. No action of any kind was taken by us. The attention of the Government and the Foreign Office was drawn to this matter, and the terrible consequences that would follow were pointed out, but still France went on with her policy. After going to the Ruhr we found France loaning £15,000,000 to Poland for armaments, and sending money to Rumania for 'armaments and to Czechoslovakia and Jugoslavia for the same purpose. At the same time we were, paying our own obligations to America, while France was creating a military situation in Central Europe which necessitated expenditure in our own self-defence.
What was the next stage? My right hon. Friend was invited to have personal contact with M. Poincaré, and a meeting was arranged. Great hopes were held out as to the result, and a sort of press atmosphere was created. It was thought that, after all, when we understood each ether better all would be well, and we all' desired that result and no other party has a right to claim a party advantage out of: a danger to the nation. There can be no, man in this House or in this country be-belonging to any party who can be other than gravely apprehensive as to the state of affairs abroad.
Therefore, none of us wished other than good to proceed from that interview, Then there was issued a communiqué, a colourless Press statement, that could be read in ten different ways and that was deliberately intended to be read in many ways. If it were not, then it was not only doing harm, but it was letting our own Prime Minister down. First, the Government said, "You are wrong, but go on, 419 and we hope you will succeed." Then they said, "We said it was illegal, but no matter." Finally, came the interview in Paris, and they said, "At last we understand each other." All through that long process British prestige was being lowered, and France was creating in Europe a situation with all the elements of danger of another Alsace-Lorraine. Can anyone in this House deny that during the course of the election, apart from the question of unemployment, the people of this country were seriously influenced and alarmed at the failure of His Majesty's Government either to maintain the prestige of this country or to attempt to, extricate us from a grave and difficult position.
We have been asked from the other side, "How are you going to deal with France?" the suggestion being that it is war. The Minister of Health, in fact, last night went to the extent of saying, "I will refrain from using so dangerous a word in its consequences." It is quite true that we have fought side by side with France. It is quite true that there were common sacrifices made, though I am afraid that there are too many people to-day minimising the great sacrifices that this country made. It seems to be assumed that, after all the sacrifices and after all the blood and treasure that we poured out, we, under the guise of friendliness, which is merely an excuse for cowardice, should say nothing. If there be any real friendship, and I believe there is real friendship between Great Britain and France, it is not to pretend that all is well when it is not. Real friendship is to say, "Yes, no nation in the world gave greater evidence of anxiety for France than this country. No nation in the world ever paid a greater tribute to another nation than we did to France." Surely it does not mean, when we believe that they are following a wrong path, when we know that they are heading, for disaster and doing things that will be ruinous to our country, that we should not say so. It is true that France can point to her devastated fields and areas, but we can point to our devastated homes and the misery of our unemployed. That is the contribution that we have made. I answer hon. Gentlemen opposite by saying, "We do not mean, we do not desire-God forbid-that any word should 420 be construed into meaning that we are anxious to break with France or to talk about war. But can you wonder that France does not believe you, can you wonder that she treats you with contempt, can you wonder that she does not believe that you are in earnest in anything that you do when you have this vacillating policy changing from week to week and from month to month? France is entitled to say to you, "No, we do not take any notice of what you say, because we do not believe that you know your own mind from hour to hour." It is, therefore, on those grounds, first, that we ask this House of Commons to say that in the conduct of foreign affairs His Majesty's Government are unworthy of further retaining our confidence.
What is the position at home! The most amazing thing to me is the underlying assumption that this problem of unemployment, on which the General Election was fought, is some new problem suddenly sprung upon the Government. Four years ago, week after week and month after month we took every opportunity in this House by question and in debate of urging upon the Government the problem of unemployment. I have already indicated the Government view of dealing with it 12 months ago. Let us see the steps that my right hon. Friend took. In August of last year an effort was made to induce Mr. McKenna to join the Government. Mr. McKenna was known as a pronounced Free Trader. The reasons for his inclusion in the Government did not at that time appeal to the right hon. Gentleman who was then Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) and that made it difficult to bring it about. I do not know the exact reason that has changed my right hon. Friend who, undoubtedly, was an ornament to this House and whom we shall all miss. At all events, the refusal of the right hon. Member for the City of London rendered it impossible for the Prime Minister to have the assistance of a Free Trade Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The next stage was at Plymouth. Plymouth being an important centre represented by important people, it was necessary to hold the Conservative. Conference there, so that some of the Plymouth atmosphere might affect their social legislation. My right hon. Friend, as the head of the Party, was called upon 421 to address that political gathering, and for the first time he suddenly discovered that there was only one solution for the unemployment problem. It is quite true that he had been a member of the Government for four years, though not in his present position. It is quite true that unemployment had existed for four years, and it is quite true that two months before the problem was to be solved by a Free Trade Chancellor of the Exchequer. Under the influence of Plymouth, a new remedy, the one and only remedy, was discovered. He made his speech and he talked of Tariff Reform. A very curious thing happened. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was addressing an overflow meeting the same evening. The Prime Minister was talking in the Guild Hall upstairs, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer was in charge of an overflow meeting downstairs. The Prime Minister having made his speech, the Chancellor of the Exchequer immediately put an interpretation upon it. He said, "At last, the mantle of my father falls upon me. The Prime Minister has now declared for the policy of my father, 20 years ago." That is a summary of what he said at the overflow meeting.
Note the remarkable sequel. The next day another gentleman comes on the scene, a gentleman known by the name of Lord Derby. Lord Derby first read the Prime Minister's speech and then the interpretation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He rushed up to London and met the Prime Minister in Downing Street, he said, "Good God, have you forgotten that there is such a, place as Lancashire. Have you forgotten that I am the gentleman who finds all the members for Lancashire?" He added, "Believe me, Mr. Prime Minister, they will stand anything from me except Tariff Reform." Then he asked, "How shall we get out of it?" My right hon. Friend was in a quandary. Suddenly Lord Derby said, "Ah, I have got a suggestion. Come to Chatsworth for a week-end; come to Knowsley for a week-end, and in the interval I will arrange a meeting in Manchester. While you are with me at Knowsley we will frame a question. I will put that question at Manchester. You will answer it in a way we arrange, and that, as far as Lancashire is concerned, will end the 422 difficulty created by the Chancellor of the Exchequer." The meeting was held, Lord Derby put the question, the right hon. Gentleman answered it in accordance with plan, and threw overboard promptly the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Thus we got this interesting solution, and all the time unemployed people in this country were asking, "Is not this trifling? Is not this humbug? What is the use of talking of curing unemployment which requires more trade by restricting trade and making more unemployment?" Can you go to the industrial worker and say, "You are suffering because of foreign trade, and therefore I am going to stop the goods that come in from abroad so as to find work for you." Yet that was the remedy suggested by the party opposite. Then they went to the agriculturists and said, "Oh! yes, we know it will increase the cost of living, but we are going to give you a dole, and we are going to get that dole out of money paid for the goods we have stopped coming in." Notwithstanding all these efforts, the country said to the party opposite, "We have no confidence, we have no faith in you," and now this House is going to add, "We have no further use for you in office." Since the Election and when it became evident, as indeed it was inevitable, that my right hon. Friends on that side of the House would be able to use this Friday afternoon for packing-up purposes, we have heard all manner of suggestions, complaints, and, indeed, evil portents of what is going to happen after Monday night. If my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley were here, I would like to say to him that we all listened not only with interest but with pleasure to one of the greatest speeches he has ever made. After all, no matter what one's party is, we have at least common ground between us in that we like to pay respect, regardless of party, to individuals who make a contribution such as my right hon. Friend made last night. He pointed out quite clearly the kind of fear that is being engendered and encouraged and fostered to-day. There is a gentleman—the Duke of Northumberland—a member of the other House—who thought it necessary two days ago to write to a paper called "The Patriot," and I am going to summarise his view of what is going to happen after Monday 423 night. He said the first duty and the first obligation of a Labour Government will be to corrupt the Army, the Navy and the Police Force.
§ 12 N.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I know, but the shame and the responsibility must be on those people who are deliberately lying and know it. The shame rests with those. Here is the evidence. It is no good to cry "shame," and then sneer.
§ Mr. THOMAS
Let me put it in this way: there are people behind the hon. Member who are less intelligent. But the Duke said that our first job would be to corrupt the Army, the Navy and the Police, then we would corrupt the Civil Service, then we would give all our friends jobs, then we would abolish the marriage tie and introduce free love, and in the end my hon. Friend the Leader of this Party is to be a second Kerensky. All the baskets are ready for his head and a number of our friends are waiting to hold them up. But that rubbish, that humbug, deceives no one. My serious answer to it is, "Never mind our political opinions, never mind our anxieties to fight for party, there are in all parties, as there are fortunately, in this country, not in one class alone, but in all classes and all creeds, decent men and women who, regardless of party, are distressed at the social position of our people—men and women who are not only distressed but genuinely anxious to find a remedy." We are only denied one thing, and it is our misfortune. The only thing that most of us lack is the opportunity of culture and education that some of you enjoy. I do not feel bitter towards you for it; it is only my regret. I am remedying it so far as my own family is concerned—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—but I want to remedy it so far as all families are concerned. We do not apologise for that side of the picture, but we do put this to the House with all earnestness and sincerity: "Is there any single politician, is there any party, that graduates through a harder more strenuous, and more difficult school than those who sit on these benches?" You 424 all know it, and you know it is true. We may make mistakes, and shall make mistakes, as all parties do, but I have not only faith in my party, I have not only faith in those whom I represent, but, if it comes about, as I believe it will, that it will be our privilege to stand at that Box instead of this, I believe that experience and responsibiltiy will be good for us all. I believe that, in spite of differences, we shall work with a single-minded desire to make this country worthy of the citizens who showed their patriotism during its most troubled time.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Neville Chamberlain)
Certainly, I should be the last to complain of the tone and temper of the speech to which we have just listened, but, although, perhaps, some parts of it accentuated that sense of unreality of which the right hon. Gentleman who moved this Amendment complained yesterday, yet we can all admire the facility of summary possessed by my right hon. Friend, and his knowledge of and familiarity with the secrets of aristocratic houses, which we should certainly never have expected. I do not propose to follow him in the commentaries which he made in general upon foreign affairs, but one observation fell from him of which I feel I must take notice, because it contained an aspersion upon a man who is not here to answer for himself, which I am quite certain was not intended by my right lion. Friend. In effect, he said that Mr. Bonar Law wished well to the French in entering the Ruhr, at a time when he knew that that entry was illegal. That is not the fact.
§ Mr. THOMAS
As may right hon. Friend knows, not one word would have escaped me that would reflect upon a name which I revere, and I want to correct my right hon. Friend. I did not say that. I was most careful, because I knew the facts. What I said and what I repeated was that Mr. Bonar Law made a statement which I summarised in these words: "I think you arc wrong; I do not agree with: but go on, and I hope you succeed." [An HON. MEMBER: "He did not say 'Go on'!"] And then—I was very careful, because I knew the facts-when he returned, the Law Officers of the Crown were asked to pronounce upon it. I was most careful, because I knew the facts just as well as my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I am sincerely glad to have given my right hon. Friend the opportunity of making clear exactly what he did mean, but I cannot help thinking that, if it had not been for his further explanation, the idea might have got abroad that that was in fact what he intended to suggest. I would just make this further comment, that, while my right hon. Friend condemned the Government for their inaction with regard to France, he failed altogether to explain to us what he would have done in similar circumstances. He said that real friendship does not consist in pretending that all is well when all is not well; but does he accuse us of making any such pretence as that? [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes!"] Then I think the hon. Member had better read his history.. Whatever criticism in that respect he may have to make against my right hon. Friend, the burden of the accusation made by the Leader of the, Opposition was that we had plainly stated to France, not only that we thoroughly disapproved of her action in entering the Ruhr, but that we could not answer for the friendliness of our relations if she continued in that course, and he went on to criticise us because, he said, that statement had not been followed up by action. The question I want to put to the right hon. Gentleman is, "what action would he have taken in that, case to enforce the views which he has expressed?" He tells us that his party are affiliated to an international organisation—they are not ashamed of it—and that the object of joining that international association, in which they are a minority but the decrees of which they bind themselves to accept, is to avoid war. We all desire to avoid war, but there may come a point when every nation has to choose whether it will insist upon its views being carried out by others, or whether it will take the only other alternative. It does not, therefore, lie with the right hon. Gentleman, who is against war in any circumstances, to accuse us of not having taken action which inevitably must have led to war.
Personally, I much regret that this Debate could not have been concluded tonight, and thus have put an end as speedily as possible to a state of uncertainty which must continue to prevail, both at home and abroad, until this House has pronounced its decision. I understand, however, that further time is 426 desired by hon. Members opposite below the Gangway, in order that they may explain more fully the reasons which will lead them to record a vote so entirely inconsistent with those election manifestoes to which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health drew attention yesterday with such devastating effect. I venture to prophesy that, the more they explain themselves, the more difficulty they will have in convincing the plain elector that their votes are not flatly contradictory to their election professions; and let them not imagine that they are going to escape by putting forward the excuse that a Socialist Government will be in office but not in power. -May I point out to them, what they seem to have forgotten, that that would be precisely the position of the present Government if they were continued in office, and that therefore really the choice that lies before them is whether they should put in office, but not in power, a Government which has a programme with which for the most part they agree
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
—or a Government whose Socialistic aspirations are directly contrary to everything for which Liberalism stands? Yesterday the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) stated that with a House of Commons constituted as this is it is idle to talk of the imminent dangers of a Socialist regime. While that lion was roaring in this House another Liberal lion was roaring outside. Mr. Winston Churchill was writing a, letter, to which the right hon. Gentleman has already referred, and he says:
The enthronement in office of a Socialist Government will be a serious national misfortune.I hold no 'brief for him. I do not think that his words in connection with defeat in war bear the interpretation the right hon. Gentleman put on them. He goes on to explain that what he considers the misfortune of a Socialist Government could only be equalled by the misfortune of a defeat in war. He says:
it will delay the return of prosperity; it will check enterprise and impair credit; it will open a period of increasing political confusion and disturbance.427 A little later on he says:
It is astonishing that we should be committed to such dangerous prospects with so little real cause.I commend those words to hon. members below the Gangway, and, although yesterday they appeared to be very well satisfied with the pronouncement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley, it is quite obvious that his views are not shared by Mr. Churchill. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) interrupted me and said that they objected to the principal plank in our programme. I suppose he means the general tariff, but it is clear from the Gracious Speech that a general tariff would not form one of the Measures which this Government, if continued in office—
§ Mr. THOMAS
A statement was made yesterday on that and now it is repeated. I should like an answer from the right hon. Gentleman. He has said deliberately that the Measure of Tariffs has been abandoned from the King's Speech. Does that mean that they abandon it, and if they have how can they hope to govern when they have said, "We cannot cure unemployment except by tariffs"?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
What I have said, and what I repeat is, that it is obvious from the King's Speech that in the circumstances of the time it would not be one of our Measures if we were retained in office. I am now replying to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Hull. Therefore, you are left with a programme which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) described as a rehash of the Liberal programme. But the Leader of the Opposition, in his opening speech, put a question to the Prime Minister. He described it as a simple but a searching one. He said, "My right hon. Friend has hauled the flag of Protection up to half-mast. Where is it now?" I have given the answer. All we are concerned with is the programme of the Government in this Parliament. I am now going to put another question to my right hon. Friend or to anyone on those benches. The Protection flag is not the only bit of bunting which is knocking about. At what precise altitude on his flag-pole does the Red flag stand? What is the precise shade of 428 sanguinity which characterises it, because it appears to resemble a certain reptile in its habit of changing its shade according to its environment? If we always had to listen to speeches like that which has been delivered this morning we should call it only a very faded pink. But there is a powerful section of the right hon. Gentleman's party, a section which makes up in vociferousness what it lacks in respect for the rules of this House which is determined to exercise a very powerful influence in the fortunes of the party, and I notice that before the meeting of this House they were busy, and one of them, and certainly one of the ablest of them—I refer to the hon. Member for Shettlestone (Mr. Wheatley)—was writing as follows:
It would be political madness to leave the impression on the public mind that the Labour movement is not a menace to vested interests.He goes on to give a hint to the right hon. Gentleman:The people of Glasgow will support us, and so will every other section of the populace, if we nail our colours to the mast and leave timidity in the rear.He goes on to consider the awful possibility that his party might be supported by the Liberals. He says:
Efforts are made to induce the Leader of the Opposition to form a Labour Government and pursue a watered Parliamentary policy for which Liberals would have no, deep-rooted hostility. Such a compromise is impossible. It would be a gross betrayal of those tens of thousands of half starved women who faced the elements in rags to support the Labour candidates who had promised to destroy Liberalism and the system for which it stood.I repeat to hon. Members below the Gangway, "we ask nothing from you and we seek to make no bargain with you, but we point out to you that your choice is between a party whose programme you claim to be a rehash of your own and a party which stands to destroy Liberalism and all that it stands for. If you vote for Socialism on Monday, the blood will be on your own heads, and you will be ground to pieces."
My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby has given a humorous account of the genesis of the Prime Minister's policy of Protection. We have never pretended that if the country had given us all that we asked for our policy could have acted sufficiently rapidly to cure unemployment this winter. We never sug- 429 gested that. We have been taking rather longer views. It was because we have been so often disappointed in our hopes that unemployment would diminish, that trade would revive, that Europe would become settled and peaceful again, and because while coming to the conclusion that even if Europe did become settled competition from the nations of Europe would be greater in the future than in the past, that we formed the opinion that more drastic measures must be taken and that in future we should have to protect ourselves from such competition and such unfair competition.
The country rejected our proposals, not because they objected to Protection—[Interruption.] I have found no one who objected to Protection and certainly no Labour man, but because they were afraid that with Protection would come dearer prices and because they have not had time to assimilate the truth that in every other country in the world where Protection is in force the results which they feared have not in fact taken place.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I do not want to argue Protection now, but I want to say a few words upon the question of Imperial Preference, which, it is true, does not affect the question of employment to-day and perhaps will affect it but little to-morrow or next year but some day in the future, and may be not in the very distant future, is going to have a profound effect upon the state of trade and employment in this country. I want to ask the right hon. Member for Derby, if he assumes office, not hastily to dismiss proposals which have nothing whatever to do with the question of a general tariff, but which were arrived at after discussion with representatives of the Dominions, in full agreement with them, and with their full and enthusiastic approval. I ask him not to reject these proposals out of any pedantic theories.
I welcomed the observations made by the right hon. Member for Miles Platting (Mr. Clynes) yesterday, but even he did not seem to me fully to appreciate the transcendant importance of this matter. He was obsessed with the idea of population, and he seemed to argue that because the population of the Dominions is to be counted in thousands where that of 430 foreign countries runs to millions, therefore, I will not say they were not to be considered, but that they were of secondary importance. It was the foreign countries that came first in his mind; the Empire was a sort of afterthought. You measure the value of your customers not by their numbers but by' their purchasing power, by their inclinations and by the quality of the goods they want to buy from you. If you measure the markets of the Empire by standards of that kind, they assume a very different aspect. In the year 1922 the exports from the United Kingdom to the Dominions amounted to £285,000,000, and to the whole of Europe they only amounted to £311,000,000, a difference of £25,000,000 in favour of Europe.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Yes. Perhaps I used the word loosely. It includes India and the Crown Colonies as well as the Dominions—the whole Empire. That would not include Egypt. I want to call the attention of the House to the fact that, if we take manufacture goods, we find that the Dominions bought from us in that year £270,000,00 worth, while Europe only took from us £247,000,000 worth. Actually £22,000,000 worth more of manufactured goods went to the Empire than to foreign countries. Does not that show the immense importance of these Empire markets to us?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Europe in ruins, I quite agree, but does the right hon. Gentleman think that those ruins are going to be built up in the next two or three years? I very much doubt it. The point I was making is that we cannot afford to neglect these markets of the Empire which per head are of far more value to us than any other. To think that because they have a small population they are therefore of minor importance is altogether to miss the real scale of the Dominions as they are to-day, let alone what they may be in the future. What is the meaning of the extraordinary disparity in purchases per head by those who live in the distant parts of the Empire and those who live in foreign countries? No doubt to a very large extent it is due to similarities of taste, similarities of speech, customs and in- 431 clinations, but it has been very materially stimulated by a preference. Take the case of Australia alone. For 24 years before Preference was given the trade of this country with Australia remained stationary. The trade of Australia was not stationary, but the trade of this country with Australia did not move. In the seven years after Preference was given that trade went up by £14,000,000 a year until there was an increase of 63 per cent. of the whole import trade. That is an instance of the benefits which we have received from Preference. Now we find the Dominions asking us, as they have done before, if we will not give them some recognition of the interest which they have shown in Empire trade in the way of reciprocity, and these proposals, which we have agreed to with them, are our answer to that invitation. How are they going to be treated by the Labour party? I do hope that they will be treated with all the sympathy possible. I listened, I must say, with some concern, to what the Leader of the Opposition said on this subject. He said, indeed, as I understood him, that his party did not object to remitting duties on Empire produce, in cases in which duties had already been imposed for revenue purposes, but that, when it come to imposing new taxation in order to give preference, he put that in a different category. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Then evidently I have interpreted him correctly. Why? The hon. Member said, "We are against food duties on principle." What principle? I could understand if he said, "We take the great staple foods of the people, which are really necessaries of life, and on principle we are not prepared even to risk a rise in prices of those necessaries, even though it be proposed to put duties only on those foods which come from foreign countries, and not from the Empire." I could understand that principle. But if food is to be interpreted as including everything which a human being can eat, then I do not understand a principle which says, "We can tax a man's boots, his hats or his clothes—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—but we must not tax apples." That does not seem to me to be a principle which would rest upon any logic or common sense, and, indeed, I do not expect that this principle of not taxing food is going to be carried to a rigid extremity. Per- 432 haps the right hon. Gentleman can inform me, will his Government abolish all food taxes—
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
—because he has been returned by the votes of those who were told that all food taxes would be abolished, that the spoils, to which the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) referred, would go to the victors, and that a capital levy would be divided up among them. If these voters do not find that the "goods" are delivered, there may be some trouble later on. But if the right hon. Gentleman is not going to abolish food taxes—and, if he did, the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) would have to find £50,000,000 somewhere or other; and as to that the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) might have something to say—then he admits that his principle is not quite rigid, but it is capable of elasticity and some adaptation to circumstances. I want to put it to him that if he can be satisfied that these proposals, even though they include the imposition of new duties on certain articles of consumption, are expedient on other grounds he might well, without departing in any way from his principles, rearrange his food duties so as to enable them to be imposed.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Miles Platting that this it a matter with ought, as far as possible, to be lifted up above all party considerations. But I ask Members opposite to remember the phrase of their Leader some time ago, when he was speaking of our relations with some foreign Power, and when he said that a moral gesture was wanted to make her realise her duty, and I ask them to remember that these proposals are in the nature of a moral gesture, and that the direction in which that gesture is made may affect very seriously the future attitude of the Dominions towards us. When a man has grown wealthy and influential the friends whom he remembers most affectionately are those who were kind to him at the beginning of his career. The Dominions are indeed at the beginning of their career. In 20, 30 or 50 years some of them may be equal to, or even greater than, ourselves in population and in wealth. The turn that is given to their thoughts and their policy to-day will persist all 433 through those years, and when, a generation or two hence, they are among the greatest nations of the earth, the action that is taken by a British Government to-day may determine what value they are going to be to the Empire, and what help they are going to be to the people of this country.
§ Mr. E. D. SIMON
May I first claim the generous condulgence of the House which, I understand, is always accorded to new Members, on the embarrassing occasion of a first address? The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer asked that we, on these benches, should explain to our electors why we are prepared to support a Labour Government rather than a Conservative Government. I can only hope that I may never have a more difficult task than that in this House. I want to deal with the matter particularly from the point of view of the policy of the Government as regards the housing of the working classes. For the last four years I have been chairman of the Manchester Housing Committee, and my whole job has been to try to get houses built. It has been a very difficult task. I have co-operated in that work with Liberal, Labour and Conservative members of the committee, and it may perhaps reassure some hon. Members opposite to know that during the whole of that time we have had a Liberal-Labour majority on that committee, and that, in spite of that, there is no reason to suggest that the work has not been done at least as effectively as in other towns. I do not wish to attack the Government in reference to their Housing Act, because that Act is very much on the lines that were asked for by the great cities, and in fact were originally suggested by the Manchester Housing Committee. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was then Minister of Health, met us very fairly, and I am quite sure that he is as anxious as we are to get houses built. I regret very much that his party has not backed him up in the matter as it might have done. The point on which I do attack the Government is their administration of the Housing Act. The Act itself is quite a good Act with regard to the large cities. We brought a lot of pressure to bear, and got more or less what we wanted. The rural districts did not bring the same amount of pressure to bear, and I do not think they got what they wanted, 434 and the Act will probably require amendment if real progress is to be made in rural districts.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that one-fifth of the houses already approved by the Minister of Health are actually in rural districts?
§ Mr. SIMON
Approval is not always quite the same thing as building. What I complain of is not the Act itself so much as the whole conception of the administration of the Act—the scale on which this housing scheme is to be carried out. An hon. Member said yesterday that if this matter is to be dealt with satisfactorily we want 200,000 houses a year for the next 30 years. There are no reliable figures on which one can base an accurate estimate, but the leading authorities will agree that if we want to meet the undoubted needs and to do away with overcrowding and with slums something on that scale will be necessary.
§ Mr. SIMON
It is the opinion of experts. Against that we have since the Armistice built not as many as 60,000 houses a year. That means that the problem is getting more acute and not less acute. Has the present Government done anything to change that state of affairs? I have here the report of the speech of the Minister of Health yesterday. The right hon. Gentleman made a most extraordinary statement. He said that there would be, in the first year after the passing of the Act, 100,000 houses built under the provisions of the Act. That is an almost fantastic statement. All the other figures the right hon. Gentleman quoted go to show that it is impossible to accomplish anything of the kind. The right hon. Gentleman said further that he was approving 3,500 houses a week, and he added:I might easily have run my figures up to 5,000 a week, and no one would have known that they were not effective figures." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th January, 1924; col. 323, Vol. 169.]It may be possible for the right hon. Gentleman to keep the facts as to what is happening in the whole country away from those who want to know, but it is not possible for him to conceal from the different local authorities the facts as they 435 affect themselves. I happen to know what the facts are as regards Manchester. The right hon. Gentleman said that he had approved plans for 53,600 houses to be built by private enterprise. Of those 1,600 were approved for Manchester. We did not go to him and say, "We have six houses here and seven there. Will you approve of these?" We went and got a round figure, which was 1,600. Of those 1,600 we have made arrangements to build up to the present rather fewer than 400. There will be the greatest difficulty in getting those 400 finished within 12 months of the date of the passing of the Act. Instead of getting 53,600 finished, if the same contention applies all over the country, we shall get about one-quarter of that number. He has also approved a further 31,000 which represent municipal building. A somewhat larger proportion of these are likely to be finished.
It always takes several months to get a scheme of this sort started, and even if the Government were building at the rate of 100,000 houses a year they could not finish more than about 50,000 by July. Frankly, I think it more likely that they will get something like 30,000 or 40,000 at the maximum. Even if a Labour Government comes in now and puts three times the energy behind this scheme, by July next it will not be possible to finish, under this new scheme, more than about 50,000 houses. I protest against the assumption that the Government are likely to finish, or that there is any possibility of their finishing, 100,000 houses in that time. What is the reason why they cannot finish more? The Minister gave what, I agree, is the main reason, and that is the shortage of labour. We are suffering in Manchester from that now. But the right hon. Gentleman went on to blame the trade unions. Is it true that the trade unions are wholly or solely to blame for it? I have worked with a good many of them on my own Housing Committee, and I have not found them at all unreasonable. They tell me that they 'are perfectly willing to agree to dilution or augmentation, if reasonable guarantees are given against unemployment.
I know that the bricklayers' trade is one that has been subject to very great fluctuation and a very great deal of unemployment, and it is surely not unreasonable that they should ask for 436 certain guarantees. I understand that the Government have refused to give anything of the sort. Surely the Government is at least partly to blame in the matter. I understand that the trade unions have agreed that for every four bricklayers one apprentice is allowed. I am informed that on the 1921 census 75,000 apprentices would have been allowed under these rules but that in fact there were only 21,000 apprentices in the building trades in those days. Whose fault is that? Surely not the fault of the trade unions. On the face of it, it is the fault of the employers. As far as I have heard, the Government have taken no steps whatever to remedy the state of affairs by bringing pressure to bear on the employers. Surely from that point of view it is not fair to blame the trade unions?
In the King's Speech the first statement on the subject of housing is that the Government are satisfied with what they have done. The second statement, with regard to the future, is that the Government will bring pressure to bear on local authorities to build more houses for those echo are to own the houses. That again shows a complete misunderstanding of the whole housing problem. Everyone knows that only a small percentage of the working classes, under the present-day conditions of unemployment, with insecurity of tenure and wages as they are, are in a position to purchase and own their own houses. And yet that is the only part of the housing problem in which the Government propose to take any steps to bring about acceleration. I do not see what steps there are possible unless they increase the subsidy. Local authorities are already doing their best in that direction. The big problem in front of us is quite clearly to build houses not to be sold but to be let-and that will be let at reasonable rents. We want something like 200,000 a year. We cannot do it suddenly, but it is possible to work up to a programme of that sort on three conditions: 1. We must have a Government that really means business and is determined to get a programme of that sort. 2. There must be a very considerable increase in the amount of labour in the building trade. That is to be arrived at by agreement with the trade unions. 3. Prices and costs must not be allowed to increase. A great programme of that 437 sort will mean great temptations to many sections to put up prices-the contractors, those who supply materials, and those who supply labour. I do not think 200,000 houses a year would be too big a charge on the taxes and rates but any substantial increase in cost would make the whole scheme financially impossible. It is the duty of any Government that means to carry through a big scheme of this sort to see that none of those connected with the building of houses, whether they supply materials or supply labour, are permitted to take advantage of the national need for their own private profit. I believe it is a practicable scheme to build these 200,000 house a year, but it is an extraordinarily difficult and complex problem, and it can be clone only by the co-operation of all concerned, capital and labour, local authorities and the Government, and provided there is good will all round, and determination, something on the lines on which we dealt with the shell problem during the War. It was possible then to increase the output of shells immensely and at the same time, despite rising costs of labour and material, to bring clown the price. I know of that because my firm was engaged in the manufacture of one particular type of shell, the price of which at the beginning of the War was 23s., but, in spite of rising costs, the price at the end of the War, owing to organisation, good will all round, and co-operation came down to 13s. I do not see why something of the same kind should not be done with regard to housing if we can arouse the same sort of unanimous wish to get the job done.
It is said very often on the opposite benches, and in the Press which supports the Conservative party, that Liberals have no policy. I, personally, am prepared to take the question of housing as a test question, and it seems to me that in this matter we have a very definite policy. We believe, and I think in this we are in almost complete agreement with our friends on the Labour Benches, that it is the duty of the Government to use all their powers and resources to build houses until we have cleared off the overcrowding which is such a disgrace to our civilisation and cleared off the slums which are an even greater disgrace. It will be a long period before that is accomplished, even if we build at the rate of 200,000 houses a year, but I believe it can be done. Our policy, as I say, is to 438 support the full use of the Government's resources in order to accomplish that object; in that, so far as I know, we agree with the Labour party, and that is why, in this matter, we are prepared to support a Labour Government. As regards the present Government, if the King's Speech means anything, it means that they are prepared to go on as they are doing, and that means an increasing shortage each year, increasing overcrowding and no possibility of ever being able to deal with slum property. That is nothing but a confession of sheer impotence and failure. We differ profoundly from that view on these benches, and I appeal to all who believe in the urgency of this great problem to support the vote of no confidence.
Duchess of ATHOLL
As a new Member I should not have ventured to rise in such an important Debate so early in this Parliament were it not for the fact that the Gracious Speech from the Throne contains an announcement of the Government's intentions in regard to various matters which are of special interest to women Members or of special interest to Scottish Members. Therefore, I crave leave to intervene, and I ask the indulgence of the House for a few moments while I refer to some of these matters. The first question mentioned in the Gracious Speech which is of special interest to women is the announcement of the intention of the Government to develop juvenile unemployment centres and to provide additional facilities for general and technical education. It is quite unnecessary to dwell on the seriousness of the problem of juvenile unemployment. Hon. Members opposite know too well how important it is that we should do all we can to remove this great evil. I believe the juvenile unemployment centres initiated by the present Government have done a good deal towards, at least, mitigating that evil. I know there are people who believe that the best way in which to deal with this problem is to bring into operation the Clauses of the Education Acts of 1918 providing for compulsory continuation classes. I happen to have devoted some little time to educational matters in Scotland during the last few years, and I am of opinion that, however desirable continuation classed may be on educational grounds, yet in dealing with this particular and most pressing problem of juvenile unemploy- 439 ment under the particular conditions which exist, and having regard to the financial difficulties which stand in the way of educational progress in Scotland at the present moment, it is better to develop juvenile unemployment centres than to bring these particular Clauses into operation. In the first place the young person attending one of these juvenile employment centres is able to leave as soon as he or she has found employment. That would not be the case if such young persons were attending compulsory day continuation classes, and there is reason to fear that sometimes the fact that a young person is under an obligation to attend continuation classes might add to the difficulty of obtaining employment. Then in the districts where serious unemployment exists among young people there are usually buildings immediately available for the purposes of juvenile unemployment centres, whereas if we bring the compulsory continuation classes into operation all over a county, we shall be faced with the building difficulty in many areas, and this will involve delay and expense. Finally there is the advantage that only 25 per cent. of the expense of these centres falls upon the local rates, and that is a material point, particularly in Scotland, where during recent years the pressure of rates in some areas has been very severely felt. It is sometimes objected to unemployment centres that they do not cater for children at the moment of leaving school, but I understand that the eighteen centres open for young people in the County of London are available for children from 14 upwards if they choose to take advantage of them. As a matter of fact, children under 16 do not utilise them to a great extent, because unemployment is not so serious below the age of 16, and because also there is the attraction of the unemployment benefit to lure young people of 16 and upwards to these centres.
I believe it would be most useful to develop this system of juvenile unemployment centres, and I feel sure it is a proposal which will appeal to many of the women of this country. It seems strange to me that hon. Members are going to vote against the Government when in doing so they are opposing a proposal to extend this useful system. [HON. 440 MEMBERS: "No!"] Well, hon. Members have announced their intention of voting against the Government which is proposing to develop these centres. Again, it is to be hoped that hon. Members opposite in voting against the Government on Monday next, as I understand they propose to do, are not pledging themselves to oppose facilities for general and technical education. That proposal, particularly as it concerns technical education, would have widespread support in Scotland. I also ask hon. Members when they vote against the Government, is it their intention to oppose the proposal for the development of the principle of the probationary system in relation to juvenile offenders? That is another question in which many women arc interested, and there is weighty opinion in Scotland to the effect that full advantage has not yet been taken of this system. Many people are anxious to see it developed, and recommendations to that effect have been made to the present Government in regard to juvenile delinquency. Are we to understand that hon. Members are prepared to oppose the extension of a system which has proved its worth, and which many men and women believe to be of the greatest value in dealing with juvenile delinquents?
Another statement in the Gracious Speech that I know will cause great satisfaction amongst women is the promise to introduce legislation to legitimise children born out of wedlock whose parents subsequently marry. Scottish children born in those very sad circumstances grow up under the protection of such a law, and I cannot believe that hon. Members opposite, in casting their votes on Monday, will wish to refuse to give English children the protection that the Scottish law affords to Scottish children. It will also be a satisfaction to many women to know that this Government's intention is to amend the law relating to maintenance and separation orders. They will take it, I am confident, as evidence that the Government is prepared to take action in questions which specially affect women.
In regard to questions specially concerning Scotland, there is one particular announcement in the Gracious Speech which I am certain has been read with deep interest in many Scottish homes, and that is the announcement that preparations have been made for a measure 441 dealing with the property and endowments of the Church of Scotland. The Churches play a large part in our national life in the North, and there is no subject, I venture to say, towards which the hopes and the prayers of members of the two great Presbyterian Churches turn more in these days then towards that question of Church re-union. Negotiations between the two great Churches have been proceeding for several years past, and have been making steady progress. One legislative barrier which stands in the way of re-union was removed by the late Coalition Government, and this pronouncement of the present Government deals with the next and the last. Two interests are concerned in this question-the interests of the Church on the one hand and those of the landowner on the other-but I am certain that with good will on both sides and a full recognition of the great issues at stake for the people of Scotland, a Bill equitable to both can be framed. I venture to say that it will be felt as a calamity by the many adherents of these two great Churches, comprising men and women of all political parties, if they are to understand that one of the grounds on which hon. Members opposite will vote against the Government on Monday next is their lack of interest in this great question. Undoubtedly, indefinite or any postponement of this question will cause great anxiety in Scotland, and if a new Member may venture so far, I should like to ask the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) whether, when the time comes that he is called upon to form a Government, he will give an assurance to the House that he will introduce the measure which is necessary to remove the last legislative barrier in the way of a reunion that should prove an untold blessing to the moral and spiritual welfare of the people of Scotland.
As I have the honour to represent a constituency which is mainly agriculturual in character, I should like to say that I welcome the proposal in the Speech to call a conference of all parties in the endeavour to arrive at an agreed policy in regard to agriculture. All who are connected with agricultural areas must recognise how essential to the farming interest it is that there should be stability and continuity of Government policy in this great matter. If I may venture to say anything about the Scottish farmer, I 442 should say that he intensely dislikes the thought that agriculture may become the cockpit of contending political parties.I was very pleased to understand from the speech made on Tuesday by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) that he appeared to favour the principle of cooperation between parties in this great matter, but I should respectfully like to ask him what guarantee he has got, if ho supports the hon. Member for Aberavon on Monday night, that there will be cooperation in this most important matter.I listened carefully to hear if the Leader of the Opposition committed himself on this question in the speech he made that same day, but I did not detect any indication that he favours this policy of trying to take our greatest and our fundamental industry out of the arena of party politics.
The question of agriculture brings me to the announcement made in the Speech with regard to proposals for rating reform. It is not an inspiring subject, but it is a pressing one in Scotland in rural districts, and one of which we hear only too much. The anomalies that undoubtedly exist in our rating system have been revealed, and, I am afraid, greetly accentuated, by the pooling of urban and rural parishes to form the larger educational areas set up under the 1918 Education Act, an Act which, so far as education itself is concerned, is, I consider, working very well; but the pressure of rates, largely on account of the new arrangement of areas under the Education Act, is proving very severe in many a rural area. This Government has from the beginning of its existence shown its recognition of that fact and has given some measure of agricultural rating relief. I cannot believe that Liberal Members opposite representing Scottish rural constituencies can be ignorant of this matter or of the strong feeling there is in regard to it, and I should like to ask them what guarantee they have that, if this Government is turned out of office on Monday next, this question will be dealt with in a practical and a satisfactory manner by the Government which succeeds it.
Finally, I should like to say that I welcome the anouncement in regard to the anticipation of the Government's Naval programme in order to provide work for the shipbuilding industry. As 443 a woman and as a soldier's wife, who, along with other soldiers' wives, has in more than one campaign seen her nearest and dearest go out, to fight the country's battles, and as a woman who personally has been privileged to see something of the way in which our soldiers endure the hardship and suffering which is their lot on active service, it may be believed that I long to see wars cease from out of the world, and that I would infinitely rather see expansion of merchant shipping than of ships of war, but, in view of the lack of demand which, I understand, is the case with regard to merchant shipping, and the unprecedented competition which our shipbuilders have to face when opportunity of building merchant ships offers itself, some acceleration of the Government's Naval programme seems to me inevitable if we are to retain our skilled workmen in this country, and if they are to retain their skill. I have learned only in the last 24 hours that a French shipbuilding firm has recently captured a contract for building two ships for Holland of some 21,000 tons each, a contract the total value of which would have been about £440,000, and the French tender was accepted because it was nearly £95,000 less than the lowest British offer, which, I believe, came from Belfast. A Swedish boat has lately also been lost to this country in a similar way, and another contract of an even larger amount, in regard to which negotiations have been proceeding for the last three months, is believed to be seriously endangered by the fact that French firms are able to tender at, so much lower prices than ours. When it is remembered that these British firms in tendering were able to use cheap steel dumped from abroad, and that the difference in price is not accounted for by the recent fall in the value of the franc, it rather looks as if some special financial help were being received by French firms that is enabling them to undercut this country in one of its most important industries.
Whether that is so or not—and I quite recognise it is not a subject which is in order in the present discussion—it does seem to me that the fact that merchant shipping orders of this kind have lately been lost to this country, and are still being lost, makes the placing of orders for cruisers and auxiliary craft all the 444 more necessary, particularly when we remember that ships built for the British Navy must be all of British materials, and therefore give the maximum employment in this country. I would like to ask Liberal Members when they cast their votes on Monday night, are they going to cast them against this practical proposal for relieving unemployment in our great shipbuilding centres, or, if not, what guarantee have they got of an equally practical scheme for finding employment? I know of none that has been brought forward, and I can imagine what it must mean to thousands of families on the Clyde and elsewhere if the advent of a Socialist Government results in the cancellation of a policy on which, no doubt, already great hopes arc being founded.
The Leader of the Opposition, in his speech on Tuesday, levelled the criticism at the Gracious Speech that it was a miscellaneous collection of odds and ends. There are always two ways of describing a thing. Another way in which to describe it, I think, would be to say that it is a very comprehensive Speech—a Speech which shows understanding of the needs of many and varying sections of our people. It proposes to give effect to the arrangements concluded with the Dominion Prime Ministers at the Imperial Conference; to stimulate employment by various means of tried value; and to endeavour to obtain an agreed and settled policy with regard to agriculture. It also proposes various measures of social reform, on most of which, I think, there has been general agreement between parties.- It seems to me, if I may say so, that Liberal Members incur a great responsibility if they refuse to support a comprehensive, non-contentious programme of the kind that has been put forward, in order to bring in a Government which, though it may be denied by the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) and his followers that it is to be given a blank cheque, at least will come into office with a blank programme, as to which the Leader of the Opposition has given no indication even at the eleventh hour. If even 50 Liberal Members—elected, as I believe a good many were, at the last Election, by Conservative votes, or elected on the slogan of "Vote Liberal and keep the Socialists -out," as I understand some of these gentlemen were—be true to their 445 election pledges, they will save their party the odium of incurring this great responsibility, and save the country from a Government which, with all due respect to hon. Members who may compose it, I think the country has conclusively shown in the recent election it does not want.
§ Sitting suspended at Twenty Minutes after One o'Clock until Two o'Clock.
§ On. Resuming—
§ 2.0 P.M.
§ Mr. W. HENDERSON
I hope I may ask the indulgence of the House on making my first speech here. There is an important paragraph in the Gracious Speech from the Throne to which I would like to make reference. It is the paragraph which tells us that steps will be taken to develop the existing system of juvenile unemployment centres, and to provide increased facilities for general and technical education. The Noble Lady who preceded me (the Duchess of Atholl) expressed surprise that Members on this side of the House proposed to vote against the Government when they had committed themselves to deal with this question of juvenile unemployment centres. While the Noble Lady may vote for the Government because of the inclusion of this, and other items, which have been very faithfully and wisely extracted from the programme of the Labour party, I shall have no hesitation in casting my votes against the Government on Monday. For I am not at all sure that the inclusion of these references is not intended to be rather of the nature of a generous gesture on the part of a Ministry which knows that it is going out of office, and therefore has no hesitation in making promises which it is aware it will not be called upon to redeem. While I, like other Members, welcome this reference to juvenile unemployment, I think we have to view it, not so much from the standpoint of the words in which it is set forth, as from the standpoint of the Government's action in, the past with reference to this matter. I venture to suggest that the policy of the Government with regard to juvenile unemployment has been ungenerous and unsympathetic and, where it has not been entirely indifferent, it has merely been casual, and it has also been as unimaginative as it has been casual. I would only remind the House that during twelve 446 months there are 600,000 boys and girls who pass from the schools to the preliminary forms of service in the industrial life of the community. During the lifetime of the present administration at least 750,000 juveniles have left the schools, and I do not think I shall be exaggerating when I say that of these 750,000 at least a quarter of a million are, at the present moment, unemployed.
It is quite true that the Government have been responsible for the establishment of a certain number of juvenile unemployment centres. But it is well known that no more than about 10,000 or 15,000 of these young workers have been in attendance at the various juvenile unemployment centres which have been in existence. The Government can only trace about 80,000 of these workers: it has no means of knowing what becomes of the 600,000 who depart automatically every year from the schools of the kingdom. I want to call attention to the fact that, although the school-leaving age is 14, juvenile workers between the ages of 14 and 16 do not come within the scope of the Unemployment Insurance Acts, and only 10 per cent. of the juveniles between 16 and 18 are covered by those Acts. L should like to suggest that, if the Government had desired to deal properly with this very serious aspect of the problem of unemployment, it might very easily have given effect to that provision in the Fisher Education Act which would have kept the juveniles at school until the age of 16. I cannot understand how it is that, although the school-leaving age is 14, the age at which the Unemployment Insurance Act begins to operate is 16, and not 14. It seems to me that one of the first steps that any Government anxious to deal properly with this problem of juvenile unemployment should have taken, was to have synchronised the school-leaving age with the age at which the Unemployment Insurance Acts begin to operate.
I venture to suggest that this aspect of the problem, namely, the unemployment of juvenile workers, is, perhaps, in the long run, the gravest aspect of this very persistent evil. After all, we have to remember that these young people who, on leaving school, cannot be absorbed into industry, are allowed to pass the most impressionable years, and the years which are most formative of character, in a state 447 of compulsory idleness. It is necessary to view this aspect of the problem, not so much from the standpoint of immediate consequences, as from the standpoint of delayed consequences, because these young people, now passing their years in compulsory idleness, who have no definite objective in life, are the people who in the next few years will be called upon to exercise the rights and duties and obligations of citizenship. Not only is there the question of the waste of time involved by their being unemployed, but there are the wasted opportunities which might have been used to give them industrial training, to give them skill and develop their natural aptitudes; and there are the physical consequences upon these boys and girls, and the moral consequences. I venture to suggest that the action of the Government, or rather the inaction of the Government, with regard to this matter, is one of the items upon which they stand condemned.
I would remind right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite of the words of one of their past leaders, whose name is often quoted in this House. Lord Beaconsfield stated—I think it was in this Chamber—that the wealth of England is not merely material wealth; that it does not merely consist in the number of acres we have tilled and cultivated, nor in the havens filled with shipping, nor in our unrivalled factories, nor in the intrepid industry of our miners—that it is not these merely that form the principal wealth of our nation, but that we have a more precious treasure, and that is the character of our people. I say that for a Government to allow 200,000 young people to live in idleness is the very way in which to injure this precious treasure to which Lord Beaconsfield referred. As I have said, the Government which has pursued this policy of inconstancy and indifference merits the condemnation which will be meted out to it on Monday night, and I just want to conclude by saying that it will give me very great pleasure to cast my first vote, as a Member of this historic Chamber, against a Government which has merely tinkered throughout its lifetime with the serious problem of unemployment, and which has shown such indifference to so vital an aspect of that problem as the unemployment of juvenile workers.
§ Mr. DENNIS HERBERT:
In the course of this Debate the situation has developed in such a way as to make things a little clearer than when this Amendment was first proposed. After the speeches that we heard yesterday afternoon, two things seem fairly clear. The first is that in the Division on this Amendment the Government will be opposed, quite naturally, by the whole of the Labour party and, apparently, by as many of the Liberal party as are prepared to follow the advice and injunctions of their leaders. But there is one other thing that has since been made clear, and that is that those of the Liberal party who intend to follow that advice are doing so with the avowed intention of putting the Socialist party into office in this country. The interesting question that arises, and it is one on which not much light has been thrown at present, is, What is the bargain between these two partners in this extraordinary business? What is to be the policy of that Government which is to assume office? Is it to be a policy compounded in part of items from the Socialist programme and in part of items, from the Liberal programme—a sort of replacing of the Red Flag by a piece of bunting of striped red and yellow; or is it to be a case of the Socialist party obeying the behests of the Liberals, and only acting in such a way as the Liberal party may sanction?
What is the bargain? That is a matter upon which we have had no light yet, from any responsible Member, at any rate, of either party, and I would ask if there is any Liberal sitting on those benches now who knows what the bargain is? [HON. MEMBERS: "There is no bargain."] There is no bargain. Now we are getting on nicely. Then what is it that those Liberal Members are going to do when they are voting to throw out the present Government, who have the largest number of followers of any party in this House? To put into office members of the Socialist party, with no bargain, no arrangement. And that is the action of what claims to be one of the great constitutional parties of this country. Just let us see what it is It is an attempt to help to put into office a Government which has got no assurance or guarantee whatever that it can carry on the King's Government. [Interruption.] I cannot hear the hon. Member's interruption. I have no doubt it is a very valuable contri— 449 bution. If he likes to repeat it a little louder, I will try to deal with it.
§ Mr. HERBERT:
What I want to know is, if the hon. Member, who belongs to a party which calls itself a constitutional party—[An HON. MEMBER: "So do we!"]I am not—quarrelling with that—is going to vote to turn out a Government which, en the programme that it places before the country, is quite capable of carrying on the King's Government in order to put into office a Government which is unable to show that it can carry on the King's Government for a single week.
§ Captain BERKELEY:
As the hon. Member challenges me, I will say I distrust not the sincerity but the capacity of the Government to carry out the programme it has announced.
§ Mr. HERBERT:
Then I assume the hon. and gallant Gentleman trusts not only the will but the capacity also of the Socialist party when they are in office to follow the dictates which he may choose to address to them as to what they should do. What is going to happen? It may be that hon. Members who answered so glibly for the Liberal party that there was no bargain are not entirely in the confidence of same of their leaders. Possibly there may yet be a bargain, but let us assume for the moment that there is not. What then, in addition to that, is going to happen to their particular party? [An HON. MEMBER: "Do not worry about us."] I have no anxiety as to what is going to happen to the Liberal party. My anxiety is as to what is going to happen to parties generally and to the interests of the country. When a party which has been one of the great political parties of the country is on the edge of a precipice and near to complete disintegration, it is a matter of interest to other Members of this House belonging to other parties. If the Liberal party, in putting the Socialists into office, are going to endeavour to keep them in order, according to their views, I predict that they will find themselves very much in the position of the guileless individual who attempted to clean the alligator's teeth and found himself swallowed up.
The interesting point with regard to this lately reunited Liberal party, and 450 the interest of their reunion to the rest of the country, is that on the very morrow of that great reunion they are not going to follow their leaders entirely into the Lobby against the Government. There will be a few among them who have the statesmanship and the public honesty to follow their own consciences and to follow the views they put before their constituents rather than the dictates of their leaders. The late reunion of the Liberal party bids fair to result in another split along other lines—a split which will never be healed—and the disintegration of the party, a part of it being swallowed up by the alligator and the more respectable members of it coming over to a purely Conservative party as the only refuge for those who hold what have hitherto been called sound constitutional views. [Interruption.] Gamble with the country by putting into office a party you are not prepared to keep there! The clumsiness of the party politics of the Liberal party! The hon. Members of the Liberal party know perfectly well that a General Election immediately upon this Vote is a practical impossibility and would be resented by the country as a whole, but the policy of the Liberal party to make the Socialist party a stalking horse in order to enable them to turn out the Government and appeal to the country is the one policy which is sure to end in their disintegration. We have heard too much of these threats against wangling to keep out of office a party which is only the second in numerical strength in this House. What is the answer to the wangle of a party which is trying to put them into office, not for their benefit—oh, no—but in order to gain, as they think, ulterior ends of their own?
Hon. Members opposite have had several things rubbed into them which they have not answered yet. I want to say a few words about the pronouncement made this morning by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas). Are hon. Members below the gangway so guileless as to believe that what he says about the Socialist International represents the truth and the whole truth? That International according to the right hon. Gentleman is an international organisation to end war. An organisation apparently, then, set up to compete with the League of Nations 451 —[HON. MEMBERS: "To help it"]—set up without authority on the part of the Government of any one of those countries concerned in it, to abolish, if you will, war between countries, to abolish war along perpendicular between nations line, but set up with the expressed intention and object of creating war along the horizontal line, encouraging and calculated to bring about war in every country in the world between different classes. Is the party that glories in its connection with the international the party the great constitutional Liberals are going deliberately to put into office? I wish to say nothing against individual Members of the Liberal party who may be listening to me now, because I do not know what their action may be when we go into the Division Lobby, but I do say that in spite of the great speech made by their leader yesterday—but a great speech which absolutely shelved the whole question of responsibility for the result of the action which he advised—the rank and file of hon. Members opposite have never answered the questions that have been put to them as to how they are going to shoulder this responsibility. They cannot answer them; they know, however, that they will get the answer to their excuses when they next meet their constituents. Their great leader in that great speech yesterday, after his party had appealed for votes to keep out the Socialists, declared his intention of helping the Socialist Government into office, and then complained—what right had he to complain—of the nature of his post-bag and the complaints of his followers throughout the country at the action he proposed to take, so different from that which he put before the country at the General Election.
Speaking as one of the rank and file of the Conservative party, I declare that we shall go into this division with no fear as to what is going to happen to our party. What we feel is that our party is prepared and is in the best position to carry on the King's Government for such time as may be reasonably necessary before another appeal to the country. We are confident that after this Debate the next House of Commons will be composed in the main of two parties only, and that one party will consist of hon. Members on the Labour and Liberal 452 Benches who will sit on that side for many, many years to come.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA:
I confess that I have been deeply touched by the tender solicitude for my hon. Friend respecting the action we shall take on Monday night.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA:
I thought my hon. Friend had some little solicitude for us also. I admired more than his solicitude his ingenuity of mind. He was leading up to the discovery of a bargain, in which case he was going to fall upon us with horse, foot and artillery, but he was immediately ready and did fall upon us with no less force of horse, foot and artillery when he found there was no bargain. I congratulate him upon his achievement. We have had three maiden speeches to-day, one by the Noble Lady the Member for Kinross and Western Perth (Duchess of Atholl), the hon. Member for Withington (Mr. Simon), and the hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. W. Henderson). On personal grounds, I am sorry that the father of the hon. Member for Enfield was not with us to hear his son's maiden speech.
I wish to deal with one problem, the problem of unemployment. The Prime Minister said at the recent General Election, and upon this we shall all agree, that unemployment is the gravest subject in the country to-day. It was upon the question as to how the problem of unemployment should be tackled that the Government went to the country. Their proposed remedy has been rejected, but the problem remains, and its hardships, with increasing severity as time goes on, remain, particularly in the trades and the localities which have been hit hardest since the slump fell upon us three years and three months ago. Governments may come and Governments may go—that is apparently what is about to happen—but written across the commission of any Government, in heavy black type, there remains the question of the unemployment problem.
The slump developed with calamitous rapidity in the fall of 1920. It reached its worst at the end of June, 1921, when there were over 2,000,000 people registered as wholly unemployed and nearly another 1,000,000 on short time. From the end of June 1921 there was a steady, 453 painfully slow but nevertheless maintained progress, not very marked, right down to the end of March last year At the end of March last year the figures had come down to 1,243,400 persons registered as wholly unemployed. From that point, the end of March last year, for seven months down to the end of October there was practical stagnation. The progress which had been recorded, not very marked but still steadily maintained from the end of June 1921 to the end of March, 1923, petered out, and we had at the end of October 1,256,000 persons registered as wholly unemployed. That, of course, was due to the European situation in the main. I do not think that statement can be challenged.
From the end of October, notwithstanding seasonal depression, things steadily took up again to the middle of December, and on the 17th of that month we had 1,136,980 persons unemployed. The position was, therefore, more hopeful. I was very much struck with the extent to which things were taking up, notwithstanding seasonal depression. In the last two weeks of last year we had a very bad set-back, notwithstanding temporary Christmas activity. The figures for unemployment increased in that fortnight by 129,819. In the first week of this year things had gone a little in the right direction, representing an improvement of 22,400. We started this year with 258,178 fewer persons unemployed than at this time last year. So far so good, but it is not as good as we might have hoped.
In the August of 1920, when it seemed clear that depression would fall upon us, we got to work devising schemes for the mitigation of the hardships of this period of depression. The House is aware of those schemes for endeavouring to get trade going again, for devising and financing utility and public emergency relief works and for finding money for the relief of those for whom work could not be made or found. We have operated those schemes year after year, winter after winter, developing them to the extent to which necessity seemed to demand development. When we went out of office in October, 1922, we left behind us the schemes for the third winter, the winter 1922-23, and our successors put them into operation. On the 1st August last year the House asked, "What are you going to do for the coming winter, 454 1923–24?" On the 1st August we had two statements, giving to us in first broad outline the steps to be taken for the fourth winter in succession, and it became clear that with the exception of one or two useful emendations they were the schemes of the third winter over again, the schemes which we had left behind.
It was manifest, from the Debate here and the public opinion expressed in the country, that a great deal more would be necessary, because, as time goes on, the pinch becomes more severe, particularly in the areas which have been badly hit. Immediately afterwards the Departments got to work, and we had, on the 15th, 16th and 17th October, three speeches by Ministers showing how far the plans laid before us on the 1st August in this connection had been explained. These speeches by the Minister of Labour, the Minister of Health and the Postmaster-General detailed, if I may say so, a little ostentatiously, the many new millions which were to be found for the workers this winter. The Minister of Labour told us that 50 new millions would be added to our chest to find work for the workers this winter, not all put up by the Government—and he did not say so, though the Minister of Health did say so quite incorrectly—and he told us that as far as possible these schemes would be put in hand immediately. The Prime Minister, speaking at Plymouth later in October, when asked how much of that new money for new work this winter would be used this winter, said by far the greater proportion.
Then on the 15th November before we rose we had a Debate here. The Minister of Labour endeavoured to show how far the schemes described on the 15th, 16th and 17th October had been put into operation. We do owe it to the men who are tramping about in a vain search for work to ask how far these schemes are now in operation. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has told us something about the new work put in hand at their own cost, not by the Government, but by the railway groups. Electrification, tube extension, reconditioning, are now in operation. He said last night that the railway groups have accelerated thier programme to the extent of £30,000,000. Does that mean that those schemes are now in operation, giving work for workers this winter? I 455 am not concerned with schemes which run over four or five years. I would like to know how many men are in fact at work upon the new schemes.
Then the Ministry of Transport had £14,000,000 new money placed at the disposal to build new bridges and to make new roads. How many of those schemes are now in operation? How many men are at work on those schemes at this moment? My right hon. Friend did not tell us last night; probably he was not in a position to do so. I hope that some Member of the Treasury Bench can tell us. Over and above the £14,000,000 new money, which the Ministry of Transport had voted for these new works, the Ministry of Transport has £7,500,000 from the Road Fund to dispense to local authorities for arterial road making and repairs on the basis of pound per pound put up by them. How much of that work is being done this winter? I would like to say a few words as to the operation of the Unemployment Grants Committee. £20,000,000 was voted for it to pay out to municipal authorities and private corporations for public utility, emergency relief works for which they get approval. The President last night spoke of £16,000,000 of this money which will soon be £20,000,000 having been sanctioned. Does that mean that the total value of the work to be done by municipal corporations and companies is now £20,000,000, or does it mean that the total £20,000,000 placed at the disposal of the Unemployment Grants Committee is now nearly exhausted? I do not know if the right hon. Gentleman can answer that question.
The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Sir Philip Lloyd-Dream):
I think that it would be convenient if the right hon. Gentleman put a number of points which could be answered together.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA:
Yes, I could not gather whether that meant that unemployment grants already dispersed were of the value of £20,000,000 or whether the value of the schemes which were being assisted was £20,000,000. If it means that the Unemployment Grants Committee has in fact spent all its money then all I can say is that I am deeply grateful to the municipalities who during this long period have again and again financed public utility schemes with their own heavy local commitments. But the longer 456 this thing goes on the heavier the burden on the local rate. Then I should like to hear how many men are now at work on the schemes of afforestation, land drainage and land improvement. The condition of agriculture is more acute than it has been. The agricultural labourer is not under the Insurance Act. The Scottish share fisherman is not under the Insurance Act. Governments may come and Governments may go, but we are bound to prosecute these inquiries on behalf of the unemployed. Can I be told how many men are in fact now at work on schemes of afforestation, land drainage and land improvement? Then there is the Trade Facilities Act. That permits of a maximum of £50,000,000 loan guarantee. I rather gathered last night that the maximum is nearly reached.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME:
The total guaranteed under the Act, is upwards of £38,250,000. There are further schemes, amounting to £6,000,000 already considered, which can be dealt with as soon as the necessary legislation to continue and extend the Act is passed. We have continued to receive schemes on the assumption that Parliament will continue the authority.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA:
Then we have nearly reached the maximum of £50,000,000. That, no doubt, is the reason of the reference in the King's Speech to an extension of the Act. It must be extended. I would fix the maximum at £100,000,000 at once, for nothing is more fruitful than the operation of that Act. Whatever Government may be in power, I hope the maximum will be increased forthwith to £100,000,000. I see that the Gracious Speech foreshadows an Amendment as well as an extension of the Act. If it means that we are to try to get greater expedition in the proceedings under this Act everyone will welcome it. I pass to the export credits scheme. When we gave up office, credits to the extent of £22,000,000 had been sanctioned. A good deal of this disappeared directly the operations were concluded for the assistance of which it was issued. It is difficult to know how much credit is now outstanding. What I have never been able to ascertain is how much has been sanctioned during the life of the present Government.
§ Mr. A. M. SAMUEL:
I think I am the only Member of this House who sits on 457 that Committee representing the Board of Trade. We have great difficulty in lending our money. We have now £13,000,000 unlent. So far from our not being in a position to lend money, we have £13,000,000 to lend. We have the money if people will come for it.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA:
I know the Treasury, and have every reason to know it. The Gracious Speech foreshadows an Amendment of the export credits scheme and an extension of it. That will be welcomed by everyone, particularly if it means the cutting away of unnecessary red tape.
§ Mr. SAMUEL:
If you talk about red tape you insinuate that the members of that Committee are Government officials. Most of them are men who have risen in business, and some of them are the great bank managers. We are doing all that we can to induce people to come to us with good and legitimate schemes, for we are able to find the money. The Treasury puts no obstacle in the way. If the right hon. Gentleman can induce manufacturers to send us good schemes that will assist the export trade of the country, I will pledge my colleagues to give financial assistance.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA:
I understand that if manufacturers will send the Export Credits Committee good sound schemes, the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Samuel) will be only too anxious to do everything in his power to facilitate the matter. That is a very useful contribution to the Debate, a great deal more useful than mine is. That is business, and I thank my hon. Friend very much for the gesture he has made. In another reference in the Gracious Speech to unemployment, it is stated that there is a desire to extend the schemes which have been laid down and developed since the slump commenced. How much better it would have been if a year ago these things had been tackled in the spirit 458 which now emerges in the King's Speech! These references to further extensions of schemes already laid down are useful now only as pointers to whatever Government may succeed the present Government. I welcome the reference to the giving of assistance for expediting the execution of certain public enterprises throughout the Empire, by the grant of financial aid from public funds. That again will be a pointer to an incoming Government. We all heard with pleasure the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) on Empire development.
I observe with pleasure that it is proposed to increase the scale of grants to municipalities and private corporations and companies which come forward with schemes. That is very timely, for the matter is most important. For four winters municipalities have been trying to find work and to finance it. It is high time that the scale of grants to them was made rather more generous. I trust that the successors of the present Government will take up ex animo the proposal to give more generous grants to private corporations and companies. Silence gives consent. I have been glad to hear two speeches, that of an hon. Member opposite and that of the hon. Member for Enfield in regard to juvenile unemployment, centres and the need to provide increased facilities for general and technical education. The trouble to-day is that we have a grave disproportion of unskilled labour. It creates much of our unemployment. It is a result of the War, which broke in upon apprenticeship and industrial training. The reference to the subject in the King's Speech was approved in a very able maiden speech by the hon. Member for Enfield. I am sorry there is nothing in the Gracious Speech from the Throne indicating a further extension on a large scale of schemes of afforestation, land drainage and land improvement. The condition of agriculture and of the Scottish fisheries in particular calls for more assistance and more operations than are being undertaken.
I am sorry there is nothing which indicates that works upon the inland water transport facilities of this country have at all engaged the attention of the Government. That is a matter which should have been of particular interest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because, if I remember rightly, he was the very able president of a 459 Committee which went into this canal question very closely. I notice the First Lord of the Admiralty is here, and as he takes an interest in this subject, may I say that I regret the absence of any indication that the Imperial Conference arrived at any plan whereby between the Dominions and ourselves we could get a real move on with the Empire Settlement Scheme. About that problem there is a great deal of misunderstanding, not to say prejudice, in the Labour ranks, and I am bound to say I thought the references to this question yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Member for Platting were plucky beyond praise, and I congratulate him very heartily upon them. What is the position with which we are confronted? We have 650 people to the square mile, and there are great open territories in the Empire which have not got two to the square mile. Before the War we had 16,000,000 people classified as wage earners; to-day we have 17,000,000 so classified. Let us develop our home resources as much as possible by all means but when we have done everything possible in that direction the problem will not be solved. It is necessary to develop along the lines recommended by my right hon. Friend the Member for Platting and I concur generally in what he said. We must try to get a move on with the Empire Settlement Scheme. There are to-day walking the streets, 300,000 young men under 30 years of age or in the early thirties, with no prospect of work. For God's sake let us give them a hand to make good before their opportunity goes. It is a great relief to me to know I have with me in this contention one who, if the Labour Government comes into power, is bound by his merits to get a distinguished post in that Government.
I also regret that there is no reference in the speech to a continuance of the training for women. So far, the Central Committee on Women's Training and Unemployment, together with the Ministry of Labour, have trained 30,000 women and girls at a total cost of about £1,000,000, half of which has been put up by the Treasury and half by the Central Committee from the funds at their disposal from the National Relief Fund and the Queen's Work for Women Fund. When I 460 last dealt with this matter, in July 1922, I found that the Central Committee could get together another £100,000—where they got it from I do not know. [HON. MEMBERS: "Russia!"] No, not this time. They said they could get another £100,000 for domestic training. I got £50,000 from the Treasury, which we paid to them on the basis of £1 for every £2 of theirs. I observe with regret that of this sum only £15,000 was spent in 1922–23 and £35,000 was re-voted in 1923 £24. That is not very helpful. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour will perhaps tell us if there is any scheme in hand or if his Department has any means ready to continue this training of women, because, as a matter of fact, we have done very little for the women workers. Of course the extension of the Insurance Act was a great benefit to them and the wages from public utility relief work was a good deal of help to wives and mothers. When we consider the number of women who are unemployed—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That matter would not be relevant on the present Vote of Censure. The Motion before the House is a Motion of want of confidence in the present Ministry, and the right hon. Gentleman had better keep to that point.
§ 3.0 P.M.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
It is, I submit, relevant to the issue to say I regret very much that of the sum I have mentioned only £15,000 was spent and £35,000 has been re-voted for the present financial year. That is not very helpful, and there is nothing in the King's Speech which indicates that anything further is contemplated in the way of training for women, which is a pity. Whoever may be the successors of this Government they will require to take up this matter and to do more for the women than has been done in the past.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
That question is so often put to me. I repeat once more, in reply to it, that we did all we could.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
It is very difficult to please my hon. Friend, and those with whom he is associated will be happy indeed if they please him. I do not pretend to have covered the field, but I 461 cannot make any further draft on the indulgence of the House and I will only say this: In the treatment of this problem the proposed remedies of Protection on the one hand and of Socialism and a Capital Levy on the other are off the map for the time being. There is no Parliamentary majority for either. What remains for the successors of the present Government? There is nothing for them but to work along the lines which have been la-id down from the beginning, developing, extending and adding to it as experience and the circumstances admit. The Gracious Speech from the Throne indicates certain extensions. What a pity they were not made a year ago instead of marking time for 12 months!
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
My hon. Friend may save his breath to cool his porridge. He will not throw me out of my stride. There is nothing for the successors of the present Government, as I say, but to take the lines laid down from the beginning, develop them and add to them as circumstances admit, and if they do that, as far as I am concerned and for what it is worth, I shall give them all the assistance in my power.
§ Mr. SAMUEL SAMUEL
We have heard some of the suggestions of the Socialist party, but we have, so far, heard very little criticism of the actual proposals in His Majesty's Speech, except from the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. The speakers have mainly concerned themselves with their own ideas and their own fads. We are faced at the present time with a position in the country and in the House that is almost unprecedented. We have, after a General Election, three parties, and the Government party is the majority party in the House, but we have undoubtedly lost in the Election the large majority that we had over the two other parties. We have been defeated at the polls, when we put forward our proposals for the settlement, or, rather, the mitigation, of the unemployment question, to a great extent, because it has been represented that our remedy for unemployment would make the, cost of living to the working classes far heavier than it is under the present system of one-sided free trade. Most of 462 the speakers who have referred to the proposals of the Government have entirely endorsed the proposals which are made, but there is something behind the suggestion in the Vote of "No confidence," and that is that the two other parties which have benefited by the Election are anxious to take the place of the present Government, and we have, I think, a very serious question to consider, which I would commend to the Members of the Opposition -below the Gangway.
Both the Liberals and the Unionists have, I think, -been returned to oppose the doctrines and the nostrums put forward by the Socialist party. We know that the leaders of the official Opposition have good intentions, but we know perfectly well also that the leaders have not the control of the party, as has been mentioned by several speakers, and the Liberal party have a great responsibility placed upon them. They know very well those who have been in office—what power they confer upon those whom they place in the position of the executive and of the administration of the country, and they know what they can do with that power. We know perfectly well that they can carry on the administration of the country for a considerable time in what manner they like, without the assent of Parliament, and we know further, from their own utterances, that they have over and over again stated that should they be defeated in the House of Commons they will not act as the Liberals and the Conservatives have acted, and they will not consider themselves obliged to resign office and to give up their power.
That is the serious position which the Opposition below the Gangway have to consider, if they are going to vote to turn out the present Government. They know perfectly well that if the vote they give on Monday night is against the present Government, the present Government will resign. They know perfectly well of what the Government at the present time are capable, with the limitation that was put upon them at the last General Election. They know perfectly well that nothing can be clone which may be objectionable to either party opposite, because they can always combine against them. There is the saying of Hamlet, as to whether it is better to suffer the evils we know of, than fly to others we know not of. You know perfectly well what 463 you have to suffer under a Conservative Government, but you do not know what you are going to inflict upon our country by a Socialist Government. Those hon. Members who have been returned to this House on the pledge to fight Socialism that was read out by the hon. and gallant Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon) last night, will have to give account to their constituents for the attitude they may adopt.
The right hon. Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) told us that the export credit had only! been used to a very small extent. I may mention that the export credit has been used to the maximum capacity for which there is any demand. People do not realise that for legitimate business the export credit is absolutely useless. Those commercial houses that have created the trade of this great country and great Empire are able to-day to carry on the same transactions that they have for generations before the present Members of this House were born. They created and developed the trade of the Empire. The lion. Member for Harrow (Mr. Mosley), in speaking yesterday of things about which he understands nothing at all, made an excellent performance, which reminded one more of a pantomime than of the House of Commons. What does he know of the commerce or the trade of this country? Perhaps I might say that the trade of this country existed before Germany existed, and before the United States existed. The consequence was that when those countries came into existence, they commenced to build up their industries, and I have seen in my long business experience, since the creation of those countries some 50 years ago, the development of those countries and of those industries.
When I first went out to China and Japan in 1882 those countries were almost unknown from a commercial point of view. At that time this country had at least 80 to 85 per cent. of the trade. By degrees the Germans and the Americans have encroached upon those markets, legitimately, because they have had the great benefit of having their home markets protected. We in this country have left our home markets at the mercy of any person. [An HON. MEMBER: "Sweaters!"] I am pleased 464 to hear the hon. Member say that, because on the Continent there is more or less sweating, or there was! [An HON. MEMBER: "There is the same here."] Hon. Members opposite have, very rightly, created their trade unions for the protection of their labour. What do they do? They turn round—I cannot help making this retort to the observation which was made—when we offer them practical illustrations of having Protection for the home markets, and they reply, "We want, our labour protected, but the product of our labour must be open to the competition of the whole world." That argument has, I think, been proved absolutely fallacious.
We fought this election, and the Prime Minister went to the country, after having tried, not only this Government, but the Coalition Government, to cope with the fearful disease of unemployment. [An HON. MEMBER: "And aggravated it !"] Everything was studied. Every method that was capable of giving relief to unemployment was considered. The only thing evolved from these studies has been not the relief, not the eradication of unemployment, but simply a method of allowing it to increase and to go along, and the paper of the workman by substituting for actual relief temporary doles which, in my opinion, is the most disastrous form possible. For myself, I have always been a confirmed Protectionist, following the experience I have had in trade for over 50 years with every part of the world. I have seen in all countries where they have adopted Protection the great industries growing up and increasing, and not only supplying the home markets; those industries have been enabled, by the security of their home markets to develop an export trade, and, before the War, to drive us out of many of the markets of the world.
We contend that the system which the Opposition put forward as the only solution for unemployment is absolutely futile, and will never permanetly relieve unemployment, which must always exist when your market is open to everybody. I had an Amendment to the Address down on the Paper, but, unfortunately, it was not in order. That Amendment suggests to the Opposition an alternative to putting the Socialist party into power. I want to say that if the Opposition think that they can play with fire, and can 465 temporarily put the Socialist party in power for a short period, and turn them out. whenever they like, and after turning them out they can coerce the Unionist party to join with them, or support them in forming a Government to carry on, they are very much mistaken.
If the Liberal party are going to try experiments of this kind then they must take the full responsibility. If, after taking the course which they have announced, they try to form a Government, as far as I am concerned, they will get no support from me. Hon. Members below the Gangway must know perfectly well that without 'the support of the Unionist party they cannot possibly carry on the Government of the country. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Wight (Major-General Seely) said he was going to vote for this Amendment and support the Socialist party, but he went further than that and stated very frankly that the Socialist party could not rely on his support to keep them in power, and that he was willing to examine their programme as well as the programme, of the Unionist party, and the party which offered him the best terms he would be willing to join. That reminds me of the old saying:How happy could I be with either.We shall see the Liberal party dragged at the heels of the Socialist party, or we may see, what we saw in 1906-10, the Socialist party drawn at the heels of the Radical party, and we shall have the same experience of log rolling that we had during that period which brought distress to the country as a whole.
§ Mr. MARLEY
I want to know whether it would be in order on Monday morning next to offer prayers up for the conversion of the Liberals so that they will vote for the Tories.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
The departure which is likely to be made on Monday night will be very important, but it strikes me as very strange that hon. Members on the other side of the House should be so exercised over the dark prospect which they have sketched for the general mass of our people. If hon. Gentlemen opposite would really sincerely look at the situation and consider the attitude of those who are toilers and strugglers in life; if they would rise above their partisanship and see the development which has taken place 466 within recent times on the benches on this side of the House, they would notice a marked national advance, and one which they would reasonably expect to find with the extension of the franchise to men and women. Those men and women have given evidence for many years of the fact that they have had a growing and deep-seated dissatisfaction with the paltry methods of government which have prevailed for so many years in this House. Hon. Members speak as if a great change were about to take place if the Liberal party should vote with the Labour party. The whole of last Session that occurred in the lobbies each night. There is nothing very extraordinary about it. There was a general agreement, even before the election, that those hon. Members who represent the Government had shown themselves fearfully deficient in their efforts to deal with the problems before the people. The trouble really is that we have not, in our political life, a genuine determination to grapple with the evil factors that stand, distinctly and determinedly, in an effort to overturn the interests of the general public and of the toilers of this country. There is no doubt whatever, with the coming into office of the Labour party, who will be supported in the lobbies by the Liberal party, that we shall have developments of a most important character. The very fact that the Government are now placing on their programme the proposals which they voted down last Session is proof of a brazen-faced deceit and hypocrisy which ought to make them clear out without waiting for Monday night.
If hon. Members could rid themselves of their partnership they would see in the historical records of the Labour movement, as represented by the Labour party, what excellent pioneering work has been done. It is proof of the pioneering efforts carried out by the man known as James Kier Hardie, who did substantial business under extraordinary difficulties, such as no Labour representative to-day would be likely to encounter. It is a splendid encouragement and a great inducement to any man with a spark of independence to say that the Labour party is the best intimation of the vitality of our nation. The Labour party is committed definitely to constitutionalism, and it is going to support constitutionalism, in perfectly legitimate fashion, against those efforts which are being put forward against it 467 The fact that hon. Members opposite have at the back of their minds the idea—which is true—that on the flank of the Labour party, coming up steadily and insidiously, is a dangerous element that is endeavouring to get the party on to the very line which hon. Members condemn, and that the Labour party is doing its best to resist this element, as a party, is a tribute to its constitutionalism.
No doubt there are individual members of the party who are causing great danger by playing into the hands of the dangerous elements. As an independent Labour Member, I warn them here, as elsewhere, that that is a dangerous action. So long as they keep as they are on legitimate lines of action, coming as they do from the factory, the workshop and the lines of railway, they should be given the best kind of encouragement possible. Men and women—and the latter especially—have come here with a definite understanding of the needs of the workers themselves because they have been in the closest association with them, and they have not come from among the aristocracy who know nothing about the struggles of the masses. They are here, full of anxiety and enthusiasm, trying to help the cause of the people, and I suggest that that is a magnificent departure for the best. I wish the hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition well in his undertaking. His speech at the Albert. Hall was the finest attempt we had yet had to strike out for the advancement of the country on real lines and in the practice of our Christian principles. Quoting words in the Speech from the Throne, we pray that the blessing of Almighty God will rest upon his labours.
§ Mr. G. LAMBERT
The Liberal party during the last couple of days has had a large amount of advice showered upon it from every quarter of the House, and more especially from hon. Gentlemen opposite. I quite believe that the situation merits our great and anxious consideration, and that upon the Liberal party a big responsibility rests. Personally, I am prepared to accept my share of that responsibility. This situation was not one of our creation, In November of last year there was a Government in office with a good comfortable majority, but the Prime Minister, without consultation with his own people, decided to 468 have a General Election; he staked all upon that gamble. He gambled and be lost, and now we apparently are to be made the scapegoats for that lost gamble. I personally foresaw what was going to happen. I put it in print. I said that if things went wrong with the Unionist party, the Labour party, as the strongest party in the House, would form the Government of this country. That prophecy has come true. It is not our doing. It is the doing of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Now we are taunted that we are going to put the Socialists into power. Do let us, please, have a little consideration for each other. No one party has a right to arrogate all patriotism to itself. No party has a right to charge another party with unpatriotic conduct. Do let us have a little consideration for each other. We tried, and we shall try, as Liberals, to carry on the Constitutional Government of the country according to the best of our ability, with as much patriotism as hon. Gentlemen opposite.
We must not miss the tendencies of the age. The Franchise Act, which was passed with universal consent here—I happened to be on Mr. Speaker's Committee of that day—gave an enormous accretion to the franchise; and with that enormous extension of the franchise has coincided the Labour party's rise as a separate party. I frankly say to them that I have a great regret. I had the honour of a seat in this House at the same time as, and I worked with, Mr. Thomas Burt—than whom there was ne more respected Member of this House—with Mr. Broadhurst, Mr. Fenwick, Mr. John Wilson, and others. But they are gone. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where does the regret come in?"] I candidly confess I cannot agree with my Friends of the Labour party. They say quite frankly that they want to kill the Liberal party. [HON MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Well, I have the instinct of self-preservation for myself and for my party. Whatever may be said, the La-hour vote has made astonishing progress in the last few years, and we cannot get away from that fact. It is stated, I think in "The Times" of yesterday, that in 1900 there were 62,000 Labour votes cast, and in 1923, 4,348,000. They are the second largest party in this House, and, perfectly constitutionally, they are elected here. There 469 has been some violence at meetings—[Interruption]—I hope my hon. Friends will accept the facts. [Interruption.] Well, let us say on both sides. [HON. MEMBERS: "No"]
The Labour party has been elected here by perfectly constitutional methods, by the ballot. I am a constitutional Liberal, and I have to recognise the facts. If the Liberals were the second party in the State, which I hoped they might be, not a word would have been said against their taking office. Why, therefore, am I to deny to the Labour party what I certainly should claim for the Liberal party? I do not pretend to be in sympathy with the policy of hon. Gentlemen here. I am not in favour of Nationalisation; I am not in favour of the Capital Levy; I am not in favour of the system of doles which marches under the name of Social Reform. [An HON. MEMBER: "You are out of date!"] The Capital Levy cannot be carried, Nationalisation cannot be carried, unless hon. Gentlemen opposite amalgamate with the Labour party. I have said that I have the instinct of self-preservation, and I say, with all the emphasis and conviction at my command, that I believe the Liberal party has a great mission to fulfil in the government of this country. If we were, as I presume we have been invited to do—if we were to come over to support the Conservative party—to support this Government which has been beaten, the Liberal party would bleed to death. Tens of thousands of electors who voted for the Liberal party would say, "This is simply a party game." We are here for something more serious than that. For my part, I say that we as Liberals must maintain our independence, without concert or collusion with any other party; and I say to hon. Gentlemen opposite, if they profess to fear Socialism, that the best way to entrench a Socialist Government there, with a majority at its back, would be to kill the Liberal party.
There have been all sorts of prophesies, that we on Monday night shall seal the doom of the Liberal party. That comes badly from the architects of the doom of the present Government. Whatever may happen this old country is an industrialised country. It cannot have rash experiments played with it either by Socialists or Protectionists. We had to 470 import last year £500,000,000 worth of food and £325,000,000 of raw material. That all has to be paid for by British labour or British services and that food and raw material, which we must have or starve, cannot be paid for by singing either "Rule Britannia" or the "Red Flag." Taxation to my mind is the great overmastering subject that any House of Commons would have to tackle and when I know that we are taxed something like £16 a head, that will be the greatest problem for any Government that comes in power. We cannot go on with that enormous load upon our manufactures and upon our labour. I say with all sincerity that I am not thinking so much of our own politics at house. I think of the foreign situation. I made a suggestion the other day. I suppose it will not be taken up. We want wise continuity in our foreign affairs. We may have Governments in and out. My hon. Friends will see a good many orientations in this Parliament if there is not a General Election pretty soon. I suggested that all parties should agree to support such a wise and sagacious statesman as Lord Grey to conduct our foreign affairs. I am not an expert on constitutional law, but I assert with some confidence that if a Labour Prime Minister is put into office it would be, in my judgment, placing the Crown in an extremely false position to refuse a demand for a Dissolution made by a Labour Prime Minister. I earnestly hope that whatever becomes of us as politicians we shall keep the Crown out of politics. On Monday next, I shall vote for this Amendment; I shall not vote for it with any enthusiasm, nor shall I vote for it with any apprehension. As far as I am concerned, I shall reserve my liberty to judge every question on its merits. I shall preserve unfettered my own individual liberty to meet the House of Commons, and the Measures that may be brought before it, hoping to do my best not for party but for my country as a whole.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Mr. Betterton)
I do not propose to follow the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down into the realms of prophecy in which be has indulged, nor am I particularly interested in the motives that have prompted him to take the action which he proposes to take on Monday night. 471 I want to say a few words in reply to certain specific questions which have been addressed to me from various quarters of the House, and particularly from the right hon. Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara). In a Debate of this kind, which has been conducted for several days, it is not only inevitable but natural that it should turn so largely on the question of unemployment. No one who has been connected with the office with which I have been associated for about 12 months, can fail to realise that this question of unemployment is the most poignant, the most tragic and the most difficult by far of all our domestic problems.
Whatever Government comes into power, I am quite certain that they will be met with two difficulties, which I may describe as physical and economic. So far as the economic difficulty is concerned, it is quite obvious that it is impossible for any Government artificially to create markets. Any Government, therefore, must rely, either under our present economic system, or any other economic system, upon the normal channels of trade. The physical difficulty, as was pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Miles Platting (Mr Clynes) yesterday, is that no scheme of relief affects more than a fractior of those who are at present unemployed. It is very little use creating relief schemes, and putting on them skilled artisans, skilled mechanics, lace makers and people in other kinds of specialised industries. As was pointed out by the right hon. Member for North-West Camberwell, it is obviously true that a large body of unemployed women are not in the least affected by any schemes of road making or anything else. I remember the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), in a speech at the close of last Parliament—I do not quote it with literal accuracy—stating that our policy, first of all, must be to restore our credit and to use it well. So many other countries have attempted to use their credit before they have restored it. The most hopeful and most profitable action that we can take is to do all that we can to use our credit and to improve it. Any one, any party, any body that deliberately embarks on a course which may result in imperilling the credit of 472 this country is doing the worst possible service to the country and the unemployed.
In the very few minutes which I have I will answer one or two specific questions. The right hon. Gentleman asked about the export credit scheme, and he asked what was the amount authorised last year. That amount is £5,000,000. On the 7th January the total amount of credits which were either given or had been sanctioned though not yet taken out was just short of £8,500,000, while during the calendar year 1923 the aggregate amount of credit authorised was about £5,000,000; but as the credits are reduced so other moneys are available, and thus it does not in the least follow that these figures now represent the whole value of the scheme.
I was also asked what is the present position of the work, to which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour referred, that is being done by the railway companies and what work is at present actually in hand. I have been able to get this information, though I have no means of knowing whether the work has been completed or whether what I am saying exhausts it. The London, Midland and Scottish Railways have now stated definitely that they have placed contracts with different firms for 127,000 tons of steel rails, 5,000 mineral and merchandise wagons, and 150 locomotive boilers, representing expenditure to the extent of about £2,000,000. [An HON. MEMBER: "Do you take credit for that?"] I am answering a question and not taking credit for anything. The London and North Eastern Railway Company have allocated £3,750,000 which they propose to spend on new locomotives and wagons. It has now been stated that the locomotive, wagon building and carriage building programme for 1024 involved an expenditure approaching £5,500,000. In connection with the Great Western programme of £10,000,000 expenditure it is proposed to place orders for coaches and wagons with outside firms instead of having them built in the company's shops at Swindon. The Southern Railways have obtained a guarantee of something like £5,500,000 for the electrification of the southern section of their line.
The right hon. Member for Platting asked again and again how many 473 men did all these schemes employ in the aggregate, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has made an estimate that 300,000 were employed directly and 100,000 indirectly, but it is not possible for him or me or anybody to say how many men are really employed and affected by these schemes. Take the Trade Facilities Act. I have got an estimate here of the number of men affected by that Act, but I place so little reliance on it that I think I should be entirely misleading the House if I were to quote it, and I am not going to do so. With the Trade Facilities Act and the Export Credits Act in operation, it is impossible to say how many men in any particular firm are employed by reason of those Acts, in addition to those who would be employed if those Acts were not in operation. Therefore, the only answer that I attempt to give is that, so far as we can judge from the best materials available, the estimate made by my right hon. Friend a few months ago was a conservative rather than an exaggerated estimate.
There is the question of the juvenile unemployment centres. My Noble Friend the hon. Member for Perthshire (the Duchess of Atholl) and an hon. Member opposite referred to the subject. The position is this: any local educational authority can apply for and obtain a grant of 75 per cent. for the purpose of setting up these centres. While this question of juvenile unemployment is perhaps the most tragic feature of the whole problem, it has to be admitted that these centres can deal with only a fraction of the unemployed boys and girls. I hope the House will believe me when I say that the Government are most desirous, in consultation with the local authorities, of developing these centres in every possible way.
474 I will give what appears to be the conclusion at which we have arrived with regard to the present position. As has been said, we were greatly disappointed when the check in the improvement, which seemed manifest a year ago, came to an end so early. We think that there are signs again of something like a steady improvement, though it would be unwise to make any rash prophecies. I can say there are reasonably encouraging signs of further improvement. None the less, this terrible load of unemployment, although it may be lightened, is, in my opinion, very far from being removed altogether. As a result of the Division which we are going to take on Monday night, it is probable that the grave responsibility for the Ministry of Labour will rest on other shoulders. May I refer to the closing words of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister the other night I This is what he said:We shall endeavour, … in any matters where we can get unity in this House to help such a cause as agriculture or unemployment and we shall certainly not be behindhand in doing our utmost to put something into the common stock for the benefit of the country."—[OFFICIAL RFPORT, 15th January, 1924; col. 119, Vol. 169.]I hope the House will not misunderstand me when I say that any men or any Government who succeed in solving this question will deserve and will receive the gratitude of the nation.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Mr. Rea.]
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next, 21st January.