§ Mr. CLYNES
This is the last opportunity, so far as this period of the year is concerned, for returning to the question which has been prominent in the mind of the House of Commons and of the country for several years past. The Government are strong in numbers, but, in regard to the handling of this question, wholly weak and ineffective. When we have pressed for answers to numerous questions which we have submitted, the Government have shown a great deal of strength in an obstinate refusal to reply to them. But the fact is, that everything else, in our domestic life, in our legislation, in our general Parliamentary service, depends upon the way in which this question is to be handled, ft relates intimately to all matters of internal industrial peace. It goes far to determine what can be done on housing problems, on questions of health, and matters as to taxation and finance, and, unless much more is done to relieve the distress due to unemployment, to put men to useful work, the absence of that work will continue to frustrate every effort which Parliament may pursue, and I think we are entitled to say to the country and to the House, that as all our proposals have been rejected, whether they were submitted in the form of Bills, Resolutions, or in any other way, it is our right to say to those who reject our proposals, that the obligation is upon them to submit schemes and proposals which will deal with the problem.
Yesterday, figures were announced showing the latest position, so far as figures can express the extent of unemployment; but when figures are being used, it should be remembered that they do not state fully the extent of unemployment, and often, when we listen to the figures being repeated, we forget the other great aspect of this subject—namely, the 1392 appalling length of time which a very large number of the people covered by these figures have remained wholly unemployed, and the longer men are out of work, the deeper becomes their individual distress and difficulty; indeed, it may be said, the greater becomes their difficulty in finding employment, and, in addition, the very fact of their idleness adds to the total sum of loss which the country must endure. 1,221,912 people are at this moment registered as being wholly unemployed, and of that number 127,644 are not receiving any benefit at all. Therefore, during Question Time to-day it was fitting that the noble Lord opposite should remind the House that this Government has done little or nothing in relation to this great problem, beyond that of robbing them of their benefit, and taking the pay to which they were entitled. The Government has less excuse than other Governments have had in relation to this problem, because of the fact that in this year of 1925 there has not been, until this past week or so, any serious industrial dispute such as that which now, unfortunately, exists in certain of the Yorkshire towns.
Allowing for the fact that, at any rate for the time being, a great threatened stoppage—a stoppage not due to the initiative, or any new demands of the miners themselves—allowing for the fact that the mining stoppage has been averted, until this dispute in the woollen industry occurred, 1925 might be marked down as, happily, a year of unusual industrial peace, and in that period of industrial peace the Government might-very well have applied its mind more constantly than other Governments have been able to do to finding a way out of the great difficulties which now beset us. When we think of industrial disputes, we are too apt to forget how industriously trade union officials and the whole organisation of the trade union movement continue to labour to prevent stoppages, and to compose differences which inevitably arise. Indeed, the greatest industrial peace agents to be found in Britain are to be found amongst the ranks of the trade union leaders.
I would like, at the outset, to address a few definite questions to my right hon. Friend on what are, I think, points much more important than points of detail. I intended to begin by referring to elec- 1393 trical development, but now I need not press that, because only a, few moments ago, in answer to a question on the Paper, the Prime Minister informed the House that he had no announcement to make, no news of any kind to give us as to whether the efforts of the Government had been carried a stage further or not. So now for months and months—indeed, since the beginning of this new Parliament—though it is assumed that the Government have been considering what they are going to do on this question, as yet they have reached no conclusion. Have there been any new developments or new undertakings with regard to the work of the Unemployed Grants Committee? What fresh proposals, if any, have the Government to make on the subject of road development? Have the Government any proposals on afforestation and land reclamation? These are all points which should be intimate to the mind of the right hon. Gentleman, and on which, I hope, this afternoon he will be able to say something.
On Monday, we had in this House a statement from the Minister of Agriculture. How close the relationship may be between the Ministers of Labour and Agriculture I do not know, but I think it ought to be close, because, clearly, in face of this continued failure of our country to secure that margin of overseas trade which would greatly diminish our unemployed ranks, we must turn our attention more to our internal resources, and see whether more cannot be done in the way of land labour in Britain. The Minister of Agriculture gave us some figures, with the assurance that, on the whole, the enterprise of his Department in this regard had been a success, and that the failures were comparatively few. If that be so, I venture to suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should take a deeper and more consistent interest in this matter in connection with the Minister of Agriculture than so far he has done. The Minister of Agriculture, by the way, referred to the effective manner in which co-operative service is conducted in the cultivation of the soil, but, so far as I could gather from a close examination of his speech, he rather told us what, should be done in this country on the basis of what has been done in other countries, than what his Department intend to do, or intend to suggest, in regard to land 1394 cultivation. Instead of telling us what ought or should be done, announcements should be made more freely to this House of what actually the Government have done in settling the lines of policy on all these questions. To my questions, I would add this further one: Has the Civil Research Committee yet come to any conclusions regarding the iron and steel industry, and, if so, what are those conclusions? If conclusions have not been reached, can we be told to-day when some result may be expected in the way of guidance or decision from that body?
We have had from the beginning of this Session, and even before Parliament assembled, the most solemn and explicit assurances that all these questions would be immediately attended to and that effective action would be taken upon them. I want, if I may, this afternoon to put my right hon. Friend on his honour in regard to these assurances. We had definite promises in the King's Speech of what would be done this Session. The King's Speech for 1925 was a document relating to this Session of 1925. Let me, therefore, read to the House the declaration in that Speech on these questions regarding which I have put some interrogatories to the Minister:The various schemes which have already been initiated for the relief of unemployment, including those relating to juvenile unemployment, will be examined with great care, and you will be asked to make provision for the continuance and extension of all such measures as are likely to alleviate the present distresses.I suggest that the Minister has no record, and I fear that this afternoon he cannot produce any record, of action, of results, of undertakings, or attempts to give effect to these numerous assurances submitted to the House solemnly in the form of the King's Speech. I think the right hon. Gentleman has consoled himself somewhat by saying to the House that in the course of the last Election he did not declare that there was a solution of this problem or that he could find one. There is, after all, on this subject, as well as on others, the doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility, and I ask my right hon. Friend to say whether, if his colleagues can do nothing to fulfil their word, he is going to leave them? Is their failure in any sense to keep faith with such definite and repeated assurances a good enough 1395 reason for him to resign from a job in which clearly he cannot make good at all? I do not know whether he has specially busied himself in the way of Cabinet action, but we are entitled to be told, and the country on this matter should know, whether he has been assisted by his colleagues, or whether he has been ignored. We are entitled to be taken into the confidence of the Minister in order that we may see whether there was any meaning or any policy behind the solemn assurances, or whether they were merely given out in the hope that they might be forgotten, and in order that for the time being the unemployed might be a little more reassured.
It is not that we are lacking in sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman in relation to his task. It is not too much to say that, with his known sympathies for the people, and his great knowledge of these economic and industrial questions, he must by this time have realised what an immense task he has undertaken. But he, as other Ministers, must be judged by results. It is, therefore, our right to demand that some evidence of results should be adduced, or that he should submit to such criticism or denunciation as we are entitled to offer. In one respect, I think the right hon. Gentleman must suffer our censure. I recall with great disappointment his unrestrained resistence to any offer that was made to give Parliamentary shape and form to proposals submitted to improve and increase our trade with Russia. I think that he, of all Ministers and members of the Government, should be the very last to say anything or to do anything that would in the slightest way restrict or diminish tendencies to expand trade with Russia. On the contrary, he, above all Ministers, should be the first to lead the way towards better commercial and industrial relations between Russia and ourselves. So far as Russia has been able to do trade with British manufacturers and business men, she has kept her word and paid her bills, and I would like to read in that relation the statement made by Mr. Rakovsky at a gathering of business men held at the end of last year, in which he drew attention to the manner in which this country had kept her bargains, and paid her way in all her undertakings. At that gathering Mr. Rakovsky said: 1396You who have done business with us during the last four years, can bear witness to the fact that the Soviet economic organisations have always carried out loyally and punctually all obligations incurred by them in their dealings with British industrialists. We have been absolutely scrupulous in all our dealings. None of you here can deny what I say.I think, therefore, it is clear that present and past experience, particularly experience of the last 18 months, has proved that we can with safety enter into arrangements with Russia without probably involving us in any cost or expense whatever, and thus bring to many of our British workshops the orders of which they are dearly in need. I repeat that it is the special business of the Minister of Labour to argue with his colleagues in order that the bitter frame of mind which many of them have fomented between Russia and this country should be diminished or removed, and that greater business should be done between these two people.
Now, to my questions I would add another. We have heard much in our discussions in this House of the desirability of closer commercial and trading relations between this Mother Country and the Dominions. Yet the Government proposals, under that head, to increase trade with the Dominions have been insignificant, if not contemptible. They know that they must make proposals within what I would term the likelihood of approval on the part of public opinion in this country. Outside all controversial opinion as to preferential rates and the application or operation of tariffs, there is a wide field left entirely untouched by the present Government. The Government talk vaguely of Imperial development. I ask what is meant by that? I ask what has been done under that head? Is there anything decided yet, especially in regard to places other than the Dominions? Is there any decision regarding the £10,000,000 referred to in relation to East Africa? The urgency of this question was shown in the course of Question Time to-day, and in the course of a meeting of Lancashire Unionist Members held within the House of Commons only yesterday afternoon. I would like to draw attention to the resolution passed by that body of Lancashire Unionist Members. In that long resolution my right hon. Friend will find an implied 1397 censure of the Government for having failed so far to assist under this head. The resolution points out the great danger there is of a permanent shortage in the raw material of the great cotton industry of Lancashire, and concludes with this statement:This Committee draws attention to the primary necessity of more and improved transport services in East Africa, where lack of sufficient transport is a serious impediment to the development of cotton production.I am convinced that the great cotton trade of Lancashire cannot raise its head to its previous level until there is a more abundant supply, at a cheap rate, of raw material. The world is a great consumer of the finished product, but that product must be sold within the world's capacity to buy, and this is perhaps one of the most urgent lines of action to which the Government could apply their minds. In so applying their minds, they would find that so far as there was criticism from this side of the House it would be helpful and constructive. We would, of course, resist any tendency to slave or indentured labour of any kind. I do not imply that that is behind the mind of the Government, but we had better forewarn them in relation to any of their future proposals. But in those areas of Africa first-class opportunities are offered for cotton growing, and the Government may there find their chance, provided the necessary financial help is forthcoming, of assisting to its feet again what is perhaps the second great industry in Britain, viewed from the standpoint of the number of people employed and the financial interests involved.
We can never deal with these unemployment problems without saying a great deal as to export trade and foreign markets. But, after all, our greatest market is and must be our own market. We are, after all, the greatest consumers of our own product. Yet, in face of that fact, I allege that the Government have encouraged, if not actually instigated, a policy which has tended to lower the buying power of the people of this country. I do not allege that the statements recently attributed to the Prime Minister have been accurately quoted. I do not know. We understand that they were statements made under those conditions of confidence where perhaps there is a greater freedom of expression than would 1398 otherwise be the case. But I say to the Prime Minister that, however his statements may be construed, however fair and generous we may try to be in reading even in the newspapers to-day the correction of what has been alleged against him, that statement of the right hon. Gentleman to-day must leave a sense of the greatest apprehension in the minds of the masses of the workers of this country. We have committed a great act of folly in having gone the opposite way in our tendency to help the great internal market to that of the United States, where the direction is that of rather higher wages, and not lower wages as in this country. The Prime Minister, speaking for his Government, has sought a way out of his embarrassment by alleging that he never said there was a remedy for unemployment. The Prime Minister is an honest man. We want to do no more than to take him at his word. I want, therefore, to quote his words. So far as I understand plain language I say frankly that the Prime Minister is not keeping faith with his language.
The last Labour Government had not been in office for half the number of weeks that this Government has been in office months before the Prime Minister alleged that unemployment would break any Government that failed to deal with it. Is there in that no implication, no assurance, that, given a change in the officers, the problem would not be dealt with? I repeat the statement of the Noble Lord this afternoon that there is no record of action done in reference to the unemployed except the record of having robbed many of them of their rights. It was during the General Election campaign that the present Prime Minister declared that the Labour Government had shaken that confidence in commercial circles which was essential to the trade and prosperity. That was not a correct statement. Confidence had been increased by the policy of the Labour Government. Clearly, confidence has been diminished by the policy of the present Government. Confidence has been clearly lowered by the policy of the present Ministry. Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour to inquire from the present Prime Minister what was the meaning of this statement, made by that right hon. Gentleman on 20th October last, at Southend, when the election campaign 1399 had just got into its swing. The Prime Minister then said:We will press on with such works of local utility as may be possible to absorb at least a part of the unemployed.Where have the Government pressed on with works of utility to absorb the unemployed? Why, this afternoon the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour gave an answer to a question showing that at present only something more than 100,000 men were engaged in connection with all the schemes, of any kind, which are being carried on because of Government assistance. I venture this suggestion, that the number revealed in the reply given to-day of men employed is actually less than the total number at work at the time when the present Prime Minister made his statement last year.
The most extraordinary feature of the present Government, said the Prime Minister on 26th July last year, at Manchester:The most extraordinary feature of the present Government"—referring, of course, to the Labour Government—is that not only have they done nothing to reduce unemployment, but they have made a point of going out of their way to do even-thing they can to increase it.I submit that language of that kind was actually undeserved by the late Government. Whatever may be felt to-day as to our incompetence, whatever the opinion may be, we clearly were not such fools as to go out of our way to do everything we could to increase unemployment. In face of those statements used against us at that time, we are doubly entitled now, after this great spell of power by one of the strongest Governments of modern times, to have some evidence of the cure of the evils to which I have referred.
Let me close my remarks on the statement of the Prime Minister and on this subject by referring to his speech in this House on 29th June, a speech in which I venture to say he referred to every relevant topic except the topic of what the Government is going to do for unemployment, though that speech, as hon. Members will recall, was understood to be entirely on that issue. The Prime Minister said:I am taking the House of Commons, as I think the Leader of the House should, 1400 entirely into my confidence. I do not say that any of these things which I have mentioned are practicable or beneficial. I say that the Government are going to explore them. I think we need to make a great and special effort for this winter."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th June, 1925; col. 2095, Vol. 185.]We will be within the stride of winter before the House resumes its work in the middle of November. I do not think the country should be asked to wait until then for evidence of the special efforts that are to be made for the winter. I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour whether he can in some sense raise the hopes of the unemployed by giving us to-day some information as to the special efforts that are afoot with a view to lessening unemployment in the course of the winter? Unemployed men suffer in the winter to some extent because others enjoy themselves to excess in the summer. I recall references to a "brilliant London season" which has just closed. I have in mind the dangerous yet unrestrained exhibitions of extravagance enjoyed by so many; I have read of dinners, parties and dances, dresses, and jewels. Hon. Members opposite may treat us severely by their censure for alluding to this branch of this question. It is part of it. Hon. Members opposite would be doing their country greater service if they would call attention at times to some of these exhibitions.
§ Mr. CLYNES
These things aggravate and stimulate tendencies there may be towards what I have mentioned, and if the convenience or the silence of the Government in relation to these matters proves it to be a Government, though possessed of power, to be a Government without a policy or principle on matters to which they have given such solemn pledges, it is a pity. I think, as I have indicated, Ministers by their silence may suggest a certain reserve in their statements, but they have a party responsibility. I want to attach that to the whole of the Members of the present Government and to those who support them. This is what was declared on behalf of the Unionist party in the party manifesto which appeared in the "Times" on 13th October. 1401The Unionist party would be unfaithful to its principles and to its duty if it did not treat the task of grappling with the unemployment of our people and the serious condition of industry as a primary obligation.I say that there is a definite solemn party promise which in no sense has found expression in the policy or in the action of the Government. I do not know what the principles of the Unionist party may be—
§ Mr. CLYNES
I attach little importance to their talk about principles, but I do say that the Government has a duty, however lacking in principle they may be. They have accepted the great task of governing.
§ Mr. CLYNES
And they are confronted with the greatest problem that statesmen have ever had to face. Just as the Prime Minister said last year, or rather at the beginning of this year, referring to the late Labour Government, that any Government would be broken that did not deal with unemployment, I say that the present Government, when the day comes— and come it will because of their failure to handle this matter—will deserve the fate that they receive.
§ Brigadier-General Sir HENRY CROFT
I am very reluctant to criticise the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. As a matter of fact, there are certain passages in his speech which seem to me to show some glimmering of hope that he has begun to realise what really are the great problems which are confronting this country. I will refer to them in moment or two. An attack has been made by the right hon. Gentleman because of the statement in the King's Speech that the Government is going to proceed to various measures of relief, which have already been undertaken, and I yet hope we shall hear from the Minister of Labour when he deals with the matter that the existing palliatives have been continued, and have been extended. Then, at least, I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) will acquit the Government of having secured votes at the last Election on the ground that we had any definite and clear way of dealing with this unemployment question. I am 1402 perfectly certain that the right hon. Gentleman, who opened this Debate is one of those who is held in the highest esteem. I know that his word always goes with his colleagues and those who follow him in the Trade Union movement. I am perfectly convinced that he really imagines that he had a cure, and that it would be easy, when he was situated on the Governmental Benches with his party, to be able to deal with the matter in the kind of way promised the electors. When the Socialist Government were on those benches I think they discovered immense difficulties in their way.
One thing I do hope the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour will not do, and that is to carry out the advice of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down about giving hope to the unemployed. It is positively immoral to hold out any great hopes in view of the situation in this country until we are in a position to say that we are really going to improve matters. I do not think there is anybody in any section of the House who believes that under our existing system at this moment we really can do that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am very glad to hear those cheers given by the party opposite, because I have found great sympathy in their ranks with these proposals. I agree with Disraeli that it is by certain principles alone that you can keep this country great. He warned us that the dark and inevitable hour would arrive and then when our spirit is softened with misfortune we will recur to those principles which made England great, and alone can keep her great!
§ Captain WEDGWOOD BENN
On a point of Order. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman is allowed to explain a system of tariffs as a cure for unemployment, shall we be allowed subsequently to reply?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am rather inclined to think that tariffs would need legislation, and, if so, that certainly is not a proper subject for discussion at the moment.
§ Sir H. CROFT
I am obliged to you, Sir. I think there is no doubt that had I transgressed the Rules of the House in my speech, very soon you would have exercised your authority to bring my remarks to a close. Merely because I quote someone who, after all, is a well-known figure in the history of this country, my hon. and gallant Friend need not necessarily imagine that I am immediately going to advocate tariffs. But I am perfectly satisfied that at the present time the least we can do is to carry out more effectively and to administer more efficiently the small beginnings we have made with certain industries in an attempt to deal with unemployment.
I was a little sorry to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting, for the first time in my recollection, strike what I think I may call the class note. It is perfectly true that there is a very great deal of luxury to be seen in this country. I think most Members in all parties agree that a vulgar display of luxury is something which ought to be condemned; and if I may be forgiven for one short diversion, since the right hon. Gentleman has tempted me, I am inclined to hope that his words mean that he is prepared to bring luxuries such as diamonds and furs within the scope of action by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I, for one, would most heartily support such a proposal. But when the right hon. Gentleman tells us that more jewellery is seen about than ever before, I would utter a caveat to the effect that I am afraid that a great number of the pearls we see are not real, and that whereas there is more jewellery visible around the beautiful necks of the ladies of this country, the vast majority of the wearers are worse off and do not now wear the genuine article.
Leaving this point, I agree that it is true that unemployment will break any Government that cannot deal with it. What is the good of statesmanship if it cannot ensure that our people are fully employed and receiving fair wages? That is the real test. We must not allow our country to be sacrificed on the altar of the bankers, or on the altar of those who wish leave things alone and imagine that we have only to go on repeating old formulae such as "imports will be paid for by exports," like a gramophone 1404 record, when they know that it is absolutely untrue, and that such a proceeding is merely trifling with the people of this country. It is time to cease this continual fiddling while Rome is burning.
We on this side are quite as well aware that the position of this country to-day is a most grievous one, as are hon. Members opposite. The hon. Gentleman opposite has asked, "What about our electricity undertakings?" but we cannot accomplish things in a hurry. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) wanted to produce a scheme last year, but he told us that the harnessing of the Severn must take two years' consideration before anything at all could be done, and that then there would be another period of seven years before the work could be completed; and the Canute-like action which was recommended in regard to the reclamation of the Wash was going to take seven years, I think, and employ only 300 men a year. It is no use confusing the public mind. Somehow or other we have to get over this great problem. The trouble is that there is not enough work to go round— that is the trouble, put in clear and simple language; and the reason for it is that we cannot sell to those to whom we wish to sell on the Continent of Europe and that we are buying too much.
We have started, in a small way, to try to deal with that situation. I know it is impossible for me, much as I should like to have been drawn by the fly cast by the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain Benn), to discourse upon this all-important subject, for we cannot put forward any constructive measures in this Debate, but fortunately I can deal with what has been attempted by His Majesty's Government, and will be, I hope, extended. I would like to point out the astonishing fact that, whilst we have 1,250,000 unemployed, our imports of manufactured goods have increased in two years by no less than £134,000,000. I am not going to suggest what the remedy is, but I say it is a very remarkable fact that when we see the misery of our people we should allow this colossal increase of imports of the very products which our unemployed could themselves be making. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting said that while there was always a great deal of talk about our foreign trade we ought to remember that the home market was of much more value, 1405 and he is absolutely right. On a certain occasion when Germany was altering her policy, and the great prosperity of England was pointed out to Bismarck in connection with what he was proposing, he replied, "There will come a time when England will be fighting to save her home market." That prophecy of Bismarck's has come true. Our home market is now directly threatened.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting whether, in view of this astounding increase of 33⅓ per cent. in imports of manufactured goods at a time when we have 1,250,000 unemployed, his party do not contemplate altering their frame of mind towards the safeguarding of our industries? I know that some of the right hon. Gentleman's friends are in favour, during this difficult period, of a total prohibition of the imports of those goods, but I think, at the present time, that is not a policy which the House of Commons as a whole would accept. From the point of view of the saving which could be made on the dole alone, I would ask whether it is not imperative that we should consider the position of those industries which are now under consideration in connection with the safeguarding scheme. No one wishes to safeguard an industry which is prosperous, happy and contented, but we ought to try to save those few industries which are in real peril of being completely and utterly destroyed. When we hear the stories from various districts, pitiful stories—we have heard them from the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson) with regard to his constituency—we ought to ask ourselves what this policy has already accomplished, even in its present limited application. What has it done? What has it proved? I believe I am right in saying that, as a result of those terrible Silk Duties which gave just the slightest turn in favour of the home producer, there is not a silk worker out of work in Macclesfield to-day, not one, and the industry is laying plans for larger factories, while foreign manufacturers are already buying up our derelict factories in other industries in order to manufacture those articles the production of which was, as we were told, going to be ruined by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. These are the facts as to what has been done in one or two 1406 industries; and I imagine the same story is coming from Nottingham.
I would ask the attention of the Minister of Labour to this, because I frankly confess that I am not quite satisfied with the attitude of the Government on this subject. Though I do not, think they are fiddling while Borne is burning, I think they are too much inclined to play on the harp, and imagine that by singing sweet discords, peace amongst all men, we can safeguard our industries, but I do not believe that is so. May I ask the Minister for Labor whether he will consider these very startling facts? Here we are debating the question of unemployment, and asking ourselves what is the only cure for unemployment, and the one answer we get is "Finding employment." Comparing the six months ending 30th June this year with the first six months of 1922, we find that our chinaware and glassware import's have more than doubled; that imports of iron and steel manufactures—very important, in view of the question the right hon. Gentleman has addressed to the Government—have more than doubled: Don-ferrous metals and manufactures thereof, more than doubled; electrical goods, multiplied by three times; cotton manufactures, nearly doubled; woollen and worsted manufactures—there is very great distress in those industries—nearly doubled; silk manufactures, nearly doubled; other textile manufactures, more than doubled; wearing apparel, doubled; vehicles of all kinds, more than doubled. These are facts which must astound even our hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leith. I know very well that if he wants a new suit, being a great patriot, and believing sincerely in his creed, that he would buy that suit from Germany, because he says that that suit is going to be paid for by a suit that Germany is going to buy from us.
§ Captain BENN
As the hon. and gallant Gentleman has been so good as to address a question to me, will he tell us how these imports have been paid for?
§ Sir H. CROFT
I will tell the hon. and gallant Gentleman how they are being 1407 paid for at the present moment—if he will allow me to go back over the last two years. In 1922 we were actually importing more than we were exporting by the astounding sum of £79,750,000, in 1923 by £92,300,000, in 1924 by £135,700,000, and in the first six months of 1925—I have been taking the six months' period all through — by £207,000,000. Last year's adverse balance was £340,000,000, and at the present rate we look like having an adverse balance of £450,000,000 upon the completion of this year. [Interruption.] That is the great danger. The right hon. Gentleman can explain to his fellow-countrymen that once his immutable law has ceased functioning we are absolutely spending our national capital, and this country will become poorer and poorer. The hon. and gallant Member asked me how the imports were to be paid for? The answer is simple. They are being paid for, firstly, by goods; secondly, by invisible exports—but the invisible exports are very largely disappearing and the position has come to such a pass that we are actually, importing more goods than we can pay for by any means whatsoever. If someone in his own business found that he was buying more than he could pay for, he would buy less, and I submit that, as with an individual so with a nation, we must buy less of the things which we can make ourselves. That is precisely why we are pressing upon the Government to pursue further the policy of safeguarding industry, because the only way to remedy this difficulty is to try and reduce your imports of manufactured goods, which are coming into this country at the present time.
The United States was faced with a problem very much like our own, but a much greater one, in the year 1921. At that time, when they adopted the Fordney Tariff, the United States had 5,250,000 people unemployed, and that was a terrible state of things. I am not suggesting for a moment that any action such as safeguarding was responsible for the whole of the change which took place in regard to this problem, but it is a remarkable fact that even within a year after this safeguarding measure was adopted the whole of the 5,250,000 unemployed were absorbed in industry. Those who were solicitous of protecting 1408 the welfare of America at that time said the same thing about that proposal as has been said in this country with regard to the safeguarding of the lace industry, namely, that while you may improve things at the moment you will restrict your imports of raw material, and consequently you will restrict your exports. As a matter of fact, the reverse has happened. As far as the United States are concerned ever since 1922 they have been selling more and more abroad, and their total overseas trade has gone up enormously and to a far greater extent than in this country. Therefore I ask the Government this question. In order to try and remedy the situation we see before us will they not try the remedy I have suggested, which is the only real one? It is no good one front bench abusing the other because you have not turned a few more men to working on the roads, because that will never solve this question. What you have to do is to get down to the root of the problem and restore the prosperity of our industries. You are not going to rectify this question by a reduction of wages, which is one of the fatal mistakes made by the Manchester school.
§ Sir H. CROFT
Yes, they are two and a-half times as high in the United States, they are twice as high in Australia, and two and a half-times as high in Canada, and two and a-half times as high in New Zealand. I am taking countries which are naturally more closely assimilated to this country. Now I suggest that we have an opportunity of extending that same principle which has reduced the unemployed at Macclesfield to nil, which is doing the same for the lace workers in Nottingham, and which has completely wiped out the whole of the unemployed in the city of Oxford under the McKenna Duties. I know these are only very small things, but there are a great many hon. Members who think that this Government might have acted a little more speedily on this subject, and might have helped a few more industries which are crying out for assistance, and are very much depressed at the present moment.
The only other possible remedy I should like to refer to is the one which was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting in regard to 1409 Empire development. Those £10,000,000 are wanted, and wanted speedily, if you are going to develop our African possessions and enable them to produce more cotton. I hope the Government will not allow people in the City to influence them by saying that the present moment is not opportune. If the Lancashire cotton industry is in peril it is our duty to put up the money required even if it involves an increase in taxation. Now you have got this chance, and this is one of the best ways of developing our trade, and I hope the Government will get on with it. Having recently returned from East Africa, I am in a position to say that every thinking man out there realises that there are great possibilities in those countries for the extension of British trade and industrial development. It seemed to me perfectly amazing what was contained in the arrangement of some of our trade treaties in those countries, and the Government seem to forget that those treaties can be denounced from time to time. When I went to Kenya and Uganda I found there any amount of foreign goods, although the whole country has been supported by British credit, and yet there is no advantage extended to British manufactures. I think that is another point which demands a remedy. We have also to recognise that emigration from this country has not gone on at the same pace as before the War, and we are now actually employing more people in this country than before the War. If emigration had gone on at the same rate as it did up to the middle months of 1914 we should have emigrated some 3,000,000 people from this country, and then we should have had no unemployment problem.
§ Sir H. CROFT
Yes, in spite of Free Trade. I do not understand why the hon. Member should not use his wits to develop our Empire trade which is hostile to the principle of laissez faire. You have now 3,000,000 people in this country who under ordinary conditions would have been moved to our overseas possessions. I say that it is our bounden duty, whatever the cost, to make it possible for any young lad in this country who cannot secure work, and who has a big enough heart, to make it possible for him to go to our untenanted Lominions overseas where there is an opportunity offered to 1410 him of securing a livelihood. Surely it is not too late for the Government to grapple with that question in the same way as the whole nation grappled with the problems of the late War. There is plenty of land to be developed, the increment of which would give back very soon to the State its original value. Wall anyone say that it is impossible for us to co-operate with the Prime Ministers of the Dominions overseas to use the credit of this country to secure land for cultivation and for the Dominions to hold that land as security against such debts. If we had some scheme of Empire emigration of this kind developed on a large scale surely that would be the first solvent of the unemployed problem, the housing problem, and it would be the end of your dole system and the end of the three great problems with which you are faced at the present moment. I can only say once more that I believe there is a solemn duty which falls upon every single Member of this House, and that is to see that employment is secured for every one of the workers in this country, because you cannot have a contented or a loyal race if you neglect the first duty of citizenship, which is to see that your industries are not undermined and destroyed by a system which is unfair and unjust.
Mr. HUGH EDWARDS
I have no intention whatever of following the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down along the by-paths which he has traversed. The facility with which he has quoted statistics and percentages is strangely reminiscent of some of his election speeches, and I can now understand why he was able to mesmerise those ladies at Bournemouth. I associate myself with him to the full in what he said about promoting cotton growing within the Empire. He made that particular plea for the Lancashire cotton trade. The cotton industry in Lancashire is one of the basic trades of this country, and when Lancashire suffers the country at large also suffers. The one encouraging feature in this and other Debates on unemployment is that, irrespective and in spite of all the differences which divide us as parties and individuals, we are all agreed in regarding unemployment as the grimmest and most hideous spectre that stalks the land. It darkens the hearths of thousands of homes. It impairs the prestige of the nation and lowers its vitality, and it 1411 also menaces the security of the nation. I think we are all agreed upon another point. We are all agreed that what is really needed is a remedy and not relief. The House should set itself to seek a remedy and not relief, and that is my principal objection to the speech which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) has made to-day, because he was constantly pleading about minor points concerning relief instead of boldly tackling the question of a remedy.
It is well that we should remind ourselves that in economics as in medical treatment the real remedy cannot be discovered unless first of all the generating causes are revealed. In the course of his speech this evening the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting paid a very strong and just tribute to the trade union officials. I agree with my right hon. Friend that the trade union officials of this country have been a most potent factor in keeping industrial peace, because they have addressed themselves again and again to the task of preventing upheavals. Since the right hon. Gentleman has paid that tribute to trade unions, I think he will agree with me that one of the safe and soundest trade unionists in this country is Mr. Appleton. [HON. MEMBEES: "No."] At any rate, I regard him as such. I do not know whether hon. Members have read the book which Mr. Appleton has written upon unemployment, but it is one of the best books which has been written on that subject. In that work Mr. Appleton avoids the mistake which has been made this afternoon by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting, namely, that he avoids that confusion which is so characteristic of so many of our Debates on this subject. Mr. Appleton points out that there are three separate phases of unemployment. Firstly, what he calls cyclical; secondly, seasonal; and thirdly, endemic. The cyclical is that form which at irregular periods afflicts industries and trades usually regarded as stable.
They have produced beyond the absorbing capacity of the markets to which they have access. The seasonal phase of unemployment differs from the cyclical in the sense that its periods follow each other regularly, and price, as Mr. Appleton 1412 points out, enters into the problem far less than fashion. Then there is the last and grimmest phase—what he calls the endemic phase, which is always with us. It includes that unemployment which results from loss of equilibrium between supply and demand. I think Mr. Appleton was right when he stressed the consideration that, when the life of the community is mainly dependent upon manufacture and industry, as it is in this country, unemployment in some form or other becomes a periodic certainty, especially when, as is now the case, the rates of exchange with our foreign customers vary from day to day—for unemployment, as we ought to remind ourselves, depends upon buying as well as upon selling. That phase is aggravated at the present time by reason of the fact that countries which in pre-War days were amongst our best customers are now competing with us in the same markets, for they are producing for export as well as for use.
It has been truly said, and I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting overlooked this consideration, that there are three separate causes in the production of unemployment. There are circumstances which predispose to unemployment; there are circumstances which precipitate it; and there are circumstances which perpetuate it. The remedies must be as diversified as the causes, and they must be adjusted to the circumstances, for remedies in economics, as in medicine, can only be valuable in so far as they afford relief without involving fatal reaction. I venture, therefore, to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting, and also to the Minister of Labour, that what is wanted in these days is the spirit of sympathetic co-operation. Supposing that all the suggestions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting were carried out, some of which he enumerated to-day—electrical development, a closer and more effective nexus between industry and agriculture, a closer connection between this country and the Dominions, and more room in it—does the right hon. Gentleman really think we shall touch the real source of the trouble? He taunted the Prime Minister to-day with having made promises which have not been fulfilled, but he himself cannot forget that on one occasion, when he was making an 1413 attack on the Liberal party, he claimed that he and his colleagues had many scores of schemes for dealing with unemployment. It is quite true that that was said at the time of an election, but he and his colleagues had their opportunity afterwards, and, as he will admit, those schemes, unfortuately, did not materialise.
What is really wanted to-day is consultation between the heads of parties. We have heard it said that the basic principle of the League of Nations is to bring peoples together in order to bring about a sympathetic understanding of the problems that divide them, and of the causes that generate friction and warfare. Why cannot we have the same thing in industry? I agree with the hon. Baronet the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) that it should not pass the wit of statesmanship to devise some solution of this problem. It is not for us on the back benches to suggest schemes to right hon. Gentlemen on either of the Front Benches, but I venture to think that, if only the leaders of the various parties would come to the consideration of this problem with that same deep eagerness to secure a solution which medical men display in their investigations into the causes of diseases that scourge humanity —if only that eagerness could be shown, instead of these niggling criticisms and this desire to make party capital out of a matter which ought to be raised above all party—I venture to say that, if that spirit were shown by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting, who is one of the sanest and best leaders of Labour in this country, if he would take the initiative, and try to convene a conference of the leaders of the various parties in order to get something done for the unemployed, and not merely to make party capital, something could be done. I hope the Minister of Labour will be able to tell us to-night that he is addressing himself to the task of dealing with the roots of this question, with a view to finding a remedy rather than a mere passing, temporary relief.
I rise with great diffidence to address the House for the first time, particularly when the subject is that of unemployment. My diffidence is partly because, in all probability, the few remarks that I desire to make have been made far more adequately 1414 and eloquently by other Members in the House before, and, secondly, because I rather dread the somewhat critical faculties of wit and wisdom which, even in my short experience of this House, I have found that hon. Members so abundantly possess. I feel, however, that I have to adventure, against these objections for two reasons. The first is the exceeding gravity of the industrial situation confronting the country to-day. The second is a recent experience which has resulted, happily, in my being here, and through which I gained a great deal of diverse opinion on the subject of unemployment. I was brought into contact with varied expressions of opinion, some of which I feel may possibly interest Members, not alone on this side, but on the opposite side of the House.
As far as I can see it, the basic problem that really affects us to-day, and is most suitable for our consideration, is work. But to produce work we must have trade. I suppose it is a truism to say that unemployment is due to bad trade. That brings us to the question, To what is bad trade due? I expect some Members on the oposite benches would say, "A Tory Government," but in my opinion bad trade is due more or less, broadly speaking, to three reasons. The first is unfair competition, as hon. Members know, from our Continental neighbours. Owing to the longer hours, lower wages, and lower standard of living which the workers in those countries are prepared to accept, they can compete against us on, from our point of view, unfair terms; and, of course, also, the balance of the exchange is against us.
The second reason is that during the War we were forced to divert vast numbers of men and vast quantities of machinery from productive industries to war and the manufacture of munitions of war, and it was from those industries that we were able, to a large extent, to supply our Continental neighbours. Those countries, failing supplies from us, had to initiate sources of supply for themselves, and that meant loss of markets to us again. The third reason is the low rate of production prevailing in many of our industries to-day, and, of course, when there is low production, there is expensive production, for the overhead charges remain much the same, and, therefore, we are up against the same inability to compete on favour- 1415 able terms with our neighbours. Unfortunately, it is not only our outside markets that we lose by these means, but we lose our home markets as well. I want to give one more reason for our present state of bad trade, and that, I regret to say, is the restriction of output which is practically imposed by certain great trade unions to-day. That has the natural result of increasing the cost of our production, as every hon. Member will realise.
Those are, as far as I can see, the three or four reasons which have reduced this country to its present state of bad trade. What has the Government done to rectify this position, and what can still be done? It seems to me that we might, well spend a few minutes in considering that. As regards unfair competition, the Government have, as we know, reimposed the measures of the Safeguarding of Industries Act, and thereby we are enabled to preserve the work and wages of our workmen who are engaged in those threatened industries. We do not fear any fair competition. All hon. Members will, I know, agree with me that our British workmen—and especially, I may say, as a Member from Scotland, our Scottish workmen—are equal to the best, if not better than the beet, of the world's workmen, but they must have a square deal, and that is what the measure that has been introduced with the Budget is going to confer upon them.
With this measure of Safeguarding of Industries may be coupled, possibly, the McKenna Duties. Some hon. Members opposite will not agree with me about the advisability of the reimposition of the McKenna Duties, but perhaps I may just give one example which may convince them once and for all that they are wrong. In my own constituency last year, when the Socialist Government removed the McKenna Duties, one firm in Ayr was compelled to dismiss about 50 per cent. of its employés. This year, since it was announced that the McKenna Duties were to be reimposed, that firm has been able to take on every employé who was dismissed, those employés are working overtime, and their wages have increased by 46 per cent. That is one result, for which I can personally vouch, of the reimposition 1416 of the McKenna Duties and the action of the Government to safeguard and preserve our trade.
I now come to the second cause of our position, namely, the loss of markets to which I have referred. My feeling is that, so far as the Continent is concerned, we shall never get those markets back. As I said just now, those countries which we supplied before were driven by force of necessity to start their own plant, their own machinery, and their own methods of production, and now they can supply their own requirements more cheaply than we can. Therefore, I think we can wash out the Continental markets from the scope of our consideration. But we have no need to despair, for there are fresh and better markets at our disposal, markets, if I may say so, right within the family circle; and the Government, by their action in introducing Imperial Preference, have brought those markets to our door. It seems to me that it is in the Empire and within the Empire that our trade lies, for, after all, we can obtain cheaply from fair Dominions the raw materials that we want. That means that we can manufacture cheaply, which, again, means that we can sell cheaply. That means that not only can we sell back to those Dominions who are waiting and asking for our finished manufactures, but we are enabled once again to regain our own home markets, which we have been in danger of losing lately. What I would like to impress upon the House, if they will not mind listening to me, is that it is the family spirit that we want to cultivate, not the international spirit. We want to clasp the clean, friendly hands from our Dominions, not the bloodstained hands of the gang of cosmopolitan crooks that dictate at Moscow.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
On a point of Order. Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman entitled to call a friendly Government a gang of cosmopolitan crooks in Moscow?
I think the hon. Member has mistaken what I said. I said we want to clasp the clean, friendly hands extended from our Dominions rather than the bloodstained hands of the gang of cosmopolitan crooks that dictate at Moscow.
Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Hope):
I do not think the remarks are out of order. Whether they are apposite is a matter for the judgment of the House. Remarks of that kind are not out of order as far as I know.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
We are not allowed to put questions reflecting on a friendly Government. Are we allowed to make speeches reflecting on them?
I think if the hon. Member will study the remarks made by Mr. Gladstone, for example, on the Government of Naples at the time, he will probably find ample precedents.
I now come to the third reason that I consider exists for our present state of depression in industry, and that is the low, and therefore expensive, production existing in most of our industries. This, to my mind, can only be rectified by co-operation between those who work with their hands, those who work with their brains, and those who work with their money, all and each equally important to the general prosperity. It is there that the question of cheap production must be settled. Outside or Government interference is, in my opinion, useless and may do more harm than good. It is the man who works in the mine or before the furnace or on the land, and the man who pays him, who only can settle what hours are to be worked and what wages are to be paid in the industry.
Now I come to the fourth of my reasons, and that is the position taken up by certain trade unions. There I think the Government must intervene and once and for all cripple the power of certain trade unions to dictate to the honest, zealous and ambitious workman exactly what he must or must not produce, and exactly what he must or must not earn. I think the Government, when they consider that point, will see the absolute necessity of it, and I can leave it with confidence in their hands. But what we want above all is good-will, and I appeal to certain hon. Members opposite, and through them to their followers throughout the country, 1418 and also to certain sections of our Press, especially at the present time when the whole industrial welfare of the country is trembling in the balance, to restrain from inspiring and promoting this accursed thing, class consciousness. I call it class-hatred. It is so easy, it makes so much for popularity, to preach equal wealth for all and plenty of it, and equal work for all and little of it. But I warn those Members opposite and their followers who so preach that the time may come when their party will be returned to power and office, and when that time comes the hour of fulfilment will come, and when the hour of fulfilment comes the division bells throughout the country will ring for this division of wealth and work, and I warn hon. Members and some of their followers —they are not all represented here unfortunately; I should like them to hear what I have to say—that even the amenities of a visit to Moscow will prove very inadequate compensation for the cries of a betrayed and a stricken people. So I beg that Members of all parties composing the State will devote their efforts during the next few critical weeks or months to preaching the gospel of goodwill, and not ill-will, the gospel of unity, not disunity. I would ask them to preach the gospel of unity between employer and employed, each working in a spirit of co-operation for the common good of both. I would ask them to preach the unity of the great Christian Churches, so that all should combine to inspire a feeling of tolerance and charity and understanding between the different sections of their followers, unity between all the divergent interests of the great States composing this great British Commonwealth of ours, which would induce a common outlook and mutual prosperity, and above all, I ask them to preach for an understanding and communion between the English-speaking peoples to work and advance the cause, which we all have at heart, of civilisation and humanity and peace. I feel in my heart that it is only by these means that we can hope one day to achieve the prayer of the Prime Minister for peace in our time.
Mr. TREVELYAN THOMSON
I am sure I shall be expressing the feeling of all sides of the House in congratulating the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken, though we may not agree with all he has said, on his happy turn of 1419 phrase and his ability to express himself. We have all heard him with pleasure, and shall look forward to further contributions. The hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft), who spoke previously, gave us one of his delightful excursions into Tariff Reform, which was to be a panacea to cure the ills of unemployment, and towards the end of his speech he told us that if only emigration could have been kept up at its normal rate, there would have been no unemployment notwithstanding that we live under the stress of Free Trade. Finally, he told us that the land question was at the root of the evil, and if we emigrated our people to the Colonies, the increment of land values which would accrue from the establishment of these new colonists would pay for the cost of emigration, and would have been a cure for all evils. I am sure we shall welcome this new convert to land reform and ask him to apply the solution, not only to the Colonies, but to the homeland.
I understand that Mr. Speaker was preparing to check the hon. Baronet. I hope the hon. Member will not follow his lead.
I realise that I am out of order, but it was only in attempting to reply very briefly to the hon. and gallant Baronet, who occupied half an hour in dealing with this question. However, I will turn from that, much as I am tempted to follow the hon. Baronet, and I should like to ask the Government what they have to tell us before we separate on this question of unemployment. We have had many unemployment Debates during the last five years, but we have never met under circumstances that are more tragic or when the outlook was more despondent than it is on the eve of our separation. We are facing the fifth winter of discontent—the fifth winter of terrible unemployment—and so far the Government have offered no new contribution towards the problem that is facing us. In fact, their only contribution appears to be to seek to take men off unemployment benefit, and deprive them of the relief that has been given by previous Governments. Unfortunately, reading the Estimates, apparently this is the decided policy of the Government, to do nothing, or to do comparatively little. In the Estimates for the year, the 1420 Government are making less provision financially to deal with unemployment than their predecessors, and I should like to ask on what grounds those Estimates were framed. We find that the Unemployed Grants Vote is down by £295,000, the money for the relief of unemployment by £639,000, and the Vote for the Ministry of Labour by £623,000, making a total reduction on the various Votes that go towards unemployment in one form or another of over £1,500,000, and this at a time when unemployment is infinitely more severe than it was a year ago.
Why is it that they have adopted this cheese-paring policy on these services, when they have been so lavish, on the Navy and the armament services? If they can spend four or five millions on services which do not profit the nation, surely, there is no reason why they should cut down the money required to deal with the tragic problem of unemployment. They have no vision as to what can be done. Reference has been made to the need for electrical development, for improved roads, and, I might add, inland waterways. The present Minister of Health was the Chairman of a Commission that sat four or five years ago and went into the question of our inland water transport. They made most valuable recommendations, which would have improved our methods of transport, assisted our commerce, and also found a large amount of work. Why have they not attempted to put in hand that class of work? Surely, the old prophet was correct when he said "Where there is no vision, the people perisheth." The Government have not had the foresight or the vision to provide for this terrible question of unemployment. The hon. Baronet referred to these things as being mere palliatives. But if no other scheme is forthcoming, a palliative is better than nothing, and if the Government themselves are unable to carry out these schemes, is that any reason why they should stand in the way of the local authorities carrying them out?
They sent out a circular to local authorities inviting their help, and asking for particulars of works which could be carried out in the local districts. Unfortunately, while asking for these suggestions, they did not hold out any hope of giving additional assist- 1421 ance to enable them to do so. Many local authorities have valuable schemes of productive work in the way of improved local roads, reclamation of foreshore, improved amenities, more schools and other public buildings, all of which they can put in hand themselves and employ many thousands more unemployed than are at present being engaged. But they cannot afford to pay the cost at the price. The contribution which has been made by previous Governments only amounts to one-third of the total cost involved. They have allowed 65 per cent, of the cost for half the period of the loan. In some cases they have increased the allowance up to 75 per cent, of the cost for half the period of the loan. Those figures work out at considerably less than one-third of the total cost. That is a very inadequate contribution towards the burden of providing schemes for the unemployed.
In the opinion of myself and my hon. Friends who sit on this side of the House, the charge for unemployment should be a national and not a local charge. It is not the fault of the localities. It is not the fault of the employers of labour, nor of the workers, who, in many cases, are turning out more work and increased production as compared with the period before the War. An employer of labour, speaking in my Division recently, said that the workmen there in the heavy iron and steel trade had a bigger output than they had in 1913–14. It is not the fault of the employés, as was rather suggested by the last speaker. It is not the fault of the employers, who are seeking for work, nor is it the fault of the local authorities. Therefore, the Government should be more generous in their assistance to the local authorities. If they are not prepared to find the work themselves and put the schemes in hand, do not let them stand in the way of those local authorities who have the work and could put it in hand and employ a large number of the unemployed.
At Question Time to-day we were told that the total number employed in connection with the various schemes was something like 100,000. What is 100,000 compared with one and a-quarter millions out of work? I do not suggest that it is possible to find work for anything like one and a-quarter millions of people, 1422 but it is possible to increase by 100 per cent, the number employed at present if only the Government would give more adequate assistance to the local authorities who are prepared to do the work themselves. How manifestly unfair it is to have a flat rate of assistance, because in one district the unemployment is infinitely greater than in another. Whilst the average of unemployment throughout the country is only 12.2 per cent.— and that is bad enough—you have on the north-east coast, in the shipbuilding industry, unemployment at the rate of 45 per cent. It has been over 40 per cent, for a considerable time. In marine engineering the unemployment figure is 30 per cent., and in the iron and steel trade throughout the country it is over 24 per cent. It is unfair when you have these very heavy rates of unemployment in certain districts that those particular districts should only get the same assistance from the Government as those districts where the rate of unemployment is only 10 per cent., or less.
Is it not possible for the Government to consider some revision of the principle and method by which they allocate the funds? If they cannot increase considerably the amount they are prepared to devote to this cause, surely they could give to those districts where the need is greatest a bigger proportion of assistance than to those districts whose need is infinitely less. We have that reflected in the different rates which apply throughout the country. You have in some residential towns where they have a small industrial population very little unemployment, such as Oxford, Bournemouth", Southport and Blackpool, where the local rates are 8s. to 9s. in the £, compared with industrial areas such as Middlesbrough, where our rates are 19s. 4d., and Sheffield, where the rates are over 15s., and Merthyr Tydfil, where the rates are over 24s. Therefore, the present allocation hits very unfairly those districts which are the poorest. You are leaving the poor to carry their own burden. They want more assistance from the State.
§ Sir H. CROFT
Is this an individual demand on the part of the hon. Member, or does the Liberal party ask for more State assistance?
I am speaking with the approval of a large number of my 1423 hon. Friends on this side, both above and below the Gangway. It was my privilege last week to accompany a deputation to the Prime Minister, representing all sections in the House, comprising a large number of political friends of my hon. and gallant Friend opposite, as well as my own friends, to ask that these districts should be dealt with more favourably.
Not necessarily spend more money, but that the money that has to be spent should be so used or allocated that the burden should fall upon the backs of those who are best able to bear it. We ask that the State should give a larger share to the poorer localities whose rates are 19s. to 20s. in the pound, and that their burden should be eased to a certain extent. Why, for instance, should the poor rate in Blackpool be only 4d. and the poor rate in Middlesbrough be 7s. 3d.? It is not the fault of the Middlesbrough local authority. The Middlesbrough Board of Guardians are not more wasteful than the Blackpool Board of Guardians. It is owing to the industrial character of the district that there is a much heavier charge on the Poor Law. Many of these districts in the heavy iron and steel trade during the War were asked to employ more men. Men were drafted into these districts in order to swell the manufacturing output. The conditions to-day are the aftermath of the War, because owing to the shortage of houses throughout the country surplus labour was unable to flow back again, and in many of these iron and steel districts, and many other districts where unemployment is bad, the population which was swelled during the War has been unable to get back to their own districts. In consequence, these particular districts are burdened to an abnormal extent.
In my own town—and I give it as typical of scores of other places—we have spent during the last two or three years over £1,000,000 in unemployment relief schemes. The unemployment committee of my district a few weeks ago passed a resolution that, unless the Government were prepared to assist to a larger extent than they are doing at the present time, they would be unable to finance any more schemes. The schemes they have now in hand are small enough. Every week-end 1424 when I go to my constituency I have many people coming to see me and appealing to me to use my influence to get them a job on the roads. It is impossible. I have inquired at the Employment Exchange, and they tell me that if a man has had a job more than once in six months he has had more than his turn, and he has to wait another six months. It would be better to spend less money in unemployment benefit and more in schemes of a productive character and schemes promoted by the local authorities. Since the Armistice, we have spent in payments for out-of-work unemployment benefit, and in relief of able-bodied men and women, over £300,000,000. That great sum of money has been paid away to able-bodied men and women for no service rendered.
That is a foolish policy. It is essential that these people should not be left to starve, but, on the other hand, it would be infinitely more sensible if for the money they receive they gave service, and service which they would be glad to give, because men and women do not wish to draw unemployment pay for no service rendered. They come to me over and over again, and to other hon. Members, saying, "We do not want benefit. What we want is work." The Government could do a great deal more by encouraging these schemes that are palliatives until the world scheme of trade gets going again. Therefore, I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour to consider whether the basis of the grants could not be adjusted more to the needs of the case, and to see that those districts that have schemes to put in hand and are willing to put them in hand should be allowed to do so with proper encouragement from the Government.
There are several points to which I should like to draw attention regarding the Employment Exchanges. Several questions have been put lately as to the number of hours of overtime worked at many of the Exchanges. I know that it is impossible to avoid overtime in the rushes that come, but overtime seems to be becoming a regular practice. I submit that something might be done whereby the excessive amount of overtime which is worked regularly month after month could be avoided. In one reply which was given to me the other day, the return showed that in the North Eastern 1425 Division 21 hours per week of overtime were worked by over 500 employés in the month of June. That is far too much. By a rearrangement of duties and the engagement of more men if necessary, thereby finding work for some of the unemployed, a better condition of things might be brought about.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Mr. Betterton)
That amount of overtime was for the first week in June, and it has diminished week after week ever since.
I am open to correction, but I understood from the answer that the overtime was for the four weeks ending the 26th June.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
The amount of overtime worked is at the heavy period when the books are being exchanged. That is the first week in June. From that time the amount of overtime work diminishes.
If that be the case, it makes the position even worse, because the figures I gave were an average of 21 hours per week for the four weeks. If in the later weeks less overtime was worked, it means that considerably more than 21 hours' overtime were worked in the first or second weeks. There is, therefore, the more reason for a readjustment of duties and, possibly, the re-engagement of more men. In regard to the administration of the Exchanges generally, whilst criticising it, I would like to pay a tribute to the efficiency with which the work is done in the great majority of cases, and under very difficult and trying circumstances. I would urge that the whole system of staffing and the whole system of the organisation of the Exchanges should be reorganised so that they may become not merely the distributors of unemployment benefit but also placing agencies. It was my privilege to sit upon a Departmental Committee which was appointed in 1919 to inquire into the question of the working of the Employment Exchanges, and one of the recommendations we made was that this side of the Exchange work should be developed and encouraged, and that, apart from being distributors of unemployment benefit, they should become real placing agencies, and should specialise in trying to get the confidence of employers and employed, become fully acquainted with the technical needs of the various industries in their own dis- 1426 tricts, and be enabled to offer men and place men much more readily than at the present time. I dare say that it is impossible to do that when unemployment is at a very heavy figure, but I hope that it will be borne in mind by the Minister, and that when unemployment is reduced a more efficient system of Exchanges should be brought about, so that it will act as a means for placing men in industry, as well as the distribution of benefits.
The main question is, that the Government should do more than they are doing. They have done lamentably little. During the time they have been in office they have merely carried out the work done by their predecessors. Although unemployment has increased so rapidly, they have failed to rise to the height of the occasion to meet the problem with the necessary measures of reform and relief. Particularly, they should have regard to the areas where unemployment is abnormally heavy, and see whether in the grants that they make they cannot give a larger proportion to those particularly hard-hit districts which find themselves unable to carry on if they are left with the meagre assistance that has been given to them up to the present time.
§ Captain CAZALET
Although a new Member myself, I remember the experience of making my maiden speech, and I hope that the hon. Member for Ayr Burghs (Lieut.-Colonel Moore) will not think me patronising if I offer him my heartiest congratulations on the manner in which he came through his ordeal. In all the Debates which have taken place in regard to unemployment in this House, no one on either side has ever attempted to minimise the gravity of the situation. We are all agreed that the only way to solve the problem is to deal with it, not from the point of view of party politics and sectional interests, but from the point of view of what is best for the country as a whole. I wish to put forward an appeal for what I term a voluntary national sacrifice, to meet the immediate necessities of the country. Certain aspects of such a scheme were mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Westmorland (Major Stanley) in the last Debate on unemployment. I should like to preface my remarks by one or two observations which, I am afraid, must be platitudes; but this subject has been discussed so often that it is almost 1427 impossible to say anything that is not a platitude. To-day, I understand, there are actually more people employed in the country than in 1914. Our industrial efficiency has increased during the War and since the War. Therefore, we must be turning out more goods than in 1914, and yet our export trade is down by about 30 per cent. That means that the home consumption must be considerably greater than in 1914, which means that certain sections of the community to-day enjoy a higher standard of living than in 1914. If we are not only to maintain but to improve this standard, it is essential not only to regain the foreign markets, which we have lost, but to increase them in proportion to the increase of our population. Therefore, the one thing essential at present is that we should sell more goods. Neither subsidies nor stunts will help us to do that, but I am certain that it can and will be achieved by brain power, hard work and the thrift of the people of this country.
I realise fully that nothing will be achieved by people getting excited about the situation, one side saying that the only thing that matters is to cut down wages, and the other taking up the dogmatic position "in no way are we prepared to meet you at all. "I realise also that no one could expect any sacrifice of any kind to be made by the wage-earners of this country if they thought that by any reduction in the wages of the workers alone one penny more would go into the pockets of the so-called capitalist classes. Therefore, I say that it is up to the so-called capitalist classes to take the first step, and to make more than a gesture to show that they are prepared to take their part in a national sacrifice, because it is only thus that we can get agreement with the wage-earners of this country, and make possible a national sacrifice which will reduce the cost of production. I would start with economy in Government Departments. When each Department sends up its estimates to the Treasury, if those estimates did not show a decrease from last year's amount I would send them back to make a reduction of 5 per cent. I would ration them in that respect.
§ Captain CAZALET
I entirely concur, but I think that that is hardly in Order. I think that we could then deal with Cabinet Ministers and Members of Parliament. Many Members will be more disposed to agree to my suggestion when I mention that in the time of Pitt there was a voluntary reduction in their salaries by Cabinet Ministers, and I should like also to see a voluntary reduction in the salary of every Member of this House by 5 per cent. I say that figure because our salaries have not been increased since the War, but I realise that the psychological effect of a number of Members of this House, who can afford it, doing something of this kind would produce an impression on the country out of all proportion to the economic value to the Exchequer. Then I should like to extend that to every section of the community. I would fix the line in some way like this. Everybody whose salary was more than 100 per cent, above the pre-War standard should voluntarily sacrifice 10 per cent. I understand that that has already been done in the case of the National Sailors' and Firemen's Union, and I understand that those negotiations were carried through with agreement by both sides, and that the agreement resulted in a reduction of something between 7 and 10 per cent. No one would suggest that either the miners or the agricultural labourers should be asked to give up anything of their wages which are, as everybody will admit, far too small to-day. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Right ho!
§ Captain CAZALET
I beg to withdraw. With regard to miners I would suggest that, if the rest of the community were prepared to make a sacrifice of the kind which I have outlined, the miners in the ensuing year in certain districts might be prepared to work a few hours longer a. week. I hope that we shall learn tomorrow, or certainly while the Royal Commission is pursuing its inquiries, whether certain general statements with regard to the mining industry are true or not. As a member of the general public I am not in any way interested in 1429 coal, but the kind of thing you hear is this. If miners in South Wales were to work one hour longer it would mean a reduction of 2s. 6d. a ton in the price of coal. I do not know whether that is so or not, but that is the kind of statement which is made and on which I believe it to be essential that the public should be informed.
The right hon. Member who opened this Debate referred to the question of luxury expenditure. I feel extremely strongly on this point, and I think that if we could inaugurate some national sacrifice such as I have outlined during the next year, during that time there should be an absolute minimum of luxury expenditure, although it is extremely difficult to say exactly what is a luxury. The right hon. Member referred to parties, but it may be that an unfortunate gentleman with five or six unmarried daughters may find it an economy to give a party. There, again, it is up to the individual to decide for himself, and, of course, everybody on this side of the House would most sincerely condemn any form of ostentatious display. There, again, it is not so much the economic but the psychological effect that matters. You cannot expect people to make some sacrifice when they see every day apparently hundreds of members of the community simply lavishing money on unnecessary luxuries and enjoyment.
Then I would suggest, very humbly, that everybody who could afford it in the coming year should do something on these lines: Instead of giving a party or spending money on some form of luxury, he should engage, say, one more gardener from the local Employment-Exchange for the next year. That is a very small thing, I admit, but it is the kind of thing which, if every single individual would do it, would go a considerable way to solve the problem of unemployment. The other day the hon. and gallant Member for Westmorland suggested that the Chancellor of the Exchequer might issue a conversion loan at a smaller rate of interest than is given to-day, and that the public would subscribe generously to that, thereby reducing to a certain extent our national expenditure on interest for this year. I hope that there will be a generous response on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That leads me to 1430 another suggestion, which bankers may tell me is impossible, but bankers are inclined to say that everything is impossible. It was one of these distinguished bankers who said that it was impossible to continue the War after the early months of 1915, owing to the financial situation, but I would like to suggest the possibility of doing some thing on these lines also with regard to the limitation of dividends to, say, 5 or 6 per cent, on the present market price of the shares, and any surplus or profit beyond that should go into the reserve of the company, because there is a general feeling, which is often voiced in this House, "You ask us to economise while we see dividends paid up to 15, 20, and 30 per cent."
Any money which might accrue from the adoption of such methods as I have 6uggested should be dealt with in one or other of three ways. Either it should go immediately to debt redemption or to a reduction in the Estimates for next year, or it should be devoted to one form of subsidy, which is the only subsidy for which I can see any justification. It would be in a case of this kind. Suppose a contract were offered from abroad for, say, over £50,000, and the British tender was only 5 per cent, above the foreign tender, I think in a case like that, if you can get the consent of all the amalgamated manufacturers in this country, and the trade unionists as well, you could give a subsidy of the difference between the foreign tender and our own tender, and so ensure the contract coming to this country. The only excuse for giving a subsidy of this nature would be that when once a firm is fulfilling a contract to the value of £50,000 or more, then it can afford to take another one at a slightly lower or a considerably lower figure. I apologise for delaying the House so long. I know that I shall be told that these are very fantastic ideas, but I do believe that some such sacrifices will be necessary if we are to tide over our present difficulties, and I am certain that if any such sacrifice is made we shall be able to get over our difficulties, and not only regain the markets which we have lost, but increase those markets, and, what is more, we shall be able to maintain and improve the standard of civilisation for the people of this country.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I am sure that the House has listened with considerable interest to the suggestions which have been offered by the hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham (Captain Cazalet). Whether we agree with these suggestions or not, in whole or in part or not at all, we can at any rate compliment him on this, that he has offered suggestions and has not simply blown off some hot air. I and the hon. Members who sic on these benches disagree strongly with his central argument, and I will endeavour to show why we think that his central argument, if it were acted upon, would aggravate the position. He gave us an instance of how the price of coal could be reduced if the colliers in South Wales could be induced to work one or two hours longer per day.
§ 6.0 P.M
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The exact time does not matter. The argument was that if they worked one hour extra per day or per week, the cost of the product would be cheapened, we would capture foreign markets, and unemployment would correspondingly decrease. It is a very common argument that we hear from hon. Gentlemen opposite. Immediately the South Wales miner was induced, if he could be induced, to work an hour or two hours longer in the bowels of the earth in order to keep the Portuguese market for coal, what would our German competitors be doing? What would the German coal-masters say? They would immediately say to the German miner, "Look here. The South Wales collier has started to work 10 hours a day. Do you want to keep the Portuguese market? If so, you must in turn work 11 hours per day." We should proceed to an international competition in starvation, which would get us nowhere at all, but would steadily decrease the purchasing power of the working classes and make chaos worse confounded. If the hon. Member will study the question from that point of view, he will find that there is no way out via reducing the status or the purchasing power of the working classes of this country. On the contrary, I shall argue that the opposite policy, which has not been tried, has a greater chance of succeeding.
Suppose that somehow we could increase the purchasing power of the 1432 working classes. Suppose that, instead of this wage-cutting policy, instead of seeing how we could sneak 5s. or 10s. off the workman's wage, we set our brains to work to find some way by which we could increase the purchasing power of the working classes in this country, what would inevitably happen? You would have a bigger demand in your home market, and you would consequently have a diminution of unemployment. I am convinced that the policy of cutting wages by £600,000,000 per annum, which was what was done in the big deflation period, and which reduced the purchasing power of the home market by £600,000,000, is the prime cause of our unemployment to-day. If, instead of cutting wages by £600,000,000, we could have found some way of increasing the purchasing power of the working classes, we could immediately stop the unemployment rot which threatens to break up the British State. How can we do it? I know that I shall be out of order in making a complete series of suggestions, but I will mention one. It is a fact that there are to-day in this country hundreds of thousands of acres of unused land. Why cannot we give powers to the local authorities to seize forthwith all the unused land in their areas and offer the unemployed an acre each, if they will cultivate it, and so long as they cultivate it, allow them to continue drawing their unemployment benefit? If they could get, on the average, £25 per annum out of each acre, and there were 100,000 who, instead of hanging round street corners, and decaying physically mentally, morally and spiritually, were able to raise vegetables, how different the outlook would be! Suppose that they kept goats or hens and produced foodstuffs of any kind, suppose that 100,000 did it and produced £25 per annum each, the purchasing power of the working classes would be increased by £2,500,000 per annum in that way alone, and you would no longer be dependent to that extent upon foodstuffs from America or elsewhere—China for eggs or Denmark for butter.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Suppose the 100,000 could do that. Suppose that they were allowed to consume the food, and that 1433 any surplus available they were compelled to offer to the local authority at a price to be fixed in advance so as to prevent exploitation.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
To a certain extent I think that it could. There is unused land in this country, and I know instances of it. There is unused land in places where the local authority could be given power, or be induced to use the power that it has, to seize that land and to set the unemployed to work on it. That would start the movement. I do not ask that the whole scheme should be settled in six months or 12 months: the ruins of the capitalist system will take a long time to clear up. But here is a way to produce more food and to give more employment. It would cost the British Government no extra money. All you would do would be to take away from the present owners, the landlords who cannot use the national heritage or who are refusing to use it, the land that they own, in order that it might be used. I want to draw attention to a remarkable figure which hon. Members may find in the annual Trade and Navigation Accounts. In 1924 this country paid £96,000,000 more for imported foodstuffs than it paid in 1922. We are more and more, as the years go by, becoming dependent for our food supplies on other countries. We used to pay for these foodstuffs by the products of our manufactures, but other countries are beginning to produce those manufactured goods for themselves. India is producing coal, China is producing cotton goods, and Japan is producing some thing else. Those countries no longer require our manufactured goods and our coal to the extent that they used to have them. It is, therefore, absolutely necessary for us to become more and more a food-producing country.
I suggest that the Minister of Labour, instead of bothering about futile and annoying class war Bills like the one he succeeded in getting through the House last week in order to take £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 away from the depressed and poverty stricken, should ask for the cooperation of all parties in order to set up a new social organisation in this country, and that he should begin by taking the 1434 land which is not used, take it without a penny of compensation, or give the local authorities power to take it, and forthwith place on that land as many of the unemployed as are willing to cultivate it and to produce foodstuffs. Only by reversing the machinery in some such way as that are you going to get out of the present maelstrom of unemployment. The other policy of wage-cutting, of lowering the status of the worker, or of increasing his working hours, is no policy at all. If adopted, it would be imitated by foreign competitors. There would be competition in starvation, and the end would be ruin for everyone concerned.
I beg the Minister of Labour to give up the idea that he can even tide over the present period of unemployment by a wage-cutting policy. He cannot do it. This is not an abnormal period. It is the beginning of a new era. It is the beginning of a prolongation of unemployment. While I am in favour of the electrification of industry, and while I would gladly vote for the conduct of our industry with greater efficiency, do not let us delude ourselves that those things will cure unemployment. They would do away immediately with the opportunity for human labour. Unless we are prepared, with every increase of efficiency, to provide means whereby our unemployed can be given the opportunity, as nature meant they should be given opportunities, to produce food, to raise trees, to destroy slum dwellings, and to produce decent houses and clothing and shelter for themselves, and slowly to break up the capitalist system, there is no hope for us.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland)
The hon. Member is always interesting, and in reply to one of the points that he has made I hope to speak later. To start with, I wish to say a word or two in reply to the speech of the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes). There is a formidable theological instrument in Scotland, well known to the Member for S. Ayrshire (Mr. J Brown), which is known as the Shorter Catechism. It is mild compared with the longer catechism addressed to me by the right hon. Gentleman. All that I can do. within the scope of human endurance and the length of time available, is to answer some of the points which he raised. Then I shall try to deal with one or two others 1435 raised by other hon. Members. Let me deal at once with the question of Russia The right hon. Gentleman asked me why we were not willing to try to help trade with Russia to expand. He asked particularly why I personally was against the expansion of trade between Russia and this country. Let me say at once that. far from being against the expansion of trade between Russia and this country, I should be glad to see it expand to the greatest extent possible. When I say that, I must follow up the statement by saying also that I think many hon. Members opposite are under a complete misapprehension as to the true facts of the relations between this country and Russia with respect to trade. It seems to be thought by many hon. Members opposite, and by those who sympathise with them, that trade with Russia is stopped or hindered by action taken by the British Government. I can assure them that that belief is based on a complete misapprehension of the facts.
There are one or two assumptions ordinarily made by people who think that hindrances are put in the way of trade with Russia. It is assumed, for instance, that the absence of trade with Russia is due to the fact that recognition of Russia by this country is not complete. I recollect an hon. Member opposite telling me on one occasion of his experiences in Russia, and he mentioned that when he was somewhere near the Black Sea he saw a large consignment of American ploughs. He said to me, "Why should not we have that trade in ploughs with Russia?" I hark back to the assumption that the reason against our trading with Russia is that our recognition of Russia is not complete. It is perfectly complete. What was incomplete was recognition of Russia by the United States, and yet it was the United States which did the trade in ploughs with Russia. As a matter of fact, there is no incompleteness in our recognition of Russia. Then there seems to be an idea that we are keeping Russia out of the comity of nations, and that it is for that reason that trade is languishing. We are doing nothing of the kind. I cannot imagine any responsible person who would not welcome Russia on the League of Nations, if she would come there as a member willing to act in good faith and honesty and together with the rest.
1436 Lastly, we are told that direct obstacles are placed in the way of trade. There is nothing of the kind. We have placed no obstacles in the way of trade with Russia. I say quite, distinctly that if it were possible for ordinary, normal, proper trade to be done between this country and Russia I would be glad to see it, but Russia cannot ask to be placed on terms in relation to this country more favourable than those enjoyed by any other nation abroad. She can ask, and she already enjoys, terms as favourable, but she cannot ask to be placed in a more favourable position than any other country. Let me point out the facts. It is not as though there is not a balance of trade in our favour which can enable orders to be placed here by Russia. In 1922 their exports to this country were four times the amount of the imports which they bought from this country, so that the credits were here with which to increase their imports from this country had they wished to do so. In 1923 their exports were five times as great as their imports, and, even if we take into account-re-exports from here, their exports to this country were more than twice both their imports from here and the re-imports of goods which came to this country in transit. They had a large balance of credits here with which they could have increased their imports had they wished. I am quite clear as to the facts, which are that no impediments are placed in the way of trade with Russia, and that if Russia wished to import goods from here she has the necessary credits with which to do it. I would only say exactly what I have said to M. Rakovsky directly, that if trade with Russia proceeded in the ordinary normal course, and if those who sold goods to Russia continued to be paid in the ordinary normal way, as is done in all sound trading, then trade would grow and would become bigger than it could become under any other method. I deal with this matter because the right hon. Gentleman put that; specific point. The answer is quite clear and to my mind quite decisive.
As regards unemployment generally, I cannot help thinking that the right hon. Gentleman and I approach the question from different angles. I think to-day that the difference in policy and principle between us is greater than I had imagined it to be before. The right hon. Gentleman, I think, would largely judge 1437 us according to the number of men directly employed on relief works and schemes of that nature undertaken by the Government. I say candidly and straightforwardly, as a matter of principle and policy, that I do not look upon relief work as a virtue. I would not call it a vice, but the best you can say about it is that it is a pis aller, something to be applied if there is nothing else in order to meet an emergency. Judged even by that standard, I do not think we come off badly. I have not with me the actual figures of those employed on relief works started by the Government, but the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned an answer given earlier this afternoon by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, that the number at present employed on relief works undertaken through Government assistance is 107,000, and has asked what was the number a year ago. As I say, I have not the figures, but I am sure the number was less. I cannot say for certain whether it was 20,000 or 30,000 less, but I will procure the figures and send them to the right hon. Gentleman. I can say, however, that the number on 26th July last year was considerably less than it is at this moment.
I say at once that I take no particular credit for that circumstance. Far from it. I look upon that method of dealing with unemployment as a palliative which is not good in itself. Under the Trade Facilities Act, some £13,000,000 will be spent in the ensuing 12 months. In regard to the Export Credits scheme, which is also more justifiable than most palliatives, there is at the present moment a Committee sitting to see whether it can be extended in order to cover what are known as catastrophic risks. Then there is the Unemployment Grants Committee. I am not certain where the figure of £1,250,000 which was mentioned was obtained, but this I can say, that at the present moment the volume of grants applied for is not complete. It never is at this time of the year, but I say at once, I think it is not likely to be so big as it was last year, because anticipations, if not coming to an end, are at any rate very much less. You cannot go on anticipating for ever, and further, of course, the burden on the rates is getting greater. As regards the Ministry of Transport, there again the 1438 amount, for what it is worth—as I say, I do not regard it as a virtue—to be spent this year is about £3,000,000 in excess of what was spent in any year before
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
It is not on paper but on roads and bridges. As regards land drainage, the Government have approved a policy involving £'200,000 a year to be spent on the draining of land so as to bring it into better cultivation. That is new, and is a programme for five years. Afforestation is on the same scale as before. As regards afforestation also, it cannot be extended indefinitely. I say quite advisedly that this expenditure of money is not a cure, and in the end is likely to be a burden. It is a burden on industry, whether it comes through the rates or through the taxes. If I were asked my opinion on the matter—and here I know I shall not have the approval of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer—I would say that the type of employment given by the Safeguarding of Industries Act is wiser and better and more economical than anything which can be done by relief works instituted by the Government.
Sir A. STEIEL-MAITLAND
That is assuming that it gives employment. On the other hand, while relief work temporarily gives employment, it is a burden afterwards. What is wanted, first of all, in this country is economy. Burdens on the rates and taxes prevent the recovery of industry, and anything we can do to secure economy, whether through rates or taxes, will in the end assist industry to recover, and will be better than spending more money at this time. I will not say that economy and efficiency are the same, but they are so nearly allied than they are almost inseparable. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) will not agree with me when I say it is important that goods should be made cheaper both as regards competition abroad and from other points of view. I can quite understand the view that if you ask people to work more hours in this country you may get a competition in longer hours, just as before the War you had a competition in armaments. The last thing I want to see is a competition in hours like the 1439 previous competition in armaments, but I put it to hon. Members opposite that the obvious inference is that we should try to get some really effective agreement with regard to hours. I have been in correspondence with other Labour Ministers on this subject, and my real object has been—and it is an object which hon. Members opposite should try to achieve through their trade unions—to get an agreement, a proper effective agreement with regard to hours. Then you can stop a competition of that kind. But until that competition can be stopped, it seems to me absurd for this country to say, "We will allow our competitive power to suffer in the foreign markets which we held before." I am net asking that we should take away from other competing countries in the neutral market the trade they previously possessed, but it is a different thing to stand by and see the trade which you had before taken away from you. Apart from that consideration, all history has shown that to cheapen production means an extension of demand both at home and abroad.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
It means an extension of demand everywhere. The hon. Member for Dundee may think we are at the beginning of a new era and that one cannot judge from the experience of the old, but if he takes the ordinary charts of production, wages act consumption and traces the industrial history of the 19th century through, he will see that the constant cheapening of production was accompanied by an extension of demand which more than off set the cheapness, and without any question, the standard of living—with some ups and downs—showed on the whole an upward trend. The hon. Member Ins referred to America. America is a country where the greatest attention is paid to keeping down costs. I would be the last to—
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Perhaps my hon. Friend will be patient. I was half-way through the sentence, and I was saying that the last item which I would like to see come down is the rate of wages. That does not apply to the actual cost per article of anything— 1440 management, transport, wages, or any-thing else. You get in the type of factories that I have been through in the United States, such as the Ford works or other works, a high rate of wages, and yet a low wage cost, like other costs, per article because of cheap production. That is really what one wants to aim at in this country, and it does mean cheapness. It does mean bringing down costs with the hope that there will be an extension both of demand in new countries abroad, due to more rapid development, and of demand at home. I do not want to anticipate to-morrow's Debate—but that is one reason for making an inquiry into costs with regard to coal, and for the inquiry into iron and steel. I wish I could give the right hon. Gentleman the results of that latter inquiry. No doubt he would say we ought to have them by now, but I am sorry that we have not. That is the reason why I have said from the beginning, and why I say still, that we want to get agreement between employers and employed with regard to costs.
I spoke in a previous Debate about shipbuilding. Some hon. Members know quite well that negotiations are going on at this moment, and the result, I hope, will be to bring down the costs, but without bringing down wages. That is really what ought to be aimed at all round. We all agree, but the trouble is that while we truly agree upon this—and I think everyone on both sides of the House does agree upon it—in the end you get feelings growing hot, and trouble growing, and then there is not the same unanimity throughout in joining together to try to remove the difficulties, which are very often founded on old conditions, old misunderstandings, conditions which are not nearly so easy to remove in practice as they are in argument. That is the general position as I see it with regard to industry, and I have given the right hon. Member the principles on which I am working. He asked me about young persons, and there was also the point put by the hon. Member for Dundee, who suggested turning 100,000 men on to the land with an acre apiece. If he or anyone opposite or on this side has any scheme that will work out in practice, I can promise him quite sincerely that we will take it and go into it, not scoff or laugh at it or reject it, from wherever it comes, provided one can 1441 really make it work. We may not agree as to whether or not it would work, but I take, the hon. Member's suggestion, and I' tell him the thought that crossed my mind, without necessarily rejecting the scheme, and that is that when you come really to get down to detail, will it work?
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Will the right hon. Gentleman inquire into what happened when the British Government gave local authorities power during the War to take over land and hand it over to allotment holders, and will he inquire how many hundred thousand men gladly took over that land, and what was the total product?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I will inquire into all that, and I will be very glad, indeed, to go into it with the hon. Member. Perhaps I might tell the House, as I do not think they yet know, what we have actually started as some contribution to this question. This is new; I did not mention it before; I had it in mind, but it was not actually started, and I preferred not to say anything until it was started. We have begun to set up some training establishments for the land and also for men in the towns. There are only four to start with, two for the towns and two for the land. We have got one building for the towns, and I think we are far through with negotiations for one for the land; the other two, I hope, will be completed before we are back in November. The idea is a six months' course of training. This is for the young men. Perhaps when I am denounced by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) he will see that I have taken his words about young men to heart, which is, I hope, some relic of salvation.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
At any rate, this is as regards single men from 19 to 25 years of age or, in the case of ex-service men who have been away at the war, from 19 to 29. In the towns and in the country they will each get six months' training. In the towns, they will really be taught to be handy men. Many of my old experiences, when I walked about the different towns of the country making inquiries, taught me 1442 that many of the men out of work, and in receipt of relief were quite unskilled, but when I got a man who was handy with his hands, I found that there were very few such cases coming right down on the rocks. I never found a sailor in receipt of relief, unless, perhaps, he had taken to drink, or had some other fault which made him not desirable. And that was simply because they are handy men generally. It makes all the difference for an unskilled man in most cases whether he is clumsy with his hands and has never been taught how to use them, or whether he has some sort of handiness.
What, therefore, we are doing in the towns is to provide that a man can come there and receive, in addition to his unemployment benefit, a training grant of 2s. 6d. a week, and he will get his midday meal as well, and six months' training to try and give him a start. When it comes to the country, the scheme is residential. There they will be put up and boarded, and get a certain allowance as well, and they will be taught agricultural work, which can fit them either for agriculture in the Dominions, if they go there, or for agricultural work in this country. That is the scheme which has been started. It is not on a big scale at this moment, because all these things are experiments.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The negotiations for one in the country I do not wish to deal with, as they are not quite complete, but the town in this case is Birmingham. It is the former building which we have in our possession in Birmingham, in Garrison Lane. The whole object, as I say, is to try and fit them, in the one case, as handy men, and in the other case to go on the land, either in the Dominions or in this country. In this connection I wish to refer to Employment Ex-changes. Everybody levels criticisms at them. Either they are too lax, or else they are too severe. One thing, however, which I do ask Exchanges to take in hand, and which they have done in an increasing degree, is the actual placing of men. During the first half of this year, in the North Eastern district alone, there were between 1,100 and 1,200 1443 men from the towns who were in this way placed out with farmers, going on to the land. In the South East of England in a fortnight there were some 300 who were placed out for harvest work by the Employment Exchanges, but I am speaking especially of people placed out for a longer period on the land, and, as I say, there were between 1,100 and 1,200 town-workers up in the North-East area placed out. Remember you get them on the land in this way much more cheaply to the community, and rightly so, than through the more expensive training system, and, therefore, I would appeal to everyone to use their influence with farmers to apply to the Exchanges. This I can guarantee, that where farmers apply to the Exchanges great care is taken by the Exchanges themselves. We are also always pressing them to take more care, to see that men are sent whom the farmers will not regret having engaged, and who, in turn, may take gladly to the land again.
Training is a building-up process, and similarly with regard to boys. I was asked a little time ago to broadcast a speech about the openings for boys. I am sure the House will acquit me of any vanity with regard to the value of any speech of mine, but I think it was a. good thing for the people who listened in to hear what could be done for boys and girls in the way of trying to put square pegs into square holes and the round pegs into round holes. We got between 200 and 300 letters referring to the actual speech, and a large general increase of letters which, I think, were undoubtedly due to it. I can only, if the House will permit me, say that the credit for this does not belong to me, but to the officials under me who work at this particular business wholeheartedly, and one of the hon. Members opposite, who is on one of our juvenile advisory committees in London, knows very well how hard they work.
We get this type of case—I am sure that hon. Members will acquit me of wanting to pick the type of case merely for show—but this is the sort of case which I have got as a result. Mrs.—I have the name—wrote on 28th April from Berwick-on-Tweed, asking for help for her son, who had had a good education, and for whom there were no opportunities near 1444 home. The boy wanted to go into an insurance office. He was put in communication with the Headmasters' Employment Committee, he expressed willingness to go to London, a good report was received from his headmaster, he was placed with the—Insurance Company in May, 1920, and he was also found a place in a hostel for a lodging. I have a whole list of cases to the same effect, and that work is gradually growing. Broadly speaking, I would say that the number of boys and girls who have attended the juvenile unemployment centres this year is 20 per cent. greater than last year, and I trust they will continue to grow, whatever Government may be in power. Here, in passing, I can only say again that the thanks for the unemployment centres— we may push them as much as we can— are largely due to the local authorities who have adopted them and helped us to run them.
Lastly, the President of the Board of Education and I have completed the Committee to inquire into the adjustment as between school and industry. The chairman, who has stated his willingness to serve, is Mr. Malcolm, whom I know well as one of the ablest of my contemporaries, and also one who takes a keen interest in this kind of work, and I hope the composition of the Committee will be announced before long.
I will again give the right hon. Gentleman opposite my principles. They are to aim at economy and at increased efficiency, and thus to keep down costs in industry and to promote its growth. They are not to spend the money of this country on experiments beyond what is needed for palliatives or relief works, which are not absolutely necessitated by the hardships of the moment.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The right hon. Gentleman, as is usual with Ministers of Labour, has left us to go back to our constituents empty-handed. I do not think, with all the elaboration he gave us of what he is going to do, that he will claim that anything he is going to do is of any immediate benefit to the unemployed clamouring in all our industrial constituencies for help just now. I dare say right hon. and hon. Members get rather tired of hearing about unemployment The emptiness, relatively speaking, of the House to-day, is proof that Members are rather sick of the subject. I do not 1445 wonder at it, because all our talk appears to be but just beating the air. I have to sit here and get myself screwed up to say anything about the subject in any sort of sequence, owing to the fact that one feels it is almost hopeless, if not quite hopeless, to try to expect anything of any real worth from any Government. This is the third winter—it will soon be the fourth that some of us are entering upon—and those who were here three years ago remember the heat from these benches, and the corresponding heat from the other side the pledges from Ministers, and the sort of soft answer that came, telling us that slowly and by degrees this terrible problem was going to be effectively dealt with. And here we are going away, and for three solid months you are going to leave the unemployed to what the right hon. Gentleman has just been telling us. Then people get up, as one hon. Gentle man did a little while ago, and wonder that there is a bad spirit.
I do not believe, honestly, that I could hurt either an animal or a human being. I do not think I could, whether you believe me or not, but I am full of bitterness, and I have been all through this Session. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what he knows, but I will remind him of it, that in the district from which I come, in 1909 he and another Commissioner wrote a Report on that district, and districts akin to it. He wrote that casual labour, intermittent labour, was the most important factor inducing pauperism in that district. He. went on to say that bad housing was also a factor. I have read through that Report of the right hon. Gentleman. Anyone can read it in the Library. It is issued in connection with the Report of the Poor Law Commission. Can you wonder that a man who reaches my age commences to feel bitter and disillusioned when he has to sit and listen to the right hon. Gentleman talking the purely empty kind of platitudes he has talked this evening? I said against him once, that he sins against the light. So he does. It is a hard thing to say against anybody, but there is no one who has ever sat on those benches who knows the social, economic and industrial conditions of the people better than the right hon. Gentleman does. There is no one, if he sits down and honestly inquires into the subject, who knows better than he does that within this capitalist system which he is stand- 1446 ing there to defend it is utterly impossible to deal with the evils about which he writes and speaks.
The right hon. Gentleman gave an instance just now of a boy who was brought from the country to London to occupy a position in an insurance office. Why, any juvenile advisory committee in London would have given you a score of hundreds of such boys. You have done nothing. You have just shifted one boy into a job, and kept another out. You have not increased employment in the country. A boy walked to my house yesterday morning, 16 years of age, just turned out of George Green School. Our juvenile employment committee is as good and efficient a one as there is anywhere in the country, but that boy is simply searching round, and does not know what to do. I suppose in the end he will be living on some sort of parish relief, and if he gets a temporary job, then a miserable allowance from the Employment Exchange.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
It was not just bringing a boy from Northumberland to a casual job. It so happened all these cases were people who had got a special wish for some particular kind of job, and were fitted for it.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
It alters the point to this extent. If you get people fitted for the job for which they have a particular liking, you are likely to get efficiency.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The right hon. Gentleman misses the point altogether. I invite him to get his very efficient officers to inquire, whether that situation could not have been filled a hundred times over by boys in London, who, equally, would have liked to find that kind of position, and are quite competent and capable of filling that position. It is non-sense to say there are not hundreds of boys turned out from the elementary and secondary schools of London who cannot find permanent, decent occupation, and it seems perfectly absurd for the right hon. Gentleman to stand at that box and solemnly take credit that, because of a wireless speech, he has had an application from someone in Northumberland who has a bright boy who wants to go into an insurance office, and, lo and behold, the 1447 Employment Exchange has actually placed that boy in such an office! It is only playing with the subject; it is toying with it, and does not deal in any adequate manner with the problem we are now-discussing.
I want to say one other thing. An hon. Gentleman, whom I am sorry I felt obliged to interrupt in a maiden speech on a subject about which I feel rather keenly, a speech which, from his point of view, everyone here, I think, admired, talked about friendly relationship, and the sort of attitude of mind we should have towards one another on this subject. The longer I live the more bitter I become about all this, and the fact that this House is going away now for three solid months is enough to make the men who are tramping from Exchange to Exchange, from factory to factory, from workshop to workshop looking for jobs, direct actionists, Bolshevists, or any sort of revolutionists. By the fact that this House is leaving this problem practically untouched, you are forcing men, as you forced the miners and the trade unionists, to believe, that this House is utterly incapable of dealing with social wrongs, and utterly incapable of dealing with what is the most terrible problem of the day.
To come to one of the points the right hon. Gentleman made, and with which I do not intend to deal at any length, because I think one of our right hon. Friends is raising the matter again on Friday, that is, trade with Russia. The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well what is the difficulty there. The difficulty is credit. The Russian Government is the only kind of entity in Russia that can buy the goods, and the right hon. Gentleman knows that the overseas credit and the trade facilities are not applicable to the Russian Government, because you say they have refused to pay their debts, and you refuse to negotiate with them as to how those debts shall be dealt with. That is the charge we make as to your stopping trade with Russia, because you prevented the policy of the right hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. R. MacDonald) being carried out. You rejected the agreement, and you have not from that day to this attempted to bring in any treaty, or make any other arrange- 1448 ment with the Russian people as to how those debts should be paid.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I am sorry to have to interrupt again, but the hon. Gentleman knows I do not do it rudely. The point I tried to make was that, judging by the actual trade, the Russian Government ought to have millions standing to their credit at the moment, if they wanted to use it.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
That matter, I understand, will be dealt with later, but I am not going to let the right hon. Gentleman ride off in that way. The Russian Government and the late British Government came to an agreement which was to have been put to this House for ratification. The present Government have refused to put that treaty to the approval of this House, with the result that the debt question, which is the outstanding question that the City puts up against the Russian Government, is still not dealt with. But this Government went a step further. The Soviet Government put advertisements in our Government publications, and because, as we were told, they have not paid their debts, those advertisements are not allowed to appear. And yet the right hon. Gentleman stands there and says they are not putting any obstacles in the way. I say their whole policy is one of obstacles, and their whole policy is one of pinpricks against that Government. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ayr Burghs (Lieut.-Colonel Moore) spoke the feelings in your hearts about the Soviet Government. He said what some have not so much pluck to say. [An HON. MEMBER: "We all agree with him."] No, the right hon. Gentleman says that is not his policy. He says he wants to help trade. I am pointing out that the Government prevent trade being done, and I say that in the engineering industry, especially in the making of tools for harvesting and farm work, the Government are deliberately preventing men from being employed.
I want to say something about the right hon. Gentleman's own administration, but, before doing so, I would like to say one word about the statement of the hon. and gallant Member for the Ayr Burghs that the working men were deliberately hindering trade because of trade union conditions, and so on. As a matter of fact, the right hon. Gentleman 1449 and the Prime Minister put their fingers on the spot, as I think, with regard to unemployment. He himself said in the Debate, I think it was, on the 26th March, that the foreign trade was down by 25 per cent. to 30 per cent. He went on to say that this meant, on the present day lines of organisation and productivity of men, that there would be about 500,000 less men employed. Then he went on to say that the development of labour-saving machinery during the War had meant that we produced the same amount of iron and steel as before the War with 70 per cent. less men, and that there was also a saving of labour of 25 per cent. in the chemical industry. Whatever is the use of the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs continually telling us that we must cheapen production? You are already cheapening production to such an extent that you produce more than you produced before 1914 with a less number of men. That is solely because of that factor in capitalist production which continually works: you cheapen production, you turn out more and more goods, and then you have a large number of men out of work.
Somewhere in the eighties there was a big conference. I believe Lord Balfour was one of the Members who attended it. I cannot remember the title of the conference. It had to do with inquiring into the remuneration of men and production generally, and it was established then that in the great staple industries of the country, even in the eighties, the productivity was so great, and was becoming greater, that larger and larger masses of men became unskilled men and parasitical workers living on the service of luxuries. The argument used to be put up that when you increased your production through labour-saving machinery other industries sprang up and absorbed the men who were displaced by the coming in of the machine. I believe at the beginning, say, 50 years ago, that perhaps might have operated, to some extent, but Karl Marx pointed out, quite 50 or 60 years ago, that the thing that has happened to-day would happen, and a man like Thomas Carlyle also pointed out in "Past and Present" that you would be choked by the tremendous power that capitalism would bring into being for the production of goods. That is where we are to-day. 1450 The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I am coming to the one point when he may trip me up, and that is agriculture.
In all the manufactured commodities in every country of the world where there is stagnation, it is because their power to produce is greater than their power to consume. That cannot be denied one bit. Fifty years ago Britain had the markets of the world at her disposal. You had no competitor. To-day you have not only your own Colonies as competitors, but you have places like China and Japan and the Dominion of India, that are competing with you in some of the most important industries, and it is proved that all nations have been turning their attention, I think too much, to machine industry and industry connected with production of goods other than food. That brings me to this—I am not concerned very much whether you agree with me or not, but I am going to say here in this House of Commons—that this country has gone on a policy which has worked itself out in regard to looking to other nations to supply it with food. I am sorry the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) is not here, as I would point out to him that you are leaning on a rather weak kind of reed when you say you are going to look to the Colonies for the supplies which you will not be able to pay for from America. The Prime Minister put it thus. He said in one speech that what we have now to do, because of the things I have just been mentioning, is to send men to the Colonies to produce food there and to take our goods in exchange for that food. But it was pointed out to us last week in the rooms of the Empire Parliamentary Association that in the Colonies, so soon as they could produce goods for themselves, they intended to do so. They would follow the line of all the Colonies, the line of America and Canada.
That brings me to this perfectly practical thing, and I hope you will not rule me out of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, because what I am now going to suggest can be done without any new legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. T. Johnston) asked about land and asked that the land of this country should be cultivated. Now I am confident—and most of you will be here when I am dead 1451 and gone—that this country and Europe will have to grow infinitely more of its food than it has grown for the last 100 years. I am not at all sure that you will not, because of world competition and because of the competition of the coloured races, be driven, not the whole population to live on a lower standard, but a lot of people on the top to come down to a much lower standard. In any case, you will have to face growing more food in this country. You have got two schemes under which this can be done now without any more legislation. There are, I think, Development Commissioners, and there is still an Unemployed Workmen's Act on the Statute Book. If the Minister of Health had cared to do it, he could have set up in London, without all those Poor Law Regulations which were associated with it, an Unemployed Committee. I believe it is still in existence for London only. There would be one in every part of the country, and the proposition of my hon. Friend with regard to land could have been put into operation quite easily without any Act of Parliament at all.
T want to point out that one of the things I did during the War was to help men and their wives and other people to get bits of waste land here in London. I saw men, and not only men but women, turn the roughest bits of land in this city of London into gardens. Any of you could have seen it, in Walworth, Wandsworth and Poplar, and all over the place, and I cannot for the life of me think why that cannot be done now. If I were an unemployed man near a bit of land I should go and take it and see what happened to me after I had done it. If I wore among the miners and were younger than I am now, I should jolly well lead them on to the land and defy you to remove me. The land is here for the service of men. You ought to have every scrap of it cultivated to its highest extent. When you say to me that you must send goods to Australia to be exchanged for food, I say that we can produce goods to be exchanged for food here in this country, and you can re-settle men on the land of England much cheaper and much more effectively than doing it 16,000 miles away.
That is only one thing. The other is in regard to young men. I understand the right hon. Gentleman has got a 1452 scheme. "By their fruits ye shall know them," and by his work I will judge him. I do not know what the scheme consists of. His colleague the Minister of Health has ruined—I will not say him personally, it may have been one of his predecessors who started it—one of the best schemes for dealing with unemployed men at Hollesley Bay. They have turned it into just an ordinary pauper colony, and pauper conditions to a great extent prevail. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen said nice things about me when I said I would not give any man money for nothing. I meant that I would not give him money for nothing if there was a decent honest job waiting for him to go to and he refused it. That is the limitation I put on that. In regard to getting men on the land, I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to give us the same pauper establishment where the rules will be such that no decent, self-respecting young man would ever go near it. If it is to be training, let it be training under proper conditions. You trained men to go out and slay their fellow men. You gave them fairly decent conditions; many of them for the first time in their lives had decent food and clothes.
If you are going to train men, you must take care that the conditions are such that the self-respecting men will have them. The thing that broke Hollesley Bay down was that there was no outlet but emigration. We tried very hard to get the then President of the Local Government Board to allow us actually to settle the men on the land, and we had a scheme whereby the ordinary unemployed would prepare and clear the land—and remember that is all they will do if you send men to Australia and Canada. They will only clear away roots and drain land and so on. We wanted them to do that, and at the same time train the younger men, the men perhaps who have just married, train them to become either smallholders or, on a big factory farm, workers. That scheme broke down because of the hostility of the then Liberal President of the Local Government Board, who in those days voiced the opinion of the House of Commons that even work should not be found for the unemployed. We have advanced a great deal since those days. Now nobody denies that you must find work for them in one way or other. 1453 If you took this business in hand, and I am speaking not theoretically but from practical knowledge, you could train the men to become cultivators of the soil and bring the land of England back to cultivation, instead of leaving it to go out of cultivation as it is to-day. There are a million more acres out of cultivation than there were two or three years ago, and there are fewer men engaged in agriculture than a few years ago, in spite of all that the Minister of Agriculture told us the other night.
If it be true, and it is true, that we are capable of producing more wealth to-day, why should there be this shout for economy? If we develop our home markets why should not there be a higher level of life for the whole community? To me it is an amazing thing that you should argue, as it is being argued, that we must cut down here and there. The fact of the matter is that what has to be decided is how we can readjust the spending power of the nation. At present there is plenty of money at Cowes. There is plenty of money at Goodwood. There is plenty of money at Ascot. There are many garden parties. As I go through the West End of London I see there is luxury and extravagance abroad. The fact is that while wages have gone down, while the payment to the workers has been reduced since 1900, the payment to those who draw dividends, to the interest drawers, and others of that class, have enormously increased. Nobody can deny that! Instead of the shouting for economy, what we want is a better distribution of the wealth the nation produces.
During the century there have been various ways in which the nation has shown this—I mean that the workers have shared indirectly in the wealth produced. The people now get what is called free education, free parks, open spaces, free libraries, and lots of the amenities of life unknown 60 years ago. I say that the time has come when we have to develop that sort of policy ever so much further. I charge the right hon. Gentleman who is responsible for education, and the Minister of Labour, who indirectly is responsible for all the adolescents—I charge them with neglecting their duty towards these young people. Long, long ago every boy and girl between the ages of 14 and 16 should have been kept at school and a giant been made for keeping 1454 them there. Do not talk to me as to where the money is to come from. Hon. Members on the opposite side grumble when we talk this way. But they did not grumble at £58,000,000 for the Navy. Then did not grumble on the opposite side at a thousand millions for the "good old War"! The money is found if it is needed for destruction. We claim that you ought to find it for purposes of life.
If you took the boys and girls out of industry you would take 500,000 people off the unemployment roll at once. If you carried that a step further, and took out all the aged persons, men more or less worn out, and those suffering from physical disabilities you take another 800,000. We demand that these things shall be done now because the nation can afford to have them done. In conclusion let me read a couple of letters to show to the House exactly what ordinary people are thinking. The right hon. Gentleman thought it an extraordinary thing that he had got a couple of hundred letters in one day. There are many ordinary Members of Parliament who get scores and hundreds of letters during the week on this subject. The right hon. Gentleman's own Department knows the number that I send occasionally, and to the Minister of Pensions as well. I want to repeat something I said the other night. I want to hear of the debt that we owe, not only to the ex-service men, but to all the workers in the War. The country, however, owes a special debt to the ex-service men. It is just—how many many years since the War broke out? [An HON. MEMBER: "Eleven years!"] Yes, eleven years. Hon. Members of my own age and younger remember what during those years they said to the men: how they petted them, how they took them to their country houses, how they told them: "Never again!" I have tried to get the figures of the numbers in the casual wards on a given day. Apparently that request came a bit too closely to Questions, so I have not got it; but a week or two ago I did get from the Minister of Health the figures of those in the casual wards of the country. On one night there were 7,338 men, and, of those, 43 per cent. were ex-service men.
§ Lieut.-Commander ASTBURY
Would the hon. Member give the House the 1455 information as to how the party opposite refused to accept 50,000 ex-service men into the building trades of this country.
I am not quite certain that I shall be allowed to answer that question, but I might just tell the hon. Gentleman who put the question that it is not true. What I want to point ou—[Interruption.] I was saying that there were 7,338 men in the casual wards and that of these 43 per cent., that is very nearly half, were ex-service men. I do not know whether hon. Members know what a casual ward is like. I know, and the right hon. Gentleman knows, because, like myself, he has inspected them. It is a place where a man lies on a board, where in the morning he has to break stones to a certain size that will go through a grating, and where a decent man's heart is broken because of the task that is set him to do. He will get a little water, or just a little of what is called skilly, a kind of brown porridge, and then he is sent out to tramp to another casual ward. If hon. Members are not ashamed of that I am. I feel ashamed of it every time I see one of these men, and every time I see their women and children dragging along with them.
Here is a letter that I have had sent mo a day or two ago:Enclosed leaflet (which please return) was given to me in Hyde Park when the King inspected us silver-badged men. I thought it might be useful to you. My service to the State was 20 years as a Volunteer, four years as a Territorial, two years in the City of London Naval Reserve; joined the Colours in 1914, and was discharged physically unfit in 1916. No one can say that I was not patriotic. My experience has taught me different now, and I can understand the reason they cannot get recruits for the Army and the Territorials. I have been discharged from a big City stores, who are on the King's Roll of Honour, after over 38 years' service, without pension, but with a small gratuity, on the score of cutting down expenses. Yet their profit was £60,000 net last year, showing an increase of over £4,000. I was discharged in July, 1923. After walking about for months trying to find permanent employment, which is difficult at my age. 56, I sent the enclosed leaflet back to the King, reminding him that instead of a foremost place in my own native city, I was tramping about trying to find employment, and could he help me to obtain work as all other sources had failed. The answer came back: 'I much regret' etc.—nothing was doing! So much for the beautifully-worded leaflet. I also wrote to Sir Steel-Maitland 1456 explaining my position, and was referred to a branch of the Labour Ministry at Bays-water. After correspondence I was referred to the Labour Bureau, who can do nothing but try to find a job for me. We have both been trying for over 12 months. Last week my dole was stopped. I went before the committee, and they have extended it for a short period. It means that failing to find employment I must go to the Poor Law. I have lost my life's job and health through being patriotic. I daresay there are plenty like me. May I add that I have an excellent character both from my old firm and from the Army. I am getting 10s. disablement pension for my wife and self.Then I should like to read the leaflet that this friend speaks of:I am glad to have met you to-day, and to have looked into the faces of those who for the defence of home and Empire were ready to give up their all, and have sacrificed limbs, sight, hearing, health. Your wounds, most honourable distinction a man can bear, inspire reverence in your fellow-countrymen. May Almighty God mitigate your sufferings and give you strength to bear them. The welfare of the disabled in the War is the first claim on this country's gratitude, and I trust that the wonderful achievements of medical science, combined with the national voluntarily-supported institutions, may assist you to return to civil life as useful and respected citizens.This is what I remind hon. Members of—I hope that the splendid spirit of comradeship on the battlefield will be kept alive in peace, and that you may ever occupy a foremost place on all public occasions in life in the life of your city, borough, town or village. As your King, I thank you. We all honour you and admire the ungrudging way in which you have done your duty. That you will live long, enjoy with happiness the peace which you so hardly won, is the most earnest wish of my heart.I have not the least doubt that the King, when he handed these papers round, meant every word that is contained there. But he is not responsible. The people responsible are on the benches opposite. [Interruption.] It may be that when my friends were on the opposite side everything was not done that ought to be done. That is no argument that the right thing should not be done to-day. What answer have you got to this man and to the hundreds and thousands like him? His Majesty tells the man that he hopes he will live long. Live long! What to do? To tramp the streets and to have his heart eaten out with a sort of feeling that after he has served all these years that all you can do with him is to allow him to exist or, the verge of destitution. I say that it 1457 is this sort of thing that is causing all the unrest in the country. If I were treated in this fashion I should be among those who wanted to blow up, destroy, and smash up the present system by any means in my power. I am quite certain that there is not one of those who sit on those benches opposite who would ever suffer the ignominy, shame and destitution that thousands of these men are suffering to-day. It is utter cant and humbug on the part of Governments to send out leaflets like this and then to treat these men in this way. Throughout the country there are hundreds and thousands of them, and all we can do for them to-day is to listen to that paltry, piffling statement of the right hon. Gentleman, and then go away for three months' holiday! I hope the unemployed will persuade their unions to take the same action as they took about the miners, and force the Government to deal with the situation.