§ Mr. CAPE
I want to deal with a matter of local importance as far as the town of Workington is concerned. Within the last two or three years we have been making frequent appeals to the Ministry to build a new Employment Exchange or to obtain some better building than we have at present. I have sent personal letters to the Department, and have asked questions in the House. Some of the replies, as usual, have been of a rather encouraging nature and some have been very discouraging, but the Department has already had its surveyors 3061 and inspectors inquiring in regard to sites. The last information I received from the Department was that they had made up their minds not to proceed with a new building. Since that time the local employment committee have taken the matter up seriously, and at their last meeting they were unanimous in asking the Minister to apply his mind in this direction and do something to make the conditions better and more adequate, both for those who are wanting unemployment benefit and also for the staff. We have had a large number of unemployed for a number of years. The chief industry is iron and steel, which has been suffering greatly, and a large number of men have been continually on the unemployed list.
The conditions that these men have to undergo when they go to sign on or to receive their unemployment pay, are deplorable. There is no shelter from the weather, and it is pitiable to see the men in queues in wet weather. The Department is divided into two sections in the town and the conditions are difficult for the staff as well as for those dependent upon unemployment benefit. I strongly complain of the lack of interest taken in this matter by the Department, and I appeal to the Minister to give it more consideration in the future and, if possible, to make immediate provision for better accommodation. If the Department is not prepared to build a new Exchange, there are, surely, buildings in the town of a more commodious character which could be acqured for the purpose. I hope that the Minister will take note of the unanimous resolution which has been passed by the committee in the district:`"Resolved unanimously that this committee protest most strongly against the delay in securing proper and suitable accommodation for the Workington Employment Exchange, and that a copy of the resolution be sent to the local Member of Parliament.I expect that a copy has been sent to the right hon. Gentleman. I heartily endorse the views expressed in the resolution.
§ Mr. SAKLATVALA
The position of the Minister of Labour is extremely difficult, in view of the very long and unjustifiable adjournment of the House. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who spoke as the responsible Cabinet 3062 Minister with regard to the necessity for a very long holiday for overworked Members of the House, made a very misleading statement. The present condition of the house shows about nine Members of the Conservative party present. That has been the maximum attendance on the opposite benches since the Foreign Secretary spoke. It has been known to us that out of the 400 Conservative Members, for more than three-fourths of the time scarcely 20 Members attend to their duties. To describe them to the country as an overworked and exhausted band of hard-working men, who deserve a three months' holiday, is a grossly misleading statement.
The position of the Minister of Labour during the long Adjournment will be extremely difficult, because he will not be able to keep in a happy condition of employment the men and women of this country so long as he permits his colleague in the Cabinet, the Foreign Secretary, to roam wild with his prejudices in China. The Canton Government has been trying its utmost to come to an amicable settlement with the British on the question of the British boycott, and to revive the normal conditions of trading with Great Britain. The question of shipbuilding, unemployment and Employment Exchanges will become extremely difficult to handle if the Foreign Secretary deals with the revolutionary Government of Canton and of China generally in the same spirit of bias and on the lines of the policy of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face, that has been followed in regard to Russia during the last five or six years. I appeal to the Minister of Labour that when Parliament is not functioning he will keep a look-out on the activities of his colleague in the Foreign Office, and that he will be our representative in the Cabinet to look after the vagaries and whimsical ideas of the Foreign Secretary. The same remarks apply in regard to the Russian trade position. Everyone now feels convinced that the policy of the Government of not trading with Russia, of not building ships if they are intended for Russia, and of not building ships for Great Britain to bring produce from Russia, is a one-sided policy which will have to be given up.
I would like to draw attention to another Department where the right hon. Gentleman will have to act as our deputy 3063 when the House goes to sleep, instead of attending to its proper functions. He will have to keep a sharp look out on the Secretary of State for India.
The hon. Member is giving a rather wide extension to the functions of the Minister of Labour. He may ask the right hon. Gentleman to communicate his views to the right hon. Gentlemen concerned.
§ Mr. SAKLATVALA
I am afraid that the Government are compelling us to take this course by telling us to go away and not to perform our duties when we are willing and ready to perform them. I am drawing the attention of the Minister of Labour to the fact that his Department will suffer heavily if the already bad trade between this country and India is rendered still worse. There is every likelihood that the Governments policy in India if not rectified before the next election takes place in India will mean that the Minister of Labour will have his hands full when he comes back on the 9th November, because unemployment will be rife in Lancashire and in the machinery trade and the shipbuilding industry.
The Minister of Labour has long overlooked a very important function, and that is to keep an eye on what is done in certain other Departments. For instance, in connection with the Colonial Office and the India Office, so long as the exploitation of cheap labour is allowed to go on and to compete with industries here, the Minister of Labour will never be able to look after his job in an efficient way. On the one hand he will make profuse promises to this House to curtail unemployment, while on the other hand his colleagues at the Colonial Office and the India Office will be supporting a policy in other parts of the Empire which is bound to cause unemployment in this country, by developing industries in competition with the industries of this country, carried on by means of labour which is in every sense of the word nothing but slave labour appeal to the Minister of Labour not to spend his holidays somewhere on the Continent, or in Australia or Canada, but to keep in close touch with Downing Street and to see that these gross abuses do not take place.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland)
One or two points have been raised to which I would like to give a brief answer, but I am afraid that whatever I do it will be impossible to satisfy the hon. Member for North Battersea (Mr. Saklatvala). He has sought to invest me with considerably extended functions, and has asked me whether I I would be his representative in the Cabinet. I am not quite certain for whom he spoke when he used the word "our." I understood that he was in a unique position on the benches opposite, and that he speaks for a party of one. I am not certain that that is the case, but in any event I am afraid that I cannot undertake to be his representative in the Cabinet. The only thing which made me think that there had been a conversion in his case was his reference to the competition with goods made in this country of articles produced by cheap labour elsewhere. He described it as slave labour.
§ Captain WEDGWOOD BENN
The right hon. Gentleman looks at me. It is not new to find a Communist and a Protectionist in the same camp.
I thought I heard little noises coming from the direction of the hon. and gallant Member, and that caused me to turn my eyes in that direction. I wonder whether this is the beginning of changing sentiments on the part of the hon. Member for Battersea North.
§ Mr. SAKLATVALA
I did not appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to permit this slave labour to be created and to continue, and then to introduce a farcical system of Protection in this country? I meant that the Government should give up the nefarious task of exploiting cheap labour, and that they should not have cheap labour in any part of the British Empire under the British trade union standard.
I hope the hon. Member's logical sense will lead him further to this conclusion, that if he wants to avoid the possibility of competition between goods made in this country and goods made by cheap labour in the Dominions or any of the British Possessions, he should realise that that competition is equally dangerous from goods made by cheap labour in foreign countries.
Both a world international communism and the milder proposals adumbrated by the right hon. Gentleman would involve legislation.
It seems to me impossible to satisfy the hon. Member. At least I am now quite sure that I am beyond hope as representing his views in the Cabinet. I will now deal with some points which have been raised which are more immediately concerned with my Department than are such questions as those mentioned by the hon. Member affecting the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office, or the relations between the Dominions and other parts of the Empire. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Cape) did not give me notice of the question which he has raised in regard to his constituency, but he has had the courtesy to give me a copy of the resolution which has been passed regarding the Employment Exchange. I will gladly look into the question. Of course, he must realise, like everybody else, that it is impossible to erect buildings as good or as adequate as we would wish on the one hand, and at the same time to enforce stringent economies. The programme in connection with the erection of buildings is going forward slowly. The hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Bondfield) had the same trouble in her day. If I remember aright, the views of her colleague in the Ministry of Labour in regard to the dead-hand of the Treasury were at least as severe and outspoken as anything to which I have given utterance. She had the same difficulty in her time as I have had in mine.
I agree that there is more than one sinner. One cannot go forward as quickly as one would wish. The hon. Member for Newcastle East(Mr. Connolly) drew attention to the question of shipbuilding industry and trade facilities, and to the effect of rings upon certain categories of subsidiary manufactures of machinery. The first question is a matter for the Treasury and the second for the Board of Trade. If he desires to do so, I hope he will press his remarks in those 3066 directions during the vacation. If the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. J. Hudson) will send me particulars of the case to which he referred I will gladly go into it, but at the same time I must point out that we take all the care we can to see that where other employment is offered it is reasonable in all the circumstances to ask the man to take it. That is done in every single case. I had no knowledge of the reasons why the hon. Member asked the question yesterday, but it was a perfectly genuine offer. If he will give me particulars I will see that it is gone into, and if he wishes will communicate the result to him. Let me now deal with the remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife (Mr. W. Adamson) who referred to the safety men in mines. I wish the right hon. Gentleman were present, because if he had had the advantage of a consultation with his colleague who represents the Wallsend Division (Miss Bond-field) I do not think he would have made the speech. I have every sympathy with the safety men. They are pivotal as regards the mines, and no one wishes them to receive anything except the fairest treatment. They have always put their case perfectly moderately and fairly, but the complaint of the right hon. Gentleman is really a different matter altogether. Let me call attention to the phrase he used towards the end of his speech. He said:I think it is the general desire of the Government to make it as difficult as possible for the men in the mining districts, whether as regards unemployment benefit—And he then went on to mention boards of guardians and education. Let me say at once, and categorically, that the right hon. Gentleman was making a charge for which there is absolutely no foundation of any sort or kind. I should have imagined that if he had any regard for the facts of the case he would have inquired into the matter. He would then have found that his charge had no foundation at all, and that he had no reasonable shadow of belief whatever for making statements of that kind. Everybody regrets the continuation of the coal dispute, but no one in the mining industry, or in any other industry, can gainsay the fact that far from it being the intention on the part of any body "to make it as difficult as possible," there has been more 3067 help forthcoming in this dispute than in any great dispute of this kind in the history of this country. Let me take his case with regard to the safety men. The logical sense which I should have expected has deserted him, and so also has his knowledge of the actual insurance system. He said it was a perfectly monstrous proposition that the safety men should not at the moment be receiving unemployment benefit. It is not a question as to whether I want to give them unemployment benefit or not. The question is whether they are entitled to it under the actual law. No one in the Ministry of Labour can break the law in order to give a man benefit which is flatly contrary to the law. If the right hon. Gentleman will consult Section 4 of the Act, of 1924 he will see that in these circumstances it is contrary to the law as laid down, and if he asks who is responsible for this Section, I must tell him that he himself and his friends on the Opposition Benches are themselves responsible for the law under which this benefit is refused.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
It was due to the pressure brought to bear from the Conservative and Liberal Benches.
The party opposite are responsible for it. They are responsible for putting in the wordsdoes not belong to a grade or class of workers.When you come down to actual facts, and take the precise words under which this disqualification has taken place, and hon. Members opposite are asked whether they were inserted by pressure and against their wishes, not a single hon. Member can reply.
§ Mr. WHITELEY
The Amendment was moved by the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon)
Yes, but not the wordsdoes not belong to a grade or class of workers.At any rate, I must point this out, that it is not a question whether we want to benefit the safety men or not. It is completely out of my power. It is determined by the words of the Act, and when that Act comes to be construed it is construed, ultimately, by the umpire. The right hon. Gentleman said that this 3068 question should be tested in a Court of Law. Again, if he had only consulted his colleague on the Front Bench he would have understood that it is not a question of testing in a Court of Law but that the final decision is with the umpire, and any Court of Law would hold that it is outside its jurisdiction to question a decision of the umpire in view of the express provision of the Act of 1920, Section 11, which says thatthe decision of the umpire in the matter shall be final and conclusive.I have stated these facts as clearly as possible because of the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman made his charge. He said it was a monstrous proposition; that it should be tested in the Law Courts, and that, finally, it was a proof of the general desire of the Government to make things as difficult as possible for the men in the mining districts. There is no justification whatever for his general statement. It is another proof of the way in which charges of this kind break down when they are subject to close examination. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) said that as Minister of Labour I was deliberately and as a set policy cutting off people from benefit, throwing them on the rates and thereby putting pressure on the rates and creating more unemployment. I think I have quoted him correctly.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Sufficient for the purpose. Let us see what the facts are. The proportion of those who have been disallowed benefit is not increasing, and if the hon. Member will compare the figures of the last two months with those of the beginning of the year he will find that the proportion of claims which have been disallowed is less and not greater than it was previously. Therefore, as regards the actual fact, his statement does not hold good.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
But there is a large proportion who are not claiming benefit because they have been refused so often. They are, therefore, permanently off the list and are not included in the figures.
I should have thought the hon. Member would have seen that they made their claim if they are at all entitled to do so. The hon. Member also contends that there 3069 has been a change in the particular count under which they have been disallowed, and that instead of action being taken under the words, "not genuinely seeking work," it has been taken because they have not had work enough during the last two years.
I want to be quite clear what the hon. Member means. He wishes these cases to be considered under the words, " not genuinely seeking work," and complains that they have been decided on the count that they have not had work enough during the last two years. I see what he wants. He does not want these cases to be considered by the committees but by the insurance officers.
Then I must point this out to him. He deprecates the change from "not genuinely seeking work" to not having had sufficient employment in the last two years. " Genuinely seeking work " is one of the general statutory conditions and the case goes before the insurance officer and not before the committee. His complaint is that there has been a change from that and that these cases now go before the committee.
§ Mr. TINKER
Local committees are considering these cases under the words, "not genuinely seeking work," whether it is right or not.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell me whether a person is or is not disqualified by a local committee for "not genuinely seeking work." I know hundreds of cases that have been disallowed by the local committees on that ground.
What the hon. Member is doing is mixing up the reasons for disallowance which are to be judged by the insurance officer and the reasons for disallowance which, at the Minister's discretion, go before the local committees. if he has made a mistake in the presentation of his case, I shall not press the point. In order to create prejudice he alluded to an inquiry which he believed was going forward in Newcastle if not in Glasgow for increasing the number of weeks from 20 to 30 or more, as a method by which I was to pursue my nefarious object of cutting more people 3070 off benefit. I have made inquiries since then, and I know of no inquiry having been held in Newcastle. I have not been able to find any evidence of such an inquiry, and as far as I can see it is a pure figment of the imagination.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I did not make any allegation. I was perfectly deliberate in what I said. I asked the right hon. Gentleman whether there was any truth in the statement on the subject.
It was all put in as part of the alleged general charge of deliberately cutting people off benefit. I am glad to assure the hon. Member that the whole story of the inquiry at Newcastle, with whomsoever it originated, is a figment of someone's imagination, as far as I know. As regards managers of Employment Exchanges carrying out a new policy in not giving an opinion, I have to reply that there has been absolutely no change of any sort. The position is this. A committee may refer a case to the manager. If he is clear about it he will give an answer himself. If he is not clear about it because it is a difficult case, very likely he will refer it to the divisional authority for advice. That is done now in exactly the same way as before. Of course, if a case has been heard and is reheard by a different committee, and if one committee gives one decision and the second committee gives another decision, and you get two decisions which differ, naturally that, is a matter upon which the ordinary manager of an Exchange, like a decent and prudent administrator, is more ready to take advice from a superior official than he would be if there had not been that difference of opinion.
The hon. Member also suggested that in order to make the Fund actuarily sound we shut out humane motives. Let me say quite frankly that there is nothing whatever to justify any charge of that kind. Before making such a charge it would be wise for any hon. Member to look at the figures of the Fund. Just as the hon. Member has not found out what is the proportion of disallowances in Glasgow, so he has not found out what has been the case with the Insurance Fund. As a mater of fact, instead of disallowing people so as to get the Fund actuarily sound, we have recog- 3071 nised the fact that because of the general strike the Fund must get further into debt, and as a matter of fact it has been getting into deficit at the rate of £26,000,000 a year. Far from it being kept actuarily sound in the way suggested, the debt has been added to and is being added to. Besides being told that of set policy I am. cutting off people and throwing them on the rates, it is said that I do not consider I have any responsibility for getting work for the men. I am probably more anxious than any Member of this House that unemployment should decrease. I recall the fact that before the general strike unemployment had been going down steadily, that by the end. of April last it had reached the lowest figure for five years, and that it then increased at once by 6O per cent.—by 600,000 people, because of the general strike—and then stayed at that. level throughout the dispute. I hope that the hon. Member will represent to his friends in Glasgow and elsewhere that, so far as there has been an excess of unemployment, all those, who are suffering from it can thank those who were responsible for the general strike.