§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I beg to move, at the end of the Question to add the words:But humbly submit to Your Majesty that, while Your Ministers admit that under their administration the state of employment continues to be deplorable and that there are but scanty indications of any improvement in trade, "the programme they propose to Parliament is not calculated substantially to reduce unemployment or to stimulate industry; and we further submit that trade prosperity, with the assurance of a reasonable standard of living for all, urgently demands a fundamental reorganisation of industry on the lines of public ownership and democratic control of the essential services.The Amendment which I now submit to the House states the Labour view of the legislative programme of the Government, and expresses our opinion of their record during the 15 months they have been in office. I can well imagine the kind of criticism which would have been brought forward by the party opposite if a Labour Government had submitted such a legislative programme as this. The test of a Government is its treatment of the unemployed and industrial problems. In these days, after five years of unparalleled trade depression, this is the extent to which, by legislation and by administration, they are able to palliate the problem. I see Ministers opposite 366 who evidently accepted that view when the Labour Government were in office. We had not been in office a month before what practically amounted to a Vote of Censure upon us was moved from these benches. We were reminded that it had been stated in a Labour election manifesto that our party had a positive remedy for unemployment, and because that positive remedy had not been fully applied in the course of the first few weeks of a Labour Government, new to office, we were denounced in the most unmeasured terms by Ministers opposite as having flagrantly violated our election pledges. I remember the Home Secretary making an observation in the course of one of those early Debates: "You have been in office four months," he said," and you have not carried out your election pledges. That is the charge we make against you." The present Government have been in office 15 months, following, with a short interval, a previous period of office. They may say they were never pledged to apply a positive remedy for unemployment. Do they say that? Did the party opposite attach no more importance to this question of unemployment at the last general election than they apparently attach to the question now, judged by the terms of their legislative programme for the Session? Hon. Members opposite were returned to this House to apply a positive remedy for unemployment.[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] In every constituency in the country where a Tory candidate stood an official manifesto, issued by the central Unionist organisation, was circulated which declared:The Unionist party has a positive remedy for unemployment.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
It is perfectly clear that hon. Members in this House do not read all the literature which" is circulated during their election campaigns. I have in my possession an official circular headed "Unionist Policy," published by the Central Unionist Association, in which these words appear:The Unionist party has a positive remedy for unemployment.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
No, I have some regard for the company in which I am asked to produce it. I value that circular far too much to allow it to pass out of my possession. If hon. Members want it, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Howdenshire Division (Lieut.-Colonel Jackson) will be able to supply them; but it is not unlikely that if hon. Members made that application to the right hon. Gentleman he would supply them with a revised edition of it which has been issued since the election in which those words have been taken out. But the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister gave pledges almost as specific as that in regard to Unionist policy on unemployment. My right hon. Friend the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes), speaking two days ago, quoted some of those words. In the Prime Minister's election manifesto he said:The 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 with the serious condition of industry as a primary obligation.The right hon. Gentleman made that statement in November. When we raised the question by direct vote of censure on the Government in June, what did the right hon. Gentleman say:I have never pretended to have a remedy … there is but little any Government can do."—[OFFICIAL REPORT 29th June, 1925; col. 2087, Vol. 185.]Six months before when the party opposite wanted the votes of the people, they dangled a positive remedy before them. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] The Prime Minister told the people of this country they would regard the treatment of unemployment as a primary obligation. They have been in office 15 months now. They did not come into office without previous experience, unlike ourselves. The right hon. Gentleman taunted our Minister of Labour with being like an elephant.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Hon. Gentlemen opposite ought not to be so precipitate in their interjections. This was what the right hon. Gentleman said in the course of the Debate to which I have referred:You see, the Labour party came into office with the only positive remedy for unemployment! We have watched the 368 Labour Ministry, and the Labour Minister's performances have been as the gestation of an elephant, which, I am told, takes from two to three years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th May, 1924; col.1188, Vol. 173.]The party opposite have been in office for that length of time during the last three years. They have brought nothing to birth yet.
§ 4.0. P.M.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
There are, in fact, more unemployed to-day than there were when they took office. We have the support of the official returns of the Minister of Labour for that statement. There was issued a few weeks ago an analysis of unemployment. During 1924 the percentage of unemployment was 10.3. Last year under this Government, pledged to deal as a primary obligation with unemployment, the figure was 11.3. Wages have declined during that period. The same official report tells us that in 1924 wages rose by £524,000 a week, and last year they declined by £74,000. This is something of the record of 12 months of this Government. In the meantime, with wages going down and unemployment stationary or increasing, profits have been going up. I do not deny that the Government have attempted to do something. We spent a good part of last Session discussing some of their panaceas, and I suppose a positive remedy for unemployment—the imposition of protective duties. With what result? Look at the official figures with regard to unemployment. The trade union in the Nottingham lace trade issued its report last week. They can see no signs of this Tory panacea for unemployment having beneficially affected their trade.
What promise is there of anything better in the King's Speech? Never in the history of the House of Commons has there been a more pitiable confession of incapacity than is manifested in the legislative programme put, forward in this Speech. There is no proposal made which, if it were carried into effect, would reduce unemployment next year by a single one. We have had presented to Parliament the Government's land programme, as a counterblast, I suppose, to the programme put before the country by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). 369 Well, of the two, I confess I very much prefer the right hon. Gentleman's programme. I wonder if the Prime Minister over holds; the same opinion for more than a fortnight. The right hon. Gentleman has the unfortunate habit, I think, of speaking sometimes without thinking. He spoke in the unemployment Debate which we raised last June, and he then put forward suggestions—I. will not say proposals—for dealing with the stagnation of trade by means of Government subsidies. He startled the House. It was quite evident from the questions that were put to him that he had never given the matter a moment's consideration. He suggested giving subsidies to industry for the replacement of out-of-date machinery, and others were suggested. Now—it may be due to the painful experience of the subsidy in the coal trade and the embarrassing position in which he has placed the Chancellor of the Exchequer—they now say that they have abandoned the policy of subsidies. I will show in a moment or two, though they say they have abandoned the policy of subsidies, that they have not done so.
There are two sorts of subsidies. There is a subsidy to private enterprise, which is usually a subsidy to incompetence and inefficiency. The subsidy in the coal trade is an illustration of that. There might perhaps, although I do not in the least commit myself to it, be something to be said even for a subsidy to private enterprise if the effect of it were going to be to reorganise, re-equip, and improve the efficiency of that industry, but the coal subsidy has not done that, and it is not going to do that. It is, just according to the point of view from which you look at it, either a subsidy to wages or a subsidy to profit. It is going to do nothing whatever to solve the difficulty which the Government will have to face during the next few months. The only justification for making that subsidy last year was that it might provide a sort of breathing space during which step might be taken to put the coal industry upon an economic foundation. Now with that type of subsidy I have no sympathy whatever. There is another kind of subsidy. There is all the difference in the world between a subsidy to private enterprise, which is a subsidy to private profit, and the State making grants to a State enterprise where the full benefit of that will eventually accrue to the community.
370 We have had a White Paper published outlining the Government's agricultural policy, and we find in that White Paper a number of hoary-headed platitudes about the importance of maintaining the status of the worker and not pauperising him by State subsidies and by State control. The people who talk like that and who talk against State interference are the people who are always coming whining to Parliament and begging for public money to put into their pockets. State interference is all right for them when it is going to be to their advantage, but, when they talk in opposition to State interference and State control, what they object to is the State appropriating for public purposes profits which had previously been going into the pockets of private enterprise.
There are no limits to State interference and State control. It is a gradual evolution and an inevitable evolution. One hundred years ago to-day the House of Commons, or some section of the House of Commons, was engaged in opposing proposals for State interference with the liberty of the new factory masters in Lancashire and Yorkshire working little children of eight 12 hours a day, and exactly the same arguments which are being put forward to-day against State interference were then advanced. It would undermine the independence of the people who were going to be protected by this factory legislation, and it was an unwarrantable interference with private initiative and private enterprise; but that State interference and that State control has gone on during all the century from precedent to precedent, and it is just as foolish to-day to advance these arguments and to talk about, the limit to State interference and State control as it was in this House 100 years ago. There can be no limit. There is a phrase in the King's Speech which says:The interests of the community are paramount.It is the only thing in the King's Speech with which I cordially agree. There you have the Socialist case. The interests of the community are paramount; and our position is this. Wherever private interests are incompatible with public welfare, private interests must give way to community interests. That is our case. You are never going to find a positive remedy for unemployment by small 371 pettifogging measures. As our Amendment says, you must get down to the roots. Subsidies, State assistance, why? Because of the failure of private enterprise. These are monuments of the failure of your boasted industrial system, and they are to be found everywhere. They are to be found in the present state of the coal trade, and no greater monument to the failure of your agricultural policy was ever raised than the White Paper which was published a few days ago by the Government. We want to organise not merely our resources in agriculture, but our resources in industry generally. We want to eliminate waste, and get the greatest possible advantage from it. We have waste everywhere.
Take the coal trade. In the evidence which was submitted on behalf of the Labour party and the trade unions a few weeks ago before the Coal Commission, one very remarkable extract was given from the Giant Power Commission of Pennsylvania, and I give this because in degree it can be paralleled by the state of inefficiency of every industry in the country. It shows that 80 per cent. of the value of the coal which is burned in open furnaces is lost to-day. This report tells us what might be done by scientific organisation of the use of coal. We are told that 50,000,000 tons of coal can produce something like 40,000,000 of smokeless fuel for domestic use. In addition it will produce 250,000,000 gallons of fuel oil, 250,000,000 gallons of creosote oil, and 500,000,000 gallons of tar, and from 75 thousand million cubic feet of gas. That is what we want to do.
I want to submit a few proposals which we think are of a practical character. I will begin with the land. There are to be no subsidies, said the Prime Minister, and so says the Report. What does it go on to say? It proposes that the State should come to the assistance of the farmer and the aspirant for a small holding, and the nationalisation of the land we are told would be repugnant to the self respect of the farmer. It would not be repugnant to his self respect for the State to have a mortgage on his land as security for the credit which the Government proposes to give. I am not quite sure that the Government is going to 372 give this credit, because the other day the Prime Minister said that he was very doubtful about it. He further stated that the Government had spent a great deal of time in considering this question, and that they hoped by and by to be able to develop practical plans. Perhaps the most interesting confession in the Agricultural Report is that the landlord is ceasing to put capital into his land. If that be so, what then is the justification for a landlord? On the confession of the Government the landowner has now become merely a receiver of rent and a parasite upon industry. There is to be no subsidy, but facilities are to be given to the man who wants to buy his farm. That is a good Tory policy, and it is the only indication of their wisdom which appears in this Report. That is the political reason and not an economic reason. I remember a proposal made many years ago by the late Lord Salisbury for making every working man householder the owner of his own house by State assistance, and the argument for this was if you give a man a stake in the country you will make him into a good Tory.
But why is this credit necessary? The Report says that a number of farmers have bought their land and they have no capital for its development. Surely that is not an argument in favour of occupying ownership. What is going to be the difference in the position of these owner-farmers to-day who have borrowed money from the bank, who have no capital to put into the development of their farms, and their position if the Government supplies credit in place of the banks? Surely that is not going to give us a better cultivation of the land. The land is going to be starved for the want of capital under that proposal, just as it is being starved to-day.
What are the reasons why we demand the public ownership of the land? First of all, there is this general statement. We have the land, which is the original source of wealth, which is absolutely essential to the community and given by God for the use of his children, and we have divided the land amongst a few people, with the result that a vast number of people have no right to live upon the soil upon which they were born unless they can get a landlord who will give them permission. Therefore, we start from the fundamental right of all the people to use the land and to own 373 it. You have the monument which private enterprise and landlordism have provided in the present state of English agriculture. You need not take the views of Socialists on that question, nor even the views of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, because you can get support' for that view-in the speeches and the writings of prominent Conservatives, men like Lord Ernle and Lord Bledisloe, who, I think; holds some official position in the present Government.
During the last century millions of people have been driven from the land on which they were born, and they have been driven to the towns and have aggravated greatly our industrial difficulties. All this is the result of private enterprise and landlordism, and it has degraded agriculture to the position of a sweated industry. It has been scheduled under the Trade Board. The wages are 30s. a week.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
No less than 300,000 men during the last 30 years have been driven from the land. We are importing yearly £400,000,000 worth of foodstuffs from abroad in a year, all of which, with the exception of wheat, might be produced on the soil of our own country. There is one sentence in the Agricultural Report with which I agree, and it is that from a purely economic point of view it would probably be better business for the British farmer to devote his energies as largely as possible to the development of life-stock industry of this country and endeavour to meet the demands of the population. We imported £100,000,000 worth of meat from abroad last year, and nearly the same amount of cheese, butter and bacon, all of which might, by the scientific development, of the resources of our own country have been produced in this country, and this would have found work for a vast body of men and women in a useful and healthy occupation. There is nothing at all in these proposals of the Government which is going to place one additional man upon the land, or produce an additional pound of food. There are to be credits, but there are more direct subsidies proposed in this White Paper of the Government. Drainage 374 is to be carried out at the expense of the State—the draining of the landlord's private land. The landlord has no capital; he cannot afford to do it; but State money is to be spent on draining the land, and making worthless land worth £1, £2 or £3 an acre, or, if it is to be used for small holdings, £10. It is said that there is to be no subsidy, but for years the agricultural interest has been living on State subsidies. It is almost free from rates; the farmer has never paid his share of Income Tax; and last year, under the concession made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the estates of rich landlords do not, pay the same estate duty as property which takes a different form. Money is to be spent on the land, and State assistance is to be given in the marketing of agricultural produce. Where is your individual enterprise? Why does not the farmer himself organise the marketing of his goods? That is a further subsidy to agriculture. That is the Government's agricultural policy—it is part of their positive remedy for unemployment.
Reference is made in the White Paper to the question of afforestation, and pride appears to be taken in the fact that during a period of 10 years 150,000 acres of land are to be afforested by the Forestry Commissioners, that is to say, 15,000 acres a year. When we were in office last year, we proposed to undertake 50,000 acres a year. We could not do more, for the reason that no preparatory work had been done; it takes three years, we were told, to grow the plants for planting, and there must be that necessary interval. The Government are proposing 150,000 acres in 10 years, and the Royal Commission on Afforestation stated that there were 12½ million acres of land in this country suitable and waiting to be afforested. They stated, further, that at the end of 80 years that would bring to the State a property worth £530,000,000, at a cost of about £180,000,000.
So much, then, for the agricultural aspect of the land question. But there is another aspect of this question which is equally important, and in some respects of even greater importance, and that is the urban aspect. The hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Price), who so happily seconded the Address, referred, as hon. Members have done in later speeches, to the burden of local 375 rates. I have little sympathy with people who complain about heavy local rates and oppose the most practical way of relieving local rates. The value of the landlord's property is increased by public expenditure; while he sleeps he grows fat. As I have stated before in this House, urban land values were never increasing more rapidly than they are to-day, in view of the extension of motor transport. Therefore, we believe in the full ownership of the land by the people, and we would take immediate steps to appropriate for local and national purposes every penny of the value of the land which is created by the energy, enterprise and capital expenditure of the community.
Questions were addressed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon in regard to his intentions with respect to the Road Fund, but the right hon. Gentleman would not face up to the music. It is quite evident, however, what is in his mind. The farmers, we are told, are to be helped in the marketing of their goods, but how can you help the farmer to market his goods more cheaply unless you provide him with adequate transport facilities? Therefore, you must keep up the roads. This is not merely a Socialist proposition, but a commercial proposition. Whether we like it or not, it is certain that in the future the roads will become more and more the avenues for the transport of commercial goods. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his financial embarrassment, quite clearly intends to limit the amount of money that is to be spent upon the development of the roads. We consider that to be unwise, merely from the point of view of helping the industry of the country under existing conditions. We would embark upon an ambitious programme of road making and road improvement.
Closely bound up with this question is that of electricity. The Prime Minister announced a few weeks ago that the Government intended to put forward some plan during this Session for the re-organisation of electricity, and it is mentioned in the King's Speech. I read the Prime Minister's speech at Birmingham with very great interest and very great care. I am not going to criticise it now, because there is not sufficient material upon which to base criticism. [Laughter.] Probably hon. Members 376 opposite are accustomed to criticising where there is no base for criticism; I shall await the introduction of the Bill, making only this general statement now. I infer from the Prime Minister's speech that there is to be no extension of public ownership of the electricity supply, but that the Government propose to rely upon encouragement by the State. We have, of course, municipal enterprises, and we have company enterprises, or, rather, I ought to say, company powers; but I understand that in the Government's scheme there is to be no power for the compulsory acquisition of private electrical companies. I think, when we see the possibility, or the likelihood, of a new industry arising which, from its very nature, must be a monopoly, that it is criminal to the community to allow that monopoly to pass under the control of private individuals.
May I give to the defenders of private enterprise, and to those who talk about the inefficiency of municipal and State undertakings, a fact which can be supported by abundant evidence, namely, that municipal electric supply beats the company out of the field altogether? I will quote from an authority which will be received with respect by hon. Members opposite. The "Times," about a fortnight ago, had a most interesting article on the subject of the supply of electricity, dealing particularly with London, and it gave these figures. It contrasted two adjacent areas, one under capitalist control and the other under municipal control, and it took the cost of electricity to one City firm supplied by a private company. They paid, during a certain period, £5,266 for their electric light and power. If they had been across the street, under the municipal supply, they would, for the same consumption of electric light and power, have paid £2,725 or just about half. And there is this further point to remember, that, whatever profits are made in the case of a municipal supply, they go to the benefit of the locality: but where do the profits go that are made by the City of London Electric Company or the Charing Cross Electric Company? The "Times" tells us. It tells us that in six years the Charing Cross Company has paid 89 per cent. in dividends, and has carried 75 per cent. to reserve—a profit of 164 per cent. in six years. The City of London Company, in 377 the same period, has made a profit of 179 per cent. Therefore, we maintain that an essential public service like this should not be permitted to be a field for private exploitation of the public, and that any scheme for the reorganisation of the electric supplies of the country should consolidate and co ordinate the whole of the electric supply under public ownership.
These are some of what I would describe as immediately practical proposal for dealing with the industrial situation, based upon our general programme. Our ultimate idea is—if I may use an expression which will be familiar to those Conservative Members opposite who are in the habit of attending Socialist meetings—our ultimate idea is that what the people socially need they should organise for themselves. The community, surely, have a greater collective capacity and a greater collective intelligence than any number of individuals smaller than the whole community. There is, in the Speech from the Throne, a prayer for co-operation and harmony in industry. We are all for co-operation and harmony. No class in the community suffers as severely as the working people do from industrial chaos and lack of co-operation. But there must b" conditions of harmony and conditions of co-operation. You can never expect harmony in industry so long as the work man has no assurance of a livelihood and no assurance that the harder he works the greater will be his share in the output of the business. Give the labourer an assurance of that, and you will gain his co-operation. We can do it. Make the workmen co-partners and co-operators. But you can have no real co-partnership in industry so long as one class controls the means of production and wealth and another class is nothing more than a hand, and is far too often regarded as a cog in the industrial machine.
We want to see that state of industrial antagonism broken up. There is nothing in the King's Speech that is going to hasten it, or, indeed, to take one practical step towards the realisation of that desirable ideal. Small remedies, said a great economist, applied to great evils do not produce small benefits. They produce no benefits at all. If we are going to deal with the admitted evils of our industrial and social system we shall have to take the advice of the right hon. 378 Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, given to a trade union delegation at the time of the War, namely to be audacious. The right hon. Gentleman then gave a warning which I repeat to this House. He said:The old world is disappearing before our eyes. Let those who would hold back the new world beware lest the whole edifice of the old world crumble and fall upon them.I repeat that. It is our policy. We believe it is the only line upon which an effective solution of this great industrial and social problem can be realised. An eminent Member of the House of Commons said, 60 years ago:I agree with Socialist writers in their conception of the form which industrial operations tend to assume in the advance or improvement, and I entirely share their opinion that the time is ripe for such transformation and that it should by all just and effectual means be aided and encouraged.It is because I believe that, that I submit this Amendment to the House. We have been recently told it is important that there should be a union of all other political parties into an anti-Socialist party. We do not fear that. By the advocacy of Socialism on the public platform, I have seen this party in 20 years grow from four members to its present strength, and we shall continue to grow. I believe the day is not far distant when a Government will sit upon that Bench, supported by the majority of the electors, which will carry into effect the principles and programme I have attempted to put before the House.
§ Mr. CADOGAN
I cannot withhold my tribute of admiration from the right hon. Gentleman in that, Session after Session, very often several times in the same Session, he has addressed himself to what, after all, although couched in different phraseology, is substantially the same Motion, with such infinite variety of arguments and such cogency. But it is a little perplexing to myself, and no doubt to a great many Members on this side of the House, that the right hon. Gentleman evinces so keen a desire to invite a discussion on the subject of unemployment. Any remote allusion to it I should have thought would be calculated to revive such painful memories of the Labour party's failure to produce a remedy, which it was said was prepared before they assumed office. In 379 listening to the right hon. Gentleman's remarks I could not resist the conclusion that it is not so much concern for the welfare of the unemployed that induced him to invite a discussion on this subject, although it is obvious that all parties are animated with a keen desire to help the workless, it is not so much with the object of taking the Government to task for not providing an immediate solution of the unemployed question; although he did not refrain from bringing the accusation against the Government that they had not found a remedy, but it was rather in order to secure one more opportunity of hurling anathemas against the capitalist system and extolling the merits, though he appeared to do it rather half-heartedly, of what is known as "public ownership and democratic control of essential services," whatever that may mean.
Our initial difficulty in replying to the Labour party's arguments for the nationalisation of industry is that the nationalisation of industry has never been given a reasonable trial, and of course everything unknown is proverbially magnificent. The War afforded a slight indication as to the effect such a system would have upon our prosperity, and I do not think it would arouse any degree of confidence. Broadly speaking, the nationalisation of industry is an unknown quantity, both in its application and in its effects. But although we cannot make any appeal to historic precedent to counter the arguments on the other side, it is possible for us to draw very significant and very definite inferences if we examine the fundamental causes of unemployment—those causes which are admitted as such. The first and most obvious cause which operates to render the present industrial condition so acute is the enormous increase in the population in the last two or three decades. No one will deny that that is one of the fundamental causes of unemployment. It is a fact that there are actually more persons in employment at present than there were in 1914. This phenomenon, taken into consideration in relation to the fact that there are now over a million persons out of employment, indicates to us how prodigious has been the growth 380 of the population in the last few years. How is the nationalisation of industry going to help us in this problem? Is it going to have some sterilising effect on the population? Are the doctrines of Malthus going to be any more acceptable to the general public, or is the science of eugenics going to take any greater hold of the popular imagination?
There is another problem which faces us and aggravates the situation and renders the problem all the more difficult of solution, that is the substantial decrease in the figures of emigration. What effect will the nationalisation of industry have on emigration? It should be argued on those benches that under a Socialist system no one will have the slightest desire to leave these shores. Incidentally, that situation would not make your population problem any less acute. But I do not anticipate any such result. I can imagine myself lining up in a queue waiting for emigration facilities which would stretch from Australia House to Acton. But I see no reason why, supposing the applications for emigration facilities were so great under a Socialist system, either the United States or our Colonies would be any the more anxious to absorb our surplus population because you nationalise industry at home. Therefore, the population problem would be none the less baffling. In fact, it would be still more baffling because the Labour party—for some perfectly obscure reason for which they have never given any lucid or adequate explanation—profess to be in favour of the unrestricted admission of aliens into our midst.
Moreover, I should like to ask how the nationalisation of industry is calculated to assist those particular trades whose depression is mainly responsible for the very disquieting figures we see now on the live register—I mean the coal trade and the shipping industry? Would it influence Italy, Switzerland and Sweden to abandon their water power schemes and again become purchasers of our coal? Would Germany, Belgium and the United States cease working their pits and become again our customers? And what is to happen under such a system when oil takes the place of coal?
There is another cause of unemployment, a root cause, that is the higher 381 standard of living to which we have attained since the War. No one welcomes that change more than I do, and I hope nothing will be done under the legislative programme of the present Government to prejudice that situation. But no one will deny that the higher standard of living is due to the higher standard of wages to which we have attained, and this results in our being undersold by our foreign competitors, who do not maintain so high a standard of living or pay so high a standard of wages as we do in this country. I fail to see how you are going to redress the balance by any change in our system. The Prime Minister told us the other day that there is to be an International Conference on the subject of the hours of labour, I look forward with much interest to such a conference, but I do not see why we should not be able to settle such questions as the hours of labour and the rates of wages under the present system just as well as under a system of nationalisation. No one will deny, moreover, that the situation in the labour market is due to some extent to the collapse of the exchanges abroad and also to hostile tariffs. How is the nationalisation of industry going to help us to scale the high tariff walls which guard the Continental markets? How is nationalisation going to help to restore the credit of foreign countries?
What we have to do is to widen our markets abroad. Hon. Members opposite frequently advance the very plausible argument that they are going to increase the purchasing power of the individual. What they really mean is that they are going to increase wages, and that moans an increase in the cost of production. Thus you get the same circle again. The only way to increase the purchasing power of the individual is by increasing your export trade; you will never do it by attempting to redistribute the purchasing power of the individual. It is sometimes contended that, under the Socialist system, there will be greater efficiency in production, but surely no one will really argue that you are going to increase efficiency in trade by increasing interference from Whitehall. And in all our difficulties, we are confronted by the hide-bound rules of the trade unions, those relentless regulations 382 which in their application create a certain percentage of unemployment, and in industry restrict output, which results in orders being placed abroad and not in this country.
I should like to ask this question of hon. Members opposite: whether these rules and regulations are going to be modified when the Government of this country is in the hands of the very men who framed the rules? Are strikes and lock-outs going to be less frequent? And will the burden of the rates and taxes be any the less under nationalisation? I cannot see how the nationalisation of industry is going to be any cure for the present condition of industry, and it is absurd to say that it is going to be cured by any form of industrial upheaval.
I welcome this opportunity of making my position in the matter perfectly clear. I suggest to the House that the basis of all sound legislation and of our industrial and financial system is a compromise between State control and private enterprise. If there is any doubt as to the proper proportion of these ingredients, I would give the benefit of the doubt to private enterprise. Of these two systems, that of laissez-faire and State control, I consider the former the least pernicious. I should be the last person to make a fetish of the capitalist system. It is just as foolish to make a fetish of nationalisation, of tariffs, or of open markets. There are some services in which State control is wholesome, in others State-aided private enterprise is expedient, and there are yet others in which complete freedom from State interference is essential. But this is not to admit that by State control or by private enterprise you will find a cure for unemployment.
Let me put a question, and a very pertinent question, to hon. Members opposite. Do they propose to bring about this great industrial change regardless of what other countries are going to do? Are they going to nationalise industry without ascertaining what other countries are doing? If so, it would be just as lamentably foolish as to decide to disarm before ascertaining whether other countries are going to do likewise. The electors will require a great number of questions to be answered much more satisfactorily than they have been up to the present, before they will 383 give the Socialist party any clear mandate to effect so great an industrial revolution. Are they going to compensate or to confiscate? If they are going to compensate, how are they going to arrive at what is fair compensation? Are they going to maintain the right to strike, or are they going to conscript labour? Are they going to dictate to the trade unions, or will the trade unions dictate to them? These are questions which must be answered; and they are questions which suggest themselves on a very cursory perusal of the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment. These questions have to be faced before educated men and women will attach the slightest importance to the policy which the right hon. Gentleman for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) champions.
When I contemplate the legislation the Conservative Government has placed on the Statute Book, and also the legislation which is adumbrated in the Gracious Speech from the Throne, I cannot resist the conclusion that there is not so very much that differentiates us from the Labour party. If the Labour party would only drop their policy of nationalisation I do not see why the two parties should not join together in some sort of a working alliance. I know that to ask the Labour party to rid themselves of their infatuation for nationalisation of industry is to ask them to make a very great concession, but in case anyone should think I am suggesting a one-sided bargain, I should like to remind hon. Members that the Conservative party has already abandoned one of its fundamental beliefs, the general tariff. Why should not hon. Members opposite follow suit and abandon the general upheaval? There is really no limit to the amount of wholesome legislation which could be begotten of such an alliance. But here we are, and have been for some months, arguing among ourselves and occupying our time in pettifogging arguments as to whether the improvement is real or apparent, while outside a million men are probably calling down a plague on both our Houses, men who are denied the right of earning their livelihood. Cannot the question be retrieved from the cockpit of party politics? No party can derive much satisfaction from its efforts 384 to solve the problem, and no party in my opinion has any right to reprimand any other party for having failed to do so.
I am in full agreement with the suggestion made a short time ago by the right hon. Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond) whom I am glad to see has discarded his former associates, and joined the Conservative party. His suggestion was that there should be a league for industrial peace, a movement which would enlist the co-operation of all parties in re-establishing our trade on the best and surest foundations. The first step towards that end is that there should be an end to these sterile debates on unemployment, which produce no result but mutual recrimination between parties who are equally to blame, or as I think, equally innocent in this connection.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I should like to say one or two words, not so much in reply to what the hon. and gallant Member for Finchley (Mr. Cadogan) has said, but to call attention to one or two of his remarks. In the last part of his speech he spoke of a violent upheaval, a violent change. Speaking with some knowledge of the feelings of people outside this House, I think there is very little danger, and I have never thought there was, of any violent upheaval if this House would only sit down and think out how to deal with this problem of unemployment and the conditions of the people.
I am surprised that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite continually speak and write as if this condition of things was something new that had come out of the War. This question of poverty and the condition of the people has accompanied the industrial revolution and the development of capitalism all the way through. It is untrue to say that at any period during the rise of industrialism and the rise of capitalism the people in this country were living at anything like a decent standard of life. The very boom periods in our country have produced places like Middlesbrough, Leeds, the East End of London, Glasgow and so forth. It is stupid to think that you can get over these facts by talking about trade union wages, trade union conditions and the tyranny of trade unions. Surely the hon. Member who has just spoken must be aware that the condition of 385 things to which the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) called attention, when little children were taken into the pits and into the factories—a condition of things which brought about the most awful state of life for men, women and children—happened in an era of unrestricted competition, when there was no trade unionism to stop it. It was the good hearts of fine, public-spirited men who stood out against that sort of thing that brought about a change. Unrestricted competition said, "Let little children go into the bowels of the earth to work."
Does the Minister of Labour or any other hon. or right hon. Member subscribe to the doctrine that slumdom and all these ills of slumdom are the product of trade unionism, or the product of the working classes? Is it not absolutely true that during the whole time that England has been growing rich, and while the new rich have come into being, as the late Solicitor-General the Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser) said yesterday, accompanying their riches, into the world there has been the creation of conditions of life for the masses of the people to which none of us would voluntarily submit? It is nonsense at this time of day, sheer, unadulterated nonsense if not worse to say—I think it is colossal ignorance, if people get up and say it seriously—that the working classes, directly or indirectly, art; responsible for the conditions in which they find themselves. These conditions grew out of the economic development of human society under the present system.
One of the great crimes of capitalism is that it has left in its train places like the mass-side at Middlesbrough, the mass-side of Canning Town and Poplar, and the slums of Liverpool, Birmingham and Glasgow. The Minister of Health, I am sorry to say, has left the House. He knows Birmingham well. The Minister of Labour knows Birmingham well, and he knows that 40 years ago, when I was a boy, the father of the present Minister of Health had to save the life of the common people of Birmingham. What did he do? Did he go to private enterprise? No! He had to invoke the aid of the community to rescue the people from the infernal slumdom that capitalism had created. There was no 386 Socialism, no trade unionism, being preached there at that time. It was simply a realisation in the minds of men that these conditions were inhuman and that only collective effort could remove them, that brought about a change. I have often said that the late Mr. Joseph Chamberlain was a man to whom we Socialists owe a very great deal, for what he did when he was Mayor of Birmingham and a great municipal administrator.
The hon. Member who has just spoken asked what we are going to do with the men who do the work, and under what rules are they to be brought. Let him go to Birmingham and ask them what they do with their municipal enterprise. I would ask the Minister of Labour, if he takes part in this Debate, whether he will say that he is opposed to the municipal development which has taken place in Birmingham. Would he go to Birmingham and advocate giving back the trams, the gas, electric and water undertakings to private enterprise? Of course, he would do nothing of the kind. [An HON. MEMBER: "Or the municipal bank! "] Or the municipal bank. Not one of the hon. Members opposite would dream of saying, "Go back to private enterprise." Hon. Members opposite talk about Russia. Never mind about Russia. Look at home and see what capitalism has done here. When you say that poverty is something which has come after the War, I deny it. Ever since I was a boy there has been one continual propaganda against the infernal conditions that capitalism has brought about for the working classes. It is 40 years ago since George R. Sims wrote of the conditions in London. In these days in London people are housed under conditions far worse than hon. Members would house their prize pigs and prize horses. In the days of which George R. Sims wrote they were housed under even infinitely worse conditions. That was not the result of trade unionism or Bolshevik agitation. It was not the result of Communists going about and making things bad for trade. It was the inevitable development of capitalism, producing for profit and making men work for the lowest standard of life possible, so as to get the biggest profit.
387 It is no use anyone in this House attempting to deny that. The hon. Member said, "Let us give up talking about unemployment." I am getting old. The party opposite have been talking about unemployment for ever so long. There have been schemes after schemes, but what has been done? The late General Booth produced his work, "Darkest England and the Way Out." I would ask hon. Members to read that work. It would do them good to read it over again and to realise the picture of the life of the workers in those days. What was done in the years that followed the publication of that work? Nothing. We have had a great war. What happened in the War? This is what I wish to rub into Members of this House. We needed a great War in order to find everybody work. Only during the period when you were slaughtering men and women could you find employment for everybody. There was no talk during the War about Employment Exchanges. You devoted your minds to the one purpose of winning the War. When you get the same spirit in wanting to give the people of this country a real standard of life, you can do it. No amount of talking will do it, unless you have the will to do it.
It is no good simply talking about sympathy, love and comradeship. You had comradeship in the trenches. Many men, rich and poor, went share and share alike in the trenches, and did everything they possibly could, as they thought, for their country. Nobody made any money out of that. There was no dividend to be shared. The men there had a finer ideal of life. Until you get that same ideal into industry, when you are producing food and clothing and all the necessities of life, you will not get a better spirit in industry, and you do not deserve to get it. The officer and the private shared the muck, dirt and filth of the trenches together; they shared the danger together. You do not do that to-day. During the War, people were ashamed of ostentation and show. You are not ashamed of it to-day. It is flaunted in the eyes of the people. Nobody is ashamed of ostentation and show to-day when they indulge in it. During the War, men and women were ashamed of such things and the country reaped the benefit of that spirit in France, Flanders and elsewhere.
388 When we come to consider the position of industry to-day, we know that big profits are being made. The hon. Member for Ilford (Sir F. Wise) knows perfectly well that the banks paid bigger dividends last year. He knows that the great industrial companies, on the whole, paid better dividends last year than in the previous year. How is it that they are able to do that, when trade is bad and so much misery and poverty exists? What is the use of telling us that the country is poor, in face of these things? The hon. Member who spoke last wants to know how we could make things different. We would share out the results of labour differently. We are told that if we take away from the rich we shall stop industry in a certain direction. We may, but let us look at the position. Take the Duke of Northumberland. He is a very highly intelligent gentleman. He takes, I think, £70,000 a year of the miners' earnings in royalties. About £7,000,000 a year is paid in mining rents and royalties. There are about 1,000,000 people engaged in the mining industry, so that means £7 per head. What does that sum of £7,000,000 represent? It means £7,000,000 worth of the labour of men digging in the bowels of the earth.
Nothing comes out of the mine unless some men are down there digging. No duke makes that money. The man who become grimy, dingy, who faces danger and who gets injured or killed in the bowels of the earth, is the man who makes that money. Money is only a medium of exchange. When the Duke of Northumberland takes £70,000 a year in royalties, and he and other royalty owners take £7,000,000, they are taking £7,000,000 of the earnings of the miners. If the nation controlled the mines, no duke, marquis or earl would get that £7,000,000 worth of the miners' labour. The wife of the miner could spend £7 a year more. It is said that the rich make trade by spending money. I reply that you do not need to be educated in order to spend money. You do not need to be a duke in order to spend money. The wife of the miner could spend an extra £7 a year as easily as a duchess.
Hon. Members want to know what improvement there would be if we nationalised industry. I admit that we have come to a great crisis in the development of our country and the countries of 389 the world. When I was young, England had a monopoly of the markets of the world; there was practically no competitor. During my lifetime America and Germany have become the greatest competitors of this country; when I was young they were our customers. We supplied them with goods. To-day, not merely America and Germany, but Italy, France and smaller countries are our competitors. It is important to realise that China, India, and the whole of the East are becoming, partially, our competitors. A further fact is that, instead of America becoming more and more a food-exporting nation, it is quite on the cards that in a very short time she will be a food importing nation. All industrial nations tend to become that. I believe that unless there is some complete change in the agricultural development of this country, we may wake up one fine morning and find ourselves starving.
What is the remedy of hon. Members opposite? They have no remedy. They will leave things very much as they are. I repeat what I have said several times, because it needs rubbing in, and that is that it is not trade unionism and Socialism which have brought agriculture to where it is Hon. Members opposite are trying to carry on this country as if nothing had happened outside. I maintain that if we Socialists had control of the land there would be no idle land. Quite obviously, if you leave land idle you leave idle the one thing from which society gets its means of subsistence. We were brought up to believe that what we have to do in this country was to produce goods to exchange for goods from abroad. If the markets abroad become contracted, and if your customers are becoming your competitors, surely sensible people will consider how best they can develop the land on which they were born.
We would leave no land idle while there was an unemployed man able and willing to cultivate that land. We would grow the food, not for the purpose of anyone making money out of it, such as an idle duke or an idle baronet or an idle knight, but we would grow the food in order that people might eat it. When there was an abundance it would not lie untouched in the orchards because it did not pay to carry it to the town, but we should devise 390 means to bring it to the town to supply the needs of the people. I know that right hon. Gentlemen opposite are always saying to us, "Where is your scheme?" The extraordinary thing to me is that people like the Minister of Health and the Minister of Labour, coming from Birmingham, should always be putting to us that kind of question. In Birmingham they had to fight their way on the question of a water supply. Will some right hon. or hon. Gentleman opposite get up and tell me what is the difference between a collective water supply for the service of the people of Birmingham or London and a collective food supply for the people of London?
§ Lieut. - Commander BURNEY
The difference is this: In the case of a water supply you have establishments which are permanent. Your pipes and your reservoirs are permanent, and your labour supply does not change from day to day. But with a food supply there is a change continually from day to day. Crops fail and markets fail, and you buy first in one market and then in another, and daily and hourly supervision is necessary to obtain supplies.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
About 40 years ago we were dependent on private companies in London for our water, and they used to poison us thoroughly in the winter, and in the summer we got none at all. The supply, it will be seen, fluctuated. That was private enterprise. It became so bad that a Tory Government, headed by Mr. Arthur Balfour, bought out the companies. It is true that he bought them up at a wicked price, but still he bought them, and now we get tolerably decent water at a tolerable price. The price would not be anything like that which we are charged if the Conservative party had not bought out the vested interests at such an exorbitant price. When Joseph Chamberlain advocated the clearance of slums in Birmingham it was because of the failure of private enterprise. When he advocated the establishment of municipal gas it was because of the failure of private enterprise to give a proper supply. It was not because he was a Socialist, but because private enterprise failed to give the public what was needed. Take the case of roads. Roads now are very largely controlled by the nation. No one here wants to abolish the Road Board. All 391 hon. Members are anxious for is cheap big roads, low taxes on motors, and so on. So am I. Private enterprise failed here. It failed to give fine roads to you, and you were obliged to fall back on the community.
§ Sir GERALD HOHLER
They were always a charge on the community; the community was always liable to repair the roads. That was so from time immemorial.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Like the hon. and gallant Member who last interrupted, the hon. and learned Gentleman has no memory. He must remember that he used to pay road tolls in London when a boy. He need not shake his head, for he knows that that was so. There is no one here who wants to go back to the old road system. Hon. Members may sneer about Socialism and Communism, but there is not one of them who could live 24 hours without communal action. I ask hon. Members to think about it. Communal light, communal roads, and communal police to take care of them, with communal drainage systems, and so on. I cannot understand why hon. Members should jib when we demand that our food shall be supplied to us in the way I have suggested. I cannot understand why they should want to perpetuate a system which has created the slums, a system which has given us the C3 population that Lord Rhondda tried to improve when he was at the Local Government Board. There is not one hon. Member opposite who would dare to stand up and say that he wants drainage, housing, roads, lighting, police and all the other things put back under private control. I see one hon. Member opposite is muttering. If he has anything to say, I will give way and let him speak.
§ Brigadier-General COCKERILL
The only reason why I have not risen before is that I am hoping to catch Mr. Speaker's eye later.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
As a matter of fact there is not one hon. Member opposite who would dare to leave the Army under private enterprise. If they did, a pretty fine Army and Navy they would have!
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain FitzRoy)
I hope the hon. Member will address the Chair and not hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Hon. Members opposite are so good looking, and I am hoping that perhaps I will get them to think a little of what I am saying to them. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are perfectly willing that public money shall be spent on certain industries. They are willing to accept the organisation of social services up to a certain point. They are willing to get Government credit to back their operations in foreign lands and in the Colonies. What I cannot understand is that they do not recognise that, even in the palmy days of capitalism, they still have unemployment, and that capitalism has created riches for a few and intense poverty and misery for the many. Those facts cannot be gainsaid. They have been put on record by social investigators like Charles Booth, Seebohm Rowntree, General Booth, the Minister of Labour and others who investigated for the Poor Law Commission. I cannot understand why hon. Members opposite should continually ask us to support them in trying to perpetuate this system. I believe that the system is played out, that so far as Britain and the older countries are concerned capitalism is done. It may be that it will persist for another 10 or 20 years. If it should be so, it means the degradation of the working-class life of this country to a lower and lower level.
Those who defend capitalism say that we must have cheaper production, that we must compete with the foreigner. The whole basis of capitalism has been that you should have cheap labour here, producing cheap goods here to exchange with the foreigner there, who is also working cheaply. That is capitalism in excelsis. I believe that that business is almost at an end. It is because I believe that the British are the one people in the world who will be able to transform one civilisation into another, that I am a Socialist and that I am in this House. If we fail it will mean going back as Rome went back. When the Prime Minister 393 spoke of Rome the other day he told us of the degradation and of the warnings that Home gave to us all. Rome lived in those final years, or in a large part of the time before its final fall, on the bringing in by sheer force of arms of goods from abroad. It is true that the captives they brought with them very often won great place and power, but in the end that Empire went down because it rotted at the centre and the circumference fell in on it and destroyed it.
We, to-day, are faced with an economic situation where mankind, ourselves especially, are able to control the elements in the air and on the sea. Man speaks from one end of the world to the other. It is done in a most mysterious fashion, but it is done none the less. We fly in the air; we go under the sea; we burrow in the bowels of the earth, and mankind can produce out of the earth more than ever was produced before. A few men working in combination can wrest from the soil much more than they need for their own consumption. In every direction production is a thousand fold, if not a million fold more than it was in days not long ago, and yet we are asked to believe that the people of this land, who do the work of this land, must live and die as mere serfs without any chance of real life at all. If we would only face the problem in the same spirit as that in which we faced smaller problems during the industrial development, in regard to gas and light and so forth, we could change all this without hurting a single human being. I am not going to insult the class to which many hon. Members opposite belong by saying that I believe they consciously want to hold the people down. I believe they think that capitalism is the best thing. I have tried to show where capitalism has brought us, and I am confident that what I have said cannot be denied.
I beg of hon. Members opposite, particularly the younger Members who say they come here in the spirit of Disraeli, to read Disraeli, and then to read the stories of to-day, and they will see for themselves that we have not advanced even a little. The thought which hurts me when I go home at night is the thought that after all the years I have lived, after what I have tried to do—the little one can try to do for the service 394 of men and women—yet I have seen the wheel go round full circle, and we have come right back to the point from which we started. Pauperism, poverty and misery in the East End of London to-day are worse than they were when I was a boy. The condition of the people is worse; and if it were not for Poor Law relief people would be dying in the streets. I deny the right of any of us to be satisfied, whilst any of our people have to live on Poor Law relief. If it were not for the dole from the Employment Exchanges, many more of them would be dying on the streets, and that does not indicate any rise in the standard of living. The care of child life is going down again. There are more deaths of babies now than there were a year or two ago. Life is becoming harder for the poor and yet the means to have a fuller life are greater than they ever were before. It may be beyond our wit, but it will not be beyond the wit of the working class to transform this hellish competitive system into a co-operative commonwealth.
You may jeer about it; you may feel confident in your great majority, but there are worse things than violence to be feared. Mental and moral decay brought Rome down more than any other cause, and it is that which will bring us down. I speak in the hope that hon. Members opposite will think, and think again, of how they have failed, how we have failed, how everybody has failed to give the people of this country a decent life, and that they will do what their Prime Minister said, "Cut their way through the jungle of vested interests," and in spite of the dividend hunters and the profit makers, help us to establish a system under which men and women can produce food to eat, and clothes to wear, and houses in which to live.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I have listened with interest to the last speech, and to the speech which immediately preceded it. We all recognise that the hon. Member who has just sat down feels very strongly what he says, and I think he is only doing right when he gives us on this side the credit for sharing the same emotion when we see the sufferings of human life, not only in this country, but in all countries. That feeling is not the monopoly of any party, and I am glad the hon. Member admits it. The struggle 395 of all civilisation has been to overcome poverty, and we know the saying in the old Book written long before there was any capitalism:The poor ye have always with ye.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
The hon. Member needs porridge. We are all endeavouring to do our part in that struggle against poverty. The last speaker mentioned the downfall of Rome, and would imagine from him that it came about as a sudden crash, but the decay of Rome lasted over many centuries. We survived for centuries, not as an Empire but as a country, and we had great poverty in past times. If we go back to the time of Henry VII, we read of the streets being overgrown with grass and terrible unemployment, and in my own country, during the 17th century, in the fertile County of Midlothian—the most fertile of all the counties of Scotland, I believe—as a result of bad harvests, one-fifth of the population died of sheer starvation. They lay down by the roadside and died, and there was no means of alimenting them or succouring them. There was no capitalism to provide poor relief or unemployment benefit. These were thrifty, industrial, and upright people, but nothing could be done for them because there was no organisation of any kind. As I say, there was no capitalism, and, therefore, it is idle to contend that the sufferings, which are now being undergone by many of our people, accrue from the so-called capitalistic system. What is capital? It is not money; it is merely credit, and credit is good name, and you cannot transfer good name from one man to another or from one nation to another. That is what the great bard meant when he wrote:Who steals my purse steals trash …But he that filches from me my good nameRobs me of that which not enriches him, And makes me poor indeed.You can easily destroy the credit of a nation, and we have seen in modern times the credit of a nation destroyed because a Government refused to admit the liabilities of the régime which it took over: it took the assets but refused to admit the liabilities. When you see capital 396 destroyed—that is capital destroyed—then you have indescribable suffering. Any evil consequences which accrued from our great industrial system arose because we were the pioneers of the industrial system. Formerly, and down to the Stuart times, people lived in a simple way, each rood of land supporting its own man, but in a very primitive style, and with very primitive food. The poorest man of the present day, earning the poorest wage, lives in better circumstances than the so-called wealthy of those days. The ends of the earth are ransacked for his little comforts and for his opportunities. That has all accrued from the so-called capitalistic system, but as a result of our being pioneers of industry, and not understanding what was before us, we massed our population in large towns.
We were the pioneers of the railway, and that was a great calamity for us in many ways, because the tendency was to draw the population around the rail heads. In their early days railways were sometimes regarded as instruments of the Evil One, and in many cases, to this day, you will find stations situated far away from the towns or villages they are supposed to serve, and that is because of local protests made in former times against such abominable institutions. The agricultural interest dreaded the extinction of the horse and the terror which steam traction caused upon the roads, and thus, instead of having every village with its factory and the population living under semi-rural and semi-industrial conditions, we had the concentration of the population in cities. Had the other conditions I have mentioned prevailed, then, when times were bad in the factories, a man could have cultivated his own plot and grown his own food—and there is a mighty difference between production for sale in the markets and the production of something which you are going to cat yourself. The fundamental difference is that, if you grow food for yourself, you have the producer's profit, the wholesaler's profit, and the retailer's profit—three profits in your own pocket, and recent disclosures in the Press show us how large these can be. If you are growing for yourself you have all three behind the buckle of your own waist-belt.
397 We sought to get back from the evils caused by the concentration of population into large centres by the development of communal enterprise in such matters as roads, and I hope there is no foundation for the apprehension that there will be any tampering with the expenditure of the money upon roads, because I look upon, that as a means of helping to solve the problem of the slums. It is not merely a question of building houses. Some of the big towns have failed to provide houses, but I do not know that that is an unmitigated loss because if you provide more houses in great centres like Glasgow and Birmingham you are only concentrating more people upon a limited acreage. The remedy is to get all the factories you can scattered over the rural areas with the workers' houses round about them, and thus to make possible what I have described as semi-rural and semi-industrial conditions. I am told that in France, in the seaport town of Marseilles, the dock labourers have town and country houses; they have small holdings, and when there is no work for them at the docks they attend to their allotments.
Nothing was more striking during the War than the way in which our people cultivated allotments. We call ourselves an industrial nation, but deep down in the heart of every townsman is the desire for a little bit of ground of his own on which he can grow something. A friend of mine connected with a large engineering firm, which employed men of unrivalled engineering skill to make wonderful munitions of war, told me how one of these experts would come in with a hat-box containing a cauliflower grown by himself and would show himself prouder of that production them of all the work he was doing in the factory. We want to get back to the idea of men producing food for their own use, and that can only be done by spreading the industries and with them the population over the surface of the land. Nobody has any objection to communal enterprise on proper lines, in dealing with certain services, but you have difficulties occasionally and we had one in the case of the State taking over the telephones. The telephones were better under private enterprise, and I remember showing in the 1922 Parliament how 11 men had been employed on 398 the installation of one telephone. Only the other day I had my own telephone changed, and from beginning to end I think 16 men came to my house in connection with that operation.
I think I heard an hon. Member suggest food, but how any man who ate some of the food that was controlled by a Government Department during the War, such as Government bacon and so on, can suggest that you should have these delicate matters of personal control put into the sole hands of Government officials, I do not know. It cannot be done when you come to these individual industries which require the personal application of each individual man, anxious to do his best for himself, and content with a moderate return for his exertions and a moderate profit on the expenditure of his capital. That is a moral and spiritual matter. You must get people back to the old notion of service. You must get people to give up the idea that the world is an oyster, for them to open and that they are going to make all that they can, irrespective of the quality of their service. If you can persuade people to get back to the old spirit that was prevalent in former times, when the life of the world was even harder than it is to-day, back to the idea that they have got to do the best with the task allotted to them, then all the profits will be added unto them.
I remember an old friend of mine telling me, long ago, that it was the greatest mistake in the world to try to make money. He said: "Do your very best to give the best possible service, and you cannot keep money out of your till, for people will come to you, but if you endeavour to take something oft them, and not give them full value, then, of course, you are bound to lose." Hon. Members opposite may not believe it, but it is the same with my own profession. Supposing a lawyer were to consider his own interests before those of his clients he would have no clients very soon; he would very soon come to an end. It is only because he devotes the best that is in him to the benefit of his clients that he succeeds in his profession. I can well speak on this matter, because I have often been employed by prominent trade unionists in Scotland, because, I suppose, they believed they were getting value for their money.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I should like to ask the hon. Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) the name of the trade union that ever employed him.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
When there was a conflict between the police and miners at Kirkconnel—a very serious conflict—I defended the miners, and defended them successfully.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Then when there were heavy disturbances at the wood yards at Bo'ness, I think it was in 1910, I, instructed by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Kidd), defended the men there, and when the Tarbrox pits were burned down, I defended the men there. At the last strike in 1921, I defended the Benhar men, and the only reason why I did not defend the Cowdenbeath men was because the two cases were going on at the same time, the one in Glasgow and the other in Edinburgh. I believe that if I was in a case for an employer of labour, I was in three or four for working men. If you ask the opinion of the rank and file of the trade unionists, they will express the view that I was as good a friend to them as ever the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood).
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Here is absolute proof that what the hon. and learned Member is saying is not the case, because the hon. Member for St. Helen's (Mr. Sexton) says that his trade union employed the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire once, and never again.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I do not remember the occasion, but the probability was that my success was so complete that they never got into trouble again. Apart, however, from personal reminiscences, I would like to say that that is where the fault of the trade union element comes in, not in employing me, but in having got away from the old craftsman ideal of the maximum output and doing their very best. There is too much attempt to bring work down to the lowest level. It is like a battleship fleet, whose speed is always decided by the speed of the slowest vessel in the fleet. We want to get back to the older ideal. We want more capitalists, not fewer. There are not enough capitalists, and that is what is wrong with this country. We want men with the 400 foresight and industry to originate and develop new industries. There are many new industries recently established, but I wish we had more of them. We want these men to realise that they are the servants of the community, that they are not there just to amass fortunes, but as captains of labour, just in the same way as a captain or colonel of a regiment, whose first thought is the comfort of his men. He realises that he is there to serve his men, and we want to get the industrialist to realise that his operatives are not just numbers to be taken on or turned off. He is there to look after their well-being in every conceivable way and to realise that his men and his customers, the two together, are all his partners, every one of them; and his men ought to realise that they are partners with him. When you get that spirit, then you will have the true nationalisation of the whole community, the nationalisation of the brotherhood of man in industry, and you will get it in no other way.
§ Sir ROBERT THOMAS
The hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten), who has just sat down, claims to have represented many working-class organisations. I think every hon. Member in this House will claim that he has been sent here by working men and women, and, therefore, we all, I feel sure, sympathise with the first part of this Amendment to the Address, insofar as it relates to the deplorable, and continued, and increasing unemployment. We all know the distress and suffering which take place in our respective constituencies all over the country among those men and women who are unable to find work, but we differ greatly as to the methods of doing away with unemployment or even of diminishing it. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer on the moderate way in which he moved his Amendment, and he certainly kept well within its terms. The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) went a good deal further and expressed himself a good deal more forcibly, but we, on the Liberal Benches, say that there is no positive remedy for unemployment. If the accusation that the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) made against the Conservative party, that they claimed, during the last election, that they had a positive remedy 401 for unemployment, be true, all that we can say is that, if we were returned, we should have no positive remedy for unemployment, and I regret to say that the hon. and right hon. Members who claim to represent the Labour party have no positive remedy for unemployment either.
There is only one remedy for unemployment, and that is the return of industrial peace and harmonious co-operation between those who handle capital, whether as individuals or corporations, those who are in a position to employ men and women, and the employés themselves—intelligent, energetic, and cordial co-operation between those two parties. There is no doubt about it that that is the only way to bring about a diminution of unemployment in this country. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley said that he wished to demolish the capitalist system.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
I think the right hon. Member for Colne Valley said he wished to do away with the capitalist system. [An HON. MEMBER: "But not with capitalists!"] Perhaps the hon. Member who interrupts me will get up later on and describe the difference. The idea, I take it, is to transfer from private ownership to the control of the State all the means of production. That is abolishing the capitalists' existence, paraphrase it whichever way the hon. Member likes. The hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire referred to capitalist credit. People have quite a wrong idea of millionaires. The millionaire is a man with a big overdraft at the bank and a little petty cash to be going on with. Because a man happens to-day to be a shipbuilder, he is regarded as being a capitalist, but those who happen to know anything about the shipbuilding industry to-day know perfectly well that the shipbuilder is in quite as serious a plight as the men whom he is unable to employ, and no nationalisation of the shipbuilding industry is going to put an end to that state of affairs.
The system of nationalising shipping has been tried during recent years in America, and what has been the result? Those who know anything about the United States know that the American ports to-day are full of ships laid up and 402 rusting away, ships which will never go to sea again. That is money belonging to the taxpayers of the United States of America, My right hon. Friend stated, "Ah, yes, but under the control of the State you have a larger number of people from whom to select to manage these industries." I differ from him. It is true you have a larger number, but an industry like shipping, which in the United States has proved a failure under State management, can only prosper in the hands of men who have been brought up in that industry, men who have had experience, men who have served their apprenticeship in it, men who have initiated the enterprise, and men who have had to take risks.
No business has ever succeeded unless those who are managing it are prepared to take risks. Are officials in any State Department going to take risks? They start, say, at 10 in the morning, and they knock off at four in the afternoon, and whether they are successful or unsuccessful, their salaries at the end of the 12 months will be just the same. If they do remarkably well, they get very little thanks for it; if they do badly, they get a rap over the knuckles. I appeal not to tariffs for a remedy for unemployment. I appeal not for State control for unemployment, but I appeal, as I said at the outset of my remarks, for a new co-operation between those men in this country of ours, some of whom have, and others are the descendants of those who have, risen from the ranks, but men of genius who have built up this great Empire. We may not be as successful to-day as we would like to be, but Britain to-day, with all her faults, is far better than many other countries, and with energy, with perseverance and patience, we will emerge from our present troubles. But do not let us fly from one expedient to the other. Let us adhere to a system which has built up the British Empire, a system for which we are grateful, and a system which has made this great Empire of ours what it is.
§ Mr. DIXEY
I should like to say one or two words owing to the fact that, unfortunately, an Amendment which stands in the name of some of my hon. Friends and myself is not likely to be reached. I should like also to say, that although this subject of unemployment has been discussed 403 many times in this House, I do agree with certain of the remarks of the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) that this is a subject of absolutely vital importance to the people of this country, and I deprecate any remarks which are made which tend to show that this House is not the proper place in which to consider this all-important problem. I cannot feel quite satisfied in my own mind that the party to which I have the honour to belong have not at their back a more practical method of tackling this unemployment question than they have yet applied. I feel my position very keenly in making these remarks, but, nevertheless, it is my duty, representing my constituency, to say that I think the subject with regard to certain large British industries has not been as fully developed by the Government as it might have been.
There is a large basic trade in this country, a trade which, possibly, is suffering more from unemployment than any other, a trade in which I am not interested in any way financially or in any other respect, not even representing a constituency which is occupied by works of that kind—I mean the steel trade. I can speak, therefore, absolutely without any bias when I say that is a trade, to my mind, highly efficient, properly organised, and a trade which is entitled to say to the Government of this country, "We need some assistance to carry on." What are the facts in that trade? There is, at the most, a 60 per cent, output. There is tremendous foreign competition. It is a perfect tragedy, at a time when our exports in steel are so low, when the trade is in such a disastrous position, to find that France never has had better steel exports.
It is perfectly absurd to say that this matter could not have been tackled under the Safeguarding of Industries Act. I was one of those people pledged at the last General Election to support the safeguarding of British industry, and, so far as the small Measures we have had up-to-date are concerned, I welcome them as a principle, but I say perfectly definitely I do not consider the people of this country will be satisfied with small Measures such as those as a token of our desire to protect and safeguard vital 404 industries, and as there has been no reference to safeguarding in His Majesty's Most Gracious Speech, are we to take it now, that so far as the safeguarding of other big important industries are concerned, the Government programme has now ceased? We are entitled to know whether we are to expect in the future some more Measures of this kind. I speak with great diffidence. We have had the privilege of accepting into our ranks one of the most celebrated Members of the unfortunate party opposite. I do not know whether I myself, personally a sincere believer in one particular fiscal doctrine, am more unhappy, but, so far as my party is concerned, I would like to know, is this a sign that the Conservative party have decided, by taking this wonderful disciple of laissez-faire into their fold, that they are going to say, "Good-bye to the big question of safeguarding British industries?"
There is only one other point I wish to raise. This subject of unemployment has got to be dealt with. I have a tremendous amount of sympathy with certain of the remarks of the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley, although I think a large portion of the ills he describes come rather from the industrial system which has grown up in the past fifty years than from any capitalist system. You cannot have new systems growing up without getting some drawbacks, but we could have a pledge of goodwill in trade, and some really strong safeguarding given to our own manufacturers, who under any system, even under the Socialist system which has been advocated so strongly to-day, have got to compete wish the people abroad who are paying wages which you could not possibly afford to pay. Whether you think your ideals practical or not, any system such as you suggest would have to be coupled with such measures as would secure adequate protection to the competitive trades here, and, much as I disagree with your programme, I do say I would like to know from the Government if there is some definite hope of something being done to create employment in some of those large trades which need help, and I should feel far more satisfied in this debate if some declaration to that effect were made. I thank the House for allowing me to say these few words.
§ Mr. HARDIE
I should like to come back, if I may, to some of the other points that, in my opinion, are not too often dealt with in detail in this House. When you come to discuss this question of unemployment, and to sit down to draft a scheme, you must know the practical side of industry before you can alter the existing conditions. Yesterday the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was throwing about phrases, as he usually does, very loosely, with regard to what he calls "Coal and Power." This is where the politician always misleads his audience. He always begins with some nice flatulent phrase, but he always gets off the rails. Yesterday he stated that one of the elements which the British coal industry had to face was the fact that as soon as we start to make electricity, there is going to be a consequent decrease in the demand for coal. It is the quintessence of stupidity to say that, because it is not a question of coal and electricity. When you are dealing with coal you are dealing with heat, and you cannot have any industry without heat. The more heat we can take from coal the better, whether it is used for brick burning or electricity.
When the right hon. Gentleman spoke about electricity reducing the demand for coal, he was talking in a disjointed manner. Even if the science of 50 years ago were applied to industries to-day, we should save 25 per cent, of the present waste, and if we could get the science of 10 years ago applied to modern industry, we should save an additional 15 per cent. It is not a question of electricity, but of how much heat you can take out of coal that determines the value of that coal. The hon. Member for Finchley (Mr. Cadogan) asks, how could nationalisation benefit, for instance, the coal trade? I am prepared at any other time to show how nationalisation would help the coal trade, but in the time at my disposal now I may say that, as Socialists, we are against every form of waste. It is the quintessence of stupidity to advocate, as some hon. Members have advocated, waste in order to give a man a job. There is no reason to waste anything to give a man a job. I have heard hon. Members opposite say they were prepared to go on with an 406 inefficient system because it was going to keep men in employment. That is to say, you are going to waste wealth to give a man a job. There is no sense in that.
Coming to the question of nationalisation, I say that the coal industry has been destroyed by private ownership in land, where every little landlord has been able to say, "This is my piece of land, and if there is coal under it, it is mine." They can say where the nation should get its wealth, where holes should be dug, and soon. We have to-day, perhaps, the most stupid, unscientific mining system that could be conceived anywhere. We have got, for instance, in the coalfield, lying at a certain angle, certain seams working from the top, and on account of the water that accumulates, the men are always working in danger, and always facing death because of the stupidity of those in control to which I have referred, and because of the system of landlordism which says, "You have no right to workout the coal unless I give permission." It is a stupid, insane system of society which gives power to any man in that way. If the Prime Minister wants seriously to get down to this question, he can soon be told by some of us what ought to be done. I look upon the Gracious Speech in this way: that it is not a Gracious Speech. I am not saying that out of any disrespect to the King. I do not know whether one can talk about His Majesty in this House, but it seems to me a terrible thing, let alone an ordinary man supposed to have intelligence, that a King, supposed to have superior intelligence, should be asked to read a speech like that.
We were told a little while ago about a mining crisis. There is no crisis in mining except that brought about in the coal trade by the stupid past methods employed, including the method of getting the coal. Arguments of the kind are invariably used to frighten the miners. It is always the miner that has to be the victim. The captains of industry—so-called—believe that the only way out of this is to reduce wages. Hon. Gentlemen opposite express all sympathy with the miner and explain that they know what he did in the War, how ready he is always at times of explosions to risk his life; but what is the real question? The miner notes what is said, but what he wishes is 407 a proper standard of living. The miners do not want sympathetic references alone. They want a standard of living; to be able to live like other men. Feeling as they do that their trade is the foundation of the whole superstructure of British trade, they only ask for fair play, yet hon. Members opposite are so stupid, in the sense in which I mean it, as to tamper with the foundations of the superstructure.
Hon. Members to-day have heard arguments reminding the miner about the competition of the white coal. Supposing, however, you had all the water that falls in Great Britain piled up and collected with a view of giving pressure and power, how much coal do hon. Members think would be saved per year? The saving would not exceed 250,000 tons. Today the Minister of Transport, as others, has slid away from this question in relation to the Severn Barrage. The whole thing is to try to get the miner to believe that the competition from water is a serious matter. I say there is no competition from water with the miner. Why was it that Italy was driven to making electricity during the War? Was it not because of the scandalous price that we charged our Italian Allies and friends—£7 a ton for coal? We drove them to desperation by that scandalous system of putting on such a price. Then hon. Members want to tell us on this side of the House that water power is a menace to the standard of living.
We come to the question of oil. Take Professor Byles, writing in the "Times" on 2nd November, 1925, and pointing out that so far as oil is concerned that it does not hold any serious competition with coal. If you take the Chairman of the Shipping Federation, he has pointed out that even if all British ships were transformed from steam to oil, there is not enough oil to keep them going. This talk about oil is simply to sidetrack the miner. They want to frighten the miner, but the miner is not going to be frightened. Figures can be given to show that the exhaustion in the case of natural oil wells is 50 per cent, and every country that has got oil is using more and more for their own needs and there is less for others. A writer pointed out in the September issue of the "English Review" that the North-Deutscher- 408 Lloyds had transferred 10 or 12 ships that were put on the stocks to be run with oil to coal so that; they might be run by steam. The cost of the coal is £1 per ton. The cost of the oil is 27s. 6d. Then you had another hon. Member here who talked about the efficiency of the internal-combustion and Diesel, engine were internal-combustion chambers, and it was suggested that one too of oil compared with four tons of coal. Yes, but we were not given the prices of the two for comparison.
§ Mr. HARDIE
Before you get the value of that ton of oil you have to pay £4 7s. 6d. for it. Why, then, should the Tory Government, especially as it is always claiming to possess amongst its Members those at the apex of intelligence, propound competition by oil? Why do they not, if they are going to take part in Debate, take the trouble to get an intelligent view of the facts before they speak in the House? When you want to discuss coal difficulties and the question of oil and water competition you want to get right down to the facts before you begin. This nation spent £300,000,000 in building oil boats to go to America during the War and to bring back oil. Most of those boats are now lying at the bottom of the Atlantic. If you had spent that money in putting up plant where you could take the oil from the coal that would have been more to the point and you would have had the plant to-day working. So far as these various arguments about elements competing in the coal industry, are concerned, I hope that all intelligent people will simply wipe them out.
The most Gracious Speech deals with the question of housing. It refers to the building of houses in England and Wales. Scotland, I notice, is not mentioned, and I should like to know why? A year or more ago I made a speech in this House on this subject, and I gave a technical description of how the houses were being built and what was likely to take place inside them. I am sorry that the Minister of Health is not in his place, because he used a remark towards myself, and I have never yet been able, or had the time, to pay that remark back. I want to get this back on him, and I hope his friends will tell him. I am sorry that he is not here. Here you have 409 a confirmation of what I said in that former discussion, in a quotation that I am going to give from the "Glasgow Times" of 29th January. It deals with a part of Lanarkshire where Weir steel houses have been erected and in which the Committee discussing the matter refused to take the houses from Messrs. Weir. The report says:The architect reported he had discovered that on practically every block rusting was taking place under the surface, and that in quite a number of cases the paint was peeling off in large patches.Paint does not peel off iron unless there is a skinning of the metal going with it.Messrs. Weir had undertaken to make good any defective painting until the end of the six months' maintenance period.We are supposed to sit back on our seats in this House, and admire the apex of intelligence on the other side. But I am not going to do it. I see hon. Members just as they are. Since there has been no definite statement in regard to the coal or the Electricity Bill I should like to draw the attention of the Prime Minister to that fact, and I want to press it. We are told that the Control Board is not to be allowed to make profits above 5 per cent., but the Board is to control makers and not make themselves. We find that in the "Glasgow Herald" report, but what about the low wages at present and unemployment? Hon. Members opposite need not shake their heads. They oppose municipal enterprise and put forward private enterprise, but it is necessary to see that there is fair-play in the matter as between efficiency and inefficiency.
In conclusion, I would note for the benefit of hon. Members opposite that there are efficient and inefficient pit workings. I want to direct the Prime Minister's attention to the fact that there are naturally efficient and naturally inefficient mines. If you take the case of Yorkshire the mines there generally are what we term naturally efficient, but if you go down into Lancashire you get a lot of natural defects, and that is inefficiency. When we speak about efficiency in the industry we mean the human application of science. To some those differences in the natural conformation of the pit would seem to indicate that difficulties had been put in the way in order to make mankind take the right point of view—and in this I appeal to 410 the Prime Minister, but such conditions should not be made in any district an excuse for the reduction of the miners' wages.
§ Mr. LLOYD
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member who has just sat down into a discussion on the stupidity of the party on this side of the House, or into the intricacies of coal mining, but I desire to address the House for a few moments on the broad aspect of the industrial problem as it appears to-day. It always strikes me that it is very difficult indeed to discuss industry seriously in this House, and that very difficulty, I think, in itself is a proof of the utter hopelessness of the proposal for the nationalisation of industry. When one hears details of management or the development of industry discussed here by amateurs and people with little knowledge of the facts and no experience one realises how chaotic would be the condition of Parliament, and the progress of public business if the main industries of this country were nationalised.
I should like to put in a word on behalf of those seriously engaged in the management of the great industries of the country. On all sides in this House there seems to be a tendency to condemn them out of hand. The last speaker was at some pains to describe them as stupid. They are often, I think, regarded as immoral in this House, and certainly they do not seem to have, even on the Government Benches, any very stout advocate among the Ministers who cater for trade interests. I do not know why that is so, unless, perhaps, it be a case of mutual repulsion. Far from desiring to plunge into polities, far from coming to the House seeking what they can secure with which to line their pockets, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) seemed to indicate in his speech, I can assure the House that the natural instinct of those responsible for industry is to keep as far away from this House as possible and to avoid any possible contact with politics. It is at the summons of this House, and very unwillingly at that, that industry, and the greater industries particularly, have been drawn in recent years into contact with politics and within the purview of this House. They are all only too willing to be withdrawn from that contact, and if they are drawn into it I do not see why 411 the House should not give them credit for seeking the true interest of industry, which, after all, they do know something about.
That brings me to the question of the industrial position to-day. I want to avoid any partisan speech, as far as I can, particularly in view of the very anxious position in a certain sphere of trade, but I do want to put forward a view, which, I believe, represents roughly the attitude of the Government's supporters throughout the great industries of the country. All seriously-minded people in industry to-day pay the greatest possible respect to the Government for the improvement in attitude and atmosphere existing in industrial circles and the improvement in the general feeling throughout industry, but what they want to-day is to know from the Government what is the next step that is going to be taken, what, in fact, is the real, fundamental industrial policy of the Government. I am one of those who are really getting tired of constantly hearing references to the desirability of better relations between employers and employed. We have had that phrase bandied about in the House till, I am sure, Members on all sides are heartily sick of it. It is based very largely on a misconception, due to lack of knowledge of industry in this House. The fact is that the relations in the more serious, the greater, trades, are already very admirable indeed. Each side has the greatest respect for the other side when they get away from politics and politicians; there is the greatest understanding and the greatest willingness to work together. All we want is to be allowed to go ahead and give that feeling free play, but in these later year, unfortunately, industry has reached a state of complication where we cannot keep politics out of it, and so we must look to the policy of the Government to ascertain the lines along which we are going to be led.
The position is very simple to-day. During the War the greater industries of this country received an unnatural stimulus, which resulted in over-development. New inventions were hurried on and industry expanded at a rate which was neither desirable nor reasonable; it was, in fact, over-developed. It would be 412 wrong to say that the result of that is seen to-day in universal depression in industry. The secondary and minor industries of the country are, many of them, in a state of great prosperity, expanding rapidly, paying good wages, and giving constant employment. The real problem is that alongside that expansion and prosperity we have in the primary, the elementary, the basic industries a state of profound depression. We have, in fact, existing side by side more or less of a boom in the lesser industries and a profound slump in the greater industries. What is the reason of that difference? Obviously, it is connected, first of all, with the elementary needs of the primary industries, the fact being that the more largely the element of wages enters into an industry the more hopeless it is, under free competition, to contend with lower wages. In the more developed and advanced industries many other factors come in which enable the man paying the higher wages still to compete with the foreigner who is paying lower wages for longer hours, but when we come to the case of a product which is 90 or 95 per cent. wages it is quite inconceivable that any amount of human endeavour will enable it to compete successfully with similar products from abroad where there are worse labour conditions and lower wages. Thus it is that the elementary industries in this country—the bulk industries—are at present being deliberately killed by the policy of this House.
Hitherto, the policy of this House has been free competition, and what we in industry want to know is whether that is the definite and permanent policy of His Majesty's Government. It is quite conceivable that the country can carry on under those conditions, but if that be the policy then we must be prepared to deal with the logical consequences of it. This country has deliberately set itself to establish and maintain a higher standard of living. In that endeavour employers and employed in the greater industries have stood loyally together. In the great industries like the coal trade and the iron and steel trade the position to-day is that, working on that loyal understanding in the observance of wage agreements, those industries have been run to a standstill, or are being run to a standstill, rather 413 than that the employers' side should seek to lower the standard of wages. If industry has of its own volition run these industries to a standstill, or is tending to do so, are the Government content with that condition of things? My own view is that we cannot leave this position to take care of itself. The conditions which are depressing our great industries are more or less transient, quite artificial, and it is to be hoped they will eventually level themselves out as the standard of living is raised in other parts of the world. But this country will always try to maintain that higher standard of living, and therefore it does seem reasonable that we should claim that as we have established, so to speak, an artificial standard of living for the people engaged in those primary elementary industries we should use some artificial means to maintain it. That is the choice we have to make—either artificial means to maintain the bulk, primary industries or, really their gradual extinction.
The alternative of extinction is quite possible to conceive. Industry is wonderfully adaptable and is, to-day and every day, engaged in endeavouring so to divert itself from these basic industries to the higher and more developed class of industries which, under present conditions, offer more prospects of permanent security and profit. But it is incredible to me that the Government can face the extinction of the great bulk industries with equanimity. In this relation, it is interesting to see that almost every young nation, in its first industrial endeavours, sets itself to establish either a coal industry or an iron and steel industry. We have Australia, Africa, Canada, India and Japan all setting themselves out, some of them under most unnatural conditions, to foster an iron and steel trade by the utmost use of artificial means, and yet in this country we have a Government who are apparently afraid to use any artificial means to foster our great basic industries. Their abandonment would mean two things. It would mean, first of all, that our position in any future war, if war there were, would be impossible; and it would mean, also, that the whole industrial structure would become an inverted pyramid, standing upon no solid foundation, and with the foreigner gradually sapping upwards from the 414 lower classes of trade to the higher classes. Already the foreigner is doing that. He has gone from the production of raw iron to the semi-finished products, and is going on to the more finished products.
That process is bound to continue, because the loss of bulk trade is the greatest blow which can be given to any great industry such as the iron and steel trade. If you lose the bulk trade your cost must increase, your power to compete must diminish, and gradually your trade will be taken away by the people who have managed to retain the bulk trade. So I cannot believe that the Government can remain indifferent to this question of the great basic industries. If they do net remain indifferent, the position limits itself really to treatment by some form of safeguarding tariff or some form of subvention. I do not believe there are any other alternatives. I believe to some extent that this matter must have, come home to the Government, but we find them again and again assuring us that no policy of subsidy or subvention is possible. In spite of that, we do find subsidies pouring out in a great many directions. When the coal trade subsidy is considered, I can only feel that if that money had been applied to a well-thought-out scientific subsidy based on some responsibility placed on the recipients, it might have been sufficient to restore the prosperity of the whole of the basic industries. That might still be done, because the violent removal of the coal subsidy is a thing which the Government will find impossible. I do not see why they should shrink entirely from subsidies if these were controlled, and some onus were placed on the recipients. At any rate, their own subsidy record covers a very large range. There were subsidies on sugar beet, on Wembley, on agriculture, on houses, on almost every conceivable thing except the basic industries.
That brings me back to the pledges which were given at the last Election, when we were told that the Government's policy was to safeguard efficient industries. I cannot help hoping that they will go back to that pledge and study how it can be applied to the great basic industries throughout the country. If its application must be restricted to little, second-rate industries, however much 415 value that is to the trade of the country, it cannot be regarded as a satisfactory solution of our industrial problems or a satisfactory attack on unemployment. We must look to the principle of what is wrong with the heavy trades and what can be done to help them. If that involves any difficulties, I hope those difficulties will be faced. To my mind, what is certain is that the Government pledge on safeguarding at the last Election was right, but the translation of that safeguarding pledge into a White Paper was a failure and should be admitted as a failure, and that step should be retraced. The whole procedure laid down in that White Paper appears to me to be clumsy and hopeless for dealing with the larger trade problems of the day. I would beg the Government to accept the fact that it is a failure as far as the heavy trades are concerned, and to study whether some wider principle cannot be applied to those greater industrial problems. If the Government are seeking an industrial halo, I think they have every opportunity of securing it. But I hope they will remember that haloes involve first of all a martyrdom, and if one or two martyrs are necessary I hope that these martyrs will be found.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I have been a Member of this House only during three Parliaments, and have heard many Debates on unemployment, but I never knew of anything whatever that issued for the unemployed from these Debates. It seems to me from the very composition of this House that we are incapable of getting down to a simple issue, and staying there until we can find some satisfactory solution. If we had this House divided up into Committees as the average decent municipality has itself divided, and if we had the question of the remedies, or palliatives, rather, for unemployment delegated to one such Committee, something might possibly eventuate there. But nothing so far as I can see can come out of such Debates as we have heard this afternoon The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) gets up and makes a plea for nationalisation. He states his case and shows, if one public authority owned electricity, how at least there were arguments in favour of showing that the cost of electrical power would go down by half. He 416 shows that we could employ immediately, or in a very short time, large numbers of men in the healthy occupation of growing timber in this country. No attempt is made to meet those arguments. No hon. Member or right hon. Member who has got up in this House has ever said anything about his facts or figures or questioned his conclusions. But you get the hon. Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Mac-quisten)—I am sorry he is not now in his place—who drops a humorous or semi-humorous critique upon plitical economy He describes capital as credit and bamboozles the hon. Gentleman who sits on that bench so that he accepts that definition as accurate. Credit is good name. Credit is not that part of the product of human labour which is saved and used for the production of further wealth. Nothing of that sort. Credit is good name. So they go on confusing and re-confusing this House. This Debate will finish, and, so far as unemployment and unemployment problems are concerned, I feel nothing will be done.
There is at least one point upon which I agree with some hon. Members opposite who have spoken to-night. They divide this present-day problem in the ultimate solution of unemployment into two sections: the first section the unemployed producers who are normally engaged in producing commodities for internal consumption; and the second section the producers who are normally employed in producing commodities for export, in return for which we get our food and certain raw materials. There are, I think, two definite points there. Sometimes we are called the sheltered industries. We are frequently told—I have not heard it said this afternoon—that one reason for cutting the conditions of labour in what are called sheltered industries, that is home industries, is in order to facilitate our expert trade. Any hon. or right hon. Gentleman who holds that view has, I think, to get up in this House to meet the case put by the chairman of the Westminster Bank last week in his annual review to his shareholders. I do not know what that gentleman's politics are, but his speech, like all the other bank chairmen's speeches, has been republished in extenso in the Press, probably at advertisement rates, and in the hope that their names will catch the Prime Minister's eye and that a knighthood may 417 at some date arrive their way. This chairman of the Westminster Bank, Mr. Walter Leaf, declares it is only in our internal trade that there has been any prosperity, and it is because our sheltered industries—he uses the words "sheltered industries"—have not had their wages cut, it is because the consuming power of the people engaged in the production of commodities for internal consumption has not been cut, that these industries remain prosperous. That is his conclusion, and I do not see any answer.
This House since 1921 has been deliberately engaged on a policy of cutting wages. We have cut about £500,000,000 off the purchasing power of certain sections of the working class, and every cut you make you lower the consuming power of the people at home. When you lower that consuming power you add to unemployment in the producing trades. You are assured that the only way to prosperity is to be more miserable, the only way to be fatter is to be thinner, the only way to be better fed is to starve, the only way to be better clothed is to go in rags. So long as you believe that, and so long as the majority swallow that nonsense, so long must we have unemployment abiding with us and growing in intensity in our land. It is no use talking about Locarno spirits. Either we are determined we shall raise the consuming power of the people of this country, or we are not. If you raise the consuming power of the people you will diminish unemployment; if you reduce the consuming power you will inevitably increase it. It seems to be axiomatic. I have never heard it answered. It is not necessary to tell us comic stories that for every man who has his own plot, every man ought to have his own coal mine as the hon. Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) informed us. That is not answering the essential fact. When you cut us down to the level of Indian coolies to compete with Indian coolies, you lower our consuming power and we cannot buy goods. If you raise our consuming power you absorb our unemployment. If we talk for months we cannot get past this simple issue.
I want to discuss for a moment or two the question of the 40 per cent, of our population which is normally engaged in producing goods for export. That is where the serious nature of our problem 418 arises. You have here our coal workers and cotton workers producing goods for consumption abroad in competition with other countries. In the King's Speech there is a reference which says that:Since the autumn of last year signs of a revival of industry have again begun to appear.Here is the situation which we have to face. No less than one-fifth of the whole human race live in territory under our control. The people of India have a purchasing power of not more than £4 per annum per head. The late Lord Curzon put it at about £2 per head per annum, and well-known statisticians in Bombay have put it at £5. However, the general concensus of opinion in India puts the amount per head at £4 per annum. What can they buy with £4? They cannot buy machinery, or clothes, or cotton goods, or anything whatever that we send over to India from this country. If this House only knew its business, hon. Members would try to raise not only the purchasing power of the people of this country, but also the purchasing power of our customers in India and elsewhere.
How can you do that? It is quite an easy thing to do. At present, they have only got a purchasing power of £4. If hon. Members dispute my figures I ask them to turn to the current issue of the 19th Century Magazine where they will find an article written by a late Lieut.-Governor in India, and the figures which he gives in that article are substantially the same as my own. If you could only raise the purchasing power of the people of India by 2s. 6d. per head per annum, that is about ¾d. per week, you would immediately increase British exports by £40,000,000 per annum. How can you do it? Anybody who goes even on a flying visit to India sees ryots using an old skin bag for lifting water out of the well. These natives toil day and night, and sometimes they get assistance in lifting the water from the wells. But to raise the water in this way they are wasting both time and human labour, and yet nobody has ever proposed to supply co-operative societies with a mechanical pump to raise the water, a device which would at once have multiplied the consuming power of the Indian peasant by four. They cannot afford to buy fuel and for this purpose they dry cow manure and use it for fuel, with the result that the 419 land is being starved. The activity and productivity of India is actually lower than China and Japan, but if you only had the wisdom you could immediately take such steps as would add between £40,000,000 and £60,000,000 to our exports to India from this country. The gentleman who wrote the article to which I have referred said that by this means those exports could be increased by £150,000,000 per annum.
We talk about free competition, but what does that mean? It means that our manufacturers go out to India, China, and Japan, and there they get labour dirt cheap, and sometimes even worse than that. There they erect cotton factories and jute factories which compete with the manufacturers in this country. Why do hon. Members opposite not talk about all this competition with Indian coolie labour? Why have they nothing to say about the Lord Inchcapes who have coal mines in India which are competing with our coal exports to foreign countries? What is the use of talking about all this foreign competition when we know that Lord Inchcape and others have 60,000 women working down the coal mines. In India these people are raising coal at 7s. a ton and less, and they are selling that coal at 11s. per ton in Calcutta—selling that coal as far away as the Suez, thus throwing British coal out of the market. Under these conditions, what is the use of talking about the Locarno spirit and the right of everybody to do what he likes with his own when you are allowing British capitalists unchecked to compete with British labour in this way? We must either eliminate these conditions or adopt a new social order. In the King's Speech there appears a paragraph as follows:Invitations are being issued to the Governments of Belgium, France, Germany and Italy to attend a conference in London to consider the possibility of securing an effective international agreement for regulating hours of labour."Why have we not issued invitations to all the signatories to the Washington Convention? Why is Japan to be left out? Is not Japan already displacing British cotton goods in India? Are not some of the Japanese mills now working 22 hours a day? You cannot deny that there is actual slavery in Japan now, and they are housing six adult labourers in a room six feet square. Why should 420 the Government of Japan be excluded from such a conference? Why should the Government of the United States of America be excluded? Are they not competing with us? Why should India and China be excluded? Why should a convention of this kind be adopted which will practically have the effect of destroying the Washington Convention? The other day the Prime Minister briefly referred to this subject, but he did not tell this House why the United States should be kept out, or why Japan or India or any of these other countries should be kept out. I read the King's Speech very carefully, and I was struck with its failure to signify any intention of really facing the actual facts of the situation.
At the present moment in this country we have over one million of our fellows condemned to perpetual unemployment, and yet we find that when a serious proposal is made by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, which he justified by facts and figures, nobody attempts to answer his argument. I know fresh contributions have been made to the Debate, but no one has dealt with the right hon. Gentleman's facts and figures at all. We know that a Vote will be taken on this question in a few hours, or perhaps a few days, and we shall pass on to some other subject, and the unemployed will remain unemployed. I suggest that it is high time that the leading representatives of all parties in this House should have a private meeting, if you like, in order to see if we cannot come to a common agreement that the business of this House should be conducted henceforth in a new fashion, and certainly in regard to the big problem of unemployment, that there should be a House of Commons Committee established to deal constantly with the subject. We might have as the Chairman the Minister of Labour, but I think on this important question we should get down to serious Business instead of being sent back every year with one kind of apology and another and being referred to the figures given in the "Labour Gazette."
By the methods now adopted, no one will be any better off, and I suggest that one step which the Prime Minister might take frankly and fearlessly would be to have a joint consultation with the two Front Benches to see if we cannot agree 421 to the appointment of a permanent committee to deal with proposals for remedying unemployment apart altogether from party politics, because it is far too serious for that. It is a human problem, and it is causing a C3 population to grow up. At the present time you spend more money on your prisons and similar forms of administration than you spend on unemployment, and I do urge the Prime Minister to try to get some kind of agreement for the establishment of a Joint Committee to consider suggestions for palliating unemployment, and allow each party to go ahead, endeavouring to get some form of support in the country for their own particular proposals to cure unemployment.
§ Mr. KIDD
I do not think that any exception can be taken on this side of the House to the Amendment which has been moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden). It raises sharply and quite fairly the difference in political view between this side of the House and the other side, but, making allowance for that difference in view. I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that the programme outlined in the Gracious Speech from the Throne is a programme strictly in keeping with the traditions of the Conservative party. It suggests how at one and the same time we can reconcile social reform on the broadest possible lines with the largest individual liberty. We may be wrong, but we take the view that we can only redeem the condition of this country, we can only bring back our lost prosperity, if we trust to individual effort, and until that prosperity has returned we cannot satisfy all our ambitions with regard to social reform. It seems to me that in the programme outlined in the Speech from the Throne we find abundant evidence of that.
I do not think hon. Members opposite will differ from me in this, that, after all, our position as a people in the world is to be traced to the spirit of adventure. There never was a time when we wanted more to stimulate adventure. It is all very well to concentrate on social topics, and I trust that we on this side of the House will never be indifferent to them, but you can over-concentrate on these topics, and I would ask Labour Members whether the time has not come when we should abate our social fervour a little, 422 and give a little more attention to stimulating that spirit of adventure in which alone, as I see it, our new prosperity can be discovered. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley rather made fun of the attempt to stimulate agriculture. He said the Government are about to give credits to agriculture. What is that for? It is in order that we may go in for more intensive agriculture. I do not see why the right hon. Gentleman should take exception to that. He asks, Why do the farmers need it? I would ask him, Why does the extension of an industrial business call for more credit?
Why, the right hon. Gentleman will then ask, Cannot the farmer borrow in the open market, as the industrial manufacturer can? I leave it to the two divisions of the Opposition to give the answer. The constant attacks made during a succession of years on the position of land in this country have made land unattractive as a security. If one adds to that the fact that no system, individualistic or Socialistic, can in any way modify the variety of our weather, one can realise the peculiar position of a crop as against a manufactured article as an attraction for money lending. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should review his past, and see how far he himself is responsible for the necessity, if we are to have an intensive agriculture, for the Government in office for the time being to lend in that effort the credit of the State. The right hon. Gentleman quoted certain of the Prime Minister's speeches, and I would remark, in passing, that, in view of the volume of unemployment, not in the domain of agriculture, but in the domain of industry, I was rather surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should have, given so much attention to the topic of the land. I wondered if we were witnessing the dawn of a new Coalition. That seems to me to be the only explanation of the attention that he gave to the land.
While, however, he gave much attention to certain of the Prime Minister's speeches, he strangely neglected others. The Prime Minister, in speech after speech in the country, has directed the attention of our people to the difference between the industrial conditions in America and those in this country. No 423 Member of the Labour party has made the slightest reference to the extraordinary success that attends the system of capitalism across the Atlantic, just because there is no Member of the Labour party who would not wish our workers to share much more the prosperity which is enjoyed now by our cousins across there. What is the cause of the difference?
§ Mr. KIDD
Exactly. But what is the cause of these? I am well aware that I shall be told by the Labour party that America has a larger home market, but I would submit that, by such an intelligent arrangement between the Dominions and ourselves as the Government advise us to follow, we could get a very much larger home or Imperial market than America has at present. Again, I shall be told that America has infinitely richer resources, and again I reply that, by pursuing the same intelligent arrangement, we should discover in the Empire resources in raw materials infinitely larger than those enjoyed by America. But you may have a large home market, you may have a wealth of resources, and yet, as things are here, you will never go ahead. Hon. Members opposite will recollect that Trotsky said that the menace to Great Britain was not to be discovered in Bolshevism, but was to be discovered in commercial America. Certain other statements have been made, in "America Revisited," by the distinguished Secretary for India, but, although, coming from a Tory bench, it may sound like blasphemy, in this particular I prefer the observation of Trotsky.
What Trotsky meant was that in America to-day you have a condition of things where the trade union does not follow a political career; and, shut off from a political career, the union inevitably has taken to an economic or industrial career. That was only natural. But why has it not taken to a political career? It is no use complaining of the pursuit by trade unions here of political ways. The unions here, in pursuing politics, have acted in harmony with the Constitution, which does not prohibit such activities. On the other hand, the American Constitution, conceived with a jealous regard for individual liberty, has begotten, if it 424 has not actually set up, a considerable obstacle to the pursuit by a trade organisation of a political career. The result of taking the other course has been that the union has acted as an investing unit for the worker, bringing to the worker an intimate inside knowledge of his industry which in turn brings about peace, and consequent prosperity. With the abundant prosperity which the worker has enjoyed, with that generous wage which, in common with the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), I wish for our workers here, the American worker has a larger margin for saving, while our workers have none.
The individual American worker, pursuing the example of his union, has become an individual investor, thereby spreading, not throughout a class but throughout a people, a financial sense. There has been induced in America a condition of elasticity in industry which we do not have here. In America, industry continues day by day to become more elastic. The worker may have bad times, but he adjusts himself to them; his financial sense is there, and he knows the reason why. He takes the bad weather, knowing that when the good weather comes he will enjoy his full share. But, while America has constantly developed elasticity in industry along those lines, here we grow daily more rigid. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston), speaking with sincerity of our bad trade conditions, showed an anxiety for something in the nature of a non-party Commission. Let him have it, but do not let him ignore the American system; do not let him deplore low wages here and ignore the prosperity of the American worker. Do not let him, for the sake of any particular party cry, shut his eyes to the cause. If the cause is other than that which I have stated, let some Hon. Member opposite discover it. When you have eliminated every other possible cause you get down to that difference—the elasticity in American industry, begotten in the way I suggest, as compared with rigidity here. As they grow more and more elastic, we grow more and more rigid, and, that being so, I care not what our resources are, we are bound to lag behind.
That illustrates the point which was made in an excellent speech by an hon. 425 Member on these benches, as to how little it is that the Government can do. The redemption of the position of this country by pursuing such methods as have been adopted in America, must come though the action of the trade unions, themselves. I grant that the Government can afford facilities, and they can respect the fact that the identification of the trade unions with, politics is quite constitutional, and therefore there is scope for the Government assisting with facilities the change. But the new spirit leading in this new direction cannot come from any Government. If hon. Members on the Labour benches axe sincere when they deplore the misery of our people, why not follow the line that would bring prosperity and would destroy that misery? I trust that hon. Members opposite will not think I am intentionally provocative if, with as sincere a regard as they have for the worker, and as great an anxiety as they have to redeem the position of the worker, I put my case strongly, and say that it is not on the initiative of any Government, except on the lines of affording facilities, but only on the initiative of political leaders who are identified with the trade unions, that we can so redeem our position in this country as to achieve the end which we all desire, and by means of which we shall discover for our people, not only increased prosperity for the moment, but an assured and permanent prosperity such as America enjoys.
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
The Debate which has been started to-day by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) recalls to some of us the Debate of three years ago, in which he also took the opening part, and which will long be remembered as an occasion when the foundations of Socialism were submitted to a close examination on both sides of the House. The speech on that occasion that was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Swansea (Sir A. Mond), if, indeed, one may call a man a friend who has recently moved over to the other side, is one which is in the memory of some of us and certainly was a most masterly performance. May I be allowed to say, as I paid close attention to that Debate and have listened to several of the speeches to-day, I think the tone and temper of the present 426 Debate is greatly to be preferred to the last. Nothing pleased some of us more than the appeal that was made just now by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston), for it showed that he, too, feels, as I am sure many people feel in all parts of the House, a real regret that unemployment should be, as it were the peg on which an acute party controversy sometimes arises. We are accustomed to say of one another that we admit one another's sincerity. It is much more than a question of sincerity. I do not think any man of feeling, or any man with a real concern for the public weal, can do other than intensely regret that there should be acute debating controversy in this House on a subject so terrible, and certainly the spirit that was behind the appeal made by the hon. Member for Dundee when he asked the Minister if he thought it would be useful to appoint some sort of Committee to act in a perfectly non-party sense, should meet with a sympathetic response from all quarters of the House.
May I further say that, as far as I am concerned, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who moved this Amendment not only deeply stirred my feelings of admiration for his oratorical powers, but in a large part of it commanded my almost complete sympathy. Indeed, if his Resolution was within the four corners of his speech, I think there would be a good many people who would feel that it was difficult to resist much that he said. I thought he was much more reasonable this time than last time. Three years ago his proposition, in substance, was that capitalism was responsible for a long list of most terrible evils, and the picture he drew was so black that you could almost suppose no substantial improvement had ever been effected under this accursed system. This time he reminded us that just 100 years ago you had little children of seven and eight being worked horribly long hours in factories, and to and behold, in this era of what some people call capitalism, that and a hundred other horrible tragedies have been swept away by the good sense and the growing social feeling of the House of Commons. I do not believe it is a true analysis to say that it is to the system called capitalism that we must necessarily trace some, at any rate, of the evils under which we are suffering. For example, there is no necessary connection 427 between what is called the capitalistic system and over-crowding, or the piling up of mean, wretched, and in-sanitary dwellings round the centres of industrial population. Indeed, I do not think anyone who considers cases like Bourneville or Port Sunlight could seriously say so.
The real reason why this shocking state of affairs has grown up, which every party in turn finds it so difficult to tackle adequately, is not because we have been living under a system of capitalism, but because the social conscience expressed here in the House of Commons unfortunately developed long after the industrial revolution. If it had so happened that you had the development of a sensitive social feeling, both of the articulate population outside and the representatives in the House here, before the date of the rapid march of the industrial revolution you might have had our industrial towns with well-planned streets, and made them areas in which the wage-earners were living under very different conditions from those that were imposed upon them. I do not think it is a true analysis to connect what is called the capitalistic system with a state of affairs such as that. It is true that the two things were to a large extent happening at about the same time, but it is the most elementary of all fallacies to suppose that is a proof that one has been the cause of the other.
There is a second thing which it seems to me is implicit in the language of this Amendment which is open to very grave doubt indeed. I do not question that many of my friends above the gangway hold the view which I oppose sincerely, but I ask them to consider whether it is really well founded. Is there really any assurance that public ownership and democratic control is a way of getting rid of unemployment? It is worth while considering because the thing is not really self-evident, and it calls for analysis.
I do not think it can be disputed that you can only get rid of unemployment, you can only secure employment for the working community, if you can secure a demand for the things they produce which can be satisfied by the ability of those who wish the things they produce to buy the things they produce. You can secure that the people employed in some 428 given branch of industry shall be employed whether or no, and in all circumstances, if the branch of industry is being worked on the principle of public ownership because you can do it on these terms, that if the industry does not, in fact, make a profit, but, on the other hand, is making a loss, none the less out of public funds, and out of public resources, you can keep the industry going. A perfectly obvious illustration of that is that municipal trams may or may not make a profit. They can be perfectly well, and are quite properly carried on in some cases at a loss, and that loss is made up out of public funds. I do not complain. I think that is quite right, but be it observed that you cannot go on applying that method to a whole series of industries, one after the other, and say that what you do in a limited number of cases you will do in all, and therefore it is very important to make up one's mind whether the system of public ownership and democratic control—though upon my soul I do not know what democratic control in that connection means—is really going to produce more efficiency in production or a greater demand for the product.
You can use public funds, you are draw on public taxes so as to secure that certain industries shall be carried on, and shall give their full meed of employment to all in the industry. You can do it without regard to whether the industry makes a profit or a loss, but it is certain you cannot go on applying that principle indiscriminately to an immense range of industries unless you first of all have satisfied yourselves and, what is perhaps more important, have satisfied the judgment of the wisest minds available, that the change you propose is actually going to increase the efficiency of the industry.
For example, the right hon. Gentleman said to-day a thing with which I agree. He said, "If you show me the case of a thing which is in the nature of a monopoly and which has not got already so entrenched upon the public that nothing short of an immense surgical operation, with possibly heavy compensation, can put things right, in Heaven's name do not let us allow what is in its nature a monopoly to get into private hands, when public hands can manage it properly." I go with him the whole way. It may be true that if this system had been applied 429 earlier to some other services, it might have been well and properly applied. I am not disputing it. All these things are very reasonable propositions. But it is a wholly different thing to endeavour to sweep the country and to attract the support, it may be of ignorant men and women, by some general formula, as though this general formula contained in itself the seeds of a plant under the shadow of which employment will always flourish.
I do not know how far the right hon. Gentleman really thinks he ought to go. If he were to say each case has got to be considered without prejudice in favour of the private capitalist, with a single desire to see which will produce the most efficient production, and which will give the best opportunity to the people engaged in it, I would agree with him entirely. But if he and his friends have really thought this matter out to the point that they can produce this Amendment, I would address two or three questions to them. For example, I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman in his illustration did not include the coal trade. That appears to me to be a case that might very properly be considered. Does he really think the extraordinarily difficult and complicated business of finding foreign markets for British, coal is an enterprise which in present circumstances should be subject to public ownership and abolition of competition?
§ Sir J. SIMON
What an extraordinary way to argue. How much sense of responsibility has a man who says, in relation to some enormously complicated British trade, to which an immense mass of his fellow subjects are looking for a living: "As it is being managed now it is a failure, and therefore that is a proof that my solution is right"? Let us deal with it with some sense of responsibility. I do not think I have any prejudice in the matter except, it may be, rather more caution than some people display. But I have seen no argument which convinces me up to the present that the enormously complicated business of disposing of British coal in the markets of the world, in the keenest competition, not only with coal, but with other sources of heat and power, where you have to judge, and judge quickly, all sorts of varying factors, such as freights, demand 430 and supply, and a hundred other things, could be safely handed over to public ownership.
§ Mr. D. GRENFELL
Already the bulk of foreign trade is not in the hands of the coalowners. It is done by people independent of the colliery proprietors.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I know the hon. Member speaks with very great knowledge on the subject, and I am obliged to him, but surely the point is not that. The point really is whether in a matter of this sort we can safely get rid of the principle of competition. I can only say for my own part, without any sort of prejudice, that I should very much like to be better satisfied about it before I made such a tremendously risky experiment. Let me go a step further. What about the cotton trade? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley knows a lot about the cotton trade. He has been Chancellor of the Exchequer and has had great opportunity of estimating the practical side of this business. Does any person with a sense of responsibility really say that a complicated trade like the cotton trade can safely be handed over to public ownership, with the abolition of all prospect of private competition?
These propositions are entirely relevant to the issue. If the Amendment merely means that you are to examine a particular case and consider whether it does or does not partake of the nature of a monopoly, whether it would not be in the circumstances a practicable and possibly a better way to put it into public hands, that is a doctrine which any Liberal who understands anything about Liberal policy would thoroughly agree with; but it is a wholly different thing to say, "I have got a principle which I am in a position to say should be applied over a vast range of trades without necessarily judging the particular circumstances of the trade; that I see great advantages in applying this principle holus bolus, and that I will run the risk of all I should lose for the sake of the problematical gain I shall make." In a country like ours, dependent as it is on its foreign trade, on its export trade, carried on under circumstances of the most intense complication, I regard a man as reckless in the extreme who seriously asserts you 431 can safely nationalise or socialise such immensely complicated trades as these Therefore I am in this difficulty. The House will appreciate that I was greatly affected and impressed by what the right hon. Gentleman said, and I repeat that the whole temper and tone of the Debate is far better and far more useful than the Debate of three years ago. If the right hon. Gentleman means that he wants to examine trades case by case to see whether there are not instances in which we could go forward, then I am entirely by his side, but if, on the other hand, he is laying down a principle which the Socialist party has so often laid down, some general formula or principle, which is supposed to provide a cure for unemployment and a means of prosperity, then I say he is wrapping up in his Amendment something which is far beyond anything he said in his speech and inviting the British public to a gamble which in these times we ought not to undertake.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) in his admirable speech followed lines which are not unfamiliar. He pointed to some of the obvious defects, not necessarily of the capitalistic system but of our modern civilisation, referred to some of the misery and poverty, which all of us can see, and proceeded to say, in a few perfunctory words, that if Socialism were introduced all these things would disappear. But we on these benches, like the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last, want to know a little more than that. We can see for ourselves the defects which exist and we are anxious to remedy them in any way possible. We do not look on national ownership of this or that industry as anything immoral and we are perfectly prepared to consider them on their merits. But what we are not prepared to do is to accept on the ipsi dixit of the right hon. Gentleman himself, without any reasons at all, the fact that the transfer of essential services to public ownership and democratic control, whatever that may mean, is immediately going to solve our problems. This is, after all, nothing but a business proceeding.
The whole question is whether these essential services, if the system were changed, would make a profit, and whether these profits would be used for 432 the State or for raising the standard of life for the workers, or used in providing further facilities. What we want to know is whether the change which the right hon. Gentleman advocates in the Amendment will enable as great profits to be made. There is one very easy way of putting national ownership on a paying basis, and that is by confiscation, just as you can make burglary a paying proposition as long as you can get away with the goods. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley is a great financial expert, and during his tenure of office as Chancellor of the Exchequer made a great and lasting reputation among many who are interested in financial matters. He knows perfectly well the dangers and disasters that lie in the way of confiscation, whatever the morality of that proceeding may be. He knows as well as we know that, apart from the morality or the immorality of the proceeding, the danger of detection and the difficulty of disposal make burglary really not worth while. One can put that out of the question.
Where then is this profit to come from? The transference of these essential services will make no difference to world conditions of trade. It is not going to increase the purchasing power of our customers, and it is not going to increase the productive powers of those from whom we buy our raw material. There is no help to come from that. Where then is it to come from? Is it a psychological effect? Are the workers under State ownership going to make a greater output per man? The whole case of members of the party opposite is that there is no room for complaint in this respect. There is no "ca'canny," no reduction of output per man, and therefore, there is no room for improvement in that respect by this change. But even if that be not the case, even if the output could be improved, have we any reason to believe that this would be the way of improving it? Hon. Members have only to look at the statistics of absenteeism in the State-owned mills in Russia and consider the history of the relations between employer and employés in the democratically controlled co-operative societies. I do not think they will get any satisfaction from their investigations or be led to believe that this transference to public ownership is going 433 to increase the output or the efficiency of the worker.
Is it a question of management? Mr. Tawney, who put the case for nationalisation before the Coal Commission the other day, said that he had no complaint to make about management, and that under his scheme of nationalisation the management would be left as it is. All that he would do is to impose upon it a system of supreme councils, consumers' councils, and, Heaven knows what other councils, and on the top of that there would have to be a large army of civil servants. However much you may talk about democratic control, the fact remains that it is the State which will have to pay, and although the mere payment of the piper does not enable you to call the tune, it does enable you to see that the tune is efficiently and economically played. No relief can be looked for in overhead charges. The truth of the matter is that Socialism, like Protection and like inflation, is an excellent way of increasing your trade at a loss. It sounds humanitarian because it enables you to put off the evil day. You can use the whole resources of the State to bolster up inefficiency, to support the lame duck, but you can only use them for a limited period. Sooner or later you come to the end of your resources and then the crash comes, and when it comes it is worse than ever.
Of these three expedients, Socialism has one fault which is not common to the others and which is much greater than any of them. It is this, that you remove what is really the mainspring of efficiency in industry, namely, the competitive system. It may be that it is a difficult thing in our human nature and that in time to come human nature will be able to do without it, but at the moment it is there, and it exists in the higher councils even of the party opposite, and perhaps also in the councils of the party below the Gangway. It is really the stimulus to efficiency, whether of the individual or the industry. If one firm is lagging behind another, then the competitive instinct makes that firm devise ways of securing fresh trade. It adopts new methods and perhaps engages on a new advertising campaign. It makes them forge ahead. Other industries in their turn have to find some new form of enterprise; and so by this competitive instinct 434 the trade of this country is kept going. We have had a really good example in a small way of what competition means to us. A few years ago a great scheme was entered into for the amalgamation of the railways. The whole object was to eliminate competition, the idea being that by eliminating competition they would reduce overhead charges and expenditure and the result would be better and cheaper facilities. In point of fact, however, if you look at the balance sheets of the railway companies you will see that their profits, far from increasing, have gone down, and anyone who lives in a country district off the main line can speak as to whether or not facilities have improved.
That is what is going to happen on a great scale if we embark, not on a careful examination of this or that industry to see whether in this trade or in that trade it may not be better and more businesslike for the State to control, but on a great scheme of nationalisation; if we adopt nationalisation as a sine qua non, with the onus of proof removed and accept it, not as a business proposition but as a great theory of life. Everywhere Socialism as we know it is dying. As the right hon. Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond)—who has come to a place where, perhaps, there is less room for him, speaking literally, than there used to be—said only a few months ago in this House, "Socialism will not work." That is the only real answer to Amendments such as that moved by the right hon. Member for Colne Valley. Socialism is not businesslike; it is not human nature, and I believe that nobody realises that more than some hon. Members who sit opposite, because each successive time that topics such as this are debated the scheme is wittled down; it becomes a little less and a little less.
Time was when hon. Members opposite used to talk about State ownership and State control of the means of production and distribution; but a little doubt arose, a little suspicion grew, as to whether State control was practicable, as to whether State interference was not, in fact, a drag on industry. So it has become now, State ownership and democratic control. Surely, the next step will be for hon. Members to realise that you cannot have State ownership, you cannot have the State footing the bill, without having State control as well. Then 435 it will be only one more step to realise that the real thing is democratic ownership and democratic control, and that the real thing we have to work for is not the abolition of private property, not the holding of every form of property and every form of enterprise in the hands of the State, but the distribution of that property as widely as possible, so that instead, as is now the case, of only a small proportion of the citizens of this country holding property, in the future that proportion will be almost universal. When we have ownership divided like that, we shall have control divided also.
If hon. Members opposite, instead of wasting their great abilities, their real sympathies and their great knowledge of working-class conditions, in a futile chase after this legendary thing, would devote themselves to patching and repairing industries, and levelling inequalities under a system which is the only one compatible with our modern civilisation, I believe that before long a great many of the difficulties with which we are faced would be much more easily surmountable than appears at the present time.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I was present the other day at a very large conference on unemployment, at which almost every borough and urban council and every industry, employers and workmen, over the whole of the districts of Tyneside, Weirside and Tees-side were represented. The story that was told at that conference and the figures that were given as to the number of unemployed were so striking that I am sure, if the Cabinet could have been present, we should have had a very different spirit displayed in the King's Speech in regard to unemployment. The outstanding fact of that conference was that employer after employer in shipbuilding, the iron and steel trades, and all the great industries, made definite statements that there were great masses of men who would never go back into the industries. Assuming that statement to be true, and I am afraid that it is true, it is a terrible state of things for the great mass of people in this country.
In the King's Speech there is the anticipation that trade is going to improve, and that a certain number of people will find employment; but the Prime 436 Minister, the Cabinet and every Member of this House know that although trade may improve, and we all want to see it improve, there will still remain a great mass of people who will be unemployed until there is a some definite action taken by the central Government to deal with the matter. No one at the Conference talked about increase of output. One employer after another said that it was the fact that there was increased output that meant permanent unemployment. No one talked about an increase of hours. No one talked about peace in industry. As responsible representatives of local authorities, employers and representatives of workmen, we wanted to find some common ground, and we avoided all possible ground of controversy, in order, if possible, to find a solution of the problem of unemployment.
We hear again and again in this House the old story about increased output. Take the mining industry, and here I am speaking of something I know. The assumption is that there will be increased output and that that will be the solution of the difficulty, even with the organisation standing as it is at the present time. That is not true. Anyone who knows anything about mining knows that there is variation of output, and that under the method of working the mines, the individual worker gives of his best. I had the privilege of going down mines in Canada last year and saw some very fine seams. I made inquiries as to the output in the mines, and as to the output in Canada, I was told that the output was two tons per man. I said, "You will be doing very well here. They said, "Yes, but if we could only increase output, we should get such and such markets." In the United States I met employers, and they said exactly the same thing, although output there is the highest.
We are told that what is wanted is peace in industry. No one wants peace in industry more than the miner. He has seen more conflicts than anyone in any other industry. What does peace in industry mean? Does it mean district negotiation? Does district negotiation mean less wages, longer hours'? One department sometimes says that it does not mean longer hours, and the next day that department tells us that if the working hours could only be increased by 437 one hour in the day things would be all right. I remember the time when we had district rates, and I do not want to go back to that system. I remember that when I was 10 years' old there was a 13 weeks stoppage in my own county. That was in the good old days of which the coalowners talk. In those halcyon days there was none of the political representation about which the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Kidd) talked, and there were 10 hours work per day for boys. During the 13 weeks stoppage no one in the country knew that we were suffering. Very often I got my breakfast at dinner time, when the men came in after begging for loaves in the surrounding areas. We got 25s. for the whole of the 13 weeks. We were almost starved and naked, and no one in the country cared what was happening to us as children or to our fathers and mothers. That is what district negotiations mean.
I tell the Prime Minister and this House that, much as I want peace—we will do anything we can do to ensure peace—our people are not going back to that state of affairs. The proposals of the coalowners have been such that even the "Daily Mail" suggests to the coalowners that they should dissolve their organisation. The hon. Member for Linlithgow suggested that we should have a little more elasticity in matters. Anyone can come in to our organisation. We have not a seven years apprenticeship. Anyone can do anything that is within the regulations. The question of elasticity, therefore, does not arise. Let us remember what was said by Mr. Justice Sankey seven years ago. It is all very well for some people to sneer at Mr. Justice Sankey as a judge who knows nothing about the situation, but remember that on the Commission there were a representative employer in the steel trade, a representative engineer, and a gentleman who was a shipowner. Seven years ago they told the country that as the mining industry stands, its organisation was condemned. But nothing has been done since.
I sometimes hear people talk, and I read articles, about poor seams and mines that are uneconomic. It may be of interest to the House and to the Prime Minister to know that I could mention two or three collieries which, though 15 miles from the nearest port and with thin seams—in other words, the oldest and 438 most uneconomic collieries—have been working through all the recent stress and storm. On the other hand, I could take the right hon. Gentleman to a big colliery with good seams near the docks, with its own branch railway and its own trucks and ships, and there 5,000 men have been idle for nearly 12 months. If necessary I could say that that is the result of working a mine in order to get quick dividends without any reference to the permanent interest of the population. I could give instance after instance of that kind. I hope that the mining problem may be solved in such a way as to help the general trade of the country, but I trust that no one in the Press or in this House or in the country holds the view that, while we desire a settlement which will bring peace, yet the miners are going to be wangled into a settlement which will really be no settlement at all.
If seems to me that, particularly in the mining industry, one can find proof of the truth of the Amendment that we have put forward. Coal is a paying proposition. It would be a paying proposition as a raw material, but if what comes from coal were added, if everything was taken as belonging to a continuous whole, the miner could get a good wage and there would be a good return to the industry and to the country. At one time we used to have the money that came in for coke pooled in the return of the industry. Coke sells at a higher price than coal. To-day we have not the privilege of the pooling of the by-product. We want all the by-products to be counted in. On every hand industry is crying out for cheaper coal. If the right hon. Gentleman's electricity scheme is carried out it seems to me that what will happen will be, that instead of the coal industry itself being regarded as part and parcel of the supply of the new form of power and so getting some credit for it in wages and in the general returns on industry, the electricity companies are simply going to make as big a profit as they can and generally to bleed the coal industry.
I believe it would be possible to do something practical with the unemployment problem as it is now. I understand that the Overseas Settlement Committee or the Colonial Office have suggested the sending of men overseas at a cheaper 439 rate. Now they have suggested that the men who go overseas should have training upon the land. I believe they are giving encouragement to the agricultural labourer to go overseas. I do not know what the farmers will say about that. A good deal has already been done in reference to training and a good deal more is possible. I would draw the attention of the Prime Minister particularly to the fact that in connection with the War Office there is a training school where men in the last year of their service have been trained upon the land or trained for various industries. While I was at the War Office in charge of that particular Department, I saw 20 farmers go overseas. I have here a report of the Australian authorities. What they say in effect is, "Send us some more of these men." But they were trained men, 20 families. There is a great scheme, and I ask the Prime Minister or those responsible at the War Office to look into that scheme.
One of the last things we did when we were in office was to propose that the land and buildings of Gretna should be used for the purposes of a great training scheme. I suggest to the Prime Minister that if it is possible to have efficient training in co-operative communities upon, the land in Australia it can be done for this country, and you have at your disposal a great mass of men who will willingly submit to such training rather than remain idle. It is well known that a great part of the population of our towns is made up of people who have been on the land in their own lifetime or who are only one generation removed from the land, and the Government should begin by co-ordinating the various training schemes which are in existence under various Departments. There are also private training schemes. If the Government took the £3,000,000 which has been set aside for overseas emigration and began to train men here and took over land for the purpose—the most unprofitable land—then I know from War Office experience they could find the men, they could equip the holdings and they could give those men sufficient training in order to make the proposition pay 20s. to the £ and enable the men to have a decent livelihood.
What does that involve? It involves the taking over by the State of great areas of land; it involves some form of 440 national and social ownership. As the right hon. Gentleman the Mover of the Amendment has said that is practically in principle what is suggested in the King's Speech. We are told there is to be drainage of land which is now producing nothing, and that this land is to be made useful. Is it suggested that such land should still remain in the possession of the private owner? No one in a business community would make such a suggestion. I put to the Prime Minister this proposition—that he ought to look into the War Office scheme under which men are being efficiently trained. I have reports from a number of different people on these communal settlements in Australia showing that they are effective and I suggest that there you have a possible line for dealing to a certain extent with unemployment. My experience of the mining industry confirms me in the conviction that what is required is a general reorganisation and amalgamation which will ultimately mean monopoly and will ultimately compel the community to take charge of the land. One has seen the principle driven home in the mining industry and its application will become inevitable in all the great industries of this country.
If one wants evidence of the results, in the case of the land, of private ownership and competition and llaissez faire all one has to do is to look at the fact that four million acres of arable land have gone out of cultivation. Stage by stage the lamentable and terrible condition of our people aid the condition of our great industries will force this country and this House to a recognition of the principle definitely set forth in the Amendment. Propositions for the regulation of life and industry were put forward and were snarled at in days of old, and no doubt this proposition will be given the same treatment. Not to-day and not to-morrow, but very surely in the days to come, any assembly of this kind will be bound to consider socialisation on a big scale as a business proposition as well as a human proposition.
§ Mr. TEMPLETON
It is not often that I obtrude myself upon the House, but on this occasion I desire to express something of the disappointment which this Debate has brought to me. All my life I have been a party man—a thorough Conservative—and I do not subscribe to the 441 fallacy that a man's banking account or social condition should be the marks of his political ideas. I do not wish to treat this subject, however, purely from the point of view of a party man opposing a theory of economics of politics with which he disagrees. I wish to express what is in my opinion one of the great differences separating us from the Socialist party—not the wild, violent, red-flag Communist party, but those who believe in moving by degrees. The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) gave us 20 years to reach the grand period when every man will be doing his share of the work of the country and we shall all receive according to our needs. In that party there is a feeling that by legislation we can cure the ills which afflict our country, such as unemployment. On our side we hold the belief that such things can only be cured by the sheer process of individual energy and enterprise. We could pass an Act of Parliament to-morrow declaring that no man should be without a job; we could go back to the Elizabethan days and arrest men for being "masterless men." The fact remains that at present we have millions of unemployed, but the Amendment offers no solution.
With all my Tory instincts, I stand now as I have done all my life within three months' fairly steady march of actual want, if present supplies were cut off, and I have relatives of my own who are drawing the dole. They are industrious men, and willing to work, but they are unemployed. I had expected something from the party who profess to believe that by the action of the Legislature it would be made possible to absorb into industry my brothers, cousins and friends, and all the other unemployed. I give place to no hon. Members above the Gangway in my admiration for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden). I had hoped that from him we should have had some practical suggestions as to how to deal with the million who are unemployed to-day, and at one time he did definitely, and in as many words, promise that there would be some practical suggestions. He went away, with much eloquence and in a very interesting part of his speech, to deal with a great many other things as preface to these practical suggestions that were going to put my brother into a job. When 442 the practical suggestions came, what were they? I tried to take a note of them. I am not good at taking notes, but I tried to take a note of what the practical suggestions were, to deal with, not the creation of a new heaven and a new earth after we should have passed away, but with conditions as they obtain to-day in our country, and he referred to the nationalisation of land.
The nationalisation of land may be a good thing or a bad thing. I am not at all enamoured of the principle of nationalisation, but supposing the land of our country were to-morrow brought under the control of Government Departments. I do not know the experience of other hon. Members of this House, but my experience of Government Departments is that they are about the slowest creatures that walk on the face of the earth, and generally it is weeks before we can get any satisfaction from them. If the land were controlled in that way, I do not think that for very many years, even allowing it to be a tremendous success, as it is claimed in theory that it would be, it would employ very many of those million men on the land again. The hon. Member who has just sat down spoke of training centres to get people fit to work on the land. I have known some in my own acquaintance who have left the land and come into the towns, and with whom I have talked, as a city-bred boy—a slum-bred boy, if you like, and with the slum-bred ideas I used to have of waving fields of yellow corn and I, as a merry farmer's boy, helping in the reaping of that corn, and the great joy of vigorous animal health that such a life would bring to me. I have said to these friends of mine who have come to live beside us in the slum districts: "Why did not you stay on the land, where you had such a healthy existence?" They replied that they came for the amenities of life, for the amusements of the city. They have an idea, rightly or wrongly—wrongly, I think—that the life of the city is all joy, and they want to be in it.
I remember in the old days in Glasgow meeting many of those who came over to Glasgow, and I remember, in particular, a man from County Donegal, who got a job in one of our steel works in Glasgow at the magnificent salary of 15s. 10d. a week, which was exactly twopence less 443 than the highest wage that my father ever had with that 15s. 10d a week, with lodging at about 9s., he was able, in the course of a month or two, to buy a watch, the great thing in those days, and with that watch in his pocket he went back to Donegal. When he returned from his holiday in Donegal, he brought half-a-dozen other fellows with him, with the glorious idea of coming over here, where the gold could be picked up and the watches bought, and they Wad no longer any desire for the land. Training is necessary for work on the land. These people have left the land, and even if the nationalisation of the land were the grandest thing possible, it would not make, even in a few years, a great diminution in the number of the unemployed.
Then the right hon. Member for Colne Valley wanted the nationalisation of the roads. I believe that it is one of the things that would be of real benefit to the country, if we did nationalise and bring absolutely under the control of the whole nation the roads of the country, for the reason that there are so many differences in the assessable values of the different counties, particularly in the North of Scotland, where one county, having very few miles of roads, is able to maintain, with State assistance, a better class of road than other counties with a lower assessable income. I quite agree, and there again the nationalisation of the roads would mean, if what the right hon. Gentleman expects from it, and what I believe would be likely to come from it, did happen, a better system of transport in the country. That, however, would not be for immediate use, and would not in our time reduce the number of the unemployed to any considerable extent. Another great point of the right hon. Gentleman was that the suggested new electricity scheme of the Government would be far better controlled as a national concern than allowed to be taken into the hands of private individuals for private profit. It may be so, but whether it is being wrought by private individuals for private profit, or whether it is being carried through by a great Government Department, or a series of Government Departments, it will not appreciably affect the number of men to be employed In none of these practical suggestions 444 does it seem to me, as a plain man looking for a job for his friends, that there has come from the Opposition any proposal that would better the Government's ideas.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Has the hon. Member forgotten that the first proposal of the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer was for a great increase in the number of people employed in afforestation?
§ Mr. TEMPLETON
I thank the hon. Member very much for bringing that to my notice. I said I was not much good at taking notes, but, as a matter of fact, I have that down here, and I had intended to say something in regard to afforestation. There is a great section of our country—I speak of Scotland—that could very well be brought under trees, and I believe that if we were to plant all the available forest land of Scotland, we would be laying up for the nation a valuable asset for the future, but I do not believe that, even supposing we scrapped our sheep stock on the hills of Scotland, and attempted to-morrow to fill them with trees, we would make any appreciable diminution in the great mass of the unemployed in over country.
§ Mr. TEMPLETON
The Royal Com mission says, and says rightly, that it would be a valuable asset to the nation, and that it would employ a great many people who are not employed to-day, but for years to come, and even ultimately, I believe it would not employ anything like the number that would need to be taken out of that million to make us again a prosperous industrial country. Besides, it is not everybody who can plant trees.
§ Mr. TEMPLETON
I would be a very sorry man indeed if I were to ask my tailor's son to go and plant trees because he could not get a job at tailoring. I should say that, after he had been planting trees for a month, he would not be able to sew a button on a dress coat 445 again, at any rate for years. What we want in our country, and what we cannot get by legislation, is to bring to each man in the country a demand for the kind of work that he is able to do, and in my own opinion—my idea—bearing in mind what the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) told us about the question of the competition that we, the beef-eaters of the West, have got to face from the rice-eating East, I do not see how we are to preserve for the jute workers of Dundee, the cotton workers of Lancashire, and the steel workers of Coat bridge the home market, or even the foreign market, without giving them in our own country better treatment than we give to foreigners who compete with them, or even to people within the Empire itself. Without Protection I do not think we can hope by any fancy means to restore our industrial supremacy. That is on the general subject. I should now like to speak of one thing in particular. The Amendment says:And we further submit that trade prosperity, with the assurance of a reasonable standard of living for all, urgently demands,and so on. I want to draw the attention of the House to one great industry that does not receive, I believe, the attention it deserves from this House. I am quite well aware that in the Gracious Speech from the Throne only general terms can be used, and that we cannot enter into the details of a particular industry. The industry to which I should like to call attention is the herring fishing industry. My constituents, to a very large extent, depend upon the prosperity of the herring fishing industry. They are not men who are complaining about the grinding heel of the boss class. They are not men for the most part who are employed day by day or week by week at a daily or weekly wage, or even on piecework. They are fellow adventurers, and go out to seek the herring on terms of fair and equal distribution of the profit of the fishing. Not being employed persons, they do not come within the scope of the National Health Insurance Act, or the provisions of the new Measure for pensions for widows and orphans, but these men constitute, in my opinion, one of the most industrious and deserving classes in our country. Not only are they deserving of every consideration that can be given 446 them by the Government, but by the very nature of their calling, living as they do along the coasts right round our country, from the very north of Shetland to the South of England, both East and West, they have a knowledge of all the seas round the country, of every shoal and every shallow, every rock, every impediment to progress, and in a time of national danger, such as the last great War, they can be of inestimable value to this nation, and render incalculable service.
For such a body of men, I should say the Government should find some means of securing that which they have not got—a reasonable, stable and well-sustained market for the sale of the produce that they bring into the ports of our country. I know the general policy of the Government in regard to financial relationships between ourselves and Soviet Russia, and I approve the general policy, but with one still small Tory voice I make this one appeal that, in order to give a real benefit to a really deserving and really valuable section of our community, the Government should consider making the relationship between ourselves and Russia at any rate stable. Not that I believe Russia to be a superior country to ourselves, for I do believe that the greatest part of the whole trouble, so far as it affects the sale of herrings to Russia, consists of the fact that it is not the Russian individuals who are now buying the herring but it is the Russian Government who are buying it, because when a Government begins to buy and sell they invariably do it badly. I have no reason, and no desire, to conceal from the Government or from the House any information that I have. I want to place this matter fairly and squarely before the House. I have said that a Government buys foolishly. I have been informed by those who claim to know, that the reason the Soviet Government is not purchasing the herring, which is part of the staple food of the people, is that the Russian Government does not like this Government at home.
If that be so, it is proof positive that the nationalisation of herring buying in Russia has been a tremendous failure, even as in our own country nationalisation would be inevitably a failure. I want to appeal to the Government, not from any high political standpoint, not 447 that I believe we could give credits to a nation that has disowned its former liabilities, but for the sake of an exceptionally deserving section of the community, an effort should be made to restore that market again to the herring fishing industry of Scotland, and by that I stand
Mr. TREVELY ANTHOMSON
We have just listened to a most interesting speech from the hon. Member, who was most critical of various suggestions that have been made in regard to unemployment, and, no doubt, in the few remarks I wish to make, I shall come under the same criticism, because I have no heroic scheme to put forward. The Prime Minister, at Question Time to-day, was good enough to answer a question I put, and asked me to enlarge on the subject in the course of this Debate. I now take the opportunity of doing so. The question had reference to a Circular issued by the Unemployment Grants Committee to local authorities, restricting the amount of grants which they give for relief work, and I wish to appeal to the Government that they should not at this stage make this restriction. Unemployment as we have heard in the course of the Debate, is greater today than it was a year ago, and in some parts of the country it is infinitely greater, and is going on at an increasing rate.
I submit that if, under the Unemployment Grants Committee, the grants made were necessary in the past two or three years, they are quite as necessary to-day. The Government are adopting the same foolish policy of attempting to cut down the assistance given to local authorities. These have very largely exhausted their resources, following four or five years of unemployment. They have come to the end of the financial aid which they have been able to give. Unemployment in some parts of the country is increasing. Therefore it is essential that nothing should be done to curtail the amount of employment which is available. Present-day conditions make it practically impossible for the local authorities to qualify for the grant because it has been laid down that if they are to have assistance the work must be such as would not be undertaken by the local authorities during the next five years. Such an arbitrary position as that is going to cut out in a very large extent the great bulk 448 of the scheme which the local authorities have in hand. It is the more extraordinary because it was only last March that the Minister of Health circularised various local authorities, and asked that their schemes should be put in hand during the present season. Now that policy has been reversed by the Department, and I should like to ask the Government to give us some explanation as to why they have made this change.
It was suggested by the Prime Minister that these unemployment grants were, in effect, subsidies to the local authorities rather than to unemployment. Although that is perfectly true, I submit that there are bound to be subsidies to the local authorities as in the past. They are subsidies for unemployment. I appeal to the Prime Minister personally, as he is here, that he will receive the deputation representing the various local authorities coming from the Association of Municipal Corporations, because, as I have had occasion to say here before, this burden of unemployment is becoming one far beyond the possibility of the local authorities to carry. The percentage of unemployment in certain districts has increased fourfold. On the North-east coast, in the marine engineering, the amount of unemployment is 37.8 per cent. North-east coast shipbuilding shows a percentage of 50. You have other districts that are utterly dependent upon these two trades. When you consider that you see that you have a measure of unemployment the burden of which has gone far beyond the possibility of being carried by the local authority.
This unemployment is not due to any particular sin on the part of the locality, either employers or employed, nor to extravagance on the part of the local authorities. It is the direct consequence of the war which was a national war and the Result of which should be borne upon the national shoulders. It is an appeal for the strong to support the weak. I appeal to the Government that they should reverse their policy to that which they had before they issued the circular of 15th December; that they should increase rather than decrease the amount of money which they are giving to the local authorities. Up to the present, under the most favourable conditions, they have only been bearing a stated percentage of the cost of the work. 449 When you take the rates, some in my own district being nearly 30s. on the £, and now add further to those, it will be seen that it is a burden which some of the districts cannot possibly bear.
I do not want to take up the time of the House, but I would point out that in the great population in the district I represent we have spent over a million in unemployment relief work already. The term "relief work" is somewhat misleading. It is sometimes made to apply to work not necessarily of a provisional character. The great majority of these schemes are work of an essentially useful character, and not work made really for the unemployed particularly, and the Government are making an excuse that it is not temporary work for refusing assistance. They said that some of this work would be carried on in any case, and under those circumstances there should be no claim upon the National Exchequer. But work such as the improvement and reconditioning of the roads, the improvement of the sewerage systems, in some cases the making of docks and harbours, improving the amenities of the districts, increasing the recreation grounds, the parks, and in some cases putting up public buildings, should rank for help. They are a valuable national asset in the years to come, and it is infinitely better to spend some money on work of a useful character than to pay money out for no services rendered.
The people in the districts have to be kept whether they are at work or idle. This cutting down of the unemployment grant is no real economy. It is only transferring the burden from the National Exchequer to the local rates, because whatever the view of the Government may be the local authority have a responsibility for maintaining the unemployed. If these do not get unemployment relief work, they are left to the insurance fund, and in view of the drastic regulations that are now being enforced, that means application to the Poor Law guardians. It is only money out of one part of the public purse rather than another, and there is no real economy in it.
In certain districts the poor rate is 7s. 6d. in the £ whereas in other parts of the country the poor rate is 1s. or even less. Hence you get inequality. I do appeal to the Government that in justice 450 they should restore the former financial position. I hope the Prime Minister will receive the deputation appointed to wait upon him by the Association of Municipal Corporations, and that he will not put them off by referring them to some Departmental Minister. This is not a departmental question. It is a question of Government policy. Although it may be a small matter in some cases, even if it only means a few hundreds, or thousands, of men less unemployed, it produces a grand total. In a matter of this kind I submit that any suggestion that goes any way to add to the amount of employment and to reduce unemployment is worthy of the serious consideration of the Government.
I rise in the first instance to endorse wholeheartedly the proposal that has emanated from the other side from the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston). Had it not been for his proposal, I did not intend to trespass upon the time of the House. It seemed to me, however, that the hon. Member for Dundee put forward a suggestion which might well be considered by the whole House. It was a policy which is dear to many of us on this side of the House—to remove the question of the distress that operates so heavily in this country entirely from the arena of party politics, making it, as in fact it is, a thing for which all parties are responsible, for which all portions of the nation are responsible, so that neither the slur of it shall bear unduly on one side of the House or the other, nor the credit for alleviating it be used for party ends, or put to the credit account of any particular party of the House. There are, it seems to me, sufficient merits in his proposal to warrant it being examined and tackled in the spirit in which it was put forward. There seems to be nothing illogical in the proposal that the Front Benches should co-operate with this one object in view.
When I addressed the House the first time—I then used an illustration to show how the unemployment problem at that time appeared to me. It is as if a man were drowning in the presence of people with different convictions on some other question, as though a vivisectionist and an anti-vivisectionist would let him drown rather than co-operate to pull him out. There is far too much of that in the attitude of all political parties towards the 451 question of unemployment. If it is not Protection that prevents co-operation with Free Trade, it is Socialism that prevents co-operation with private enterprise. It is because there seems an avenue of escape from that kind of impasse that I welcome so much what the hon. Member for Dundee suggested about co-operation between all parties. It is a matter which requires to be studied in the cold light of scientific calculation. In my opinion, one cannot try to deal with so vast a problem by any slap-dash methods or with any quack remedies. Quack remedies are forthcoming not from one side of the House alone but from the other as well.
It is as idle to say that Protection is a cure for unemployment on any large scale as it is to say that the benefits of Free Trade have conduced towards an ideal state of employment in industry. As regards what the hon. Gentleman who spoke so eloquently and feelingly about the coal industry said about the benefits that would accrue under nationalisation, I could not resist the feeling that his advocacy would have carried more conviction to the House had those who advocate that view expressed it in the witness box at the Coal Commission where they could have been cross-examined. The value of an impartial and non-party inquiry, as the hon. Member for Dundee—
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I should not like there to be any misapprehension, though perhaps it was my fault, as to what I suggested, which was that we might all agree to have a Committee of this House to examine all proposals intended to provide immediate amelioration of unemployment—all schemes for drilling with unemployment. But I did not propose another futile Commission of Inquiry on the subject.
Evidently I did not make it clear that I fully appreciated that that was what the hon. Gentleman meant. I had not a Royal Commission or anything of that sort in my mind. I understood him to mean, and I understand him to mean now, that the front benches of all parties should get their heads together and stop talking clap-trap about Protection or Socialism or Free Trade, and see if they cannot 452 hammer out a common policy, taking neither the credit nor the blame on account of their own particular remedies. In order that that may be possible, I want to assure the hon. Gentleman that he has some serious misconceptions as regards the attitude of those of us who sit on this side of the House. It is the gravest misconception and is a slur upon modern Conservatism to suggest that there is in the party any general idea of reducing the consuming power of the people. That idea, if ever it were held by any body of men, is entirely discredited. But I do not think we could quite follow the hon. Gentleman in his building up of the edifice which he proceeded to base upon his own definition of consuming power. His argument based upon that is one of the things that needs such cold scientific examination as could be accorded to it in the circumstances suggested.
Consuming power is really producing power, and in a country which depends so largely on its imports, consuming power is really the power to produce goods which can be exchanged into imports. At the present time the industries of this country which are producing the goods exchanged for the imports which the whole country consumes, in other words, the industries which are paying for the goods, are the very industries which are consuming fewest of them. That is one of the anomalies, one of the topsy-turvey conditions, of the present economic system which, we say, is entirely wrong and needs readjustment of some kind. If we translate it into commonplace language, the coal miner and the steel worker produce coal and steel for export to purchase wool, food, tobacco and other commodities which they them selves do not consume—at least they do not consume their fair share of them—but which are consumed in much greater proportion by workers in other industries which command the home market. These workers consume those goods in a proportion which is unfair to the exporters who have to compote with foreign markets. I think that is a fair representation of the discrepancy existing at the present time between those engaged in export industries and those engaged in industries for the home market. It is extremely difficult to remedy an anomaly of that kind—it is easier to state the case than to propound a remedy—but in my 453 belief that is one of the root and fundamental causes of our unemployment.
Industry is remunerated from top to bottom on a wrong basis. I do not care whether it be that in some cases the remuneration of capital is too high. The remuneration of capital in one department of industry bears no relation to its remuneration in other departments; and the remuneration of labour presents equal discrepancies. Too often it is found that labour is paid on what I might describe as a nuisance value. The nuisance value commanded by gigantic organisations of men determines, in too many instances; the rates at which they are paid, and the trades unions which can command the strongest following for a strike can exact terms which are economically unsound, and which, ultimately, are an infringement of the rights of their brother trade unionists engaged in trades which have not that strike power. It is very much easier to enunciate that proposition than to suggest any remedies. Of course, the obvious remedy is a general reduction of wages in the sheltered trades, and that has been adumbrated. I do not adumbrate it myself, for various reasons. It is sufficient to-night to give one reason only, and that is that I think that, politically, it is impossible. But it would conduce to a better knowledge of the problem if it could be brought home to the country that in too many cases those rates of wages, and the external purchasing power which those wages possess, are the result of that stability of our currency which the export trades are themselves alone maintaining, and which the internal industries of the country are doing very little indeed to maintain.
One of the real reasons why there is so much less unemployment in a country like the United States than there is in our country, apart from the inherent wealth in raw materials of the United States, is that they have broadly recognised and allowed a much fairer remuneration as between one industry and another than we have recognised, added to which, of course, is that extraordinary efficiency which results from co-operation. That is the one contribution towards the industrial problem which really emerges from the atmosphere of the gracious Speech from the Throne. It is easy to say that one gets tired of hearing about "peace in industry." Things become tags and they do not stimulate us as they used to. 454 I returned a short time ago from seeing conditions in the United States. What struck me there most was the way in which everybody was co-operating to snatch from the soil and resources of the country all the wealth it contained, with the object—after they had got it and not before—of distributing it on more or less equitable terms to those engaged in that form of enterprise. It was as though the whole resources of capital, labour and management were focussed on this end.
It had psychological effects which spread over all classes of people engaged in industry. I was told the other day by a very distinguished coal magnate that he had spoken in the United States to some miners who had left the district where his own mines were situated to work at Pittsburg, and he had asked them about their production there, and they had given him figures of output which were prodigious. He said: "Of course, conditions there are entirely different." They said: "Yes, we allow that." He said: "Do you produce more coal than, even given those conditions, you would produce in my mines at home?" They said they did, and when pressed for an answer they said: "The reason is because everybody does it here." That is really at the root of the whole thing. What everybody does owing to the spirit which is behind them and the knowledge that they are co-operators in industry is to produce more all round. If we can only get that spirit here, we shall emulate that efficiency and increase output, which goes to enrich everybody.
I would like to make one or two concrete suggestions for the improvement of the lot of the non-sheltered industries. Where you have got, as I have tried to point out, that wide distinction between the remuneration of the exporters who are producing goods that are buying food for the rest of the country, and the remuneration of those engaged in home trade who are, so to speak, in many cases merely circulators and at best do nothing to increase external purchasing power of the country, it seems to me a case has very nearly been made out for subsidies for those export trades in that condition. But subsidies are an artificial remedy—not that that condemns them entirely. It might be possible, instead of subsidising them, to do precisely the same thing by relieving them. They might, for 455 instance, be relieved in many cases from contributions to local rates and the difference made up in the form of a Government grant. They might be relieved from some of the heavier burdens placed on them by the social services, such as unemployment insurance, workmen's compensation and the recent pensions contributions. It should not be beyond the wit of the Government to devise a means by which those burdens were shifted from the hardest hit trades and transferred to the whole body of the industry.
I would like to offer a remark on the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Dundee about increasing the loans that we are going to make overseas. It seems to me that a great danger lies in encouraging the Government along that course. He suggested we could thereby increase the consuming power, as he put it, of the Indians by advancing plant and things like that. If he had read the Gracious Speech he would have seen that is precisely what the Government contemplate doing in the case of East Africa, and there is little difference between increasing the purchasing power of one part of the Dominions and another. But it is a very dangerous line to take. It is a facile line along which to urge the Government. It is all very well if money which is advanced comes from savings, if it represents real capital; but if, as is too often the case, credits are granted in anticipation and without the funds to back them, then the ultimate effect is to reduce to the people of this country that very consuming power which the hon. Member is afraid of having tampered with by other people. In reducing internal credit, you reduce the internal purchasing power of people in this country too. I am very glad to see that the Minister of Labour is in his place again, and I commend to him most heartily and endorse every word by the hon. Member for Dundee as regards the possibility of having some kind of co-operation between the Front Reaches on this devastating problem which disturbs all of us and which is not a fit subject for party capital or for party taunts.
§ Mr. STAMFORD
I wish to speak in support of the Amendment moved by the right hon. Member the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden). Personally, I am 456 glad that a definite Socialistic issue has been raised on this Amendment. Whatever may be the pre-conceptions of Members of the House with regard to the proposition contained in the Amendment, it is a subject which is worthy of careful and intelligent consideration by every Member of this assembly. Outside the House an increasing number of people are coming to regard this remedy which we suggest as being the only hopeful remedy for dealing with our existing industrial and economic difficulties. Sooner or later this House will have to consider carefully the merits of the proposal which is suggested from this side of the House. We have just listened to what we shall all agree was a very thoughtful contribution to this discussion. I listened with a very great deal of interest to the earnest plea which the hon. and gallant Member made for co-operative action in this House to devise some policy for relieving existing difficulties. Personally I wish that such co-operation were possible, but I am inclined very seriously to doubt the possibility of that co-operation taking place. It might be possible for Members of this House, through some form of consultation, to devise a great policy for an immediate amelioration of the difficulties which confront us, but it is when we come to deal with the final and ultimate remedies that those agreements weaken, and it is there that any attempt at co-operation would be likely to break down.
If we disagree with regard to that matter, there are one or two things upon which hon. Members are in close and cordial agreement. Everyone realises that the problem we are discussing now is quite the greatest and the most serious of the social problems with which the country is confronted at the present moment. I agree that there is a sense in which this problem is more than a party matter. We can criticise the Government because of their inability to produce a policy that is capable of meeting the existing difficulties. From the Government side we can be criticised, and have been criticised, because during the tenure of office of the Labour Government we did not produce a remedy which would meet the difficulty as it then existed. But when all our criticisms are made, and when all the recriminations from either side have come to an end, there is the collective responsibility, from which this 457 House cannot escape, of endeavouring with all the best will in the world to devise some policy that will bring hope to the millions of people outside who are in the difficult position of being unable to maintain themselves by the exercise of their own labour.
Every hon. Member will agree that this condition of employment is involving this country in a cost that is positively appalling. I am not merely thinking of the financial cost of the problem, although it is very great. I believe it would be no exaggeration to say that since the Armistice, in one way or another, this country has spent £250,000,000 on relieving unemployed persons. That is not by any means the most serious part of the cost in which the country is involved on this account. I was reading a day or two ago the report of the Director of Convict Prisons for last year, and I found there a passage which I commend to the very careful and earnest consideration of hon. Members of this House. The particular paragraph to which I refer was as follows:The Government's Report shows that unemployment is responsible for a large number of convictions, and two of them draw special attention to the convictions of youths who have been unable to find regular employment after leaving school, and who have had their characters sapped by passing several years in a state of idleness. The prison records confirm the experience of other authorities that of all the aspects of the unemployed problem this is the saddest and the one fraught with the gravest danger to the nation.But that is not all. Unused labour deteriorates just the same as unused machinery. Wise manufacturers and employers in a time of depression take care to see that the standard of the efficiency of their machinery is maintained, and a wise nation should do the same thing with regard to its labour, although we have not done that. I venture to say that the standard of labour efficiency to-day is considerably lower than it was four years ago, and that I submit to the House is a very serious fact. In these days of intensified international competition this country requires a higher efficiency of labour and not a lower one.
Perhaps the worst result which the country has to suffer is to be found in the physical and spiritual deterioration of the unemployed themselves. This is inevitable after the long spell of unemployment through which thousands of 458 our fellow citizens have recently been passing. The question has been raised a number of times this afternoon as to the possibility of devising a positive remedy for dealing with this problem. So far as the. Members of this House are concerned, we believe that a positive remedy for dealing with this difficulty is indicated in the Motion we are now considering.
Of course, a positive remedy does not mean an immediate remedy. I recognise, as every intelligent person must recognise, that in this problem of unemployment we are faced by one of the most difficult, baffling and complex problems that modern civilisation has ever known, and its solution is no easy matter, and a remedy cannot be found without considerable thought and very considerable attention being devoted to the alternative policies for dealing with existing difficulties. The only contributions, so far as I have been able to see, that has been suggested by the Government for dealing with unemployment is the policy of the Safeguarding of Industries which we discussed in this House just prior to the Prorogation of Parliament last year. I am not going to discuss that as a remedy for dealing with unemployment, because I do not think it is a remedy which is worthy of serious consideration. To prescribe pills for earthquakes is just as sensible and futile as safeguarding.
When we are dealing with the unemployed question there are other suggestions to consider. It has been suggested that to meet existing difficulties the workpeople should make additional sacrifices, and be prepared to accept still lower rates of wages. I am perfectly certain that that suggestion, under no circumstances, can contribute anything effectively towards a relief of the problem. Why should the working classes be invited to make further sacrifices at all? In my judgment, they have already made sufficient sacrifices. We were reminded earlier in this discussion that last year the wages of the working classes diminished to the extent of £74,000 per week. If we compare the present position with the position in the year 1900 we shall discover that the real wages of labour are to-day only four-fifths of what they were in the year 1900.
459 Comparing the present time with the year 1920, real wages—that is to say, wages in relation to purchasing power—are down by about one-third, and it seems to me not only futile, but impudent to suggest, considering the heavy sacrifices the working classes have been making over these last few years, that they should come to the rescue of industry and be prepared to bear still heavier burdens and make still heavier sacrifices. Then we are told that one thing that would materially assist would be for the working classes of this country to be prepared to work harder than they work now. After all, however, we are dealing with a fairly intelligent working-class population, with an educated working-class population, with a working class which is capable of making comparisons on its own account. The working class can see thousands of citizens of this country who to-day are enjoying lives of perfect comfort, in many cases of extreme luxury, without contributing anything of any real value to the community at all, and they naturally ask themselves the question, "While this contrast exists, why should we work harder than we are working now'?" That question, I submit, will take a good deal of answering.
In this Amendment we try to put forward what we believe to be the Socialist solution of this difficulty, and, as I submitted a moment or two ago, I think it is a solution which, apart from pre-conceptions with regard to Socialism and national ownership, should now be fairly and intelligently considered. I think the real case should be considered, and not the grotesque misrepresentations of the case that are so often advanced as arguments against the position which we take up on the political field. The terms of this Amendment, in regard to national ownership, are, I think, perfectly explicit and plain. There is no indication or suggestion here of public ownership under the management of a bureaucracy situated in Whitehall or anywhere else. It is definitely suggested that what is required is a fundamental reorganisation of industry on the lines of public ownership and democratic control. Nor does it suggest that, as is often stated, the Socialist case is a proposal for a wholesale nationalisation of the industries of this country. A very careful discrimination 460 is made in the Amendment which the House is now discussing. It speaks of the need for the public ownership of the essential services.
I am not going to discuss in detail the case for national ownership of any particular industry. That was done, and done, I think, very effectively, by the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment. I want rather to approach the consideration of this matter from a more general point of view. If anyone asks me how I would make a discrimination between an industry which ought to be nationalised and an industry which we are not at the moment concerned to nationalise, I think the distinction can be very clearly and easily drawn. I would put it in this way, that, wherever an industry reaches the point at which it must become either a private monopoly or a public industry, that industry ought to be made a public industry and not permitted to become a private monopoly. To put it in another way, there are some forms of property in private ownership which give to the private owners of that property an economic power over the remainder of the community, and I would say that, where the private ownership of any form of property confers on the owner an economic power over the community, there is a clear case for the application of the Socialist principle of national ownership.
What are the facts upon which that case depends? Again, I am not going to argue them in detail. I would welcome the opportunity of doing that, but I have undertaken to speak under a strict time limit, and so I can only indicate in a general way what in my view are the conditions upon which the Socialist argument embodied in this Amendment rests. I think they are these: The first fact is that of the gross inequality in spending power as between one section of the community and another. That that inequality exists, there is no need to argue: everyone can see it for themselves. What we deduce from that inequality of spending power is that you have in this country a small minority of people with far too much spending power, and a great majority of people with far too little spending power, and I believe that in that fact is to be found the explanation of many of the troubles with which the country is confronted at the present moment, particularly the trouble of unemployment and 461 bad trade. I believe that that inequality in spending power, which is very largely responsible for the bad state of trade and for the present condition of unemployment, is an inevitable outcome of a system which permits all the means of life and labour to be monopolised for the private profit of a few fortunate owners of those means of life and labour.
I do not believe there is any way to industrial prosperity other than a more equitable distribution of the national wealth based on the principle of apportioning, rewards in accordance with the value of the services rendered by the different members of the community. I do not believe that justice in wealth distribution, which I believe is at the root of any real remedy for dealing with this problem, is possible until the people who produce the wealth are themselves the owners of the great natural sources of wealth production. Whether that be so or not, I think it is perfectly plain and clear that where a system is unable to provide opportunities of employment for the citizens of the nation—a system of society which confronts us with the spectacle, in normal as in abnormal times, of a great mass of people, through no fault of their own, deprived of the opportunity of earning a livelihood by the exercise of their own labour, and which keeps great masses of the people in a state of chronic poverty and destitution—that system, whatever defence may be put forward on its behalf, cannot last if it continue to produce these results. Therefore, I welcome the opportunity of speaking in support of this Amendment. I know perfectly well the fate that it will meet when it is carried to the Division Lobby, but I am perfectly certain that, as time goes on, by reason of the pressure of economic circumstances, and as a result of inevitable and irresistible economic developments, our proposals, whatever may be their fate in the House of Commons, will in an increasing measure receive the acceptance of the people of this country.
§ Mr. RADFORD
I have listened to practically all the speeches on this Amendment, and am sure it must have been a source of satisfaction to us all to notice what an absence of party feeling there has been in speeches from every side of the House. If I made any exception it would be with regard to the speech 462 of the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment. His speech certainly was a bitter and a party one. I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) has not put his name to this Amendment, although he spoke yesterday very strongly on the question of the competitive system. He attributed our present state of unemployment to the failure of the competitive system, and the absence of spending power on the part of our people. I propose to deal with that statement of the right hon. Gentleman. He said the competitive system had failed, and we must turn to Socialism. If we nationalise our various industries, that does not free us from the competition of the rest of the world. Surely it is not the competition of one manufacturer in this country with another which is causing unemployment. If one manufacturer were able, owing to greater efficiency, or from one cause or another, to filch orders from another, and to cause unemployment in that man's works or yard, it would only mean additional employment in his own.
What we are faced with in the competitive system is not the competition with one another in this country, but the competition of the rest of the world. The old happy days when Great Britain was the manufacturing centre of the world, and we were looked down upon as a nation of shopkeepers, have gone. Our Continental neighbours, as well as people in other parts of the world, have proved to be only too apt imitators, and they have a standard of life, rate of wage and length of hours which put them in a position to compete with us on terms which make it very difficult for us.
I should like to quote some figures to show that the spending power of our people has not gone down, because if, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston said, our unemployment was due to our reduced expenditure, the figures for the year 1913, when unemployment was not rife, would obviously compare very favourably with those of today. In 1913 we imported and retained in this country £278,000,000 worth of food, drink and tobacco. The figure in 1924 is £543,000,000. If we were to take the 1924 figures on the basis of 1913 prices, the figure would be £349,000,000, which is considerably in excess of the £278,000,000 463 we consumed in 1913. [An HON. MEMBER: "What does that prove? "] It proves that the spending power of the people was at least as great in 1924, even based on the prices current in the two years, as it was in 1913.
§ Mr. MAXTON
It was the spending power of the working classes with which the right hon. Gentleman was dealing.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. RADFORD
I think I can manage all right. In 1913 we imported articles wholly or mainly manufactured to the extent of £171,000,000. The figure in 1924 was £266,000,000, and our exports of British produce and manufacture have risen from £413,000,000 in 1913 to £618,000,000 in 1924. Bringing the 1924 prices down to the 1913 level, we get a figure which shows that our exports of British produce and manufacture have fallen from £413,000,000 in 1913 to £325,000,000 in 1924. Those figures with regard to our retained imports of food, drink and tobacco go to show that the spending power of our community was there in greater measure than in 1913, and the figures with regard to our export trade give us the answer to the riddle of what is the cause of our unemployment. It is that the nations of the world, who have to buy our products, have been following the course which shoppers here or abroad, whichever sex, have always followed, that given equal quality, price has decided what they should buy, and British goods have suffered. Our foreign competitors have been securing orders which we have badly needed.
§ Mr. RADFORD
I entirely dissent from that suggestion. How on earth hon. Members opposite can think the socialisation of our industries is going to enable us to compete to better advantage in the markets of the world, I am at a loss to understand. Do they propose that under national ownership of 464 industry we shall pay a lower rate of wages? I do not think they will suggest that. Do they suggest that national ownership and management by committees, presumably appointed by the Government, is going to be more efficient than it is at present, where businesses are managed by men who as a rule know that if they mismanage their business they have the Bankruptcy Court to fall back on, and nothing else? now they suggest the nationalisation of our industries is going to get us out of this difficulty is a mystery, and I have not heard in all the speeches delivered to day, nor in that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member hon. Shettleston, any explanation of how it is going to be brought about.
Last July it was my privilege to submit to the House my proposal for dealing with this question of unemployment, not on the lines of calling upon the workers to bear the sacrifice to get the cost of British goods down, but by an inclusive scheme whereby members of the community receiving interest, rents, ground rents, salaries, income of whatever kind, were all going to join in the common sacrifice to enable the cost of British goods to come down. Indeed, the employés in depressed industries, the skilled engineers who are getting only £2 16s. if they are employed, were not going to come down at all. But all the rest of us, Members of Parliament, Cabinet Ministers, drawers of interest on municipal and Government loans, and every form of income, would be subjected to a deduction to enable the cost of production to be reduced. I circulated my proposals in the form of a pamphlet among hon. Members, and I have no doubt at all that was the particular week when the contractors who take away the waste paper from the baskets complained that they had to send an extra lorry. That, perhaps, was the fate of my scheme, because I have never heard it referred to since, bat I still believe that, loyally carried out, free from all party bias, and with everyone in the country willing to do his bit to enable us to hold our own with foreign competition, it would have effected a wonderful change in our cost of production in the industries which are hardest hit.
It seems to me we have to choose between protection for our home market 465 to enable us to keep out as much as possible of the £266,000,000 of foreign manufactured goods that came into the country last year, and cutting down our cost of production, irrespective of our desire that the people should have a standard of life at least as high as that which they have enjoyed. The astonishing figure of £266,000,000 of imported manufactured goods represents between £200,000,000 and £260,000,000 in British wages had they been made in England, or £4 a week for a year for every one of our 1,200,000 unemployed. If we are not prepared to face the problem of those industries which are hardest hit by foreign imports, we have no alternative left but to cut down the cost of our production if we are to compete once more in the foreign markets of the world.
§ Sir PATRICK HASTINGS
I hope the hon. Member who has just spoken will forgive me if I do not reply in detail to what he has said. I must plead guilty to being one of those who did not read his pamphlet, and I have to confess that I am not in a position to deal with his argument. I rather gather that his pamphlet dealt with the merits or demerits of Protection, and as I read the Amendment before the House the pamphlet really dealt with matters very different from those which we are now discussing. I know that the Minister of Labour will want some considerable time to deal with all the various points that have been raised during the course of the Debate, and I propose, therefore, to be extremely short in the few observations I have to make. I should like, however, to direct his attention to what in fact my right hon. Friend who moved the Amendment has brought before the attention of the House. It is not a Motion on Socialism in its widest form. If it had been I have no doubt that the newest recruit to the Government forces would have been in his place prepared to refer to ladies' blouses and those other apposite criticisms which he usually introduces when we are dealing with matters of such importance as socialistic doctrines. The Amendment, however, merely recommends as an immediate remedy for unemployment the reorganisation of industry on the lines of public ownership and control of the essential services, and the discussion to-night on the question of the nationalisation of 466 industry is really far removed from what we are discussing under the Amendment.
In the few moments during which I shall detain the House I want to ask the Minister of Labour to consider what, in fact, the Amendment really means. I desire to ask him to answer one or two questions on the subject which my right hon. Friend had in his mind when moving it. I listened with the greatest interest, as did the whole House, to the speech made by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury). He referred to the fact that when he was a boy the industries of this country were of such enormous importance largely owing to the absence of foreign competition, and he pointed out that to-day the position has been entirely reversed. To-day every other country is our competitor—consequently things have entirely altered. What we are faced with to-day, and everyone knows it, is the fact that in every industry of this country we have immediate opposition from every other civilised country, and the problem the Amendment is intended to deal with is the re-organisation of industries on the lines of public ownership, not of industry generally, which is a far wider question and could not be seriously dealt with within the next 12 months. It is a proposal of a very much more limited form of Socialism.
Everybody will agree that if you are going to have competition between nations and people the one factor upon which the competition necessarily resolves itself, or very largely, is the question of prices and costs. The reason why I attach the utmost importance to the limited form of Socialism put forward in the Amendment is this. If it be true that every country is engaged in this form of competition it means, surely, nothing more or less than this, that if a country is to survive it can only survive by some form of central organisation. If you take such national essential services as coal and water and railways just think what it means in terms of national resources. I ask the Minister of Labour to be good enough to answer this direct question. Is it not apparent to everyone who thinks fundamentally, on this question, as I am sure everyone in this House does, that it might at any moment be essential in the national interest that an industry like 467 the coal industry might even be run at a loss in the interest of the community rather than it should stop to the detriment of the public? The Prime Minister has greater power behind him than any Prime Minister has ever had, but what power has he to say to the coal owners of this country, "You must work your mines"? He has absolutely no power, and the coalowners, if they think fit, may say, as between themselves and the miners, they will stop work. The result would be that every single person in this country would have to subscribe to keep those miners who were thrown out of work, and every industry in the country would suffer.
If the Prime Minister had the power I do not hesitate to say that he would readily appreciate the position and say that he would work the mines of the country even at a loss in order that every other industry may continue and that no miners may be placed on the dole. He would do it also with the object of improving our chances in the competition of the world and to save money to the nation by lessening the drain upon public resources. He has no such power at the moment to do that, and all that the Amendment suggests is that you should have the right to say that these essential services shall be run even at a loss. Take the railways. Supposing the people of the country were literally thrown out of work and were starving owing to the differences between the railway men and the owners, because the owners say, "We are running at a loss" surely it must be in the interests of the country for the Prime Minister to say, "You cannot stop the railways of the country because you are running at a loss." The Prime Minister has no power to do that. He has no such power over the coalowners or the railways, and how can we hope to compete, with the industries of the whole world ranged against us, unless in times? of necessity we have power to say, it is better to run an essential industry even at? loss in order that the rest of the community may be able to live?
I am not for the moment suggesting that it would be run at a loss, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) would be the first to dissociate himself from any suggestion that because it was 468 nationally owned it would be more likely to be run at a loss. Our view is that it would be run much more satisfactorily under unified control of all essential industries. I am assuming the worst; I am assuming the argument put forward that these industries might be run at a loss. Does anyone tell me that it is not a good thing for the City of London that the County Council should run the tramways, bringing people in from the out-districts into London, even if the tramways are run at a loss, in order that these people may leave the congested areas and come into London to do their daily work? It is far too late to criticise that. Why is it not equally apposite in the case of every industry which is essential to the welfare of the community?
I told the House at the beginning of my speech that I should be extremely short. Before I conclude I should like to ask the Minister of Labour, in his reply, to take up a very small part of this Amendment and, as far as possible, to eliminate, if he thinks fit, all the discussions which went outside this Amendment. I can assure him that, in so far as it rests with my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley and others on this side, we shall have other opportunities of dealing with Socialism in its wider form when the right hon. Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond) is in his place, prepared to support the Government and to instruct them as to the real answer to Socialism. At the moment he is not here, and it would not be fair to ask the Prime Minister to-night to reply without warning. The point of the Amendment to which I would direct the attention of the Minister of Labour is a small one. It deals with essential services. If the Minister of Labour will be good enough, and if he thinks fit, in the comparatively long time which he will have at his disposal, perhaps he will touch upon the point which I have raised, and not upon matters which are rather wide of the Amendment which have been introduced from both sides of the House. A good deal has been said, for instance, about Protection and other things which do not quite deal with the question of democratic control of essential services.
Therefore, I should be much obliged if my right hon. Friend would deal particularly and forcibly with a small but essential part of the Socialistic doctrine, and say what answer he can give to this 469 simple question—would it not be desirable in the national interest that the nation, through its Ministers, should have the power at any time of controlling its essential services in the interests of the community at a time when those interests of the community become paramount? If he does that, I can assure him that, in my view and in the view of my right hon. Friend, once he controls those essential services he goes a long way towards preventing those persons who are, of necessity, employed by private enterprise from being thrown out of work as a result of differences which frequently arise, and as we know in May may arise in one of the most essential industries of this country.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland)
While I shall be glad to meet the points with which the hon. and learned Member for Wallsend (Sir P. Hastings) has dealt, it would be wrong for me to neglect the points which have been raised by hon. Members in discussion, and particularly the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Amendment, to which speech I listened very carefully and which, apparently, the hon. and learned Member had not the opportunity of hearing. I am sure he would not wish me to confine myself entirely to the point he has raised, to the exclusion of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Amendment, and in whose, name it was put down. One feature, as has been already mentioned has been the absence of any party flavour to the Debate, with perhaps one prominent exception, and that was the opening speech of the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment.
If I disagree with one or two of the statements that he made, perhaps he will agree that I do not want to bring in any party questions on a subject of this kind, but to meet the actual statements that he made. The statements that he made were in many instances quite fallacious. To start with, the right hon. Gentleman accused me of being a party to a promise that if we were elected we had a positive cure for unemployment, and he said that in my constituency there were circulated leaflets to that effect. He said "every Tory candidate." I was one, and, therefore, his remark applies to me. I tell him categorically that it was not 470 the case. He has no right to make a statement of that kind unless he is sure that it is the case. I can say only this to him—the statement which I made about unemployment was in my election address, which I have here. It is as follows:I do not pretend that there is any quick and easy complete cure for unemployment, but I believe that a wise Measure for safeguarding British industries will improve existing conditions.I do believe that is the case.
§ Sir A. STEEL - MAITLAND
I never saw that particular leaflet. It was never circulated in my constituency. I have never seen it. We asked the right hon. Gentleman at the beginning if he would produce it. Can he produce it?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Well, we are sorry that he did not do so then. It would be the first time that I have seen it. I repeat that it was not circulated in my constituency. That is one statement which the right hon. Gentleman made quite positively was "in every constituency where a Tory candidate put up." I have categorically denied it, and the right hon. Gentleman now repeals it. In that case I should be glad if he would produce proof that his statement is true in my case. He was painting a gloomy picture of the present state of affairs to march with his indictment of the present Government. He said that the figures as regards employment were stationary or were falling, compared with what they were when we came into office. I do not want to labour these facts too much, except to meet the mis-statements made. That is not the case. Let the right hon. Gentleman look at the statistics. Has he misread them?
I challenge him quite definitely to say whether the figures now and at the moment are better than they were when we came into office. But at the same time, as everyone knows, all these figures have a seasonal curve. No one, properly speaking, ought to compare November with January, because, apart from a December spurt for Christmas trade, the figures are higher generally in the seasonal curve in January. Even so, they are 471 better now and not worse. I meet these particular statements so as to take away some of the lurid colours which the right hon. Gentleman dashed on so freely from his palette.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
If the right hon. hon. Gentleman refers to page 2 of the last issue of the "Ministry of Labour Gazette," he will find figures given there of unemployment in 1925 and 1924, and he will find that the rate of unemployment in 1925 was higher than in 1924.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
That is not what the right hon. Gentleman said. I challenge him to refer to the OFFICIAL REPORT and he will find that is not what he said. The facts show that the position now is better than when we came into office. Let me take another statement of the right hon. Gentleman. He said there had been a fall in wages of £75,000 in the course of last year. He did not read the "Ministry of Labour Gazette" quite accurately enough, or he would have seen that there was a safeguard in relation' to that figure, and that it was exclusive of certain kinds of wages which have risen. If he reads that salient sentence, he will find that the net result is that the money rates of wages have actually risen and not fallen during the year.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Then we stand to be judged by the facts. These are three statements of the right hon. Gentleman's, and I am perfectly willing to be judged by the facts. We will refer to the "Gazette," and we will have the facts out between us. I am glad to have the right hon. Gentleman's challenge so distinctly. He stands by his statement, and I stand by mine.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
If the right hon. Gentleman stands by the figures in the "Gazette" I am prepared to agree with him, but if he reads the "Gazette" and if he quotes it in full, he will find that what he said was not the statement in the "Gazette." We want to have the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
The right hon. Gentleman is making a very serious charge. 472 When I quoted these figures he dissented and in order to confirm my statement I referred to the "Ministry of Labour Gazette." I must apologise to the House for not having given these figures sooner, but I find that while I stared the decrease in wages during 1925 to have been £74,000, the figures quoted in the "Gazette" show a net decrease of £80,000. I referred to the increase of wages during 1924 and gave a figure of £524,000, but I find the figure given in the "Gazette" is £616,000.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The right hon. Gentleman will find, if he examines the facts as published in the "Gazette, and takes into account the figures there given together with the rise in agricultural rates of wages, that the net result has been an increase over 1924. Those are the facts. That is the truth, the whole truth and nothing out the truth. I am willing to stand by my statement and let the country compare it with his statement. As regards the Debate generally and the remedies proposed by the right hon. Gentleman for unemployment, I say as I have said before, that I wish this question could be looked at from an industrial and not a political standpoint. The more I deal with this question administratively, the more I feel that when we get into the atmosphere of politics the issues are clouded and we do not deal with the situation us broadly as it should be dealt with in order to remedy the present state of affairs.
To my mind, what I would always wish to do is to try and see what can be done for industry and employment here and now—what can be done to make things better—and if one can get it looked at in that way, I am willing to leave the ultimate issue to re what it may, whether Individualism or Socialism or any other "ism," provided it is founded on a real experience and it real knowledge and examination of the facts. It is for that reason that, when the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) spoke, and at the end of his speech asked whether there could not be co-operation between the different parties to try and remedy the situation here and now, I say quite cordially—and I am sure my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will agree with me—that we welcome co-operation from any party, and from any side of the 473 House, to see whether we can get at remedies that will try to improve the situation here and now in the next weeks and in the next months, without having too much view towards politics or the dim and distant future.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
Does that mean that the right hon. Gentleman is agreeing to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) that a joint committee representing all parties should be set up?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I am perfectly willing to discuss that or any other method of trying to get co-operation between people of all shades of opinion in the most effective way, but it is from the industrial point of view that I have been really trying myself to study this question. We debated last Session frequently the different kinds of expedients and palliatives that there might be. I have always said that, so far as we can get schemes that are good business in themselves, whether it be the electricity scheme, or the development of the Protectorates, or the development of sugar in this country, or any other, so far as they are good business in themselves, I would support them, and I am quite sure that my colleagues would be glad to support them too.
But what we have in mind in our administration is this. We have to realise when people talk about relief schemes pure and simple, that if you use money for one object, it is not available to be used for another, and that it is better for it to be used in industry for the employment of men in that industry for which they are naturally skilled and to which they are suited, than in relief schemes to which they are not suited. If the money is used for one object, it cannot be used for another, except, and except only, in a case where there might be an increase in the total credit used for industry. I know that, hypothetically, at any rate, that may be the case occasionally—it was supposed to have been the case in the slump in 1893—but, so far as can be humanly seen, that is not the case now, and it would be the worst thing in the world for industry itself to draw off money from proper employment in productive industry for relief schemes.
That is sound business and good economics, and I say so although it is not 474 an easy thing to say. If a thousand men are employed upon making a road, that is what one sees—the men are there and at work, they are getting a job—but what one does not see is that the money that comes from taxes or from rates for the making of that road does not go into other industry, and other industry is shortened to that extent. Let me ask my hon. Friend who shakes his head to go to the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, or to any authorities who have considered these problems. I think he will find that is almost the universal consensus of opinion. That is the reason why we would gladly take in hand any scheme that would improve the real productive efficiency of the country; but beyond that we do not think, from the point of view of employment itself, it is a good thing to draw off money from productive industry into works which, in comparison at any rate, are unproductive, that is, from the industrial point of view.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to deal in general with his cure for unemployment, as outlined in the Amendment, beyond which he travelled, and with which I have to deal. When he dealt with the question in its broader aspect. I think that what he said was based throughout on two quite fundamental fallacies. He put down all the evil that exists to capitalism, and he assumed, without any proof, that what he proposed to us would be an alleviation. We have got no definition of "essential services" from him or from the former Attorney-General, but I remember full well that when this subject was last debated in this House there was proposed a more full-blooded Motion, tempered by the word "gradual"—a "gradual" approach to Socialism. Now there is a slight change of words, but not a change in sense. There it was a gradual process by a number of steps; here it is the first step, and the first step only, but it is to lead to the same ultimate end. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members opposite agree, but my hon. and learned Friend who spoke last, with his legal acumen, tried to limit it to the one, but he cannot separate this one step from the others, which his own friends behind him want.
475 The first analysis seems to be perfectly clear to anyone who has the least acquaintance with the industrial history of this country. I am the very last, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, and as, I think all hon. Gentlemen opposite know, as well as those on this side of the House, to deny or to understate the many evils that exist in this country at the present moment. It was not a question of what system was in force. When you had the industrial revolution, and its developments, when you had all the progress in engineering and the change in industry which resulted in our great towns being built up in comparison with the small towns that existed before, men had not then foreseen the evils that might follow in their train.
It was not a question of whether the State or individuals had control. No one knew the results that were to follow. Whatever economic doctrine was in force, we should find 50 years hence that people would look back and see the many things which could have been done now and which no one can foresee at the moment. So it was in the industrial world at that time. The effect of the processes in industry on human physique were not known. It was not the effect of capitalism or anything else. The evils of some became apparent very soon, while others took a long time to become known. The effect of the dangerous trades, of dust in confined spaces, and all the rest of it—the knowledge of that was of very slow growth. It was not recognised at the start.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
That is lack of imagination. This party took the leading steps from the very beginning, one after another, in endeavouring to check the abuses from over 100 years ago to the days of Shaftesbury, through the days of Disraeli, and onwards. If he washes to change the system, the right hon. Gentleman must look at the spectacle as a whole. He has not for one moment recognised the advance that has taken place. He has not recognised that on the whole men and women are better off and not worse off than at the beginning. Whatever test one takes—whether statistics of life, of health, of 476 comfort—it must be realised that from a broad and long view there has been an advance, and not a retrogression. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] That has been largely due, in my opinion, to a paramount extent to the freedom of individual enterprise.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The right hon. Gentleman then jumped straight away to capitalism. No facts, no figures, no proof. Nothing that would be given in any prospectus of the capitalist system which he affects to despise. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned two things only that might be brought forward to buttress up his desire to introduce an alternative system. Subsidies, he said were given at this moment to private interests which ought to be given to the State, and to the State alone. If I am right, he protested against subsidies being given to private interests. To my amazement, he seemed to confess as a fault what I should have thought he would have claimed as a virtue—the sugar-beet subsidy—which I think is the only useful achievement of his Government.
The other claim he made was that we should avoid waste. He quoted some kind of analysis from an American source as to what could be got out of coal in the way of smokeless fuel and by-products—with which people are familiar in this country just as much as in America. The way he quoted it seems to me to have been either extraordinarily cruel or possibly falsely misstated. Why, because he quoted what could be done in that way, should he assume that a discovery which has been made in the laboratory could at once be carried out on a large scale in an industry as a whole? That is raising expectations in what seems to me to be an extraordinarily cruel or probably a mistaken way. If hon. Members will allow me, I adduce my own personal experience in a business with which I was formerly engaged.
There was a process which was urgently wanted, rather similar to the one quoted, to separate the or with which I had to deal into its component parts. It has been carried on in the laboratory and for 50 years everybody has been trying to get it down to a commercial scale. This has not been done yet. A 477 friend of mine engaged in another company in the same kind of business thought he had found a scientific discovery which would be very valuable to the industry as a whole. It was worked at for years and then found not to be any good on a big factory scale, on a commercial basis. Any practical man who has been engaged in industry of that type knows that the gulf between a discovery in the laboratory—and this is particularly true with regard to the pre-treatment of coal—and the commercial application of it on a big scale is enormous; and, therefore, to mention what has been done in the laboratory and to assume that it would be at once applicable to industry is to raise expectations which, as I say, are as cruel as they are misleading.
Let me turn now to what the right hon. Gentleman who preceded me said. What is intended by essential services. As far as I can gather from the right hon. Gentleman and other Members who have spoken, these cover production as well as distribution. I was asked just before why I took coal alone. Are we going to stop at coal? Is it to apply to coal'? Is the coal industry going to be carried on, if need be, at a loss, but no other service? No. The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well that coal cannot be taken in isolation. The whole question is whether if all these industries and services were put under State control, they would really be carried on more economically, and whether the people who worked in them, and the country as a whole would not be worse off instead of better.
We have not had any figures in support of the contention from the other side of the House that they would be now carried on economically by the State. Indeed, the whole of the surplus wealth of this country over £500 a year would not go near to meeting the loss that would be caused in ordinary weekly wages if they were not economically carried on, and that is taking the present basis of industry as if it were likely to be permanent, whereas—and I speak for my Friends behind me, and with the "knowledge that I have had for a great many years—the greatest advances that have been made have been due largely to competition and the setting of the wits of one against another.
478 That is true as regards any country. But the danger of going forward in this way, proposed by hon. Gentlemen opposite, without any proof to guide one as to the wisdom of doing so is infinitely greater in the case of this country than in any other country in the world. There are two characteristics in which this country differs from almost any other country, and in each case it is a reason for going cautiously in a matter of this kind. In the first place, we, more than any other country in the world, are dependent on foreign trade. I should be the last to deny the value of the home market. To any manufacturer who can supply it, the home market is the most valuable market of all, but it is impossible continuously to increase wages and the standard of living in the home market in view of its effect upon international trade unless at the same time to keep costs down. My own hope and belief always is to get costs down without affecting the standard of living, but it is absolutely futile for us to pretend that we need not pay attention to international trade. As far as I can read the figures, our share of the total overseas trade of the world is just about the same no was before the War. Before any sweeping changes are made, such as the right hon. Gentleman suggests, we have to be quite sure that in the great staple industries by which we earn those imports which we need urgently for our daily life, under a State system we can meet the changed conditions of all the foreign markets in which we have to sell our products. The other consideration is this: Industrially, we are an old settled country compared with any of the other great countries that are our rivals. They are newer in their development than we are if they were to make a mistake, then very largely the natural growth of the country could cover up the mistake they made. But in this country, if a vital mistake were made, there is the likelihood that some of our industries would never revive. Take the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston). If there were a mistake made in the cost of production for selling, the jute trade of Dundee, once it was vitally struck, would never recover again.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Does the right hon. Gentleman know that under the private enterprise system, which he is defending, 479 the industry rules on the banks of the Hugli, where it is paying 90 per cent. on British capital and it is that capital which is now beating Dundee?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The hon. Gentleman knows that the largest portion of the inhabitants engaged in that industry are not British.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Does the right hon. Gentleman know it is only recently that 60 per cent. of that capital is Indian, but that the effective management of it is in British hands?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Such a dialogue might be carried on at some other time. I would only say in passing that it is absurd to think that any part of the world where there are natural advantages will remain undeveloped because we from this country do not choose to develop it. On the other hand, it is possible to compete with Indian labour if that home industry is efficient, but not otherwise. If we in this country were to make a mistake, then the jute trade of Dundee is precisely one of the type of trades which would never recover again from the staggering blow. It seems to me that to proceed at one jump without any proof, knowing they could provide no reasonable belief in the steps they were taking, would be madness for a country in our condition. It seems to me there is a much surer line of progress.
§ Sir P. HASTINGS
I should like if the right hon. Gentleman will see fit to answer my question. May I ask it again. The question was a quite simple one? Do not His Majesty's Government admit now that they have power to see that the essential industries of the country are run, even at a loss, if the national interests demand it?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
That seems to me to be merely tautology. What the hon. and learned Member asks is if it is a good thing to run those industries, do I not think that the Government ought to do it? I deny, however, the hypothesis that that would be a good thing. When it comes to monopolies, I admit that each case has to be considered on its merits, according to the kind of monopoly we are considering. There may be cases in which you may 480 need to have public control, either State or municipal control. The hon. Member asked what answer we could give in regard to Birmingham. There we have municipal control and some monopolies, and there we have ownership which I should be the last to change, but there also is a case of knowing exactly where you are in regard to your facts and figures.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
He started with an extraordinarily shrewd business experience. There is a course between the old laissez fairc methods and a complete Government system. The State should be able, as it has done under Conservative Governments in the past, and will probably do in the future, to lay down, minimum standards and conditions which ought to apply in public health and other departments. There should be a minimum standard which people have to observe, but above that level private enterprise ought to be free to do its best. That is a surer line of progress, and it is absolute common sense and good business. I agree that this is no short cut to the millennium. Described in much better words than mine, it is as follows:Through this great forest of fact, this tangle of old and new, these secular oaks, sturdy shrubs and beautiful parasitic creepers, we move with a prudent diffidence, following the old tracks, endeavouring to keep them open, but hesitating to cut new roots till we are clear as to the goal for which we are asked to sacrifice our finest timber. Fundamental changes we regard as exceptional and pathological. Yet, being bound by no theories, when we are convinced of their necessity, we inaugurate them boldly and carry them through to the end.Such is the Conservative line of progress. It is no short cut to the millennium, but it is the surest line of reform, and the truest road to prosperity.
§ Ordered, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Mr. Arthur Henderson.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.