§ Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 71A.
§ [Mr. JAMES HOPE in the Chair.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it is expedient to conform an agreement, dated the tenth day of February, nineteen hundred and twenty-six, and made between the Treasury and the Ministry of Finance for Northern Ireland with a view to assimilating the burdens on the Exchequers of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland with respect to unemployment insurance, and to authorise the payment out of the Consolidated Fund of any sums certified by the Joint Exchequer Board to be payable under the said agreement from the Exchequer of the United Kingdom."—(King's Recommendation signified.)
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Churchill)
It is, naturally, an invidious task to have to ask the House to undertake substantial fresh expenditure, not only this year, but, in all probability, in future years. The Committee will, I have no doubt, realise that only the most serious and valid reasons would have induced the Government to make such a proposal to Parliament. Let us see quite shortly what those reasons are. In the first place, I think it right to ask the Committee to bear in mind the fact that all the inconveniences and difficulties from which Ulster has suffered arose not from any wish of her people. On the contrary, Ulster did not ask for any constitutional change. She was perfectly content to remain in the United Kingdom, and it was only because of the strong movement of Imperial policy and many tragic events, on which I do not intend to dwell, that in 1920 Ulster consented to defer to the wish of the Imperial Parliament and to set up a House of her own. From the moment that this took place, from the moment that it was quite clear that Ulster was not in any way standing in the way of the aspirations of the rest of Ireland, but was deferring to the general requirements of Imperial policy, it has always seemed to me that a very strong obligation 86 rested upon Parliament to secure her reasonable help in the difficult and critical years attending the creation of this new Government.
There is another general observation which I will venture to make, and I make it for the benefit, not indeed of any Member of this House, but of the less well-informed portion of the public out of doors. It is occasionally asked: "Why does Ulster want to come for money to this House? Why does she not live on her own revenue, like the South of Ireland?" Of course, I am bound to put on record the actual facts. There is a substantial contribution paid by Ulster to the Imperial Parliament. In the first place, this contribution was fixed at about £7,000,000 sterling; but it was fixed on the inflated standards of 1920 and 1921, and it was provided that the Joint Exchequer Board might scale this contribution down to what was found to be proper and just. Very large remissions of taxation have been made since then which, of course, affect the scale of the contribution, and it has now been reduced by the Joint Exchequer Board to something under £3,000,000 a year. During these early years there have been very heavy charges on account of the special police, on account of the public buildings which are being erected, and on account of payments for compensation; but, after all those charges have been met, there has still been an average balance to the British Exchequer over the period of approximately £1,250,000 a year, and, when the police charges come to an end, as they do with this present year, and when the public buildings are completed—and Sir James Craig has consented to considerable savings in the case of some of these buildings—the contribution which Ulster will pay to the Imperial Parliament, even after the provisions of this Bill have come into effect, will be considerably in excess of what it has been during the last few years. So it is not a question either of Ulster coming to this House for special assistance or for a Grant-in-Aid. It is a question rather of what rebate this House should allow from the contribution which is to be made by Ulster towards the upkeep of the Imperial services of the Crown.
These two general observations I think necessary for a proper understanding of the comparatively limited issue which is 87 before the House. As a consequence of the 1920 Act, a separation took place between the British Unemployment Insurance Fund and the similar fund of Ulster. The whole principle of unemployment insurance rests upon largeness of area and variety of industry. It is only by spreading the risks over very great areas of population and over an extensive diversity of trades that the general contributions of the whole body of subscribers, by averaging the risks, are enabled to guard against seasonal and cyclical disturbances of industry. In this country, when two or three great trades are in a state of great depression, there are perhaps 20, 30, or even 40 trades doing quite well, and some very well, and those that are successful bear the weight of those that lag behind. But to try to set up a separate Unemployment Insurance Fund on the British scale for so small a unit, for so small a community, as that of Northern Ireland and for a community so curiously circumstanced in its industrial life, was from the very outset a hazardous and even a forlorn undertaking.
The population is only a million and a quarter and the insured population is only 261,000; that is to say, the ambit of Ulster's unemployment insurance fund is, approximately, one-fiftieth of the ambit of the British unemployment insurance fund. You are dealing with an organism one-fiftieth of the scale of that which has sustained the shocks and buffets of our present industrial position. But more important than size even is this question of variety. Whereas British industry presents an immense variety of trades the industry of Ulster consists to the extent of more than one-half—to the extent of 51 per cent.—of only two trades, shipbuilding and linen. These two trades, together, comprised 51 per cent. of the whole of the insured population of Northern Ireland. In these circumstances, it was obvious, or should have been obvious, from 1920 onwards that the only chance for surviving and solvency on an independent basis of the Northern Ireland Insurance Fund was a succession of exceptionally good years in which reserves could be accumulated and the fund placed in a very strong position. But instead of having a succession of exceptionally good years we have, as everyone knows, had 88 exactly the opposite. Both the main industries of Ulster have been smitten simultaneously.
The comparative figures for the last three years show that, whereas in Great Britain the average unemployment has been between 10 and 11 per cent., in Ulster it has been nearly 20 per cent., and in this present financial year, whereas our unemployment is running at a little over a rate of 10 per cent., in Ulster it is running at a rate of 25 per cent. Ulster, therefore, has an unemployment rate at the present time 2½ times as great as this country. We know what it is to live through years with unemployment running at the rates which have prevailed in this country. Conceive what must be the position in this small country dependent upon these two main industries with a rate of unemployment which carried over the whole insurable range is represented by the figure of 25 per cent.! I have the details of the figures of these trades, which, of course, have been far beyond 25 per cent. On 25th January, this year, there were 38 per cent. unemployed in shipbuilding in Ulster, and 29 per cent. in linen; to go back to June, there were 31 per cent. in shipbuilding and 42 per cent. in linen; to go back to June, 1924, there were 38 per cent. in shipbuilding and 10 per cent. in linen, and to go back to 1922 there were 29 per cent. in shipbuilding and 31 per cent. in linen.
These are really very painful and harassing figures. That this community should have had to face all these industrial difficulties at the same time that it has had great internal political strife and many disturbances on its borders and has had to build up the organisation of a new Government—I think the concentration of all these difficulties really constitutes one of the most trying ordeals through which any body of British subjects have been called in recent years to pass. With two and a half times the rate of unemployment prevailing in Great Britain and with no prosperous trades to lean on, it was clear that the Ulster fund would pass rapidly into deficiency which could only be met by borrowings by the Ulster Exchequer. The deficiency has already amounted to £3,500,000, and this year it would, apart from the assistance which we shall give by this 89 Measure, amount to over £2,000,000 m a single year. Consider what are the equivalents of those figures translated into British figures. The £3,500,000 deficiency of Ulster, if operated over the area of the great British Insurance Fund, would amount to £140,000,000, whereas in the present year we shall have gone into deficiency less than £800,000, and our total deficiency is less than £8,000,000.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am referring to these figures for a purpose for which the hon. Gentleman will not quarrel with me, for the purpose of showing what a very much heavier burden is the deficiency of the Ulster Insurance Fund from any which, however matters may be conducted here, we have been called upon to bear ourselves. A new deficiency this year of £2,000,000 would be the equivalent of an £80,000,000 deficiency on our insurance fund.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
There is a great difference between guarantee and control. It will be said, "Why should not Ulster reduce the benefits?" I do not know if any critics on the opposite side of the Committee are going to use that argument to-day. It will be said that Southern Ireland has been content to accept a lower standard of social service than exists in Great Britain. In education, in pensions, in unemployment insurance, they accepted a definitely lower standard, and why should not this smaller community recognise the fact that it cannot possibly afford to have its social services maintained at the level of this prosperous and wealthy community of Great Britain? There is a great difference, in my judgment, between the position of Ulster and the Irish Free State. The Irish Free State, it is true, have accepted a lower standard of social service, but they have been willing to pay that price in order to have the satisfac- 90 tion of political ideals and aspirations which they had long cherished. They have got what they wanted, and they obtained it with their eyes open. No such consolation is open to the people of Northern Ireland. They have to put up with an arrangement that they do not like at all. They had to upset all the plans on which they had long proceeded. They had to cut themselves off and set up housekeeping for themselves, and if, in addition to political disturbance, they were to be subjected to a marked diminution in the scale of their social services, it would be at once invidious and unfair.
But there is a much more practical reason than that for our not allowing a marked differentiation in the social services of Northern Ireland and of this country. Belfast is not so far away from Glasgow. Both are suffering. They have similar industries, they are closely linked, and communication between them is cheap and swift. Many people pass to and fro. I am informed that there are only 14,600 trade unionists in Ulster who are not members of the corresponding British trade unions. If the benefits, for instance, in Ulster were halved, as would probably be necessary to make the Fund entirely satisfactory and self-supporting at this moment, or if the contributions were doubled, which would have the same effect, that would make such a difference between the social conditions prevailing in these two harassed centres of working-class population that undoubtedly there would be an influx into Glasgow and the Clyde area, where already the conditions, we are not infrequently informed, are so bad that they could hardly be worse. Moreover, an attempt to differentiate between these smaller communities of British subjects in their social services would be inconsistent with the general effort to erect and maintain and improve upon minimum standards of life and labour to which the House of Commons for the last 20 years has sedulously devoted itself. Therefore, I do not expect that any suggestion from the Labour party will be made that Ulster should solve her difficulties by reducing benefits. Therefore, if it is not wise to reduce benefits, neither is it right to disinterest ourselves in the Ulster community. If you are not going to reduce benefits in some way or other, the Fund must be made capable of sustaining itself.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The White Paper shows clearly. The amount involved this year is £680,000. The amount next year cannot be estimated in advance. It depends on the relative conditions of employment in the two countries. But I will come to that in my remaining remarks. What shall we do? If we are not going to reduce benefits on the one hand, and if we are not going to allow bankruptcy to supervene on the other, what course is open to the House to pursue? As the Ulster Fund sank deeper and deeper into debt appeals, of course, were made to the Imperial Government by the Ministers of Northern Ireland, and originally these requests took the form of suggesting an amalgamation of the two funds, which it was said should never lave been separated. The Ulster Government said they were perfectly ready to have their fund administered as an Imperial service, under Imperial officers, entirely over their head and apart from any authority the Ulster Parliament might have, provided that the two funds could be merged, and the whole of these communities, whether situated in Great Britain or Northern Ireland, should have equal benefits. Primâ facie, there was a great deal to be said for this. I was much attracted to this idea, and it was on these lines that I first attempted to study the question, but after careful consideration it was felt that there would be great difficulty in a British Department administering as an Imperial service a fund of this character in Northern Ireland.
I think the incentive to economy would not be present in the minds of the population by that method. At any rate it is quite clear that there would be a certain discordance between the work done by the Imperial officials in scrutinising claims for benefit and the general sentiment of a population suffering, as this population is suffering, from perfectly appalling unemployment, and it seems possible that very bitter disputes might arise between unemployed persons and the Imperial officials and that there would not be that bulwark of local responsibility such as is afforded when the Ulster Parliament itself stands in the breach and faces the difficulties that arise in regard to unemployment in its area. We studied this for many weeks in a Cabinet Com- 92 mittee—we also set up a very expert Departmental Committee under a distinguished civil servant who had experience both of the Treasury and of Irish affairs. As the result of the labours of this Committee, somewhat modified after Cabinet consideration, the present Bill has emerged. I cannot myself attempt to improve upon the details and succinct account contained in the White Paper. I think it explains the somewhat complicated method of the Bill with a maximum economy of words. The principle can be expressed in a single word. It is the principle of reinsurance. 75 per cent. only of the relative deficiency of the British and the Ulster funds will be covered by reinsurance. The Exchequer which is responsible for the richer fund in any year will pay to the poorer fund.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I think the hon. Member was one of those who in a previous Parliament wanted us to hand enormous sums to the Russians? I certainly think our own fellow-countrymen, and British trade unionists, residing in Northern Ireland, have at least as good a claim upon our attentions as the Russians.
§ The CHAIRMAN
There are not at present the same political and social bonds of union between England and Russia as between England and Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
No. My argument was of an a fortiori nature. The grant is limited to 75 per cent. of the relative deficiency and it is based on a population basis and not on the numbers of insured persons. Of course, this arrangement will be very favourable to Ulster in all probability, because the prosperity of our fund, with the many different trades on which it depends, will probably be greater in the majority of years than that of a fund which is so largely dependent on only two trades.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I must ask hon. Members to keep silence and allow the right hon. Gentleman to proceed.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It does not at all follow that prosperity may not come to the industries of Northern Ireland, and the very fact that it is so dependent upon two industries, if the wheel turns in favour of those industries, would make it a profitable contributor to the reinsurance fund instead of an unprofitable contributor. If, for instance, we were to plunge into a great coal strike this year which involved the stoppage of our industry for a very long period—
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I will call it a coal stoppage. I am told it is quite possible that a payment will fall due from Ulster.
Guarantees are given against laxity in administration. The Ulster Government welcome inspection and audit, and we intend to take full advantage of the offer because we must be absolutely certain that equally careful administration prevails on both sides of the Channel. The incentive on the Ulster Government to maintain a strict administration, by which I mean a proper administration, is perfectly clear, because they have to make up the other 25 per cent. deficiency, relative deficiency, when one is shown. For instance, in the present year when we are paying £680,000, the Ulster Government will have to pay £450,000 from their own resources, and £450,000 of their resources is equivalent on a revenue basis to something like a £40,000,000 charge upon the British Exchequer. Therefore, there is a very strong incentive, apart from inspection and audit, upon the local administration to administer the fund in a responsible and prudent manner.
It has been arranged that if, as the White Paper shows, our liability in any year exceeds £1,000,000, it shall be open to the Imperial Government to review the question and to legislate again, if they think fit, without any charge of breach of faith being made. The only question that would arise would be the hardship and the conditions prevailing on 94 both sides of the Channel. It seems to me that, in a difficult situation, we have made the best arrangement in our power. What of the future? We cannot judge what the future will be in regard to unemployment. If unemployment gets no better, if it gets worse, it is quite clear that either there will be a financial collapse of the Insurance Fund of Northern Ireland or there will have to be reduction of benefit, or there will have to be an amalgamation of the two funds. We have adopted none of these courses. The course we propose follows none of these lines. It takes a less drastic course altogether.
It is a heavy undertaking and one which I have been very reluctant to assume at the present time, but it is certainly much less than we should have had to pay out of British funds if the two funds had remained amalgamated, as they would have done had it not been that Ulster was induced and compelled by the Imperial Parliament to set up a separate establishment for herself. If, on the other hand—one may hope that it may be so—matters should improve and these industries should become more prosperous in Northern Ireland, there is no reason why, with these arrangements, we should not get through very satisfactorily. Whether we take a hopeful view or a pessimistic view, I am sure that in making this arrangement for re-insurance between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in respect of unemployment insurance, the Committee will be doing no more than is their bounden duty.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The hon. Member is a good judge of gentlemen. If the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) says that he did not approve of that policy, of course, I withdraw.
§ The CHAIRMAN
There is no point of Order. There is only a matter of personal explanation involved. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO.']
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I withdraw, on the assumption that the hon. Member for Spennymoor is right in saying that he did not approve of the policy.
§ The CHAIRMAN
If the hon. Member for Spennymoor is not satisfied with what the right hon. Gentleman says, he will be able to say so in Debate. There is no question of Order that can arise.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
On a point of Order. I want to ask, in view of your statement, Mr. Hope, that the hon. Member for Spennymoor can raise this matter in Debate, whether we shall be in Order in raising the question of lending money to Russia, on this Debate which deals with Northern Ireland?
§ The CHAIRMAN
Certainly not. The matter is purely a personal one between the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Spennymoor.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I do not wish to hurt the hon. Member's feelings. He interrupted me and asked, "Why give this money to the Irish?" I said, "The hon. Member is one of those in this House who wanted to give money to Russia." He says that that is not so. If it is not so, I withdraw.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I beg to move, in line 1, after the word "That," to insert the wordssubject to certain modifications, including provision for the repayment of any sums paid.The Chancellor of the Exchequer began his speech by saying that it was an unpleasant task to have to put before the House of Commons such a proposal as this. I cannot imagine that it would be an unpleasant task for the present Chancellor of the Exchequer to propose at any time or in any way an increase of expenditure. The only thing he has done so far since he assumed office, and he has done it with remarkable success, has been to add to national expenditure in every possible direction. I can understand the right hon. Gentleman finding it an unpleasant task to have to place the facts of this proposal before the House of Commons. I congratulate him upon having made the best of a bad case. He has adopted precisely the method which he adopted a year ago in defending the outrageous grant to the Ulster Government for assistance to the Special Constabulary. On that occasion he made no attempt whatever to defend the proposal upon its merits. He made the same pathetic appeal that he has done to-day, about the hardship of Ulster and the pressure that was placed upon an unwilling Ulster to have its own Parliament and to manage its own affairs. That is the only ground upon which the right hon. Gentleman has defended the proposal this afternoon.
This is not a new proposal. It has been before every Chancellor of the Exchequer since 1922. It was put before the present Prime Minister when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he refused to touch it, if I may use a somewhat vulgar term, with a 40-foot pole. The Prime Minister's successor as Chancellor of the Exchequer was next approached. Indeed, Sir James Craig has hardly been off the door-mat of the Treasury for 24 hours during the last 97 four years, begging for money from the British Exchequer. The proposal came before the present Prime (Minister's successor, the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Minister of Health. He refused it; he would not have anything to do with it. Then I came into office as Chancellor of the Exchequer. The matter was never submitted to me directly by Sir James Craig, but he approached others, not only in regard to the grants for the Special Constabulary, but in regard to this matter. Next the right hon. Gentleman came into office and, apparently, the Ulster Government have found a more amenable subject for their pressure.
What does this proposal mean? I hope the Chairman will not rise and say that I am wandering from the subject, because there is a very intimate connection between the grant for the Special Constabularly and this grant.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
It is no use the right hon. Gentleman shaking his head. Everybody who has inside knowledge knows it to be a fact that the grant given under the name of the Special Constabulary was simply a camouflaged grant for unemployment in Northern Ireland. During the last three or four years they have had something like £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 under the so-called grant for the Ulster Constabulary. The right hon. Gentleman would not dare, now that the differences between the two Governments in Ireland have been settled, to come to the House of Commons and ask far a continuation of the Special Constabulary Grant. What does he do? He accedes to what, at least, two of his Conservative predecessors in his office have refused to do. He comes to the House of Commons and asks us, to help the Ulster Government. Here I would say that I am sure every hon. Member on this side appreciates the difficulties of Ulster in regard to excessive unemployment, and if any proposal could be made for lightening their burden which, at the same time, would not be unjust to the taxpayers of this part of the United Kingdom, it would receive the support of every hon. Member who sits upon these benches. That is not what the right hon. Gentleman is doing.
The right hon. Gentleman is proposing to give a sheer gift to the Government of 98 Ulster. We have put on the Paper an Amendment. We are not opposing the scheme entirely, but we are asking that the assistance should be rendered in the form of a loan. The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Moles)—whom I do not often see in his place; there must have been some special attraction which has brought him across the Irish Channel—made an interjection during the right hon. Gentleman's speech, the purport of which was that for 20 years Belfast had had a lower percentage of unemployment than the rate of unemployment in corresponding occupations in this country. If that be so, we have some reason to hope that a time of prosperity may come to Belfast again, and that Belfast may have a lower percentage of unemployment than the corresponding industries in this country. If that happy time should come, the Unemployment Fund in Northern Ireland, on its present basis, will become solvent, and not merely solvent, but profitable. Therefore, what reason can be brought forward or what argument advanced against the proposal that in those days, out of that surplus, the Government of Ulster should repay to the British Exchequer the assistance which it is now proposed to give to them?
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
But they will gradually wipe off that, and a further surplus will be accumulated. This is not the first occasion since 1922 on which the Government of Ulster have come to the Imperial Exchequer for assistance. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the amount of the grant by the Ulster Government towards Imperial services, which was fixed in 1920—something like £7,000,000 a year. According to the right hon. Gentleman's statement, that has been successively reduced until it amounts now to about £3,000,000 a year. I did not quite understand what the right hon. Gentleman said in regard to the sums that Ulster has actually contributed on account of these Imperial services. But I do remember that the right hon. Gentleman, speaking last December in the Debate on the Irish Boundary question, said that Ulster had made her contribution, but she had received grants from the Imperial Exchequer which left her practically balanced.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The actual fact is that it is £1,250,000 a year on the average of the last three or four years.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I think I have the exact words used by the right hon. Gentleman in December:It is quite true they are paying their contribution, but we have had to remit against that contribution in every year sums which have been nearly equal to the contribution."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th December, 1925; col. 360; Vol. 189.]I understand that the total contribution is £3,000,000 a year. Now the right hon. Gentleman says that they have made a net contribution of £1,250,000.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
That must have been since last December, or the right hon. Gentleman's statement then would not have been applicable. If the total contribution is £3,000,000 and Ulster has made a net contribution of £1,250,000, what did the right hon. Gentleman mean by saying that their contribution and the amount remitted were "nearly equal"? Now the right hon. Gentleman's statement is that Ulster is paying £1,250,000 a year.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Under this proposal Ulster is to get from the Imperial Exchequer about £800,000 a year during the next four years—£600,000 in the current financial year, and possibly £850,000 in the next four years. What becomes of the £1,250,000? That means that, after having deducted £800,000, Ulster's contribution to Imperial services during the next four years is to be about £400,000 a year.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I do not want to interrupt, but it is a pity to proceed on wrong figures. At the present time Ulster is receiving £1,200,000 in respect of Special Constabulary. About the same amount was received last year. That comes to an end. If the addition under this Bill is £800,000 and the diminution on the Constabulary is £1,200,000, there is an increase in the contribution of £400,000. In addition to that there are expenses on public buildings.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
In addition to that sum there was something like £700,000 which the Ulster Government was responsible for, on account of equipment 100 and other things which had been sold to her by the Imperial Government, and the right hon. Gentleman, I understand, intends entirely to wipe out that debt. So that Ulster's contribution even under the construction which has just been placed upon the present financial relations by the right hon. Gentleman, will come to something less than £1,000,000 a year.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
So long as we are making this contribution. There is a statement repeated more than once in the White Paper and the right hon. Gentleman made use of it on several occasions during his speech. He spoke of this as a reinsurance scheme. The way in which this is phrased in the White Paper is that, if there should be a reversal of the rates of unemployment, if unemployment should fall in Ulster and increase in this country, a situation might arise where Ulster would have to contribute to the unemployment fund of this country. Has the right hon. Gentleman any respect for the intelligence of the House of Commons? Surely that is one of the most impudent statements that was ever incorporated in a White Paper presented to the House of Commons? Is there any man outside a lunatic asylum who thinks that a state of things like that is going to arise in the next four or five years? It could have served no purpose whatever, except in the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman to provide one argument in favour of a case which in every other respect is lamentably weak. There are two staple industries in Northern Ireland, and both of them are suffering from exceptional depression. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether this is the last of the bargains that has been made with the Ulster Government? Sir James Craig has stated in public speeches more than once since the settlement in regard to the Boundary, that he had a guarantee from the British Government that they were going to hold an inquiry, under the Safeguarding of Industries Act, into the linen trade of Ulster, and he made this statement in such a way as to convey the impression that he had a pledge from the British Government that protection would be given to the linen trade of Ulster.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
No such undertaking has been made by the British Government, and I very much doubt whether Sir James Craig raised it in that way.
§ Mr. MOLES
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman opposite does not wish to mislead the Committee or to cast an undue reflection on Sir James Craig. I can assure him that no such statement was made. What was said was that a requisition had been put forward for an inquiry, but there was no statement either that the request was going to be granted or that any commitments had been made.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I do not think that Sir James Craig used the word "guarantee." What I said was that Sir James Craig had stated that he had something like a promise from the Government. It is a pity I have not the exact words here.
§ Mr. D. D. REID
I read the speech of Sir James Craig. What he said was that he had asked the Prime Minister that, if a recommendation were made by a Committee that a duty, some tariff, should be imposed in favour of the linen trade, Parliament would be given time for the discussion of it. He said there would be. He did not suggest either that there was any promise that the matter would be passed through its first stage by the Board of Trade or that a Committee would be set up. It was only after a Committee was sanctioned that Parliamentary time would be afforded for discussion.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
The whole point of Sir James Craig's reference to that matter lies in this—that it was made at the time of the Boundary Settlement. I very much regret that I did not provide myself with the words of Sir James Craig, because I know that they were quite as definite as I am leading the Committee to believe. It was impossible to resist the interpretation that there was a connection. That is why I am asking the right hon. Gentleman. I asked him a moment or two ago whether this was the last of the bargains made with Ulster. The right hon. Gentleman did not reply. 102 Then I go on to ask a definite question. Was anything said at the time of the settlement by Sir James Craig to the right hon. Gentleman or within the knowledge of the right hon. Gentleman to any other Member of the Government, in regard to an inquiry under the Safeguarding of Industries Act into the linen trade of Ulster?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Sir James Craig spoke about the conditions prevailing in the linen trade and his strong desire that there should be an inquiry, but no undertaking of any sort was given, and, as a matter of fact, the Government do not think that a primâ facie case has been made out.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
The right hon. Gentleman has confessed that at the time of the Boundary Settlement Sir James Craig raised this matter. I am perfectly satisfied now. We are asked by this Motion to make a grant which, at the minimum, will amount to £4,000,000 from the British Exchequer during the next four years. As I said before, we are not at all opposed to rendering assistance to Ulster, but we do not think that this is the form in which the help should be given. We would not oppose a loan to Ulster, and a loan which should remain in abeyance until the Unemployment Insurance Fund of Ulster had become sound once more. That is precisely what we are doing in this country. The Treasury is not giving money because of the unsound condition of the Unemployment Insurance Fund now. The Fund is borrowing from the Treasury. Why should we put Ulster in a more privileged position than the Insurance Fund in this country? That is the point of our objection to this proposal, and we shall vote against the Motion unless the Chancellor of the Exchequer is prepared to accept our Amendment. We shall oppose it on that ground, and on that ground alone. Ulster in years to come, without any financial burden, may be able to repay the money if it be given to her as a loan. If we cannot get that concession from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we shall oppose the Motion this afternoon and at all further stages.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. D. D. REID
I do not propose to follow the right hon. Gentleman in his remarks with regard to the Special Constabulary. He made the same observations last year when the grant was under consideration, and I have never been able to understand how he connects the two subjects. Let me deal with the position which the right hon. Gentleman seems to take up in connection with this Unemployment Insurance Fund. I should like to call the attention of the Committee to what happened under the Government of Ireland Act, 1920. Under that Act the great yielding taxes—Income Tax, Supertax, Customs and Excise—are all collected by the Imperial Government. The taxes handed over to the Government of Northern Ireland are comparatively small. In fact, eight-ninths of the total revenue of Northern Ireland is collected by the Imperial Government, and in order to carry on the government of Northern Ireland allocations are made from this revenue for the various services. At that time there were no separate statistics available relating to Northern Ireland, and the amounts allocated were necessarily estimates. They were not trustworthy. Unemployment Insurance under the Act of 1920 was a comparatively small thing, but another Act was passed which immensely increased the scope of unemployment insurance.
Under the first Act only about 4,500,000 people in the United Kingdom were affected, but under the later Act the number was greatly increased. The two Acts were passed in the same year, and there was absolutely no figures from which any estimate could be made as to the future cost of unemployment insurance. Later on, when the Committee was set up for the purpose of adjusting various matters as to the Imperial contribution and deciding the basis upon which it was to be made, this question of unemployment insurance was excluded from its purview, and the question on what basis unemployment insurance should be financed is one that has never been considered at all. We contend that it is a perfectly reasonable request now, as the matter has been running for some years; and especially as it is a question on which a decision has never been taken. The right hon. Gentleman opposite will no doubt agree that it is useless having a fund which is not actuarily sound, and 104 all the evidence we have goes to show that the population which will be insured in Northern Ireland is not sufficient in numbers to afford a sufficient scope for a thoroughly sound scheme.
In all the circumstances we think we are entitled to call attention to the position of trade in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland, for industrial purposes, is really a part of the United Kingdom. It is part of the United Kingdom politically to some extent, but industrially it is, in fact, part of the United Kingdom. A great proportion of the trade of Ulster is foreign trade, and as all matters dealing with foreign trade are retained by the Imperial Parliament, the Government of Northern Ireland, if ever it desired to improve its trade by imposing tariffs, has no power to do so. Again, the workers in Northern Ireland are members of trade unions, the same trade unions to which people engaged in similar trades in Great Britain belong; and to cut off Northern Ireland for unemployment insurance purposes is, in our opinion, a very arbitrary operation. The number of insured persons in Northern Ireland is little more than half the number of insured persons in the Clyde and Glasgow district, and I am sure that no hon. Member opposite would contend that in the future the Clyde district must be a separate area for insurance purposes and must rely entirely on its own resources.
When unemployment insurance was transferred to the Government of Northern Ireland, unemployment was not so bad as it is now, but there is a large deficit at the moment. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman opposite quite realises the position. He contends that that deficit may be paid off; but in that case there will be no accumulation of reserve funds available for future periods of bad trade. The right hon. Gentleman talked about a contribution from Northern Ireland in certain circumstances, and I am sure the Government of Northern Ireland will be only too pleased to cooperate should such circumstances arise. I would ask hon. Members opposite to remember that these contributions are being made to men engaged in the same industries as themselves; to men who are members of the same trade unions to which they themselves and men in this country belong; to men who are suffering the same distress as they are suffering 105 because of unemployment. The people in Northern Ireland are not asking to be placed in any better position than other people. They are simply asking that the contributions should be so adjusted that this Unemployment Insurance Fund can be placed in a condition of reasonable solvency.
It has been said more than once that Northern Ireland is coming constantly to this country for grants. May I point out that Ulster does not get a penny of taxation raised in this country. Every penny that is going to be devoted to this purpose is derived from taxation raised in Northern Ireland. It is only a question as to how much you are going to take for Imperial purposes. The people of Ulster consider that they are entitled to ask for the same social services that people in Great Britain enjoy. They do not ask for any preferential treatment or any special advantage. All they ask is that working men and women in Northern Ireland, who come under the Unemployment Insurance Fund, shall enjoy exactly the same rights and privileges as people similarly situated in this country. We are not asking that a single penny of taxation raised in Great Britain shall be paid to Northern Ireland, we are only asking that part of the taxation collected under the authority of this Parliament in Northern Ireland shall be devoted to Northern Ireland services and to keeping our people on exactly the same plane as people in this country. That is a reasonable request and I hope the Committee will reject the Amendment.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
If the Committee agrees with the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Down (Mr. D. Reid), it would mean that no requests put forward from Ulster would be devoid of the argument that taxation now raised in this country can be well devoted to the purposes of Northern Ireland on any account whatever, and for any services whatever. I am sure that even the present Chancellor of the Exchequer is hardly likely to give way to that kind of pressure and to be persuaded by that kind of argument.
§ Mr. D. REID
All I said was that we should have the same services as are given in this country. I only ask that our social services should be kept on the same plane.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I have no doubt that that is what the hon. Member meant, but we have in our minds what happened in the case of the Special Constabulary Grant last year. It may happen again. I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not think me discourteous if I say that the fact of this demand, having been refused by two of his Conservative predecessors and granted by himself appears to give a much more political complexion to it. The power of the right hon. Gentleman to resist requests made from Ulster are less than those of his predecessors.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I do not know on what authority the right hon. Gentleman makes his statement, and I do not know how the right hon. Gentleman can be in the position to make the statement. It can only have arisen from a study of secret papers. But the situation is entirely different now. The deficit three years ago was small, but it has grown and grown, and this is the worst year they have ever had in Ulster. Consequently the deficiency is now a very large figure.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
The right hon. Gentleman asks me on what authority I made the statement. My authority is the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, but whether the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer gets his information from the sources indicated by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer I do not know. I have seen no secret papers myself, but I do know that it has been rumoured that requests made by the Government of Northern Ireland in the past have been refused by previous Chancellors of the Exchequer. This request is now being granted by the right hon. Gentleman.
On what grounds does the Chancellor of the Exchequer refuse to accept the Amendment? He has given us no good reason for supposing that the House is carefully safeguarding the money of the British taxpayer in making a full grant and a final grant for this purpose without any conditions as to repayment. The conditions which are applied to the Unemployment Fund in this country ought equally to apply—if there is to be a parity between the two parts of the United Kingdom—to the Fund in Northern Ireland. I hope the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, if he replies, will address himself to this point. How 107 can he justify making a grant to Northern Ireland, when the making up of any deficiency in this country would certainly be on a loan basis? The case made by the right hon. Gentleman is that the two principal industries are suffering from abnormal trade depression. We all know that is unfortunately the case, and I am sure everybody sympathises with the people of Belfast in particular, who are suffering now from a slackness in trade which I believe has not been known within the lifetime of anybody. But what is happening in the shipbuilding industry in Belfast is not unique in the United Kingdom. Exactly the same conditions, and in a worse degree, are to be found in many districts of this country. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer were to take the trouble to get out the figures for the Tees, the Tyne, the Wear or some parts of the Clyde he would find the proportion of unemployment actually greater in those areas than in Belfast.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
That is quite true, but there is no special plea put forward here on the ground of particularly bad unemployment.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
The hon. Member is now under a separate Government or partially under a separate Government, but that argument carries one right away back to the question of the constitutional arrangements which were made with Ulster, and we cannot go into that question. What we have a right to complain of is, that these arrangements having been made and a separate Government having been set up, demands are being made upon us and are being met by us with a generosity which is unfair to the British taxpayer. That is the ground on which we think that this payment, if is to be made at all, should not be made in the form of a grant, but in the form of a loan as provided for in the Amendment, which we shall support in the Lobby.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I think the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he undertook to move this Resolution must have had some 108 bad moments, and they must have led him to give the Committee the surprising argument that Ulster deserved special consideration because it was not the fault of Ulster that this situation had arisen in Ireland to-day. He asked the Committee to consider that Ulster was separated from the rest of Ireland under a scheme of which it had never approved, and that, therefore, the British House of Commons ought to treat Ulster with special leniency. No one knows better than the right hon. Gentleman that all through our relations with Ireland have not been improved by the action of Ulster, and that the action of Ulster throughout has been such as to make the whole situation infinitely worse. I recollect when the right hon. Gentleman was proposing from that bench to coerce Ulster into accepting a reasonable settlement of the Irish difficulty, and I remember when his present sub-deputy assistant took a strong and even a vigorous opposition to that line, speaking for the Ulster people who objected to coercion. Surely the right hon. Gentleman ought to be the last man to come here and ask that special financial consideration should be given to that branch of the Irish people who made a settlement of the Irish problem impracticable at that time.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The right hon. Gentleman thinks that now, because they have made practicable an extremely bad solution, because they have become good boys, they must be rewarded. I thought that argument was extremely poor, but the other arguments in favour of this contribution by the British taxpayer would have been much sounder had the right hon. Gentleman accepted the Amendment that the contribution should be a loan and not a grant. Why cannot the right hon. Gentleman meet that proposition? Why is it that we are to treat the unsound financial position of the unemployment insurance scheme in Northern Ireland, in a way entirely different to the way in which the Government meets similar deficiencies in this country? The right hon. Gentleman has not attempted to meet that question.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
If you were to amalgamate these funds, this arrangement, of course, would operate by loan, 109 but that would be much more favourable to Ulster than the arrangement which we are making under this Resolution which only extends to 75 per cent.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The right hon. Gentleman misunderstands me. The assistance given by the British taxpayer to the Unemployment Fund in this country, given year after year, is in the shape of a loan. We are now giving assistance to a fund which is exactly similar in Northern Ireland, and why should we do it by means of a grant?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The assistance given in this country is not all in the shape of a loan. It is quite true there are credit facilities, but the main assistance is a grant which, in the present year, is over £12,000,000 per annum to the fund from the Exchequer.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The grant which the British taxpayer is making to this fund in Ireland is by way of a free grant, and I draw attention to that fact specially, not because the right hon. Gentleman has failed to give any reasons for making this a grant instead of a loan, but because, in the case of a loan, we might have some control over it. In this country the fund is administered here and is subject to the control of the Executive. The people who find the money control the expenditure, but you are now making a grant to the Northern Ireland Government and divorcing the expenditure of the British taxpayers' money from any control whatever by the British taxpayer. The control and administration of the money is in the hands of Northern Ireland and the funds are to be found to keep the scheme water-tight, or to keep it passably sound, by the British taxpayer without any adequate control being secured to him. There is an additional reason why this contribution should take the form of a loan.
There would not be the same opposition from these benches if we felt that there was to be any end to these demands which come alternately from Northern and from Southern Ireland. It goes on year after year, concession after concession, and the present Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to be more susceptible to these demands than any of his predecessors. We cannot carry on the British Empire if the Chancellor of the Exchequer insists on conducting finance 110 as a matter of gestures of amenity instead of on lines of sound budgeting. Italy, France, Northern Ireland, Southern Ireland have only to come to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and he says: "The more money the British taxpayer pays up for you, the higher will be his standing hereafter in the history of the world as a generous contributor." And away goes the cash! This is merely another example. I am glad this Debate has elicited the fact that we are not going to have a protective tariff on linens as a fresh subvention from the British consumer to the Northern Irish manufacturers, but we have no assurance that this is the last demand from Northern Ireland to be capped hereafter probably by a similar demand from Southern Ireland. The real difficulty of our relations with both these Dominions under the Crown is that you have a permanent grievance suffered alternately by North and South, used as a lever to extract specially favourable consideration from the taxpayer of this country. Some time it will have to be stopped, otherwise the British Empire will be bled white, and I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make an effort here to-day to put this special and additional subvention into the form of a loan upon which we may hope to recover something in the years to come.
There are numbers of people who will say that the payment of this money by the British taxpayer is in order to keep up the rates of benefit paid to the unemployed workers in the North of Ireland, and that we should prefer to keep these rates up even at the expense of the British taxpayer. If that were the only question, I think we should have more sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman opposite in acceding to this appeal from Ulster, but, as I see it, those are not the alternatives before us. The alternatives before us are, whether the manufacturers and the well-to-do people in Northern Ireland should find this money or whether it should be found by the taxpayers of Great Britain. Unemployment insurance in Northern Ireland materially assists the ratepayers of Northern Ireland. If that scheme were not in force, the money which it finds for unemployment benefit would have to come from the pockets of the ratepayers of Belfast and of Ulster generally. We are relieving them of that burden. The allow- 111 ances made under the insurance scheme are so low to-day that a man cannot keep body and soul together, for himself and his family, on less. That money would have to be found for the unemployed in Ulster somehow if this scheme were not in operation. It would be found by the Poor Law; it would come out of the pockets of the ratepayers, and therefore, in effect, we are relieving the ratepayers of Belfast and Ulster at the expense of the taxpayers of this country.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I would remind the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that in Northern Ireland employers and workmen pay the same contributions as they do in this country.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I am not arguing that point at all. I am arguing that if there was no insurance against unemployment in Northern Ireland, the whole of this burden would be borne by the ratepayers. Therefore if the scheme came to an end, as it would come to an end if financially unsound, the burden would be upon Northern Ireland and not upon the taxpayers of this country. Therefore we are asking that this contribution should be raised from the people who are prosperous, that the middle men, the bankers and the merchants should bear this contribution, instead of putting it on to the people of this country to make financially sound a scheme, but for which the ratepayers' burden in Northern Ireland would be much heavier than it is to-day.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken and, I have no doubt, the Chancellor of the Exchequer also, would like a guarantee or promise from Ulster Members that there would be no more claims for assistance from Great Britain in the future. I am sorry we cannot give him that promise because we cannot look into the future, but I submit that such claims as we have made during the last four years, since the Northern Irish Government was set up, have been of a comparatively inconsiderable nature. If I had the time, I could prove that 70 or 80 per cent. of these claims and of the Government assistance which has been given to Northern Ireland, has been due to the faults—if I may use that expression—of Great Britain rather than those of Northern Ireland, 112 and it was only right that Great Britain should have made the grants which she has made. The position is that Northern Ireland cannot go on bearing the immense burden which has been placed upon her shoulders through a series of facts and circumstances over which she has had no control. The contribution which we have to pay, owing to the abnormal unemployment in Northern Ireland is so great that we cannot continue to bear that burden. We hope that hon. Members of this House, when they take into consideration the circumstances of the case and the facts connected with the allocation labour matters and unemployment insurance questions to us by the Act of 1920, will come to our assistance. We do not like coming here and asking for money—hon. Members may be perfectly sure of that—and we would be very much happier if, year by year, we could come to this country with a larger contribution than we are unfortunately able to do, but let me point out that we do at least give you a contribution for Imperial services, a thing which—I do not say it in any hostile spirit, but it is a fact—the Irish Free State has not done since it has been set up. That is at least something in our favour. If we could make the contribution greater, as I hope we will be able to do when prosperity returns to us, we would willingly and gladly do it.
The points on which we place the greatest stress in asking you to give us this assistance are, first of all, that when we had to decide in 1920 whether or not we would take over the burden of unemployment insurance, we had neither the experience nor the figures to realise what our position would be. The Insurance Act, 1920, I think, had only just been passed before the Act of 1920 which set up our Northern Irish Government. That Act increased the number of insured persons from somewhere in the neighbourhood of 4,000,000 to practically 12,000,000, and it must be obvious to everybody that we had had no experience nor opportunity of realising how that immense increase of insured persons would affect the scheme in Northern Ireland. Both these Acts were passed, as the Committee will remember, at a time when the country was enjoying great prosperity, but, immediately after that, the slump in trade came, and we found ourselves faced sud- 113 denly with a huge mass of unemployed persons to deal with. Owing to the nature of our trade—and, unfortunately, we cannot do what an hon. Member opposite suggested, namely, set up new trades to supply the necessary insurance funds to carry on the trades which are unsuccessful—we found ourselves with our two staple industries affected to a greater extent by unemployment than was the case in any part of the United Kingdom. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] Well, I admit that shipbuilding Is equally hard hit in England as in Ireland, and possibly harder, but that does not alter the fact that England has dozens of other trades to make up for it, whereas we have only two staple trades, and, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer informed the Committee, the people in those trades represent over 50 per cent. of our insured persons.
The figures in the White Paper show how much more seriously we have been suffering from unemployment in Ireland than has this country. I would like to point out, in answer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman), that he must know very well that if the area in which he is interested, namely, the Tyne and the North-East coast, were in the position in which we are, it would be crying out, and properly crying out, for the same assistance as we are seeking now, and the same remark applies to the Clyde, which is perhaps the best example of all. I do not know whether it is an impossible suggestion, but when the original Unemployment Insurance Act was passed, if it had been suggested that the country should be organised in areas instead of as a whole, such districts as that in which the right hon. Member for West Swansea is interested, and the Clyde district, would have been in as bad a position as we are in to-day, and if, in those circumstances, they had come to this House and pointed out the fact that their district was composed largely of one industry which had been more hardly hit than the majority of industries, I have not the least doubt that the House would have come to their assistance in the same way as we are asking them to come to ours.
The reason is that they are assisted out of their troubles by industries in other parts of the country, 114 such as Manchester, Bristol and the South of England, which are flourishing, but we have no such industries in the North of Ireland, and, therefore, we are in a serious position. I am sure the Committee realises that we have a genuine case of hardship. When the Act of 1920 was passed, it was for some time doubtful whether this question of unemployment insurance would be kept as a reserved service. I have no doubt that, had we had the faintest foreknowledge of the condition of affairs which has existed from that time till now, we would have asked the House—and the House, I am sure, would have consented—to have left that matter a reserved service. Had that been done, this question would never have arisen, but by reason of the fact that, rightly or wrongly, unemployment insurance was handed over to us, we are in the position which I have tried to describe. As I say, we do not like having to come to this House for money, though hon. Members opposite appear to think that that is our chiefest amusement. It is nothing of the sort. We do not like it, and we would like, if we could, to come to this country with a greater contribution every year, but I ask the Committee, in the unfortunate circumstances in which we find ourselves in the North of Ireland, to let us have this money.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
The right hon. Member for Antrim (Captain Craig) has asked the Committee to view sympathetically the position of Northern Ireland in this matter, and I should like to say to him that this Committee does view the position of Northern Ireland sympathetically. That is true not only of Members sitting on his own benches, but of Members sitting on these benches and, as far as I know, of Members on the benches below the Gangway. The only difference between us is this, that whereas the right hon. Member for Antrim seems to think the sympathy should take the form of a grant, we, on these benches, think it should take the form of a loan. It seems to me that there has been a good deal of confusion introduced into this question by a misunderstanding of the nature of the whole scheme of unemployment insurance, and perhaps I may be permitted to set out what the scheme of insurance is. In the first place, the scheme itself provides for contributions 115 from three parties, namely, the employer, the workman, and the State. In an interjection just recently, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the State funds were making a grant of £12,000,000 to the unemployment scheme. I look upon that as a misuse of words. There is no grant given by the Exchequer to the unemployment scheme in England, but there is the State contribution, according to the Act which originated the scheme.
The fund, which is composed of those three parts, has to meet certain benefits, and since it has been created, that fund, owing to the exceptional amount of unemployment, has been in deficit. We were told this afternoon that that deficit, so far as this country is concerned, at the present time amounted to something like £7,000,000. How has that £7,000,000 been found? It has not been found by a grant from the Exchequer to the fund, but by a loan from the Exchequer to the fund, and a loan on which it is paid interest to the amount of 3 per cent. Now we come to the Irish fund, which also has contributions from the employer, the workman and the State, and in addition to that there is a deficit. I have not heard it carefully explained to the Committee, and I am not myself informed on the point, as to the form in which that deficit has been paid, and I should like to know from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury whether the deficit of Northern Ireland is paid by the State to its fund in the form of a grant or in the form of a loan. If it is in the form of a loan, at a certain rate of interest, it seems to me that the procedure which we are asked in the White Paper to adopt will amount to something out of which the Irish Exchequer will actually make a profit, because it is suggested that we should pay out of the British Exchequer to the Irish Exchequer three-quarters of the equalisation fund, which is to become part of the money to be paid by the Irish Exchequer to the Irish fund to make up the deficit. If at the present time the Irish Exchequer is charging interest to the Irish fund on the amount of money that it has to pay, and we proceed to give a part of that from the British Exchequer, the Irish Exchequer will actually make a profit out of its contribution to the Irish fund, but, if on the other hand, the Irish Exchequer is pro- 116 ceeding on a different line from that pursued by the British Exchequer, and is giving a grant to the fund, I want to know why it is taking that line instead of pursuing the policy which we adopt in this country.
I want to put this further question: I see it is said in the White Paper—and the Chancellor of the Exchequer elaborated the point—that this was not a one-sided arrangement, because the time might come when it would work the other way, and in that case the Irish Exchequer would be paying sums to the British Exchequer on account of the money that we had to find for our deficit. The word "grant" is used in referring to these sums, but, as a matter of fact, the British Exchequer does not make a grant on account of the deficit, but a loan, and I am not at all clear that the wording which we find in the White Paper would cover that case. If the British Exchequer continues to pay money to the deficit by way of a loan, would that entitle the British Exchequer to obtain money from the Irish Exchequer in order to make up part of the balance? I should be rather surprised if it would, and, therefore, it seems to me that what we should have to do in order to get the money from the Irish Exchequer at all would be to pay part of the deficit in the form of a grant and the other part in the form of a loan. I submit that is not a satisfactory way of meeting the situation. The point seems to me to come to this. We in this country are satisfied that, in the long run, our unemployment scheme will be solvent. We are content that the British Exchequer should loan money to the fund, in the belief that the fund is actuarily solvent, and in the end will be in a position to repay the money lent.
Now we come to the Irish fund. I can perfectly well understand that in Ireland the uncertainty in each particular year is very much greater than in this country, but I do not see that that is a reason why, in the long run, the fund should be any more actuarily insolvent than in this country. In fact, as an hon. Member told us, for a considerable number of years preceding the War the two principal trades had been particularly flourishing, and that, therefore, there would have been a very large amount of credit in the fund. If that be true—and I have not the smallest reason for doubting it—is it not exceed- 117 ingly likely that, in years to come, this fund will be solvent and prosperous again, and that the money which they will be able to provide will be sufficient to repay the deficit in the fund, just as it is in this country? It may be that in exceptional years the call upon the fund for the time being may be very much greater, but I see no reason why the Irish Exchequer should not behave to the Irish fund exactly in the same way as our Exchequer behaves to our fund. I see no reason why they should not make a loan on behalf of the deficit, and, if so, why the assistance which we render to them should not also take the form of a loan. If that were done, we on this side are fully prepared to run the risk involved, because we recognise the exceptional circumstances in which Northern Ireland is placed at the present time.
But for this arrangement in the White Paper we have not got the same feeling. In the first place, we have an uncomfortable feeling that it is going to be "heads we lose" when it is one way, and "tails we shall not win" when the tables are turned, and it certainly does seem to me that, in the wording of these Clauses, it is very doubtful whether we should not have to change our method of making up the deficit to become eligible for the contribution to the Irish Exchequer. That may be a misreading of these Clauses, but I think anyone who has attempted to make out precisely what these Clauses do mean, will share my difficulty in attemptting fully to understand and appreciate their effect. I ask this Committee, therefore, to support the Amendment put forward from these benches, because it seems to me the only equitable way of meeting the situation. It is perfectly fair to Northern Ireland. It entirely meets the case put up by the right hon. Member for Antrim that they were in exceptional difficulties at the present time. But it meets it in a way which is fair also to this country, because when Northern Ireland again is prosperous, and has met the deficit in its own fund, it will then be in a position to repay this country the exceptional contribution it has given in a time of stress.
§ Mr. MOLES
I think I can relieve the anxiety of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. He is haunted by the fear that if the arrangement proposed in this Money Resolution be carried through, the Government of Northern Ireland will be 118 making a profit. The position is—and I think it is obvious—that the moment you reach a stats in which you have to pay up £53,000 a week, and you take from the State, the employer and the employée only £18,000, the balance has got to be made up by borrowing, and the Northern Government had to borrow to meet the deficit. I must make acknowledgment of the good feeling, upon the whole, with which this Debate has been conducted. We have grown a good deal accustomed to a certain measure of bitterness and occasional abuse from certain parties in this House. You are all very candid in telling us our faults. The one thing we could not stand from you would be flattery, as we would begin to suspect ourselves if you used it. The only purely personal note was struck by the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden), who seemed rather to resent, I thought, my presence in this House at all. He went on to say that he seldom saw me in this place here. He might realise that I am getting on in years, and suffering the penalty, but I should have thought that, having regard to the rapid changes which take place upon his own Front Bench from week to week, it was a subject he should have avoided. However, it is one of those debating points that does nobody any harm. But he made one or two observation which, I think, on reflection he will regret. He made charges against Sir James Craig, who, I beg leave to tell him with great respect, has as high a sense of public honour and duty as he has. There are Members in this House who have served with him for twenty-five years, and I would challenge his greatest enemy in this House to get up and say he ever did a dishonourable act.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I certainly never suggested that Sir James Craig was not honourable. What I did say against him was that although I have a certain amount of admiration for him, his whole interest was in looking after Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. MOLES
I have no quarrel with that phrase, but let me remind the right hon. Gentleman what he did say. I took a note of it. He said:The police grant of last year was used as camouflaged relief of unemployment.The meaning of that is too obvious to be got rid of in that disingenuous fashion. 119 All I have to say is that there is not one word of truth in the suggestion, and I will prove it even to the right hon. Gentleman's satisfaction. The moment that the Boundary Commission and the subsequent proceedings were completed, what happened? Within fourteen days every single member of the Special Constabulary had received his notice of dismissal. Is that camouflaged unemployment? How does it square with the suggestion the right hon. Gentleman made? It was an unworthy suggestion, I tell him with great respect. Then he tells us that on all those benches we have sympathisers. It reminds me very much of that historic colloquy between the oyster and the walrus:'I weep for you,' the walrus said,'And deeply sympathise,'With sobs and tears he sorted outThose of the largest size.I would much prefer the sympathy that takes the form of action, rather than the form of adulation which merely beslavers us with praise, and then does the maximum amount of mischief. When the Government of Northern Ireland was set up, you either meant to give it a fair chance to succeed or you did not. If you did not, the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman and those who vote and speak with him is perfectly understandable. To be quite frank, I do not think he ever meant it to succeed. I well remember members of his party, when he was not in the House, giving a great deal of trouble and opposition when we sought to have a sound financial scheme put up. The whole scheme of the finance of the 1920 Bill was rotten from beginning to end. It started off with a tremendous fallacy. It took the peak year of 1918 when the revenue from Ireland was £42,000,000, or more than four times the pre-War revenue of all Ireland, and it assumed that was going to be the static condition, that the revenue would never fall below it, and that expenditure would never go over £24,000,000, and that, therefore, we in the North should pay £8,000,000 contribution a year. Why, the revenue in this country has fallen proportionately almost as much as it has with us, and all the Unemployment Relief Acts, and so on, were not contemplated when the scheme of finance in the settlement was set up. If you had 120 given us only the conditions which obtained when the Government of Ireland Bill was brought in in 1920, and nothing had been changed, we could have carried on. But you have changed every thing, and you ask us to believe and to go back to our countrymen who are members of your trade union—
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MOLES
Certainly not, Sir; but we are asked to go back to these men who are members of his own trade union, engineers, boiler-makers, shipwrights, carpenters and joiners, bricklayers and all the rest of it, and to tell them this, "You are to go on being taxed by the Imperial Parliament and pay every tax that is imposed here—because you impose and collect 90 per cent. of all the taxation in Northern Ireland—but you are not to have the same social standards. You have to make contributions to England, Scotland and Wales for a higher social standard than you have in your own country." They expect us to put up a proposition like that to intelligent working men and women. Let me put this point. I happen to have here a return which I took from the Treasury figures. We are told that we come here for the British taxpayers' money. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no shadow of a shade of foundation for it. Of the £11,516,000 raised by taxation for the financial year, 1922–23, £10,562,000 was imposed by this Parliament, collected by your officials, and paid into your Treasury. I suppose the proposition is that we were expected to carry on the whole business of the Government of Northern Ireland for £954,000? We do not come here for anybody's money. We are here neither to cringe for your charity nor to bully for blackmail. We are here to ask you for a fair and reasonable share of our own money; 121 money that our taxpayers have paid into your Treasury. If my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer were in his place at this moment, I could show him that the figures which he gave as our contribution to the Imperial Exchequer were very much under-stated, and I could have shown him, too, that, after all allowance and deductions had been made for the outgoings from the British Treasury, the net result that remains is that nearly £10,000,000 have gone out of Northern Ireland altogether into the Imperial Exchequer, and not a brass farthing has come back to Ulster. That is the position. I defy even my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) to dispute what I say. I have no doubt he knows these figures better than I do, for some of them are his own figures.
There is another point about the Special Constabulary that was made by the right hon. Gentleman. I wish he had gone further or not have mentioned the point, but I will deal with it. I want the Committee to remember this; that when the Government of Northern Ireland was set up, this Special Constabulary was a force in being, having been created by the authority of this Parliament. It was a first charge upon the British Exchequer up to the point when we took over. We had to take it over as a liability along with the other terrible heritage of terrorism and crime you bequeathed to us. [A laugh.] These things may be things for laughter to some hon. Members, but they were very great tragedies for us. I would remind hon. Members who sit in ease and comfort here that there were two Members of the group to which I belong who were assassinated in broad daylight.
§ Mr. MOLES
I do not desire to make a point of it, but I am entitled in fairness to say it. We had to take that over. We were responsible for law and order up and down the whole of that border which separates Northern and Southern Ireland. There had to be strong bodies of troops on both sides. Our territory was invaded. Part of it was occupied, and the British Army had to be sent there to shell the invaders 122 out of it. It is suggested in the face of all these circumstances that we should have disbanded the Special Constabulary. The price the British Government had to pay for its failure to administer law and order in Ireland was a terrible one. We had to restore law and order, and it required the continuance of that force to maintain it until the amicable agreement was made over the boundary question. Then came the moment for disbandment, and there and then the Special Constabulary was disbanded. I am glad to note that, whatever charges are levelled against us, that of extravagance or incompetence, has not been made this afternoon, because my right hon. Friend knows—it was done while he was at the Treasury, and I am glad that it was done; it may be done again, and we like it to be done again—your experts were sent over to go through every Department of Labour Administration in Northern Ireland to see where they could cut down expenditure or effect economies. They returned at the end of that exhaustive examination unable to recommend the reduction of a single-penny of expenditure, or to say where a single farthing of economy could be effected.
Another point—and it is a most interesting one—my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer dealt with that so fully that possibly it would upon reflection be needless to repeat it. The Committee will recollect how fully, and I think how lucidly, he explained what was the difference between the assistance which our fund was getting and either a loan or a free gift; because it is neither. Five minutes' careful examination of the documents will show that that is so. It is a reciprocal arrangement. It works in this way. One of the two countries must always be in the position of being better or worse than the other. It is not likely that they will be exactly the same. Assistance is to be given by the country, or the Exchequer, in the better position to the one which for the time being is in the worse, and, if the conditions change, the contributions have to be made in the same way to the Exchequer from which assistance was formerly derived. That, in fact, is returnable, though it is not in the strict sense a loan. When my right hon. Friend says: "Why do you not come to us for a loan?" I point out we have 123 made contributions to the Imperial Exchequer far in excess of what we are getting. When he invites us to come for a loan, it is inviting us to come for a loan of our own money.
§ Mr. MOLES
Oh, no; my hon. Friend is wrong. The Government of Ireland Act effected this among other changes. It set up two areas for the various purposes of the powers transferred. Hitherto we were part and parcel of the common fund, and, if no change had taken place in the conditions of Government, no question such as we are debating would have arisen at all, because we should have paid into the common fund and drawn upon it precisely as my hon. Friend suggests.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
Does the hon. Member deny that the position of this country is this: If there is a deficit in the Unemployment Fund, that is made up by borrowing from our own Exchequer?
§ Mr. MOLES
That is perfectly true, but the hon. Member is missing the point. Suppose we had Home Rule all round, and suppose the West of Scotland were separated, and dealing with the terrific problem which centres round the Clyde. The condition on the Clyde is worse even than it is in Belfast. Then the West of Scotland would have had to come to the Treasury just as we do now, so that my hon. Friend will see his point is not a sound one. No claim could have greater merits than the claim made this afternoon. You laid upon us the responsibility for the government of the country. You asked us as a contribution to the settlement of this age-long question that we should put up with certain things, and we have brought peace to the country which you had torn with dissension. When we have done that, and saved a vast expenditure incurred year by year under various Acts, and when we come to you now in the peculiarly calamitous position in which we are placed, as a result of the aftermath of war, and when we say we have sacrificed much and have given up a great deal, I think you are entitled to give us release in these circumstances out of the moneys which we have paid into your Treasury.
I repeat again we are seeking not a sixpence of your money. We have paid 124 more into your Treasury than we are ever likely to get out. If this claim is to be denied, there is an end of all sense of justice in this House, and, if it is to be denied, above all from the Labour benches—for that is where the real opposition comes from—then let labour in Ulster know this: that the only enemies it has are the men who profess themselves to be its friends; that the only men who seek to do them mischief are the men their societies make returns to and help to keep in office. That is the position. There are some men there fighting the battle of Socialism. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hea!"] What encouragement will your opposition this evening give them? Do you think the men of Belfast and Ulster, staunch Labour men as they are, are so stupid as not to see through this humbug and hypocrisy? They will judge you by your actions. It will not be by the frothy protestations of your friendship, or elaborated phrases of sympathy. They will judge by your actions. I have spoken with some plainness because we have had some plain speaking done to us. I hope no hon. Gentlemen will resent the fact that we feel we owe it to the people who have sent us here to make the best case we can for those who deserve well of the country.
§ Mr. DUNCAN
I have sat in this House for a good few years, and I have heard many hundreds of speeches from hon. Members from Belfast, but I do not think I ever heard a speech on similar lines to that to what the House has just listened. The only point between us, Captain FitzRoy, is this, that my hon. Friend on the opposite benches desires a gift, and we desire that they should be content with a loan. I do not know whether this is the kind of speech which goes down in Belfast, but I can assure my hon. Friend it is no use making speeches like that in this House, and especially to men sitting on these benches on the Labour side. This attitude is likely to do injury to hon. Members if they go to Belfast. I am going there. I would inform the hon. Member that I expect to receive just as kindly and friendly a welcome from those associated with him at present in Belfast as I have received in the past. I do not think that speeches of that kind help Belfast or Northern Ireland at all. The people of that part of the country are just the same kind of people as we in this country— 125 no better and no worse. We do know that there are very wide divergencies of opinion, but I am rather inclined to think that the speech of the hon. Member will not help to wipe out these differences, but rather seeks to accentuate them.
The hon. Gentleman did not understand, I feel sure, the attitude of my right hon. Friend. After all, we are not denying that there is a case. Some of us have been out of work. Perhaps hon. Members opposite have not. Perhaps some hon. Members do not know what it is to endeavour to keep a wife and home together on 10s. a week. Some of us have had to try it. Therefore, whatever his suggestions, whatever his sympathies with the people of Belfast, he can take it from me there is a good deal more real sympathy amongst those who have been associated with like conditions.
When I was lately in Belfast I had the privilege of having a conversation with the Labour Minister. He did not exhibit the same kind of feeling towards the English Members that my hon. Friend does. He appreciated the position. I told him that unemployment insurance was only one arm of insurance. There was such a thing as health insurance! If Northern Ireland desires us to take over the burden of the unemployment insurance, which is losing money, surely, as the son of a Scotsman, I should be expected to try to see whether we could not get a quid pro quo, and I suggest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that we might ask to take over health insurance as well, as that is not losing money. Surely, there would be no very serious injustice in that. However, now that we have the scheme, we realise that, as usual, it is the old country that has got to hold the dog. I suppose that has been the case for a great many years, but, after all, what we are dealing with here is insurance. Accordingly, I tell the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Belfast (Mr. Moles)—if he will be good enough to listen to me; I listened to his speech—that we are dealing with an insurance scheme. It is not a pawn shop, it is not a Jew's office to which we are to lend money.
During one period in the history of the insurance scheme in this country there was a deficit of £16,000,000, which has since been reduced to £7,000,000, proving 126 that the Fund is beginning to recover, as I have not the slightest doubt in my own mind that the insurance scheme in the North of Ireland will also recover. I know as a matter of fact that they have probably had less unemployment in the North of Ireland than in any of the industries in this country in years gone by. I know that because it is my business to know it, and I say there is not the slightest doubt that the unemployment insurance scheme in the North of Ireland will eventually recover its position. Therefore, it seems to me only reasonable that we should suggest that the same method as is employed in this country to put our insurance scheme straight when its funds are depleted, should be put into operation in the North of Ireland. We are robbing nobody. We are prepared to be generous with the North of Ireland in this matter. If they take the money from this country, surely it is not unreasonable to ask them to pay their debts.
Unfortunately, we have been very free in lending money to all sorts of people, and we do not seem to get it back. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he will find it difficult to prove that the members on these Benches are acting unreasonably towards the people of the North of Ireland in proposing to lend them this money to enable them to tide over this difficulty. I do not know that anybody on this side has even asked them to pay interest on the loan, and yet the British Chancellor of the Exchequer will have to pay interest on the money raised in order to make the unemployment fund balance in this country. The wonderful thing about our insurance system is that as long as a man remains in the country and as long as he is employed he pays. There are only two means of escaping—either to commit suicide or to get out of the country. The one thing that is inevitable in all these insurance schemes is that the people who work must pay. I believe the people in the North of Ireland are prepared to pay, and if the money was put into the form of a loan I do not think anybody in the North of Ireland would have the slightest possible reason to object to that method.
I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will reconsider the position. So far as I have listened to this Debate, and I have missed only one or two speeches, there has as yet been no answer to the case put 127 from this side of the House—no answer at all. I think somebody ought to get up to try to show us how unreasonable and how unkind we are to the North of Ireland. Will any of the Members on the other side do that? I will sit here to listen to them if they will make the speech, but before a scheme of this kind is rushed through this House we ought to have some reply to the speeches from this side pointing out the unfairness of the suggestion that has been made. But before hon. Members make their speeches they ought to be careful what they say, because if the scheme we are suggesting for the North of Ireland is unfair; then the method that has operated in this country is equally unfair to the millions of working people who are doing their best to keep the scheme going. I shall listen with very great interest to anybody who will reply to the speeches from this side.
§ Sir MALCOLM MACNAGHTEN
I have listened to the whole of this Debate and I think the answer, for which the last speaker has asked has already been given, but I will try to give it again. The fact must not be lost sight of that the persons interested in an insurance scheme are the insured. It is the workmen who make their contributions to the fund, and who, in the event of unemployment, are to get benefit out of that Fund, who are the people primarily concerned. If the fund becomes insolvent, so that the benefit cannot be paid, it is the workmen who have subscribed who will suffer. Before 1920, before the separation, the workmen of Ulster had the security of the united fund of the United Kingdom. Following the separation they were deprived of that security, and were given only the security of the Ulster fund. Owing to the unfortunate fact that the two staple industries of Ulster have suffered exceptional unemployment in the last four years, the fund has gone steadily from bad to worse, and is now insolvent to the extent of £3,500,000. The people who will suffer unless something is done to remedy the situation are the unfortunate people who have made contributions in the hope of getting unemployment benefit. As I understand it, hon. Members opposite do not propose that the workmen should lose, they agree that 128 something has to be done for them. They agree, I presume, that one cannot get higher contributions from the employers or from the workmen. I can say for certain, speaking for my own constituency, that if the contributions from the employers were put up it would drive away the whole of the trade. The trade of Derry is carried on by firms who also have factories on this side of the water, and if we put any heavier burden on them they will simply close their factories in Derry.
§ Sir M. MACNAGHTEN
Yes, that is the hardship of the situation. The Ulster Government are paying the same contribution as the British Government, the workmen are paying the same contribution, and the employers are paying the same contribution, and but for the separation that took place in 1920 they would have the security of the united fund. We would have no objection to the re-amalgamation of the Funds, but, the Chancellor of the Exchequer refuses to agree to that, and gave us this scheme instead. It is spoken of as though it were a favourable scheme to us. It is not favourable to us, but it does relieve the Fund from insolvency. May I point out, what has not been appreciated by all the speakers on the other side, that the object of the scheme is to put the workmen in Ulster in the same position as the workmen in Great Britain. It is to bring the two Funds into parity, to make the Funds of equal value, that the equalisation payment has to be made. To suppose that there could ever be a contribution from the Ulster Fund to the British Fund has been treated as an absurdity. It is said, "Here is a Fund already insolvent to the extent of £3,500,000; how can a situation ever arise under which it would contribute to the British Fund?" That criticism shows a misapprehension of the scheme. Next year the linen trade might recover its position. To show how great are the fluctuations in a trade like the linen trade, I may say that a few years ago the unemployment in the linen trade went down to 8 per cent. It was thought for a moment that the revival of the linen trade had come, and it did come for a short time. If that revival came again, and if there was a revival in shipbuilding, 129 the result would be that next year the Ulster Fund would be in a better position in that year. It would not be in a better position on the whole, but in that year it would be in a better position than the British Fund, and being in a better position in that year it would contribute to the British Fund, and not the British Fund contribute to it. It is a perfectly fair arrangement made for mutual insurance in order to secure parity between the two Funds as far as the workmen are concerned.
It is suggested that instead of having this scheme of grants from one Exchequer to the other, there should be a loan of money. If it is to be a loan with interest, and the Ulster Fund has got to borrow money at interest, it merely means that the Ulster Fund becomes more and more insolvent, and the Ulster workmen get less and less chance of recovering any benefits for his contributions. If it is to be a loan without interest, I am inclined to think it is a proposal which would be more onerous to the British Exchequer and more advantageous to us than is the scheme proposed. It would certainly be more onerous to the workmen, because it is the workmen who finally have to bear the burden of the deficit of the Fund. It has been said that this is a very generous scheme to Ulster, but in the end, when the division which is suggested in this scheme is made, it has to be made exactly in proportion to the population of the two countries, and according to our population we are going to bear the same proportion as is being borne by the people of this country. There is no doubt that the people of Ulster are much poorer, and are much less able to do this than the people of this country, but although that is the scheme, and although it is going to press very hardly on the people of Ulster, it will at any rate save them from insolvency, and it ensures to the contributors that they get the benefit they are entitled to under the fund, and as to which there would never have been any doubt whatever but for the separation of 1920.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
With regard to what has been said on this proposal by hon. Members representing Ulster, I can assure them that our friends in Belfast will be able to form a right judgment upon this question without any assistance from them. I am sure that my 130 fellow Socialists in Belfast will quite understand the position which has been raised by this proposal. They have nothing to thank hon. Gentlemen opposite for, and they understand the motives which animate them. After all, it appears to me that under this proposal Ulster has become a sort of necessitous area. I would remind the Committee that we have plenty of necessitous areas in this country, but the great difference in the treatment of these areas in this country and in Ireland is that we get no help from the Exchequer, whereas Ulster can get the assistance they require from a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer.
It is a fact that from the point of view of Ulster she is temporarily a necessitous area under this fund, and I cannot understand why under those conditions the same kind of treatment should not be meted out there as would be meted out here under the conditions that obtain in some of our constituencies in this country. We have been fighting on these benches for the last 15 months for the poverty-stricken divisions which some of us represent in this House, where we have thousands of unemployed and thousands of men who for years and years have not drawn anything, and who have been driven to accepting Poor Law relief. Our local authorities have been smashed and broken in consequence, and they have to rate very heavily their own poverty-stricken ratepayers. I believe that Ulster can very well help herself out of this difficulty on the terms of the Amendment which we are proposing, mainly that this help shall be on the basis of a loan and not in the nature of a gift.
My particular point of view is that I think there should be no differentiation of treatment so far as these particular poverty-stricken areas are concerned. There should be no difference of treatment, although the percentage of unemployed in Ulster is higher than it is in this country, because there are men representing constituencies on these benches and below the Gangway who know by bitter experience that probably 50 per cent. of the males in their constituencies are unemployed, and poverty is stalking through those constituencies and yet we cannot get any help. The result is that the local authorities are being driven 131 deeper and deeper into debt and poverty, and when we appeal for help we do not get any. For these reasons, I shall oppose this proposal, while it is in the form of a gift.
§ Sir ROBERT LYNN
The hon. Member who has just sat down seems to be under the misapprehension that Ulster is contributing nothing towards the Imperial Exchequer. May I remind him that we are contributing towards Imperial expenditure exactly in the same way that Scotland is contributing, and during the last four years, in addition to paying our own expenditure at home, we have contributed no less than £18,000,000 towards Imperial expenditure here. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is for the Army."] Does the hon. Member object to having an army, because it is just as necessary to have an army for this country as it is anywhere else, and even the hon. Member's Moscow friends believe in an army.
§ Sir R. LYNN
I can quite understand my hon. Friend being rather touchy on that point. After all, we are only making a very reasonable request. This country has forced upon us a system of Government which we did not want, and I ask hon. Members if they want Ulster trade unionists to be put in a worse position than the trade unionists of this country? [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] They then must either pay larger contributions and be granted smaller relief or else they will be in a worse position. One hon. Member asked why this money could not be raised as a loan, but I would point out that we have already done that. Altogether we have borrowed £3,600,000 already, and we are in a very unfortunate position, because two of our staple industries have been very bady hit indeed.
I would like to ask hon. Members opposite what would they think if Glasgow had been cut out in this way, and had been put in the position in which Belfast finds herself at the present time? I appeal to the Members of the Labour party to realise how reasonable is this proposal. Some hon. Members have resented the insinuation that there is political bias behind the opposition to this proposal, but can we be blamed if we say there is such bias? In December 132 last this House agreed to make a free gift of £200,000,000 or £300,000,000 to the Free State, and there was not a Member of the Socialist party opposite who raised any objection. I think we have a very good reason for putting forward this claim. The only new point I gathered from the speeches of right hon. and hon. Members opposite is that this vote has provided the Liberal party, or what was once the Liberal party, with at least one subject on which they agree. I do not worry about the Liberal party, because it has no influence, but in this matter, I appeal to the Labour party to be generous, and treat the trade unionists of Ulster as they would treat trade unionists in England or in Scotland.
§ Mr. SPENCER
I have listened to the speeches of hon. Members opposite with some degree of sympathy for the object which they have in view, but I quite fail to see the relevance of the argument which the hon. Member who has just sat down has used about Ulster's contribution of £18,000,000 to Imperial expenditure. Speaking for myself, I think that argument is totally irrelevant and has nothing whatever to do with the case we are considering. If hon. Members representing Ireland believe that they are part of the British Isles, and they still want an Army, then they must not object to making their contribution, which I know they gladly do. The one argument in regard to the matter we are discussing is the case of a loan as against a gift. What is the indebtedness of this country as against Northern Ireland? I do not know whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer can tell us if the indebtedness of England, Wales and Scotland in regard to this question is equal to the indebtedness of Northern Ireland. I think if we had this information hon. Members opposite would realise that they have no case whatever for a gift as against a loan.
I have sat through all the Debates in this House since 1921 when this question came up relatively to Great Britain, and I remember telling Dr. Macnamara when he was Minister of Labour that if he were to die there would be found written upon his heart the word "insolvency," because the only question he seemed to discuss was insolvency, and they were constantly asking for larger grants. Then it was merely a question of raising loans or lending money to the funds which had to 133 be paid back when trade revived. Why should Northern Ireland be put in a preferential position as against Great Britain on this question? The Ulster Members have no right to ask us for a grant as against a loan unless they can prove that their indebtedness at the present time is so great per capita that they cannot bear any further burden. That argument would strengthen their case, but that has not been proved, and if that is not a fact you have no right to come and ask for special treatment for Ulster. If you were in such a position of indebtedness that you could not bear any further burdens, or if you had before you a position in which you would have unduly to raise the contributions of the workers or lower their benefits, then I should support hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. SPENCER
I do not think you have proved that case. All you are asking now is that a greater burden should be placed upon us in order to assist Northern Ireland, rather than that Northern Ireland at some future day, when she is more prosperous, should bear her own burdens. That is the position as I see it. If hon. Members could prove that they had borrowed until the country was in danger of the fund becoming totally insolvent, then the position would be different.
§ Mr. REID
May I draw the hon. Member's attention to the following passage which occurs in the memorandum issued by the Government explaining this financial Resolution?The assistance required by the Northern Ireland Fund has, owing to the exceptional incidence of unemployment in Northern Ireland, been proportionately much larger than in this country, and the advances outstanding on the 30th September, 1925, amounted to £3,614,000 as compared with a figure of £7,935,000 in the case of the British Fund on the same date. On the basis of the insured population in the two countries the proportionate figure for Northern Ireland would be approximately £183,000 only.
§ Mr. SPENCER
Yes, I quite see, and from that point of view, undoubtedly, there is a great deal to be said for the case which has been put forward. But the hon. Gentleman who raised this point, and has given me this information, must remember that this sum of £7,000,000 is only about one-fourth of what it was in this country two years ago. We have 134 been constantly paying our debts during the last three years by increased contributions. We have had to raise our contributions, not only to pay the debt, but to maintain the present rate of benefit. I must confess that from that point of view there seems to me to be an element of reasonableness in what hon. Members representing Northern Ireland have to say, and, if it really be the case that if at the present time they were in the same position as this country in regard to the indebtedness of the fund, the amount outstanding would only be £183,000 instead of £3,600,000, that, to me, is evidence that Northern Ireland is in a very sorry position so far as this fund is concerned. It seems to me—I want to be reasonable to the men over there or anywhere else—that, if our indebtedness were something like that of Ireland, our indebtedness to-day would be £40,000,000 or £50,000,000.
§ Mr. SPENCER
I daresay it would be. I am not, however, considering that at all; I am considering the position of the men working in Northern Ireland, and, so fat as I can see, a case has been made out for some assistance being rendered to the workmen in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. SAKLATVALA
I am afraid that the name of the workers of Northern Ireland has been dragged on to this political chessboard with the mischievous intention of creating a wrong position. This is not affecting the position of the workers of Northern Ireland, so far as one can see. The workers of Northern Ireland have paid their contributions, and are entitled to their benefit; it is their Government that is bound in honour as well as by law to give them that benefit, and whether the Government of Northern Ireland receives temporary assistance from this country in the shape of a loan or as a political bribe would not make the slightest difference to the position of the worker himself. The question is perfectly clear. This sum is to be granted to Northern Ireland as a price for the artificial boundary line which has been drawn in the middle of the country instead of the natural boundary on the outskirts of the country, and we are called upon to pay this sum of money, just as a few days ago we sacrificed a large sum to the Italian Fascists for political purposes.
This sum is not to be given for the benefit of the Irish workers. They are 135 entitled to their benefit from the Government to whom they have paid their contributions. We are asked to realise what would happen if the Government of Northern Ireland really went bankrupt and were not able to pay. What would happen is that the artificial, unnatural and unjustifiable Government of Northern Ireland would come into well-deserved discredit, and the workers of Northern Ireland would learn the absolute impossibility and unwisdom of being cut off from the rest of Ireland and from being part of one country with one revenue and one trade. When it is said that Northern Ireland is a country which has to depend upon only two industries, linen and shipbuilding, and that, therefore, whenever those two industries go down it would cause this kind of embarrassment, compelling Northern Ireland to go cap in hand begging from somewhere in. order to main an artificial Government, our reply is perfectly clear, namely, that this is bribery given to the workers of Northern Ireland, not to look at the truth, but to take their minds away from the truth.
The truth is that the workers of Northern Ireland have to learn from example after example of this nature that their natural position is to be part and parcel of one united, whole Ireland, and not to try to carry on an artificial life with two industries to maintain them and a Government which will go bankrupt every now and again, hampered by dwindling credit and bribed by British revenue officers. Sometimes it may be so, sometimes not. The workers of Northern Ireland must realise that there will not be perpetually a Tory Government prepared to assist an artificial and reactionary Government in this way. At some time there may be an honest Government in this country, which may refuse to support artificial, dishonest and reactionary Governments elsewhere. The simple lesson for the workers of Belfast is that they are in danger. Their position is jeopardised, their benefits will be embezzled and used for military purposes; their contributions are in danger; their life is made artificial. The one obvious lesson for the workers of Northern Ireland is that they should join hands with the workers of Southern Ireland, and live in a happy state as one whole, united 136 Ireland, living upon their own work and not upon bribery or political corruption.
§ Mr. WILLIAM GRAHAM
I desire to put one or two additional points upon which I think the Committee would like to hear some explanation from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I have listened with very great care to all the speeches in this Debate, and I think that probably insufficient attention has been paid to the very large sum of money which is involved in this proposal. The White Paper makes it plain that within the limits of the remaining part of the present financial year we shall be committed to £680,000, and then it lays down for the next four years a kind of figure which I very much fear will be a minimum, namely, £875,000, making in all rather more than £4,000,000, which we are proposing to give, whatever may be said to the contrary, by way of an out-and-out gift. It is only when the annual liability in succeeding years reaches £1,000,000 that the British Exchequer is entitled, without any danger of being exposed to a charge of breach of faith, to revise and reopen this agreement. Therefore, at a time when we are curtailing the work of our own Unemployment Grants Committee in this country, when we are banging the door in the face of the necessitous areas, when we are piling additional burdens upon the local authorities from one end of Britain to the other, £4,000,000, at the very least, is provided for the Exchequer of Northern Ireland, and it may be nearer £5,000,000 or more before the day is done.
That is a very remarkable situation for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is so careful about saving the taxpayers' money, at any rate in platform speeches in the country, but finds it altogether impossible to do so on the Floor of the House when confronted with a claim of this kind. While, however, I have made this preliminary introductory statement, I do not want it to be assumed for a moment that there is any lack of sympathy on the part of those on these benches with the distresses and difficulties of Northern Ireland. My right hon. Friend who followed the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his introductory statement was perfectly correct when he said that this matter has been under discussion for two or three years, and there is no secrecy about it at all. In point of fact, public reference has been made to 137 this demand from time to time, and previous Chancellors of the Exchequer, not of our political persuasion, were obliged to turn it down, just as we ourselves found it altogether impossible to admit the claim. Now, under the changed conditions of gathering gloom for the present Government, this request has been conceded. It is our business to find out exactly what is involved, and I propose to approach that question from two points of view—firstly, from the point of view of the exact financial relationship between Northern Ireland and this country, across which this proposal cuts diagonally at the present time; and, secondly, from the point of view of the proposal of my hon. Friends behind me, that this grant should be turned into a loan rather than be made an out-and-out gift from the Exchequer.
Let me say a word or two on the first proposition. Hon. Members have said a great deal about their experience since the Government of Ireland Act was passed in 1920, but, surely, it is not unfair argument now to suggest that, after all, that was a bargain. They may not have wanted it very much, but it was an agreement, and, whatever view we may take of the finance of that Bill, it is now an Act of Parliament, and the operation of the finance of that Act of Parliament was placed in the hands of a Joint Exchequer Board, which is entrusted with the periodical systematic review of the financial relations between the two countries; and, in particular, under a very complicated Clause, which I believe no human being has been able adequately to explain, that Joint Exchequer Board is invited to look to the taxable capacity of the two areas, to keep them in comparison, and to see that they march, as regards the broad liabilities of the time, side by side. What is the state of affairs in this proposal? We come now to another extraneous element, divorced from the general relationship of Northern Ireland to this country financially—a proposal to expend at least £4,000,000, and it may be more, on a specific service which, for reasons that we all deplore, has got into difficulty in Northern Ireland. It does not, however, stand alone. Other requests have been preferred by the leaders of political life in Northern Ireland, and some of them have been conceded.
138 7.0 P.M.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his introductory statement, appeared to me to be very much in the position of counsel who knew that his prisoner was hopelessly guilty, and that he had better plead in mitigation of sentence. He did not clear up the precise extent to which these grants have made an inroad upon that clear sum which, judged on the basis of comparable taxable capacity, Northern Ireland should pay to this country year by year. Be that as it may, the House of Commons must consider what it is going to do in circumstances of that kind. I listened with the greatest respect and attention to the whole of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who represents one of the divisions of Belfast. I regret very much some of the passages in his speech, but one was bound to sympathise with that part of his argument which related to the position of the workers in the shipyards and in other industries of Belfast. While, however, we make the largest concession to difficulties of that kind, we cannot in the British House of Commons go on making one inroad after another on exceptional lines into the work of the Joint Exchequer Board and the operation of the formula to which I have referred, simply because special cases are advanced. There must be an end of that state of affairs; otherwise we are going to alter materially the whole financial relationship between the two countries. This is a very large commitment from the point of view of a limited territory and a limited population like those of Northern Ireland, as compared with existing conditions in Great Britain. While it is true that we are pouring out £800,000,000 a year in expenditure, nevertheless £5,000,000 is not to be neglected. I do, therefore, beg the Chancellor of the Exchequer to tell us definitely to-night whether this is the last of these special claims upon the British Treasury. If I judged the right hon. Gentleman aright, he will have very great difficulty in making any final statement of that kind, and, if that be true, it is all the more reason why we should lay down the law very firmly before we approach this Bill in the House of Commons.
Now I came to the actual proposal itself. I invite the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to consider whether 139 there is, after all, the kind of final case which they believe exists against our proposal to turn this into a loan. It is not disputed that that would be to behave exactly towards Northern Ireland as we behaved to our own fund in this country. Clearly, before we commit ourselves to £4,000,000 or £5,000,000, we must be satisfied that Northern Ireland, financially and economically, has done everything in its power in this matter. Now the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in my view, is very far from having made that case. Before any of us go to borrow in any quarter, we endeavour to shoulder all possible burden. While it is true that the two leading industries in Northern Ireland have suffered materially, yet in Northern Ireland, just as in many other parts of the country, there are many good lives outside of the sphere of national unemployment insurance which ought to be in the sphere of unemployment insurance schemes if they are to be actuarially sound. Has that possibility been considered?
In the second place, a great deal is made of the fact that there is a burden of about £3,500,000 of debt, or of borrowing, that they have incurred in order to maintain these rates of benefit. We agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there cannot be any reduction in the rates of benefit. It is not a conceivable proposition at the present time, but after all there is some unfairness in the comparison between the two deficits. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that our deficit now was between £7,000,000 and £8,000,000. He said that the £3,500,000 which had been borrowed in Northern Ireland was a very large proportion compared with us and our very much wider economic investments. If you take a paper view, that is quite true, but from any actuarial or financial view it is not a proper basis at all. At one time our deficit in Great Britain was as high as £16,000,000. While it is perfectly true that we got that down I am very far from being satified that, on the whole, Northern Ireland has borne a greater burden than this country. That seems to me a perfectly fair analysis of the situation.
There was another argument employed by the hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir M. Macnaghten) which went a very long 140 way indeed in order to establish our claim for a loan rather than a grant. He said that those two industries may recover very quickly, and I very much hope that that is going to be the case. Anybody who has analysed the finance of any unemployment insurance fund, or indeed of any other insurance fund, knows that when you get a period of reasonable trade at all your deficit is very soon extinguished, and, if we had a chance, we could very soon pile up substantial funds. As regards the Unemployment Insurance Fund in this country, from its inception practically it never got a chance, because the vast volume of unemployment descended immediately upon it before it had built up any great reserves. If the argument of the hon. Member for Londonderry is sound and they are going to recover very quickly in their two industries, then it is rather unjust to claim from us £4,000,000 or £5,000,000, and they ought not to object to such an arrangement by way of loan that would enable us to get rid of such a liability at the earliest possible moment.
I can anticipate the reply of hon. Members opposite. They will say to us that if this is put on the basis of a loan they will not in fact achieve parity between these two funds. That may be the case, but I am not sure that we are called upon to set up strict parity in the operation of two unemployment insurance funds of this character. We will discharge all the duties we owe to Ulster if we give such financial accommodation on terms of repayment as will enable this fund to carry on without too great a burden upon Ulster at the present time. I believe we can easily do that, at the same time making such extra calls as it is right to make on the people of Ulster at the present time. Finally, I suggest to the Committee that there is a perfectly sound case for the Amendment, and I trust that hon. Members, who are interested outside and occasionally here in getting down the gigantic obligations of the State, will respond to that call. One thing is clear about the financial position of Great Britain to-day, and that is that the 44,000,000 people in Great Britain will have to shoulder by far the greater part of the post-War obligations. Hardly a week passes but we have fresh burdens thrust upon our shoulders. All that we are asking the right hon. Gentleman to do is to save 141 the people of Great Britain, not by denying help to Ulster, but by turning it into legitimate, sound and constructive loan.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 116; Noes, 251.143
|Division No. 36.]||AYES.||[7.8 p.m.|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Guest, J. (York, Hemsworth)||Ponsonby, Arthur|
|Ammon, Charles George||Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Potts, John S.|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Baker, Walter||Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Hardie, George D.||Saklatvala, Shapurji|
|Barnes, A.||Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon||Scurr, John|
|Barr, J.||Hastings, Sir Patrick||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)|
|Batey, Joseph||Hayes, John Henry||Shiels, Dr. Drummond|
|Beckett, John (Gateshead)||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Hirst, G. H.||Sinclair, Major Sir A. (Caithness)|
|Briant, Frank||Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Smith, H. B. Lees (Keighley)|
|Broad, F. A.||Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose)||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Bromfield, William||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Phillip|
|Bromley, J.||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Spoor, Rt. Hon. Benjamin Charles|
|Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel||Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)||Sutton, J. E.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Taylor, R. A.|
|Clowes, S.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Thomas, Sir Robert John (Anglesey)|
|Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock)||Kelly, W. T.||Thomson, Trevelyan (Middlesbro. W.)|
|Connolly, M.||Kennedy, T.||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Cove, W. G.||Kenyon, Barnet||Thurtle, E.|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||Kirkwood, D.||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Crawfurd, H. E.||Lansbury, George||Townend, A. E.|
|Dalton, Hugh||Lawson, John James.||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.|
|Davies, Ellis (Denbigh, Denbigh)||Lee, F.||Varley, Frank B.|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Livingstone, A. M.||Viant, S. P.|
|Duncan, C.||Lowth, T.||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Dunnico, H.||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Aberavon)||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Mackinder, W.||Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney|
|Fenby, T. D.||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah|
|Garro-Jones, Captain G. M.||March, S.||Westwood, J.|
|Gillett, George M.||Montague, Frederick||Whiteley, W.|
|Gosling, Harry||Morris, R. H.||Williams, David (Swansea, E.)|
|Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Greenall, T.||Naylor, T. E.||Wright, W.|
|Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Oliver, George Harold||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Owen, Major G.|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Palin, John Henry||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Groves, T.||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Mr. T. Henderson and Mr. Warne.|
|Grundy, T. W.||Pethick-Lawernce, F. W.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Burton, Colonel H. W.||Elliot, Captain Walter E.|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Butt, Sir Alfred||Elveden, Viscount|
|Albery, Irving James||Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Campbell, E. T.||Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith|
|Alexander, Sir Wm. (Glasgow, Cent'l)||Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Everard, W. Lindsay|
|Allen, J. Sandeman (L'pool, W. Derby)||Cazalet, Captain Victor A.||Fairfax, Captain J. G.|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Falle, Sir Bertram G.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.)||Fermoy, Lord|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer||Fielden, E. B.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Clarry, Reginald George||Forestier-Walker, Sir L.|
|Balniel, Lord||Cobb, Sir Cyril||Foster, Sir Harry S.|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.|
|Barnston, Major Sir Harry||Cohen, Major J. Brunel||Galbraith, J. F. W.|
|Berry, sir George||Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Ganzoni, Sir John|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Cooper, A. Duff||Gates, Percy|
|Blades, Sir George Rowland||Cope, Major William||Gee, Captain R.|
|Blundell, F. N.||Couper, J. B.||Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Courthope, Lieut.-Col. Sir George L.||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islington, N.)||Glyn, Major R. G. C.|
|Bowater, Sir T. Vansittart||Craig, Capt. Rt. Hon. C. C. (Antrim)||Goff, Sir Park|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W.||Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Gower, Sir Robert|
|Brass, Captain W.||Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick)||Grace, John|
|Brassey, Sir Leonard||Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Cunliffe, Sir Herbert||Greene, W. P. Crawford|
|Briggs, J. Harold||Davidson, J. (Hertf'd, Hemel Hempst'd)||Gretton, Colonel John|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.||Grotrian, H. Brent|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Davies, Dr. Vernon||Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.|
|Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I.||Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovl')||Gunston, Captain D. W.|
|Broun-Lindsay, Major H.||Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Dawson, Sir Philip||Hammersley, S. S.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H.C. (Berks, Newb'y)||Dean, Arthur Weillesley||Hanbury, C.|
|Buckingham, Sir H.||Dixey, A. C.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry|
|Bullock, Captain M.||Eden, Captain Anthony||Harland, A.|
|Burney, Lieut.-Com. Charles D.||Edmondson, Major A. J.||Harmsworth, Hon. E. C. (Kent)|
|Harrison, G. J. C.||Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm||Smithers, Waldron|
|Hartington, Marquess of||McNeill, Rt. Hon. Ronald John||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)||Macquisten, F. A.||Spencer, George A. (Broxtowe)|
|Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||MacRobert, Alexander M.||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.|
|Haslam, Henry C.||Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn||Sprot, Sir Alexander|
|Hawke, John Anthony||Margesson, Captain D.||Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (will'sden, E.)|
|Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)||Meller, R. J.||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)|
|Henderson, Lieut.-Col. V. L. (Bootle)||Merriman, F. B.||Steel, Major Samuel Strang|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Col. Arthur P.||Milne, J. S. Wardlaw-||Storry-Deans, R.|
|Henn, Sir Sydney H.||Moles, Thomas||Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H.|
|Hennessy, Major J. R. G.||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred||Streatfeild, Captain S. R.|
|Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Morrison, H. (Wilts, Salisbury)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser|
|Hills, Major John Waller||Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid|
|Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Murchison, C. K.||Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.|
|Hohler, Sir Gerald Fitzroy||Nall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Joseph||Tasker, Major R. Inigo|
|Holland, Sir Arthur||Nelson, Sir Frank||Templeton, W. P.|
|Holt, Captain H. P.||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)|
|Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar)||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)||Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell-|
|Hopkins, J. W. W.||Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W.G. (Ptrsf'ld.)||Tinne, J. A.|
|Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Howard, Captain Hon. Donald||O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Hugh||Vanghan-Morgan, Col. K. P.|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Penny, Frederick George||Wallace, Captain D. E.|
|Hudson, R. S. (Cumberl'nd, Whiteh'n)||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)||Ward, Lt.-Col. A.L. (Kingston-on-Hull)|
|Hume, Sir G. H.||Perkins, Colonel E. K.||Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.|
|Hume-Williams, Sir W. Ellis||Peto, Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Hurd, Percy A.||Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Hurst, Gerald B.||Philipson, Mabel||Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)|
|Iliffe, Sir Edward M.||Raine, W.||Wells, S. R.|
|Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.||Ramsden, E.||White, Lieut.-Colonel G. Dalrymple|
|Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)||Reid, Captain A. S. C. (Warrington)||Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)|
|Jacob, A. E.||Reid, D. D. (County Down)||Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)|
|James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Remer, J. R.||Williams, C. P. (Denbigh, Wrexham)|
|Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Remnant, Sir James||Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)|
|Joynson-Hicks, Rt. Hon. Sir William||Rentoul, G. S.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Kindersley, Major Guy M.||Ropner, Major L.||Wise, Sir Fredric|
|King, Captain Henry Douglas||Rye, F. G.||Withers, John James|
|Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Salmon, Major I.||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Knox, Sir Alfred||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)||Womersley, W. J.|
|Lamb, J. Q.||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)||Wood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgwater)|
|Lister, Cunliffe-, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Sandeman, A. Stewart||Wood, E. (Cherst'r, Stalyb'ge & Hyde)|
|Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (Handsw'th)||Sandon, Lord||Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, W.)|
|Loder, J. de V.||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.||Wood, Sir S. Hill- (High Peak)|
|Looker, Herbert William||Scott, Sir Leslie (Liverp'l Exchange)||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere||Shaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. McI. (Renfrew, W.)||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
|Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley||Young, Rt. Hon. Hilton (Norwich)|
|Lynn, Sir Robert J.||Shepperson, E. W.|
|MacAndrew, Charles Glen||Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|McLean, Major||Skelton, A. N.||Mr. F. C. Thomson and Captain Viscount Curzon.|
|Macmillan, Captain H.||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
§ Mr. A. V. ALEXANDER
I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add the wordssuch agreement being limited in its operation to the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and twenty-seven.Hon. Members on this side have some reason to be dissatisfied with the attitude adopted by the Government to-night. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was not particularly happy about the proposition he is asking the Committee to authorise and yet, although there has been quite a searching cross-examination with regard to the points at issue for three hours, we were not favoured with the courtesy of a reply to specific questions put by my right hon. Friends the Members for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) and Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham). I noticed the Chancellor did not pay very much attention to the latter. I thought he was 144 engaged in a more or less private conversation. We cannot afford, in the present state of national finances, to let a question of this sort go for a period of four years without getting a specific reply to the questions that have been put. My right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley asked whether this was the last of the demands made under the bargain with Ulster. We have had no answer to that question at all. My right hon. Friend the Member for Central Edinburgh drew special attention to the position under the Joint Exchequer Board and the necessity for keeping as far as possible a parity between the two funds, and he asked specifically what would be the result of this inroad into the arrangements drawn up under the Government of Ireland Act. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will answer that question. A number of speeches from my hon. Friends on these benches have 145 had reference to the condition of necessitous areas in this country. It has been pointed out that, in effect, this is making a special grant to what we all admit is a necessitous area. We do not deny the special need of Ulster, but we also ask the right hon. Gentleman to remember that there is special need in many parts of our own country.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain FitzRoy)
This Amendment must not be made an excuse for continuing the Debate on the previous Amendment. The question is that of limiting the time to 31st March, 1927. The hon. Gentleman must confine himself to that.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I think, if I am allowed to develop, I shall come to that point. We have been pressing again and again for grants from the National Exchequer. This is a grant from the National Exchequer being made for four years, without any guarantee yet that there will be any very substantial improvement in the national finances in the course of the next year or two. We might do very well with grants of that kind, say, after the period mentioned in my Amendment, in aid of the unemployed in our own necessitous areas if there are to be direct grants from the Exchequer for unemployment. The right hon. Gentleman will probably say, "You forget that we are dealing with specific proposals to adjust the actuarial position of the Unemployment Insurance Fund." That is so, but you are doing it by way of gift instead of the way you still insist our Employment Insurance Fund shall be dealt with in our own country, and that is by way of loan. Having regard to all these facts, to the unanswered questions that have been put, and to the need for us to have our hand upon this arrangement especially in view of the demand which must come insistently to the Treasury for aid for our own necessitous areas within the period at present covered by the Motion, I beg to move my Amendment.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The effect of the Amendment would be, of course, destructive of the Bill. The Bill is based on an agreement entered into with the Government of Northern Ireland, which agreement is set out in the Schedule. It is specifically for a period of four years, exclusive of the present year. If that agreement is altered in any way it is tantamount to the rejection of the Bill. 146 I am, therefore, bound to oppose the Amendment. I really do not think the rejection of the Bill is the issue before the Committee. It is clear that if nothing were going to be done to assist the Unemployment Fund in Northern Ireland, and if British trade unionists in Northern Ireland were left either to face complete bankruptcy or a substantial cut in the rates of benefit, or in the period of benefit, or a substantial increase of contributions—if the Committee realised that that was the issue I do not believe the Labour party would give its support to such a proposal, because it certainly would be a most reactionary proposal and one very inimical to the general interests of the working-class population of these islands. Indeed, to leave the shipyard workers of Belfast in a condition of marked inferiority to the shipyards of every other part of the country, having to shift for themselves, would be to strike a blow at the minimum standard which, albeit slowly, we have steadily endeavoured to build up here, and would be a policy inconsistent with anything we have a reasonable right to expect from the Labour party. But I gather from the hon. Gentleman that he moved his Amendment less with the intention of wrecking the Bill than of procuring from me answers to certain questions which were asked in the previous Debate. I am sorry if my not having replied on the Debate caused any offence. Indeed, I have to be most frightfully careful, because when I speak I run the risk of offending, and when I keep silent I run the same risk. I have to go along a narrow knife edge with a chasm of misfortune on either hand. I feel I have already made rather an inroad upon the attentions of the Committee, having spoken for nearly half an hour in introducing the Measure, and I did not think any new point had been elicited in the very interesting speech of the right hon. Gentleman, who closed the discussion. At least no new point was raised which I had not heard, I think, at least three times put and answered in the Committee, though I am quite ready to admit, collected as they were by the hon. Gentleman in his able summary, they were presented in a form which had the appearance, if not the reality of novelty. I will answer these three points.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
If the right hon. Gentleman replies to points 147 made on the last Amendment, he will be quite out of order.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
No, I was going to reply to points which were adduced on this Amendment by the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, and although they bear some similarity to matters which were touched upon previously, they stand in an altogether different context. The first question I was asked is, is this the last demand which will ever be made on the Imperial Parliament by the Government of Northern Ireland? Obviously I cannot answer that, but this I can say, that there is no bargain or undertaking of any sort or kind between the Imperial Government and the Government of Northern Ireland. There is no question whatever of any commitment in regard to the future. We have wound up the special police with this year. We are settling the question of unemployment on this basis, and that is all there is between the two Governments. I have answered that question as far as it is in the power of myself or any other human being to answer.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am not aware of any applications at all. The hon. Gentleman also asked me about the Joint Exchequer Board. The work of the Joint Exchequer Board will not be affected in any way by this. The Joint Exchequer Board deals with what is the proper division of the yield of the taxes and the burden between the two countries. But this is a different matter. This is a matter that deals with the reinsurance of the two funds for unemployment, and I cannot conceive that there can be any injustice or disadvantage in that. After all, the Ulster trade unionist pays the same contribution as the same trade unionist does in this country. He has a certain benefit at present. It is no fault of his that the funds have been divided. They never would have been divided if the future could have been foreseen; they would have been kept together. If they had been kept together, it would have been much more disadvan- 148 tageous to the British taxpayer and to the British contributors, masters and men, to the Insurance Fund than the arrangement we are making now. We are making a thrifty arrangement, but, in some ways, rather a severe arrangement. I am satisfied that it is necessary to make a rather severe arrangement on the basis of only 75 per cent. of the relative deficiency, in order to secure the responsible control of the Government upon the spot in dealing with a matter which, as everyone knows, and perhaps no one better than hon. and right hon. Members opposite, is one of the most difficult and most painful processes in our modern industrial life, namely, the treatment of unemployed persons.
The last question which the hon. Member asked was in regard to necessitous areas. I do not admit that there is any analogy between this proposal and the case of the necessitous areas. The case of the necessitous areas is a question on which a Committee is sitting at the present time, and it has nothing whatever to do with this measure. This area of Ulster is suffering, like certain areas in England and Scotland are suffering. Belfast, the Clyde and the Tyne are all suffering acutely. Wherever there are shipbuilding centres they are suffering acutely. There is no difference between the burdens which they bear or the means which are taken to relieve their misfortunes, except this, that the Clyde and the Tyne are on the gigantic general fund of Great Britain, which in this hard year has only increased its indebtedness by something less than £1,000,000 although it has borrowing powers of £30,000,000, and has an income of nearly £50,000,000. The Ulster unemployed have to fall upon a Fund which has only 1/50th the strength and scale of the British Fund. They have gone into deficiency on that Fund to such an extent that if you translate it into corresponding terms of the British Exchequer, it would amount to a deficiency of £140,000,000. That is a shocking state of affairs. All that we are doing is trying to find some means, not of making it up to Ulster for not being in the General Fund, but some intermediate means of compensating her for the difficulty in which she is placed, without destroying local control, local responsibility or the incentive to economy which, undoubtedly, has to be continually operative in the mind of every Government.
149 I have tried to answer the questions as well as I can, and I hope I have given satisfaction to hon. Members opposite, who are rather hard to please. I suggest that as there has been such a general measure of agreement upon the objects of this Measure, apart from the methods, and as the only question open is whether we should proceed by loan or by the method of the Bill, that of re-insurance, we might be allowed now to come to a decision on the main question.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer this question? If before the end of four years the position of Northern Ireland recovers itself, and our position does not, and we continue to make up the deficiency in our own fund, as we do to-day by loan, shall we become eligible for any contribution from Northern Ireland, in view of the fact that, according to the White Paper, it is only when we make a grant to the Fund that we are entitled to any relief from the Ulster Fund.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The hon. Member is skilled in propounding most formidable and complex conundrums. I should very much like to have an opportunity of studying the one which has just fallen from his lips, in its perfect form and shape, a little more attentively before I endeavour to give an answer to it. I think it rests upon hypotheses which are not very likely to be realised, because there is a deficiency on the Ulster Fund at the present time of three and a half million pounds, which is a gigantic deficiency. The total local revenues of that fund are, if I remember rightly, I am speaking without having the figures before me, something like £700,000 or £800,000 a year from the subscriptions of employers and workmen.
With a deficiency in the present year amounting to £2,000,000, it seems to me very unlikely that the rate of unemployment will fall so fast that, not only will they be able to pay the cost entirely from their local fund, but, in addition, be able to pay off the three and a-half million pounds of debt which hangs over the fund, and to do all that in the space of the four years covered by this Measure. No, Sir; I think it is really very unlikely. We may well see the fund in a much better position, but I think it is asking too much of fortune to hope that the entire debt will be liquidated by 150 then. If the hon. Member repeated his question to me in two or three years' time, when things will be better, it would be appreciably nearer the confines of practical politics.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
The right hon. Gentleman has told us that this is not a uni-lateral, but a bi-lateral agreement from which we may gain something. He now says that that is a remote hypothetical consideration which is not likely to arise.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
The right hon. Gentleman said he could not very well answer the question put by the hon. Member, and he then treated the House to several minutes debate without answering it. In these negotiations with the Ulster Government, was the question ever contemplated that the Ulster Insurance Fund might recover its position entirely? If that question was contemplated, did the Chancellor of the Exchequer think that it was his duty to secure from them an assurance that if that contingency did arise, they would reciprocate the generosity which we are now showing to them?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
That is exactly the principle of the Bill. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member will read it.
§ Mr. HARDIE
Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are trying to make it appear that the Labour party are against the unemployed. I hope they will not do that outside. We are all anxious on these benches to help our own class everywhere, but we do not want it to be done on unequal terms. We have to pay attention to what we are doing. We want the same conditions everywhere. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, according to his statement, has been chiefly responsible for what he considers the great achievement of having only an increased indebtedness of £1,000,000 on the Fund in this country.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I think I was wrong in allowing the Chancellor of the Exchequer to reply to certain points which had been raised on this Amendment, but which were really germane to the previous Amendment. I had some doubts as to whether this Amendment was really in order, but I took it that it was not meant to be anything that would materially alter the Agreement, but, merely a modification of the Agree- 151 ment. That must be the subject of discussion now. We cannot enter into the general question as to whether this is a grant to be made or not.
§ Mr. HARDIE
The Chancellor of the Exchequer was chiefly responsible for raiding the Unemployment Fund here, and sweeping men off the Employment Exchanges. If he can quote any reduction which shows an improvement between the unemployment here and in Northern Ireland, it is because the un employed here have been swept from the Unemployment Fund and put on to the boards of guardians. Whenever you make a differentiation between men who are in the same condition, you begin to create trouble for yourselves. You give assistance to Ireland—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member is going into the whole question which was settled on the last Amendment.
§ Mr. HARDIE
I was leading up to the term of four years. You cannot lead up to the four years unless you touch the arguments that were out of order, but which were allowed. If you are going to have a balance as between one unemployment area and another, you must have the thing working in a perfect balance. It becomes unbalanced if you allow one area to have a free grant while the other areas have to keep paying in and do not get a free grant. We have necessitous areas in Scotland which are suffering acutely, and we are in this position that we are unable to borrow. We get nothing, but grants are to be made to Northern Ireland. If we are to be given the same free grants, there will be no opposition to this grant going to Northern Ireland, but if the Government are going to refuse grants to our necessitous areas, we say it is unfair, and that there ought to be fair play between all parts of the Kingdom.
§ Mr. T. SHAW
The proposition is to make grants out of Imperial funds to the Northern Ireland Unemployment Insurance Fund—that is what it means—without knowing what is to take place during these few years. Surely, it is an elementary thing that in a state of affairs like this we ought to confine ourselves to one year, and then if the circumstances demand it at the end of the year, deal 152 with them as they are, but not deal with them in a way of which we have no conception. I have a very large amount of sympathy with the Ulster case, but the fact is that had Ulster been fortunate instead of unfortunate, there would have been no offer from Ulster to help out of the surplus on their fund, the fund in this country that was being badly hit. We have to look at the thing in every way. If Ulster had had a good time and she had contributed towards our shortcomings, one would have said at once now, in Ulster's difficulties, "Give the most generous treatment possible." But that is not the case. There is no indication that if Ulster had been fortunate she would not have taken full advantage of her position.
This Amendment does not refuse the grant. It says that the grant shall only be for one year, and then the Government can take what steps it like to deal with the circumstances as they exist. To make a grant of £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 when we are talking all the time about the necessity of demanding that certain vital services should be cut, is wrong in principle and wrong in fact. The Government have surely enough in the proposal embodied in the Amendment, which gives them power to make a grant for one year, and to say at the end of that year, "You must prove your case if you want any more money from the Imperial Exchequer."
§ Sir JOHN MARRIOTT
If we carry this Amendment hon. and right hon. Gentleman opposite will be taking away from this country the possibility of any advantage from the reciprocal arrangement made. Almost every speaker so far has neglected the Clause of the Bill which provides that the Bill shall not he merely unilateral but shall be neutral. If the Amendment is carried it will deprive this country of any possibility of reaping any advantage in the three years subsequent to 1927.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
The Chancellor of the Exchequer says it is hypothetical, and we may never be able to get any money.
§ Sir J. MARRIOTT
If the Amendment is carried all possibility of this country obtaining any advantage from the reciprocal arrangement of the Bill is entirely removed.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
I am sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has no desire to mislead the Committee. In the answer which he gave to my question he was possibly actuated by a desire for brevity rather than accuracy. My question was, when these negotiations were being conducted with the Ulster Government, did he secure from them an assurance that, if in any future year their fund became prosperous, they would recompense us for our generosity? He answered that that was the whole principle of the Bill. It is true that
§ the Bill will be to a certain extent reciprocal, but only in respect of the deficiency for that particular year. Will it be reciprocal to cover the whole of the amount which we are now paying into the Ulster Exchequer?
§ Question put, "That those words be there added."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 114; Noes, 233.155
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ Mr. T. HENDERSON
I want to put to the right hon. Gentleman a question which may remove a misunderstanding that seems to be prevalent on this side of the House. Has the Northern Parliament given powers to the authorities in Northern Ireland to pay "able-bodied" relief to unemployed men and women? This is very important. Here unemployed persons who have been deprived of extended benefit are thrown upon the rates. There is a belief on this side of the House that the £3,500,000 deficit has 156 been caused by the extended benefit being prolonged in Northern Ireland. If the right hon. Gentleman can give us an assurance from that point of view, as to the position in Northern Ireland, it might alter the opinion of my colleagues here. Personally I would not like to give a vote that would harm my fellow trade unionists in Ireland, because I worked with them for 25 years, and I know and respect them very highly.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Of course, I do not profess to speak for the Government of Northern Ireland, but I made inquiries 157 from every source open to me, and I understand that the administration of the unemployment insurance fund is exactly the same in Northern Ireland as here, with the same contributions, the same benefits, and the same principles. I am assured that that is the case. So far as the Treasury were able to ascertain from personal inquiry and minute study of the figures, the position of the workman and trade unionist in Northern Ireland is at present substantially and actually the same as that of his fellow trade unionist in the same trade union in the United Kingdom, with this one exception, that whereas in the United Kingdom there is a solvent fund to depend on, in the North of Ireland there is a fund manifestly unable to bear the burdens which will be cast upon it if the present rate of unemployment continues.
§ Mr. T. HENDERSON
The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well the meaning of my question. It is this: If in Northern Ireland they have been using the Unemployment Insurance Act for the purpose of prolonging extended benefit and paying no out-door "able-bodied" relief, then in this country and in Scotland the position is entirely different. Here unemployed workmen are being thrown on the rates. Surely you do not expect us to give Northern Ireland a benefit to that extent. I am afraid that unless we can get an answer to the question we are bound to oppose the Motion.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Hon. Members opposite have by repeated Divisions and Amendments offered uncompromising opposition to this Bill, and I am afraid that I do not hope to change the settled attitude of the Opposition. If it be true that the Unemployment Insurance Fund is administered in exactly the same way on both sides of the St. George's Channel, the question of what happens to the rates is really irrelevant. It may be—I do not know—that there is divergence in the policies adopted. At any rate, that is hardly our business. What we are concerned with in this House is to make sure that the Unemployment Insurance Fund is treated similarly and in the same spirit.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
If the charge is correct, then it gives importance to the issue I raised myself with regard to the question of necessitous areas.
§ Mr. DENNIS HERBERT
The White Paper itself contains a letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer giving an assurance on the part of the Government of Northern Ireland thatOur Ministry of Labour will in matters relating to our Unemployment Fund continue to follow any Regulations adopted by the Imperial Ministry of Labour.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow.