Mr. C LYNES
A few moments ago complaints were made on the benches opposite of the absence of any representative of the Ministry of Labour, and on that I take occasion to express what I think is a quite justifiable complaint of the absence once again, when on this side of the House we are raising very important Labour questions, of the Minister of Labour. That in no sense reflects, I can assure the House, upon the acceptability, the competence, and the courtesy of the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry, but on a number of occasions the Minister himself has failed personally to put in an appearance in order to answer criticisms and questions that have been raised. I want to express, not merely on my own behalf, but voicing, I am certain, the united feeling of all those who act with me on this side, our unqualified and increasing disappointment at the administrative service and general policy of the Minister of Labour. I am not going to try to use the occasion of this Vote to go with great detail into questions of policy, and, having offered some few general observations, I shall deal more specifically with the situation as it exists in the Counties of Lancashire and Cheshire, and perhaps more particularly in the City of Manchester itself.
There is nothing upon which we can offer congratulations to the Minister of Labour, unless it be the effort of the Minister himself to see a silver lining which has never yet appeared in the recurring and continuous clouds of depression to which we have become accustomed. But I would ask the Minister to give some little attention to the mood in which the House met the question of a colleague of mine in the representation of Manchester in reference to the Ministry of Labour. Is it to be one of the State Departments to be massacred in due course as unserviceable and unnecessary? To these lines of thought I would add the question: Is it to be merely a statistical register, in no 568 sense living up to its title, a title which, to my mind, ought to be the finest word in the English language? Labour should mean much more to the Ministry of Labour than evidently it has meant during the service of that Ministry in recent years, and I, therefore, ask whether it has now any functions in relation to labour itself, and more particularly to the embarrassing problem of unemployment. Another hon. Member on that side of the House yesterday referred to the terrible condition of unemployment, so that Labour Members are not manufacturing phrases or exaggerating the facts when they express what has been said so often on the opposite side.
I allege that the Minister has shown no heart whatever for undertaking constructive work and for handling the problems which have been committed to his care. We have a number of unemployed which, in terms of family reckoning, may be classed as a great population and amount to millions of people. In the main, they are unchanging. They are not ebbing and flowing, in work to-day and out of it to-morrow. They are settled down as a permanent and very costly feature of our community. If they did not cost us anything, or if they cost us little, we could face that problem, perhaps, with complacency, yet with a very great deal of regret, for, in addition to the financial cost, there are enormous social losses. There is the loss of dignity and virility of the millions of people who suffer unemployment, and there are losses in character, and general losses in lack of usefulness to the community at large. Indeed, their usefulness as serviceable citizens is completely disappearing because of the continuity of their unemployment. I do not think this population of unemployed costs the country in various ways less than about £1,500,000 a week, and that is a financial fact that should deeply interest the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself.
We have often quoted the pledges given by the Government, not merely by the Labour Minister, but by the Prime Minister himself and by other leading Ministers of the day, as to what they would do to grapple with this problem of unemployment. I allege that they have not grappled with it, that they have not even attempted to solve it. If they 569 had tried and if they had failed, something could have been said for their efforts, but the effort even has not been made to make good the public assurances given to the country during the last Election, assurances repeated more than once in King's Speeches which we have heard since that time. I have quoted those statements so often in the House that I will not repeat them now, with one exception. I go back, therefore, to the middle of 1925, when the Prime Minister declared in this House that the Government were going to make a great and special effort for the winter which was then approaching. I allege that no great and special effort was made, and that nothing effectively was done to live up to that ambitious pronouncement. We ask, therefore, that proof should be adduced, and we have a right to demand that a statement should be put before the House that would justify that declaration of the Prime Minister made on the occasion to which I have referred. Coming to a little later date, I conclude that one argument which will be alleged as explaining—I will not say justifying—the very large number of unemployed still on the list is some reference to the miners' trouble and the continued lock-out. This is not a moment for debating that general subject, but I see in the papers this morning that the mine-owners state that the total number of miners now employed is only, roundly, 80,000 less than the corresponding number at this time last year, so that it cannot be alleged that the failure greatly to reduce the large number of unemployed has been due to any very great increase in the number of unemployed miners.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour gave us in this House, only a short time ago, some few facts relating to the serious drop in the number of men employed on schemes recently, as compared with the number some time ago. On the 16th February, 1927, the hon. Member stated that the number of men employed on 29th January this year on schemes assisted by the Unemployment Grants Committee was 14,510, as compared with 33,273 on 30th January, 1926. The estimated cost of schemes approved by the Committee during the 12 months ended 31st January, 1927, was something over £6,000,000, as compared with £19,000,000 during the year ended 31st January, 1926. That is an enormous drop 570 in State and local effort as an aid to grappling with the problem of unemployment.
If the alternative course, which I gather now and then is announced as the Government's alternative— that is, the alternative course of providing better trade in and assisting the country to restore the overseas markets—had been effectively taken, then we would be answered, but in the absence of a restoration of adequate international trade by any policy which the Government can undertake, we are entitled to ask them not only to maintain but to increase their assistance to those internal lines of work which can be followed in co-operation with the local authorities. Now this matter has very seriously disturbed local authorities—not Socialist bodies, not bodies influenced by Moscow or by any organised effort of Labour, but consisting, in the main, of Conservatives in our different towns and cities. Bodies representing Lancashire and Cheshire local authorities have recently held conferences, and this is a resolution which was passed unanimously at a gathering not very long ago in Manchester:That, in the opinion of this conference of Lancashire and Cheshire local authorities, it is imperative that works for the relief of unemployment should continue to be provided by local authorities … and that such work can only be undertaken with adequate financial assistance from the Government, and that the Government be urged immediately to restore financial assistance on the terms operating prior to the 15th December, 1925.Those representative bodies, not content with passing resolutions, sent deputations to the Ministry of Labour, and furnished that Ministry with a Memorandum of what their position was. I will read to the House a paragraph in that Memorandum, which states more graphically than I could what is the burden being carried by these local authorities because of the state of unemployment. This document says:By way of indicating the need, I would remind you that, whereas in March, 1925 (a time at which the Government were urging upon local authorities to press forward unemployment schemes with vigour), the total number of registered unemployed in the North-Western area was 215,000 and the corresponding figure to-day is 361,000.That is, surely, a crushing burden to be carried by the already overburdened local authorities in those areas. That 571 Memorandum of their condition at the end of last year has been carried further by additional conferences, and by further communications between the Ministry of Labour and these local authorities, so that only two or three days ago—on the 12th April—the Town Clerk of Manchester, acting for those local authorities, sent to the Members of this House who are immediately concerned, Members who represent those various centres, a letter in which he makes this statement:The Minister of Labour has now replied to the Memorandum to the effect that the Government's policy on this question remains as set out in the Circular Letter of the Unemployment Grants Committee dated 15th December, 1925. The Circular referred to restricting the making of grants to areas where unemployment is exceptional, and the schemes which are accelerated by a period of at least five years.The decision of the Minister has occasioned my Committee considerable disappointment, and I am directed to ask that you will support the Committee in its efforts to obtain the re-introduction of the Government grants on the basis operating prior to the 15th December, 1925.There is, of course, some slight reduction in the unemployed figures in the Manchester area, and, perhaps, in the area of Lancashire generally, but I attribute a good deal of that reduction, not so much to work having been found, or to acts of policy which have organised opportunities for employment, as to other administrative acts which have drawn men off the list which previously recorded them as being out of work. Let me give a figure to prove that statement. While the figures of the unemployment have gone down, the figures of those who have been thrown upon outdoor relief have increased enormously. Comparing April last year with March this year I find that the increase of persons on outdoor relief in Manchester is 7,580. In relation to that increase this Memorandum of the local authorities states:We would remind you that our local authorities are receiving strong representations from Chambers of Commerce, or similar organisations of an entirely non- political character, impressing upon them the serious burden of rates upon industry, and adding evidence of their effect in preventing industry from successfully making foreign competition for orders.So that the Government's alleged case of helping employment by improving trade is demolished completely by these facts. 572 Conservative bodies, chambers of commerce, non-labour representative organisations of various sorts are telling the Ministry that its policy of throwing greater burdens of rates upon them prevents them securing anything like renewed or restored trade. Coming finally to a point solely affecting Manchester, I would like to return to a question which I raised on a former occasion, when the Minister was here—a question as to his right to act in accordance with what I regard as an arbitrary rule or figure which he fixed, below which local authorities were not to have the assistance secured by other means. The Minister of Labour raised my hopes by a speech which he made, and I would like to quote from what he said, in order that some answer may be given during the course of that Debate on the point as to whether a particular scheme did actually receive the assistance which I thought it should. The right hon. Gentleman on the 18th November, 1926, said:Perhaps I may mention to him that with regard to one scheme—I am not sure whether that is the only one—which was already under consideration … I understand there is every possibility in regard to that of a further grant being given to Manchester. Therefore, I trust my right hon. Friend's apprehensions were not well-founded, and that there will not be such a dislocation of the schemes that have already been taken in hand."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th November, 1926; cols. 2054–5, Vol. 199.]In general terms, our hopes have certainly been dashed by the effect of Government policy in relation to the whole position of Manchester unemployment. The authorities were asked to submit schemes. They prepared them; the initial steps were taken. Certain commitments have been entered into, and when they reach the stage when it becomes necessary to secure State assistance to begin and carry them through, that State assistance is withheld by a reversal of departmental policy. I gather that the Minister justified the course he has taken by a statement he made in the House of Commons on the 26th November, 1925, when he said:Approval will not he given to new relief schemes in other places which are not particularly distressed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th November, 1925; col. 1700, Vol. 188.]More than most other centres in the North of England, perhaps, Manchester has suffered bitterly through continued 573 depression in the cotton trade. It is not merely that complete unemployment has been suffered by thousands of people, but in the County of Lancashire generally there has been a great deal of suffering on account of under-employment—organised and continued short time has had to be endured. Those two conditions have produced a deepening state of depression, which has sorely tried the working classes in that county, and those conditions must be taken into account in the administrative policy of any State Department. In certain conditions I can accept the view that relief should not be extended except in cases where there was particular distress, but I deny the right of the Minister to use a general term, such as I have referred to, in the House of Commons. and thereby get sanction to a policy, and then interpret that policy as meaning that localities where there is a particular percentage of unemployment are not to be given State assistance in connection with their schemes. I understand that what the Minister did was to fix a percentage of 10, and then say that in centres where the percentage is below that arbitrary figure they are not to receive assistance; and they have not received assistance. I question the Minister's right to secure Parliamentary sanction in that way, indeed, I deny that he did receive Parliamentary sanction for the policy he has recently carried out. Parliamentary authority does not apply in the case of many matters, so far as this Government are concerned, but the one matter above all else which ought to be subject to continuity of Parliamentary practice and principle is unemployment. I ask, therefore, that if we cannot have it from the Minister to-day, that we should have from the Parliamentary Secretary not only that attention which he is always ready to give to these questions but some more satisfying announcement as to what the Government intend to do in future to provide opportunities for work for the unemployed.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I want to urge that the Government should do more to secure training for the unemployed. Very little Parliamentary money is being spent on the training of the unemployed, and that money in a decreasing amount. For the training of unemployed women and young persons the sum granted last year was 574 £292,000, and it is £261,000 this year. That is a small sum for work of this hopeful character. I would like to review what has been done in the training of women in order to show how, upon right lines, the training of the unemployed can contribute to their self-maintenance and to the good of the country. Last year £70,000 was voted for the training and equipment of women, and £52,000 this year. The greater part of both those sums was a contribution to the Central Committee for the Training of Unemployed Women. Last year they received from the Government £60,000, this year they are receiving only £45,000; and with this cut, which is not the first cut, this most excellent and hopeful work is going literally to ruin. The Central Committee for Unemployed Women was formed originally to spend the balance of the Queen Mary Needlework Fund, and also received a grant from the National Relief Fund, about £600,000 in all.
In the first place it devoted itself to placing in useful employment women whose professional prospects had been injured during the War. The greater part of them were women who had suffered the loss of their bread winners and had to find work for themselves, or Government officials who had been dispensed with. In all, it trained about 4,000 of those women, more than two-thirds of whom did well and found other employment, and were thus helped over that period of dislocation following the War. Then, aided partially by the grants from the Ministry, the grants increasing as the charitable funds were depleted, it undertook the work of training women of the industrial class; and in this connection the first great piece of work it did—it is still doing it, though on very much reduced lines—was in providing what are called home-training schemes, designed to fit, women of the industrial class for domestic service. I know there is a great deal of prejudice against domestic service. I know that a great many women will not enter domestic service, and personally I sympathise with them. For my own part, I would not be in another person's house while there was an available crossing to be swept. But that is a matter of personal taste. The fact remains that there are a great many women who are happy in domestic service, and for them it is a perfectly good way of earning a living. In all, 34,000 women had been 575 trained by the end of 1926, more than two-thirds of whom are known to have entered domestic service and to have done well. That is, 24,000 women who otherwise would have been outside the Employment Exchanges—because without the training they could not have undertaken domestic service, which is an art in itself—have been removed from the ranks of the unemployed and are now, to the satisfaction of their employers and themselves, engaged in an honourable form of self-maintenance. That has made a substantial contribution towards a reduction of unemployment among women.
The second scheme, in which I take even more interest, was the training of people for other occupations, one branch dealing with clerks. People may say that there are enough clerks in London, and so there are, but would any head of a commercial house say there are enough clerks to do the particular job he wants done? If you ask the heads of business houses you will find that their needs are not at all met by the large number of unemployed clerks. What they ask for are clerks with some specific accomplishment—able to use adding machines, able to do bookkeeping. Even good shorthand is not as common as it might be; and in this City of London clerks with languages are very rare birds indeed. One of the things the Committee did was to take women clerks who were out of work and give them training in some specific branch of clerical work. Training was also given so that they might become nurses in nurseries. There is a great demand in private nurseries for women with some little amount of training in nursing. In all, there were by the end of 1926 787 trained under that scheme, and 702 were known to have found satisfactory work. A scheme on those lines is, I think, a model, and it is capable of great extension. It is a model for training schemes for men. It is said that there are many unemployed, but will those unemployed, when trade revives, be suitable for the jobs offering? I believe that when trade revives there will not be enough skilled men to keep the labourers busy, and what we ought to do in a time of general depression is not to train people so much for new occupations as to give them training in their own trade. 576 I can only speak of the engineering trade from the outside, but anyone who perceives the difference between skilled men earning the same wages and how often you cannot get the man for the job, anyone who considers how rusty the human material grows during unemployment, the general deficiency of training in this country, or the loss of skill during the unemployment, or who is acquainted with the new devices that employers are experimenting with for which adaptable men and men of skill will be needed, can see that one of the great obstacles to trade revival, even if we get the customers, will be that instead of skilled men we shall have men only half-skilled or wholly unskilled. If persons were trained within their own industry in order to make them adaptable, they would be able to take advantage of every change in the market, and that would very materially increase the prosperity of the country. I do not know so much about men's trades, but I do know about women's occupations, and it is extraordinary how often you will find a woman restricted to one specialised branch of her industry and perfectly unemployable for something slightly different. It is so in the tailoring trade and in nearly every other trade that I know. Our endeavour was to fit people out of work for openings which were available more or less in their own trades.
This training of the unemployed is not a wholesale business. It is a thing that needs careful attention to the actual demands of the market. It is a difficult thing. It is a skilled thing. This training of nearly 800 women was an experiment. The staff was got together, the experience was brought together, and the whole experiment was showing signs of the utmost promise, and it could have been developed, but it has now been ended. There has been no training of that kind, owing to want of funds, since 1926. There was £80,000 voted from the Treasury in 1925–26, £63,000 in 1926–27, and £40,000 odd for next year. The schemes for specialised training have gone. There are no more clerks being trained, no more people being trained for openings which will offer themselves. That is all finished. With regard to women for domestic service, there were trained 6,300 in 1925, 3,400 in 1926, and 577 2,500 will be trained this year, and the demand continues. I have spoken of the 780 odd people who were trained in individual occupations. There were nearly 3,000 applications for those courses, and this work, which was so hopeful, so successful, this work which the Minister of Labour in report after report has spoken of with pride, this work of training the unemployed on careful lines, on real lines, and on actual lines, is to be given up. What does the Minister mean to do? It is infinitely better for the country to support people in honourable self-maintaining occupations than to leave them to hang about the Employment Exchanges and the relieving offices, drawing money, very often not enough for their maintenance, and becoming every day more hopelessly unemployable. I say that, when trade is showing faint signs of revival, what we should do, if we were a sensible country and if we had an interest in the revival of our own commerce and industry, would be to do on a large scale precisely what this women's commitee did on a small scale, namely, to consider the human material, and to train one group of people here and another group somewhere else, so that they may be ready to meet the new demands which will arise. Unless this be done, I say again that I believe it will be no use our getting more customers, because industry will find itself without the skilled material which has made our supremacy in the past and without which no real trade revival is possible.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
For the last three days the House has been discussing economy. Economy, as I understand it, is wise spending, not the cessation of expenditure at all. We can economise by ceasing to spend any money on food, but we should die. Unless, therefore, we are going to spend our resources wisely, there will be no possibility of trade recovery in this country. The fact is that we have over 1,000,000 unemployed and we have, in addition, 849,361 in receipt of Poor Law relief. At the beginning of March 10.9 per cent. of our insured workers were unemployed, and 4.75 per cent. of our total population were in receipt of Poor Law relief. These evils are due, not to personal causes, but to causes over which the unemployed themselves have no control whatever. They have no control, for example, over the reparation policy, the 578 reparation policy which flooded our shipbuilding centres with German ships. In these shipbuilding centres, we have to-day thousands of boys who left school in 1918 and who have never worked at all. It is not the result of any moral fault on their part, but is solely the result of high policy over which they have no control. The unemployed have no responsibility whatever for the monetary policy of the country which undoubtedly plays some part in our present severe unemployment crisis. I find, for example, that an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, now a prominent banker, Mr. McKenna, declared to his shareholders at the annual meeting of the Midland Bank thatSince the Autumn of 1921 there has been an increase of £891,000,000 "—translated into British money—of bank deposits in the United Slates, and a decrease of £122,000,000 bank deposits in this country. The amount of money in the United States has increased by nearly £900,000,000, while in the same period in this country money has decreased by £120,000,000.He adds this:In order fully to occupy our people, an immediate increase of banking credit—that is of money—is indispensable for carrying the larger volume of commodities which the unemployed and the new recruits to labour will produce.The fact remains that our unemployed population have no control and no voice whatever in these matters of high policy. The unemployment due to reparation policy, due to deflation, due to our monetary policy, due to what you will, is not, as used to be declared in pre-War times, a moral fault on the part of the unemployed person. We have talked about economy. I put this to the hon. Gentleman representing the Minister of Labour. We have spent £380,000,000 upon relief, and for that expenditure we have as a nation got nothing—not a tree planted, not one brick laid upon another, not one blade of grass. Three hundred and eighty million pounds spent on miserably insufficient relief, but still relief for which the nation has had no return. On Unemployment Benefit alone we have spent £247,250,000, of which £85,000,000 has been raised from the employers by taxation, £77,000,000 from the workers, and £56,000,000 from the Exchequer. We have got nothing for it, and now the sole policy of the Govern- 579 ment that I can discover is that the distressed areas, the areas most severely hit, the areas in which our heavy industries are, and in which it is becoming more and more difficult to meet foreign competition, the areas where our unemployment is greatest, the local ratepayers are to be left to bear the burden of their own unemployed while the national Exchequer is to escape. That is the policy. Since this Government took office, they have, on the 15th December, 1925, circularised all local authorities in the country telling them to damp down their unemployment schemes. Eighteen thousand schemes have been submitted by local authorities to the Lord St. Davids Committee. Of these over 11,900, almost 12,000, have been passed as suitable, as economic and as providing useful employment for unemployed people. Recollect who are the Lord St. Davids Committee. It is not composed of representatives with Bolshevist tendencies. As its name implies, it is presided over by Lord St. Davids, and it has upon it Sir William Plender, the right hon. H. G. Burgess,Sir John Ferguson, Sir Reginald MacLeod, Mr. Pybus, and Miss Wallas. It is an anti-Labour Committee, and this anti-Labour Committee passed 11,900 schemes, and the total sum the State was called upon to bear was £40,000,000. If the hon. Member will bear with me, I will show him that the alternative policy is costing far more. The cost was £40,000,000, and that provided full-time employment for a year for 660,000 men. In other words we save £32,000,000 of what is called "dole money." The Exchequer spent £40,000,000 and saved £32,000,000, therefore the net cost to the nation and to the Exchequer was only £8,000,000. You have also to remember that those unemployed men who got work on this scheme no longer required to have their children fed at the schools by local authorities and did not apply for any public relief. I believe that if a proper account was made out on this subject we should find that this scheme had cost the nation nothing at all. On the other hand, in return for that expenditure, the local authorities are now in possession of public works to the value of £104,000,000, such as tramways, sewerage works, docks, harbours, sea-defence works, parks, pleasure grounds and so 580 on. The Report of the St. Davids Committee states:The results obtained are undisputed and of permanent benefit to the localities concerned.Along come the Government and they construct this Committee to damp down and stop their work, with the result that in our most distressed areas there is a great deal of suffering. I am told by an hon. Member that a borough in his constituency has local rates amounting to 35s. in the pound and there are other places with very high rates. In all these areas where there are heavy industries it is most difficult to meet foreign competition, and we are faced with additional expenditure, while in the wealthy districts, where there are no heavy industries, they escape this kind of expenditure. This policy will end in wholesale ruin. The City of Glasgow had 68,545 unemployed on the 24th January this year. What can they do? They held a conference with the Lanarkshire authorities. Those authorities are not manned by Labour men or Socialists, but they include Conservatives as well. They have declared that they can spend no more public funds in relief. They say that the Government have instructed them, through the St. Davids Committee, that nothing further is to be done for them. Consequently, we are faced with an appalling situation.
It is not that there is no work of importance to do, because there is plenty of such work. We have 3,000,000 acres of moss land which our agricultural boards declare can be brought into cultivation. We have millions of acres of first-class agricultural land going out of cultivation, because it is flooded eight or ten times a year, and a very small expenditure of public money would remedy this trouble. I know that to do this you will have to interfere with private ownership of the land, because no local authorities will spend money on drainage and river banking when they know that the increased value of the land would accrue to the private individuals who at the present time are making no use of the land. I know I should be out of order in proposing schemes, but we have had committee after committee considering this question. The raising of the school age is one method of relieving the terrible state of unemployment. Committee after committee comes forward with recom- 581 mendations of this kind and the Government do nothing; on the contrary, they damp down these suggestions and circularise the local authorities telling them that unless there is extraordinary distress no further schemes will be entertained and they turn down scheme after scheme.
In addition to this, the Government, when schemes for dealing with our export trade are put before them, turn them down. The cry is "Economy, economy!" It is false economy, because it rests on the basis of spending no money at all. The potential wealth is in the country. A proper system for the taxation of land values would do something. We could do dozens of things. As I have explained privately and publicly to the Minister of Health, you have one-fifth of the human race under your control in India who are able to buy your goods. If you increased the purchasing power of the Indian people by half-a-crown per annum, that is ¾d. per week, you would raise British exports to India by;£40,000,000. Every public man and public authority in India, from the Viceroy downwards, knows how that can be secured.
The people of India at present are ploughing the land with little bits of wood. We could loan to them, through village co-operative societies, proper ploughs, and automatic pumps to be used in the village wells. In this way you could increase the produce of the soil, and at the same time increase the purchasing power of the people of India. There is only one remedy; that is to increase the purchasing power of the people in your home market and among your customers overseas. The policy of the Government is to cramp this purchasing power. The only way for us to become prosperous is to increase the purchasing power of our people, and I hope the Minister of Labour will give us some assurance that he will make an effort in responsible quarters to reverse this policy, and explain to the powers that be that the heavy industries cannot sell their goods abroad if you continue to pile up debts upon our local authorities. We must either provide the necessary employment for our people or perish as an industrial community.
§ Mr. ERNEST BROWN
I cannot agree with what the last speaker has said to 582 the effect that in return for the £300,000,000 spent in unemployment relief in the period to which he referred, this country has got nothing in return. On the contrary, the country has got exactly what the hon. Member has been pleading for, and that expenditure has increased the purchasing power in the homes of the people. In fact, it has done more, because, through the working of the Unemployment Insurance Relief Scheme, there is a great deal more contentment than would have been possible otherwise in the homes of those distressed and un- fortunate people. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) described Lord St. Davids Committee as an anti-labour committee, but I am afraid that statement savours of unconscious arrogance, and it seems to be assumed that all persons who do not wear a badge—someone once stated that the wearing of a badge was to save people the trouble of thinking for themselves—are to be classed as anti-labour. If the hon. Member classed them as non-labour, I should agree with him. I agree that a great deal more ought to be done with regard to schemes of work, and I want to emphasise his criticism as to the attitude of the Government in regard to the Report of the St. Davids Committee. That Report says:In view of the length of time, six winters, during which the schemes administered by the Unemployed Grants Committee of subsidising accelerated works of public utility for the relief of unemployment has been in operation, the improved position of unemployment at the end of last year, and the undesirability of diverting from works of this nature capital which might be employed more profitably in creating employment and in normal trade development, the Government took the question under consideration at the end of 1925, and it is thought that in all the circumstances it would in future be desirable to limit the application of the scheme to districts where unemployment was exceptional and the works themselves were very clearly being put in hand some considerable time before they would normally be required.That rests upon a belief that there is not excessive unemployment in the area concerned. It cannot be said that Edinburgh and Leith are areas where unemployment is not exceptional. In 1924 in those districts there were over 5,000 unemployed, and to-day, for the first time since 1920, the unemployment figures have fallen below 4,000 in the last return.
583 Let me trouble the House for a moment with the actual figures of a concrete case, which may sometimes throw more light on the problem than the quotation of millions affecting the whole country. In greater Edinburgh, on the 29th March, there were unemployed 6,391 men, 280 boys, 1,708 women and 233 girls, or a total of 8,612 In Leith there were unemployed 3,332 men, 96 boys, 408 women and 100 girls, or a total of 3,936. In those two areas of Edinburgh, therefore, there are over 12,000 unemployed men, women and children at the moment on the live register, and I should like to point out that these figures do not represent the full extent of the problem, for not all of the unemployed are recorded in the unemployment register. Some have allowed their registration to lapse, and there are certain categories of employment, such as the fishermen of Newhaven, in Leith, who are excluded from the unemployment scheme. The Minister of Labour, through the Unemployment Grants Committee, has certain powers with regard to the provision of these productive works, and I want to call attention to the way in which the Unemployment Grants Committee gives grants to aid these schemes of productive works. There are three possible bases: firstly, 65 per cent. of interest and sinking fund charges for half the loan period, up to a limit of 15 years, for schemes submitted prior to the 2nd March, 1924; secondly, 75 per cent. of interest and sinking fund charges for half the loan period, up to a limit of 15 years, for schemes submitted after the 2nd March, 1924; and, thirdly, in the case of local authorities, statutory bodies and public utility companies, in respect of revenue-producing undertakings, the equivalent of 50 per cent. of interest at an approved rate for a period not exceeding 15 years. It is on this technical classification of grants that some valuable schemes of productive work are being held up.
In 1921, there were 5,000 unemployed in Leith Burgh. Towards the end of 1923, acting on behalf of the Government, the Scottish Board of Health approached the statutory body known as the Leith Docks Commission, and asked them if they could accelerate works with a view to relieving unemployment. The reply of the Commission was three-fold—in the 584 first place, that they might erect a new grain elevator; secondly, that they might go on with the provision of a new quay—a sea-wall; and, thirdly, that they might go in for a new dock extension. Plans for that have been drawn, and I have a copy here in my hand. The Docks Commission did actually proceed with the work of erecting a grain elevator, without cost to the Unemployment Grants Committtee; they did that out of their own revenue. They are now proceeding, under the grant of 50 per cent. for revenue-producing works, with the provision of the sea-wall; but last year, in pursuance of the policy of the Government, the Unemployment Grants Committee refused to rate the provision of a new dock, the foundation work of which would take six years at least, on the higher scale; and so the Dock Commission did not feel justified in proceeding, years ahead of their real needs, with the provision of this new extension, which would make work for many hundreds of unemployed in the burgh, would take those hundreds off the unemployment roll, and would, of course, add to the capital value of the docks. It must be remembered that the Docks Commission is not a body operating for private profit; it is a statutory body holding the docks in trust for the public, and its revenues go back to increase the facilities for trade and commerce to and from the Port of Leith. The point I wish to put to the Minister and to the Unemployment Grants Committee is as to whether—seeing that the Docks Commission are willing, provided that they can get the grant on the higher scale, to proceed immediately with this productive work, which would bring about an immediate relief of the terrible rate of unemployment in Leith—if a deputation waited on the Ministry and the Unemployment Grants Committee, a reconsideration of the matter in view of the gravity of the rate of unemployment, could not be obtained, and a grant given on the higher scale.
In the opinion of all local bodies—of, for instance, the Port of Leith Association, which is representative of the whole of the Port—the only possible way of getting work for the middle-aged men, who are a part of the tragedy, and the young men to whom the hon. Member for Dundee so feelingly referred, is work of 585 kind, and I would press upon the Minister and upon the Unemployment Grants Committee that they should not take too narrow and technical a view of this Government instruction, but should really understand that there justice stands with biased scales as between areas where there is little unemployment and areas like this, which are black spots and where the burden is exceptionally heavy. I would ask that the Government should take this into consideration, and I would point out these two things, namely, that the figures here are exceptional, and, therefore, come within the Unemployment Grants Committee's own policy, and that this is a scheme of productive work which has been considered and turned down by the Docks Commission, because they feel they are not financially justified in coming forward on the lower basis of grant. I would ask that these points should receive consideration, so that we may lift from one necessitous area, at any rate, a little of this heavy burden which is causing physical distress and mental strain, demoralisation, loss of wages and earnings, and injury to industrial character by the loss of habits of work, which cannot be calculated either in figures in the unemployment returns or in mere money value. I hope that this scheme will receive reconsideration.
§ Mr. CECIL WILSON
A few days ago the Minister of Labour, in response to a question as to whether training schemes could not be enlarged somewhat, said that it was entirely a question of cost. While that is perfectly true, it seems to me that very frequently what we see in regard to costs is the immediate cost, without at all looking to the cost in the somewhat more distant future, which inevitably is part of what we ought to consider. Our schemes, therefore, are too frequently judged purely on the one question of cost. I venture to suggest that cost is not either the main factor or the factor which ought to receive such full consideration as it does now. You cannot judge training schemes either on the success of 75 per cent. of those who are put into them, or on the 25 per cent. who are failures. The Report published by the Ministry of Agriculture on Land Settlement in England and Wales refers to this matter in connection with land settlement, and asks this question: 586Is there not something to be said for judging the value of a scheme by its success, rather than by its failures?Too often do we hear of the failures, and of the cost which is being involved without any apparent result, and too seldom do we hear of the successes. It is rather on the question of the successes that I want to say something this morning. The same Report on Land Settlement goes on to say:Of the 22,000 provided with holdings, about 10 to 12 per cent. have left their holdings for financial reasons, and must be regarded as failures. The great majority of the remainder show every sign of making a success of their undertakings.That, surely, ought to encourage us to go forward with these schemes rather more fully than is being done at the present time. Towards the end of the Report, referring to the scheme of the Birmingham Corporation, the concluding sentence is this:This scheme, which is one of the largest of its kind in England and Wales, promises to be very successful.In regard to the whole of these comments in the Land Settlement Report, there is every encouragement for us to go on rather faster than has been the case in the past.
I have asked certain questions recently with regard to the work of the training schemes at Claydon and Brandon. While I am quite well aware that it is too early yet to draw full and definite conclusions as to the effect of the work there, and as to those who have been trained there, I do venture to say that we have already sufficient, in what has been accomplished there, to warrant going forward rather more rapidly. I am quite aware that the training given there and land settlement are different things, and have different objects in view, but, in connection with both, there is the clearest possible indication that, when men are given the opportunity, either for training or for land settlement, they do take advantage of it. I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary can be quite aware of what appears to be the very great lack of information in the Department on this question of training generally. I addressed a question to the Ministry in December last, as to whether there was any Government Report either on labour colonies or on training colonies, apart from the very brief references in the Report of the Ministry of Labour; and, further, if there 587 was any Report on what was being done abroad. I got this reply, which I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary will scarcely consider is a satisfactory reply:There does not appear to be any Government Report of the kind to which you refer. Some information on the question of colonies is contained in the Report of the Departmental Committee on Vagrancy, made in 1926.That is quite true, but this is not a question of vagrancy, but a question of unemployment. Then, further:There does not appear to be any Government Report on training or labour colonies abroad.I asked whether I might consult the Library of the Ministry and see what there was there, and I got this reply:Facilities for consulting the Library of the Ministry would gladly be given, but there do not appear to be any works of reference there which would be of material use to you in your inquiries.I put a question recently with regard to travelling facilities abroad, and received a reply from the Ministry. I had pointed out what was available in the International Labour Office. There are any number of schemes in Germany, and there are schemes in other countries, not, perhaps, on the same lines as we are pursuing here, but there is an immense amount of information abroad which we ought to have, and which I think is right up to date, in order that the whole matter may be viewed in the fullest possible light. We ought to know what is happening elsewhere. It may not be applicable so far as our own particular problems are concerned, but that there is the need for the fullest possible information there can be no question. In reply to the question which I put down for answer this morning with regard to South Africa, the Parliamentary Secretary promised that I should have a reply, but, as that reply is not forthcoming, and as I am not quite sure whether it will give quite the information I am seeking, I may perhaps be permitted to quote from a Report which I had from the International Labour Office as to what is actually happening in the Union of South Africa, because it is really extremely important in some of its aspects as affecting the problems which we have here. This is the Report:An interesting experiment is being made in South Africa with a view to placing on 588 the land a particular industrial of workers irregularly employed in Industrial occupations who, through long adversity, have lost the ability to work steadily without supervision. An investigation carried out shows that a considerable number of these men had originally come from country districts and were really more suited to farm work than to ordinary unskilled navvy work, but that they had been off the land for a number of years and had knowledge of only obsolete and wasteful agricultural methods. The Government, therefore, established a training farm in the Hartebeestpoort area on which such men, together with their families, are taught modern methods of agriculture over a series of years under expert and strict supervision until such time as they become fit and capable of farming on plots of their own. To this end certain Crown lands, comprising rather more than 28,000 acres of bush country never before used for agricultural purposes were placed at the disposal of the Department.Then the report goes on to show that each village has a large hall, school, dispensary, nurses' and teachers' quarters and recreation grounds and there are conditions under which these plots may ultimately pass into the possession of the cultivator. The Report is rather too long to read, but I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will see that fuller information with regard to this extremely interesting experiment is made available for Members of the House.
But there is a movement with which I see that your name, Sir, is associated very much nearer home. I am referring to the work of the Wallingford Farm Colony which is run under the National Union of Christian Social Service. This is a work which has been in operation for more than 30 years. Here you have gathered together numbers of men wholly unskilled and coming to the colony with no habits of industry. There are some 270 colonists and a very large proportion of them are cases which are sent by boards of guardians in different parts of the country, and admittedly a large number of them are extremely difficult cases. For the last year of which I have the report, we have this information. While there are 270 colonists in residence, 128 left. Of these, 47 were successfully placed, 29 emigrated, three were promoted to the colony staff, two entered the Army, and 16 returned to friends on improvement, making a total of 95, or 74 per cent. of the total who left. Of the others 20 absconded, three were dismissed and seven discharged as unable to respond to the training. If, with regard to 589 material which is recognised as being extremely difficult, 74 per cent. can be trained in This way, surely when you are able to do more in the way of selection, as has been done in the case of training farms in East Anglia, there will surely be a better chance. The percentages in the figures which have been supplied in answer to questions are very nearly the same for training farms. I do not want to suggest that that is any indication of failure. You cannot hope at the start in work of this character to get full success. There is every indication that with proper training these men are willing to enter into the whole spirit of it. In regard to the Wallingford Colony, may I quote what Sir John Wormald, late managing director of Mather and Platt, said recently. He was sending a further contribution of £100in special recognition of the fine work you and your staff are doing in training these lads.But the work goes on beyond that. Contact is kept up with those who leave the Colony. Some of them are visited in this country and there is more or less constant communication with those abroad, and the work of the Colony is worthy of a good deal more consideration or examination on the lines on which I believe the Parliamentary Secretary desires this kind of work to develop than it seems to me yet to have received.
With regard to the training at Claydon there are one or two features to which I think it is necessary that attention should be called. I said earlier on that it is really useful and successful work, but it is on a very small scale. We find that whereas at Claydon 10.8 per cent. leave on account of unsatisfactory conduct, at Brandon Farm the figure is 4.8 per cent., and of those who leave on grounds of ill-health at Claydon the percentage is 5.1 and at Brandon 9.2, or nearly double. I asked for an explanation as to why these figures should be so different at the two farms. What I am told is that at Brandon you have more overseas men, the standard of physical fitness required is higher, and unsatisfactory conduct has been found to be less present amongst them than amongst the handy-men. In other words, although every care has been taken by medical examination to see how far these men were fitted for work at the farm, we have rather large figures of those who 590 leave on account of ill-health. But I think a more serious aspect of it all is that here at the two farms you have more or less selected men, and yet you find that on the grounds of ill-health at Brandon very nearly 10 per cent. have to leave If, in your selected cases coming to Brandon who have been medically examined, 10 per cent. have to leave because they cannot stand the work, it seems to me that among the other part of the unemployed population, the young population—because all these cases are under 25 unless they are ex-service men—the percentage suffering from ill-health will be very much larger, and that is a very serious matter so far as the future of industry is concerned. Not only that, but there is this further somewhat ominous suggestion in the reply, that unsatisfactory conduct has been found to be less frequent amongst the stronger and more physically fit men than amongst those who are less physically fit, and if you have a large proportion, as we believe we have, in the unemployed of the country who are not physically fit and then on the top of that you have what we may call this mental or temperamental distress and difficulty, unless we are going to deal with the thing properly it is going to be a very serious matter to the whole of industry for many years to come, and it is going to have a great effect upon our whole national life.
Hollesley Bay has frequently been spoken of, and has been rather represented as a failure. May I point out what the general meeting of the Central Body of Unemployed said in December, 1925? They record with regret that the colony is not utilised more adequately as an industrial and training centre on behalf of those who genuinely desire to take up occupations in rural areas at home and overseas. We all recognise that is a very big problem indeed. There is need for far more in the way of investigation and inquiry and for really having an intelligence department, if I may put it that way. This is no party matter at all. It is a matter which affects us all and which we all desire to see dealt with in a thoroughly efficient way, to find, as far as we can, some remedy. I want to ask the Minister whether something cannot be done in the way of setting up a Committee of inquiry on entirely non-party lines, looking to the whole of this information gathered together to see what possibilities there 591 are. It need not necessarily be a Committee of this House. I think it will be agreed that we need fuller inquiry. I do not know whether the letter that was addressed to the President of the Local Government Board some 21 years ago in regard to this whole question of training has been brought to the attention of the Ministry of Labour or not. It was written by one who has probably done more in the way of establishing training colleges than anyone else. I refer to the late Dr. Paton. His letter is well worthy of perusal, and I shall be glad to lend the Minister a copy. He said training colleges must be of various kinds to meet varying needs. There must be one effective administration inspired by the highest moral influences. We want different colonies for different sections, colonies for lads from the cities and colonies for the able-bodied from Poor Law institutions. This cannot be too strongly emphasised and, if they are to be successful, land settlement colonies must hold out some prospect of settlement on the land. In addition there must be colonies for men out of work. There is need for very much fuller inquiry and more information than we have yet had in regard to this, and I hope we are going to endeavour to make some start in that direction.
§ Sir JOSEPH NALL
There is no more melancholy topic than the constantly recurring question of unemployment, and I suppose, there is no question more frequently discussed on which the Debates, judged by results, are so extraordinarily futile. It seems to me that the difference between us and the party opposite is that they are more concerned with palliatives, while we believe palliatives at best will not really give any return that is comparable with the expenditure involved. What we really ought to concentrate upon is restoring those conditions which will see this problem pass away. I maintain that the present Government is fulfilling its task in endeavouring to see those difficulties pass away, and it is little short of hypocrisy when we are taunted from the other side of the House, in view of the fact that the party opposite is more responsible than any other body of opinion in the country for those conditions 592 which, through constantly recurring industrial troubles, tend to maintain the present level of unemployment.
The right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate is solely concerned with palliatives. He referred to the question of the grants for unemployment relief works and the representations which have been made by local authorities. There have been many of those representations. Whilst works of the kind should be undertaken where they can reasonably be undertaken, it is very easy to exaggerate the importance and value of them. The Minister has had some figures which show that the proportion of actual man days of employment provided in proportion to the money expended. He will find, as I found some time ago when I went into the matter, that the number of man days provided is absolutely negligible in proportion to the sums, which are expended on these schemes. So far as relieving the unhappy lot of the men concerned goes, there is no doubt that the same amount of money issued direct to the men would relieve a far larger number in a more adequate way than through these schemes when they are undertaken.
§ Sir J. NALL
It is a common complaint that the Road Fund has been raided for these schemes, and the enthusiasts who are always prompting Members of this House, and rightly so, on the question of the raiding of the Road Fund, are relentless in pressing upon us what they believe to be the unfairness of a large proportion of the Road Fund being spent on works which have been expedited for unemployment purposes, while other schemes which are more urgent for road purposes have to be postponed. The hon. Member for East Ham, North (Miss Lawrence) opened up the topic of training. There, again, while there is scope for training schemes, provided that they are reasonably inaugurated and reasonably applied, it is easy to exaggerate them and to be extravagant in their promotion. The hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Cecil Wilson) referred to the Hollesley Bay Colony. That is an example of what can be done. It is an example of private initiative. It depends for its success on the enthusiasm of 593 volunteers who have come forward for many years and have made the Colony the success that it is. It is a very different matter to launch out through a State Department on widely extended training schemes. The hon. Member for East Ham, North, said that she was not fully acquainted with certain aspects of male, unemployment. She is misinformed if she thinks that the expenditure of money on training clerks, for example, is going to be much good. Adding machines can he learnt by any smart boy in 10 minutes, while the unemployed clerk who will not take the trouble to learn shorthand while he or she has nothing else to do, is not worth employing as a clerk. Why spend public funds on the training of such individuals?
Domestic service was referred to by the hon. Member for East Ham, North. She said, and it was good to hear it from the benches opposite, that she does not discourage women or girls from going into that occupation. Nevertheless, the fact remains that prejudice exists and is largely bolstered up in quarters which one would think ought to have more sense. If there is one occupation open to unemployed young women which they can enter with the greatest facility, and in which they can, if they apply in the right quarters, get adequate training, it is domestic service. There is no need for spending large sums of public money on training of that kind. All over the country committees which are concerned with this kind of work will approach, as they can approach, house-holders, and they will find scores of people who are prepared to take girls in as supernumaries on their own staffs, train them and adequately pay them for whatever work they do. There is no need to squander public funds for such a purpose.
We come back to the fundamental fact that it is only by restoring industry by wise public policy that this problem will be adequately met. We have an example of that in the present Budget. At long last, the McKenna Duties are applied to tyres. That alone will give more relief to unemployment in Lancashire than any kind of dole and grants will ever give. I remember that in 1920 or 1921 I went into the figures—I wish I had them with me now—and it was shown clearly that the cotton yard involved in the imported 594 tyres would if those tyres were produced in this country keep six mills going full time, or a dozen half-time. By measures of public policy and by the wise direction of Government policy unemployment will gradually disappear. I say quite frankly that I am not concerned with the fancy palliatives we so frequently hear from the other side of the House. I prefer to rely upon the settled policy not only of the Government but of the party which supports the Government, in the firm belief that that is the only sound and ultimate way of meeting this problem.
§ Dr. DRUMMOND SHIELS
I should like to add my plea to what has been urged already from these benches for a more liberal policy on the part of the Unemployment Grants Committee. We know that that Committee has been prevented by the Government from exercising the activity it formerly did, though it had never exceeded the need it existed to meet. I should also like to emphasise the point made by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) as to the tremendous advantage from the national point of view of men being paid for work done rather than in their getting relief by way of the so-called dole. This would seem to be so obvious and so clear that it would only need to be stated to be accepted, yet we have the view from the Government side that the best thing to do is to confine our efforts to attempts to bring back normal conditions of trade and employment, and in the meantime to keep paying unemployment relief. The hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) pointed out that some national economic advantage had been given by the payment of unemployment relief, in a certain increased purchasing power, but obviously the purchasing power of individuals in employment with relief work rates of pay would be very much greater. We on this side keep on emphasising the fact that the party opposite do not pay sufficient attention to the home market. We always hear more about the foreign market and yet our home market represents two-thirds of our trade. An increase of purchasing power at home would give an impetus to trade and decrease unemployment in a way which the party opposite do not seem to realise or appreciate.
I wish specially to emphasise the point which the hon. Member for Leith 595 made in regard to Leith Docks. It is true that a grant was offered, but it was very inadequate. I would urge that in the special circumstances of that district, where there is a great deal of suffering, the Unemployment Grants Committee might he permitted to make a more generous offer, and thereby do something not only to relieve unemployment, but to create a permanent asset which would be of great importance for the future development of our north eastern shipping. I would have liked to say something about the training schemes, and Colonies, in which I am much interested, and especially in what was said by the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. C. Wilson), but I have not time to pursue the subject. I would, however, ask the Parliamentary Secretary if part of the objection to the development of training schemes is the difficulty of finding employment for the trainees after their training has been completed? I have been told that that is the case. Some figures in that respect would be very interesting.
The hon. Member for Attercliffe brought out a very important point in regard to the physical condition of the unemployed. We have not sufficiently realised that the so-called dole is entirely inadequate to maintain a proper standard of nourishment and health among the working people. There is no doubt that our unemployed are not only running the risk of moral deterioration, but they are certainly incurring physical deterioration. There is a good deal of quiet heroism among our working people, which is not known and never heard about, where men deprive themselves even of sufficient food in order to provide for what they consider to be the greater necessities of their wives and children. It is a very great tragedy that all this heroism is being exercised in what, from the national point of view, is an entirely unnecessary way. I would like to emphasise the plea the hon. Member made that, even from the point of view of ultimate capability for employment, more sympathetic consideration should be given to the condition of our working people, and an endeavour be made to get the Unemployment Grants Committee into full swing again, and by various other methods, to see that when the great revival of trade and industry does come, as we hope it will come, our 596 population will be in a mental and physical condition to respond to it.
While all these matters are of great interest to me, I have risen chiefly to call attention to a somewhat different subject. We are allowed on the Adjournment Motion to discuss questions coming within the scope of administration. One of the administrative functions of the Ministry of Labour is to endeavour to reduce friction in the relations between employers and employed. I wish to call attention therefore to the oppressive action of employers in a rather unexpected quarter, and that is, in one of the great Scottish banks—the Commercial Bank of Scotland: an action which is causing very considerable and, I think, a justifiable amount of discontent among the staff. It is well known that the remuneration of bank clerks and officers, especially of the lower grades, has never borne any proper relation to the prosperity of those institutions. One would have thought that in such a class of business care would have been taken to see that the conditions of pay and treatment were such that anything in the nature of trade unions among the staff was unnecessary. But it has not been so. The bank authorities have taken advantage of the fact that banking is considered a genteel profession, and that in some cases lads have gone into the profession who did not depend upon their pay, and the standard of remuneration has always been low. As a result of that, the Scottish Bankers' Association was formed to try to improve the conditions of pay and promotion of bank workers. While this Association has not been enthusiastically received by any of the banks, I wish to call the attention of the House, and especially of the Parliamentary Secretary, to a specific action by the authorities of the Commercial Bank of Scotland which amounts to intimidation. The bank clerks, who are members of the Association, which has pursued a strictly constitutional and regular procedure, have been informed by the bank authorities that continued membership of the Association cannot be considered consistent with loyalty to the bank. The result has been that members of the staff of the Commercial Bank have been compelled to resign their membership of a constitutionally formed and lawfully recognised association.
597 This has been going on since 1925, and repeated protests in respectful terms have been addressed to the bank authorities, but without result. The letters complained of which have been sent to the members of the staff by the bank authorities are signed by superintendents of branches, and have usually been followed up by a visit from an inspector to see whether or not the instruction has been carried out. So far as I can gather, the bank authorities have not even been courteous enough to acknowledge or reply to the communications from the association, which is in an extraordinary attitude for people in their position to take up at this time of day. The bank authorities have gone further, and have interfered with the staff voting in connection with the election of members of council of the Institute of Bankers, which is a professional body of the usual non-political character. The voting is by ballot and secret proxies, and it shows the extraordinarily dictatorial and intimidating character of the bank authorities that they have pursued this vendetta into the private business of an organisation with which they have nothing to do, simply because, presumably, they thought it might possibly give a blessing to the Scottish Bankers' Association unless its executive was approved by themselves. I do not know who are the directors or authorities of the Commercial Bank, but I do know that they are far behind, and that they are not a credit either to Scotland or to the banking profession. There is very much need for such an association generally, and not least in connection with this bank. Its record, in regard to large funds accumulated for pension purposes for the staff and transferred to the ordinary account, without anything being done in connection with its original purpose, and as to the number of outsiders who are brought in as agents, to the detriment of the ordinary staff and their promotion, are not what we would expect in a great Scottish bank. Even the new Trade Unions Bill of the Government, which we, on this side, uniformly and strongly condemn, does not deny the right of combination to any body of workers; and we demand that right for bank clerks, and that they shall exercise it without mean threats and intimidation. I should be very grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary 598 would be good enough to look into this matter and try to secure for a section of the community, who are trusted with very high responsibilities, and who discharge those responsibilities honestly and well, the elementary right to combine for the protection of their conditions of life and service.
§ Miss BONDFIELD
I noticed with some amusement the attack made by the hon. Member for Hulme (Sir J. Nall). It seems to me that the charge of hypocrisy, if we felt so disposed, could be banded about from one side of the House to another in this particular matter. I very much doubt whether the hon. Member, who I regret is not in his place, could put his hand on his heart and swear that he had never been a party to trying to press the Government for schemes such as those he now condemns. Apart from that, I want to bring the question, which has already been touched on by the hon. Member for East Ham North (Miss Lawrence), to the notice of the Parliamentary Secretary. That question is the importance of the women's training centres, and the dire position in which the Central Committee on Women's Employment finds itself to-day. Like other committees which have been referred to, this committee is a non-party one. Its first chairman was Lady Crewe; its present chairman is Mrs. Carruthers; the deputy-Chairman is Mrs. H. J. Tennant; and Lady Cynthia Colville, and a number of very distinguished women, are serving on the committee. It cannot, by any possible means, be described as a party or partisan committee. The members of the committee have given loyal and devoted service in the interests of unemployed women. Certain members of the committee have done so at considerable personal sacrifice, and they have built up, since 1915, when the committee was first established, a network of affiliation throughout the country not only in regard to the committee's centers—to the 25 centres now in being—but to those that have been opened and closed in different parts of the country in association with the education and other interested authorities in the districts. One of the difficulties under which they have laboured during all these years, and which is enormously accentuated this year by the still more parsimonious policy of the Ministry, is the lack of continuity in 599 connection with the staff of teachers. It is not a simple matter to get a centre established, to get the necessary room allocated, to come to arrangements with the local Education Committee and, most important of all, with the right kind of superintendent for the centre, for on the superintendent the success of the centre largely depends.
I want to add my tribute to the devotion of the women who have been superintendents of these centres for years in most difficult circumstances, and who work, as it were, with a sword constantly suspended over their heads. They are only engaged from period to period and they have, at most, a five to six months' undertaking, at the end of which time, it may be, they find themselves unemployed. They have tried to carry on the work, year after year, under these conditions, with this gap constantly recurring. Then they suddenly discover, as we discovered this year, that certain continuous classes, which we confidently hoped would have been established for this year, had to close down on account of the reduction in the grant from £80,000 in 1926 to £63,000 in 1927 and —45,000 in 1927–1928.
The loss of a superintendent accustomed to the work is a direct economic loss, and it is unfair to the teaching staff that they should be under this suspensory condition. We want the Ministry of Labour to recognise that training schemes will have to be regarded as a permanent part of the machinery of the Ministry; that they cannot be carried on from hand to mouth, or regarded as a temporary expedient; but that, in view of the estimate given of the possible percentage of unemployment for the next 15 years, of 6 per cent.—that is, an under-estimate, rather than an over-estimate—it is perfectly clear that these centres ought to be regarded as an integral part. of the Ministry's work, and ought to be placed on a permanent basis. In that way we should be able to conserve all the experience already gained, instead of being constantly under the threat of losing, perhaps, one of the most valuable of our teaching staff.
Having made my protest from the standpoint of the difficulty in which the Central Committee is placed in regard to the threat to the teaching staff, I 600 want to emphasise the point about the practical value of this work. In regard to the work of the domestic service training classes, undoubtedly, there was once a feeling of apprehension, in which I shared, lest they were going to be used to drive unsuitable women into occupations which were distasteful to them, and for which they were not well equipped. Our experience, however, has been that, while the narrowing of the classes to this particular sphere of training has been, in our opinion, a grave mistake, and a disaster, yet, notwithstanding, thanks to the care exercised in relation to the placing of the girls trained in those classes, we have had the most astonishingly favourable results in regard to the greater popularity of the classes. For example, in South Shields, we have had no less than 170 applicants for 60 places; there were 170 unemployed women who asked to be allowed to go into a centre where there was only room for 60. At Hamilton, in September, there were 100 applicants for 20 places. At Gateshead, in September, when the classes began, there were 80 applicants for 20 places; in Manchester, in the classes which started in January of this year, there were 55 applicants for 20 places. All over the country the same thing occurs, and it is the result of the steady and careful work that has been done to ascertain the nature of the job to which the girl is going as well as to ascertain that the girl is fit for the job. We regard that work which has been done by our superintendents in relation to after-care, as being among the most important contributions that can be made to the permanent solution of the unemployment problem. To fit the right person to the right job is the best way of securing permanent employment for these people.
We have a whole series of resolutions coming in from all over the country, which contain a note of dismay at the new policy of the Department in curtailing the work already entered into, at the very time when the demand for this training is increasing so rapidly and when the success of the scheme is absolutely demonstrated. Yet this is the time that is chosen to cut down supplies, and which will quite necessarily bring to an end many of the extension plans which we hoped to see put into operation. A resolu- 601 tion unanimously passed by the Hamilton Women's Sub-Committee states that
They view with dismay and apprehension the end of the domestic training classes until some mitigation of the present unemployment can be seen, and, indeed, the Committee would go so far as to state that domestic training in Hamilton should be arranged on a permanent basis. In Hamilton area, where girls are so many and industries so few, domestic training has been the one way of escape from complete idleness. It has done two things—greatly increased the capacity of the girls for usefulness, and met an urgent need for good domestic service. Many trainees have been for years in the same post; the great majority have been well worth training, and most grateful for it.As to the applicants' point of view, they repeat the figures I have given, that there were 72 applications in one year for one class and, in the previous year, 100 applications, for only 20 places available. They go on to say:The position of our girls in Hamilton is so acute that the Committee earnestly desire the Ministry to give the appeal serious consideration.Newcastle sends a resolution in much the same terms, and I could go on to repeat resolutions we have received from all over the country. Surely, in the fact of all this, when it is known that the greatest care is taken in the selection of the girls to put in these training centres, and the greatest success is being obtained in finding suitable work under reasonable conditions for these girls, it seems the height of folly, in view of the fact that there are over 100,000 women on the unemployed register and over 60,000 young persons under the age of 18 unemployed, to reduce at such a moment these training grants. I make a most earnest appeal that the Minister will reconsider the position and will not force the closing down of those centres that are at present operating, but instead will extend the grants in order that this most valuable work may be carried on.
I want to give one or two quotations—I could quote for hours from letters from some of these girls, but I do not propose to trespass so much on the time of the House. Let me give one or two quotations from some of these letters showing exactly what work is being done. I have myself been present at the opening of a new class when the girls have been brought in from the Employment Exchange in their shabby clothes, boots down at heel, with a starved look in their 602 faces, and such a draggle-tailed appearance of hopelessness that if they went for a job they would be turned down at sight. After six weeks in a training centre,making themselves new print dresses and uniforms, with new courage put into them, some hot food put into them, which they have cooked for themselves, they present a totally different appearance. They have a greater courage to face the world; a better confidence that they can win success. This is what one girl writes:I wish to say that I have a very good situation, and I am in better health than when I worked in the factory. I had one rise in wages after I had been here six months. I appreciate my training very much, and it shall stand out in my future career as something that has been very worth while, something that shall snake me wish that every girl could have. That three months' happy company of other girls after the same aim in life is a thing I would not have missed for anything in the world.Another girl writes:I am very happy in my new work, and the people with whom I work treat me as though I belonged to them. I do not think I shall ever regret taking up domestic work. I thank you and the committee for the training I had, and earnestly hope that the girls' homecraft training will keep going on. I think it is the best thing that ever happened to me, and so does all my family. I should like to hear if all the girls are as happy as I am.One other quotation from a girl at the Bootle Centre:I like it very much and am very happy. I was over 15 years in soap works, but got stopped through electric machines, so it seemed very strange at first. I was sorry to leave the training centre as I was very happy. Mrs. J— did her best for each one of us. It was not her fault if we did not learn everything.Finally a letter from a Leeds trainee:I should like to tell you how much I enjoyed my 13 weeks at the centre and what a lot of good I found it, as being a tailoress and working long hours I did not have any opportunity to learn much about housewifery, especially the cooking part, and what I was taught at the centre seemed to just put me on my feet, and, above all, gave me confidence to strike out in a new line, which I have wanted for a long time but did not see how I could manage it. I would like you to know I am quite happy in my work and my new home, and hope later on to further improve my position by taking some special course of training in housekeeping.This last girl is going to take a special course of other lessons in order to improve her position. That is what the training 603 centres do. I have been speaking generally about women, but it applies equally to men. There is nothing so tragic and terrible as compulsory idleness. It is one of the greatest wrongs that can be inflicted upon people, and especially upon young people in the most impressionable years of their lives. An experience of this nature may blast their lives for the rest of their existence. It is at the early period in their life that I plead that the Minister should come to their assistance and recognise the necessity for a period of training, especially as this is a country faced with its peculiar economic development, dependent on its export trade, and an over-populated island, having a surplus population of women, many of whom must always be self supporting. I make this assertion, that you cannot find a greater source of wastefulness than to waste the health, energy and courage of the people of the country in compulsory idleness.
These training schemes are said to be expensive, but it is far more expensive not to train the people, far more harmful to the country if you allow them to lapse into idleness and become broken in health and morale and courage. It is because I feel so strongly on this matter that I have again intruded my views on this question before the House. I should like to utter one small warning in relation to these training centres, and that is that it must be quite clear they are not intended to train young people to take the place of those who are already employed and whose longer industrial experience entitles them to the first preference. I mention this not because I have any definite evidence on the matter, but when I was recently in Wallsend my attention was called to a case which I am at present inquiring into, in which three men, two of whom were married, who had been for six months in the training centre, were asked to go for a week's test for building work. They had no payment during that time and they had to get relief from the guardians. The fear is that these men are being utilised in order to replace men at a cheaper rate than the proper rate of the district. I hope that fear will be entirely dispelled by the evidence which may be adduced, but it must be made perfectly clear that the training centres are not intended to supply cheap labour at a lower rate than 604 that which exists in any trade. I do not think it is the intention of the Ministry to do anything of the kind, and I only mention this in order to enable the Minister to assure the House that it is not part of their policy and that everything will be done to enable the men and women in these centres to be placed in occupations at the proper rate of wages.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I should like to trouble the House for a few moments on the question of the recent circular of the Unemployment Grants Committee. It is a commonplace to say that the question of unemployment is no new question. We have had this problem with us before the war. For many years before the war I was a member of what was then known as a distress committee, because in the town of Grimsby, at certain seasons of the year, we had a good deal of unemployment, and my experience of those days and since that period has proved to me conclusively that 95 per cent. of the men unemployed are genuinely desirous of having work. Nothink deteriorates the character of a man more than being out of employment, and having no opportunity of doing useful work. I agree with the late Daniel Webster when he said:A well employed and prosperous community can buy and consume; an unemployed community cannot buy and consume. That is the solution of the whole matter, and the whole science of political economy has not one truth of half so much importance as this.I have taken a deep interest in this question of unemployment, and in all probability I should never have been a Member of this House but for the fact that I was very keen on something being done to solve this difficult problem. I know the Minister of Labour is regarded as the whipping boy of the Government Departments. He gets all the kicks and very few of the halfpence. I have a great deal of sympathy with the Department in its work. When Lord St. Davids Committee was set up to find schemes for the relief of unemployment, the people regarded it as more of a palliative in order to get over the difficulties with which we were confronted at the moment, and there is no doubt that the schemes they provided did relieve, to some extent, the unemployment difficulties of the country. Unfortunately, a good many of those 605 schemes, while costing a great deal of money, provided very little employment. They consisted of works of a non-revenue earning character, because anything of a revenue earning character was not regarded as a suitable scheme.
What could local authorities do? All they could do was to put forward schemes such as new sewage works, new roads, the laying-out of parks and recreation grounds. The system of grant was that 60 per cent. of the interest and sinking fund on the loan was granted by the Committee out of Imperial taxation for half the period of the loan, which was generally 15 years, and I am wondering what is going to happen when the 15 years' term expires, and local authorities realise the tremendous burden that has been placed on them by the schemes. Whilst the Ministry have probably been wise in asking Lord Davids Committee to stay its hand for a moment until this question can be carefully considered, and the question of the relation between local authorities and the National Exchequer can be reviewed, I hope it does not mean that they are going to wipe out the work of this Committee altogether. Later on a scheme was brought out which to my mind was perhaps the most sensible scheme ever put before the Ministry by that Committee, and that scheme was outlined in a circular known as "U.A.C. 16 revised." It laid it down that schemes of a revenue-earning character, which could be considered as of public utility, would be available for a grant, and to my mind that was probably the most sensible way of dealing with this question. It means that you are going to allow local authorities and others to commence schemes which are not going to be merely digging holes and filling them up, but which will be schemes of national importance both at the present time and in the future, and will provide work for more of the unemployed than the labouring man.
Those interested in this subject realise that the one great difficulty in dealing with the problem of unemployment is that the relief schemes we were able to commence were very largely labouring work, and you had to take a man who was a skilled engineer and put him on read making, and things like that. You broke the fellow's heart. He was not able to do more than half the work 606 which a skilled navvy could do, and he was called a slacker. You are doing real harm to a man of that kind in taking him away from the skilled work to which he has been accustomed. Schemes under this recent circular will provide work not only for the labourers but for the skilled men as well, because it includes electricity schemes, gas works, docks and harbours, and I believe it was under this circular that the application from Leith was made in regard, to the docks there. I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) and his constituency, but they are in a much better position than I when a scheme was brought before the Ministry and the Unemployment Grants Committee. We did not receive an offer at all. Leith had an offer and evidently it was not sufficient for it has not been taken advantage of.
My scheme was a scheme in connection with the Grimsby fish docks. There was work that ought to have been begun in 1914. It meant the spending of £500,000 and the employment of a large number of people. The scheme was approved and the contract was left when the War broke out and the Government stopped the work. After the War we agitated for a recommencement of the work and the Government were approached. We asked them to help us, because the cost of the dock had risen from £500,000 in pre-war times to something like £1,250,000 in post-war time. It was really too big a burden to be undertaken by the railway company which owned the dock. What did they ask for? That a small grant of £200,000 should be made. That meant that they would find £1,050,000 themselves. The contract would have provided work for between 3,000 and 4,000 men for a period of five years. It would have found a great deal of work for engineers and others engaged in the provision of dock equipment. It would have meant orders for new trawlers for the shipyards and would have provided work for the engineers there. What is more, the sum of money that was asked for was only about the same amount as was paid out in unemployment pay in a period of two years. We were to provide work for between 3,000 and 4,000 men straight away, and probably the number would have grown over at least five years.
We think that the Ministry ought to have taken this matter in hand and 607 assisted us. I am not blaming the present Minister. We went first to the Minister of Labour who was in office in 1923. Sir Montague Barlow did more than any man I know in trying to solve the great problem of unemployment. He was very sympathetic; and it looked as if we were to get some assistance for the scheme. Unfortunately the Government of the time went out of office and another Government came in. As I have said before, some people thought that when the Labour Government came we should get some assistance from them, because they had said that they were the only people who could solve the problem. What did we get? A blank refusal, a very blank refusal, and we had to go away disappointed. I admit quite freely that we have put the scheme again before the present Minister of Labour and he has given an answer similar to that of his predecessor in the Labour Government; not quite as blank a refusal as that of the other gentleman, but still a refusal. I have not yet given this matter up in despair, because I am still hoping that the Minister of Labour will decide, before he finally scraps Lord St. Davids Committee, before he asks them to hold their hands, to ask them to spend a little time in thoroughly investigating this question of unemployment relief grants awl to see whether they cannot bring forward a scheme on sound financial lines.
Whilst I agree that it is possible that trade will improve in the near future, and while I am in thorough agreement with one of my colleagues who said that the policy of the Government in safeguarding certain industries is assisting in relieving unemployment, yet I believe also that we have so much unemployment that cannot be absorbed by even these methods for a considerable time, that it is our duty as the House of Commons to face the problem. I have spoken to these men and I know their feelings. Only a few weeks ago I met a friend, a labouring man, and said to him, "What do you think of the political situation" He replied, "Look here, I do not care anything about the political situation. What I am worrying about now is where I am going to get a job of work. That is my politics at the moment." I believe that a good many working men who are out of work are feeling just like that. This Committee ought to be asked to investigate 608 thoroughly the whole question whether the unemployment relief grants are to continue, and, if so, to bring forward a scheme on businesslike lines for dealing with them.
I want to refer to the question of Juvenile Unemployment Centres. I have had considerable experience of this work, and I am proud to say that I am Vice-Chairman of the Grimsby Committee dealing with it. I appeal to the Ministry of Labour not to cripple in any way the work of the Centres. I think it is the finest work that can be undertaken in connection with the future of this country. In the Centre of which I am speaking we have found that the boys come along eagerly. Many of them are boys who are not drawing unemployment benefit and therefore we have no control over them and cannot compel them to attend; but they attend voluntarily. We find that the physical and mental condition of these boys is improving greatly. I hope that there will be no parsimony as regards this particular object, that the work will be encouraged in every way possible by the Minister, that he will not cut down the grant if the classes happen to drop below a certain mark, which is the system now, and that he will encourage the extension of these Juvenile Centres to the girls, so that they can receive the same benefit as the boys. I hope that these matters will be conveyed to the Minister of Labour by the Parliamentary Secretary.
§ Mr. RILEY
I wish to repudiate the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Hulme (Sir J. Nall) as to the Labour party being entirely responsible for the creation of this unemployment problem and for its aggravation. We have been told that the problem is the result of the unwise and ill-informed policies of the Labour party. That irresponsible statement is characteristic of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. It is common ground that the problem of unemployment as it has existed for the past six years is a result, not of any party's action, but of a great world change in which this country has been particularly affected. I want to refer to one aspect only of the problem, and to ask the Minister to tell the House what are the intentions of the Government as to the continuation and extension of the training of unemployed men for agricultural 609 pursuits. As is well known, the Department have for some time had under their administration two or three Centres where men are undergoing training for settlement on the land. As far as I have been able to ascertain, all that has so far been done, particularly at Claydon and Brandon, is to turn out something like 500 young men equipped for agricultural pursuits beyond the seas. Is it not possible to widen the eligibility of unemployed persons who can have the advantage of the training for agricultural pursuits?
As I read the Regulations, they provide that only those unemployed young men are eligible who are prepared and will undertake, when trained, to go overseas and to settle in the Dominions While that is, no doubt, a very desirable and useful purpose, in view of the acuteness of unemployment and the necessity of affording every opportunity to all classes of unemployed to become employed and to make a useful contribution to the general economy of the country, would it not be a wise step to remove that restriction and throw open the training schemes to men who may not desire to be transferred overseas but wish to settle in this country and to make the land of this country fruitful? I would invite the Minister's attention to the bearing of this question of agricultural training upon the question of Unemployment and the result to the country. There are to-day millions of acres of land in this country which are being inadequately used, or in some cases not used at all. We know that, in spite of our enormously increased population and our enormously increased needs as a nation, land is actually going out of cultivation. Since 1871 2,000,000 acres have passed out of cultivation altogether, and the population has doubled during that time.
I appeal to the Minister of Labour to use his influence with the Government and to see whether some useful liaison and co-operation could be brought about between the administration of the Labour Ministry and that of the Ministry of Agriculture. Why could not the Minister of Labour, being responsible directly for dealing with unemployment, utilise his administrative powers to prepare men and to pass them on to be used under the schemes organised by the Minister of 610 Agriculture? There is no more hopeful field for something like a permanent settlement of this question than in the development of our own land and the increase of its production. It would be a means of doing that great thing in economics which everyone praises, making two blades of grass grow where only one grew before. No more useful work could be clone than that of enabling men to develop the natural resources of the country. On this point we have a body of evidence which is perfectly definite. We know that during the last 20 years something like 30,000 men have been placed upon the land by administrative action on the part of the Government or local authorities, and are now pursuing a useful occupation. That is a work which might be very largely extended. Not only does it provide a productive use for unemployed labour, but it makes men self-respecting and it has economic results of unquestioned value. One of the causes of unemployment, or, at any rate, one of the aceentuaing factors in the unemploymcnt situation, has been the shifting of the rural population to industrial centres in the last 40 or 50 years, and one of the best things we can do is to readjust, so far as we can, the relationship between the rural and urban populations by increasing the number of people living in rural localities and working on the land, as against the number engaged in industrial pursuits. A policy of land settlement such as the Ministry of Labour might pursue, in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture, would achieve that purpose in the most direct way.
The facts are set forth in a Report issued by the Ministry of Agriculture on land settlement in this country. That Report makes it clear that there has been a successful settlement of many thousands of men in agriculture, and it shows, also, that where that has taken place the rural population has definitely increased—the number of families living on the land is far higher than it was under previous conditions. This is not only a readjustment of occupations but it is a building up of rural life which, in the matters of purchasing power and productive power, may react favourably on our industrial centres. Not only so, but acre for acre, and farm for farm, productive capacity 611 has been found far higher in these settlements than under a system of large farms. We have a right to call on the Ministry and the Government to consider these facts The House may be satisfied that the mass of unemployed people in the country are not going to remain quiet very much longer, and unless the Government are prepared to do some thing they will meet their deserts when they have to accept the judgment of the country.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
Reference has been made already in this Debate to the St. Davids Committee, and I shall preface my remarks by giving some figures concerning the work of that Committee before the slowing-down process began. These figures have been collated by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston), and I am sure he will have no objection if I make use of them. Since 1920, local authorities sent in to Lord St. Davids Committee no fewer than 18,000 special schemes of work for the unemployed, and 11,900 of these were approved. Government subsidies were given to the extent of £40,000,000. In return for that the nation got work to the value of £104,000,000, the difference being paid by the local authorities. Work was thus provided for 600,000 men for one year. The Government subsidy saved £32,000,000 in what are called dole payments, but since December, 1925, the Government have issued instructions that that particular kind of work was to be slowed down. The point I wish to emphasise is that unemployment is not a mere temporary emergency; it is a big national question and it is a permanent question, involving vital economic considerations which affect the whole prosperity of our people. I would like to quote from a graphic description of the conditions of life among the mass of the unemployed as reported in a weekly newspaper only recently. I do not make this quotation with any idea of using it as an emotional appeal. I wish to base an economic argument on this quotation, and I choose it because it refers to a place on the borders of my own constituency. This is what the paper "John Bull" says:Here are father and mother and five children all crowded together in a room measuring 13 feet square. That room has 612 to serve them as night and day nursery, dining room, sitting room, bedroom and bathroom combined, and practically all the space is occupied by beds. In one bed, under a broken window, sleep four children, one boy and three girls, two at the head and two at the foot. None of these beds has any proper bed clothes, because these have been pawned long ago. Neither is there any furniture worthy of the name. A clothes line stretched across the ceiling serves as their wardrobe, and they are hand-drying the few poor garments not actually in wear, giving the room the appearance of a rag shop. The family does not live—it exists. The man and his wife can do nothing in the evenings except to sit still under a low light for fear of waking the children. There is a gas stove in the room, but nothing can be cooked in it because it stands at the foot of the children's bed and there is not room to open the oven door. When the children are indoors they have to make their bed their playground, as there is no room on the floor for them to play.This description is from a special commissioner of this weekly paper, who investigated such cases close to my constituency. It may not be typical of the condition of the unemployed as a class, but, it is not an isolated case and I could take hon. Members to areas within five miles of this House where they will find these conditions in hundreds of cases and throughout the country such cases are to be found in many thousands. As I say, I am not making any emotional appeal. For all I know to the contrary, this man may deserve his lot, as the result, perhaps, of an inheritance from a previous incarnation. The point is that the nation cannot expect to get economic value out of that family. Take these five children whose bed is their playground. Their sleep is not the healthy sleep of childhood but the stupor which comes from congestion and bad air. The nation in the course of 10 years will spend £500 upon the education of each one of these children. The nation will spend £2,500 in an effort to educate five children who are being brought up under the conditions described. It is not merely emergency considerations of overcrowding which cause those conditions. This family could not pay for decent accommodation even if it were available. Their condition is due to poverty and the poverty is brought about by unemployment. Unless a miracle happens these children are not capable of being properly educated. They are not properly fed and they will finish their course at the elementary schools in the condition 613 which has been described as the condition of a large percentage of our people —they will be incapable of dealing with two ideas at the same time. One idea obliterates the other; they are incapable of reasoning in a logical manner, and they are, in fact, incapable of education because of their poverty.
The question on which I insist is the question of the economic consequences to the nation. In this case the nation will throw away £2,500 in attempting to educate these children, and such instances could be multiplied by thousands up and down the country. It is said that the nation cannot afford to carry on the work of the St. Davids Committee or deal adequately with the provision of employment. The nation persists in regarding this problem not as a fundamental economic problem, but as an emergency problem. It is nothing of the kind. The reason why there is unemployment is because there is no adequate market for the disposal of goods, and as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) pointed out in his speech on the Budget, we cannot depend on foreign markets unless our home market is satisfactory. You may talk about the difference between exports and imports and the balance being for or against us but, in the long run, foreign trade is just exchange of goods. It is not a question of the disposal of goods at all. Even your foreign trade depends on the virility of your home trade and on the purchasing power of your own people. The problem of unemployment, surely, is one of giving our people a proper purchasing power if we cannot afford to employ them adequately by means of State developments in agriculture and forestry and so forth.
In passing, I should like to refer to the speech made yesterday by the right hon. Gentleman. the Member for Hill-head (Sir R. Horne). He dealt with the poverty of the country in relation to national expenditure. That question involves the problem of unemployment and the attitude of the Government towards unemployment. The right hon. Gentleman said the nation was poor; that we had too many burdens on our shoulders, and that it was necessary for us to practice economy in national expenditure.
614 I suggest that the nation is not so poor as the right hon. Gentleman imagines, and that the nation is not bearing the burden that he imagines it is. The £800,000,000 odd that the nation pays to-day in taxation is just one-fifth of 1 per cent. more in, proportion to the total income of the country than the taxation of this country was in 1825. The total income of this nation was then £400,000,000, and the taxation was £72,000,000. To-day the national income is £4,000,000,000, and the taxation is just over £800,000,000. That is practically the same, and a nation which is richer by 10 times ought to be able to bear a greater proportionate burden of taxation. We have got capital in this country available for foreign investment, and yet we are told we must not spend money upon unemployment, with all the economic value of putting the people of the nation to work, sustaining their moral, and utilising their services for the benefit of the nation, because of the taxation that would be required depleting the capital reserves of the country. We are told that it is a good thing that large amounts of money should be available for investment in foreign securities.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
The capital investment abroad in the first half of last year was £63,000,000, which makes a total for the year, if the same proportion is maintained—and I have no doubt that is the case—of £126,000,000. The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. H. Williams) asks in what way that capital leaves the country. The answer is the one, of course, that he expects to get. It leaves the country in the form of goods, and those goods are manufactured by British labour.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
Of course, there is the entrepot trade and so on, but some are made by British labour. Assuming that all are, £126,000,000 goes out in the form of goods for investment in foreign securities, but that £126,000,000 is constantly, year by year, if the same amount is taken for every year, going to add to the sum total of foreign investments. The total amount of foreign investments to-day is some £5,000,000,000, and interest has to be paid upon that total, and if 615 we accept a modest 5 per cent.—and when capital is invested abroad it is usually in municipal and Government securities because of their high rate of interest—that means that there is an interest of £250,000,000 coming in every year from our investments abroad, against £126,000,000 going out. I accept the argument of the hon. Member for Reading that they must go out in the form of goods ultimately, but if that is true of the amount invested, it is also true of the amount that comes into this country in the form of interest, so that the interest that comes in is £250,000,000, while the amount that goes out is £126,000,000, leaving a balance against this country and against employment here of about £144,000,000. If we are told by the right hon. Member for Hillhead that that is a splendid thing because of the development of foreign markets, I say that it means the development of our competitors and the development of countries, like China and India, where money is invested in factories which are built there to utilise cheap labour, in order to compete against work that is done in this country.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
Has the hon. Member read the Report, published yesterday, showing that the investments of British capital in China for manufacturing purposes is trifling?
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I have read part of that report, and I have certainly read a number of quotations in various newspapers, pointing out that we are not so black as some people like to paint us with regard to the conditions of labour in China. But that is not my point. The amount of money invested in China is not represented by the number of British factories controlled in China, and in any case I use China as a typical instance of foreign investments. It is typical of a certain class of foreign investments, because no one, and least of all the hon. Member for Reading, will contend that the conditions of labour in foreign countries are equal to those in this country. However, I wish to draw attention to the argument constantly put up from the other side that we cannot afford social services, and this question comes within that subject of social services, because of the alleged inability of this country to find the money, owing to its 616 poverty. That is not the case, and if it were, it would pay this country to find the money for the employment of its people, because it would be a form of investment that would bring splendid returns to the nation very quickly—not in years to come, but from the start of an adequate policy of that kind—in economic security and in health.
The whole question of unemployment resides in this fact that the people of the country do not get enough wages to buy back the wealth that they themselves are capable of creating. We are to-day able to produce, with the aid of our machinery, 50 per cent. more wealth than we do actually produce. I am quoting Sir Hugo Hirst, chairman of the General Electric Company, who states that we could, if we liked, produce 50 per cent. more wealth than we do by the full utilisation of our resources, and yet we are told that the only way in which we can restore trade and develop our foreign and home markets is for labour to accept lower wages for the time being—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—for labour, in some way or other, to make sacrifices, in order that industry should be put upon its feet. That is looking at the question entirely from the wrong point of view, because it is not capital which employs labour, but labour which employs capital, and it is the demand in the market, and particularly in the home market, that determines how far capital shall be lucratively utilised. You have to begin with your market, and it would pay the capitalist class of this country to double the wages that they pay to the workers of this country to-morrow. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about production?"] The question of production is not a question for the workers; it is one of management, of machinery and of organisation.
Therefore, we say that it has got to begin at that end and not by depressing, relatively or otherwise, the economic conditions of the workers of the community, and until you begin to look at this question of unemployment from that point of view, you will never come anywhere near solving it. It is a question of wages power, of the power of the people to buy what they are capable of producing. It is a question of organisation. You cannot do it with haphazard competition, I freely grant, but to-day Capital is everywhere realising the necessity for co-ordination and eliminating the 617 competitive factor. Get a scientific method of production, and it would pay Capital to double the wages of the community in order to utilise the other 50 per cent. of the available resources of the community. That is how we shall solve the unemployment problem. So far as amelioration is concerned, everything that can be done, even at the expense of higher taxation of those people who pay Super-tax to-day, is of economic advantage to the country. Let me quote what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said a few months ago. He said that the total income of Super-tax payers in 1913–14 had amounted to only £175,000,000, and that in 1923–24 the incomes of the Super-tax payers had grown to £510,000,000.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
They are comparative figures, and cannot be questioned. So far as the starting point is concerned, that is a sum in proportion, a sum of the rule of three, and the conditions which apply to the starting point apply also to any other point. In 1913–14 the Supertax payers income was £175,000,000, and in 1923–24 the amount had grown to £510,000,000. I know that it began at a lower figure in the latter year, but that is not my point. Those figures mean that there has been an increase of £335,000,000 in spite of the poverty of the country, and in spite of that increase the taxation upon super incomes was reduced last year by £10,000,000 by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Supposing, for the sake of argument—and I am not arguing for equality of incomes in the country—that that amount of difference, £335,000,000, had been divided among the working-class families of this country, who number about 9,000,000, you would get an increased income for every working-class family in the country of £37 a year.
I wonder what that would have done for the trade of this country. Supposing that anything like that larger and wider distribution of income had occurred, the trade of the country would have been in an infinitely superior position compared with its position now, because it is finally based on the ability of our home consumer to purchase the goods that can be created. That is the argument that I present to the right hon. Member for Hillhead with regard to the 618 economics of this question. If that amount of money, the mere difference between the incomes of Super-tax payers assessed for tax for the period just before the War and for last year, had been distributed among the working-class families of the country, it would have meant a purchasing power equal per family to £37 a year, in addition to what they possess at the present time.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
How does the hon. Member relate that to the administration of a Government Department?
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I knew there was a danger in making that point, but I have practically finished with it. I submit, however, that if this question is a national question and one involving the economics of the nation, then, although not administrative, the point that I have raised really does apply to a correct understanding of this question. Finally, I wish to say a word or two about the utilisation of the opportunities we have with regard to agriculture, and particularly with regard to arboriculture, in this country. In the "Times" in the early part of this year there was the following statement:We have less timber growing per head of the population than in any other European country, except Portugal. We have to import nine-tenths of our timber. The area planted by the Forestry Commission is almost negligible compared with our needs, and we have vast reserves of untilled land and unemployed labour. In India there has been an extraordinarily successful development of forestry. Since the Government of India in 1867 created a Forestry Service, the preservation and improvement of the vast forests throughout the Empire have been continuous, and a large and increasing trade in timber has resulted.I wanted just to refer to the success of Indian forestry, to the urgent need of the reafforestation of this country and to submit to the Parliamentary Secretary the importance of this as one of the possible directions in which national finance can be utilised successfully and profitably. There are many other ways, and I do hope that in the immediate future this idea of slowing down on the ground of economy will be seen by those concerned to represent the fallacy that I have described.
§ Mr. FINBURGH
I do not know of any question that is more important than the 619 one we are discussing. The question of unemployment has occupied the attention of this House on many previous occasions, but the importance of it warrants our fullest consideration and best attention. I am not going to attempt to make any reply to the theories of the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague). It is my desire to avoid any controversial questions, and I do not intend to speak from any party point of view. The importance of the question of unemployment is such that I think all parts of the House ought to unite in one effort in trying to solve it. To my mind, it is most unfortunate that we find the numbers of unemployed greater in this country than elsewhere. I am sure we must all be glad that one phase to which unemployment was attributable is fast disappearing—I refer to ca' canny—and that now all concerned recognise that our great hope for a decrease of unemployment, as has been said, lies in the quantity that is to be produced. But, personally, I attach no importance to any proposal of one kind or another which deals with the question as a palliative. I think it is of sufficient importance to try to probe the causes and consider what remedies can immediately be applied. It was my original suggestion to subsidise the employer in any and every case where work could be found for anyone unemployed. A right hon. Gentleman has laid that claim to himself, but I am not prepared to have this issue out here at the moment. What I am concerned about is this: I deplore the fact that the Government could not see their way to accept the proposals embodied therein, because, in my humble opinion, it would have been of material benefit, and would certainly have decreased the number of unemployed.
What are really the root causes and what are the remedies? I can only speak with any authority of that which concerns the cotton industry. I am, unfortunately, in that industry. We have gone through very serious times during the last five or six years, and I am not going to weary the House at this moment by giving the number of mills and factories which have had to go into the Bankruptcy Court, or close down, or work on short time. Let me read a quotation 620 from a newspaper I received this morning dealing with this point:The acute depression in the cotton textile industry is shown by the fact that to-day 70 per cent. of the Lancashire mills have stopped until the 19th inst. The area principally concerned spins American yarn. It is understood that the remaining 30 per cent. will take extended holidays.Some 300,000 operatives are affected in the American yarn section. There is a good deal of short time in the Bolton district, the centre of spinning from Egyptian cotton.This is very unfortunate reading, but it is true. If I were asked, as one who has spent the greater portion of his life in this business, what remedy could be applied to set the cotton industry on a better footing, I should simply say that longer credits are necessary. We were able in past years to command the custom of the foreign markets. We can still command it if we can give the same terms to foreign customers as they can readily get. I contend that the foreign manufacturer is assisted by his banks much more liberally and effectively than the manufacturers in this country are assisted. I have had personal experience, because I found that great competition was met from Italian, Czechoslovakian and other sources, and I made it my business to go there and investigate it myself. I found that, given equal conditions, a manufactured article here stands much superior to any that can be manufactured abroad. The price is even slightly lower, and the articles could command a ready sale in the foreign market, whether China, India or South Africa, and I speak from personal experience and knowledge. I contend that the British article commands a preference over all and sundry.
Then what hinders us in the limited extent of our trade at the present moment? It is the question of credit. Take two travellers, one being sent from a Manchester firm and the other from an Italian firm, visiting clients, whether in Constantinople, Bucharest, Athens, Bombay, or wherever it may be. Samples are shown, those of the Britisher, perhaps, being the first. Everything is very nice and acceptable, but one point—the terms. It is cash against documents. The buyer makes some excuse, and says, "I will see." The Italian traveller comes in next, and shows his wares. The buyer knows they are not as good, and even a little dearer, but when the terms of payment are mentioned, it is not the 621 Britisher who gets the order, but the Italian, because of the larger terms. The Italian manufacturer is able to displace the British manufacturer by reason of the assistance of the banks. I found that the Italian bankers treat their customers very liberally, and accept their bills of exchange which they collect from all sources. The tragedy of the situation comes in from what I learnt finally, that these banks, having once endorsed the bills of their respective customers from all over the world for the merchandise they sold, send them to London, and the London bankers discount the bills to our great detriment and with disastrous results to us.
It may be business of a kind, but we want equal terms from the British bankers. They will not readily accept bills of exchange; they put every possible obstacle in the way. Extended credits are required and I ask particularly that the Government shall make a gesture to the local bankers to assist the manufacturers a little more than they are doing at the present moment to encourage the foreign trade, because we depend upon the foreigner to keep our workshops and factories and all parts of industry going. I contend that if this condition were made possible, a great improvement in the state of trade would immediately set in. It would be so different from the theories propounaed by previous speakers. Those theories may be fulfilled in years to come, but this would be effective in a few months.
There is another direct cause for the cotton depression from which we are suffering, and that is the existence in the Lancashire area of trusts. I am going to give the House, if I may be permitted to do so, some few particulars. I refer to the Bleachers' Association, to the Calico Printers' Association, to the Bradford Dyers' Association and to the Packers' Association who, in combination, have raised the price for the process with disastrous results, and with the consequence that the great bulk of the business has been sent abroad. Perhaps a more important point to which I should like to call attention, is that they only employ their workmen for three days a week to enable them to keep up the high prices, and put their workmen on the dole for the remainder of the week. I hope the Government will take note of this, because it is double-edged. By 622 keeping up high prices, they send the trade abroad. I have made personal inquiries, and were it not a bit of a trade secret, I should like to give the House information— [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on!"]—that fully 20 per cent. can be saved by sending the grey cloth from Manchester to Italy. After paying freights and insuring against every possible contingency, having the process done, bringing it back and paying insurance, freight and everything else, from 10 per cent. to 20 per cent. could still be saved. How can we hope to meet foreign competition under these depressing, impossible circumstances? I do not desire to detain the House any longer, but I should like to say that if these two points, to which I have called particular attention, were attended to and rectified, there would be an increase in the number of employed, and I hope that state of affairs will soon be brought about.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I must congratulate the hon. Member for North Salford (Mr. Finburgh) on a very practical suggestion. His speech reinforces a constructive proposal which I have to make. I think it is very tragic that we have 600 Members of Parliament in this House, the great majority of whom, whatever we may think of the politics of different parties, have, at any rate, gone through the mill of election, and recommended themselves to the constituencies, and yet so few Members should be taking part in this Debate to-day. In particular, those on the Government side are precluded by the Whips, as far as possible, from taking part in the proceedings, because the Government Whips want to get the business through, and in consequence a great deal of knowledge and latent talent is not used. I have heard scores of these debates on unemployment, and they are justified, because the problem, which has been acute, has become chronic; but we never get any further in the matter. The Minister of Labour unfortunately is not here, but, even if he were, we could no more blame him for policy than we can blame the Parliamentary Secretary, who represents the Department. This is a matter on which the Cabinet should be indicted, and no Member of the Cabinet has been present, except the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was here for a few moments only, during the whole day.
623 I suggest that to deal with unemployment we should set up a Grand Committee of Parliament, consisting of Members of all parties, nominated through the usual channels, who, by reason of their knowledge, would be likely to help the Committee to bring forward some practical solution. That is my immediate and constructive suggestion. I am sure the hon. Member for North Salford would serve on such a committee. It could sit in camera, and then he would not be afraid of the betrayal of trade secrets. There are many other hon. Members with great practical experience, especially on these benches, where many as young boys worked in mines and factories, and their advice would be invaluable. From such a committee we might obtain useful suggestions without any party flavour about them. In the Debates to which I now have listened for years, excellent suggestions are made, but nothing happens, and now even the proposals of Lord St. Davids Committee are being rejected.
The hon. Lady who sits for East Ham North (Miss Lawrence) told us with a great deal of authority that when trade revives there will be a shortage of skilled workers in this country. We have a great mass of labourers and people who have gone into blind-alley occupations, but the apprenticeship courses were interrupted by the War, and, for that reason, we shall be actually short of skilled workers. In America they are short of skilled workers to-day. There they go in more for repetition work and mass production, but they are very short of men to erect machines. I want to supplement what the hon. Lady said by stating that when trade revives we shall also be short of equipment—not of machinery, but of means of transport and of handling goods. In Hull to-day we are being held up by lack of wagons. When we import timber we cannot get sufficient wagons to clear the docks before the next cargo arrives; and I believe that at Grimsby they are also short. That, of course, is due to the large number of separate owners of wagons and the small size of wagons in use. It is a problem which should be taken in hand in a big way. On the Vote of the Ministry of Labour the other day I referred to the level crossings in Hull; my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) 624 has the same trouble in his constituency, and they have the same trouble in the Hartlepools.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
yes, I know, but the two hon. Gentlemen say, "Oh, but you must not do anything for the level crossings at Hull until you have done it at Grimsby and Hartlepool." That is not the way to look at a thing. We ought to consider it from a national point of view. I wish to sweep level crossings away from Grimsby, the Hartle-pools, Hull, Cleveland and any other places where they may be. They are antiquated and out of date, and they ought to be done away with, and we had the opportunity during the slackness of trade in the last few years to face the temporary dislocation and do away with level crossings. When trade revives the congestion will become very great, and then we shall have to tackle these questions at a time of much greater inconvenience.
The same observations apply to roads. The traffic on the roads is increasing at the rate of at least 4,000 cars a week. One hundred and fifty thousand new cars a year are going on the roads, most of them during the six months of summer. The roads will not take them. In the matter of roads we are still in the days of the ox wagon and the stage coach—I am not thinking so much of ordinary motor cars; but the roads are unsuitable for modern methods of transport with great motor lorries. The heavy motor lorry is the commercially efficient motor vehicle, and most of the roads are unsuitable for it.
Take the question of communications. The hon. Member for Grimsby will feel interested in this. South of the Humber estuary lies Lincolnshire, which is gradually becoming industrialised. Cheaper electricity and the use of motor transport on the roads are industrialising great areas of the countryside. Small and large works are growing up. At Scunthorpe a great new iron area is being opened up. On the north side of the Humber is the city of Hull, with 300,000 inhabitants, the third seaport in the country and the main outlet eastwards for the whole of Yorkshire and Lancashire. The East Riding of Yorkshire is a very rich area, with important manufactures, yet our only means of communicating with Lincolnshire is 625 either by going round by way of Goole or crossing the Humber by an inefficient and antiquated ferry to New Holland, which cannot run when there is a fog and which can only take motor vehicles at certain stages of the tide. It is absolutely obsolete and antiquated. There ought to be some better method of crossing this great, deep artery—deep in the sense of the length of it—running right into the eastern area of this country. There ought to be either a bridge over it or a tunnel under it. It is a question affecting not only Yorkshire and Lincolnshire but the whole of the communications on the east coast of England, and therefore, it affects the whole country.
All those are works of national importance, all could be put in hand and all should be put in hand. They cannot be put in hand as commercial propositions, because they are not commercial propositions, they are works affecting the whole country. They cannot very well be run for profit, any more than we run the roads for profit, and the railways, owing to their embarrassed financial position, cannot undertake those works on their own account. This is the sort of work which should have been put in hand all over the country during the last few years; men could have been employed on that work instead of walking the streets idle. Members of all parties, Liberial, Conservative or Labour, who have spoken in the House —with the exception of the hon. and gallant Member for Hulme (Lieut.-Colonel Sir J. Nall)—have all agreed, and yet nothing is done. When the history of these times comes to be written I fear the historian will come to the conclusion that we were absolutely lacking in statesmanship at this time. There is no big man in the Cabinet, that is the trouble. They are a lot of second-rate politicians to-day, trying to run this country, and they are betraying the welfare of a great people who only want to be given a chance to revive this country and rebuild it.
It may be said that what I have advocated would mean immense extra taxation. Not a bit of it—not a penny of taxation. What is required is a reconstruction loan of £200,000,000 or £300,000,000 or even £1,000,000,000, which could be raised on the credit of the country. If we could raise £8,000,000,000 for the War, for the destruction of property, surely it is possible to raise £1,000,000,000 for constructive work.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
It is just because we spent £8,000,000,000 on destruction that we have so little money now. If it had not been for that expenditure it would have been easy to raise that money now.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
There is a great deal of money in the country. An hon. Member who preceded me told us how the Super-tax figures have increased; but he did not go far enough. The Super-tax incomes of the country aggregate £558,000,000 a year; that is, the people who pay Super-tax have between them £558,000,000, as compared with £175,000,000 before the War. The wealth of the country has not decreased. The £8,000,000,000 is mostly held inside the country, and we only pay interest to each other. The wealth is there. The wealth of the country is in its resources, its coal mines, its roads, its railways, its harbours, its people, its factories. All the paper could be put into Trafalgar Square to light a huge bonfire, and we would be no poorer. Of course, I do not propose that, but the scrip could actually be burned without reducing the real wealth of the country. There is plenty of wealth and our credit is good, and the equivalent of the interest is made in public issues every year.
I am not suggesting a forced loan, but a voluntary loan on Government security, which would go very well. One of the things to be done with this money would be to electrify the main railways of the country. I am informed by railway experts that this will be done during the next decade or so. Already in France many of the main railway lines have been electrified; and in Italy they are gradually electrifying the whole of the railway systems; they have got down below Rome, and presently they are going to do the south of Italy. In this country one railway company only has yet undertaken such work. Yet railway engineers inform my colleagues that in the next 20 years the whole of the railway lines of this country will be electrified, and they calculate that the savings in freights will be at least £50,000,000 a year. That means that 627 haulage costs can be reduced, and that would help to revive trade. That is a great scheme, such as we would only undertake under the stimulus of war; but I say that the menace to the country of continued unemployment and continued bad trade ought to provide stimulus equal to the stimulus of the War.
What do we see? A Government which not only does nothing to relieve this terrible canker of unemployment at home but is going to do away with the Overseas Trade Department, although that Department has done something to help exports abroad. The policy of the Government abroad has also hampered our trade. I do not want to go into details of the terrible mess we have got into in China, but it is going to do our trade a great deal of harm. As far as I can see we have united the whole of China against us, and that is going to injure our trade there very seriously. The hon. Member for Salford spoke of the Italian banks financing Italian manufacturers with money borrowed on the London market. That is perfectly true. German banks borrow money in London and use it to finance German manufacturers in the Russian market. There is another example of the same thing, equally objectionable from the British point of view. He and I are in agreement about that. Yet we drift on and nothing is done.
I only want to refer to one other bad stroke of business on the part of the Government. Everyone knows that one of the difficulties in Europe is the artificial trade barriers which have been erected, specially among the new war-born States, such as the Succession States of Austria, and so on. Everyone deplores that, because it is injuring those countries and our customers and is making trade more difficult. But this Government in every Budget introduce new trade barriers themselves, either by an extension of the McKenna Duties or by new Safeguarding Duties or by other hindrances to trade. How can we, therefore, use our influence to get these trade barriers, which are restricting our commerce in Europe, lowered or swept away, when we ourselves are as much to blame?
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
Yes, but does the hon. Gentleman not see we lose all moral right to ask them if we put up barriers in the way of their trade with this country under the ridiculous Safeguarding or McKenna Duties or other such measures? How can we go to them and say, "Put down your trade barriers, because they are interfering with the trade of your neighbours and our trade"? We lose our right to use our influence in that respect. My two suggestions for this state of affairs are, first, a reconstruction loan on a great scale using the Government's credit for the purpose, in order to get a million men doing useful work for the country and, at the same time, earning money which they will in their turn spend and thereby create a demand for goods and which will, therefore, absorb more unemployed men—and so you will go on. My other suggestion is that we should use the talents of this House by setting up a Select Committee of Members to thrash out these problems thoroughly and to-bring forward any suggestions that the experience and knowledge of Members in all parts of the House may evolve.
I feel that this Debate is only one more of the many which we have heard in which the unfortunate Minister of Labour, who is not really responsible, is put up as a sort of Aunt Sally and we all shy at him, whereas the real difficulty has been that the Cabinet has contained no great man strong enough to impose a policy of reconstruction on the country, and we are experiencing further years of drift and vacillation. I am very sorry this should be the state of affairs. We have only had one Government which has tried to do anything at all, but they only lasted a few months and then their work came to an end. The Coalition Government tried a little and then they got panicky about the taxation of the country and cut down the useful work they were doing. The new Conservative Government is only concerned with the wealth of the country, while at the same time that wealth has become more and more represented by paper values and the real wealth of the country, which is the health and the skill of the people, is deteriorating through the long years of idleness which have been forced upon them.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Mr. Betterton)
I will now, if the House will permit me, answer the questions which have been directly addressed to me. I share the regret of the hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not present to hear his speech, but I certainly will not hesitate to convey to the Chancellor that the solution of the hon. and gallant Gentleman for all our present evils of unemployment is that we should at once raise—by voluntary methods I think he said— a loan of a thousand millions sterling—a modest proposal and one which according to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, if I heard him rightly, would supply the solution of all our difficulties. His regret also that the Cabinet did not contain one man strong enough or big enough to advocate such a proposal is a complaint which I will also convey to my right hon. Friend. It does seem to me a significant and characteristic fact that whereas the first few days this week we have been hearing from all parts of the House complaints that the expenditure of the Government is too great, and that the Budget should be cut down and we are being attacked, not only in the House but outside, for spending so much money, the very first occasion on which we discuss anything after the Budget has been disposed of has been a Debate in which practically every speech has asked for further Government expenditure in one form or another. That is not a point I propose to develop because it seems to me that my main duty is to answer some of the specific questions put to me.
The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) complained that the Unemployment Grants Committee had refused a grant for £200,000 in connection with a sea wall which was to be put up at Cleethorpes and which involved also a grant to a railway company. The reason why that was turned down, not only by this Government, but by the last Government, was that this proposal involved a grant which would almost entirely benefit a railway company carrying on business and trading for profit. In such circumstances a grant has never been given either by this Government or the Labour Government and, as far as I know, such a grant has never 630 been made, nor should I be prepared to advocate it.
The hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) made a similar complaint with regard to a refusal by the Unemployment Grants Committee for a scheme at Leith. The facts, so far as I have been able to ascertain them, are these. Some time ago the Commissioners of the Leith Harbour Board submitted a scheme to the Unemployment Grants Committee asking for Government assistance which should extend over a period of five, six or seven years, and the Unemployment Grants Committee said that was too long a period and that they were only prepared in any circumstances to consider it for a period of two years and they made it a condition—not an unreasonable one—that the work should be begun within six months. This offer was not accepted by the Commissioners and the offer of the Committee was subsequently withdrawn and no further application has since been made by the Commissioners. I think also there was a further difficulty in this matter in that the suggestion was that the grant should be made on a non-revenuebearing footing, whereas all grants to similar companies in other parts of England have always been made on a revenue producing basis, which is the only proper one under the circumstances.
The hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Dr. Shiels) asked me a question about the Scottish Bankers' Association. He was good enough to tell me he was going to raise it and, therefore, I have been enabled to give him such information as I have. This matter has already been discussed between the Ministry of Labour and the representatives of the Association and we have a copy of the correspondence which has taken place between the bankers and the Association. If the Association desires, we shall be very ready to discuss the matter with them again. But on the facts as stated by the hon. Gentleman and on the facts as I have been able to ascertain them, I confess I do not think, at first sight at any rate. it seems a matter in which any Government Department can usefully play any important or useful part, because it seems to be a matter between the Association and the bankers, and one which, if it is to be settled satisfactorily, must be settled by them.
631 The main discussion this afternoon has been upon the question of training and the Unemployment Grants Committee. I am glad that this opportunity has been afforded to enable me to give some information upon this question of training. I was a little disappointed with the right hon. Gentleman who initiated this Debate when he told us that the Ministry of Labour had done little or nothing in this matter except to pay out doles. I expected that he would have made some reference to the very promising and hopeful experiment which we are carrying out in the matter of industrial training. As the House is probably aware there are four training centres which have been set up by the Minister of Labour within the last 12 months and they are of two separate kinds, the non-residential centers—one at Birmingham and one at Wallsend—and the residential centers—one at Brandon and the other at Claydon.
With regard to the residential centre at Brandon, it is intended principally for men who are hoping to proceed overseas. At Claydon, half that centre is for those intending to go overseas and half for those intending to obtain work in this country. On this question we have had a good deal of discussion with the representatives of the Dominions, particularly those from Australia and Canada, as to the length of time it is necessary to retain men at those centres for training. Hitherto the course had been one of six months, but we were advised by the representatives of Australia and Canada that that is too long, and that the purpose would be served equally well if the course were cut down to a much shorter period. The whole thing is experimental, but it has been a most encouraging experiment, and the time has been too short to be able to say what the ultimate result will be. As a result of the conversations we had with the Dominion representatives, we have cut down the course at Brandon to 17 weeks and at Claydon to 10 weeks. Of course, as the length of these courses is cut down, the numbers passing through the centres will increase.
I want to make a few general observations with regard to the centres in so far as they deal with the men who are not intending to proceed 632 overseas. We are not foolish enough to think that we are going to turn out skilled men in such a short time as these men can be at the centre. They are not, competitors with skilled men as they leave Brandon or Claydon or the other two centres, and they do not compete in the skilled industries of this country. I ask hon. Members opposite to help the Minister of Labour in this matter because, as has been said more than once, e.g., in the speech of the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. C. Wilson), this is a non-political effort to do something in the matter of training which we think, at any rate, so far as it has gone, is sufficiently encouraging to justify our going on with it. I am most anxious not to over-state or exaggerate this point. The unions, as a whole, have not been hostile to our experiment, but there have been some cases of branches of certain unions which have made a difficulty in regard to men getting a start who have gone through this modified training at one or other of these centres. We have had cases where men, having passed through these centres, have had to leave their jobs, and we have had to send them back to their homes at our expense because of the difficulties which arose when they were employed. That is not either universal or common, but such cases have occurred, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) I know will agree with me that even a very few of such cases are exceedingly discouraging to the men who are in training at the centres. Therefore, I appeal to hon. Members opposite to do what they can to ensure that that difficulty will not be placed in our way in our effort to deal with this most difficult situation.
The hon. Member for East Edinburgh asked for some figures on this question, and I will give them. At Brandon the number of men who have proceeded overseas after training is 229. The number of men who have taken the handymen's course is 14. The numbers now in training are—overseas trainees, 143, and handymen 51. At Claydon the number of handymen who have completed the course is 212, and the number of overseas trainees who have proceeded overseas is 282. 94 handymen and 101 overseas trainees are now in training at Claydon. At the Birmingham non-residential centers 633 the number of handymen is 1,238 who have passed through, and at Wallsend the number is 807, making a total of 2,271 men who have passed through a course of training as handymen, and 1,746 are known to have found employment, representing a percentage of 76.9. In addition, the employment of 436 men has keen terminated through unsatisfactory conduct or from some other cause. On that I might make this observation, that it seems to us that one of the advantages of the course, particularly at Brandon and Claydon, is that it is possible, probably at an early stage, to ascertain which men are really likely to make good when they proceed overseas. If you can weed out at an early stage men, who, perhaps through no fault of their own, are unfitted physically or for any other reason for life overseas, so that their places can be taken by others who are more promising, you do two things—you give their places to someone who is more likely to make better use of them, and you also prevent the men themselves from proceeding overseas and entering upon a life there of which in all probability they will make a failure, perhaps through, as I have said, no fault of their own. Therefore, we must not judge, from the number of men whose courses have been terminated for reasons of this kind, that their conduct was necessarily unsatisfactory, or that they themselves have been guilty of any misdemeanour or crime; but we have endeavoured to test and try them before we finally suggested to them that they should go overseas.
I do not know whether I need say any more on that subject, except that I would suggest, to many hon. Gentlemen who have taken part in this Debate, and who are clearly not only sympathetic but anxious to be helpful in this matter, that they should visit either Brandon or Clay-don and see those places for themselves, which will give them, of course, a very much better view, and enable them to form a much truer opinion, than one can possibly do in the course of a discussion of this kind.
There is just one other point on this question of training, about which, of course, I must say a word. The hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Bondfield) referred, as, indeed, did the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Miss 634 Lawrence), to the question of women's training, and both hon. Members called attention to the fact, which is unfortunately true, that the amount which is to be devoted in this year's Estimates to women's training has to some extent been cut down. The hon. Member for Wallsend referred to several ladies who have given devoted service in this cause for many years, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who was Prime Minister when these schemes were first started, will be the first to agree; and it was really only her modesty which prevented the hon. Member from including her own name, because she herself, although she did not say so, has taken a most active and most valuable part for many years in the work of women's training. I regret just as much as she does that this amount has been cut down. It has been cut down to some extent, not because there is any lack of appreciation, either on the part of my right hon. Friend or on the part of the Government, of the value of the work which has been done; but it has been cut down because there is only so much money, and we have to make cuts somewhere, and a small cut is made on this vote.
While I am on that, I would like to add a remark on a point which has not hitherto been mentioned, and I am not sure whether the House as a whole is aware of it. It is that, as one result of the Conference with the representatives of the Dominions two months ago, it has been agreed with the Australian Government that a scheme for training women for domestic service in Australia should be set up in this country. The total expenditure for the first year is estimated at £7,500, of which part is to be provided under the Empire Settlement Act, and part by the Australian Government. The Central Committee has been asked to undertake this work in conjunction with the Overseas Settlement Department. Of course, that money will be borne, not on the Vote for the Ministry of Labour, but on the Vote for the Colonial Office, which is responsible for the Overseas Settlement Committee. I just mention that fact, which I think is not generally known; in fact, the details of it have only quite recently been issued
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
Can the hon. Gentleman say how many women will be trained during the year?
§ Mr. BETTERTON
It is a residential course for 40 women at a time, and the course is to last 10 weeks.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
Of course, it is a drop in the ocean, but it is something, and I thought it sufficiently interesting, anyhow, to mention it to the House, because, so far as I know, it has not yet been mentioned. The other point on which this Debate has turned has been of course the main question—
§ Sir WILFRID SUGDEN
Is there any opportunity of training industrials in this country—of whom I am thinking more particularly—who desire to go out to Australia to take part in industrial work there?
§ Mr. BETTERTON
At Brandon the proportion of handy-men to those trained in agriculture is 50 to 150, and at Claytova 100 to 100. The men, who are to proceed, overseas, are trained, of course, not purely in agricultural work, but they are trained also in such occupations as would, we think, after consultation with the Australian and Canadian authorities, improve their agricultural employability when they get overseas.
The right hon. Gentleman who opened this Debate laid particular stress upon the action of the Government in issuing the Circular of the 15th December, 1925, which laid down two conditions precedent to a grant under the Unemployment Grants Committee. The first was that the unemployment is to be exceptional, and the second, of course, is that the work to be undertaken is to be accelerated work, and not normal work. The right hon. Gentleman referred also, as did other hon. Members, to the fact 636 that a grant had been refused in Manchester. Before I proceed to deal with the right hon. Gentleman's main argument, I should like just to answer the specific question he put to me when he referred to a scheme of tramway extension to Heywood and Middleton, which was apparently referred to by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour in the Debate on the 18th November last. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether that grant had in fact been given. I have ascertained, since the right hon. Gentleman put his question, that the Unemployment Grants Committee have, in fact, promised the grant to which he referred. On the main question, if you compare unemployment in Manchester and if you consider whether that unemployment is exceptional as compared with the rest of the country, on the figures I have, quite clearly it is not. It is possible that it is exceptional as compared with what it was in Manchester some years ago in times of prosperity, but as compared with the rest of the country, quite clearly the position in Manchester is not exceptional in the sense that it is greater than that in many other large areas in the country. The unemployment in Manchester on the last date for which I have figures, on 14th March, 1927, was 7.7. For men only it was 9.1. If you compare that on the same date with a place like Gateshead, the total unemployment was 30.4, and for men only 32.9, while for Sheffield it was 14.8, for men only 16.9; Liverpool 15.2, men only 17.5; Middlesbrough 15.4; and Leith, men only, just under 20 per cent. Therefore, upon any comparison as between Manchester and the places I have mentioned, it could not be said that unemployment in Manchester was exceptional.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I think the hon. Gentleman is leaving out the arguments I offered in regard to Manchester. If it is true that these other places like Gateshead and Sheffield have suffered very much more than Manchester in comparison, have they not had all the more support from the grants?
§ Mr. BETTERTON
What grants these particular places have, of course, I could not say without looking into it. What I am pointing out is that so far as this one of the two conditions is concerned, that of exceptional unemployment these places I have named would seem to have satisfied 637 that condition, whereas Manchester has not. This Government—and this was the view of the last Government expressed in my bearing by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. Shaw)—cannot accept the view that it is the duty of the Government to pay for ordinary municipal work out of the taxpayers' money and so, therefore, it is not, as it seems to me, unreasonable that these two conditions, exceptional unemployment and acceleration, should both be conditions for the grant. If there is not acceleration, that is to say unless you are doing something which would not ordinarily be done at the same time, you are not increasing in fact the number of the men who are employed, because the sum total of employment is not increased, and this point was dealt with with great clearness in the Report of the Unemployment Grants Committee on 20th July. This Report has been referred to by more than one speaker, but I do not think this particular paragraph has been read:Broadly speaking, it would appear that the scheme, which has been in operation for six consecutive winters, has, largely for that very reason, passed the period of its greatest utility—That presumably means that a scheme which may have done useful work and may have worked satisfactorily for a period of six years has, according to the Committee, for the very reason that it has been so long in existence, now passed the period of its greatest utility.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
That statement was made after the Government had given instructions to close the thing down.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
It was made certainly after the Circular of 15th December, 1925, but this Committee is independent of the Government, and its views are expressed by itself and are not put into its mouth by the Government or anyone else—and that if pursued indefinitely to the same extent as in the past it would be difficult to avoid subsidising work properly undertaken by local authorities in the normal course of their business, in which case but little could be added to the sum total of the work performed in the country. In so far as special schemes might continue to be evolved, there is the further objection that they might well have a tendency to divert capital from the normal trade developments which are now to be looked for and would thus hinder rather than assist the relief of unemployment through the proper channel of trade recovery.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
Is not the hon. Gentleman overlooking the fact that the average up to this last Circular was £30,000,000 a year of applications for loans and for work of this kind during the last year, and since the issue of the Circular it has fallen to £18,000,000. Does not that seem to point out that it is not the lack of schemes for work but discouragement at the centre, which has discouraged in turn both local authorities and statutory bodies such as the Leith Docks Commission.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
The answer to that is clear. In the view of the Committee these schemes, which no doubt might continue to be presented to the Unemployment Grants Committee, would add little to the total of the work performed in this country if they were in respect of work which would in any event have been undertaken by the local authority. The view of the Committee clearly is that unless this condition of acceleration is put into effect, in other words, unless you do something now which you would not normally do until perhaps several years hence you are in fact not increasing the sum total of employment. Those whose business it has been to look into the whole question of the subsidies on State work of this kind I think must be impressed by this fact. I have gone into this matter as fully as I possibly could and I find that those who have been confronted with the sort of difficulties with which we have been confronted during the last few years, and indeed are confronted with to-day, have all been forced to the same conclusion, namely, that if you divert money for this purpose beyond a point from the ordinary channels of trade you may be doing far more harm than good. One of the most distinguished members of the Labour party who ever sat in this House expressed the view I have in my mind more clearly than anyone, I mean Mr. Burns. I came across this quotation quite by accident. This is what he said in 1906:The Committee must not forget that as the causes of unemployment were multifarious, so no single remedy, however well intentioned, however well devised, could dispose of the problem of unemployment. As the causes were multifarious so the remedy must be multiform, moral, mental, economic, industrial, political, and social. If the remedies only created artificial work, that 639 would be bad and mischievous. If the works were State aided, charity fed, tax founded, or rate subsidised they would only be a form of public benevolence which would divert the right money in the wrong way to wasteful ends and demoralising results.Those are the views of Mr. Burns in 1906, and if, pursuing one's studies, we read the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, in his first speech in this House as Prime Minister, we find that he said practically the same thing. The view to which he came, and the view of Mr. Burns, has been expressed, lastly, in the Report of the Com- 640 mittee which I have just read. In these circumstances, it does seem to me that the policy of the Government in the matter of the Unemployment Grants Committee at the present time is one from which they would be ill-advised for the time being to depart.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Nineteen minutes before Four o'clock, until Tuesday, 26th April, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of this day.