§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I beg to move,That this House declares that the extensive and long continued unemployment of approximately one million men and women is a matter of the gravest national concern; and, in addition to an adequate insurance scheme to provide for those temporarily out of work, this House calls for the adoption of a comprehensive national policy which will, in the first place, stimulate production, relieve industry in the necessitous areas from its exceptional burdens and provide work or, alternatively, training and adequate maintenance of the unemployed, and aim at the absorption of that section of the population for which the present economic system offers no prospect of steady employment with a decent standard of life.Something has been gained, in these repeated discussions on unemployment, in that there is now no considerable group in this House who believe that unemployment is caused by a double dose of original sin, and I think it is true that only a very few of the more ignorantly edited newspapers pretend that the unemployed are a collection of work-shys and wasters, while there are very few magistrates now who would care to risk their reputation by asking why the unemployed do not go out and get work, very much after the manner of Foulon, who asked, when the French peasants could not get bread, why they did not eat cake.
The Amendment that is to be moved to-day by hon. Gentlemen opposite shows two remarkable omissions, to which I would beg to draw the attention of the House. In the first place, the Amendment denies, by implication, that there is any extensive and long-continued unemployment or that it is a matter of the gravest national importance, because it proposes that these words should be deleted. Further, while our Motion calls for the adoption of a comprehensive national policy which will stimulate production 46 and relieve industry in the necessitous areas, the hon. Members in whose name the Amendment stands propose to delete those words, being evidently of the opinion that the problem of the necessitous areas is not a serious one at all.
There is now, I think, general agreement that unemployment is due, not to individual, but to national and, indeed, international causes. That is a great gain, because a proper diagnosis of the problem is indispensable to a proper cure. We on these benches quite frankly and openly declare that a social order in which there is such mal-distribution of wealth—of the social product—that millions of people have insufficient purchasing power to buy from the market the ever increasing quantities of goods which the ingenuity and inventive skill of man make it possible to produce, renders unemployment and restricted production inevitable. While the Government, probably, admit national causes of unemployment—and, indeed, the insurance scheme is in itself such a national admission—they persist in throwing, to a considerable extent, the burdens of exceptional unemployment upon the parish areas; they ask the poor to keep the poor. While the rates are rising in the distressed areas, as we call them, it should be remembered that these are the special areas in which our heavy industries are, as a rule, most hardly hit. If our heavy industries are to be subject to an ever increasing local rating burden, it will be impossible for them to recover; and, if it be impossible for them to recover, there will be, not a diminution, but an extension of unemployment as a result of the Government's present policy. If the cost of production steadily increases owing to an increase of local rates, trade will be impossible and unemployment will develop.
Let me give one or two illustrations of what I mean. I have here some examples, supplied to me by the assessor in Glasgow. The Poor rate alone—the Education rate having been subtracted—in the city of Glasgow, is now 4s. in the £; while over an imaginary fine in the Parish of Cathcart, which some hon. Members opposite know perfectly well, the poor rate is only 3d. in the £—4s. on one side of the line, and 3d. on the other—and it requires no stretch of the 47 imagination to see what that means to the industries in the area. In the latest return issued by the Ministry of Health, dealing only with England and Wales for 1926–7, we find that there are no fewer than 41 areas where the rates are 25s. and over in the £. Industry, under these circumstances, cannot possibly develop. No business man is likely to start an industry there, and existing industries, where possible, will leave these areas, and bankruptcy and chaos can be the only result. In Lanarkshire we have parishes where the poor rate is as low as 2d. in the £—the parishes of Carmichael and Crawfurdjohn—and there are other parishes, Blantyre, for example, where the poor rate is 6s. 11d. in the £, and Dalserf, where it is 6s. 4½d. A deputation, representing the Northern Poor Law Union and other local authorities, recently waited upon the Minister of Labour and Councillor Rix, Chairman of the Gateshead Board of Guardians, is reported as saying this:Auckland, with a population of 111,000 is badly bit. It is costing £1,500 per week for the relief of the unemployed, a cost per head of something like 4s. 1½d. Gateshead, with a population of 217,000, has a cost per week for the unemployed nearly £4,000, or per head 5s. 5d. Newcastle has a weekly cost of £3,773, or a cost per head of 5s. 6¼d. for the unemployed as against 4s. 2½d. for the ordinary poor, who cost £2,895 per week.At Tynmouth there is pretty much the same situation. The City Treasurer of Sheffield has issued the following statement:The most difficult burden which confronts the City is the guardians' expenditure which has to be met by the corporation out, of the rates. Table 13 shows the rates levied since 1913–14 allocated between the guardians and the corporation. The cost of the burden of unemployment which has been imposed upon the city is unfortunately evidenced in part by the fact that the amount raised in the rate by the corporation has increased in the Sheffield township by 60 per cent. since 1913–14, as compared with an increase of 397 per cent. by the guardians.The Minister of Labour, who must be perfectly well aware of these facts, issues a local unemployment index, No. 10, which gives a series of the most remarkable and alarming figures, to which I should have imagined his attention would be drawn repeatedly in the House. Let me give one or two figures, for which 48 the right hon. Gentleman himself was responsible. In Ferndale, in Glamorganshire, the number of unemployed persons on the register, on 17th October, 1927,—the percentage of the insured population—is no less than 71.2 per cent. Three out of every four insured persons in the area are unemployed, and there are whole reams of these figures, while almost side by side with them are areas where the numbers of unemployed are as low as 1 per cent. and 2 per cent. How hon. Members who are moving their Amendment to this Resolution can justify to their constituents the excision of a protest against our drawing attention to the high local taxation due to poverty and unemployment in these distressed areas, I cannot say. It is notorious.
In yesterday's Press I find a statement to the effect that at one place in Glamorgan, Bargoed, the rate is now 34s. 2d. in the £. This is declared to be Britain's worst record. It could not be much worse than 34s. 2d. and be paid at all. Tradesmen declare that they cannot pay, industries declare that they will have to shut down, and the Government, so far as I am aware, has no national policy for dealing with the matter. In Scotland, the position is even worse. I have great difficulty in extracting from the Ministry of Health and the Scottish Board of Health an exact comparison of the facts and figures about Poor Law relief. The statistics are evidently arranged on a different basis, but, so far as I can get it now, it amounts to this, that in Scotland the proportion is 48 per 10,000 of outdoor poor relief, while in, England it is only 29, so that, however bad England is, Scotland is almost twice as bad. So far as I am aware, neither the Ministry of Health nor the Scottish Board of Health has any proposals whatever for dealing with this extraordinary situation, which we take to be the most serious problem that is facing us at the moment.
More than that, we are now compelling boards of guardians and Poor Law authorities, not only to shoulder the burden of the able-bodied poor, but to borrow money at interest for shouldering that burden, and we get official figures showing that one-eighth of the total charges now being raised for the maintenance of the able-bodied poor is actually going to moneylenders, the other seven-eighths being the actual debt. Apart 49 from the devastated areas, which no one now alleges to be due to original sin on the part of the unemployed, we have spent some £380,000,000 since the Armistice down to the end of the financial year in 1925 upon one form or another of public assistance and have got nothing whatever in return for it—not a brick laid upon another—not a blade of grass made to grow. For God's sake, let us hear nothing to-day about our proposals being non-economic, for I can imagine nothing more non-economic than this wasting of £380,000,000 since the Armistice, and no social return for it whatever.
We have drawn attention, further, to the fact that the policy that was in existence when the present Government took office, a policy which did relieve, to some extent, these exceptionally devastated areas, was deliberately and wantonly cancelled. The Lord St. Davids' Committee, as it is popularly called—the Unemployment Grants Committee—has been operating for five years, and it has issued, at any rate, five Reports. Anyone who imagines that there are no social, useful, necessary schemes of public work in the country have only to turn up the last Report of that committee. You will find that 18,000 schemes have been submitted to this committee by local authorities. There is not a Labour man on the committee. It is not a political committee. It is a committee composed of men like Sir William Plender, the accountant, and it is satisfied that no fewer than 11,900 of these schemes are suitable, useful, and necessary. The committee go further, and in their last Report, signed by Lord St. Davids, they said:The policy indicated in the Circular issued to local authorities by the Committee on the 15th December last, at the instance of the Government, was accordingly designed to limit the making of further grants.It was designed to limit, designed to stop, this work. But the Report goes on to say thatthe results obtained are of undisputed and permanent benefit to the localities concerned.Yet the Government have deliberately stopped the work. A lot of schemes were not submitted at all, because they would require Parliamentary interference with some dog-in-the-manger right, some vested interest. Because of those vested 50 interests thousands of useful schemes have never been submitted to the committee. The committee say that the local authorities have had public work done to the value of £104,000,000; that it has cost the national Exchequer only £40,000,000; that against that £40,000,000 there has been a saving of over £30,000,000 in unemployment benefit, and that the net cost to the State, therefore, is under £10,000,000. For that cost to the national Exchequer, the local authorities have had public work done of the value of £104,000,000, and 610,000 men have had work for a year.
There is, where I live— it has always struck me as a classic example— an illustration of the waste and stupid folly of the present social order. There are hon. Members here who know the facts as well as I do. All round the town in which I live there are three little rivers choked with coke oven silt. These rivers flood over eight times a year, the water tearing up the roads and destroying crofts. The farmers lose their money. Land— miles and miles of it right down to the Clyde—goes out of cultivation. What it has cost the Ministry of Transport in the past 10 years to re-make the roads nobody can tell. You cannot obtain the figures. Because it is nobody's business to set 100 unemployed colliers to remove the silt and make banks along these rivers, the country loses miles and miles of the finest agricultural land in Central Scotland, and the State is put to very considerable financial expenditure. Nobody can move. If one landlord put things right on his own property, no good would be done, because the rivers further down would flood and his land would be flooded too. Nobody can move, and because there is no co-ordinated attempt on the part of the Government or of the Government Departments no unemployment committee set up by this House or by the Government to co-ordinate and to bring forward recommendations and reports to this House, agriculture languishes, goes backward in a way that would not be tolerated in any other country in Europe, and the State and the taxpayer are put to considerable expense, and the unemployed starve in the midst of it all.
There have been temporary remedies suggested. We require, certainly, great national schemes—schemes which I will not attempt to do more than indicate this 51 afternoon. We require, for example, in the words of Mr. John A. Hobson, to make a determined international effort through the League of Nations to put down international sweating; to raise the standard of labour of the producer all over the world. If the League of Nations cannot be used for that purpose, millions of people will be bitterly disappointed. Mr. Garvin, Editor of the "Observer," makes other suggestions. He says that a loan of £100,000,000 could easily be raised for Empire development, that a loan of £100,000,000 properly used would bring a great and recurrent impetus to British trade and British industries. When it is recollected that the British Empire includes England, Scotland and Ireland, we can see what benefit would accrue from such a loan. We have the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond) suggesting that there should be Free Trade within the Empire. If we can get it, good luck! Another Noble Lord, Lord Inch-cape, speaking last week at a financiers' meeting in London, also made a suggestion. He would send the unemployed overseas, possibly in his ships, although he was wise enough not to make that suggestion.
There are schemes, if the Government would only move. Schemes have been suggested to the Government from all quarters. What is lacking is a coordinating committee to bring forward definite recommendations to this House so that the House can take the responsibility of saying "Aye" or "Nay." What we need is a great national policy. I ought, perhaps, to say, in case we should be charged with not saying it, that a very great deal indeed could be done, by using the Trade Facilities Act, to effect improvements in our marketing arrangements with our Colonies. Mr. Layton, of the "Economist," says that under our flag we have 60 per cent. of the world's wool and rubber, 70 per cent. of its tea and gold, 89 per cent. of its nickel, 99 per cent. of its jute, 30 per cent. of its ships and 40 per cent. of its cotton spindles, and, in the midst of all this potential wealth, the people are starving, while our capital, in many cases, is being exported abroad to finance sweaters to depress rates of wages, to lower the conditions 52 which ultimately compete with the working classes of this country, and to lower their standard of civilisation.
In addition to these national schemes, surely something could be done immediately to stimulate a big road programme. The rate of increase to-day in registered motor vehicles is 200,000 per annum. In 10 years' time, it has been estimated, there will be 18 vehicles to every mile of our roads, and those vehicles will be crushed together at certain of the denser parts. If we only had the sense to have a great developing road programme for the nation, with the increased land values which would be created by this expenditure of public money, it is highly probable that this road programme would cost us nothing as a nation, would do nobody any harm or injustice, and would permit of employment in honourable, healthy work to hundreds of thousands who are at present unemployed. Then, at this Table, I have before urged that we should take our courage in our hands and loan to the Indian agricultural communities agricultural implements, pumping plant, etc., and I see that Sir Reginald Craddock, in the "Nineteenth Century" magazine crosses the t's and dots the i's of what I have repeatedly said in this House. He said that if only we could increase the purchasing power of India by these methods to the extent of three-farthings per head per week, we might increase British exports by no less than £48,000,000 per annum. The interest charges on what we might be required to lend for one, two or three years would be a mere fraction of what we are spending to-day on our unemployment insurance and Poor Law relief.
Then we could take other steps, if the right hon. Gentleman wished to go to the Treasury and declare that there was something seriously wrong in a social order which kept 800,000 old men and old women of 65 years of age and over—I am giving the last census, that of 1921—still working for wages, while there are 800,000 young men and young women starving at the Employment Exchanges, drawing, probably, an average of £1 a week for producing nothing at all. If the right hon. Gentleman would put it to the Treasury, and next year we were to say to these old men and old women, "We will increase your pension of 10s. a week, and make it 30s. a week, on condition 53 that you get out of industry, and make way for the younger men and younger women who ought to be doing the world's work, "we could immediately break the back of this unemployment problem. As if that were not enough, there are 500,000 boys and girls under 15 years of age in employment. The grandfathers, the grandmothers and the grandchildren are working, while the fathers and mothers, the strong and able-bodied, are outside employment.
Steps, too, should undoubtedly be taken, as speedily as possible, to increase the cultural development of our own soil. Afforestation should be speeded-up, and, taken in conjunction with small holdings, would provide useful employment in a profitable industry for our people. Small holdings have been discussed in this House time and again, but there is no doubt whatever, after the recent reports of the Scottish Board of Agriculture, that properly handled small holdings can be made to pay, and we find, in another Report that one egg in every 40 that we consume comes from China, while there are opportunities for raising millions of pounds of dairy produce in this country. I suggest that there again is an opening for the Minister of Labour if he chose to take advantage of it. No words of mine could paint the horrors, the tragedies, the waste of all this prolonged unemployment. The House may be moved by eloquence on the question of the Reserved Sacrament, but it does not seem to he stirred very greatly by the perpetual sacrifice of a million of our fellow-citizens.
Perhaps at this time of the year it may not be amiss to remind the House that after many pleas and many attempts, even old Ebenezer Scrooge sent the Cratchits a turkey at Christmas. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to get out of this wooden attitude of his towards this problem of unemployment, to face the thing in a big way, to see if he cannot bring some measure of hope and happiness into the distressed homes that are in Britain to-day. We know these homes, we know the boys there, and we know that some of them have never worked since the Armistice. Some of them have never had a job since the Armistice, and cannot get a job. It is no fault of their own that in the shipbuilding industry high policy dictated that there 54 should be reparation ships to flood the market. The only opportunity of work some of them have had has been an occasional job as a bookie's runner. What kind of race are we going to perpetuate by a social order like that? We know that men, thousands and thousands of them, are dyeing their hair, in a pathetic effort to restore the appearance of youth before some cynical foremen, who persist in giving them the sack when they reach the age of 40 or 45.
These men sign on hopefully at the bureau for work two, three or four times week after week, ask their mates for news of a job, and crowd round the public works. One sees the gradual deterioration in clothing and in spirits, and the growing consciousness—and this is the tragedy—that never again will they be able to get anything of their own, never again buy a new suit of clothes, never again have coppers in their pockets to jingle. Empty cupboards facing them, physical deterioration, and, in some cases, their loved ones dying from want. Their extended benefit goes, and there remains the Poor Law. We know that there is no necessity for these tragedies. It is all waste; it is all folly. The Minister of Labour once said:If he were asked what the Government had done to relieve unemployment, he would reply that that sort of criticism left him unmoved. The Government had never pretended that they had a remedy for unemployment.We believe rather with the Psalmist thatThe needy shall not alway be forgotten; the expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever.Because we believe that, we are determined to persist with our propaganda of not only national recognition of a national wrong, but national recognition that we are all brothers one with another, and that when one man falls, it is the duty of all to help. We do not want charity; we want work. We know that there is useful necessary work in this country to be done. We know there can be no greater waste than the waste in money, in body and in spirit that is going on now, and, because of these things, we move this Resolution.
§ Mr. WINDSOR
I beg to second the Motion.
This problem of unemployment is one which the Government have had brought 55 before their notice from year to year. It is many years since 1893, when the late James Keir Hardie in this House moved an Amendment and spoke on a King's Speech on a problem of this kind. Year after year the same problem has been brought before this House, and year after year the same kind of attitude and relationship to this problem has been taken by successive Governments. We do not say, and the Labour party has never said, that we have an immediate cure for the unemployment problem; but what we have said is, that we cannot cure the unemployment problem within the province and within the domain of the capitalist system. We have said that it is part and parcel of that system, and, being part and parcel of that system, a system which, after all, is not ours, but that of the party opposite, and, therefore, their responsibility, they ought to stand up to it, and try to make some effort in order to ameliorate the tragedy for which that system is responsible. This House, in a few days, will be rising for a seven weeks' holiday, and, at the end of this week, hon. Members on both sides will be listening to words of peace, it may be even listening to the appeal that will be ringing throughout the land on Christmas Day.
On earth peace, good will towards men.Within sound of the bells, there will be over 1,000,000 persons who will be asking themselves these questions: "Why am I out of work?" "Why am I in distress?" "Why am I suffering penalties and punishments for a crime of which I am not guilty?" "Why am I, a person able and willing to work, denied the opportunity to work?" This problem always faces the Government of the day. Can the Government deny their responsibility? They cannot say that they are bankrupt and without resources. When they were returned to power at the end of 1924, although they were returned largely on the strength of the Zinovieff letter, they cannot get away from the fact that the Prime Minister laid it down, as a definite plan, thatvarious schemes which had already been initiated for the relief of unemployment, would be examined with great care, and Parliament would be asked to make provision for the continuance and expansion of such measures as were likely to alleviate the present distress.56 The Unionist party also issued a statement thatUnionist legislation aims at improving the lot of the workers, and helping in every way the struggling poor.What have we had from the Government which has led the country to understand that they would deal with the problem of unemployment? They have made certain attempts to deal with it. One of the last attempts was the introduction of the Mines Eight Hours Act, which has added considerably to the unemployment. They have also introduced legislation in the Audit (Local Authorities) Bill to stop Labour authorities from carrying out the duty which the Government ought to have carried out years ago. They have done all these things, and have done them remarkably badly. it is no use the Government saying that there is no money with which to deal with these schemes. Is it not a fact that, as a result of the encroachments on the Road Fund and the Public Health Funds, about £36,000,000 has been directly robbed from the people of this country for the relief of the rich? That £36,000,000 might have been used to promote schemes for providing work for the unemployed. It is no use the Prime Minister thinking in terms of "Peace in our time, O Lord," when in practice he and his Government do nothing to bring peace and prosperity about.
We are all hoping for a revival of trade, and the Government are chiefly relying upon that, but there is one fact which they do not seem to realise. The Minister of Labour hopes to get back to a normal 6 per cent. unemployment, but the conditions of development under the capitalist system are such that by the introduction of cartels, the introduction of up-to-date machinery, the bringing into operation of more efficient brains and the greater concentration on industry, it is not a question of 6 per cent. unemployment; we may have to look forward to a permanent problem of possibly 10 per cent. unemployment. Let us look at the figures. There are over 1,000,000 unemployed people in this country, and it is agreed that the Government have inadequately dealt with the problem. When the Minister of Labour introduced his Unemployment Insurance Bill, he had to admit that he was not dealing with the subject of unemployment, but only 57 with the subject of unemployment insurance, and that he did not pretend to provide a solution for the problem of unemployment.
Let me refer to the problem as it affects my constituency. The figures for unemployment relief in the Borough of Bethnal Green provide statistics in relation to a borough which is largely composed of workers who depend upon casual labour. Probably one of the most tragic things that we can see to-day is the position of the casual worker. The casual workers in Bethnal Green depend mostly upon the docks. In 1912, we only needed to spend £752 from the local rates in relief, but in 1926 and the beginning of 1927, the figure had grown to £137,000. I would ask hon. Members to try to think of that in the terms of Bethnal Green, which is the second poorest borough in London, and has only a total rateable value which brings in £2,100 on a penny rate; so that to-day a rate of about 5s. 6d. in the pound is what the poor people of Bethnal Green have to pay for the relief of their own poor. On the 31st December, 1924, of the persons normally insured, the unemployed in receipt of unemployment insurance totalled 53 per per cent. On the 30th September, 1926, that percentage had increased to 81 per cent.
We cannot, as a House of Commons, sit down and merely watch the problem and give the same old reply. We must look forward to the prosperity of our trade, but the present Government have done all in their power to break down our trading relationships with foreign countries, who could have helped us if we had kept in proper trading relationship with them. It may be that the Bill which we introduced in 1925 and 1926 was not a cure for the problem, but it would have alleviated the problem. With the help of hon. Members opposite it was thrown out. It would have provided £10,000,000 annually towards dealing with the problem. The Minister of Labour, in connection with his Unemployment Insurance Bill, has given a little concession in regard to juveniles, but we are of opinion that those between 14 and 16 years of age, and those between 60 and 70 years of age, should be completely taken out of industry. We believe that in taking these people out of industry we should relieve the present unemployment problem to the extent of 500,000 58 persons. It might cost £40,000,000, but of that £40,000,000, you would save £30,000,000 in relief of local rates and unemployment insurance, and only £10,000,000 would be left which, considering the wealth of this country, is very little for dealing with this urgent problem. The Government have failed to deal with the problem. They have made no attempt to solve it, and the time is ripe when they ought to go out of power and appeal to the country. If they did so, the country would return to power those who are able, willing and capable to use the resources of the country to deal with this problem in a proper way.
§ Sir WALTER GREAVES-LORD
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words:this House notes with satisfaction that, in spite of the grave setback caused by the general strike and the prolonged coal dispute in 1926 the number in employment during 1927 has been greater than at any previous period since 1920; and is of opinion that the absorption of those who remain unemployed cannot be effected by Socialistic measures and can best be assisted by a policy directed to encouraging the recovery of industry, promoting industrial peace and, while preventing hardship to those unavoidably out of work, taking all steps that are practicable to forward the readjustment of labour forces to the changing needs of modern industry.Anyone who has listened to the sincere and heartfelt speeches which have just been delivered and has been impressed, as I think everybody would have been impressed, by the story of difficulty and distress which they showed, would have expected that those speeches, coming as they did from sincere and able members of the Socialist party, would have said a little more about the remedies they propose and a little less about that which all of us know to be the case, namely, the terrible amount of distress which exists. Reading the Motion, one finds it extraordinarily difficult to reconcile it with either the speech of the Mover or the speech of the Seconder. We heard from the Mover of the Motion a number of suggestions, which I am certain he would agree were nothing but palliatives, nothing but temporary measures, nothing but things which might tide over a difficult problem, and, inasmuch, as the Motion says that 59the present economic system offers no prospect of steady employment with a decent standard of life,in no sense touches that which the Mover said is the real problem. We all-know perfectly well that we have a number of unemployed which nobody desires to see indefinitely in this country; everyone desires to see the number reduced at the earliest possible moment. We all desire that this reduction should not be temporary in character, not a passing phase but something of a permanent character, the foundations of a system of industry in this country which would provide a permanent remedy.
In fact, the words of the Motion themselves suggest that which both Mover and Seconder failed to suggest; a comprehensive national policy which will, in the first place, stimulate production. I listened very attentively, but I found scarcely a word in either of the speeches, in fact, no word at all, of any national comprehensive policy which would stimulate production and, therefore, one is rather in this difficulty, that you have to look for the proposals of the party opposite not to the speeches of those who have proposed and seconded this Motion but to the declarations which are made by the party in other places and on other occasions. One thing at any rate is clear, that even the palliative proposals of hon. Members opposite could not be brought into being without a considerable addition to the spending capacity of the Government. Every one of the palliatives suggested requires for its foundation a very largely increased expenditure of the already swollen expenditure of the Government. All these things are bound to cost money, and the question which has to be answered, and which I know hon. Members opposite would answer at once, is, where is the money to come from in order to provide these remedies?
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
I look at the literature of the party opposite, and I find only one suggestion as to where the money is to come from. What is this national policy; and where is the money to come from to pay for it? It is said to be a national policy to stimulate production, but the most amazing elements 60 in a policy to stimulate production are suggestions for restricting the number of those who shall work, and restricting the number of hours that they shall work. That is not very much like a policy to stimulate production. We are to carry out a policy, according to the party opposite, which is to cost very large sums of money, and the only source from which that money is to come as far as one can gather is the Surtax, about which some hon. Members opposite are enthusiastic and some of them cold.
At the last Conference at Blackpool a considerable number of statements were made about the surtax. It was brought forward in a comprehensive resolution. It was at first suggested that it was to be a tax purely and simply for the reduction of the National Debt, but when it got as far as Blackpool it was decided that a surtax for the reduction of the National Debt was not quite as good a vote-catcher as if it was used for other purposes and, therefore, the resolution in which it was recommended to the Blackpool Conference suggested the abolition of taxes upon necessaries, the development of social services, and, thirdly, a reduction of the National Debt. Much more recently we have had an authoritative statement issued as to what the surtax is to bring about, and from this statement one realises that the surtax is the foundation of this national comprehensive policy about which the Motion speaks but about which we have heard practically nothing this afternoon. It says:(1) Steps to the new social order must be taken by the first Labour Parliament. Poverty and unemployment must be attacked.(2) Rates must be reduced by a more generous assistance to local authorities from national funds.(3) Development schemes, which will increase national production, must be set on foot.(4) The school age must be raised, with provision for adequate maintenance grants.and in the fifth place it says:(5) The burden of the National Debt must be lightened.(6) The standard of life must be raised.Can this be done?" says this authoritative statement, and the answer comes:It, can be done by the surtax.I think, therefore, that I was quite right in saying that the foundation of this 61 national comprehensive policy is the surtax, and nothing else. What is it that the surtax is going to do? Apparently this authoritative statement is quite clear and specific about it. It says:It is going to touch nobody.
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
I am not growling about it. I am not speaking from any personal point of view. What I am trying to point out to the House is that it is a little misleading to try and get support for the surtax upon one ground when the leaders of the party opposite are pointing out that it will have a totally different effect from that which is given in the leaflet which defends it. Let us see what the leaflet says:A large proportion of the tax will be paid by Super-tax payers, of whom there are 97,000, and who have an average income, after all taxes have been paid, of about £80 a week each. It is absurd to suggest that these persons are going to suffer hardship from some extra tax.I agree entirely with that last sentence, but what I disagree with is the implication of it in a leaflet of this kind. The suggestion is that the surtax will affect people with an average income of £80 a week after payment of all taxes, and that it will affect nobody else. The real fact is that the people with incomes of an average of £80 a week, after the payment of all taxes, will not suffer hardship; they will still be able to get what luxuries they want, they will still be able to indulge in the extravagances they want to indulge in. They can still do that. But what you will have done——
§ Mr. TINKER
May I rise to a point of Order, Mr. Speaker? The surtax is something which is suggested by the next Government; not to come in at the moment.
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
Just as the party opposite at their Conference at Blackpool thought it better to put other things in the background so on this occasion they would rather put their surtax 62 in the background than discuss the only constructive suggestion they have made for the purpose of finding the money to carry out the proposals they put forward. The only effect the surtax can have is this. It will affect only invested money, and it will therefore affect only that portion of capital to-day which is used for re-investment and for the development of industry. It will render surpluses less profitable, it will reduce surpluses, and it will prevent re-investment. After all, industry depends for its development upon the re-investment of savings, and it is for that reason that the encouragement of savings is so vital in an industrial community. No one has put this more clearly or more concisely than the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden). He has put the effect of the surtax as clearly as anyone could put it. So far from it touching only the people with an average income of £80 a week, the people who will be touched by the surtax are those who depend for relief from unemployment upon the expansion of industry and the increase of wage-earning facilities. The right hon. Member for Colne Valley said:Trade revival is vitally dependent on capital savings. Before the War the saving was £400,000,000 a year. To-day we were certainly saving no more, whereas with the change in the value of money we could certainly be saving at least £750,000,000.There could be no clearer condemnation of the effect of a tax, which can only be a tax on cumulative savings, than this statement by the right hon. Gentleman. What happens is that our capacity to buy is directly affected, our capacity to expand industry is retarded, and, above everything else, there is still the question as to whether this wonderful surtax will, in fact, produce the money. In this connection the right hon. Gentleman is not only doubtful but almost certain that the surtax will not produce the money which is necessary. What is the purpose of it? Is it to catch votes? That is a suggestion which would never enter into the minds of hon. Members opposite. Is it to destroy industry? That again is a suggestion which, of course, would never enter into the minds of hon. Members opposite. No; but I find that the members of the executive of their party clearly regard the surtax, and the matters connected with it, as a method of destroying industry. [An HON. MEMBER: "Non. 63 sense!"] Well, I will read something which one of the executive members of their party said:Nationalism is only a part of Socialism. There is another part. The neglected part of Socialism is the socialisation of the national income. That will force the pace towards nationalisation, because every thrust forward, every slice of national income taken from the owning class, will make capitalism less worth while.So we understand; that is the position. The idea is to tax the owning class, to increase the taxation on the owning class, and to make capitalism less worth while. If you make it less worth while you stop the expansion of industry, and the people——[Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite really do the capitalist an injustice if they think he will continue to invest his capital while they are making it commercially "less worth while." Further, says this gentleman, with a very good idea of electioneering as practised by hon. Members opposite:How can Labour keep its majority to carry through the process of nationalisation if Labour does not use the national income to sustain and give hope and courage in the hour of need? A realist programme such as I have outlined would reach the labouring classes in town and country alike. A majority so supported would be secure.In other words, "Let us use the national income," says this gentleman, who in the last Parliament was the First Commissioner of Works and a Member for one of the Divisions of Bradford, and is still a member of the party Executive. I refer to Mr. Jowett. "Here," says this gentleman, "here is Socialism. It is a long way off yet, but in the meantime let us use other people's money in order to keep our party majority together." Why, even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) is a child in matters of that kind compared with Mr. Jowett. But then, as is quite true, Socialism is behind. The right hon. Gentleman the leader of the Opposition prefers to say it is in the background. Meanwhile the strategist of the party, the late First Commissioner of Works, says, "Let us use the income of the State to prop up our party majority." Other men still sitting on the benches opposite take rather a different view of propping up the party majority by means of that kind. They take a different view also of trying to prop up the people of this country by the use of other 64 people's income. Some hon. Members opposite seem to think that one method of dealing with unemployment is to make it almost as profitable to be unemployed as to be employed. [Interruption.] Some hon. Members opposite seem to think that it is better to make it more profitable to be unemployed than to be employed. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. W. THORNE
The hon. Member is very annoying in the statements which he is making. It is his untruthful statements that annoy.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Perhaps the hon. Member will be in the same position later, from the other point of view.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
Hon. Members opposite seem to be a bit restive when I say what I think they have stated. Perhaps they will be less restive if I quote a member of their own party who, in speaking of the characteristics to be found to-day, used these words:A desire to get something for nothing, to get money without working for it, and to live at the expense of others. The danger to be avoided to-day is to give the idea that the individual can look to the State to do everything for him, and that he is relieved from either personal responsibility or the need for personal effort.Perhaps hon. Members opposite will take from the right hon. Member from Colne Valley, whom I am quoting, what they would not take from me. Hon. Members, although not daring to say so this afternoon, declare by their Resolution that Socialism is apparently the only cure. But Socialism is neither a cure nor a palliative. Neither is there any guarantee that even the party opposite, if they had a majority, would be able to carry out Socialism. Their leader says that it is in the background. We know why it is in the background. It was put in the background at the last conference of the Socialist party, because Mr. Ernest Bevan then said that there were too 65 many Conservatives and Liberals in the trade unions to get the support of the trade unions for Socialism if they did not put it in the background. So they put it in the background for the time being. But not only that. We find in this House that Socialism is not always supported by those who sit opposite. When a question of municipal omnibuses for one of the Yorkshire towns was debated in this House, that keen and intense Socialist, the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas), showed his individualist principles by voting against the municipal council that wanted to carry out municipal Socialism. When, recently, the municipal authority of Sheffield decided to municipalise the milk and the coal supply, they were brought down to their knees by that wonderful supporter of Socialism in this House, the Member for the Hillsborough Division (Mr. A. V. Alexander), who said that he represented the co-operative societies more than Socialism.
In the meantime, the real difficulty of the Socialist party in dealing with questions affecting industrial peace and prosperity is that they are trying to do two mutually destructive things. They are trying as trade unionists to prop up and support, and very often they do support with very great ability, the capitalist system. It is their bounden duty as trade unionists to do it. Acting as men and putting aside for the moment their political convictions, they try to bring about a state of prosperity in industry. But the next moment their chances of doing that are dashed to the ground, because the same men are teaching the workpeople to try to destroy the capitalist system all the time. You cannot carry on two mutually destructive things of that kind at one and the same time. Yet at their last conference we had Mr. Bevan saying, "Do not talk about Socialism here; do not talk about this as a Socialist party. There are thousands of Liberal working men in the trade unions and there are thousands of Conservatives. Leave them to us. Let us bring them round to our way of thinking in the trade unions, and then you may claim them for the Socialist party." The man who tries to do that kind of thing in industry is trying to do something which is not possible, because even in its own doctrine and speeches "the house is divided against itself." You 66 cannot get rid of politics in industry so long as you are trying to do those two things.
One finds the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, who now appropriates to his own party the Almighty, in order to put the coal trade again in the vortex of political warfare. [Interruption.] I have never avowed publicly that I have trusted, in party politics, to other than human agencies. I think it is far better to trust to human agencies. But there is something which is detrimental and dangerous, and that is something which has been decried very definitely by the present secretary of the Trade Union Congress, Mr. Citrine, who said:I believe more is to be gained by the direct exchange of views and opinions by leaders of industry on both sides, than by the interference of politicians bent on playing the party game.Before I pass to my Amendment I want to say a word or two about the figures of the present situation. They show very clearly that, while things may be dark, there is hope in the present situation. Let us take the position since 1920. I am quoting from a leaflet issued by the headquarters of the Socialist party in the last two or three weeks. Since the year 1923, 35 groups of industry have expanded and absorbed no fewer than 874,700 men. The distributive trades alone have expanded and taken 327,000 new employés. Road transport has taken 49,000, while building has absorbed 173,200, and brickmaking 35,000. We then come to rather smaller figures, but lead up to one of the few ways in which the Government can help industry. The construction of motors and cycles in that period has resulted in no fewer than 41,000 new men being taken on. Silk and artificial silk have absorbed no fewer than 17,700 new employés only is that the state of affairs but even real wages are 11.5 per cent. higher at the present time than they were in October, 1926, and 6.5 per cent. higher than they were in December of last year. Then if you take the figures of unemployment in September, 1927—[Interruption.] I am taking the last figures I can get, and, in order that there shall be no trouble, I have taken them from the "Labour Bulletin" issued from the headquarters of the Socialist party. I find that in 67 September of this year, in all industries excluding coal, there was 9.4 per cent. of unemployment as against 13.7 in September, 1926. In engineering, there was 9.4 per cent. against 16.3 per cent. in September, 1926; in shipbuilding, 21 per cent. against 41 per cent. in 1926; in iron and steel, 17.7 per cent. against 52.3 per cent, in 1926; in cotton, 9.1 per cent. against 24.1 per cent, in 1926; in building, 9.7 per cent. against 10.8 per cent. in 1926; and, among dockers, 21.1 per cent. against 32.2 per cent. in 1926. Those figures, as I say, are taken from the "Labour Bulletin" issued by the Socialist party. They are contained in the October number, and hon. Members opposite can verify my statement. They show, firstly, that an improvement is taking place, and, secondly, that the steps which His Majesty's Government have taken in the direction of safeguarding industry have led to the absorption of new employés and the expansion of the employment market, and in that way there has been steady progress towards the diminution of unemployment.
I would here mention a curious and interesting fact for which there must be some explanation. It is one of those things that ought to be mentioned as publicly as possible. Within the last few weeks a Swiss firm has opened a well-equipped and up-to-date factory in my constituency dealing with the manufacture of artificial silk garments. They are trying to produce by British labour things which they formerly produced by Swiss labour in Switzerland. One of the extraordinary things about this enterprise, in connection with the present state of the labour market, is that although they have been seeking for weeks for 50 women at a basic wage of £2 10s. per week, increasing by piece rates to £3 10s. per week, yet for the 50 situations they have had only two applications. Does that mean that some of the doctrines of hon. Members opposite are making people a little less willing to exchange unemployment benefit for wages? However, that is the position.
In reference to the terms of the Amendment I have just shown that, in spite of the set-back caused by the general strike and the coal dispute, the number in employment is greater than at any previous period since 1920. I have given 68 figures indicating that expansion. It is quite clear that, if we can show that expansion notwithstanding the handicap which was placed upon industry by hon. Members opposite and their party in 1926, then without that handicap we should have shown a much greater advance.
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
I say that the handicap was put upon the country by the party opposite for this reason—that the coalowners and the leaders opposite- agree, beyond all doubt, that that dispute was prolonged and prolonged and prolonged by the extremists of the party opposite. They perpetuated the strike and hoped that it would continue. One of the conditions which is necessary for the expansion of industry is confidence in investment, and you cannot get confidence in investment, if investment is constantly being threatened by the predatory politics of hon. Members opposite. Confidence in obtaining markets, certainty and security are also essential conditions, and you cannot get them if industrial peace is constantly being threatened by the agitation and the political doctrines of hon. Gentlemen opposite. The capacity to look ahead is required, and you cannot obtain orders unless you are able to guarantee to those from whom you solicit orders that there will be no industrial trouble which will prevent the fulfilment of those orders. There must be confidence of that kind. I have dealt with the question of whether some of these conditions can be secured by Socialist measures. At present, we only know the earlier parts of those measures, but we say that employment can best be assisted bya policy directed to encouraging the recovery of industry, promoting industrial peace and … taking all steps that are practicable to forward the readjustment of labour forces to the changing needs of modern industry.I have said that confidence is necessary, but, above everything else, confidence is necessary between those who employ and those who are employed. That requires an advance on both sides. It is necessary that you should have the most up-to-date machinery and methods. It may be necessary—in my opinion it is necessary—that you should get rid of many of the restrictive 69 conditions with which trade unions in their wisdom have fettered industry. But no employer has a right to ask for that, unless he is prepared to say to the men employed by him, "I am not going to use the removal of these restrictive conditions for the purpose of doing injury to you or your class." Everybody knows that a Beat many of these restictions were fastened upon industry because it was found necessary, in some cases, to protect people from evil employers who were ready to take advantage of them. That does not affect the position that these restrictive conditions are painful in their influence at the present time. My own suggestion is that there should be conferences—not spectacular conferences of all the industries in the country or anything of that kind, but conferences within the industries themselves. There should be conferences between the men who employ and the men whom they employ, and they should not be conferences which take no thought of the human element in factory or workshop.
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
Neither the legal profession nor the hon. Gentlemen opposite should have any place in these conferences between employers and employed. They must be conferences in which confidence will be given on both sides and where there shall be, if you like, a full disclosure of the profits made and the way in which particular things done in the workshop affect the profits, and a full disclosure of the way in which restrictive conditions are affecting the chances of the industry in the markets of the world. Let there be full and free discussion of that kind, and, if I know anything about the English people, you will get to a solution which will bring about fair and honest work in that industry. But you will never reach that position while one political party is trying to undermine the basis of our industry by preaching from the special to the general—taking the illustration of the bad employer and suggesting that it is typical of the whole race of employers. You will never reach that position as long as the trade union leader, who finds that his trade union activities do not give him the publicity he desires, thinks he can do better in a political position as a Member 70 of this House. You will not reach it while men forsake their trade union duties for the propagation of a policy which can only undermine industry. While that sort of thing exists it is impossible to obtain the confidence which is necessary.
Let those who have to deal with industry do so without the assistance of the politicians. Let the trade union leader no longer have "Socialism in the background." Let him cease from calling the capitalist system a system of robbery, let him cease from pointing to certain things which take place and saying that they are inevitable under the capitalist system. Let him tell his people the truth, namely, that these things about which he complains are not part of the capitalist system, but are things which, if indulged in, would bring the capitalist system and everything else to ruin. Let the trade union leaders be honest with their own people. Let the employers be honest with the men whom they employ, and let the men be honest with their employers. Then you will, at any rate, have a chance of discussion, a chance of confidence, and a chance that men will work, not against the employers, but for the sole purpose of making their industry prosperous. In that way prosperity will extend to the people in other industries, and there will be a steady diminution of that unemployment which we all deplore.
I beg to second the Amendment.
I should like to associate myself with the remarks of the Mover of the Amendment that we all deplore the large figure of unemployment still existing in this country. We in this party, just as much as the members of any other party, would like to see this blot removed as quickly as possible. I think, however, that in the present circumstances we may congratulate ourselves and feel that the conditions might have been worse than they are. I, like the Mover of the Amendment, feel that, had it not been for the deplorable events of last year, the unemployment position would have been much better to-day. If we cast our minds back, we find that the figure of unemployment in April, 1926, just before the general strike, was, for the first time in many years, well below the million. It was, in fact, a figure of 981,877 persons. Unfortunately, owing to the 71 general strike and the mining dispute, the figure rapidly increased during 1926, and it was only towards the end of that year and in the course of the present year that it decreased to any considerable extent. It is also just as well to remind Members of the official Opposition, who blame the action or inaction of the Government for the high rate of unemployment, that at the present moment the figures are somewhat better than they were when the Labour party came to the end of its term of office in 1924.
At the end of October, 1924, there were on the registers of the Employment Exchanges 1,190,592 persons, and at the end of November of the present year the number was 1,145,200. It is only a small gain, but I feel very strongly that we can congratulate ourselves on the number being less when we consider the very great upheaval that British industry went through last year. I was astonished to find no mention in the Motion that has been moved of the necessity for peace in industry. It seems to me that the party opposite, as well as everyone else, must recognise the paramount importance of peace in industry, if we are to find a solution of the problem of unemployment. However the Members of the official Opposition may think about this question, there is not the slightest doubt that people in the country are recognising more and more the value of peace in industry. A very great debt of gratitude is due to the Prime Minister for the way in which he has advocated its necessity, both in season and out of season. He has done it in the face of great criticism, in many cases unfair criticism. Sometimes he has not even received the support of people who ought very definitely to have helped him to achieve his object. Fortunately, the value of the work that he has done is to be seen and can be proved very easily indeed. During this year the number of days lost owing to strikes and lockouts, roundabout 1,000,000, is considerably less than anything we have had for a number of years past. This is undoubtedly something for which we can thank the Prime Minister and the spirit that he has managed to impart.
I do not know whether people realise what is the effect on industry of such disputes, particularly ones like the mining 72 dispute of last year and the general strike. I am afraid some people imagine that the evil effects of a strike come to an end with the cessation of the strike or lock-out, but, unfortunately, that is not all that takes place. Even the mere menace of an industrial dispute does a considerable amount of harm and may mean the loss of orders that should have come to this country. I know from personal experience that if there is the likelihood of a dispute taking place in any industry, the foreign buyer takes steps to see that his requirements are met from some other country, and in that way we frequently lose orders which would have found employment for our own people. There is no better illustration of this than in the coal industry, where, owing to the very frequent disputes of recent years, we have lost very valuable markets which would otherwise have been ours. There are some countries that have gone in for extensive schemes of electrification and others that have found new sources of supply, simply because they could no longer continue to run the risk of obtaining their fuel from this country. The disputes have been so numerous that they felt it was much too risky a course to take.
I agree with the Mover of the Amendment in thinking that it has been very difficult to discover in the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Motion any practical suggestion to deal with the question of unemployment. It seems to me that, as he said, all that they have offered are palliatives. These are, in effect, merely drugs which may for the time being ease the pain, but which, like drugs when applied to the human body, and if taken in excess, do harm or, in some cases, destroy the patient. We have to go further than they have done and try to get down to the root of the evil, and not simply confine ourselves to suggesting palliatives. I am one of those who feel that it is only trade that can bring this country out of the difficulties in which she finds herself at present. When I say trade, I mean an increased trade, in the production of manufactures for use at home and for export abroad, also in the fostering of our great agricultural industry. If we cannot increase our trade, if we cannot find economic employment for our people, we are certainly in for very difficult days. All these 73 palliatives, such as unemployment insurance and employment on public works, are more or less in the nature of trying to live by taking in each other's washing.
This country is dependent on export trade, and we must consider, in the first place, how we can possibly increase that vital part of our commerce. I do not want to traverse again the ground that has been covered by my hon. and learned Friend, but I feel with him that the Socialist Opposition is very largely responsible for the present state of industry. Their constant attacks on capitalists, industrialists, and all who are trying to run the commerce and industry of the country, have certainly made the position much more difficult than it should have been. I hope they will recognise that they also must help industry and commerce if we are going to find economic employment for our own people. It is not the slightest use suggesting schemes of social reform which will involve the expenditure of large sums of money. If we do, we are only going to sink ourselves deeper into the mud.
We are already spending vast sums of money in this direction. For instance, last year the amount devoted to social services came to £308,017,360, out of which £47,691,578 was spent on the working of different Unemployment Insurance Acts, £40,142,000 in relief, £27,448,900 on pensions, and £6,624,000 on the new Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act. Incidentally, it seems to me that this scheme of contributory pensions at 65 years of age is going to carry out the desire of one of the speakers that we should remove from industry a number of those who attain the age of 65 during the course of the next year, and from thence onwards. [An HON. MEMBER: "On 10s. a week?"] In any case, whatever the sum, it will be a definite help, and I am sure that those who receive it will find it much better than nothing at all.
The great need of the present moment is, so far from encouraging expenditure, to encourage economy in national and particularly in local government. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) referred to the very large burden which is placed on the shoulders of the local authorities. I agree with him that this burden certainly bears very heavily on industry, but you are not going to remove 74 the difficulty by transferring this burden from the shoulders of the local ratepayers to those of the national taxpayers. The burden will still remain. You will have to do something more than that if you are seriously going to help. If hon. Members opposite really wished to help, they should suggest to all their colleagues who happen to he serving on local authorities of any kind, whether county councils, city councils, boards of guardians, or any other form of local authority, that the best way to help the workers of this country would be by effecting every possible economy and reducing rates and taxes in every possible way. I think in this way they could do something very definite.
But we have to go back to the fundamental fact that it is to trade and industry that we must look in order to find more employment for the workers of the country. I want to see everything possible done to encourage trade and industry to do their work efficiently and well, so that they can find employment for the large number of people at present without work. I will say, from my own personal experience, that I agree with the hon. Member for Dundee when he said that the great bulk of those at present unemployed do not want to live on the bounty of anyone, but want to have a job for themselves and to earn wages so that they can maintain their family in the comfort to which they are entitled. I am frankly of that opinion from very constant and frequent experience of those who are unfortunate enough to be without work.
There are two directions in which we can look for further trade. The first is with regard to export trade. I am not very sure whether sometimes we have not been better manufacturers than we have been salesmen. I think our manufacturers should initiate a special campaign and offer their manufactures in every country where there is a possibility of their being sold. There is practically nothing that is manufactured in this country which cannot find a market in some other part of the world, and it is the duty of every manufacturer to try and find out these markets, wherever they may be. I am afraid that sometimes our manufacturers and our merchants have not concerned themselves sufficiently in finding out the possibilities of the markets of the world. It 75 is of the greatest importance that they should visit these markets, investigate their possibilities on the spot, and spare no effort in seeing that their products are offered for sale.
We have, I believe, in the export trade very great opportunities for increasing our sales, particularly as far as the Dominions and the other parts of the British Empire are concerned. I should have been very glad to see, in the Motion which has been moved from the Benches opposite, some reference to the importance of Empire trade, because I believe very strongly indeed that in the future, more than ever, we must look to the Empire as a market for the manufactured goods of this country. I certainly regret that this Motion did not make some reference to that aspect of the question. It is fortunate for us that the Empire trade has been increasing very considerably. I do not intend to go into detailed figures, but I would like to remind the House that even since 1925 there has been a very marked increase in the purchases made by the different parts of the Empire. In 1925, their share came to 39.16 per cent. of the total British exports, whereas in 1927 it came to 42.76 per cent., which is quite an appreciable advance, I may say that the figures I am quoting are for the first 10 months of the years 1925 and 1927, respectively.
§ Mr. GRIFFITHS
Is the hon. Member aware that Australia has recently passed legislation to increase the taxes on the iron and steel imported into that country?
§ Mr. RAMSDEN
I am quite aware that Australia has increased certain of her rates of duty quite recently, but I would just like to remind the House of the fact that, in spite of the increases of duty which have taken place in Dominions like Australia, these Dominions happen to be the very best buyers that we have got at the present moment. Take, for instance, the case of Australia, to which the hon. Member has just referred. Here we have got a country which, with one three-hundredth part of the population of the whole world buys from us one-tenth of the whole of our exports. As a matter of fact, even in the year 1926, when the export trade of this country suffered along with the general trade, Australia bought from us goods to the 76 value of somewhere about £1,000,000 more than she did in the previous year. I regret that they have increased their duties on certain specific articles, but the fact nevertheless remains that the Dominions and the Colonies have found a considerable amount of employment by buying British manufactures during the past few years. We should have been in a very sorry plight had it not been for the enormous purchases they have made. I feel that we should certainly concentrate on selling our goods in the British Empire, because there we have a population only too willing to buy our goods if they can posibly do so. I do not say for a moment that we should neglect any foreign markets, no matter how small they be. We should try to sell our goods everywhere. There is, however, one thing we must do, and that is to leave no stone unturned in offering our goods in British markets overseas.
There is one other thing to which I want to refer, and that is with regard to the home trade. I am rather surprised that no reference has been made to the effect upon employment of the large volume of manufactured goods coming in from abroad. Up to the end of November this year they totaled £296,050,262. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Motion referred to the possibility of the League of Nations taking action with regard to sweated labour in foreign countries, and, I suppose, with a view to the prohibition of imports, if they are made under such conditions. I think, however, that we ought to try to deal with this ourselves. We certainly can do so if we wish. Take this £296,000,000 odd which I referred to. Even if half of it had been kept out, it would have found a considerable amount of employment for the people of this country. This sum of £296,050,262 shows that we imported £9,000,000 worth of goods more than in 1926, and £3,000,000 more than in 1925. Unfortunately, it appears to be a progressive amount; in any case it is doing a considerable amount of harm.
I think that a practical way of helping industry would be to extend the Safeguarding of Industry. Owing to the pledges given by the Prime Minister, the mandate of the present Government is limited as far as safeguarding or any other method of protection is concerned, but within the limited scope which it has 77 been applied, there is not the slightest doubt that it has been a great success. I find that in the first 10 months of this year we imported safeguarding goods—that is, of all kinds, including those subject to the McKenna Duties, etc.—to the extent of £38,253,000, which has to be compared with the figures for the same goods in 1925, which amounted to £54,730,000. In other words, owing to the imposition of these duties, there has been a decrease of 30.1 per cent. in these particular articles. This shows, consequently, that a considerable amount of employment must have been found in producing for home consumption the goods that otherwise would have been imported. This is all the more remarkable, as during the same period the imports of non-safeguarding goods actually increased from £188,445,000 to £210,610,000, or an increase of 11.7 per cent.
In connection with this, there is one other thing I should like to say. The theories of the Free Traders with regard to the effect of safeguarding on imports have been proved to be entirely fallacious, for during this period the same goods have been sold abroad either to the Dominions or to foreign countries in larger quantities. The exports of non-safeguarded goods decreased during the first 10 months of this year by 12 per cent. It is very important to know that safeguarded goods were imported in decreased quantities and were also exported in increased quantities. The export of those manufactured in this country increased to the extent of 8.3 per cent. We have, consequently, two very distinct gains, both in the reduction of imports, which has found more employment for our people, and an increase in exports, which has also had exactly the same effect. I think along these lines, that is, first, a definite effort to increase the sale of all British products abroad, and also to keep out foreign goods which are taking away the livelihood of our people, there is undoubtedly an opportunity of finding employment on a very much larger scale than is the case at the present moment. In order to do that, industry must feel secure, and the party opposite would be well advised in letting industry know that, even if they are returned to power in the next few years, it is not their intention to do anything which would make its task more difficult or would 78 place obstacles in the way of additional capital being invested in industry. If they do so, they are not going to help create further employment, but will help to create further unemployment.
§ Mr. CECIL WILSON
The hon. and learned Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord) made some references to the Sheffield municipality in connection with the sale of coal and milk, and attributed to my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) a certain responsibility for these matters being withdrawn from the Corporation Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman does not know what he is talking about, and what he said in regard to my hon. Friend was entirely untrue. He made certain references to my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden), but I think he cannot at all have appreciated some of the other things to which my right hon. Friend has made reference in regard to the necessity of a restoration of trade and industry. He was speaking about the same time to a resolution which was sent to the National Savings Committee, and which appealed to that Committee to promote a national campaign, pointing out in specific terms that the diversion of vast sums from non-productive to productive spending would help the restoration of trade and the removal of unemployment. That resolution had reference more particularly to the £300,000,000 which was spent annually on intoxicating liquor, and I think it is somewhat unfortunate that, when we are dealing with a Debate on unemployment, the chief spokesman should be one who is looked upon by many of us as the chief brewers' advocate.
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
I once, in this House, spoke on a licensing question—only once. I have never had the slightest interest in licensing or brewing or anything connected with it. I dealt with the Bill concerned with the administration of justice. The man who says that I am a brewers' advocate says something that is not only untrue, but dishonourable to himself. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw!"]
§ Mr. WILSON
If hon. Members will give me an opportunity, I will at once withdraw what I have said, but it is not quite fair to shout "Withdraw" without 79 giving a Member an opportunity of withdrawing. I want further to say that Sir George Paish, who may certainly be taken as an authority in regard to some of these questions, strongly expressed the view that industry would be restored if we got rid of some of the items of unproductive expenditure, especially in regard to drink and gambling. My hon. Friend who moved the Resolution made reference to the extremely serious position in which the Sheffield Board of Guardians was placed in consequence of the very great increase of 397 per cent. in the rates owing to the position in which they have been placed because of unemployment. I want to refer to the effect of the change that has been made by the Ministry of Labour in regard to persons who have been transferred from unemployment benefit to the guardians. On 21st February, 1925, the guardians had before them 2,250 cases of insured persons receiving benefit. The numbers now receiving unemployment benefit have been reduced to 414. Then, in addition to that, those who were not receiving benefit have been increased from 966 to 3,979.
In other words, there has been a transfer from unemployment benefit to the guardians of more than 3,000 cases in that very short period. There has been a weekly increase of some £3,000 in consequence of this transfer. The cost to the city since this change was made, a cost which has very seriously affected the whole of the trades of the city, has been very nearly £500,000. The guardians themselves have had to borrow £1,300,000. of which a certain portion has been repaid. For the repayment of this loan they have to find £180,000 during the current year, in the following year £112,000, then £149,000 for four and a-half years, and the final payment in respect of this loan will only be made nine or 10 years hence. There is no question at all that this involves an extremely heavy burden—for the poor, etc., there is for the current year a call of 7s. 8d. in the pound—affecting all the heavy industries in Sheffield. This is a burden which the city alone ought not to have to bear, as it arises from the fact that in the past it undertook so much work on behalf of the Government. When the hon. Member says we ought to advise our friends not to impose burdens which cannot be 80 borne, we are entitled to reply that burdens have been placed upon us which we ought never to have been asked to bear.
I would like the House to look at this matter from another point of view, and that is in regard to the numbers on poor relief per 10,000 of the population. We find from the Ministry of Labour Gazette that in districts other than London, West Ham and Scotland, there are, on the average, 372 per 10,000 of the population. Unfortunately, the Scottish figures are very much worse, showing 645 per 10,000. The Sheffield unemployed alone show 282 per 10,000, as against an average of 372, which includes all other cases of poor relief in these other districts. I have here also the figures of the Sheffield and Attercliffe Employment Exchanges, showing the total number of persons wholly unemployed and the number on short time. For every 100 who are wholly unemployed there are in Sheffield 33 short-time workers, and in Attercliffe 63 short-time workers. These short-time workers are not included in the figures which have been quoted to us this afternoon, and while it may be perfectly true that the figures of unemployment show a substantial reduction, these very large numbers of short-time workers ought to be included if we are to get a true perspective of the situation. I have taken out from the Ministry of Labour Gazette the industries in which there are 200,000 or more insured persons. They comprise 54 per cent. of the total number of insured persons. These industries include a number of productive and largely basic industries, and certain others which are not productive. In the first category come coal mining, steel works, engineering, constructional and repair work on motors, shipbuilding, cotton, wool and building; and the nonproductive category includes the printing, distributive trades, local government employés and employés in hotels and elsewhere. In the basic industries we find that the total number of insured persons has increased between 1924 and 1927 by 11,670, but the number of persons unemployed has increased by 62,000, so that there has really been a decrease of 50,000 in the number employed. Therefore, while I do not dispute the accuracy of the percentages which have been quoted by the hon. and learned 81 Member for Norwood, unless he also takes into the comparison the actual number of persons employed between the two periods the true position cannot be ascertained. As regards the non-productive industries, it is quite true, as he said, quoting more particularly the distributing trades, that there has been an increase of 288,000 in the number employed between the years referred to, but an increase in employment of that kind is never going to solve the problem that is before us. Even though we increase very largely the numbers in the distributing trades, unless we have a considerable increase in those employed in production we tend to get nowhere at all.
A few days ago I put a question to the Minister regarding schemes which had been approved by the Unemployment Grants Committee or the Ministry of Transport, asking the number of schemes in operation, the number of men employed and the estimated cost of the schemes, in September of each year since 1921. From the reply I find that, whereas in September, 1923, 667 schemes were submitted and 150 approved, and in the following year 301 were submitted and 266 approved, that we have now come to the position where only six schemes have been submitted and four approved. Whereas the man-months approved in 1923 numbered 41,000 and in 1924 103,000, there are only 1,900 man-months in the schemes approved at the present time.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY of the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Mr. Betterton)
Is the hon. Member referring to the schemes authorised by the St. Davids' Committee?
§ Mr. WILSON
While those schemes can only be regarded as palliatives, they undoubtedly do something towards meeting temporarily the problem with which we are faced, but I do not think the House sufficiently realises what unemployment really means. If we are to judge by what the hon. and learned Member for Norwood said a few minutes ago, we should have to believe that a very large number of those unemployed do not want work 82 and would prefer to be idlers rather than working. I think that was the inference to be drawn from some of the remarks towards the end of his speech.
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
The inference I want to be drawn is this, that if you go on indefinitely making it as profitable not to work as to work, or, rather, more profitable, you are almost bound to increase the number of people who do not want to work at all.
§ Mr. WILSON
I accept that explanation, but I would only point this out. As things stand, all that a man, his wife and three children can get is 29s. a week, out of which they have to find their rent and rates and food and clothing. Estimating the rent and rates at the low figures of 8s. a week, that leaves 21s. to provide five of them for a week with food and clothing. How is it possible for people to live in real decency on that sum? Anyone suggesting that that is an inducement to a man, unless he were a downright shirker, not to seek work, shows the most complete ignorance in regard to the whole problem. It is quite true that there may be shirkers here and there—and shirkers do not belong to one class—but the vast body of people, as any relieving officer, or any man at an Employment Exchange will tell you, really desire work and are going about day after day trying to find it, although they know that the search is almost hopeless, and that unless they happen to be at a place at a particular moment or have some friend to assist them they are not likely to get employment. Those of us who live in the midst of these things and see what is going on from day to day cannot help feeling very strongly on this matter.
The suggestions made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Jonhston) were made with the very best intentions. It was never supposed that they would provide a perfect solution of this terrible problem, but merely that they would do something to relieve the present difficulty. Everyone is agreed, I suppose, that the problem we are facing 83 is a very serious one and I am glad the Prime Minister is here. I want to ask whether the country is likely to continue to have real confidence in Parliamentary government if Parliament can do nothing towards solving this problem which has been with us for so long. If we cannot solve it, surely it is better to say so and not to pretend that we really care about this problem of human suffering. Ours is the responsibility. The responsibility has been put upon us by the country, and if we think there is no solution it is a great deal better to say so straight out and let people know that we are entirely incompetent, rather than to do nothing and to keep on hoping that something is going to turn up and that things will turn out better. This is no question to be dealt with in a party spirit. It is up to every man and woman in the House to see whether, by putting our heads together, we cannot bring an end to a situation which has been causing so much trouble and anxiety. It is causing an immense amount of suffering, such as the House does not sufficiently realise, I am afraid, and it is causing deterioration of our people, making them very much worse than a C3 population. I hope we shall not deal with this question in the way in which it has sometimes been treated, and that is by bandying proposals from one side of the House to the other. At this time of year, when we are talking about peace and good will, we ought to remember that the best way of achieving it is by restoring these people to some measure of prosperity instead of leaving them in the dreadful position in which they are to-day.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. HAMMERSLEY
In considering the very serious problem of unemployment in this country there is no statement which is more frequently made than that "the only real cure for unemployment is to provide work." Although that statement finds acceptance in every part of the House, the major part of our Debates on unemployment is concerned neither with the problem of finding work, nor with the equally serious problem of preventing work leaving the country, but with Debates upon the necessity of providing relief when no work is available. In former years the problem of unemployment suffered throughout the whole country because it had been considered a 84 political problem. The problem of unemployment is in no real sense political. It is an economic problem; it is much more of a national problem than a party problem. Instead of the whole energies of the country and the whole energy of those connected with industry being concentrated in an endeavour to find some method whereby more work can be made available, our energies are devoted to other things.
Hon. Members opposite seem to think that their duty has been fulfilled, in the absence of available work, if they deplore the situation, and demand maintenance in lieu of work; and yet they wind up with a general statement that the capitalist system has failed. A large number of industrial leaders of organised workers say they have no obligation to put forward constructive industrial proposals inside their own trade. Is it to be wondered at that in circumstances like those the problem of unemployment is difficult of solution? Is it to be wondered at, when in the Motion before the House which has been moved by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) we find the statement thatthe present economic system offers no prospect of steady employment?If that is believed, is it surprising that we find it so very difficult to solve this great problem? What are the main points? It is well known to the House that the really critical problem of unemployment affects the main staple trades. There is, broadly speaking, no problem of unemployment so critical as in the iron and steel trades, with the subsidiary trades of engineering and shipbuilding, and coal and textiles. Those three broad trades cover the critical position in regard to unemployment. Why is it that these main staple trades during the last seven months have been singled out for this special depression? Is it because our natural resources are failing us? Is it because capital is not available? Is it because the men are not good enough or because management is failing? Allowing for exceptional and special cases, I do not think capital is failing. I believe that capital can be provided where there is a prospect of a reasonable return. I do not think that our workmen or those responsible for management in this country are inferior to those in competitive nations. I do not think our natural resources are failing.
85 I think the answer to the problem is to be found in a consideration of the fact that all these special trades have been faced by special post-War problems. The whole of the commercial community has been unable to solve the special problems which are incidental to the post-War period. I believe it has been the incursion of politics into industrial questions that has materially affected this question. Take, for example, America, where coal is more expensive than it is in this country, where they have to import a large percentage of their high-class steam coal, and where wages are higher. Nevertheless, America has produced 95 per cent, of the motorcars of the world. With higher prices for raw materials and higher wages, America has been able to produce a cheaper commodity than we produce, and what is the reason? It is to be found in superior efficiency of production.
The figures have been put forward that for 10 years the productive efficiency per head of the American workmen has risen three times. I do not believe that industrial efficiency in this country in the same period has risen at all. In America, there is no political view of industry, and everybody concerned in industry is pulling in one direction. From the smallest operative to the managing director, all realise what the improvement of industry means. They fully realise the importance of the production of wealth. They concentrate upon the manufacture of commodities in the most economical way in large quantities. Everybody realises that, and everybody works towards that end. In this country there is no such unity of view. Capitalists, to a great extent, consider that industry is there to provide them with the means of making money, and they quite forget in many cases the essential thing, which is efficient production in maximum quantities.
On the other hand, labour is content to expend most of its abilities in forcing up wages or opposing the methods of the capitalists. You have, on the one hand, the capitalists' desire for profit, opposed by the desire of labour for a higher standard of living. I believe that it is this mental attitude, this opposition of the two factors engaged in industry in this country, that is much more responsible for the failure of our main staple 86 trades to deal with the post-War problem of surplus production, and so forth, than any other factor. With the particular trades that are specially affected, namely, iron and steel, coal and textiles, I am not competent to deal, but I would like to say a word or two on the particular trade with which I am personally connected, that is the cotton trade. Probably, I should be out of order if I were to discuss in any detail the special difficulties which are upsetting the cotton trade to-day, but I think that I shall keep myself within the confines of this Debate if I dwell specially on the progress of unemployment in the cotton trade, and if I give my idea as to what should be done to remedy that position.
Unemployment in the cotton trade during the three months from April to June, 1927, was approximately 7 per cent. During the three months from July to September it was slightly over 9 per cent. In October, unemployment had risen to 11 per cent. I have not been able to work out the percentage of unemployment for the last month, but I know that unemployment in November has risen by 7,000 more over and above the 11 per cent. for October. In other words, unemployment in the cotton trade is increasing rapidly. In my view, unless something like the policy which I hope to advocate takes place, then unemployment in the cotton trade is going to increase still further. It is the spinning trade—and perhaps to a less extent the manufacturing trade—that is specially affected by this difficult problem of dealing with surplus production. For over seven years the cotton industry has endeavoured to face this problem of how to deal with surplus production in Lancashire. Many methods have been tried. Short time has been tried, and so has the policy of basic process, that is, sticking to regulated prices. We have also tried the policy of a restricted output. All these schemes have been tried, and they have failed.
Perhaps it would be out of order for me to go into details on these points, but I think very few people, with knowledge of the subject, believe that the only solution of Lancashire's problem lies along the lines of large scale amalgamations, whereby we can obtain a reduction in overhead costs and management expenses. We must eliminate obsolete and 87 inferior concerns. I may be asked if it be the generally agreed policy in Lancashire to go in for large scale amalgainations, and, if that be so, I may also be asked why I do not proceed with that policy. I will endeavour to explain the special circumstances which are preventing this policy being pursued in Lancashire to-day. In normal circumstances, as is well known, when a concern loses money year after year, and finally is unable to meet its creditors, then the process of liquidation takes place. The assets are realised, and that concern only starts as a productive unit in the same trade on the economic consideration as to whether it was bought at a low enough price, and whether or not the prospects of the trade are dwindling. This is a normal state of things in Lancashire, to-day. There are 200 mills in the hands of the banks, and money has been lent by the banks to the cotton spinning trade to the amount of something like £15,000,000. A large proportion of this money is unsecured. One finds that, when the mill cannot meet its creditors, instead of it being allowed to go into liquidation, at the instigation of the largest creditors—which are the banks schemes of arrangement are instituted; a policy is being followed in Lancashire to-day whereby the mills are prevented from going into liquidation by schemes of arrangement, which act for a period of five years.
In other words, these uneconomic concerns, which have been brought down by, amongst other factors, the very high burden of financial overhead costs, are put in a position still to produce for a further five years; and—and I would emphasise this point—they still produce without any lightening of their burden of financial charges. It, may be said that, if they are carrying on like this for five years, they are, surely, making tremendous losses and it may be asked, if they are making tremendous losses, where is the money coming from? They are, indeed, making tremendous losses, amounting on an average to from £200 to £800 per week; and the money is coming from the shareholders. It should be recognised that, in the case of practically all these mills, there is an uncalled liability on their shares. The capital is not fully paid up, and, under these schemes, the money which is being lost in day-to-day 88 trading is being provided by calls which are made on the shares. The shareholders are being forced into very difficult circumstances, some into absolute penury. Bankruptcy is taking place on a very large scale in Lancashire——
§ Mr. HAMMERSLEY
No. When the shareholders' money has gone, it is obvious that the concern is controlled by the creditors. The shareholders, obviously, are only of advantage inasmuch as they have uncalled capital; they are only of interest to the concern because they are people from whom money may be obtained; but they obviously can have no right to control the business, and the scheme of arrangement is necessarily controlled by the creditors. What I would like the House to realise is that these calls, which produce very great hardship, are not doing the one essential thing, that is to say, lightening the financial burden upon the mill and making it capable of producing more economically. Therefore, under these schemes, you have a situation in which the mills are forced to produce uneconomically for a period of years, and, at the same time, the shareholders are forced to provide the losses and enable this uneconomic production to go on. If this policy is pursued, we are month by month, as this uneconomic production takes place in Lancashire, giving hostages to our competitors overseas, and, if something be not done, then, in Lancashire's cotton trade, which provides the maximum amount of our exports—it is the largest exporting trade of this country—we shall, at the end of five years, not only have extracted all the available money which the shareholders and loanholders have, but we shall have ruined our industry, and, probably, ruined it to such an extent that we may never recover the position to which we hope to get back. The view which has been put forward, that we have only to wait a certain number of years for a return to pre-War conditions, is an entirely fallacious view. We shall never get back to pre-War conditions. The competitive power which is now being put up against Lancashire never existed in earlier years, and we must tackle the problem in some quite different way from merely hoping for a return of pre-War conditions. What is this way to be?
89 Ninety per cent. of these 200 mills—shall I call them the lame ducks of the cotton industry?—are in the hands of four banks. Those four banks should meet together and discuss Lancashire's problems. They have a greater stake in the Lancashire cotton trade than anyone else. They should decide on some very definite policy which can be pursued by the banks working together, and it is essential that that policy should put the concerns on a sound economic financial basis. It will probably be found that among those 200 mills there are, say, 50 that are obsolete. Those obsolete mills should go out of production. It may be asked, "How are you going to help unemployment by putting mills out of production?" The point is that, if you get rid of your obsolete mills, you can look forward hopefully to getting rid of your unemployment; but, if you carry your obsolete mills on your backs, the situation is going to grow, not better, but worse. Then the other 150 mills must be put on a sound financial basis, and it would be necessary for the banks, in order to do that, to make sacrifices. They may have to write off £1,000,000, they may have to write off £2,000,000, in respect of their overdrafts in Lancashire; but it is better that they should do that now than, it may be, in five years' time, lose the whole of their £15,000,000, and at the same time ruin the Lancashire cotton trade. The banks have the power, and they alone can give the lead.
I should, however, be making a very grave mistake if I put forward this proposal with a view to suggesting that the banks alone are the people to make sacrifices. The banks can give the lead, but, if they will give that lead, I am confident that the shareholders, the loanholders, the management, and every part of the Lancashire cotton trade, will also make the maximum sacrifice that is in their power; they will do their level best to get on to a real basis of economic production. I want the House to realise that they cannot do that, if these schemes are to go on, unless the first move comes from the banks. The key to the situation is in the hands of the banks. They should, in my view, act now; every month makes the position worse. Unless they do, unemployment, in my view, is bound to get worse, and it may be that many busy mills—and once those busy mills were the pride of industrial England—will, if 90 we go on with this policy, become silent, derelict buildings, monuments to a departing industry.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Hammersley) has given the House an extremely interesting speech, showing the House that the Lancashire cotton trade would benefit by a form of restriction of production. I do not agree with him that employment will be increased, or that benefit will be obtained in the long run, by a restriction of production. I think that what we suffer from——
§ Mr. HAMMERSLEY
If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to say so, he has thoroughly misunderstood what I said. I do not propose a restriction of production; I propose the cutting out of obsolete concerns, and the working of full time by the remainder, so that the whole of the production would be economic.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The hon. Member proposes the closing down of certain mills in order that there may be a possibility of working other mills full time. That is a restriction of production. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] As a matter of fact——
§ Sir WILFRID SUGDEN
We know something of the trade and of the poverty, because we live in Lancashire also.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
If all mills were working full time, the shutting down of certain mills would be to that extent restricting production. The hon. Member's scheme is to redistribute the orders by eliminating the unproductive mills and concentrating on other mills. That idea could be applied in various branches of industry; it is what is called the rationalisation of industry. I maintain, however, that it is all based upon the fallacy that there is over-production at the present time. What we are suffering from is not over-production, but under-consumption. All the people of this world want things which they cannot buy because they have not large enough wages with which to buy them, and we have to look at the matter from that point of view also. I do not, however, propose in any way to criticise the speech of the hon. Member, because I think it is excellent that we should have, from that side of the House, constructive 91 proposals. We are too accustomed to have from that side of the House the ordinary—shall I call it?—Hampstead Debating Society style. We are told that everything would be beautiful in the garden were it not for, on the one hand, the wicked working man, and, on the other hand, the Socialist party corrupting the morals of the working man.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I apologise to Hampstead; I was thinking of the Union Debating Society at Cambridge, where I last had the opportunity of debating with the hon. and learned Gentleman who moved the Amendment, and where very similar speeches are made, in which you call attention to the hopeless incapacity of your opponents and the moral iniquity of the working man. For the consolation of hon. Members opposite, I will admit that the working man in this country is not what he ought to be, and that the Socialist party is a corruptor; but, even if that be so, are not other nations in Europe cursed in the same way? They all have these working men who think they should be doing better for themselves, and Socialist parties stirring up and agitating the working man's mind and making him less docile and humble and obedient——
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I do not think the hon. Member can know America very well. What about the I.W.W.? You find these Socialists everywhere, and you find everywhere people who want to do better for themselves, and who think that they are not getting quite a fair deal at the present time. That has to be accepted everywhere. I propose, however, to leave these natural iniquities of human nature on one side for the moment. I do not propose to say that everything would be beautiful in the garden were it not for that incompetent Government, though that would be a natural tu quoque. I believe, honestly, that the Government is not thoroughly and fundamentally bad; I believe that it is merely stupid. I propose just to——[An HON. MEMBER: "Prove it!"]—to ask hon. Members if they would apply their minds to acquiring 92 a little information about what is being done in other countries to meet precisely the same difficulty with which we are faced here. I happened recently to be in Greece, and it struck me that what Greece was doing and had done was an admirable lesson to His Majesty's present Government. I should like to see the Minister of Labour taking a little trip to Greece and seeing there what has been done for the unemployed in Greece. It so happens that as it were on one morning, 1,400,000 unemployed refugees were dumped upon the shores of Greece. The total population of Greece was then only 5,500,000, and 1,400,000 unemployed refugees were put ashore with very little money, without clothes and without the average number of men in the population, because the men had been killed off.
These refugees were an unemployed problem unparalleled in magnitude when we consider the wealth and the population of the country involved. What did they do? They went to the League of Nations and, through them, borrowed £10,000,000 from British capitalists. Then they arranged to get hold of a Scotsman. It is wonderful how these brain waves are caught by foreign statesmen, and yet His Majesty's Government cannot think of it. [Interruption.] Yes, but the Greek Government gave their Scotsman some powers to act. They appointed a committee, a Scotsman, an American and two Greeks. Owing to frequent changes of the other members of the committee, the Scotsman, Sir John Campbell, conducted the whole of the repatriation and re-establishment of these 1,400,000 refugees. He had £10,000,000. The Greek Government said to him, "You will want money, you will want land, and there are the refugees." The Greek Government did not interfere. They had other fish to fry. At that time Greek Governments were changing with extreme rapidity, and with many dangerous consequences to the ex-Government. What they did was to say to Sir John Campbell, "You can have what land you require, you can take any land that is not being used at present and, if it is owned privately, or if claims are made upon it, we will settle with the owners afterwards." Therefore, we had the capital, we had the land and we had the people—people with some knowledge of agriculture, though I would not say 93 honestly more than a half of the refugees had any previous experience of agriculture whatever.
I would not have the House suppose for a moment that the work done by the refugee settlers in Greece has been solely devoted to agriculture. They have started new cement factories, new carpet factories, new pottery works, weaving factories, in fact now Athens and the Piræus together are the biggest cities in the Mediterranean, and about one-half of the 1,400,000 unemployed in Greece have been re-established in new industries in the cities of Greece—an enormous addition to the strength of the Greek population and their productive policy, and even to their intellectual capacity. The other half has been settled by Sir John Campbell in agriculture. If you go to Macedonia, you will see a series of little red-roofed villages all over the countryside. A countryside which was previously uncultivated is now, I will not say a prosperous garden, but a cultivated area, every inch of it being used. They have done it on economic lines. They have, of course, provided the money for the settlers to build their homes. Those homes have been built to plan more or less, but they are excessively primitive. The family and the cattle live under the same roof, there is no chimney and there is a mud floor instead of a wooden floor. The conditions are not what we should consider satisfactory, but they are in their own houses. They have supplied them with stock and they have to supply them with food for the whole year for themselves and their stock. Each family has either one ox or one cow. They co-operate together and they have sunk wells in every new village, they have developed roads and have carried on a vast campaign for exterminating malaria.
They have spent their £10,000,000, to my mind, very wisely and there have been, as far as I can find out, no complaints whatever of graft, though there must have been enormous opportunities for that sort of thing. The actual cost, as it has worked out, has been about £80 per family for establishing these unemployed refugees on the land of Greece. It has been excessively cheap, but they had the enormous advantage of having the land. What they did at the beginning would interest the House. The 94 people from the same sort of settlement from Asia Minor or Thrace got together and chose a delegation of three or four of their members to go out into the country that was to be sold, and select their spot. They were given a map and a free hand, and these little groups of settlers went out and chose the new home for the old village. That area, very roughly and inefficiently surveyed, was set apart for that group of settlers. They arranged how the land was to be divided among them, and then they carried out their material and, with the very slightest assistance from Sir John Campbell and the Commission, they set up their new homes.
This is an example of a way of dealing successfully with unemployment by people who are not very high in the scale of civilisation, guided by the intelligence of people like Sir John Campbell and of a good many Greeks there who have been the founders of these new cities—an admirable piece of work and, I maintain, an example of what the Government should be doing now for other refugees who are out of work in this country and who cannot expect, under the present conditions of industry, to get back to their old employment. I wish the Government would make inquiries into what has been done, and see whether something similar is not possible in this country, even though it involves taking land which is not being used and putting it to use without compensating the owners. Sir John Campbell is no longer in Greece. The job has been handed over to our old friend, Sir John Hope Simpson, and Sir John Campbell is free, and has now gone to help the Jews do similar work in Palestine. He is now reporting on an experiment about which the Government also should know something in order that they might again apply the experience of other people to the similar problem in this country. Many hon. Members have been to Palestine, and know that stretch of land right across to the Jordan—derelict land, which was marsh and unused by anything except water-fowl, a breeding ground of malaria. A strip of land some five miles wide and 50 miles long has been converted in seven years into a real garden, more intensively cultivated even than Macedonia and Greece to-day. That, too, has been done by intelligence combined with capital and the land necessary for carrying out the experiment. They have had 95 to pay, in the case of Palestine, very heavily—as much as £20 an acre for land which it was impossible to regard as useful for anything. Capital had to be supplied to drain the land, but they got the land and they got the settlers—settlers who knew nothing about agriculture and did not know a pick from a shovel when they left Palestine. They have been converted into a successful pioneer population—free men with free land producing for themselves.
I think the House too often thinks about this unemployment problem as though we wanted work. No man in his senses wants work. What we want are the results of work. The only sort of opportunities for employment we want in this country, or anywhere else, are opportunities for useful productive work, and not for useless parasitic work. In both these examples, in Palestine as in Greece, the unemployed have been converted into useful, primary productive workers, producing food first of all for themselves, and, secondly, for export. In Palestine, it cost much more than in Greece. In Greece, Sir John Campbell managed to do it for £80 a family. That was extremely cheap—the cheapest thing that has ever been done. In Palestine it has cost, when you take the land into account, up to £1,000 a family. In both Greece and Palestine, the settlers are beginning to pay back, not only the interest, but the capital. In Greece they are paying it back the more readily, because, until they pay it back, they do not get their exact plot of land defined. They cannot get their title. They are anxious to start paying so as to have the title and show that they are the owners of the land. In Palestine it costs £1,000. Do not let hon. Members think that is exceptionally extravagant. Our similar experiment in Australia cost no less than £2,000 per family. The cheapest example that has even happened is the Greek example.
A similar policy of dealing with exceptional unemployment is found also in Russia. The Soviet Government, by their very constitution, have naturally thrown out of work an enormous number of small shopkeepers and petty traders. The extension of the co-operative movement, the municipalities and the State, taking over a great deal of the distributing services, has thrown out of work an enormous 96 number of small shopkeepers and traders. Those people were mostly Jews, because Jews in Russia were not allowed to do anything but that sort of work, with the result that they have been faced with this problem of a permanently unemployed class very similar to the case of the miners in this country. The change in the system of production in that country and here has scrapped a lot of people whose skill lay in a trade which is no longer wanted. In Russia, they did the same thing. They had the land. They got rid of the landlords in that country as they did in Greece and they are able to get land in the Crimea and the Ukraine, free. The Russian Government told these Jews who were out of work that any applicant would receive assistance from the Government in order to establish himself in a new industry. Only those applicants who could produce a number of roubles which I cannot translate into pounds, but, I think, about £70 to start with, were accepted as settlers. The Government added to their capital by loan, and they went to the rich Jews of America and got enormous contributions from them. I believe Mr. Rosenthal gave £2,000,000 towards the experiment.
They have had gigantic financial assistance from America, largely in the shape of supplies and machinery, but also in the shape of expert agricultural advisors. Roughly the settler finds one-third, the Government finds another third and the American Jews find the other third of the cost of establishing these men on the land. The Government also gave them free transport on the railways and gave them Government forests where they could cut down timber for making their houses, and the Government also exempts them all from rent for this land, or they call it tax there, for a period of, I think, five years till they are established. That particular experiment only started in 1924 and in the two and a half years which have gone between the commencement of that experiment and the last report, no fewer than 50,000 families, amounting to a population of 200,000 people, have been settled on the land and have started paying their first instalment of interest on the loans made by the Russian Government.
The Greek Government, the Russian Government and the Zionist organisation can do these things for their nationals 97 when they are straitened, as our miners have been in this country by a complete change in the system of production. Why cannot we do something similar in this country? We have the money. It will be observed that in the Greek experiment they used British capital. We have got the men to do it. It will be observed that in the Greek experiment and the Palestinian experiment they have used people trained in these islands to do the work. In Russia, they have used American genius and American capital. Why cannot we do the same sort of thing? It is perfectly true that three-quarters of the people who are out of work to-day would not welcome a scheme of establishing themselves in a new trade upon the land of England or Scotland. They do not know how to do it. They would be frightened of it. But even if only one-quarter of those who are out of work welcomed the scheme, ought we not to put into operation, or attempt for this country, something similar to what is being done by those other nations, more backward, poorer in education and in cash? I cannot conceive of any reason against it, except the natural conservatism of the present Government. The refusal, in the first place, to learn wisdom from other inferior countries, and, secondly, the reluctance to interfere with the present rights of landed property, and to force the hands of landlords in this country so that the experiment might have a chance of starting. But I do beg of the right hon. Gentleman, before we have another Debate on this subject, to make a close and strict inquiry into the three examples I have given—Greece, Palestine, Russia, They have not solved the unemployment problem, but they have attempted, at any rate, to deal with the unemployment problem, and, as I think, they have attempted to deal with it on the right lines, turning the unemployed into useful, productive workers and not finding temporary jobs which are not of permanent value, and which are not creating a new industry. They have done all this in those countries, and do let the right hon. Gentleman between now and the next Debate on this question see what has been done, and how far men with the experience of Sir John Campbell can put into practice in this country the same good work which has been done elsewhere to solve a difficult problem.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland)
We have had one or two very interesting speeches this afternoon dealing with one or two different aspects of the problem, but, subject to that, I cannot help thinking that it is a pity, for a reason to which I will refer in a second, to raise this question of unemployment just now. It is impossible to review the general position of unemployment at this moment in this country without a reference to the troubles of last year and the effect of those troubles on the present state of affairs. The last thing that I would wish is to do anything to fan again the embers of the controversy that one had hoped were dying down. If I have to refer to them in dealing with the subject generally, I hope it may, at any rate, be quite clear both to Members of this House and to those outside that it is far from my wish to deal with these subjects any more than I can help, for the sooner the flames die down and the old controversy of last year is allowed to pass away the better for everybody in this country. At the same time, if anyone wishes to give any clear view of the present unemployment position it is impossible to do so without a glance at the circumstances that have caused the state of affairs at this moment.
All through the years just after the great slump, from 1921 to 1924, the position steadily improved. There was very often, as we all know, a slight increase of unemployment in the winter. There was nearly always that sort of seasonal movement. But, taking the subject in general, from 1921 to the middle of 1924, when the party opposite were in power, there was a steady improvement. The lowest level of unemployment since the great slump was reached in June, 1924. There was one difficulty which still remained, one difficulty which was quite clear and overshadowed the future position, and that was the position of the coal trade. It was perfectly obvious to anyone familiar with the state of affairs, either in the country generally or in the coal trade, that trouble was bound to come in that trade before ever the country and the trade itself could get properly straight again. It was only going on as it was owing to a series of, for it, fortunate accidents, one after the other, and the 99 last of them—of course, I say fortunate accidents from the point of view of the English coal trade only—was the occupation of the Ruhr. As soon as the occupation of the Ruhr was ended and foreign production was likely again to be unfettered and foreign competition was to have its free play, the fact that there was bound to be trouble in the coal trade was patent to everybody.
The change came in the early months of 1924. The effect of it was not felt at once, because old contracts were running out, but as soon as it began to have effect, from the middle of 1924, the position got gradually worse. Everyone remembers the chequered career of the industry in the months that followed—through the last half of 1924 and through the whole of 1925. Once again in 1926 an improvement started and a new low level in unemployment was reached, but then the whole position of this country was completely upset by the coal dispute and the general strike. The effect of the coal dispute, or the consequences of it, as everyone in this House is aware, did not end at the termination of the dispute. The results of it have dominated the whole of the position this year, quite apart from all the misery and hardship that were felt by the people, both those who were parties to the dispute and those in other industries who were affected by it and who were as numerous as those who were thrown out.
One result has been that the whole country is much poorer this year. The vast majority of the people of this country are at this moment, a year after, not so well off as they would have been if it had not been for the trouble of last year. I remember—I think it was the figure put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman) as the cost of the coal dispute to this country—that it cost the country 500,000,000 of money. That is probably true, and it has affected the country as a whole both by retarding the development of industry, and also by diminishing the purchasing power of the people to a, degree that can be felt most distinctly even now during the present Christmas trade. That is the reason why I say that this year has been dominated and is affected in 100 large measure still by the result of the coal dispute. Therefore, when hon. Members opposite arraign the Government for the continuation of unemployment equal to the present then, if they wish to fix responsibility, it comes down to what I hoped had been done with—the old barren controversy of the faults of the past and who was responsible for the coal dispute. If hon. Members wish to argue that, I am ready to argue, but it is far better, I think, to let that chapter in this country's history be forgotten.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Well, of course, no party was 100 per cent. free from criticism—no party or set of people. I would never claim that.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Not even the Government, nor anyone else, but if any body of men, party apart, are talking among themselves, then they say without question that the two men more predominantly responsible than anybody were the two chief leaders of the miners and those who supported them. Everyone knows that. [Interruption.] If hon. Members wish to have it stated plainly let it be stated plainly, and there is no one among the leaders of the miners themselves or the other workers' leaders or anyone else who is not willing in his conversation in his own circle to admit that fact.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Everyone knows that the main and primary cause of the coal dispute was the fact that Mr. Herbert Smith refused to accept the Report of the Commission. He was asked whether he would accept the Report of the Coal Commission. That offer was, "Will you accept it if everything else the Commission recommends is carried out," and the answer was "No." Therefore, I say——
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The Government offered and asked him whether, if they were prepared on their side to see that every recommendation was carried out, he would accept it, including, of course, the reduction of wages together with all the other recommendations, and the answer was "No." That is a question of the past.
§ Mr. HARRIS
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Are we to understand that the coal question is now before the House and can be discussed.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The Motion which has been moved gives a regular catalogue. It covers almost anything. If hon. Members will bring forward such complicated Motions, I cannot attempt to confine the Debate to narrow lines. It is the scope of the Motion itself.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. CLYNES
May I put a point to the right hon. Gentleman in, I think, justice to Mr. Herbert Smith in regard to the statement that the right hon. Gentleman has made? Is it not a fact that Mr. Herbert Smith refused to accept the Report to which reference has been made if there was attached to it a condition that he must first accept a reduction in wages?
§ Mr. PALING
Did not the Prime Minister just as categorically state that, before the Report could be discussed, he must agree to a l0 per cent. reduction?
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
If the right hon. Gentleman will refer back to the proposals sent to the Miners' Federation of Great Britain and also to the Coalowners' Association, in which a definite statement was made that a reduction of wages of possibly up to 10 per cent. would have to be accepted as part of the general proposals, he will see that the coalowners categorically turned down the whole of the Prime Minister's terms?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
We made an offer to the miners and asked whether they would accept the Report if we undertook to see that the whole of it was carried through, and the answer was "No." 102 I will just make this remark in reply to the interjection of the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Mr. Harris). With such an arraignment of the Government I was bound to reply by pointing out what I considered had dominated the position throughout this year. A few minutes ago I was ready to pass this question over without wishing to try and place the responsibility on one person more than on another. I have only made the statement I have done—to which I adhere absolutely—because I was challenged by hon. Members opposite. That is what has caused the position this year. The figures of unemployment last year showed a greater improvement just before the trouble began than on any previous occasion since the great slump. There was everything to show that the improvement was continuing——
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I am talking of the country as a whole and that would have reacted on the coal trade in the end. Taking the position as a whole, it was improving. It had in April last year reached the best position since 1920–21. The improvement was going on, and it was then interrupted. This year the whole trouble has been largely caused because of the comparative poverty of the country, the poverty of general purchasing power, and the difficulty of getting capital for the expansion of industry, but there has been a wonderful recovery under the circumstances. At the present moment, trade is in a better position—even in winter—and there is a better hope for the future than there has been for some time past. A new low level was created this spring when the figure of unemployment was lower than at any time previously.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Yes, since the coal strike or lock-out, whichever you like to call it, the lowest level was reached this spring. I admit, frankly, the extraordinarily painful and difficult position in the coal mining industry, and the large number of men in that industry who are out of work, but I would remind the House that, while that is true, it is also true that the improvement in the other industries has so far continued that the total number of unemployed has 103 reached a lower figure this year than at any time since 1920. That is the position as it is at the moment, and it just depends on how far this country continues to go on peacefully with its work whether it can make up its lost position, and whether it can make an improvement and bring that unemployment to the level at which it ought to be.
I have had specific schemes recommended to me. Let me deal with some of them. The hon. Member who has just spoken is an enthusiast for settlement on the land. I have listened with interest to his account of what happened in Greece. I have seen it myself. I have also listened to his account of the developments in Russia, though I have not seen them. I would ask him whether he thinks it would be possible for one moment to get people to settle on the land in this country under the conditions under which they have settled in Greece. He knows that they would not for one moment.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The right hon. and gallant Member realises that, whether it is the Palestine settlement or the Russian settlement, they are settled in a country with better chances of making a considerable living from a small beginning than is possible in this country, and that he could not settle them in this country with the same chances of success.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Has the right hon. Gentleman never heard of the Home Croft movement in this country or of intensive cultivation?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Yes, and I have seen it myself, but, if the right hon. and gallant Member really wishes to help with settlement on the land, then the best opportunity is offered in migration to the Dominions. It is perfectly clear to anyone who has studied the subject that there the land gives greater opportunities than it does in this country with a far better chance of return and a far better chance of living at a decent standard. If the right hon. Gentleman would help in a movement of that kind we would welcome his help or that of anyone else.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
Why should people go so far away from home to the Colonies and leave this land at home which is in close proximity to the great markets here?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Yes. There is not the same scope in this country for people to get a living and a chance of a decent return for their effort. I will now come to the point raised by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) who opened this Debate, that of unemployment relief work. He referred to the Report of the Unemployment Grants Committee. The same hon. Member previously had been laying stress upon the damage done to industry by the burden of rates, and I ask the House to note the illustration that he took. So far as I remember his figures, they were that there were schemes before the Unemployment Grants Committee to the extent of £104,000,000.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
At a cost to the Exchequer of £40,000,000. I would ask the House to note that in that case the balance comes from the rates. To that extent, there is a burden on local industry. He asserted that the Government had deliberately stopped work of the kind going forward because of vested interests.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
If the hon. Member did not say that I withdraw at once. I took down, as I thought, his actual words at the time. If he did not say it, I am perfectly willing to withdraw. The point is that in some cases an unemployment grant may be a business proposition, and then it is worth while that it should be given. In certain cases, again, which are exceptional, there may be an area which is so hard hit that a scheme financed by an unemployment grant may be worth considering, though it is not advantageous from the point of view of the country as a whole, because the difficulties and the despondencies in 105 a given area may be so great that it may be worth while to do a thing, which in itself is uneconomic.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in Lord St. Davids' Report, the last Report issued, which I quoted, it is said that there are no fewer than 10,900 schemes which have been passed by this Committee as business propositions?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I am quite well aware of that, and I am coming to a point in that same Report which the hon. Member omitted to notice. That Committee came to this conclusion, which is contained in the covering letter:If the scheme is pursued indefinitely it would be difficult to avoid subsidising work properly undertaken by local authorities in the normal course of their business, and in such cases but little could be added to the sum total of 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 to unemployment through the proper channel of trade recovery.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Is it not the case that the paragraphs which the right hon. Gentleman has read out were subsequent to the paragraphs in the Report which indicated that, on the instructions of the Government, a Circular letter was sent to the various public authorities asking them to send no more schemes?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The passages which I have quoted in the covering letter signed by the Chairman are sufficiently clear as to what is the final opinion of the Committee. The fact is that, with rare exceptions, it is probably true that grants of this kind in these days do less to diminish unemployment than to create it, and the reason, if one would analyse it, is admitted by nearly all economists of authority. It is exactly like the well known case that has been so often quoted of a man who has a pane of glass broken and his neighbours come to console him and say, "Do you not see how good it is for trade? Do you not see what work it gives to the glazier?" What is not seen is that the man has not the shillings he would be otherwise spending on a pair of boots for his young son. With regard to this question 106 of unemployment grant, exactly the same is true at the present day. What is seen is the men who are being employed to lay out a park or some other piece of work of that kind, but what is not seen is that the liquid capital which is used up and frozen in a piece of work of that kind is not available for ordinary trade expansion. The result is that industries which would otherwise be using the extra capital are not able to use it and, consequently, less employment is given to men at their own trade.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I would refer the hon. Member to the "Economist." Undoubtedly, capital will grow and expand from time to time, from year to year if the country is going ahead, but at any given moment there is only a definite amount of liquid capital, and, if it is used too freely on unemployment work, it is not so readily available for use in stimulating industry along normal channels. Therefore, I would challenge hon. Members opposite on this question, and cite the great bulk of economic opinion, which is that the more that unemployment schemes are stimulated, the less will business be able to get the capital it normally requires. For that reason, while there might be more people employed on schemes the utility of which is doubtful, or the return on which is remote, yet there would be fewer people employed at their own trade, at which it is best for them and best for the country that they should be employed. That is the reason and the convincing reason which I advance. I am convinced that from the point of view of employment itself to use up, or, as some people would say, to freeze up capital in unemployment schemes, is not a good thing for employment.
It is different when one comes to certain abnormal pieces of work that can be taken in hand. Some schemes there are, and they are exceptional, which can and which should be taken in hand. There are some schemes which are beyond the power of an individual to cope with or beyond the power of an association of individuals or a company to cope with. Just such a scheme is the electricity scheme. That is a scheme which is more analogous than any I know of to another 107 great scheme which was carried out, the Suez Canal scheme, in which the Government also took an interest.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The hon. Member is an expert, and he will have a chance probably of giving his opinions in his own time. The point I put to the House, and I do it with no less assurance despite the hon. Member's interruption, is that you may get a scheme which is beyond the capacity of individuals to cope with. It may be that its size is too great, or that its cost is too great, and for that reason a scheme like the electricity scheme stands apart, without being a precedent for other special schemes. It may be that time will prove that we were mistaken in thinking that that was a right scheme to push ahead, but when you get an abnormal scheme like that, a scheme of an exceptional kind, then you have a scheme in which the Government can and should take a hand. That is the reason why we have adopted that scheme, as contrasted with the ordinary unemployment scheme. The benefit of a scheme like the electricity scheme will, we hope, begin in the near future. One of the contracts has been made and other contracts are in contemplation at this moment, the chief benefit of which will not he in the actual work set out in the contract but in the stimulus given to the other industries that will be affected by it when once it is in working order. That is one of the schemes which we have carried out.
I will take another scheme, which was the subject of debate in this House the other day, and which represents another abnormal case, namely, the creation of a new industry like the sugar-beet industry. That is justifiable from another point of view. It is justifiable because it means a new industry in the country which it would be difficult ever to establish without a strong stimulus at the start. The right hon. Member for West Swansea criticised it very severely in a very interesting speech, but that speech was vitiated by one fundamental error. He took the view that the fault of the sugar-beet enterprise lay in a vast expenditure of money which entailed each man's work being paid for at the rate of £1,000 a year. The error was this, 108 that he measured the amount of work given in this year by the expenditure of money in this year. He should not have put one against the other. This is a question of a subsidy which tapers away and finishes after a few years. Therefore, the expenditure for these few years is a capital expenditure meant to build up an industry for the future, and in judging the expenditure and the work in the way he did he made a fundamental error.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
That is exactly the sort of risk that is run, but I would point out to my hon. Friend that exactly the same objection was made, I think, by the right hon. Member for West Swansea, and others who think with him, on a previous occasion. There was an occasion in the very early years of the War when we had a case very similar to that of sugar beet. The trouble with regard to sugar beet is that you have to start two industries, as it were, at the same time. You have to start the factory side of the industry and you have to start at the same time an alteration in the agricultural crop. To overcome the difficulty of getting them both started together a strong stimulus is needed. Some years ago, in a similar position, there was the question of increasing the growth of an industry in this country, the margarine industry. There was the question of importing a new substance for use in the manufacture of margarine, and also the question of getting the remains of that substance used as a food in agriculture. There we had the same difficulties as now, and precisely the same kind of objection from precisely the same quarter was raised. It was said to us, "What is going to happen if you do this, and then the industry tapers out"? The only thing I would point out to the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Crawford) is that the imports into this country of that particular substance on a permanent basis are many times more than they were before the experiment was made, and that the margarine industry has grown in this country and is continually being enlarged on a permanent basis. That has happened after the help to the industry has been taken off. I maintain under these conditions that it is well worth 109 while trying some such experiment in regard to sugar beet.
Owing to interruptions from the other side of the House I have taken longer than I intended. I have outlined the kind of obnormal case that can be taken and should be taken in hand, and I will leave to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade the other type of help that can be given by way of safegarding. I would urge upon the House that these really are the ways in which industry in this country can best be helped. Deal with the abnormal cases while you can, safeguard industries by import duties suited to the circumstances, and get an expansion of those industries in which men can be employed at their own work. But when we are told to squander money on a lot of schemes the utility of which is remote, my reply is that those are ways which will injure industry more than benefit it. I have tried to outline the safe path. In conclusion I would point out the greatness of the improvement there has been in trade. We have four great trades which have not got over the effect of the War. The cotton trade is one. The shipbuilding trade is another: there they have not got over but they are getting over their difficulties. In the iron and steel trade the difficulty is getting less. Lastly, there is the coal trade. Taking the country generally, there can be no question as to the improvement that is taking place. There are more men and women employed to-day and have been within the last three months in this country than at any time in the country's history.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Perhaps the hon. Member knows more about that than I do. I repeat that there are more men and women employed in industry in the last three months than at any time in the country's history.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Yes. There are more men and women in full-time employment, and more days have been worked. If the hon. Member wishes to have the figures I can give the actual days worked. This year there have been over 100,000,000 more days worked than 110 in 1924. The exact figure is 110,000,000 more days' work done in this country from March to November than in the same period in 1924. All the time the condition of things is improving, and getting towards the point which we wish to reach. The truth is that the recovery this year has been due very largely to one fact which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Norwood who moved the Amendment (Sir W. Greaves-Lord) mentioned. The reason for the improvement this year is that there has been less industrial trouble than for many years past. Of working days lost through industrial troubles there were 10,000,000 in 1923; 8,000,000 in 1924; 7,000,000 in 1925 and a huge number last year. This year only about 1,000,000 working days have been lost, or one-seventh of the best year there has been for many years past.
While there is no one here who does not regret the unemployment and the misery that is caused, I submit that it is no good trying to find panaceas for it which are in truth no real cure. Here and there a scheme can be found which is a good scheme and which is abnormal in its nature, and you can start a scheme of that sort. You can also deal with the situation by what I believe to be a good system, that of safeguarding. But what I believe would do more good than everything else is to try to enable industry gradually to work out the cure which it was working out in 1924, which it was working out in 1926 when it was stopped and which it will work out again if it is given the chance through a period of industrial peace and quiet. In that event, I say now as I said in connection with the Unemployment Insurance Bill, that I have every hope that we can get down to 8 per cent. or less of unemployment within the next two years.
§ Mr. HARRIS
We thank the right hon. Gentleman for his optimism, but we regret that his speech has been barren of any constructive suggestion. To the 1,000,000 or so unemployed his constructive policy consists of two things. First, there is the sugar-beet industry. He seems to think that here is something which is a contribution towards a solution of the problem of unemployment. That is poor consolation to London. While there may be a few extra people employed in Norfolk in these new factories, there are many men out of work in Silvertown because 111 of the closing down of the sugar-refining industry; and the same applies to Liverpool, and to Greenock. His other contribution, which is little more promising, is the development of electricity. I agree that there is some hope for an improvement of trade in the reorganisation of electricity in this country. But it is very belated. It should have been done two or three years ago. The Government put off their scheme for three years, and even now, because of their timidity and the restrictions which were forced upon them by some of their own supporters, it is making very slow progress.
I am afraid I am rather a practical person on these subjects. I cannot help thinking of the rows of miserable men in the East End of London, willing, able and competent to work, who cannot find employment. That is the urgent question and it is poor consolation for them to be told that things are improving, and that in three or four years' time they will be usefully occupied. Meanwhile, they are losing their industrial morale. Men cannot be out of work for two or three years and still keep their industrial efficiency. The policy of the Government is very short-sighted. It is a mere negation. In other words, they are like Mr. Micawber, waiting for something to turn up. The Government have a responsibility. Other Governments did try to do something. I was not a blind supporter of the Coalition Government, but we did get from that Government some proposals, Export Credits, the Trade Facilities Act, and Unemployment Grants, all of which did something to keep these men at work and maintain their industrial efficiency. The Government throw overboard all these schemes and put nothing in their place. That is the tragedy of the position at the present moment. Men are waiting patiently and hopefully for something to be done to improve matters, but the Government at this Christmas time, when snow is falling and we have to face a bleak and bitter winter, can only send them a message to this effect: We have no policy; we do not intend to do anything; our policy is to wait and hope for trade improvement.
I do not agree with all the high sounding phrases about nationalisation and a complete change in our industrial system, but the way to drive desperate 112 men to support desperate measures is for the Government to have no policy whatever. Where I quarrel with the Government is that there is in existence the machinery to find out what is the real problem before us. Thanks to the existence of the Employment Exchanges, we can diagnose the industrial position. We know to what trade these men belong, and how they are classified. If you go to an Employment Exchange, you will find an elaborate card system in use, by which you can tell to what trades the men out of employment belong. We have heard a good deal about the staple industries of the country, cotton, iron and steel, shipbuilding and coal. They are, of course, in a bad condition, but the problem is quite clear in these cases. The men in these industries are almost entirely employed in the areas where they are living, but in London and the great cities the problem is more complex. These great industrial centres are suffering because of the depression in the industries, and I am prepared to admit that you would get the great industries going again if you could get back their markets. If the cotton trade was back on its old scale, it would reflect throughout the country, because it would also affect the iron and steel trade, the coal trade and the shipping trade. In that way it would help largely the unemployment problem in London.
London is suffering from the general trade depression in exports. We hear a lot about safeguarding. Hon. Members opposite always produce safeguarding as their one practical contribution to the problem. It is not the home trade which is in such a bad condition as the export trade. Take cotton. Everybody knows that the home, trade is not bad. Manufacturers of cotton cloths for the home market are busy and fully employed. Where the cotton trade is suffering is in the export trade to China and the East, and the Continent of Europe, and that must adversely reflect on all the great ports in the country, London, Liverpool and Bristol. The result is that you have men out of work in all the carrying trades. What I am going to suggest to the Minister is that, instead of being passive, he might utilise the machinery of the Employment Exchanges in order to find out in what trade these men have been employed in the past and, having ascertained that fact, that he should 113 extend his inquiries and find out whether there is any prospect in the immediate future of these men being reabsorbed in their own industry or in any other new industry. As far as my inquiries go, a great number of these men are employed in industries which will never get going again on the same scale. Conditions have changed, and methods have so altered that there is no prospect of their getting back into their old industry.
Take the case of the carrying trade down to the docks. In London, before the War, this was done entirely by horse-drawn vehicles. Now the motor lorry has taken their place, and men of 40, 50 and 60 years of age have no prospect of ever finding useful productive employment in this work again. Would it not be wise for the Government, instead of sitting still and waiting for something to turn up, to try to see if some new employment could be found for these men? It has been suggested that they might be diverted to agriculture, but I am very doubtful about, that as a practical proposition. It is difficult to get men who have been living in the towns to work on the land, and agriculture is not such an easy craft to learn as some people would have us believe. I am sure that for the older men, at any rate, it is not a practical proposition, and, therefore, I think, we should try to see whether they can be trained for some other industry. Many of these carmen, if they had the opportunity of attending an intensive course in motor mechanics, could become motor drivers. It costs money, but I think the Government would be justified in starting training centres where these men could get an intensive course in motor mechanics and qualify as motor drivers, so that when things get going again at the docks, they would have some trade of an economic value to themselves and to the country. It may be difficult with the older men, but it should not present the same problem in the case of the younger men.
One of the tragedies of the East End of London is that there are hundreds of young men who have never been in any regular employment since 1918. They have never learned a trade, have been largely on casual work, and this employment, has been very casual. What I wish to suggest to the Minister is this—I was going to mention it but was ruled out of 114 order the other night—that the Government should provide real training centres for these young men between 18 and 24 years of age. I would make it a condition of their receiving unemployment insurance pay that they should attend at some training centre for three or four months. But to make this possible, the Government must make up their minds to make these centres really training centres, not amateur shows where young men can get a little occupation, but where a man will really learn a trade and craft, and obtain industrial skill. That may seem a rather ambitious scheme, but it has been done abroad. They had the same industrial problem in Germany as we have here, and it is not unreasonable to ask that the Government, in the interests of the whole country, should realise that in a changing industrial system it is not wise to let young men grow up with no trade, no craft, no training. At any rate, I suggest that they have an obligation to these young men, who are largely the product of the War, and the direct result of the disorganisation caused by the Great War. Many of them served overseas, getting into the Army by subterfuge, and surely it would be wise to provide them with some sort of training centres where they could acquire industrial skill. It is rather remarkable that while the great staple industries are arrested, a number of new trades are coming into existence, highly skilled, highly organised, and dependent on scientific methods for their existence.
Take one example, the artificial silk industry. It is expanding every day, but depends for its expansion on a large supply of highly skilled young men and women. It seems common sense that young men who are to be engaged in this industry should have the advantage of skilled industrial training. Would it not be wise, instead of men having to lean against lamp-posts with their hands in their pockets because they cannot get work to do, to provide them with some training which would give them a chance of being absorbed in the new and growing industries of the country? I put that suggestion forward for what it is worth. In the meantime the Government have to face the fact that in the East End of London, and in most of the industrial districts, there are large numbers of men idle through no fault of their own. The 115 Government have an obligation to try to find some kind of useful work for those men. All the main-road schemes have come to an end. Local authorities cannot carry out street improvements because they cannot get assistance from the Government. All the unemployment grants and various other methods of assisting local authorities have been stopped. The result is that to-day there is less being done to assist local authorities to provide useful employment, than has been done at any time since 1920.
I think the figures will bear me out, as does my own knowledge of what is going on in the East End. A year or two ago various schemes for the laying out of public parks, the making of new roads, the building of swimming baths, the expediting of housing estate development, were being undertaken. All those schemes have been stopped. That is a very serious thing from the point of view of the local authorities, for they have to bear the whole burden of maintaining their unemployed, many of whom have exhausted their benefit. Cannot the Government recognise the fact and do something to assist these areas in pushing forward useful constructive schemes that will add to the wealth of the country? We have had a very unsympathetic reply from the Minister. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary when he speaks will show that the Government have something in mind and are not merely standing still, bankrupt in ideas. If 1,000,000 men are compelled to lose their self-respect in idleness, it is to the detriment of the country and the injury of themselves.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. D. HERBERT
I had no intention of taking any part in the Debate, but I would like to draw the attention of the House again, and I hope the attention of those who may read the reports of this Debate, to the very interesting and remarkable speech made by the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Hammersley) in reference to the cotton trade. I know nothing about the cotton industry, but I could not help being struck by what the hon. Member said. It was a contribution which everyone who heard it will admit was of the kind which sometimes comes out in a political discussion, which has really nothing whatever to do with politics but may be extremely useful 116 to those who are concerned is a particular industry. The short point of his speech, as I understood it was, that a very large number of cotton businesses are at present in the hands of banks, being nursed under schemes of arrangement. One need not go into the peculiar details with regard to uncalled capital and the way that capital is held very largely by employés in the business. You have there the position that these concerns, instead of going through the normal process of liquidation, are being nursed by the banks in the hope that their goodwill will someday produce something for the creditors.
The remedy that the hon. Member put forward was amalgamation, not, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite suggested, amalgamation of some of the better concerns and the shutting out of some of the less competent, in order to restrict production, but the amalgamation of those concerns in order to reduce overhead charges, to make management more efficient, to increase production, and to get better methods of disposing of the products. What appears to be the difficulty that has to be met in order to do something on those lines? As I say, I know nothing about the industry, but I do happen to know, and have had considerable personal experience of, what has happened in other cases, where the banks have been obliged to nurse bankrupt concerns, where money has been owed to the banks for which the banks held practically no realisable security. If you have the position in Lancashire that some four or five big banks are nursing a large number of these concerns, and if they continue to do it and nothing extraordinary happens to improve Lancashire trade, all their nursing will be for no good; the goodwill which they are nursing will be gradually dissipated and will disappear.
If a similar state of affairs existed in Germany, I believe the German banks would take a definite hand in the industry and would themselves take steps to bring about amalgamation and reconstruction of the concerns, no matter how drastic might be the operation of cutting down capital which represented lost assets or anything of that kind. Our English banks do not do that, and on the whole I do not think they are to be blamed. Our banking system is the finest and 117 safest in the world, and by its conservative methods—I am not using the word politically—saved this country in 1914. If the banks have got themselves into that position, I suggest that the time has come when the banks, or the people outside the banks, who are largely interested, should see whether they could not with the help of the banks bring in one or two big men who would advise as to what was the best method of realising, or turning into an asset of tangible value, the goodwill which they are nursing. The hon. Member for Stockport, having made that speech to-night, I hope that some notice will be taken of it in Lancashire, and that some attempt will be made to get an improvement in the industry on some such lines as those suggested. The method would have the great advantage that it would be an effort by the industry itself to help itself without Government interference. The speech was an interesting contribution to the Debate by an hon. Member who obviously knew the subject about which he was talking.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Mr. Harris) has just left the House, because I cannot sit down without a reference to one of his suggestions. Of course he labours under the particular misfortune that he is incapable of making a speech without branding himself as a Liberal, either by a shout of glory over free trade, or a sneer at safeguarding. When the hon. Member did try to make a definite suggestion, he, turned to the former horse-drawn traffic in the neighbourhood of the London Docks and mentioned that it had been replaced by motor traffic. As far as I could understand, his one suggestion was that the Government should give intensive training to a number of old drivers of horses and turn them into efficient drivers of motor lorries. I know from experience that drivers of motor lorries are not difficult to get, and I fear that such a course of intensive training as the hon. Member suggested would only be adding more congestion to an already congested occupation. The hon. Member failed to observe that the substitution of motor traffic for horse-drawn traffic round the Docks, has not only been a saving of expense and economically sound, saving that by the encouragement given to the motor industry in this country, employment has been increased enormously in the building of 118 motor vehicles. I only wish that the hon. Member, who tried so hard to make a constructive suggestion, could sometimes forget that he is a Liberal and could consider quite calmly whether there might not, in some cases, be a possibility of doing good by methods of safeguarding.
My closing note on that would be, that I hope the Government will not entirely turn down the idea of considering the possibility of some measure of safeguarding for the iron and steel industry. I am not going to pledge myself as to whether it is a good thing or not, but I do say that it has become evident that an improvement of the iron and steel industry in this country would have far greater ramifications than has generally been supposed. One industry which it would help more than any other is that most unfortunate coal industry, which is the worst spot in our record of unemployment. I hope some form of safeguarding for these industries will not be entirely ruled out by the Government without careful inquiry.
§ Mr. C. EDWARDS
We are discussing this subject in a very thin House, and one cannot help comparing the proceedings of this evening with the interest and enthusiasm aroused by the Debate on the Prayer Book Measure on Thursday last, when these benches were full from the time the House opened until it closed. I consider we are to-day discussing one of the most urgent matters that could be considered by any Government, and one of the most serious problems which any country ever had to face. I do not complain about the interest taken in the Debate of last week. In fact, I am very glad to find that the old Protestant spirit is still alive; but this is also a serious problem and one which is, at least, entitled to as much attention and interest as the question at issue on Thursday last. The other place gave three days to the Debate on the Prayer Book, but spent two hours on passing the Eight Hours Act, which has caused so much unemployment and suffering among the miners.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think I heard the hon. Member criticise the procedure in another place. We cannot allow that here. We have quite enough to do to look after our own proceedings.
§ Mr. EDWARDS
I am much obliged, Sir, for your correction. I thought if I referred merely to the "other place" it would get over any difficulty. However, the comparison was one which impressed me, and I think, at least, as great interest should be taken in the subject now under discussion as was taken in the subject of last week's Debates. We are not discussing a new problem. One would think from what the Minister said just now that, had it not been for the stoppage of last year—which was caused by the coalowners closing the mines until the men had a mind to accept their terms—there would not be any unemploy-now, but that is not the case. We have had unemployment, and serious unemployment, in the past. I remember that in 1910, and even long before then, we had serious unemployment, and as far as one can see we shall always have unemployment. We hear a great deal in these Debates about peace in industry, and when hon. Members speak of peace in industry they always look to this side of the House as if hon. Members here were the people who were preventing the achievement of peace in industry. But it is to the other side that hon. Members should look when they speak of peace in industry. We wish for peace in industry, but I see little hope of it. On Wednesday of this week the representatives of the South Wales miners will have to appear before an independent chairman, in order to resist a proposal for a further reduction in the minimum wage and also in the subsistence wage. How can there be peace in industry when men have to fight in this way to keep what they have got? The subsistence wage itself I consider to be a disgrace to any industry. It is arranged on the consideration, "HOW little can a person exist upon?" and I believe that in South Wales only three grades in the mining industry are above the subsistence wage.
It is the employers to whom we should look for the spirit of peace in industry. The men do not want strikes. I never knew a workman who wanted to strike for the sake of striking. Striking is a hard business, involving suffering, privation and hunger, and men only strike when they are compelled to do so in order to protest against hard conditions or to protect themselves. We want peace in industry, as I have said, but 120 the other people do not want it or, at any rate, they do not try to get it. Unemployment at present is at a figure of about 200,000 above what is estimated to be the number of unemployed in normal times. When Dr. Macnamara was Minister of Labour he constantly employed a figure to represent unemployment in normal times, and his figure was 800,000. The Blanesburgh Committee has not exactly, but almost confirmed that figure. They used a figure of 6 per cent. unemployment in normal times, and that means, as far as I can find out, a total of about 720,000. So we may take it that between 700,000 and 800,000 people will always be unemployed in normal times. The Blanesburgh Committee took a term of, I think, 15 years, which was meant to provide for the good and bad cycles of trade of which we heard so much. Taking the 15 years they said there would be 6 per cent. always unemployed. How to deal with that 6 per cent. seems to be the real problem. If the figure were brought down to 200,000 it would be a simple problem and many of the suggestions which have been made in the course of this Debate could cope with a situation of that sort, but when we have to deal with over 1,000,000 it seems an impossibility. The Labour party have introduced Unemployment. Bills more than once. I do not believe these would have cured unemployment where there are one million unemployed, but if it were a matter of 200,000 I think they would have been effective. They were useful measures. They proposed to set up a committee to look into the future, to schedule work and to see what could be done to put works in hand when bad times came. These proposals were all right, but they would not have dealt with the whole of this problem, nor do I believe that any party can deal with the whole of the problem by finding work. I think that is an impossibility.
There is one way in which we might put unemployment at the right end of the scale. The hon. Member who moved this Motion to-day gave a figure of 800,000 people of over 65 years of age who were engaged in industry at the time of the 1921 Census. If that be correct, it is safe to say that there are still over 800,000 people over 60 years of age engaged in industry to-day, though there is more unemployment to-day and, I suppose, in the mining industry there are 121 not as many old people engaged as there were before 1926. My opinion is that these old people ought to be pensioned off, on pensions which would enable them to live—that they should be withdrawn from industry and that their places should be taken by the young people who are now walking the roads and standing at the street corners and living by their wits. It may be said that if this were done, we should still have 800,000 idle people. That is true, but there is a great difference between having idle 800,000 old people who have worked nearly 50 years, who have already done a good day's work and who deserve a rest, and having idle 800,000 young people, many of whom have never done a day's work, who have never learnt a trade and who have no responsibilities. A question was asked just before the Adjournment of the House in the summer, as to the number of boys and girls between 14 and 18 years of age who had never done a day's work, and the figure given was something over 51,000. The fact is that these young people were not insured persons between 14 years and 16 years, so that many thousands would not be registered at all and the figure of 51,000 was confined to the registered persons. I suppose it would mean that between the ages of 14 and 18 we have anywhere from 100,000 to 150,000 young people who have left school, who have nothing to do and who have never done a day's work.
To me, that is a serious matter. To have the old people idle is not a danger to the future of the country but to have this number of young people idle is a real danger to the future of the country. The time is coming when they will be the men and women of the country and they will be without skill or responsibility. The future of the country is none too bright when we have such a large number of people in that class. If I had my way, I would pension the old people off just as those are pensioned off who are engaged in education or the police. The only trouble with the police is that they are pensioned off too soon and they look for other jobs in which they can earn a wage at the same time as they are drawing the pension. We do not want that, but I would like to see these old people given pensions which would induce them to leave industry and 10s. a week will not do that and never could do 122 that. I believe it could be done. Where there is a will there is a way in this as in everything else. Why not apply unemployment benefit to the old people? I know the Minister could not do it without altering the law, but this House could alter the law, and if we have to maintain out of the Unemployment Fund 800,000 young people what is the difference to the Fund if we change them for 800,000 old people. If this were done and if the pensionable age were reduced from 65 to 60—which would be the only cost to the country—I believe a pension could be made up on which these people could live.
I do not know why there should not be some sort of consolidation of the different services of health, unemployment, workman's compensation and so forth. What is the difference, whether a man is sick or unemployed or injured and in receipt of compensation? The fact is that he cannot earn wages and maintain himself and his family. If these different services were consolidated there could be a great saving and something would come out of it towards the pension scheme. There are many ways in which it could be done with little extra cost to the State if there was the will to do it. A person who has worked for 50 years has done enough, and if we carried out the scheme on these lines I believe we would break the back of unemployment. These 200,000 people or whatever the number might be, would be such a small problem, that bits of schemes such as those we have put in force in roadmaking and other respects would absorb them almost at any time, but when these schemes are compared with an unemployment figure of 1,000,000 people they seem to be useless—they do not touch the fringe of the problem. I commend this proposal to the Minister as the only way in which to put unemployment right.
Mr. ROY WILSON
We are embarked to-night upon another of these interminable Debates on unemployment, and the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. C. Edwards), who has just sat down, complained of the House being practically empty when discussing a question of such national importance, but surely the reason for the poor attendance is not very far to seek. We have had the same old arguments, the same blame thrown upon the Government, the same suggestions and palliatives, and we have had only 123 one really concrete suggestion, which was that of the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Hammersley), as to the line upon which improvement may be sought. We seem to be wasting our time in this House in indulging in these threadbare arguments, and the time is really over-ripe for us to get down to the essentials and try and tackle them, not in a party spirit, but with a real desire to arrive, first of all, at the causes underlying unemployment and then to try and find out what the appropriate remedies are.
Before I come to the general position surrounding this problem, I want to say something—and I hope hon. Members above the Gangway will not accuse me of being deliberately provocative—about the general position in the coal industry, because I happen to be the representative of a coal mining constituency, and I am just as much concerned as is any Member in this House with the lot of the men, women and children in that industry. I do not know that any good purpose can be achieved by apportioning blame for the present position of the coal industry, except that I think we ought to realise, as I am sure the men and women in my constituency are realising, what is responsible, at any rate, for part of their troubles to-day, and I want, if I can, without being provocative, to say what my conclusions are, after having spent many weeks during the last few months going around the coal mining villages in the Lichfield area. I am convinced that the men to-day are under no misapprehensions whatever on one point. The little homes in that constituency, and in every other constituency where coal mining is the main industry, are overburdened with debt. Many of the miners have parted with all their most precious possessions, and at last they are realising that, while it may not be true to say that the problem of the coal industry could have been solved last year altogether if a different line had been taken, at any rate they are clear to-day upon this point, that the position in which they stand is due absolutely to one cause, and that cause is rank bad leadership.
That is true and cannot be denied, and I would like very briefly to relate an experience of my own in one of the colliery districts only three weeks ago. I was talking to these people, many of 124 whom were viewing the future with great hopelessness, and I was begging them to realise that, while peace in industry might not bring them all they wanted, it is indeed one of the fundamental bases of the success of their industry, if success is to be achieved in the future. I was telling this audience of miners that I knew full well that the distress in their area was great, that many of them had lost all their belongings and some even their homes, and I was asking them, not as an extreme party man, but as a real well-wisher of the miners, not to break up their Federation, not to break up their unions, but to throw over absolutely all men who preached strikes, whether in the coalfields or anywhere else. When I had finished, a man got up in the audience and said, "Every word you have said to-night about the condition of those who live in this area is true, and here in a nutshell is my own experience. I am a collier. I am not a member of your party. All my life I have been a member of the Miners' Federation, and prior to the coal stoppage of last year I had always saved and put by a little money. I had saved £260, with which I purchased a house. It cost me £500, and as a result of that stoppage I have lost my house. It was sold because I could not keep up the instalments to make up the balance of the purchase money, and I stand to-day without a farthing in the world."
§ Mr. WILSON
My hon. Friend knows very well, and the House knows very well, that at any rate in April, 1926, the Government were ready to accept the Coal Commission's Report, although they did not like it, and the Miners' Federation absolutely refused to accept it. I do not say that the acceptance of that Report would have cured all their ills, but certainly the men in my area to-day who have lost their all would not have been in the position in which they now stand. I do not want to develop that point, because I do not want to be labelled as an extremist in this House. I am not an extremist, but I see the facts in these little mining villages, and it is right that here, in this House, I should state them as I see them, with the hope that we may all draw the lesson from last year's stoppage.
125 Coming back to the general position, I suppose there is nobody in this House who will deny that the seven months' stoppage in the coal trade last year dealt a most serious blow to all the industries of this country. How serious that blow has been, I am quite certain that the majority of people in the land do not quite realise. Our memories are short, and it may be just as well that we should cast our minds back to last year, just before this unfortunate coal stoppage. The position then was this, that the unemployment figures in this country had, for the first time over the period of five years, dropped below the million mark, and there were unmistakeable signs, as I know from my own experience—because I come into touch with all classes of industry in this country—of a trade revival, particularly in the heavy industries of the country. The coal stoppage threw all that back, as we know to our cost, it may be for a year, it may be for two years—I cannot say—but undoubtedly it struck a most serious blow at our trade and industry.
I should like to ask those in this House who really wish to think about these matters from a constructive point of view to remember that Germany has during the last twelve months made enormous strides in her export trade. I speak here with some authority, because I have examined the position in Germany. No less an authority than the Dresdner Bank in Germany, which is one of the five big banks there, in its recent bulletin made the significant statement that the direct result of the coal stoppage last year in Great Britain was to give great benefit to German industry, with this remarkable result, that while, 18 months ago; there were 2,000,000 unemployed in Germany, to-day there are only something like 500,000 men and women out of work in that great country. Surely these are factors which we should take most carefully into our consideration. I do not at all agree, if I may so with all respect, with the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down that we should regard 700,000 or 800,000 people as being a permanent quota of unemployed people in this country. In Germany, the figures are down to 500,000 people, and I should despair about the future of this country if we were to expect anything like 700,000 or 800,000 unemployed as a permanent feature in this country.
126 At any rate, this seems to me to be abundantly clear: we in this House of Commons are not going to make any serious contribution to this great problem by hurling invective from side to side, by criticising the Government, and by asking the Government why they do not produce and create schemes for the relief of unemployment. Schemes for immediate and pressing relief are well enough, but employment is a disease which will never be cured by temporary schemes, which are often far more expensive than would be the employment of an equal amount of capital in another direction. We have to go further and deeper into this problem if we are really going to make any serious contribution to better the position. What can we do, we politicians in the House of Commons, to help forward the improvement of trade and industry in this country? I know that there are those who sneer and laugh when the words "peace in industry" are mentioned. I am not one of those. I think that peace in industry is one of the essentials for the improvement which we all desire, and I am absolutely convinced that at last it is dawning upon the minds of men that strife in industry brings with it only one result, and that is starvation and penury for the workers, the very people who should command the best we can give them.
What can we do? Something has been said to-night, and has been frequently said in this House, about the benefits of safeguarding. I have been too long engaged in business to dogmatise, or to care to dogmatise, about any principle which shall have for its ultimate object the advancement of trade; but I have tried to approach this question, not from a party point of view, but with an open mind, and I have come to this conclusion, that safeguarding some of the distressed industries might conceivably be an admirable thing, and if we look back during the last two years to what other industries which have been safeguarded have done, surely there is a great encouragement to us to press this experiment a little further. I know there are difficulties in the way from the Government's point of view. I know that two years ago the Committee of Civil Research made a Report to the Cabinet, which on the whole was against the safeguarding of steel and iron, but if we are going to get a vital change in 127 the economic condition of the steel and iron industries in this country, it has not to be a party measure. Some of the hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway, I believe, are coming round to the conclusion that the safeguarding of trade, the trade by which the workers get their living, is just as essential as safeguarding hours of labour. If we could only get real helpful, concrete, practical support from the leaders of the Labour party and of the great trade union movement towards the safeguarding of the iron and steel trade, I for one could go forward with a Measure of that sort with a great deal more confidence than I could feel if it were going to be made the shuttlecock of party politics.
There are four great industries in this country which are languishing at the present time—cotton, iron and steel, mines and shipbuilding. I have dealt very briefly, and very ineffectively I realise, with the question of iron and steel, but may I just say one word about the cotton trade. I have no doubt there may be a good deal in what the hon. Member for Stockport has said about the position of some of the big cotton mills in Lancashire. I have no doubt it is true that many of those mills are indebted to their bankers, and that this may be attributed to a certain degree to the difficulties which surround the cotton industry, but we have two factors to remember. If you can, only increase employment and prosperity at home in mines, shipbuilding and iron and steel, you can get a much greater demand for cotton goods in this country than you get at present. The second factor is that the position in China and abroad generally to-day is still unsettled, and I am afraid we cannot hope for full time, at any rate in the cotton trade, until the position abroad improves, and until we can make some improvement in our other industries. I am not going to deal with the question of shipbuilding. It is an industry I know nothing about, and I am sure there are speakers quite competent to deal with it.
I would like, in closing, to repeat myself. I do not think that these Debates in the House of Commons, so long as they are conducted on party lines, so long as we go over the same ground which has been traversed so often during 128 the last few years, can lead to the solution of this question. I do not believe—and I feel this most strongly—that this country is down and out. I do not believe that we are incapable of rising to great heights again as a, commercial nation and of taking our place in the forefront of commercial nations of the world; but we shall never get back to real days of prosperity unless all parties in this House, and particularly those who represent the workers, and who have a tremendous responsibility on their shoulders—and I am sure they realise it—until all parties in this House realise that Acts of Parliament by themselves and temporary schemes are merely palliatives. We have got to get down to fundamental facts and realise the position not only in Europe, but in the whole world, and set, ourselves as a united nation to solve these problems on the only lines on which they can be solved.
§ Mr. GEORGE HALL
I do not wish to follow the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, except, perhaps, with one or two references to the question of the cry we have had from every speaker, the cry of "peace in industry," and perhaps later on I shall deal with matters he mentioned in connection with the coal industry. The Debate has produced the same cry from the benches on the other side, that the only thing necessary to solve the unemployment problem is to have peace in industry. I would like to ask, who is responsible for the conditions of the spirit, in industry at the present time in this country? A good deal was made last year of the fact that during the last seven years 330,000,000 working days had been lost through industrial disputes, that is, since 1920. When one attempted to analyse those figures, it was found that nearly three-quarters of the time lost, through industrial disputes during the last seven years has been caused by attacks from the employers upon wages and conditions. At a time like this it is useless to pay lip service to this desire for peace in industry. I well remember speaking to a well-known and an honoured man who sat in this House for a quarter of a century, who did a great deal of work during the War and who was a very large employer of labour. He often told me and others who represent the miners, "If I had to work as the miners have to work, 129 for the wages they have to work for, and to live as they have to live, then I would be the biggest rebel in South Wales." That was a statement made by the late Lord Rhondda. There is no question at all about it.
The Minister of Labour has often referred to the need for peace in industry. I think we all admit that it is necessary to have peace in industry, but it is no use first to beat the workmen down and then to cry for peace in industry and ask the workmen to co-operate with the employers. The Prime Minister himself. speaking in 1924, said:I am convinced of this, and I want you all to be convinced of it, that you can have no peace and no prosperity in England until you have the masses of your people at work and working with the prospect of good wages and of bettering their conditions.That is the only basis upon which you can have peace in industry—having a contented working class. I was very much disappointed with the statement of the Minister of Labour in dealing with this question. I am afraid the Minister's Department is not in existence for the purpose of grappling with unemployment, but purely for the purpose of administering the Unemployment Insurance Acts. I wish we could get the Government and the people to realise that there are in this country at the present moment more than a million men and women unemployed. We have had this army of unemployed for more than seven years—with, perhaps, the exception of two or three weeks. We have used these figures so often and listened to them so often that it really seems as though they have come to make no impression at all upon us; but when we say that the unemployed population of this country is now, and has been for the past six years, larger than the total population of Wales and Monmouthshire, we can realise the magnitude of the problem. In a reply given to a question to-day by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. T. Griffiths) it was stated that there are no less than 1,500,000 persons in receipt of Poor Law relief. That makes the total number of those dependent upon unemployment benefit and Poor Law relief something like 4,500,000 people. No one can be content with conditions such as those, and I ask the Minister seriously to consider the provision of suitable work for these unemployed people.
130 These figures are mere statistics. Let us translate them into terms of human life, and consider what they mean in the homes of the people, and we shall find a pathetic burden of misery. It might well be said that a recruiting agency has been at work and has gathered a million men and women into the army of poverty during the last five or six years. I know many of these men—not like the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Roy Wilson). I am not saying anything against him, because I well remember the courageous step which he took during the stoppage last year. My point is that I do not visit my constituency during a few weeks in the year only, I live in the midst of these men and women who are unemployed. Many of the men in these forlorn ranks are quite young, with all their lives before them. Some have never had, and many more have lost, the habit of regular work. Already they are a long way down the road towards demoralisation and failure. Can no one bring home to the Government and to the people the appalling decay and loss of man-power involved in this state of things? I am afraid that long acquaintance with this distressing problem is inducing a sense of helplessness and inevitability in our minds; we are passing the unemployment queue to-day with less anxiety than we did six years ago.
I am going to deal briefly with the position of the mining industry. The hon. Member for Lichfield referred to the very tragic situation there. He has seen some homes in his Division where there is want and poverty, and, unfortunately, that state of things is prevalent in every mining Division. I lay the blame entirely at the door of the Government. As regards a large percentage of the unemployment in the mining industry, I say that no one is more responsible for it than the Government and the Prime Minister, through their action in lengthening the hours of the miners during last year. [Interruption.] A right hon. Gentleman says it is not true. I say it is true, and I hope I shall be able to prove it in the course of my few remarks. We were told last year that if the miners worked a longer working day there was the possibility of prosperity being restored to the industry. At the present time the miners in South Wales are working a longer working day than any miners in Europe.
Mr. ROY WILSON
May I ask this question because I want this matter to be made perfectly clear? Is it not a fact that they need not have had the eight hours' day if the Miners' Federation had accepted the Coal Commission's Report?
§ Mr. HALL
If the Miners' Federation had accepted the principle of a reduction in wages and the consideration of the Report, then there was the possibility, although as far back as 1921 Mr. Evan Williams, the President of the Mining Association, said he regarded his action in signing that portion of the Sankey Report giving the seven hour day to the miners as the greatest mistake of his life, and he said he would do everything he could in the future to erase the Seven Hours Act from the Statute Book. He prevailed upon the Government to carry out his bidding, and the result is that we now have no less than 221,000 miners unemployed. I shall deal with that a little more fully, because not only have we in some of the exporting areas a, longer working day for the miners than has any other coalfield in Europe but it is interesting to note that since the advent of this Government, since 1924, until some three weeks ago, there has been a reduction in the miners' wages in South Wales alone of no less than £230,000 a week, £12,000,000 a year. When we consider the position of the miners generally throughout the country, we find that the weekly reduction in their wages in 1927 as compared with 1924 amounted to no less than £800,000, or something like £40,000,000 a year. So here we have long hours and low wages and unemployment. I have here a return published by the Minister of Labour, and it gives the percentage of persons unemployed in the Employment Exchange areas up to the 15th of November. In the three industrial counties of South Wales, Glamorganshire, Carmarthenshire, and Monmouthshire, I find no less than three areas where there are more than 50 per cent. of the male insured persons unemployed. In Blaina, we have 58 per cent. of the male insured persons unemployed; in Merthyr Tydvil 52.6 per cent., and in Pontypridd 51 per cent. There are five areas where the percentage of male insured persons who are unemployed is over 40 and under 50; 18 areas where the percentage is over 30 and under 40, 11 areas where it is over 20 and under 30. Of the 132 50 Employment Exchange areas in those counties, there are only 13 areas with less than 20 per cent. of the male insured persons unemployed.
What does this mean? It means that the position in those areas has become unbearable. Not only are the miners themselves poor, but this reflects itself on the business and professional classes, with the result that we have in South Wales at the present time a condition of things which is almost unbearable. I know that we are blamed, where we have Labour majorities on the local authorities, for the high rates. Let me give the position in sonic of those areas. In the Rhondda area for the year ending 30th September this year, the rates amount to 29s. in the £, and out of that, 19s. in the £ goes to the poor rate. In the Mountain Ash district, which I represent, the rates are 28s. in the £ and the poor rate is 19s. In the Aberdare area, the total rate is 29s. 2d. and the poor rate 19s. 5d.
For the last two or three years, the tendency has been to strike men off the unemployment register, with the result that they have had to resort to Poor Law relief for their maintenance. The Merthyr Tydvil Union, during the last six months, spent £35,000 in relieving unemployment, and the amount of poor rate paid in that area reaches no less a sum than 10s. 3d. per head of the population. As a result of these very high rates, in the areas of 16 local authorities, a list of which I hold in my hand, the uncollected rates amount to no less than £980,000. That is the problem with which we are faced.
As a result of the action of the Government in co-operation with the mine-owners, we have been able to produce cheap coal, and we have been selling cheap coal. The export trade of coal from this country for the first 11 months of this year, is just 1,000,000 tons more than for the first 11 months of 1925, and the amount of money received for a 1,000,000 tons more coal than was received in 1925 is nearly £4,000,000 less. It is a well-known fact that the coal-owners in every coal area have now realised, what the Government ought to have realised last year, that it is not so much a question of increasing production as of stabilising and fixing prices. I do not know whether the Minister of Labour looks with much concern upon the schemes that the mineowners are going to put into operation in the Midlands 133 and in South Wales, and it must be borne in mind that every other coalfield will be bound to follow that lead. In South Wales there is to be a fixing of prices, and that is bound to restrict output. With a restriction on output you are bound to throw more men out of work.
The same thing is going on in Yorkshire and in the Midlands. There they have a scheme which is going to control the price of between 70,000,000 and 75,000,000 tons of the output of coal. The Yorkshire and the Midland miners openly admit that not only will their schemes stabilise prices, but it is aimed at the restriction of output, and if any coal-owner exceeds the output of that which is laid down in his quota, that coalowner is going to be fined no less a sum than 3s. a ton. What we say is that if there is to be such a scheme, it should be inaugurated under a seven-hours day and not an eight-hours day. I think the Government is bound to admit that their policy of last year, in adopting the eight-hours day, was a mistake, and even the coalowners have admitted that. Under these circumstances, the Government should do the courageous thing, that is, put the mining industry, as far as the working hours are concerned, back to where it was before they interfered with this question last year by legislation. I am pleased to note that the Labour party is pledged, as soon as it comes into office, to put right this wrong which the Government did last year, by removing the Eight Hours Act from the Statute Book, replacing it with a Seven Hours Act. I know the Government have under consideration a scheme for the transfer of men from some of those districts where there is stagnant unemployment. In the Cwmamman area, there are three or four collieries owned by one company, and in that area there are between 2,000 and 2,500 men who used to be employed in those pits who have not done any work for the last four or five months. I notice that in reference to the scheme outlined by the Minister of Health at Birmingham on Friday, he said:The number of men who had permanently lost employment in the coal industry might be put at something over 100,000, and perhaps fewer than 200,000. The Government felt that they had got to make up their minds for a special effort to get these people away from the valleys, where there was no more work for them, and take them to places where they could 134 find work, and they were going to appoint a special board, called the Industrial Transference Board, consisting of three men. Their business would be to find out how many people there were in each of these spots, who were not likely to find work there, and see where they could be given work, making whatever arrangements might be necessary to transfer them from the old places to the new, and give them a fresh start in life.I do not want to criticise this plan before I know exactly what the scheme is, but I should like the Minister of Labour to take note of a few things which the Government will come up against when they attempt to put into operation a scheme of this kind. In the Cwmaman district, to which I have referred, they are producing a very dry kind coal. That district, I think, was affected more than any other by the French embargo, their trade being very largely a French trade. It is possible that in this district the collieries will work again. There is an abundance of coal, and it is fairly good coal of its kind. The difficulty with which the Transfer Board will have to deal will be as to the district in which they shall operate. The Minister must realise that a colliery company with a capital of between £500,000 and £750,000 is not going to abandon its collieries, but will be hoping for the possibility of increased trade, because the abandonment of these pits would mean that the whole of the capital would be lost. If, however, there is any prospect of these collieries again opening up, and if the work of the Transfer Board is being carried on, it will mean that the very best workmen will have to leave these districts, so that if at any time the colliery opens up again, the colliery owners will have only those that are left after the best workmen have been taken away, and, unless we are very careful, we shall, as the result of the working of this board, have a number of men of the age of 50, 55 or 60 who will be left stranded. I do not know whether the Government have already appointed this Transfer Board, but I hope it will include someone with knowledge of the industry. If the Government would only do what they ought to do, the work of this board would not be very difficult. I do not want to deal with the general question of unemployment, because that has been dealt with by several of my hon. Friends, but I want to emphasize one point. I think it has been admitted that, while 135 we have 1,000,000 persons unemployed in this country at the present time, there is a possibility of that number being reduced to something like 700,000 or 800,000. I am hoping that the Minister is correct. Let us put it at 600,000——
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I only put it at 8 per cent., which I trust may be a possibility within the comparatively near future. I think there ought to be quite a fair chance of a reduction much below that.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
No; naturally I should be loth to prophesy as to what would happen a number of years hence. I said the other day that I was ready to make a bet—a thing about which I am generally pretty cautious—with an hon. Member on this side of the House who was very apprehensive during the Debate on the Unemployment Insurance Bill. I said I was prepared to make him an alternative bet as to the figure going down to 4 per cent., at any rate by 1932, or to 3 per cent, by 1933. I offered that the decision should be made either by the Minister of Labour at that date or, if he thought that I was still likely to be there, by the Chairman of the Economic Society.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. HALL
The right hon. Gentleman was very careful to confine the bet to hips side of the House. He has not extended it to hon. Members on this side, or there might be some here who would be prepared to take some of his ready money from him. As far as I am concerned, I am hoping that his prophecy is correct. Not only do I desire, but every Member of the House desires, that it should be fulfilled. I care not what Government may be in office at the time, the one thing about which I am concerned is this grievous question of unemployment. What I would like the Government to do would be really to carry out the election pledge of the Prime Minister on this question. While he certainly did not say that he had a remedy for unemployment, he did say that no effort on the part of the Government would be spared to see that this question of unemployment was tackled and dealt with.
136 9.0 p.m
I should like to emphasise the request that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. C. Edwards), and also by a number of other hon. Members on this side. I can see the possibility that the number of unemployed persons in this country will be considerable for some time to come. The export trade, unfortunately, is not what it was, and home markets are not what they were. The hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Hammersley) referred to the question of efficient production. I wonder whether he has read the preliminary Reports on the Census of Production, where we find that, in a large number of industries, production has increased by over 100 per cent., and in some instances by 200 per cent. and even 400 per cent., and yet the number of persons employed in those industries has been reduced. Take the cotton industry. I think it is well known that the production per person in the cotton industry in this country had increased, in the year 1924, by 100 per cent. as compared with 1907; but the actual number of persons employed in the production of cotton goods in this country has been reduced by nearly 70,000.
§ Mr. HALL
I wish the hon. Member had been here to listen to another hon. Member describing the cotton industry. If he had, he would not be of opinion that it was an efficient industry. I do not want to go into the question of efficiency or inefficiency in industry, but I say that the application of machinery to industry will throw a very large number of persons out of work. As there is this increased production, I think the Government ought to concentrate on getting a scheme of superannuation for old people. My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Shepherd) put a question to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury only a fortnight ago, asking the retiring age of policemen in this country, and the answer was that the retiring age of policemen, based on the Metropolitan Police, is 47½ years, and that, they are in receipt of pension for something like 20 years. Teachers and civil servants retire at 60. I am not for a moment arguing that these people are not entitled to their pensions, but I think the 137 Government should consider, in dealing with this question of unemployment, an extension of schemes of superannuation, in order to take out of industry these old men of 60, and replace them by the younger or middle-aged men who, unfortunately, are out of work. I hope that this Debate will not have the same result as a number of others have had, but that the Government will realise the seriousness of the position, especially in mining areas. It is going to be a very black, dark, dreary Christmas for the majority of our people. In my own area, in one out of every three of the homes of the people, there are unemployed persons, and I have already referred to the fact that in three areas in South Wales more than 50 per cent. of the male persons are unemployed. With a position like that, the Government, instead of treating Debates on this question as they have treated them, should get right down to the fundamental causes of unemployment, and see if they cannot produce a scheme to deal with them.
§ Sir PHILIP RICHARDSON
In listening to the remarks of the last speaker, I found a note which gave me great satisfaction. I think that the Debates in this House should have as their object the better governance of the questions dealt with, whereas too often they merely consist of recriminations. I do not want to go into the question of coal, because I am not engaged in the coal industry. I am connected with shipbuilding, where good feeling among the employers and employed has led to very good results. It has led to a great development of the industry, and I am sure there are those who can testify in the district to which I refer to the work that has been done and the satisfaction that in general prevails. So far as this problem of unemployment is concerned, I think there is not sufficient stress laid upon the two points of the increased number of people who are employed and the increased advantage to the people. After the War we suffered a lot of confusion in every industry, particularly in those that had been stimulated. I speak feelingly in connection with the shipbuilding industry, where we were stimulated to make good the destruction of German submarines, and at the end of the War there was no necessity to replace ships which were no longer sunk and no 138 necessity for an enlarged labour programme and we found ourselves on evil days. In spite of it all, during the last year we have arrived at a time when our production has increased and is increasing, and that is very largely due to the better understanding of the problem that exists in that particular part of the world. So far as shipping costs are concerned, they are naturally composite costs, which include a great many items.
I wish to contribute some considerations to the Debate. We are not going to solve unemployment with one general remedy. Many of us on political platforms are challenged by our adversaries to say what is our remedy for unemployment. Of course, there is no one remedy. There are thousands of kinds of unemployment and many different kinds of remedies, but the one remedy, to my mind, is a better understanding. We must all put our brains together and say what is really the cause of this man or that man, this group or that group, being out of employment, and try to deal with the question. We have had a great deal of very able speaking on the question of coal. I am not a coal-mining man and do not propose to go into it. I will deal with the shipbuilding side. The costs of shipbuilding are composite and are very largely dependent upon coal. They are also dependent upon all our social services, upon our rates and taxes and so forth. I have brought a few figures with me showing the difference in the incidence of certain costs between pre-War time and the present. I find, for example, that local rates are nearly 150 per cent. up, Income Tax (Schedule A) is up 280 per cent., compulsory insurance 225 per cent., Board of Trade fees 440 per cent., Lloyds' register fees 130 per cent., supply of electric current, and so on. I will not go into the great mass-of the figures I have, but what we have to do is to build ships in competition with other nations who build under different conditions. Therefore, all these additional costs put upon us are costs that we have to bear. If we cannot meet them we cannot build ships.
One recent speaker talked about beating workmen down. Another, the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Roy Wilson) talked about the representatives of the workers. I should like to take up those two points. I do not admit that any one 139 party in the House is the representative of the workers. I claim always that I represent all those who work, whatever their capacity and whatever their politics. It is a mistake to talk about the representatives of the workers. Again, when we talk about beating wages down, what does it mean? It means, in shipbuilding at any rate, that we have to get contracts abroad to build ships. We cannot build them permanently at a loss, because we should be plunged ultimately into bankruptcy. We have to build the ships so as to get, first of all, the best wages we can for the men, and, secondly, some return for our shareholders. It is obvious that we cannot carry on industry unless at a profit. I am certain that we can always compete with the foreigner provided we have this good understanding, provided we know what all the costs are and realise their various ramifications.
I was in Germany some little time ago, and one of the chief manufacturers there, a man who I believe is responsible for employing nearly 100,000 hands in various establishments, made a remark which sunk into my mind. I have never forgotten it, and I never shall. He said the world lives on that which it produces, neither more nor less. We must not get into any confusion of ideas between the distribution of the products and the production of the products. As a manufacturer concerned primarily with the production of goods, I have to produce them in international competition. I have to offer certain prices. Provided I and my staff are capable, and provided I am not unduly handicapped in certain directions, I can offer those prices against the world. I want to get the House, if possible, into the spirit of studying all the bearings of the question, not trying to attach all the blame to this or that person, because all the blame is not to be attached to this or that person. These are matters of growth. We have to pay for our social services, for our protection, for our Empire, for our Army and Navy, and it has to come out of somewhere, out of some production, because the world consumes that which it produces, neither more nor less, with the exception of a little waste. In order to maintain our population we have to produce. I think we can produce in competition with the 140 rest of the world, and we are bound to continue as far as we can.
We must have a good understanding for another reason. Once we allow our establishments to deteriorate we shall no longer be able to compete under any circumstances whatever. A recent speaker referred to the best men leaving the collieries. Shipbuilding establishments do not spring up in a day. I saw in the wartime a remark by a newspaper correspondent that in the days of Queen Elizabeth we built ships on the seashore, and he asked why do we not do it now. You cannot do it. You have to build them in establishments which have grown up with a great deal of technical knowledge and efficiency, and those establishments which have technical knowledge and efficiency can certainly compete. At the same time, when we talk about grinding other people down it is not a question of grinding people down but of how you are to avoid serious loss. Anyone can talk about dividing profits; it is not everyone who talks about how to deal with losses. This particular industry is very efficient. If you cannot get any orders for it you must not break it up. Holding the baby is all very well, and lots of people are very clever in selling out and getting rid of their interest and leaving someone else to hold the thing. But those who have any pride in their life's work feel that they must maintain the industry at whatever cost, must make sacrifices in building it up and must make reserves in order to be able to face future competition. That is a point we have heard several times discussed in the House. We have heard people talk about undivided profits. Undivided profits are often very wise reserves. What is wanted is a good understanding among all parties. It is no use trying to blame anyone. Everyone knows the position is bad, but what good will you do by saying the Government, or this person or that, is to blame? Speaking at that Box in 1924 the Labour Minister said that we were going to have for the present a 1,000,000 unemployed and probably 800,000 permanently, or words very nearly to that effect. We must realise that that is so and that you are not going to be able to get employment for everyone, but we can get employment for the greatest number if we understand how to manage our works in the most efficient manner.
141 A thing that is very troublesome in competition with other nations is the demarcation of labour. I will not throw the blame on the trade unions and say they should not do this or that, but when costs are going up they can help us to relieve them. If we find that a man is suitable to do a certain work, he should certainly be allowed to do it and should be able to work with people in other parts of the world. When I was in Germany, some time ago, I found there was a great deal of difference in the demarcation of work and in the kinds of different categories—men of lower categories being put on skilled work—than in England. That is a thing very well worth consideration. We are the representatives of the people and the representatives of the workers. It does not matter what our particular occupation in life may be, we are all proud we are here, and proud to try to do something to contribute to the betterment of our people, to the maintenance of our country, and to restore it to prosperity. I am sure we shall do that better if we take up every item separately, each contributing our little bit. For my part, I hope to do something in regard to shipbuilding, and I hope that every other Member in his own line will try to do the same.
§ Mr. JAMES HUDSON
I have, been very much interested in the appeal which has just been made to the House by the hon. and gallant Member for Ohertsey (Sir P. Richardson), especially as I am connecting it with an earlier attack upon these benches by the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Bradford (Mr. Ramsden), who seconded the Amendment which we are still discussing. I want to compare something which has just fallen from the lips of the previous speaker with the attitude taken up by the Member for North Bradford. The charge has been made frequently to-night, and you cannot get away from it, in spite of the well expressed intentions of the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken, that the main cause of our present inability to deal with the unemployment problem is our insistence on these benches, and the insistence of those who support us in the country, upon what is called war in industry, but that, if we would pursue a policy of peace in industry, if we would persuade our people to sink their differences, at any rate, for 142 the present, somehow or other things would come right, production would be increased, and the lack of employment, from which to-day we are suffering, would be considerably removed.
Let us examine that charge, and I ask particularly the hon. Member for North Bradford, who knows the situation as well as I do in relation to the position that to-day exists in Yorkshire with regard to the great staple industry of that county. Two years ago there was a great conflict in the industry, a conflict that arose out of the attitude of the employers, who locked out the workers, a conflict, which when it had run its course, finally led to an arbitration out of which a settlement was effected. Two years of settlement have now, at last, been followed by the cancellation of the agreement under which to-day the industry is being run. At this moment the workers of Yorkshire, in a state of great doubt, are going forward to Christmas and the months that follow, expecting some time or other a blow being delivered from the back, the result of which will be a reduction of their wages. They have to-day nothing between them and such reduction. The old agreement has gone. The reason, as far as I can discover—and I daresay the hon. Member for North Bradford will agree with this—why at this moment the wages of the Yorkshire woollen workers have not been reduced is because there are in several of the firms—firms in my own constituency in Huddersfield, some firms in Bradford, too, and firms in the Colne Valley, I would add—so many orders that in some cases they are working overtime in order to deal with the situation. Therefore, rather than imperil their immediate profits, although they have decided upon the cancellation of the agreement and thrown over the arbitral award that was obtained two years ago, the Yorkshire woollen manufacturers at this moment are waiting for a convenient opportunity to lower the wages of the Yorkshire woollen workers and to obtain from them what they ought to obtain themselves by an improvement in the organisation of their industry. Although that is true, we get an hon. Member representing a Yorkshire constituency closely identified in his own interests with those same Yorkshire woolen manufacturers, coming here——
§ Mr. RAMSDEN
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, with your leave to intervene, I should like to make it perfectly clear to the House that I have no interest whatever in the manufacture, either of woollens or of any other goods, but I do take an interest, as every hon. Member should, in the staple industries of my own particular neighbourhood.
§ Mr. HUDSON
I should very much regret if I gave the impression that I was making charges of a dishonourable character. I did not mean that. I meant that in this general outlook the hon. Member has interests in Yorkshire in connection with the woollen industry that puts him, shall I say—and I mean nothing more than this—in very general sympathy with the employers in that area.
§ Mr. RAMSDEN
Excuse me. If the hon. Member has read any of the speeches which I have made recently in Yorkshire, he will find that I have very strongly advocated peace in the textile industry, and I have shown no more sympathy for the textile manufacturers than I have for the textile operatives. What I have pointed out constantly has been, that peace in the industry was essential for both employers and those engaged in the industry itself.
§ Mr. HUDSON
I understand that, and I have read the hon. Gentleman's speeches which he has recently delivered in Yorkshire. I must say to him quite frankly, I have not discovered that he has used the opportunities that have been given to him to tell the Yorkshire manufacturers some of the same sort of truths that he has been trying to tell us on these benches to-night, that it is our fault and the folly of the workers. I want to throw back that charge and to ask hon. Members opposite generally to face the issue, that although on several occasions the workers in the last year or two have shown signs of trying to find arrangements by which our industrial conditions can be made more permanent, and can be carried on along more peaceful lines, they have very rarely been met by the employers in a way that would make peace in industry possible. But I want to carry the charge away from the immediate industry of Yorkshire, with which I am more particularly concerned, to the industry of the country generally, 144 and to the policy the Government have been pursuing in regard to it. It has come out during our arguments to-night that one of the things that might be done to make more opportunities of labour for workers now unemployed would be a reduction of the hours that some of the present workers in industry have to put in.
It is upon this question of the reduction of hours in industry that I want to address a very special appeal to the Government. The Government know to-day, as well as we know, how mistaken their policy was with regard to the coal industry. They know that the increase of hours from seven to eight has produced none of those things which they anticipated, but has had exactly the opposite effect. Although they have learnt that fact, they, apparently, are not prepared at this moment to take any stand with us in preventing, in the immediate future, employers going even further in the increase of the total hours that the workers are being compelled to work. I suggest that in connection with this issue the Government's policy with regard to the 48-hours' week ought to be very carefully investigated. I cannot understand what it is that after eight years still restrains the Government from carrying out the agreement that was signed, or practically signed, at Washington when the 48-hours' week was agreed upon.
In 1924 a very careful investigation was made in an international conference at which the British Minister of Labour of those days attended, at which all the outstanding difficulties were examined, and at which, finally, an agreement was reached which should have enabled our Government and the other Governments to ratify the 48-Hours' Convention. Nothing happened. Another international conference was held in 1926 at which the present Minister of Labour was present, when, apparently, again any outstanding difficulties left were finally disposed of; but, still, the 48-Hours Convention was not disposed of. I am told—indeed, the Government admit it—that there are in this country at the present moment only about seven per cent. of workers who are working longer than a 48-hours' week, and that of those seven per cent. three or four per cent. are already provided for under the interpretations that have 145 been agreed upon with regard to the Washington Convention. So that practically, if our Government at this moment would agree to the ratification of that Convention, only two or three per cent. of the workers would be brought from the present state of things where the hours are longer than 48, down to the point that the Washington Convention laid down as the limit.
Why do not the Government take this line? They talk to us in the House of Commons about foreign competition and the necessity of giving our workers an opportunity against it. We know that in France, in Italy and in Germany the workers—far more than 3 per cent, of them—have been working longer than these hours, and we know, too, that if we could ratify the Convention it would lead very rapidly—almost certainly—to the ratification of the Convention by other countries, and we could prevent the element of unfair competition facing our industries, and they would get a better opportunity. Why, then, is it not done? It is here I come to the central part of the charge which I am making against the Government as a whole, and which, at the commencement of my remarks, I was making against the hon. Member for North Bradford. The Government know perfectly well that the employing classes in this country in the years to come expect to have an opportunity to steal one more march against the workers, and are believing that an opportunity will come—as the Yorkshire employers are expecting an opportunity in the near future—to reduce wages, and where it will be necessary for them—as the coalowners said it was necessary—to have a further increase of the hours of the workers.
Rather than be prepared to do the right thing now, which would assist us in dealing with the problem of foreign competition and thereby the problems of unemployment, the Government prefer to drift on year after year. For eight years they have done it, and still nothing has happened to bring that Agreement about. I submit that unless the Government on this very small issue—great in its importance in the long run, though it may be very small now—are prepared to do their duty and to carry out the provisions which they have practically, at any rate in theory, agreed to, they cannot spend 146 much time in charging us with any responsibility for the present situation. I appeal to the Government once more to consider the need for the immediate ratification of the Eight Hours Convention.
§ Mr. ROBERT HUDSON
Earlier on in this Debate the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. C. Wilson) challenged some figures quoted by the Mover of the Amendment we are now discussing. The figures may or may not be right, but I am perfectly certain it will interest the House, and more particularly hon. Members on this side, to learn that those figures which were quoted were taken from a publication issued by the Trade Union Congress which purported to show that, since 1920, the total number of new entrants into industry was 874,000, and during that time 304,000 had left industry, leaving a net balance of 570,000. Those figures were quoted in that pamphlet, not in order to show the advance which had been made under the Conservative Government towards solving the unemployment problem, but to show their own people that they had made a singularly bad effort to get those 570,000 new entrants into the trade unions, and that the increase in the number of trade unionists had only been some 2 per cent. Whether those figures were right or wrong, they were quoted on the authority of a document emanating from the other side.
§ Mr. HUDSON
That has nothing to do with it. The point is that practically 874,000 people have gone into industry, and only 2 per cent. into the trade unions. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston), who initiated this Debate, held up to our horrified gaze the enormous number of millions spent on the relief of unemployment since the Armistice, but he was very careful to refrain altogether from mentioning what he meant by maintenance. If we are to judge by the ordinary standards of the questions which we get in speaking up and down the country, we must understand that maintenance, in his view, is very considerably more than the figure that is at present obtained in the way of benefit. Therefore, I assume the millions, and hundreds of millions, he said had been spent already in giving benefit since 147 the Armistice, would have been very largely increased had the Socialist doctrine of work or maintenance been in force.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
What I mentioned was the total amount that had been spent by way of public assistance. I did not confine myself to the benefits under the Insurance Act at all. I added the Poor Law figures and said that the total amount spent by way of public assistance for which the nation had no goods or values in return, was so much.
§ Mr. HUDSON
I do not think that affects my argument, because had the Socialist Government been in power, and had their schemes of maintenance, the total amount would have been very much greater indeed. It is a very parodoxical argument by which the hon. Member far Dundee becomes one of the new recruits of the so-called Economy Group of this House, complaining about the amount spent on public relief.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Surely the hon. Member is not aware of what I have said, or does not understand what I have said. We are pointing out that by our proposals we want the unemployed set to work to produce goods and valuable assets to the country. I said we had been prepared to provide the minimum amount of sustenance for the unemployed, and had been getting no goods or values in return.
§ Mr. HUDSON
I have very little time, and I am not going to bandy words with the hon. Member for Dundee on that particular point. What I really want to come to is the very practical question of the remedy we can find. We have heard a good deal lately in this House of attempts that, have been made to get the Government to promise that they will introduce no legislations during the lifetime of this Parliament that will result in increased expenditure from the National Exchequer. One of the chief persons who believes in that, the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Harmsworth), in a Debate the other day, was led, I might almost say betrayed, into making a most valuable admission. He said that it was not true economy to shift the burden from the Exchequer to the employer. Surely, the corollary seems to be true that it is not true economy to shift the burden from the Ex-chequer 148 on to the rates, which have to be paid by the employer, because rates—it is almost a platitude to say it—have to be paid whether any profits are earned or not. The real and proper method for the economists to adopt is, not that the total of national taxation shall in no case be increased but that the sum total of expenditure, both local and national, shall not be increased.
We heard the other day from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health that the total amount paid in rates had decreased in the last five or six years. It is true that it has decreased during those years, but it has not decreased to anything like the same extent as the cost of living or the wholesale prices index. The burden of rates today is proportionately greater than it was six or seven years ago. The problem we have to solve is one of transferring the burden from the shoulders of employers in the distressed areas, on to the national Exchequer. You are then faced with the problem of how to tackle the question of responsibility for this expenditure. A very prominent economist, speaking the night before last in Manchester, said that Parliamentary institutions were breaking down in this country owing to the fact that we had not time to discuss fully all the questions submitted to us, and he suggested that the solution lay in increased devolution, in increasingly giving to the local authorities further and further power and further and further responsibility. Surely, our present system of Poor Law has completely broken down, and the question is not that of giving more and more responsibility to local authorities but how to take that responsibility away from those local authorities who, according to recent reports of the Ministry of Health, seem to be proved to have misused the responsibility which has hitherto been accorded to them. The real problem that we have to meet is how we can, instead of devoluting further responsibility, take back some of the responsibility that has been confided to them in the past.
The system under which we are working to-day dates back to the days of Elizabeth, and it is no wonder that in the stress of these days it should be breaking down. It was a system eminently suited for relieving, and probably still is eminently 149 suited for relieving, old persons and people who in rural districts fall to be relieved by the boards of guardians and relieving officers, but it certainly is not fitted for dealing with the problems in distressed areas, and if we want to help industry to recover, to relieve the shipbuilding industry from the heavy burdens of rates, to which the hon. Member for Chertsey (Sir P. Richardson) referred, and if we want, as every Chancellor of the Exchequer desires, to see the revenue go up, we must bring in some measure of relief for local taxation and transfer the burden to the national Exchequer, provided, and this is the difficulty, we can at the same time make sure that local rates will not go up by the amount that has been taken off them and transferred to the national Exchequer. It is because I believe we are essentially the party that ought to do this, and essentially the party that can find the proper via media between the Socialist doctrine of work or maintenance, and the Liberal doctrine of laissez-faire, that I urge upon the Government the desirability of putting this reform in hand at once, because I am certain that if we do not do it ourselves, some other party will do it in the future and will do it far less well than we should otherwise have done.
§ Mr. RILEY
The hon Member for Chertsey (Sir P. Richardson) referred to the difficulties under which the great staple industries are labouring through the burden of local rates and other charges, and I noticed that the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. R. Hudson) has also emphasised that aspect of the situation. The remedy is entirely in the hands of the Government. Since 1914, in the matter of local rating there has been an increase, approximately of from £80,000,000 to £170,000,000 in England and Wales. That burden rests upon the localities and particularly the industrial localities. On the top of that, there has been a growing burden in the shape of social services, such as health insurance, unemployment benefit and the pensions for widows and orphans. In that respect, it is notable that hon. Members opposite should complain about industry being handicapped by burdens of this kind, when their Government have done more in that direction than any previous Government. We have only to remind ourselves of one of the latest burdens 150 placed by the Government upon industry, namely, the pensions for widows and orphans. That is a direct new addition to the burdens of industry.
The remedy is simple. As the hon. Member for Whitehaven has said, let the Government recognise the situation and seek to readjust the burdens by placing, at least, some substantial portion of the burden now handicapping industry upon the National Exchequer, and recouping themselves from Super-tax and other sources. I do not suggest that the burdens complained of are not real. The figure which I am about to give may be confirmed upon investigation. If you take the £170,000,000 of local rates now resting upon the localities, and mainly upon industry, and you add to that the £60,000,000 which has to be borne by industry for health insurance, unemployment benefits and widows' and orphans' pensions, it means one shilling on every pound of goods turned out in every industrial centre. That is a serious handicap. The Government ought to say that they will, at any rate, halve the burden and relieve the localities to that extent.
What schemes do the Government suggest for dealing with this admittedly serious problem of unemployment? So far as I can find, no proposal whatever has been made, and yet we are constantly seeing reports from Committees and Commissions appointed by the Government describing in the most emphatic language the urgency of certain national work being undertaken. I have in my hand a Report of a Commission which was appointed to deal with land drainage in England and Wales, and on page 22, paragraph 57, there are these words:It is estimated by the drainage engineers of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries that the productive value of not less than 4,262,000 acres of land in England and Wales, or approximately one-seventh of the total area of land now used for agricultural purposes, is dependent for its fertility upon arterial drainage. Of this total 2,892,000 acres are situated in existing drainage areas, while the balance of 1,370,000 acres is outside any drainage district. The Minister of Agriculture has stated, moreover, that at least 1,075,000 acres of land are in immediate need of drainage, and of this area only 285,000 acres are within existing drainage areas.This is a work on which the Government might very usefully employ the miners who are out of work, and who are well 151 fitted for such work. One aspect of this problem which has never been explained, and for which no suggestion has been made, is the absorption of numbers of men for whom apparently there is no further occupation in the trades in which they have hitherto worked. The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Hall) has stated that in the mining industry anything from 100,000 to 200,000 men will never be obsorbed in the mining industry again. Here is some national work to which these men might be put instead of receiving unemployment benefit without producing anything. They would carry out work of national importance, increase the productivity of the land, increase the purchasing power of the people, all of which would be reflected in the general well-being of the country. It is in that direction that the best work can be done so far as unemployment is concerned. Everyone agrees with what the hon. Member for Chertsey (Sir P. Richardson) has said, that it is upon production that the country has to live, and no remedy for unemployment is going to be permanent unless it increases productivity. Why do not the Government tackle it with something like imagination?
§ Lieut.-Colonel ANGUS McDONNELL
I want to associate myself with the remark made by the hon. Member opposite, also by the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Cecil Wilson), and the hon. Member for Chertsey (Sir P. Richardson), that unemployment should never be made a party affair, that it is a national question, and should be tackled in a national way. We have to stop accusing each other and endeavour to find the best plan for meeting the problem, otherwise we shall never get down to real business. We have naturally, owing to the great distress prevailing, devoted a great deal of this Debate to find alternative methods for unemployment. Unemployment is not a disease, it is only a symptom of the disease, and any scheme of insurance or relief work does not go to the root of the matter. They are narcotics, and, like all narcotics, have to be administered with great care, otherwise their ultimate effect is to do more harm than good. Why is it that we are being beaten at our 152 own game, the greatest manufacturing country in the world, by foreign countries not only abroad but in our home markets; beaten by competitors who pay higher and lower wages than we pay here? We talk about the iron and steel industry as being a declining trade, but the general use of iron and steel is growing every day.
I believe that our troubles are due to this fact, that both employers and leaders of labour—I do not use labour in the party sense—have not realised to the same extent as they have in competing manufacturing countries, especially in the United States, that labour and capital, employer and employé, must be partners in business and not opponents. As long as we have employers, we still have bad ones, who cut piece-work rates simply on the ground that the piece worker is making too much money, as long as we have employers who set a limit on the amount a man can earn by piece-work rates, as long as we have leaders of labour who do not realise that day-work rates are only mass piece-work rates, as long as you have some trade union leaders who try to use trade unions for political purposes, instead of using politics for trade union purposes, and until capital and labour as partners agree to make the best deal they can with each other in industry, and then work together as partners in industry, we shall never regain our position as the primary manufacturing country in the world. There are signs of a better understanding at the present moment between capital and labour, and it is the bounden duty of any man who has anything to do with either, every thinking man, to promote that spirit. It is by this line that we are going to get back our old manufacturing superiority.
You can believe in nationalisation or in private enterprise, it makes no difference at all. If hon. Members opposite socialise industry by constitutional means they do not want to take up a bankrupt concern, they want to take up a paying concern. The right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) has said this many times. It seems to me, whether you belong to the Labour party, the Liberal party, or the Conservative party, whether you are master or man, that our prosperity depends upon keeping politics out of business. I firmly 153 believe that. No measure any Government can pass will have half the effect in doing away with unemployment that a national will to work together, to co-operate to produce, will have. We either pay higher wages, work shorter hours, or have more social services in this country than any other country with which we are in competition. If we are going to maintain these services, indeed improve them as everybody agrees, we have got to co-operate together and stop this bickering across the Floor of the House as to whose fault it is, we have to get together again, cut out party politics and get down to work.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I have heard nearly all the speeches which have been delivered in the course of the Debate, and the least that can be said of quite a number of them is that they have been very serviceable contributions to a very difficult problem. I cannot say that of the speech which should be deemed to be the principal speech of the Debate, namely, that of the Minister of Labour. I regard that speech as extremely unhelpful and indeed exasperating in many of its parts, and in no sense a useful and constructive contribution to the problem of unemployment. I am driven to the conclusion that the Minister has not read the Motion on the Paper, and I therefore invite the attention of hon. and right hon. Members to its terms. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just addressed the House rightly said that you cannot solve this problem by palliatives. But it is no use telling the man who is out of work now to wait for a perfect and complete scheme which will solve the whole problem. If you find the man a job and you care to call that a mere palliative, I reply that you have found him work, and so far as he is concerned you have solved his problem. It may be a temporary solution.
We do not limit ourselves to palliatives. We are driven to palliative measures because of the Government's refusal to take the slightest notice of the Bills which we have introduced and the Motions which we have formulated, and of the terms of the Resolution before the House to-night. I do not think that any Member, taking this Motion and dissecting it, could single out any one part of it and say, "I object to it." On whichever side of the House he may 154 be, let him take the Motion and see what it really seeks to do. We say that the condition in which we are now is a matter of grave concern. Who would deny that? It is one of the most baffling conditions in which we have ever found ourselves, and it is a matter of the gravest concern. We then go on to say that we call for a comprehensive national policy which will in the first place stimulate production, relieve industry in the necessitous areas from exceptional burdens, and provide work or, alternatively, training and adequate maintenance. Is there anyone who does not want a comprehensive measure which will aim at those objectives? We, of course, would differ as to the precise terms and form of national policy, but the Government must choose between such a policy or the application of its ideas of such a policy, and doing nothing at all. So far as I can see the Government prefer to select the latter course and to take no action whatever.
The Minister of Labour began his speech by declaring that he regarded this Debate as altogether inopportune. Why disturb the festive season by bringing forward such a proposal as this? he said in effect. He feared that he could not at the moment deal with the subject without going back a little into history. I wish the Minister of Labour had preferred to go forward into the region of definite constructive suggestions made by my hon. Friend who moved the Motion. The Minister did not even glance at the Motion and in no sense touched any one of the suggestions made by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston). Then the Minister proceeded to review the position at a glance from 1921 to 1927, stopping at great length midway to remind us of blunders and offences of the miners' leaders, of whom he named two. Any Minister thinking of the history of the mine workers of this country should think in terms of at least some sympathy towards the men who have had to lead such a body of workers and to organise and raise them in some degree from the position of the very lowest level of industrial slavery at which they stood before they were organised by the leaders of the Miners' Federation.
There is no more indispensable and valuable manual worker in Great Britain 155 than the miner, and it may be fairly said that there is scarcely anyone who is worse treated. It is our good will, our sympathy and assistance that ought to be extended to these men, particularly to Mr. Herbert Smith, who was mentioned by name by the Minister, instead of the sentences levelling against him something of which I think he was not guilty. I repeat that I regard Mr. Herbert Smith as having said in the course of the controversy referred to by the Minister, that he could not accept the Report to which the Minister referred, if such acceptance had to be preceded by the acceptance of a reduction in wages. What he said was that if it could go through without conditions and without his having to guarantee acceptance of a reduction in wages, he would be willing to examine that Report from cover to cover and sit down with all those who were prepared to find a solution through the medium of that document.
Had the Minister of Labour been here, I would have liked to ask him why he could not say anything as to the set of constructive proposals put before him by those same miners' leaders, Mr. Herbert Smith, Mr. A. J. Cook and the rest, only five weeks ago. I gathered from the newsaper reports that the right hon. Gentleman was not able to stay to give any reply, but the Parliamentaray Secretary did reply, on behalf of the Government, that the suggestions would be fairly considered by His Majesty's Ministers. I have not seen any public announcement as to any further reply, and one would have thought that the Minister of Labour would have made this Debate the occasion—especially in view of his condemnation of the miners' leaders—of some announcement as to what could be done on those suggestions. I observe that the last of the suggestions submitted by the miners' leaders was that a Government Committee, representing all parties, should be formed to consider immediately the ways and means of carrying out the measures submitted by the deputation.
In the review of the Minister to-day there was one very noticeable gap. He made no reference to what I call the subsidy period or to the action of the Government, without terms or arrangement or effort at a bargain, without 156 laying down qualifications and conditions, in providing some £20,000,000 odd of public money on the off chance that some good might come of it. My profound conviction is that if at that time, in 1925, the Government had had some wisdom and a definite policy to be pursued, and if the Government had laid down terms to both masters and men and had said to them, "Here are £20,000,000 on certain conditions," then we may have hoped for a settlement, and the miners' lock-out and national strike might both have been avoided. I draw attention to that gap in the Minister's review and I repeat that the strike was the inevitable consequence of the lock-out. It was created out of the spirit of a few millions of men to stand by others whose standard of life they deemed to have been attacked. In addition, those millions of men saw in many pronouncements with which distinguished supporters of the Government were associated, that if the miners went down and suffered a reduction, down also other workers would have to go in the matter of their wage standard.
I followed the Minister's speech with every desire to do justice to his argument and to understand what is now his position, and I understood quite clearly that he no longer believes in palliatives even to the extent of grants from any Government source with a view to finding what is termed palliative work. If all such plans and schemes and financial aids are to stand condemned, what are we to say of the Government which has relied alone on that method so far, for anything they can do in regard to the unemployment problem? The Government have encouraged local authorities to produce schemes, to do the preparatory work and to incur certain liabilities in getting ready to carry out those schemes. Now the Minister urges that these schemes do not find work at all, that they are not supplemental to any other industrial pursuit, but that they supplant and displace. That is the argument of the Minister, and I take it that all he has said is a censure, quite unconsciously delivered, of his own policy and of such efforts as his Government have made in relation to this problem. I have here a long list of schemes sent to me by the secretary of the local authorities in Lancashire and Cheshire.
157 These are not Socialist bodies; they are not labour clubs or organisations, but municipal authorities large and small, some as big as Manchester, others as little as a parish council. It is a list of some 36 schemes, headed with the statement that the list shows particulars of unemployment relief work which could be put in hand if Government grants were available, and at the total cost of these works, if undertaken and carried through, would reach nearly £1,400,000. This matter is worthy of reference because until to-day we understood that the Minister of Labour was responsible, in his own person, for that form of Government encouragement given to local authorities to prepare schemes, in the anticipation of getting a certain measure of financial support. The secretary of the body to which I refer sent me from Manchester to-day this telegram:Please urge upon Parliament the urgent necessity for modification of their restrictions on Government grants towards cost of unemployment relief works. The position is becoming more critical.If we are not to have any assistance from that quarter, will the Prime Minister tell us, even now, at the tailend of the Session, where are we to look for hope and what is to be done? Is there anything whatever to be expected in the way of a plan, a scheme or a method that will hold out the faintest hope to those who are still unemployed. The Minister of Labour said there were exceptions to this general and sweeping censure of schemes which have depended upon grants from the Unemployment Grants Committee. There is the case of the electricity scheme. As the Amendment put down in opposition to our Motion roundly condemns Socialistic measures, may I draw the attention of the hon. and learned Mover of that Amendment to the fact that when this very electricity scheme was before the House—and before the House with our support—the principal spokesman of the Government appealed to hon. Members behind him not to vote, on the ground that it was a Socialistic measure, against the plan. The fact is, that nothing constructive in this realm of wealth production can be undertaken or carried through unless it is of a Socialistic character.
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
I think the right hon. Gentleman ought to carry it 158 a little further. If I remember aright, the Attorney-General asked Members not to be led into voting against the proposal by the suggestion that it was a Socialist measure, and he added that, in fact, it would prevent Socialism.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I was drawing attention to the argument and not to the fears upon which the Attorney-General was playing. Of course, it is natural if a Minister in a Conservative Government is compelled to admit that a certain measure is Socialistic——
§ Mr. CLYNES
—that he should add that it is the very last thing in the world he he doing, and that nobody who is listening to him should in the least believe it. Attention has been drawn to the fact that there is an exception in this regard, an exception which is still receiving Government assistance, in the matter of sugar beet. I would remind the House that we on this side had a hand in the bringing in of that proposal and that it has received our support. When we see that the national interest requires national financial assistance, no question of theory and no matter of opposition, will deter us from taking the right attitude. Let me as a Manchester Member deal for a few minutes upon this question as it affects the city of Manchester. I am sorry the Minister of Labour is not here, in view of the telegram which I have read and the very serious situation in that city and many other parts of Lancashire. In this House, I think, on 26th November, 1925, the Minister of Labour announced that approval—I presume Government approval—would not be given to these schemes in places which were not particularly distressed. Any Member hearing that statement would take it for what it was worth as a very general announcement that places that were not particularly distressed were not to receive assistance from the source of these grants. It is, I suggest, a very elastic term.
Then we found that as a matter of administration, as a matter of private communication with the local authorities, the Minister of Labour—I assume with the assent of the Cabinet—had fixed a definite percentage, namely, 10 per cent. 159 as being the recognised general level of unemployment in the country. He had then gone on to say that a place where the percentage of unemployment was less than that level would not be entitled to receive a Government grant. I argue that it was not a fair thing on the part of the Minister to use a general term in the House and a definite, particular term in this communication to these local authorities. They certainly have been hard pressed to meet Government requirements in the preparation of schemes and were entitled, I think, to far more generous support.
Lancashire has suffered severely, not only because there are so many out of work, but because a very large part of the population for years have been only in part employment. It has been no time at all for many thousands, and short time for a very long period for even a very much larger number, and you must take the general facts of the situation into account in determining what you are to do with a particular problem. I understand the Minister's position now to be that a particular place can still make application for these grants, but what is the good of that if it happens that that particular place falls below the 10 per cent. level arbitrarily fixed, fixed without the assent of this House, by the Minister of Labour? I do not say that Lancashire has been absolutely isolated as a county suffering exceptional distress, but it has indeed had a very bad time, because the cotton industry belongs almost entirely to that county, and when one great industry like that is exceptionally afflicted for a period of years the suffering is severe indeed.
I, therefore, listened with a great deal of interest to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Hammersley), which was a revelation, I dare say, to many, but contained points familiar to those of us associated with the life of Lancashire, and perhaps he will not object if I give my view of the gloomy story which he had to tell. I fear that we cannot expect the banks to forfeit their hold upon the mills or turn their backs upon the debts which arc due to them. I doubt whether a remedy can be found in that direction. It may be in their interest that they should do it, but it is not like human nature, not like 160 financial human nature, to deal with it in that way. My hon. Friend urged the view that the Lancashire cotton trade could never hope to get back to anything like its pre-War condition. I doubt whether the Lancashire cotton trade will ever survive the shock of the years 1920–21. Those were the years of internal financial juggling, the years in which mills were bought and sold several times over, the years in which men made fortunes and escaped from the county as quickly as they could. It is the most natural thing in the world that an industry undermined by financial proceedings of that sort should live to rue the day and that the continued trade depression should find it in a state of such financial instability as is now, unhappily, the case.
May I ask the hon. Member who drew our attention to this position to what is involved in his admissions? I thought I never heard—whether it was intended or not—a more eloquent condemnation of the Capitalist system than the recital of all that has led up to the financial difficulties of the Lancashire cotton industry. Human nature, and the social suffering, and all the claims which hundreds of thousands of people have for a good standard of life have never been taken into account by those who have had the most to do with the building up of the Lancashire cotton industry. I imagine that in the main there are two counts which have been briefly stated as explaining the distress in this trade. The one is the diminished demand for cotton goods. The two great markets outside our shores for cotton were India and China. Strikes in this country have been far less fatal to trade than political policy. Our handling of affairs both in India and China has in a period of years had a good deal to do with our lost markets.
We have heard something about a movement called Non-co-operation in India, and I was driven to the conclusion by the argument of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stockport that we can find non-co-operation nearer home. It can be found in Lancashire; many efforts have been made in recent years to get the millowners to co-operate to find a solution in respect of these troubles. So the lack of co-operation, the refusal to co-operate, to do the things more in common for the common good on the part of the 161 Lancashire millowners is, I allege, one cause of the continued trade depression in the county. Before I leave this point and draw my remarks to a close, may I suggest that in respect to Russia our political policy is a matter which requires some further attention, for in Lancashire there is not only cotton to be manufactured and sold, but immense quantities of machinery to be produced and sold. I know from some little contact with these great firms how important it is to great firms like Hetherington and Sons, Ltd., of Manchester, Mather and Platt, of Manchester, and Platt Brothers, of Oldham, that nothing should be done which will take a prospective order away. I recently read that as the result of the Government's last political action in respect of Russia—the breaking-off of the ordinary trade relations which practically inevitably followed from the political breach—trade has fallen off by more than half as between Russia and ourselves in the period which has elapsed. It is all very well in a moment of political passion to jeer at the Russians as being unfaithful to their contracts, but that is not true. There is not a business man in Britain who can cite a single instance where they have not been faithful to the commercial arrangements they have made. [An HoN. MEMBER: "In the past?"] Yes, in the past. I shall give evidence. In any of these discussions not one hon. Member has been able to cite an instance of a commercial man alleging any breach of faith or breach of contract on any matter of business between Russia and ourselves. I am not thinking of the general underground differences between Russia and this country, though I do believe that they could have been settled had we faced them in a non-party temper, and with a view to pursuing the real commercial interests of this country. This is from the speech made at the annual meeting of a great Manchester firm—John Hetherington and Sons, Ltd.—by the chairman last year:With regard to Russian contracts, of which I spoke to you last year, in view of the general attitude towards Russian affairs which until recently it has been the fashion to adopt, you will probably wish me to say a word or two. The contracts have been kept punctiliously, both in the letter and in the spirit. We are, in fact, very pleased with the way the business has been transacted and with the scrupulous exactness with which the Soviet authorities have regarded their contracts. You probably noticed at 162 the time the President of the Board of Trade mentioned on 1st July in the House of Commons that the Board of Trade were not aware of any instance whatever in which commercial contracts made by the Soviet Government had not been kept.I think, therefore, that if hon. Gentlemen opposite will get away from the bogey of Communist propaganda, which is always being raised when we might do business with Russia, we shall do much more business than we have done. I observe that the Prime Minister is here, and I ask his attention to the fact that his party in its literature and speeches assured the country at the last election that that party had a remedy for unemployment. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. CLYNES
That party was led by a Prime Minister who, in the course of that contest delivered many speeches, in one of which he assured the country that, if returned, it would be the immediate business of the Government to grapple with this problem of unemployment. If what has been done is to be regarded as grappling with this problem, I would like to know what it would mean to have the problem evaded altogether. I would not mind if the Government had tried and failed, but my argument is that they have attempted nothing at all, have not even tried to make good the solemn pledges given in the course of the election, and repeated on two occasions in the Speeches from the Throne read in this House. We have come now to the position in which we have got a hardened refusal to do anything whatever, and nothing now is thrown from that side of the House to this other than prophecies of a silver lining that somehow, sometime, will appear in the dark clouds which overhang us. It may be that hon. Gentlemen will return to the method of asking us what we are going to do. We have now reached the stage in Parliamentary affairs where it is not the Government who are expected to do anything, but the Opposition who are required to formulate their plans.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee drew attention to the really appalling desperation of the local authorities, on to whose shoulders a large part of this burden is thrown. I marvel that business men submissively support 163 a Government who in large measure are responsible for maintaining that burden, or for throwing it upon local shoulders. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee answered the question about the cost of dealing with this problem. As he pointed out, £380,000,000 have been spent in relieving the unemployed by way of free grants, or "doles," as they are sometimes called. It is no longer a question of, Can we afford to find the money to deal with this matter? The question is, Can we afford to go on finding money for the wastefulness which alone represents the Government's policy to-day? Had we had something like scheme, method, idea, or principle, in grappling with this difficulty, nothing like the sum of £380,000,000 would have been paid without our having a brick to show for it. Lastly, the hon. and learned Gentleman who moved the Amendment taunted the trade unions with being the cause of unemployment, alleging that they imposed restrictions in various occupations.
Sir W. G REAVES-LORD
What I said was that those were matters which ought to be discussed, and taken into account between both employer and employed, but no employer should ask for them to be removed without safeguards against unfair competition.
§ Mr. CLYNES
Most of the work and at least two-thirds of the work done in this country is done under piece-work conditions. The remaining one-third is performed under the eyes of supervisors, superintendents, foremen and managers under the stress and the fear of poverty if the work is not well done. Therefore, so far as that question is concerned, the result is so tiny as not to affect the industrial problem at all. The hon. and learned Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord) is associated with the legal profession, and he should be the last person in this House to talk about restrictions in an industry of this kind. The hon. and learned Member gave an instance upon which he built a most unworthy charge. He said that an employer in his constituency could provide work for about 50 women and only two applied, and his suggestion was that that was due to our having cultivated amongst these workpeople a disinclination to work. That is a monstrous suggestion to make from 164 the opposite side of the House, because by inference it is a reflection upon the Minister of Labour, whose duty it is to see that those who can get work and will not take it must not receive unemployment benefit.
It has been a very frequent argument used by hon. Members supporting the Government that people were not entitled to unemployment benefit because they did not pursue the task of genuinely seeking employment. I can tell my hon. Friends that on this side of the House it is not our business, as he has alleged, to foment strife, nor is it true that in the instance of the coal strike strife was fomented by the Labour leaders either singly or jointly, because twice they put forward proposals for a settlement and they were rejected. It was only after the dispute with the Prime Minister that the negotiations reached the stage in which the employers were told that they were acting with obstinacy and unreasonableness. I fear we have not extracted from the Government anything likely to be of the slightest service that will give relief this side of Christmas to the large army of unemployed. I can only say in the presence of the Prime Minister that it was in the year 1925, just when the winter of that year was approaching, that he said on behalf of the Government in this House:We are going to make a great and a special effort to meet the needs of the approaching winter.That great effort was not made in 1925 and it has not been made since. It would now appear that no such effort is to be made in 1928.
The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Sir Philip Curiliffe-Lister)
As the time at my disposal is not adequate to cover the whole of this voluminous Motion, I will follow the advice of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes), and address myself to what he calls the substance of it. I have read the Motion with care, and the main problem which it puts is that we should have a comprehensive national policy which will stimulate production. The only test whether a policy will stimulate production is whether it is going to improve trade generally, and whether it is going to give encouragement to particular industries which are in distress. The allegation contained in 165 this Motion is that the present economic system cannot either improve trade generally or help particular industries, and that, therefore, the issue is between Socialism and private enterprise. The argument is adduced that private enterprise has failed, and that Socialism, if it has not already succeeded, still hopes to succeed.
I ask, in the first place—and this is the whole essence of the Motion—what evidence is there that the alternative system has given any advantage in any other country? I think that that is a very pertinent question. If it be alleged that there is better employment in any other country, if it he alleged that there is better business organisation in any other country, it certainly is not in a country where the Socialist system rules or where Socialistic ideas are practised. [Interruption.] That is not begging the question in the least; it is answering a question. In the only country in which Socialism has been tried up to the present on any comprehensive scale, namely, Russia, a paper which bears the name "Trud" meaning, I understand, "Labour," and which, I understand, is the counterpart of the "Dairy Herald," says that in the year 1926–27 there was an increase of 40 per cent. in unemployment in that country.
There being no evidence that Socialism is going to produce employment, the right hon. Gentleman is careful, both in his speeches outside and in the Motion which is now before the House, to add to this system a policy of work or maintenance, and the comprehensive system which we are invited to adopt is a comprehensive system of nationalisation coupled with a great increase of taxation, such as has been advocated by nearly every speaker on that side of the House to-night, in order to provide maintenance where work is not forthcoming. [Interruption.] I have been left about 20 minutes, and I hope I shall be allowed to proceed without interruption. It certainly is not likely to be argued on any evidence that nationalised industries are going to provide more work. There will be, of course, the usual political pressure which inevitably happens where every person employed is a voter; there will be the usual lack of elasticity, just in those very industries where, with our world-wide trade, elasticity 166 is of the essence of success; there will be a lack of capacity to take a quick decision—the one thing that a Government machine can never do; there will be a lack of willingness to take risks, which no controlled system will ever take; there will be a damping down of initiative and enterprise. All that is going to mean less trade, and, consequently, more unemployment; and, in order to meet that, the right hon. Gentleman—and in his Motion he is quite frank—says, let us add, to the scheme of nationalisation, maintenance out of taxes.
What does that mean? It means that the individual who is thrifty—the spendthrift, apparently, is to get off scot free—the individual who is thrifty is to be taxed on what he saves, and the industries which for the time being are not nationalised are also to contribute their quota in taxation. What does it mean? Of course, it means that because there is more taxation there will be less money for investment—money will be dearer and not cheaper—less money for research, less money for development and less money for stimulating invention. It was glibly stated on that side, where they quote the Colwyn Report without reading it, that the Colwyn Report says national savings are increasing, and there is no need to worry about it. I wish hon. Members who quote the Colwyn Report would read it. What it said about savings was not that there was plenty of capital and that savings were increasing. Paragraph 60 says:Generally we conclude that the falling off in national savings, equal to £150,000,000 or £200,000,000 at present-day prices, gives ground for anxiety but not for pessimism.If we are to be informed that all future savings are to be taxed, that will give ground not only for anxiety but for the greatest possible pessimism.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
The Colwyn Report, which was quoted at me. There never was a time when the need for new money in industry was greater. Let no one underrate the value of what I may call surplus wealth. It is easy to say rich men do no good. If you look at the history of invention and development, whether it is the development of manufactures by new processes or the development of new markets by merchant adventurers, you will find in 167 every case that the money for these ventures which once, twice or three times may fail and only after several failures succeed, comes from people who have surplus wealth at their disposal. It is the history of every invention, and there would not be a trade union in the country if rich men had not put their money into these ventures. Socialism with its cumbrous and devastating inefficiency would fail to supply what great adventurers in the past have supplied, and the result would be a vicious system where there would be less trade, more unemployment, and more taxation.
You will do one thing more. You will give acute discouragement to the foreign investor who at present comes here. It will give a shock to the security of our financial and our commercial system. Money which finds its way here to-day because it is safe and secure in this country will not come here. You will cease to have the use of it, and you will lose a very considerable trade financed on your invisible exports. That is what we are invited to substitute for a scheme which experience has proved. I say with confidence that experience has proved it, in spite of this Motion, which would suggest that things are far worse to-day than they were two, three, four or five years ago. We have been passing through very difficult times. It is very wonderful that things are not worse than they are. Do not let us paint the picture blacker than we need. It is really no help to our trade, under whatever system, competing in foreign markets, if responsible men say the position of Britain is getting steadily worse. Responsible men who have held responsible office ought to remember that they are always the commercial travellers of their country and they ought to be very careful what they say and what they broadcast through the markets. We are not going back. We are undoubtedly going forward. What is the test? I take the test. proposed by the last three speakers on the other side. Are we putting men into work? We have put 1,160,000 people into work between 1922 and 1927. During one year of that the right hon. Gentleman opposite was in office and the improvement went on, but it went on not because he put his Socialist principles into practice but because he kept them securely locked up.
168 We are told that present prospects are much worse. I think not. I ventured the last time I spoke here to say that I thought that when the November trade returns came out we should find that they would show a considerable advance in our exports. I was challenged on that. What is the fact? We have now received those returns. We see an increase of 16 per cent. in value as against November two years ago. That probably means, in volume, something like 25 per cent. of improvement in exports, and that is about equal to the average month of 1913. [An HON. MEMBER: "How much is coal?"] Coal is about the same as usual. [Interruption.] I wish hon. Gentlemen would allow me to make my speech. I am dealing with the charge that prospects to-day are better. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is not correct!"] Of course it is correct. They are the published returns. I have never given figures to this House which are incorrect. I am quoting official figures which are the official figures published by this country and recognised to be correct. That picture is borne out by the general impression that one gets. I had sent up to me the other day a number of reports and they are summed up in this way, that on the whole there is a general trend towards permanent and more active business. Take two indices.
I take the index of shipping which, of course, is a very good index of general trade prospects. At the present time there is less shipping laid up in our ports than at almost any time in the past. In October, 1925, 574,000 tons of shipping were laid up, and in October of this year only 273,000 tons. The position is also reflected in shipbuilding orders. Everybody has always agreed that shipbuilding can only begin to improve when there is sufficient trading prospects to justify the placing of new orders. I am glad to say that at the end of the third quarter of 1927, 1,536,000 tons of shipping were under construction (that is 50 per cent. of the whole world's construction at that time) and at the end of the first quarter of 1926 only 843,000 tons were under construction, representing only 42 per cent. of the world's construction at that time. I take one other case. The net imports of raw material are higher to-day than they have been for a considerable time past. They are better than they were in 1925, and 169 they are better than they were in 1924, and all good Free Traders will agree that if you import a large amount of raw material, it is going to be of benefit to the manufacturers. The visible adverse trade balance has been very considerably reduced in the last month when it was £25,000,000. I think there is a better understanding and greater mutual confidence in industry at the present time.
The right hon. Gentleman then challenges me and says, "You have not got a comprehensive policy." If his conception of a comprehensive policy is a policy in which the State takes over the whole of industry, when indeed we have not got a comprehensive policy, but if by a comprehensive policy he means a policy which reviews the whole field and endeavours to help industry where it usefully can, then I say our policy is comprehensive. I take the foreign field. The whole of our foreign policy has been designed to help trade. Taking Europe, apart from Russia, with which I will deal presently, can anybody say that the whole policy of the Foreign Secretary—Locarno and the appeasement of Europe—has not made for improved trade conditions? I am challenged about Russia. People are free to trade with Russia to-day. For the first three months after the breach, the Russians sold here more than they sold us in the period before the breach. If they are free and able to sell, certainly they are able to buy here, and it is the lack of wish to buy and not the lack of facilities to buy which is the point. No self-respecting country can be blackmailed into trade at any price. Frankness and honesty and plain statement of fact have never done any harm in matters of business. We have in international affairs worked for and achieved a very considerable advance in improving trade facilities. There have been the Shipping Conventions and only a few days ago a Convention for the removal of import and export prohibition. We have done all that in the foreign field and in the Empire field we have developed Imperial Preference, and when you come to consider that 44 per cent. of our exports of (1925) manufactures go to the Empire, excluding the Irish Free State, I think even those who opposed the policy of preference a few years ago have probably now become convinced.
170 Finally, in the home market we have had a comprehensive policy, and the home market to-day is becoming increasingly important. Foreign manufacturers have provided for many of the overseas markets which previously took our goods, and the home market has become very important. What do we find? There is not a single proposal that we have put forward for assisting any trade or industry in the home market which hon. Gentlemen opposite have not opposed. There has not been a duty which they have not opposed, although every one of those duties has put men into work and not one of them has raised prices, and in nearly every trade the exports have increased as a result. New factories have been put up. The motor industry is expanding. We were told that we should only expand our home market and that exports would go down. What were the facts? In the first half of 1925 we exported 12,800 cars and chassis, and in the first half of 1927 we exported 21,300. Is not that increasing employment and trade? Of course those duties are to come off if ever hon. Gentlemen opposite got into power. We have set to work to build up the key industries which are as vital to this country in time of peace as ever they were in time of war, and we have succeeded. Take magnetos, which before the War were hardly produced here at all. There were only three out of 37 firms who made motor cars who dreamt of putting British magnetos into their cars. To-day every one of them is fitting almost exclusively British magnetos. In 1925 we sold five times as many as we did in 1921, and at half the price for which they were sold in 1921.
The same story is true the whole way through the list of key products. We have been challenged about the range of the list, but I do not mind if there is a large number of things in the key industries list when every one is putting men into work and helping subsidiary industries and increasing export trade and reducing prices. There is the glove industry, which had not been taking apprentices for years. To-day there are a thousand extra men and women at work and they are taking apprentices for the first time. I could go on with the story. [An HON. MEMBER: "What has this to do with employment?"] 171 What has this to do with employment? All these schemes have to do with employment. The one way to find employment surely is to find people work, and work on something that people will buy. The only idea of some hon. Members opposite seems to be to dig a hole in the ground in connection with some local authority's unemployment scheme. We set to work to build up the dye industry. Before we started, before the War, 80 per cent. of the dyes that were used in this country were of foreign manufacture and only 20 per cent. British. To-day 80 per cent. are of British manufacture and only 20 per cent. foreign, and the average price has come, down from 4s. 6d. a pound in 1921 to 1s. 7d. a pound.
We introduced the Merchandise Marks Bill, which was opposed by hon. Members opposite. Is it said that that does not help employment? Let me give two examples. An Order was only passed in the House a few nights ago. In anticipation of these Orders, I have heard that in connection with mowing machines and wire netting—both of which are included, one in an Order and one in a report which is not yet an Order—large dealers who had hitherto dealt extensively in foreign articles are placing their orders in this country. Hon Members opposite opposed that Bill. They also opposed the Films Bill, although it is going to put people into work and is going to be the greatest advertisement of British enterprise that could be found.
Hon. Members opposite are not content merely with opposing Measures which are proposed, but even when a voluntary appeal is made to people to buy British goods, they criticise it. We have heard plenty of criticism of the dole. Surely the best criticism of the dole is to take a man off the dole by buying something that he makes. When we make the voluntary appeal to people to buy British goods, the whole force of the Labour party is mobilised in order to detract from it.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I make one honourable exception in favour of the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston).
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The right hon. Gentleman is completely wrong. There are two hon. Members sent to that Committee officially on behalf of this party.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
Then all I can say is that I am very glad there is a difference of opinion in the Labour party. I have been attacked repeatedly by the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden), who said that it was a most fantastic appeal that I was making. I am glad to find some allies in the Labour party, and I hope that in this comprehensive and very good policy, in which we can all join, we shall find a few more allies in the Labour party. I would say in conclusion, on the main issue of Socialism as against private enterprise, we shall fight that out, but it is a matter which has to be decided finally through the ballot box. In the meantime, whatever system is to hold sway in this country, we have to live by our trade and by our trade alone, and nothing else can find work for our people and by nothing else can we find our food and our raw material. I do make a most sincere appeal to men of all parties. Let us, if necessary, in the final political issues dispute as to the ultimate political system which is to be adopted in this country, but let us not by word or deed do anything which will detract from our prospects; let us do all we can to help to foster and encourage that trade by which all of us alike live.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part, of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 102; Noes, 256.175
|Division No. 483.]||AYES.||[11.1 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Bondfield, Margaret||Compton, Joseph|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Connolly, M.|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Broad, F. A.||Cove, W. G.|
|Ammon, charies George||Bromley, J.||Dalton, Hugh|
|Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Buchanan, G.||Day, Colonel Harry|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel||Duncan, C.|
|Barnes, A.||Charleton, H. C.||Dunnico, H.|
|Barr, J.||Clowes, S.||Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwelity)|
|Batey, Joseph||Cluse, W. S.||Gillett, George M.|
|Beckett, John (Gateshead)||Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Gosling, Harry|
|Greenall, T.||March, S.||Stamford, T. W.|
|Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Montague, Frederick||Stephen, Campbell|
|Grentell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Ponty pool)||Naylor, T. E.||Sutton, J. E.|
|Groves, T.||Oliver, George Harold||Thone, W. (West Ham, Plalstow)|
|Grundy, T. W.||Pailn, John Henry||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Palling, W.||Townend, A. E.|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.|
|Hardle, George D.||Pethick-Lawrence. F. W.||Varley, Frank B.|
|Hayday, Arthur||Ponsonby, Arthur||Vlant, S. P.|
|Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)||Potts, John S.||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Sprlng)||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah|
|Hirst, G. H.||Riley, Ben||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Ritson, J.||Welsh, J. C.|
|Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)||Robinson, W. C. (Yorks.W.R., Elland)||Westwood, J.|
|John, William (Rhondda, West||Saklatvala, Shapurji||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)||Salter, Dr. Alfred||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Lianelly)|
|Kennedy, T.||Scrymgeour, E.||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Kenworthy, Lt -Com. Hon. Joseph M||Scurr, John||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Atterclifte)|
|Lansbury, George||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis||Wilson, R. J, (jarrow)|
|Lawrence, Susan||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)||Windsor, Walter|
|Lawson, John James||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherbithe)||Wright, W.|
|Lowth, T.||Smith, Rennie (Penlstone)|
|Mackinder, W.||Snell, Harry||TELLERS FOR THE AYES,—|
|Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip||( Mr. Hayes and Mr. whiteley.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Couper, J. B.||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)|
|Alnsworth, Major Charles||Courtauld, Major J. S.||Hoare, Lt,-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.|
|Albery, Irving James||Craig, Sir Ernest (Chester, Crowe)||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D.(St.Marylebone)|
|Applin, Colonel R. V. K.||Crookshank,Cpt.H.(Lindsey,Gainsbro)||Hohler, Sir Gerald Fitzroy|
|Apsley, Lord||Cunliffe, Sir Herbert||Holt, Capt. H. P.|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Curzon, Captain Viscount||Homan, C. W. J.|
|Atkinson, C.||Dalkelth, Earl of||Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar)|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.||Hopkins, J. W. W.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Davles, MaJ. Geo.F. (Somerset, Yeovlt)||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)|
|Balniel, Lord||Davies, Dr. Vernon||Horlick, Lieut.-Colonel J. N.|
|Banks, Reginald Mitchell||Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K.|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Dawson, Sir Philip||Hume, Sir G. H.|
|Beckett, Sir Gervase (Leeds, N.)||Dean, Arthur Weilesley||Huntingfield, Lord|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Dixey, A. C.||Illffe. Sir Edward M.|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Eden, Captain Anthony||Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.|
|Bird, E. R. (Yorks, W. R., Skipton)||Edmondson, Major A. J.||Iveagh, Countess of|
|Bird, Sir R. B. (Wolverhampton, W.)||Elliot, Major Walter E.||Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)|
|Blades, Sir George Rowland||Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-S.-M.)||Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)|
|Blundell, F. N.||Evans, Captain A. (Cardiff, South)||Joynson-Hicks, Rt. Hon. Sir William|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Everard, W. Lindsay||Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Fairfax, Captain J. G.||Kindersley, Major Guy M.|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||King. Commodore Henry Douglas|
|Bowyer. Capt. G. E. W.||Forrest. W.||Lamb, J. Q.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major Sir A. B.||Foxcroft. Captain C. T.||Leigh, Sir John (Clapham)|
|Bralthwalte, Major A. N.||Fraser, Captain Ian||Lister, Cunliffe, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip|
|Brassey, Sir Leonard||Framartie, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Little, Dr. E. Graham|
|Briggs, J. Harold||Gaibralth, J. F. W.||Looker, Herbert William|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Ganzonl, Sir John||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere|
|Brockiebank, C. E. R.||Gates, Percy||Luce, Maj.-Gen. Sir Richard Harman|
|Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I.||Gault, Lleut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton||Lumley, L. R.|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'Id., Hexham)||Glimour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen|
|Brown, Brig,-Gen.H.C.(Berks.Newb'y)||Grace, John||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)|
|Buchan, John||Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.||MacDonald, R. (Glasgow, Cathcart)|
|Burman, J. B.||Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter||McDonnell, Colonel Hon. Angus|
|Burney, Lieut.-Com. Charles D.||Greene, W. P. Crawford||McLean. Major A.|
|Butt. Sir Alfred||Greenwood,Rt. Hn. Sir H.(W'th's'w,E)||Macmillan, Captain H.|
|Calne, Gordon Hall||Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm|
|Campbell, E. T.||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Macquisten, F. A.|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Grotrian, H. Brent||Makins, Brigadier-General E.|
|Cassels, J. D.||Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Mianningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn|
|Cayzer.Maj.SIr Herbt. R. (Prtsmth, S.)||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Margesson, Captain D.|
|Cazalet, Captain Victor A.||Hall, Lleut.-Col. Sir f. (Dulwich)||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Hall, Admiral Sir R. (Eastbourne)||Mason, Lleut.-Col. Glyn K.|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.)||Hall, Capt. W. D'A. (Brecon &Rad.)||Meller, R. J.|
|Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||Hammersley, S. S.||Merriman, F. B.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)||Hanbury, C.||Meyer, Sir Frank|
|Charteris, Brigadier-General J.||Harmsworth, Hon. E. C. (Kent)||Milne, J. S. Wardlaw-|
|Chilcott, Sir Warden||Harrison, G. J. C.||Mitchell, W. Foot (Saffron Walden)|
|Christie, J. A.||Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)|
|Churchman, Sir Arthur C.||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Moore, Sir Newton J.|
|Clarry. Reginald George||Hawke, John Anthony||Moore-Brabazon, Lleut.-Col. J. T. C.|
|Clayton, G. C.||Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.||Moreing, Captain A. H.|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Henderson,Capt. R. R.(Oxfd, Henley)||Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Henderson, Lleut.-Col. V. L. (Bootle)||Murchison, sir Kenneth|
|Cockerili, Brig.-General Sir George||Heneage, Lieut-Colonel Arthur P.||Nail, Colonel Sir Joseph|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Henn. Sir Sydney H.||Neville, Sir Reginald J.|
|Cope, Major William||Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)|
|Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)||Rye, F. G.||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Nicholson, O. (Westminster)||Salmon, Major I.||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.|
|Nicholson, Col. Rt.Hn.W.G.(PtrsI'ld.)||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)||Waddington, R.|
|Nieid, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)||Wallace, Captain D. E.|
|Oakley, T.||Sandeman, N. Stewart||Ward, Lt,-Col.A.L.(Kingston-on-Hull)|
|O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford, Luton)||Sanders, Sir Robert A.||Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.|
|Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William||Sanderson, sir Frank||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Penny, Frederick George||Sassoon. sir Philip Albert Gustave D||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)||Savery, S. S.||Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)|
|Perkins, Colonel E. K.||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley||Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)|
|Perring, Sir William George||Shepperson, E. W.||Watts, Dr. T.|
|Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstapte)||Smith-Carington, Neville W.||Wayland, Sir William A.|
|Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)||Smithers, Waldron||Wells, S. R.|
|Philipson, Mabel||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)||White, Lieut-Col. Sir G. Dalrymple|
|Pilcher, G.||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|Power, Sir John Cecil||Sprot, Sir Alexander||Wilson. R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)|
|Pownall, Sir Assheton||Stanley, Lieut-Colonel Rt. Hon. G. F.||Winby, Colonel L. P.|
|Price, Major C. W. M.||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)||Windsor-Clive, Lleut.-Colonel George|
|Radford, E. A.||Storry-Deans, R.||Winterton. Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Raine, Sir Walter||Stott, Lleut.-Colonel W. H.||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Ramsden, E.||Streatteeld, Captain S. R.||Wood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgwater)|
|Rawson, Sir Cooper||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)||Wood, E.(Cheit'r, Stalyb'dge & Hyde)|
|Remer, J. R.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser||Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich W.)|
|Rentoul, G. S.||Suqden, Sir Wilfrid||Woodcock, Colonel H. C.|
|Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.||Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
|Rice, Sir Frederick||Tasker, R. Inlgo.|
|Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Roberts. E. H. G. (Flint)||Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell-||Commander B. Eyres Monsell and|
|Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.||Tinne, J. A.||Colonel Gibbs.|
|Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ Mr. SCURR rose——
§ It being after Eleven of the clock, Mr. SPEAKER proceeded to interrupt the business.
§ Commander EYRES MONSELL rose in, his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
That this House notes with satisfaction that, in spite of the grave setback caused by the general strike and the prolonged coal dispute in 1926, the number in employment during 1927 has been greater than at any previous period since 1920; and is of opinion that the absorption of those who remain unemployed cannot be effected by Socialistic measures and can best be assisted by a policy directed to encouraging the recovery of industry, promoting industrial peace and, while preventing hardship to those unavoidably out of work, taking all steps that are practicable to forward the readjustment of labour forces to the changing needs of modern industry.